Tuesday, April 26, 2011

FROM DAMASCUS - a very measured post from someone in Damascus at the moment, as found on the Syria Comment blog of Dr J. Landis

Omar, the butcher, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.


The conversation on this blog mirrors those taking place on most major media networks. One side, pro-opposition, feels that J. Landis is being too supportive of the regime, not sympathizing enough with the difficult experience of the protesters. Simultaneously, the other side, pro-regime, believes that J. Landis is attacking the Syrian government and siding with the protesters.

Discussion boards on Al-Jazeera are following a similar pattern: of those posting, half blame the network for fomenting hate for the regime, while the other half blame them for not reporting enough brutality & abuses… and both sides are dishing out the insults. I had hoped to find a more intelligent, constructive, and respectful conversation here; after all, though these are emotional times, we are all searching for truth.

People, I think it should be clear that what is happening in Syria is more complex than a simple, “two sides” conflict of “people” vs. “regime.” This is not a black & white issue. Also, there are significant elements of truth to the sentiments expressed by both those who support the protesters, and those who believe that the regime is still Syria’s best option.

I encourage both sides to understand each other, beginning with those who feel the regime is the best option. I think that whether or not the regime should stay, we must recognize that the grievances of protesters are genuine. This has not been a nice government. It has been the cause of great suffering and loss for thousands of families and individuals over many years. If you’re not aware of that, you haven’t yet learned of (or are hiding from) the reality of authority in Syria. The decades of abuses and unchecked selfishness of this government should make any revolt on the part of the populace understandable. Even if the threat of a Brotherhood/Salafi/Wahhabi (in other words, “social exclusivists that may tolerate violence”) element is legitimate, we can understand that Sunnis have experienced abuses, injustices, and oppression, that would only serve to increase their movement toward more fanatical, exclusivist persuasions.

At the same time, while I encourage those who support the regime to acknowledge the feelings of protesters/opposition, those who find themselves highly sympathetic to the opposition similarly need to exercise sensitivity to the fears of the minorities in Syria, who are uncertain about a post-Assad Syria. The Islamist element is real and present; it is not healthy; it will never be healthy; it will never preach a message of loving coexistence with spiritual identities outside the bounds of the “Big 3″; it will never promote loving acceptance or appreciation for what are seen as one’s heterodoxical neighbors.

I find myself very sympathetic with those who oppose the regime. It’s difficult to like it. But when I consider the alternatives, I can’t kid myself about the sectarian nature of this country, the decades-long grudges that oppressed families/groups still harbor, the centuries-long fears held by minorities, some of whom didn’t originally hail from this area, but who found refuge from their own persecutions in the mountains of the Levant.

Let me share an anecdote that can illustrate what many Syrians are feeling in this period. I sat three days ago for breakfast on the balcony of a local friend. She is in her mid thirties. She has no love for this regime. Her father was imprisoned by this government for about 15 years, tortured extensively, and upon his eventual release, was never able to have the same functionality or command over his body or mind, instead needing to be cared for at home, and finally wasting away. He died last year and I witnessed the sobbing of my friend, whose adolescence had been robbed by a regime that we could say killed her father. This shines a light on the true, disgusting character of this government. And now… she tells me that she hopes it will stay. As we sat for breakfast on the mountain (Qasuun) overlooking Damascus, she said “I want the government to be changed, but if this opposition wins, everything we have here,” she waved her hand at the city beneath us, “will be destroyed.” In part she’s referring to the violence that will occur as the regime continuous to fight the opposition, in part she’s referring to the sectarianism that could result from the loss of a security apparatus, and in part she’s referring to the rise of Islamism in a post-Assad period that lacks a prepared opposition having a legitimate plan for governing.

Revolutions are exciting and it’s fun to see something big happening in the news. It’s fun to see the dominoes falling, to speculate about the next country to go. Maybe the inevitable is that Assad power will fall (and maybe this is for the best, maybe not), but please recognize that if this occurs, many people’s lives and futures will be drastically affected, many will experience great loss, many will suffer, and many will never recover.

On Friday, I sat in the Old City, pondering the notable change apparent in the silent streets, the lack of women and families out and about. I sat in a deserted coffee shop. The owner received a call informing him of a disturbance somewhere near Zebletani/Bab Sharqi, and the possibility for it to spread down the Street Called Straight. He closed and told us to run home as quickly as possible. Simultaneously, demonstrations were occurring in Midan, placing our area between two areas of activity. It is not fun and games here; it is life and death. This is not to say that protests should persist or go away, but just to point out the seriousness of these events. I sat in a fancy but deserted restaurant last night, that’s usually bustling. The waiter said, “People are just too afraid to leave their houses.” Maybe the people should continue to rise and depose the regime. Or maybe the regime’s stay will keep more people safe than would a post-revolution Syria. Whether the regime battles it out with the people, or falls and an unprepared society tries to form a new nation, both scenarios spell grave suffering for many.

Many people who (like me) consider themselves pro-democracy, pro-individual freedoms, and pro-human rights, seem to feel that they must–on moral principle–automatically support any pro-freedom movement or oppositional uprising that takes place. Experience is showing me that it is more complicated, and that there is no shame in stepping back, pausing, and asking, what will happen on the other side? Who is prepared to lead? What will the conditions of security be like?
I believe in the rights of Syrians and I sympathize with those who resent the crimes and tortures of the regime. But before you plunge headlong to give your wild, exuberant support for “revolution,” please ask yourself if you can articulate any realistic plan for a post-Assad Syria.

This message was posted in response to the following blog, showing the sort of people who are behind the so-called Syrian Revolution: Syria Comment


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