On attitudes to Syria

‘Are you happy?’ the soldier in this video shouts. ‘Are you happy that we’re killing each other? Is this the Syrian people? Who is this person that makes you do this? Why are you doing this for a human being? Who is this “Bashar?” He is a person like you, he eats, drinks and sleeps..

‘My soldiers we are brothers! Talk to me soldiers! My soldiers I give you my oath to God that if you come over here no one will lay a hand on you [met with refusal]. What if I drop my weapon and come to you? Give me your oath! [Drops weapon and goes empty handed]’

Just so emotional and beautiful, how in the middle of such destruction and misery you find such beauty.The number of times they have done things like this, trying to talk to the enemy by appealing to their hearts and to their moral sensitbilities and to the responsibility to their people. They are from the grassroots and are surely one of the most moral group of fighters in the world (probably because they are from the grassroots), yet you never see things like this and they have such little support, even from those who claimed to be supporting the Syrian people’s uprising against Assad..

Indeed, people seem to think the Syrian people, those massive crowds you saw in protests 3 years ago just completely disappeared (or maybe that they were all made refugees). And while there indeed are a massive number of refugees they are only a proportion of the entire population; these fighters are the Syrian people, where do you think all those men who used to protest and chant things like ‘we will be martyrs by the millions’ after the regime attacked their protests 3 years ago, went?

They are often blamed for taking up arms against a regime that was committing massacres against unarmed protests for a year on end without anyone helping them, and their taking up arms helped to give rise to this connotation that ‘they’re just as bad’ because they resorted to violence, as well as the abuses unfortunately committed by some (which unfortunately should not be unexpected in a civil war) under their banner which have added to that, and been used to smear them all recklessly with the same brush (as well as conflate them with other groups).

But what I find disappointing is that those who should be supporting and sympathising with those who were protesting and then took up arms to defend themselves in Syria instead dismiss them seemingly easily, and ironically take mainstream news about ‘the rebels’, and more importantly the implications of such news, almost as a given. To be clear my point here is not that that the news outlets are ‘biased’ against them. But rather, that the problem with such outlets and headlines is one that is generally endemic of mainstream news (superficiality & lack of depth in coverage), but unlike on other topics where there they are very often opposed and very critically scrutinised, this seems to be absent here.

So if I talk about a few examples of this ‘critical deficit’ I refer to, we can take for example an article headline about ‘rebel abuses’, now it is often the case that rather than critically analyse the context, specificities and overall conduct of those forces in large, they do not seek to challenge their implications as they perhaps would in another topic. So they do not devote time to carefully study the situation (as they would if it were a different scenario perhaps), and devote time to study the amount of abuses (for example rape) committed overall by these groups, which would make it clear that they are not (anything) ‘as bad as the regime’. They do not exercise care as they would in other debates and differentiate between some of the ‘proclaimed’ rebels, such as ISIS/Nusra Front, and the majority who are moderate, often grouping them all together into one basket. Now you expect that from the mainstream, who can put out an article out about ‘rebels abuses’ without examining things in depth or talking about the complexity of the situation (the article will intentionally or unintentionally connote that such abuses are quasi-symbolic of the opposition movement as a whole). Such a headline is problematic because the ‘rebels’ are not a homogenous unit but are made up of guerilla factions, nor are they an organised army but essentially ordinary people with AK-47s. You expect that level from the mainstream, because mainstream news does not go into depth and is generally problematically superficial, but not from these people, who seem content in this scenario to accept such generalisations.

Example 3, they accept (because they read in the mainstream news of the ‘influx of foreign fighters’) that now a large part of the opposition fighters are not from Syria and that it has ceased to be the ‘Syrian uprising’ that it once was (when most reports by non-partisan organisations show that the vast majority of fighters are Syrian) with a lot of the rhetoric that the opposition is ‘majority’ extremist now. Here there often becomes a denial that those revolutionaries who they used to cheer on before they became soldiers with often-religious rhetoric were the ‘original revolutionaries’, and when you ask ‘where did those original revolutionaries go’ they reply that they ‘continue to be non-violent ‘activists’ who are invisible now because of the war, and are opposed to both sides of the fighting (simplification to the extreme).

Example 4, they have a negative view of the ‘leadership’ of the opposition as being pro-Western puppets (as well as being divided), but again there is a serious lack of scrutiny here because it is generally well known that rebels on the ground are quite far away from their proclaimed ‘leaders’ and often do not acknowledge their authority. This lack of scrutiny contrasts with (for example) undermining the Palestinian resistance as a whole because the leadership is shit and divided (as it is).

Example 5, accepting the notion that the FSA is ‘Western-backed’, a claim again strongly associated with the mainstream news (even Al-Jazeera) who overwhelmingly use these terms (with very deceptive implications) [‘the secular, Western-backed FSA’, and for that matter I don’t think they’re that secular either]. The consequence of this of course is to deligitimise in ways the movement as a whole because of its links with imperialist powers. But this ‘accepted’ mainstream-originated claim is again simplistic because it creates an image in people’s minds that the FSA is strongly backed with Western weapons against the Syrian regime, when at least until now 3 years on it has not, not, not, and generally this ‘backing’ has been in the form of ‘non-lethal aid’ and ‘diplomatic support’. A serious study of the Syrian situation will find that the FSA is, very contrary to assumptions of being ‘Western-backed’, overwhelmingly underarmed and generally rely on AK-47 and home-made mortars in the face of tanks and airplanes, and that it is the extremist groups, who are not referred to as ‘Western-backed’, which have the much better funding (in turn swelling their ranks).

Now finally, what do I think the reason for all this is? Well my answer will be a bit of an anti-climax, because it is not a psychological phenomenon or particularly ground-breaking, but rather quite simplistic. And that is that it would seem unfortunately to me, because of this absence of critical scrutiny which I would see generally exercised regarding so many other topics, that because the revolutionaries in Syria (the moderates) are ideologically different from what some ‘revolutionaries’ here want in the West, it simply becomes much more easy for them not to genuinely exercise that critical scrutiny and put things in the context of a bigger picture, which they would probably apply if such revolutionaries were of a different shade to the ones in existence. The result in the end therefore becomes, that rather than go through the rigours (and complexity) of trying to argue about things which are not exactly black and white (which we all to various degrees have to do regarding different issues, for example a supporter of Palestine/Ireland/Venezuela must know how to argue and debate some of those problems associated with their causes in the bigger context), it is easier for them to take abuses by some and talk the words about an opposition that they’re not so (ideologically) dreamy about: ‘they’re not that much better than the regime’.



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