On the “Arab Spring” so far, Jadaliyya has included coverage that portrays the revolutions as conspiracies, or too complex to portray as the true popular revolutions (that the Left long predicted, but has now disowned, since Islamism has been unleashed in their wake). Now Jadaliyya has also included some very good, non-journalistic opinion pieces, and some people whose work I admire, contribute and I am not trying to “diss” them. I don’t know who is funding Jadaliyya, or why, or what relationship it has with past projects such as MERIP, nor do I understand its “mission.”
Here’s Bassam Haddad’s recent article with that in mind (my comments are in red, and Caps –red only shows in certain browsers)
THE STARTING POINT IS WHERE HADDAD INSISTS THAT NO READER CAN UNDERSTAND THE SITUATION IN SYRIA. THE ENDING POINT IS THAT “THE REVOLUTION HAS FAILED.” YA LATIF! THE REVOLUTION IS BUT AN INFANT. AND “FAILED” ACCORDING TO WHOM? ACCORDING TO THAT PRIVILEGED SON AND NEPHEW OF FEIRUZ AND THE RAHBANI BROTHERS WHO REPRESENTED MODERNIZING, SECULARIZING LEBANON OF THE 1960S, PROCESSES OR MYTHOLOGIZED PROCESSES, WHICH HE, TO SOME DEGREE, MOCKED.
TEXT Do not try to simplify what is going on in Syria. You will fail.
We also cannot yield to complexity.
So many of the discussions on Syria—especially those occurring outside Syria—are simply detached from the tragedy, including perhaps my own writings. For instance, for the first time after 15 years of extensively researching Syria’s politics and society, with multiple and often long visits per year, I spent the last two years writing (and agonizing) about Syria without having the opportunity to visit, mainly because I am told I am not welcome there (my last visit was in January 2011, when, incidentally, I wrote this post on the Tunisian uprising).
HE CLAIMS EXPERTISE ON SYRIA ON THE BASIS OF 15 YEARS OF PRIOR RESEARCH. HE HAS WRITTEN ONE BOOK (2012) AND SEVERAL ARTICLES ON SYRIA, ALL APPARENTLY RELATED TO SYRIA’S BUSINESS COMMUNITY, BUT UNLESS THE BOOK DATES BACK TO A DISSERTATION, I DON’T KNOW IF THAT CONSTITUTES 15 YEARS OF RESEARCH, OR RATHER 15 YEARS OF BEING AN ACADEMIC. MOST ACADEMICS CARRY OUT RESEARCH FOR VERY LIMITED PERIODS, A FEW MONTHS, OR IN SHORT VISITS, SINCE MOST MUCH TEACH FULL-TIME. YET, HE ADMITS HE IS NOT IN SYRIA AND THEN LINKS TO A RECENT INSIDE-SYRIA EVENT AS BEING INTERPRETED OUTSIDE-SYRIA WHERE ALL VIEWS, ACCORDING TO THIS ARTICLE ARE EQUALLY INVALID.
A case in point is the recent bombing of the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus by regime jets. The outside debate/discussion is raging endlessly and insignificantly: is it an attack on Palestinians that demonstrates that they were merely a card in the past, or is it an attack on Jabhat al-Nusrah [really? is this what the uprising has come to?] (or other opposition groups) who infiltrated and must be rooted out at all costs? Or is it just another instance where the regime facilitates/conducts the bombing/ravaging of a Palestinian refugee camp as in Tall al-Za`tar? But wasn’t the regime the main defender and protector of various Palestinian resistance groups historically? . . . Etc. The narrative about the role of Palestine and Palestinians as produced in meta-narratives becomes the lens through which an incident or a collection thereof are viewed and interpreted. Everything else about that camp, its diversity, and its varied history is relegated to the background.
HADDAD WRONGLY IMPLIES THAT JABHAT AL-NUSRA ARE THE FIGHTERS IN THE YARMOUK CAMP. INTERNAL SOURCES HAVE REPORTED JN ELSEWHERE, IN ALEPPO, IDLIB AND HASSAKE PROVINCES. DO HADDAD AND THE UNNAMED SOURCES WITH WHOM HE IS CONVERSING/ARGUING BELIEVE THAT THE FSA IS SYNONOMOUS WITH JABHAT AL-NUSRA?
HADDAD FAILS TO MENTION THE PFLP-GC MILITIA FIGHTERS WHO SUPPORT ASSAD’S MILITARY FORCES. HE FAILS TO MENTION THE PALESTINIAN ANTI-ASSAD FIGHTERS FROM WITHIN YARMOUK CAMP. HE DOES NOT PROVIDE ANY CONTEXT FOR INTER-PALESTINIAN DISPUTES OVER THE SYRIAN GOVERNMENT’S “PROTECTION.” HE IGNORES THE LOCAL REPORTAGE BY THE LCCS AND OTHER SYRIAN SOURCES ON THE GROUND BECAUSE HADDAD DOES NOT ACCEPT ANY “INSIDE” INFORMATION WHICH SUPPORTS THE REVOLUTION.
HIS GENERIC STATEMENT THAT “everything else about the camp is relegated to the background,” MAY BE TRUE OF THOSE WHO ARE NOT COGNIZANT OF PALESTINE’S OR SYRIA’S HISTORY. BUT MANY ARE MORE COGNIZANT OF THESE HISTORIES THAN HADDAD WOULD LIKE TO BELIEVE. THE POLITICS OF YARMOUK CAMP, LIKE SYRIA’S POLICIES ON PALESTINIANS ARE FROM RESPONSIBLE, MORAL, NURTURING, JUST OR ADMIRABLE. SYRIA’S LEADERSHIP FACTIONALIZED THE PALESTINIAN MOVEMENT AND KIDNAPPED ARAFATISTS AND OTHERS, DETAINING AND TORTURING LARGE NUMBERS OF PALESTINIANS, SOME WITHIN A FEARED SPECIAL PALESTINIAN-CONTROLLED FACILITY IN DAMASCUS. PERHAPS THIS STATEMENT IS MERELY HADDAD’S CLAIM THAT HE KNOWS THIS CAMP’S BACKGROUND AND ITS MPORTANCE TO THE RESISTANCE AND THE SYRIAN REGIME’S “SUPPORT” OF (ELEMENTS OF) THE PALESTINIAN RESISTANCE, BUT NO-ONE ELSE DOES. AND THAT IS FALSE.
Right and Wrong for the Wrong Reasons
The claims put forth by myself and the myriad of other Syrian analysts, including the “instant” and “sudden” analysts who keep popping up like popcorn from the oddest places (I found two in my bathroom closet), (THE OTHERS ARE NOT EXPERTS, HADDAD, IS, BUT YES, WITHIN THE BLOGOSPHERE, SUCH IS THE CASE ON EVERY CONFLICT – HOWEVER IN ACADEMIA, SOME STANDARDS REMAIN, SADLY, A BIT COMPROMISED BY THE FACT THAT ACADEMICS HAD TO OBTAIN SYRIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVAL TO ENGAGE IN RESEARCH IN SYRIA) can be right or wrong, or conditionally so. But they might be on- or off-mark for the wrong reasons to the extent that one is divorced from the local context, and divorce comes in shades, from the cold calculating “methodist,” to the uninformed sympathizer, to gatekeepers of interests far removed from the well-being of Syria and Syrians. THEY ARE ALL WRONG BECAUSE THEY SUPPORT THE REVOLUTION WHICH IS SPONORED BY IMPERIALISM. Yet, they all participate and play with equal enthusiasm. Syria is a game now, played by states, institutions, analysts, activists, journalists, bloggers, tweeters, and artists who are often only remotely connected to the real lives of real people enduring real conditions there. GRANTED, SOME PEOPLE DISCUSS SYRIA WHO DON’T KNOW SYRA, BUT NEITHER IS HADDAD EXPLAINING ANYTHING ABOUT THE REAL LIVES OF REAL PEOPLE IN SYRIA WHETHER IN YARMOUK CAMP, AL-TADAMOUN, AL-GHOUTA AL-SHARQIYYA, NOR DOES HE MENTION THAT WHAT LOOKS LIKE A LARGE MAJORITY OF SYRIANS HAVE EITHER FLED OR SUPPORT THE REVOUTION. SEE THIS SAME POINT MADE REPEATEDLY BY THE ANGRY ARAB.
We produce snapshots of reality that are divorced from the cumulative history of pain and experience that have led to that reality. These snapshots become a reflection of observed people’s nature and eternal disposition not their circumstances, pragmatism, and dignity. We then monolithicize (THIS IS NOT, REPEAT, NOT A VERB. HADDAD APPEARED NOT TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THE WORD “SOPHOMORIC” MEANS IN HIS SLAM ON ME, A WHILE BACK) and essentialize them, and coalesce them into a single body of thoughts, terms, narratives, and/or paradigms that have been conjured up by analysts and politicians from times gone by. We finish the article or our tweet, save, send, close, and turn away. We can do that. But those living in Syria do not have that luxury. THE VERY DEFINITION OF “NEWS” RATHER THAN OUR MEDITERRANEAN TRADITION OF JOURNALIST-AS-OPINION-SHAPER IS JUST THAT – GIVE A SNAP SHOT OF AN EVENT BY ANSWERING THE QUESTIONS OF “WHO,” “WHAT,” “WHEN” “WHERE” AND “WHY. HADDAD WILL NOT AGREE WITH ANYONE WHO PROVIDES A “WHY” STATEMENT CREDITING THE REVOLUTION, BECAUSE IT SEEMS THAT HE AND HIS PUBLICATION BELIEVE IT TO BE INEXTRICABLY LINKED TO BOGEYMEN ISLAMISTS, WHERE OR NOT THEY ARE “REAL SYRIANS.”
The Irrelevance of Meta-Narratives (A WORD NOW GREATLY ABUSED BY ACADEMICS TO MEAN “FALSE BELIEF.” A DECADE AGO, WE MIGHT READ “FRAMING,” “CONSTRUCTION,” OR FURTHER BACK, “WORLD-VIEW”/WELTENSHAAUNG.
Those living in Syria look at things differently. HADDAD ISN’T IN SYRIA. HE HASN’T DONE A SURVY OF SYRIAN OPINION, NOR DOES HE HAVE ACCESS TO ANY LARGER GROUPS OF FRIENDS OR CONTACTS THAN ANY OF HIS FELLOW-EXPERTS, INCLUDING MYSELF AND SOME OF YOU. IF HE DOES, HE PROVIDES NO SUBSTANTIATION OF THAT FACT, OTHER THAN THE ABOVEMENTIONED “15 YEARS OF RESEARCH.” When they are exposed to the terms of debate outside Syria, they smile helplessly, disappointingly, and critically all at once, as though those on both sides of the debate that is happening outside Syria are talking about an imaginary thing, not about realities on the ground. People outside Syria are literally at each other’s throats discursively and physically, ARE PEOPLE INSIDE SYRIA “NOT AT EACH OTHERS THROATS’ IN THE SENSE OF BEING INVOLVED IN PHYSICAL CLASHES, OR BEING SHOT AT, DETAINED OR TORTURED IN MULTIPLE LOCATIONS EVERY DAY arguing over the prioritization of resistance to imperialism or resistance to dictatorship while most local Syrians are wondering about personal security, food, electricity, the safety of their family, and the possibility of dying altogether during the next round of clashes in their neighborhood. IF MOST “REAL SYRIANS” ONLY CARED ABOUT DEATH AND SURVIVAL THEN WHY ARE WE SEEING A RESITANCE EVERYWHERE? WHY ARE WE SEEING DEMONSTRATIONS AGAINST THE REGIME IN EVERY TOWN AND CITY WHERE THEY ARE POSSIBLE? In all conflicts, and war-zones, those present organize their days around survival. DID SUCH SIMILAR POPULATION CONCERNS WITH SURVIVAL PREVENT HADDAD AND HIS COLLEAGUES WHO OPPOSE THE SYRIAN REVOLUTION FROM HYPOTHESIZING ABOUT, “MONOLITHICIZING” (NO, I CANNOT USE THAT AWKWARD NON-WORD) RATHER, PROVIDING INSIGHT ON THE LEBANESE WAR? ACTUALLY HE IS TOO YOUNG AND HAS NOT WRITTEN ON THE LEBANESE WAR (SO FAR AS I CAN SEE) BUT HAS THAT PREVENTED HIM AND HIS CLIQUE FROM DRAWING CONCLUSIONS ABOUT IRAQIS IN IRAQ, AFGHANS, LIBYANS, OR EGYPTIANS? Most importantly from an analytical point of view, we erroneously assume that their preferences are stable, but they are not. They too change with circumstances, a perfectly rational behavior. HOW IS THIS AN INTELLIGENT STATEMENT? YES, OF COURSE, DUH, PEOPLE SWITCH THEIR STORIES, TWO “SYRIA EXPERTS” RECENTLY DID. BUT WHO IS DISCUSSING SYRIAN PREFERENCES? DOES HADDAD THINK SYRIANS SUPPORT THE REVOLUTION BUT ARE NOW OPPOSED TO IT? OR DOES HE MEAN THAT SOME WERE OPPOSED TO IT, (OR DUBIOUS ABOUT IT) BUT NOW FAVOR THE REVOLUTION?
Thanks to the armed groups who have now perfected—and sometimes surpassed on individual counts—the perennial brutality of the regime, one is hard-pressed in Syria to find a cause or a foreseeable scenario to cling to. Haddad contends that the violence by “armed groups” is equal to that of Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad? This is untenable. YES, ALL ACTIONS OF REVENGE AND SUMMARY EXECUTIONS SHOULD BE AND ARE BEING CONDEMNED BY THE MILITARY LEADERSHP OF THE FSA, BUT A) ONE MUST COMPARE KILLINGS OF PERHAPS UNDER 100 PRISONERS, OR AT WORST, SEVERAL UNDRED PEOPLE TO AN ENORMOUSLY HIGHER DEATH TOLL, INFLICTED ON CIVILIANS AS WELL AS COMBATANTS BY THE REGIME, TO WHICH WE MUST ADD THE TOLL OF TORTURE, DETENTIONS, AND ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES. DOES IT NOT MATTER TO HADDAD THAT IT IS ASSAD’S BRUTALITY THAT IS “UNTENABLE Under such conditions, daily matters reign supreme over meta-narratives that are not necessarily unimportant, but have become thoroughly irrelevant for most Syrians. ONCE AGAIN, ON WHAT BASIS CAN HE TELL US WHAT IS OR IS NOT RELEVANT FOR “MOST SYRIANS?” THERE IS NO DATA TO SUPPORT THIS STATEMENT OTHER THAN A GENERAL ASSERTION THAT PEOPLE SUFFER DURING WAR SITUATIONS AND DON’T HAVE A CLEAR NOTION OF A WINNING “SIDE,” UNTIL SOME CRITICAL TURNING POINT IN A CONFLICT IS ANNOUNCED, OR EXPERIENCED. HE ALSO SUGGESTS THAT “MOST SYRIANS” DON’T CARE ABOUT THE OUTCOME OF THE CONFLICT. THE UNTRUTH OF THAT STATEMENT HAS BEEN AMPLY ILLUSTRATED BY SYRIANS, EITHER PHYSICALLY BATTLING REGIME FORCES OR WHO ENGAGE IN PEACEFUL PROTESTS EVERY FRIDAY IF NOT MORE FREQUENTLY OVER THE LAST 20 MONTHS.
Hence, that smile WHAT SMILE? I SEE TEARS. that many local Syrians draw on their face in the face of meta-narratives spewed by all of us on the other side—to which people click “like,” or not. META-NARRATIVES IS CODE FOR “REVOLUTION”? AMAZING!
This physical detachment, however, does not automatically privilege the analysis of all insiders equitably. Some of the cruder analysis has come from inside Syria. This is an effort to claim that his analysis and expertise is superior to that coming out of Syria. TO HADDAD, THE “CRUDER ANALYSIS” IS ATTRIBUTED TO THE OPPOSITION. ACTUALLY, THE CRUDEST ANALYSIS HAS BEEN TRUMPETED BY THE SYRIAN NEWS AGENCY AND THE REGIME ON A DAILY BASIS. SO WHY DOESN’T HADDAD SPELL OUT WHICH “CRUDER ANALYSIS” HE MEANS? DOES “CRUDE” MEAN THE INTERPRETATION THAT THE FSA AND THE OTHER ARMED GROUPS HAVE BEEN GAINING GROUND SINCE EARLY SEPTEMBER OR ARE AT LEAST NOT SUFFERING A? BADLY AS THEY WERE ONE YEAR AGO? And though such analysis can be discarded as such, it cannot be dismissed as a real expression of real matters, DO “REAL MATTERS” PERHAPS MEAN “FACTS”? however flawed.
Those of us who have family, friends, and colleagues in Syria with whom we are in touch on a daily basis, and those of us who read Syria news coming out of everywhere and nowhere, know that the discussions inside Syria are far more visceral and real, BUT I THOUGHT HE JUST DECLARED THEM CRUDE AND THUS FALSE? ACTUALLY, HIGHLY VISCERAL DISCUSSIONS TAKE PLACE EVERY DAY “OUTSIDE” IN THE ANGRY ARAB’S (ABUKHALIL”S) THOUSANDS OF POSTS MOCKING THE SYRIAN REVOLUTIONARIES OR COMMENTING SOLELY ON EXTREMIST FIGHTERS IN THAT REVOLUTION WHO ARE OF COURSE DEPENDENT ON “SAUDI”/”QATARI” FUNDING MIXED IN WITH AUTHORIAL OR COMMENTERS’ SAUDI-BASHING. VISCERAL DISCUSSIONS ALSO TAKE PLACE AMONG EXILES TRYING TO ADVISE FAMILY MEMBERS INSIDE SYRIA, AND FROM FAMILY MEMBERS TRYING TO EXPLAIN THEIR IMMEDIATE NEEDS. where positions often reflect immediately consequential action, and where political trade-offs are not academic or theoretical: people die as a result of certain positions, political trade-offs can mean the difference between being able to provide for one’s family and not being able to put food on the table every night, or not being able to stay in one’s home that same night. THIS IS CODE TO SAY THAT MANY SYRIANS WERE COMPLICIT WITH THE REGIME AND FELT THEY HAD NO CHOICE IN THE MATTER, SINCE WITHIN THEIR OWN EXTENDED FAMILIES WERE GOVERNMENT INFORMERS. THAT DOES NOT PRE-EMPT FACTORINGIN PAST OR PRESENT COERCION BY THE REGIME.
The Triumph of Meta-Narratives
Yet, we continue to spar outside Syria. And we are winning unfortunately. The meta-narratives produced by various states, institutions, and individuals have become more important than what is happening in Syria. TO THE CONSPIRACY ANTI-IMPERIALIST THEORISTS, WHAT HAPPENS OUTSIDE OF ANY COUNTRY IS ALWAYS MORE IMPORTNANT THAN INTERNAL EVENTS OR PRESSURES. They have become more precious than the people on whose behalf we are presumably fighting. They have also emptied out the content of principle. NONSENSE! HADDAD IS SO MURKY AND UNLCEAR, BUT THIS SUGGESTS THAT FIGHTING FOR FREEDOM – AN ABTRACT PRINCIPLE – IS NOT ONGOING, IS NOT BEING REFERRED TO ON A DAILY BASIS BY SYRIANS. TELL THAT TO THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF DETAINEES. Abstract principles—usually good otherwise—have triumphed over reality anew, while being disconnected from it. Syria is now produced wholesale mainly in the media, social media, and in the positions of grand powers that can purchase positions, enforce their narrative, or influence events, often by doing nothing.
This does not mean that there is no politics in all this. The biggest losers from the destruction of Syria are Syrians themselves, and what Syria could have been. PRAY TELL WHAT COULD THE GLORIOUS FAILED SYRIA OF THE BA`TH HAVE BEEN? WHAT WAS IT? IT WS NOTHING BUT A SECURITY-SERVICES MACHINE WHICH PERSONALLY ENRICHED A RULER, HIS CRONIES AND THOSE WHO COOPERATED WITH HIM. IS HADDAD SUGGESTING THAT SYRIA STOOD FOR THE EVENTUAL LIBERATION (VIA REVOLUTION) OF PALESTINE OR THE ARAB LEFT? IF SO, WHY DOESN’T HE SPELL THAT OUT This latter part is important because it is a window into who might be the biggest winners: conservative Arab state, the United States, and Israel, all of whom want to avoid the potential of Syria could have been. A frequent ploy of conspiracy theorists is to play the game of “who benefits?” Indeed, superpowers and regional powers will always attempt to take advantage of political shifts, but to pretend that Syria EVER would have achieved its potential (FAIR DISTRIBUTION OF GOODS, POLITICAL PLURALSIM, OR DEMOCRATIC AND HUMAN RIGHTS, OR FULL RIGHTS FOR WOMEN OR ANY OTHER MEASURE OF A STATE’S RESPONSIBILTIES IS ONE OF THE MOST RIDICULOUS STATEMENTS OF THIS ENTIRE ARTICLE Their (REFERRANT? DOES THIS MEAN ISRAEL AND THE U.S. – HOW DOES HADDAD KNOW WHAT ISRAEL OR THE U.S. WISHES TO SEE IN SYRIA? WHY DOES HE ATTEMPT TO IMPLICATE THE SYRIAN (AND EGYPTIAN) REVOLUTION BY PRETENDING IT IS A PLOT BY ISRAEL – IS THIS NOT THE TIME-HONORED METHOD OF DENOUNCING POLITICAL OR IDEOLOGICAL FOES IN THE ARAB WORLD? SEEMS HADDAD IS PRETTY DESPERATE NOW TO CAST THE REVOLUTION IN THE WORST –POSSIBLE LIGHT) preferred meta-narrative is winning inside Syria, but not yet in the region. This is the next battle, and it’s about resistance/imperialism, Islamist/secular, rich/poor, tyrant/opposition, patriarchy/feminism, but also about much more. One manifestation (HERE IS THE JADALIYYA META-NARRATIVE – THAT THE REVOLUTION IN EGYPT WAS/IS A CONSPIRACY BY THE U.S. AND ISRAL AND I HOPE PLENTY OF EGYPTIANS READ THIS SO THEY FULLY COMPREHEND THE CONTEMPT THE ARAB –LEFT AMONG PALESTINIAN, AND LEBANESE-AMERICANS FOR THEM, IF THEY HAVEN’T ALREADY HEARD ENOUGH OF IT EVER SINCE CAMP DAVID) has already started in Egypt. That larger battle is inevitably coming, and the fall of the Syrian regime, and the other dictatorships to the east that are shielded externally, will be just the beginning. It will take time.
In the meantime, in Ziad Rahbani’s words, sung in part by Joseph Saqr in the early 1970s:
“ya nour `inayyah, rohna dahiyyah . . . dahiyyati-l-harakah al-thawriyyah ya nour ‘inayyah”
No truly representative translation possible except, “we have become the victims of the revolution.” CITATION OF THESE LYRICS REALLY SAYS IT ALL. DRAWING ON THE SENSIBILITIES OF AN ATROPHIED AND STUNNED ARAB LEFT, AND IN THIS CASE LYRICS OF A PERSON WHO WAS NEVER PART OF A “REVOLUTION” (IT WAS HIS PARENTS’ GENERATION AND HIS PARENTS WERE BY NO MEANS AFFILIATED EITHER WITH THE LEFT-PALESTINIAN TEMPORARY ALLIANCE IN LEBANON DESPITE THEIR MANIPULATION OF RELATED SENTIMENTS IN SOME OF THEIR LYRICS AND SUBJECT IN SONGS AND MASRAHIYAAT) WHO CLAIMED TO BE THE ONLY “TRUE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE REVOLUTION” IN THE REGION, WHO REFUSE TO IDENTIFY THEIR COUNTERPARTS IN THE SYRIAN REVOLUTION AND WHO ARE TRYING, DESPERATELY TO NEGATE SYRIAN OWNERSHIP OVER AND AGENCY WITHIN THAT REVOLUTION.
INDEED, SUPPORTERS OF BASHAR AL-ASSAD WILL PROBABLY BECOME VICTIMS OF THE REVOLUTION AGAINST HIM. THOSE OPPOSED TO THE REVOLUTION AND IDENTIFIED WITH HIM, MAY BE AS WELL.. Listen here or below.
To be continued.