I am hoping here to speak about many things. Mostly I want to talk about agency; my own discomfort in feeling I know things that people have experienced in a way I could never understand, but also the disregard for people’s stories which we see reproduced in mainstream news, where human activity is condensed into catch phrases. These ideas are reinforced by the statements and ambitions of nation states and end up affecting the thinking of everyone. That is why the denial of people’s agency is so prominent, and I want to go against the rationalisation of events that leads to it. The systematic killing of people by states becomes a “conflict” or a “crisis,” reconcilliation with states that kill becomes “peace,” everything becomes something that is packaged neatly for the news round up. All the analysis and making sense of the violence in the world seems to occur with the complete removal of human activity. It seems to exist purely as a form of speaking over people; of a game of chess with no pieces, a world with nobody in it but foreign policy experts and talking heads.
The stress that this creates has pushed me further into my reading, and also led me to seek out an occasion to hear the experiences that I had previously only read about. That is why I went to hear the founders of Enab Baladi speak, and why I wish to read as much as I can from Syrians about their experiences. Here I will share my thoughts on both of those things with the aim of contextualising the real experiences alongside the theoretical ideas I have from my reading. By doing so, I hope I can relate to people what my understanding of the fucked moment is, my attachment to the issue at hand, and to offer a challenge for an understanding of conflict that is not centred on the narratives that bombard the Twitter feed, but through the experiences of those that it is hardest to hear – those that make us, the privileged, uncomfortable.
Two weeks ago now, I attended the launch of a book by the independent Syrian media outlet Enab Baladi, which is called ‘Enab Baladi – Citizen Chronicles of the Syrian Uprising’ and follows the journey and output that the newspaper has taken since its inception. I watched Kholoud Helmi, one of the founding members of Enab Baladi, speak on the screen owing to passport issues which kept her from attending in person.
I thought I felt sick, my head was rejecting the cigarettes and I started to sweat, but my eyes made sure to record everything so as not to forget. Kholoud spoke of the immense challenges and how far they had come, but always behind their successes was loss and uncertainty. I cannot fully transmit the power and the effect of her words, coming through the screen and filling the room, covering each moment with meaning. I had been trying to put the social concerns out of my head, the feeling of a bystander or maybe even a fraud, and then her words took it all away. The stories in my books are not stories; they are real human action, real agency, real emotion – what I thought was too much to bear was the perfect amount to carry with me.
The power in her existence is that it is inarguable; no matter how many hacks try to rewrite history before our eyes. Her words and the many accounts whether online or written will become a permanent witness against the criminality of the Assad regime. Each person there was undeniable in their authority and their authenticity, all I can try to do (if anything) is amplify their voices and words, and to say the things that it is too dangerous for them to fully express from their unfree places.
Enab Baladi’s book begins with an essay by Joey Ayoub titled ‘An idea called Daraya,’ which I had previously read at al-jumhuriya. He succinctly describes the hollow feeling that I have had since I began reading about Syria; that I did not want to be part of any left that mostly stayed silent but often actively slandered the revolution. Moreover, I don’t want to be part of a global system which keeps the same silence or fumbles through the motions of pretending to care – as Ayoub’s article argued, that the people of Daraya “exposed the hypocrisy of a world that could let such atrocities happen… [And] by doing so, the world exposed itself as criminal.”
Syrians have shone a light on the complete moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy of each state that declares itself a defender of universal human rights, as they look on or shake the hands the states which lie and murder them with impunity. This world is corrupt; unfit and unwilling to deal with the marginalised and the disappeared – and yet those same states sit down and pretend to tackle its greatest issues. This world gives a seat the most blatantly murderous and criminal regimes in spite of its supposed values.
What right do these rulers have to take up their seat, any more than you or I do? Where is the chair for the free Syrian, the Yezidi, the Kurdish, the Uyghur, or the Rohingya? Where is the seat for any individual to assert their dignity; which stands against this unfair system with more legitimacy than any of the corrupt national projects that whimper on our behalf?
As I went home on the train I read the first few short articles from the book I’d picked up. I felt the emptiness of my anger, each bulletin came with the optimism and confusion of the early days, of people finding their voice. I felt like I had totally lost my own and that I could only process internally but never let out what I had felt. Yet one of the most simple things I have learnt from reading the writing of Syrians is what it means to speak. The price of a voice is what I have learnt over and over, that mine is free, never twisted or appropriated, never silenced, so why not use it?
Yassin al-haj Saleh is the most famous and one of the most crucial voices of the Syrian Revolution. His many writings, which I will provide lots of links to, provide a full context and understanding of the social situation; the structure and unfairness of Syrian society, the cruelty of the regime, and the hopelessness of the world which allows it to go on existing. Aside from his book, ‘The Impossible Revolution,’ the only of his output to be translated into English, there are several critical ideas of his included on articles which can be accessed at al-jumhuriya. There are many of his articles hosted there – such that I am yet to complete reading them fully – therefore I will use just a few which I am most familiar with to further my explanations.
‘The Syrian Cause and Anti-Imperialism’ was my introduction to his writing, in which he argues that Syrians “are no longer relevant for our own cause” – such is the extent to which the explicit political demands of Syrians are overlooked that the country has become “an open book,” onto which people project their tired and useless ideas. This initial argument relates to all commentators on the conflict from afar, whether that is journalists from prestigious international news organisations, “peace-building experts” who overlook civilian concerns for policy abstractions, or leftist groups which would have normally been part of solidarity groups. However, both his article’s, and my own focus is not to delve into the self-evident and long discredited outlook of the conservative right. Instead, it is to focus on how the same people who champion the Palestinian cause have come to obscure and even slander Syrians who fight the same tyranny.
One of the foremost concerts of this article is the unwillingness and lack of humility of the western left to learn and to listen, particularly with regards to their hurtful “regime change” narrative. Despite the backing down on every ‘commitment,’ the contortions and gymnastics which the USA has taken part in to stay as far away from deposing of Assad’s regime, increasingly leftists more readily found an imperialist plot than they found the voice of dissenting Syrians. I will add a link to a lengthy history of US policy with regards to Syria which should clearly explain that the two countries were more likely to be partners in the forever War on Terror than they were to be enemies of any real kind. To reiterate this point, there is a quote from An Idea Called Daraya from ex-CIA agent Robert Baer which highlights the fact that the US state is more interested in its “security” concerns than overthrowing dictatorships: “If you want people to be well interrogated, you send them to Jordan. If you want people to be disappeared, you send them to Egypt. And if you want people to be tortured, you send them to Syria.”
As YAHS points out, “the original change in Syria is our initiative, and it is our project” – uncovering the paternalistic outlook of those who push the idea that Syria is simply a “regime change war.” This view is steeped in a euro-centric analysis which centres the ambitions of major powers to the detriment of Syrians resisting fascism on the ground. As if they should not protest the Assad regime’s brutality and criminality, in case it somehow makes the USA look good. Should they wait for the green light while the bombs keep dropping? This discourse has no relation to a current reality in which people struggle for basic freedoms, including the right to just be seen and heard. It also absolves the Assad regime of its unrelenting cruelty, viewing it either as a necessary in the over-arching geopolitical battle, or merely as unimportant when considered against the greater imperial struggle.
I think it is crucial to see that this is a position which condescends; it is not based on an equality of understanding or a reaffirming of common dignity – it pits people’s struggles back into the comfortable parameters; the War on Terror, the Islamist threat, the Cold War dynamic – overall, it is cowardly. From our position of relative luxury we should be open and willing to defend the resistance to a murderous political elite on its own terms – not on our terms. We should not fixate on an imagined impurity of people and their cause, because you don’t know who you may stand beside when fighting the fascist enemy.
The second article, which my own title here is a more pessimistic and rude version of, is ‘The World at the Fascist Moment.’ This article is the foreword to ‘The Holocausts we all Deny,’ written by Theo Horesh. The article reflects on the global ‘turning away’ of people from the violence which goes unchecked in the ‘fascist moment,’ (Horesh’s term). It articulates the failure or lack of any real democratic impulse to challenge the increasingly normalised genocidal tendencies of many states, which call for “a permanent war against the future.” The Assad regime is certainly not alone in this tendency. But because of the involvement of more powerful nation-states in Syria, it becomes clearer and more alarming the failure at a global level to confront genocidal politics.
While YAHS compares this moment to the European retreat in the face of Nazi Germany, I have found myself drowning in a nightmare, an upside-down re-run of the Spanish Civil War which I endlessly studied in my younger years. In this fucked moment, the internationalists of old – who would have fought against Franco’s fascist regime – are instead arguing online that Paracuellos is proof enough of a smear campaign from the “supposed democracies.” I find the parallels striking, and I don’t wish to belittle either event with the comparison – just to highlight the irrationality of the current situation.
Syrians, as the republicans were, are at the mercy of their geography and the fascist regime which hunts them, its powerful backers totally unhesitant to streamline the killing. Despite this, they are breaking societal barriers, protesting all forms of authority, and undertaking radical experiments in local democracy. As well there is the complete imbalance between the levels of arms between the rebels and the fascist onslaught; a total lack of interest from the self-appointed leaders of the democratic world, and the implications will be felt just as they were in the last century – giving the fascist forces a “far-away” playground to test their mettle doesn’t quench their thirst, it emboldens them. Yet there is little agenda, little focus, almost zero will for the violence to end. No major party in Europe has it at the top of their agenda and none of them have directly challenged the Russian state to end its involvement. All they have offered are vague statements towards a “peace” that could never exist without the acknowledgement of the explicit demands of Syrians. As Kholoud ended her remarks two weeks ago by saying; there can be no peace with Assad.
This is why the imbalanced relationship of ‘solidarity’ and the implications for global solutions are the greatest takeaway from this analysis of the fucked moment:
“It is becoming more and more a relationship of power that soothes the conscience of those doing the solidarity at a cheap cost when they themselves lack nothing. What we truly need is partnership, to meet and to engage in dialogue, to think and work together for the one world which we inhabit together.”
We cannot claim that we support peaceful solutions without looking straight on at the greatest cause of violence that affects Syrians today. Listening to their demands will show what is needed, the rest is just noise. This is one of the issues with online solidarity in general, as far as I can see there is little connection, little reaching out to those we don’t know enough about. It may sting to be told you are doing nothing, but that is the nature of the online game – it is mostly posturing. We have to keep looking and engaging with the world, to halt our collective trauma that we carry, and to know that action is caring.
The final article that I will reflect on is ‘Terror, Genocide, and the “Genocratic” Turn.’ In this text, YAHS argues that terrorism, as understood and defined by Western states and corporate media, has led to a near total acceptance of the “legitimate violence” that states undertake, and has rendered all opposition under the label of terrorism. Owing to the US led drive for security and anti-terrorism measures to become the forefront of international politics, intelligence agencies and state forces everywhere are free to harass and kill at an unknown rate with no oversight. We see this in the behaviour of many states; the USA, Israel, Russia, China, are all purveyors of this worldview – that the violence they undertake has a legitimacy that non-state actors who try to resist them should not be afforded.
I cannot stress the importance of this article enough, and almost cannot properly analyse it for fear of repeating it all in a less coherent manner. Each line is imperative and filled with creative arguments against this securitisation of the political order, which has huge implications for refugees, protestors, really for anyone who stands against the current system, because of “an exception that has now become the global standard.” The exception has become the pretext which allows so many aggressions and also allows for the genocidal practice of states to go unnoticed or unpunished. The affected bring their cases to an unjust world with no power and are met with indifference. The global system prioritises “anti-terror” measures above all, far above genocide and violence, and it does so at the expense of citizens everywhere. This passage should summarise this point to death:
“Terrorism is indeed an evil, but it is only one face of a global structure that produces various forms of discrimination, inequality, and racism. This progressively genocratic structure is the fundamental evil, and what makes it even more so is its claim to virtue by way of fighting savage entities like Daesh and al-Qaeda; something which makes even mass-murdering states such as Assad’s, and racist states such as Israel, and imperialist reactionary states such as Russia and the US, and ultra-reactionary state like Iran, forces of “good.”
That is why there was little attention paid to the destruction that the US, UK and French forces went to Raqqa with. The same reason that both Israel and Saudi Arabia keep their seats at the table while civilians take the brunt of their violent actions. The violent exception is the way that states, with the help of corporations, relate to each other now – by selling off the freedoms of their citizens to each other for a look at the latest shiny toy. This pretext to focus all their attention on terrorism has implications from air travel to warfare. It is the mark of a suspicious world that hides all its cards beneath the table, our leaders too scared and too obnoxious to confront themselves, so instead they hide and obscure all the meaning away. What we are left with is the dangerous world based on prejudiced assumptions – one that leaves people stranded having never even looked them in the eye.
I hope to make a clear –headed call for us to analyse the global failure in front of us. I hope we can see how business is conducted, because it has nothing to do with our needs or our demands. We cannot rely on the elites of nation states to define what is good conduct, because they repeatedly engage in murderous behaviour, and they do so with each other’s approval, creating a loop of violence that we have no influence over. And our Western states, which forget they are built on and enriched through violence, still try to keep up the pretense of being a standard for decency. Despite the weapons they sell and the ease with which they look away, only their performative politeness soothes the conscience to the point of numbness.
Our nations are increasingly consumed by their own myths and nationalistic social pressure – the reinforced meaning from the papers, the beating drum. There must be a proper rejection of all corrupt national projects, fuck the imperial states, they are bloated relics that swell on their shitty spoils. The same goes for the rest of our great powers, which only exist to fill their pockets and empty ours. Look at the fucked moment for what it is. Forget the pieces on the map that jostle for position; how can individuals take what is theirs?