The Syrian Revolution 10 Years On

Speakers:
Leila Al Shami, Banah Ghadbian, Shireen Akram-Boshar, Sara Abbas, Zaher Sahloul, Wafa Mustafa
Moderators:
Yazan al-Saadi, Shiyam Galyon

Watch here:
https://www.facebook.com/147353662105485/posts/1790854954422006/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1Y7h4N_uHQ

Syria had been the focus of much regional and global attention following the massive eruption of popular revolt in mid-March 2011. The Syrian revolution gradually developed into a war involving multiple local, regional and international actors. As a result, the revolution and its massive protest movement, as well as the resistance from below that have sustained them, has been mostly ignored or silenced. Hegemonic narratives centered around geopolitical rivalries and sectarian conflicts have dominated much of international and Western discourse stripping the Syrian popular classes of any social, political or revolutionary agency.

To push back against these narratives, we had organized a series of an Online Summer Institute titled “The Syrian Revolution: A History from Below” that included presentations from activists, organizers, academics, and writers, who discussed an array of topics ranging from grassroots movements, imperialism and anti-imperialism, political economy, international solidarity, feminist struggles, the prison system, healthcare weaponization, Palestinian solidarity, Kurdish self-determination, refugees, revolutionary art, and the future of the Syrian and regional uprisings (2011 and today). To view the series on Syria’s past and present, go here: https://syrianrevolt159610334.wordpress.com/

Now, we shall turn our gaze to the future.

Marking more than a decade since uprisings erupted in Syria and elsewhere in the region and the world; there is an urgent need to start planning, preparing, and coordinating. Resistance against imperialism and dictatorships of all types is a long and grueling process. It will be painful, frustrating, depressing, and at times heartbreaking, yet to survive and prevail in this long, long war, it will require creative, passionate, patient, self-reflective and stubborn optimism.

In this spirit, we announce an event called “Syria, the Region, & the World 10 Years from Now”. This event will include revolutionary songs, footage from the revolutionary archives, and short interventions from activists, intellectuals, and organizers, and will not only commemorate the Syrian uprising, and other social movements for self-determination and dignity, but also revisit the past with a critical mindset to better prepare for the future. The webinar will examine, discuss, and outline practical steps that we could take to make the Syrian struggle and beyond more visible to people outside Syria. The webinar will also explore the connections between the different struggles in the region. The webinar will cover topics such as the effect of the pandemic on resistance and population, reflect on how to achieve accountability and justice for crimes committed against people, and examine how to develop transnational solidarity between communities struggling for peace and dignity.

This event will challenge the mainstream, orientalist, and Manichean perspectives, as well as push back against the pessimistic and compromising fatalism that have come to dominate narratives surrounding solutions and justice for Syria and others communities.

The future is ours, not theirs.

Speakers:
Leila Al Shami is a British-Syrian who has been involved in human rights and social justice struggles in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East since 2000. She is the co-author of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War with Robin Yassin-Kassab, and a contributor to Khiyana-Daesh, the Left and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution. She blogs at leilashami.wordpress.com.

Banah Ghadbian is a Syrian woman poet, jewelry maker, and activist. She has a B.A. in comparative women’s studies and sociology from Spelman College and an M.A. from University of California-San Diego, where she is a doctoral student in ethnic studies. Her research focuses on how Syrian women use creative resistance including poetry and theatre to survive multiple layers of violence. Her work is published in The Feminist Wire (finalist in their 2015 poetry competition), and the print anthology Passage & Place.

Shireen Akram-Boshar is a socialist activist and alum of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). She has organized around the question of the Syrian uprising and the relationship between Syrian and Palestinian struggles for liberation, as well as on anti-imperialism and solidarity with the revolts of the Middle East/North Africa region. Her writing has covered the repression of Palestine solidarity activists in the US, revolution and counterrevolution in the Middle East, Trump’s war on immigrants, and the fight against the far right.

Sara Abbas is a Sudanese Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the Freie Unversität Berlin. Her doctoral research focuses on the discourses and practices of women members of the Islamist Movement and al-Bashir’s formerly ruling party in Sudan. Most recently, she has been researching Sudan’s resistance committees which emerged out of the 2018 revolution. She is a member of SudanUprising Germany and the Alliance of Middle Eastern and North African Socialists.

Zaher Sahloul is a critical care specialist at Christ Advocate Medical Center in Chicago. Dr. Sahloul is the immediate past president of and a senior advisor to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a humanitarian and advocacy organization that provides medical relief to Syrians and Syrian refugees.

Wafa Mustafa is a survivor from detention, and an activist and journalist from Masyaf, a city in the Hama Governorate, western Syria. Mustafa left the country on 9 July 2013, exactly a week after her father was arrested by the authorities in Damascus. Mustafa moved to Turkey and began reporting on Syria for various media outlets. In 2016, she moved to Germany and continued her interrupted studies in Berlin where she studies Arts and Aesthetics at Bard College. In her advocacy, Mustafa covers the impact of detention on young girls and women and families.

Moderators:
Yazan al-Saadi is a comic writer, communications specialist, journalist, and freelance researcher based between Kuwait and Lebanon. He holds a Bachelor’s (Honors) degree in Economics and Development Studies from Queen’s University, Canada, and a Masters of Arts in Law, Development, and Globalization from the School of Oriental and African Studies. He often dreams of electronic sheep.

Shiyam Galyon is a U.S. based Syrian writer and communications coordinator at War Resisters League. Previously she worked on Books Not Bombs, a campaign to create scholarships for Syrian students displaced from war, and is currently a member of the Syrian Women’s Political Movement.

Visit our website: syrianrevolt.org

Thanks to Yasser Munif for the heads-up. || TRR

Сирия и “анти-империализм” дураков

Стирание людей с помощью дезинформации: Сирия и “анти-империализм” дураков

Недобросовестные писатели и СМИ, часто действующие под эгидой “независимой журналистики” с якобы “левыми” взглядами, распространяют агрессивную пропаганду и дезинформацию, целью которой является лишение сирийцев политической свободы.

[Следующее oткрытое письмо было совместным усилием группы сирийских писателей и интеллектуалов и других лиц, которые солидарны с ними. Она подписана активистами, писателями, художниками и учеными из Сирии и 34 других стран Африки, Азии, Европы, Ближнего Востока, Северной Америки, Океании и Южной Америки и выходит на нескольких языках: английском, арабском, французском, испанском, греческом и итальянском.]

С начала сирийского восстания десять лет назад, и особенно с тех пор, как Россия вмешалась в Сирию от имени Башара Асада, произошло любопытное и пагубное развитие событий: появление сторонников Асада во имя “анти-империализма” среди тех, кто в противном случае обычно идентифицирует себя как прогрессивных или “левых”, и последующее распространение манипулятивной дезинформации, которая обычно отвлекает внимание от хорошо документированных злоупотреблений Асада и его союзников. Изображая себя “противниками” империализма, они обычно проявляют крайне избирательное внимание к вопросам “вмешательства” и нарушениям прав человека, что часто согласуется с правительствами России и Китая; тех, кто не согласен с их строго контролируемыми взглядами, часто (и ложно) клеймят как “энтузиастов смены режима” или обдураченных западными политическими интересами.

Раскольническая и сектантская роль, которую играет эта группа, безошибочна: с их упрощенной точки зрения, все движения за демократию и за достоинство, которые идут против российских или китайских государственных интересов, обычно изображаются как нисходящая работа западного вмешательства: ни одно из них не является автохтонным, ни одно из них не связано с десятилетиями независимой внутренней борьбы против жестокой диктатуры (как в Сирии), и ни одно по-настоящему не представляет желания людей, требующих права на достойную жизнь, а не угнетения и насилия. Их объединяет отказ бороться с преступлениями режима Асада или даже признать, что имело место жестоко подавленное народное восстание против Асада.

Эти авторы и средства массовой информации выросли в последние годы и часто ставят Сирию на первый план своей критики империализма и интервенционизма, которую они характерно ограничивают западом; российское и иранское участие, как правило, игнорируется. При этом они стремились присоединиться к давней и почтенной традиции внутренней оппозиции злоупотреблениям имперской властью за рубежом, не только, но и довольно часто исходящей от левых.

Но они не принадлежат к этой компании по праву. Никто из тех, кто явно или неявно присоединяется к пагубному правительству Асада, этого не делает. Никто из тех, кто избирательно и оппортунистически выдвигает обвинения в “империализме” из соображений своей конкретной версии “левой” политики, вместо того чтобы последовательно противостоять ей в принципе по всему миру — тем самым признавая империалистический интервенционизм России, Ирана и Китая, — этого не делает.

Часто под прикрытием практики “независимой журналистики” эти различные авторы и средства массовой информации функционировали в качестве главных источников дезинформации и пропаганды о продолжающейся глобальной катастрофе, в которую превратилась Сирия. Их реакционная, перевернутая Реалполитика так же зациклена на нисходящей, антидемократической “политике власти”, как и Генри Киссинджер или Сэмюэл Хантингтон, только с обратной валентностью. Но этот сводящий с ума упрощающий риторический ход (“переворачивание сценария”, как однажды выразился один из них), каким бы привлекательным он ни был для тех, кто стремится определить, кто такие “хорошие парни” и “плохие парни” в любом конкретном месте на планете, на самом деле является инструментом специально подобранной лести для своей аудитории о “истинной работе власти”, которая служит укреплению дисфункционального статус-кво и препятствует развитию действительно прогрессивного и международного подхода к глобальной политике, в котором мы так отчаянно нуждаемся, учитывая планетарные проблемы реагирования на глобальное потепление.

Доказательства того, что мощь США сама по себе была ужасающе разрушительной, особенно во время холодной войны, ошеломляют: по всему миру, от Вьетнама до Индонезии, Ирана, Конго, Южной и Центральной Америки и за ее пределами, массовые нарушения прав человека, имевшие место во имя борьбы с коммунизмом, очевидны. И в период после окончания холодной войны, так называемой “Войны с террором”, американские интервенции в Афганистане и Ираке не сделали ничего, чтобы предложить фундаментальную национальную перемену.

Но Америка не играет центральной роли в том, что произошло в Сирии, несмотря на то, что утверждают эти люди. Идея о том, что это так или иначе, несмотря на все доказательства обратного, является побочным продуктом провинциальной политической культуры, которая настаивает как на центральной роли власти США в глобальном масштабе, так и на империалистическом праве определять, кто “хорошие парни” и “плохие парни” в любом данном контексте.

Идеологическое сближение правых поклонников Асада с такого рода авторитарно-дружественной “левизной” симптоматично и указывает на то, что очень реальная и очень серьезная проблема заключается в другом: что делать, когда народ подвергается такому же насилию со стороны своего правительства, как сирийский народ, удерживаемый в плену теми, кто охотно прибегают к пыткам, исчезновениям и убийствам людей даже за малейший намек на политическую оппозицию их власти? По мере того как многие страны все ближе и ближе приближаются к авторитаризму и отходят от демократии, нам кажется, что это чрезвычайно важный политический вопрос, на который пока нет ответа; и поскольку ответа нет, во всем мире растет безнаказанность со стороны сильных и растет уязвимость для бессильных.

Об этом у этих “антиимпериалистов” нет полезных слов. О глубоком политическом насилии, которому подвергли сирийский народ Ассады, иранцы, русские? Нет слов. Простите нас за то, что мы указываем на то, что такое стирание жизни и опыта сирийцев воплощает саму суть империалистических (и расистских) привилегий. Эти писатели и блогеры не проявили никакой осведомленности о сирийцах, в том числе подписавших это письмо, которые рисковали своей жизнью, выступая против режима, которые были заключены в пыточные тюрьмы пыток Ассадов (некоторые в течение многих лет), потеряли близких, у которых есть друзей и родственников, которых насильственно исчезли, бежали из своей страны – хотя многие сирийцы пишут и говорят об этом опыте в течение многих лет.

В совокупности сирийский опыт от Революции до настоящего времени представляет собой фундаментальный вызов миру, каким он представляется этим людям. Сирийцы, которые напрямую противостояли режиму Асада, часто ценой больших потерь, сделали это не из-за какого-то западного империалистического заговора, а потому, что десятилетия злоупотреблений, жестокости и коррупции были и остаются невыносимыми. Настаивать на обратном и поддерживать Асада значит пытаться лишить сирийцев всякой политической воли и поддержать давнюю политику Асадов по внутренней политике, которая лишила сирийцев какого-либо значимого права голоса в их правительстве и обстоятельствах.

Мы, сирийцы и сторонники борьбы сирийского народа за демократию и права человека, воспринимаем эти попытки “исчезнуть” сирийцев из мира политики, солидарности и партнерства как вполне соответствующие характеру режимов, которыми так явно восхищаются эти люди. Это “анти-империализм” и “левизна” беспринципных, ленивых и дураков, и только усиливает дисфункциональный международный тупик, демонстрируемый в Совете безопасности ООН. Мы надеемся, что читатели этой статьи присоединятся к нам в противостоянии этому.

Подписанты [Институциональная принадлежность указывается только для целей идентификации, полный список можно найти тут]

Ахмад Айша, журналист и переводчик (Турция)
Али Акил, основатель и представитель Сирийской солидарности в Новой Зеландии (Аотеароа/Новая Зеландия)
Амина Масри, активистка/педагог (США)
Асмаэ Дачан, сирийско-итальянский журналист (Италия)

и многие другие.

___________

Источник: New Politics. Перевод яндексовских роботов с моей посильной помощью. Спасибо Гаральду Эцбаху и другим за подсказку. Фото: “Дейли Бист”/Дэвид Грей/Рейтерс

Kronstadt as Revolutionary Utopia: 1921-2021 and Beyond

Kronstadt as Revolutionary Utopia: 1921-2021 and Beyond

March 20-21, 2021

Conference to be streamed on Twitch, including discussion/questions and answers

Saturday, March 20, 2021
1) Welcome and opening event – 9:30am Pacific/12:30am Eastern/4:30pm GMT/7:30pm Moscow

2) Historians’ panel – 10:00am Pacific/1:00pm Eastern/5:00pm GMT/8:00pm Moscow

  • Konstantin Tarasov, “Kronstadt self-government in 1917”
  • Simon Pirani, “Kronstadt and the workers’ movements in Moscow and Petrograd, 1921”
  • Dmitriy Ivanov, “Kronstadt 1921 uprising, political identities, and information flows”
  • Alexei Gusev, “Kronstadt Uprising of 1921 as a part of the Great Russian Revolution”

Lara Green moderating

3) Panel: “Disinformation and Counter-Revolution, 1921-2021” – 11:30am Pacific/2:30pm Eastern/6:30pm GMT/9:30pm Moscow

  • Ramah Kudaimi, “The People Want: Syria’s Uprising”
  • Lara el-Kateb, “Disinformation in the age of social media: The case for the Syrian revolution”
  • Omar Sabbour, “On the continuities between imperialism and vacuous anti-imperialism”
  • Javier Sethness, “Marx/Plekhanov vs. Bakunin; from Kronstadt to Neo-Stalinism”

Shon Meckfessel moderating

4) Film screening: The Russian Revolution in Color (2005) – 1:00pm Pacific/4:00pm Eastern/8:00pm GMT/11:00pm Moscow

Sunday, March 21
1) Welcome and opening event: recap of day 1, and agenda for day 2 – 9:30am Pacific/4:30pm GMT/7:30pm Moscow

2) Panel: “The After-Lives of Kronstadt” – 9:45am Pacific/12:45pm Eastern/4:45pm GMT/7:45pm Moscow

  • Mike Harris, “In the Spirit of Kronstadt”
  • Danny Evans, “A Spanish Kronstadt? The Barcelona May Days of 1937”
  • George Katsiaficas, “Enduring Problems of Communist Parties’ Suppression of Popular Movements”
  • Dmitriy Buchenkow, “The problem of power in the anarchist worldview”

Laurence Davis moderating; Irina Sisseikina interpreting

6) Film screening: Maggots and Men (2013) – 11:30am Pacific/2:30pm Eastern/6:30pm GMT/9:30pm Moscow

  • Q&A with Cary Cronenwett, Ilona Berger, and Zeph Fishlyn afterward

7) Kronstadt 1921 and the Social Crises of 2021 – 1:00pm Pacific/4:00pm Eastern/8:00pm GMT/11:00pm Moscow

  • Lynne Thorndycraft, “Kronstadt: Why It Matters”
  • Tom Wetzel, “Worker Congresses as a Form of Working Class Political Power”
  • Bill Weinberg, “Syria: Lessons from Kronstadt 1921”

Javier Sethness moderating

8) Closing event with words from cosponsors – 2:30pm Pacific/5:30pm Eastern/9:30pm GMT/12:30am Moscow

Leila Al Shami: The Case of Syria’s Communes

Building alternative futures in the present: the case of Syria’s communes
Leila Al Shami
March 18, 2021

Originally published at The Funambulist

“We are no less than the Paris commune workers: they resisted for 70 days and we are still going on for a year and a half.” Omar Aziz, 2012

On 18 March 2021 people around the globe will be commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune. On this date, ordinary men and women claimed power for themselves, took control of their city and ran their own affairs independently from the state for over two months before being crushed in a Bloody Week by the French government in Versailles. The Communards’ experiment in autonomous, democratic self-organisation, as a means to both resist state tyranny and to create a radical alternative to it, holds an important place in the collective imaginary and has provided inspiration for generations of revolutionaries.

On 18 March another anniversary will pass, but surely to much less acclaim worldwide. On this date a decade ago, large scale protests were held in the southern Syrian city of Dera’a in response to the arrest and torture of a group of school children who had painted anti-government graffiti on a wall. Security forces opened fire on the protesters, killing at least four, provoking wide-spread public anger. Over the next few days protests spread across the country, transforming into a revolutionary movement demanding freedom from the four-decade dictatorship of the Assad regime. In the following years, as people took up arms and forced the state to retreat from their communities, Syrians engaged in remarkable experiments in autonomous self-organisation despite the brutality of the counter-revolution unleashed upon them. As early as 2012, Omar Aziz a Syrian economist, public intellectual and anarchist dissident, compared the first of these experiments to the Paris Commune.

Omar Aziz was not a mere bystander to the events underway in Syria. Living and working in exile, he returned to his native Damascus in 2011, at the age of 63, to participate in the insurrection against the regime. He became involved in revolutionary organizing and providing assistance to families displaced from the Damascus suburbs under regime assault. Aziz was inspired by the movement’s level of self-organisation in its resistance to the regime. In towns and neighbourhoods across the country, revolutionaries had formed local coordinating committees. These were horizontally organised forums through which they would plan protests and share information regarding both the accomplishments of the revolution and the brutal repression the movement faced. They promoted non-violent civil disobedience and were inclusive to women and men from all social, religious and ethnic groups. Revolutionaries were also organising the provision of food baskets to those in need and setting up medical centres to tend to injured protesters who feared going to hospitals due to risk of arrest.

Aziz believed that whilst such activities were an important means to resist the regime and had indeed challenged its authority, they did not go far enough. Through their organisation, revolutionaries were developing new relationships independently of the state based on solidarity, cooperation and mutual aid, yet were still dependent on the state for most of their needs, including employment, food, education, and healthcare. This reality enabled the regime to maintain its legitimacy and perpetuate its power despite people’s wide-spread opposition to it. In two papers published in October 2011 and February 2012, when the revolution was still largely peaceful and most of the Syrian territory remained under regime-control, Aziz began advocating for the establishment of Local Councils. He saw these as grass-roots forums through which people could collaborate collectively to address their needs, gain full autonomy from the state, and achieve individual and community freedom from structures of domination. He believed that building autonomous, self-governing communes, linked regionally and nationally through a network of cooperation and mutual aid, was the path towards social revolution. According to Aziz, “the more self-organizing is able to spread … the more the revolution will have laid the groundwork for victory.”

Aziz was not concerned with seizing state power and did not advocate for a vanguard party to lead the revolution. Like the Communards, he believed in the innate ability of people to govern themselves without the need for coercive authority. In his view the new self-organised social formations that were emerging would “allow people to take autonomous control over their own lives, to demonstrate that this autonomy is what freedom is made of.” Aziz envisaged that the role of the Local Councils would be to support and deepen this process of independence from state institutions. Their priority would be working together with other popular initiatives to ensure the fulfilment of basic needs such as access to housing, education and healthcare; collecting information on the fate of detainees and providing support to their families; coordinating with humanitarian organisations; defending land from expropriation by the state; supporting and developing economic and social activities; and coordinating with recently formed Free Army militias to ensure security and community defence. For Aziz, the most powerful form of resistance to the state was a refusal to collaborate with it through building alternatives in the present that prefigured an emancipatory future.

In November 2012, much like so many of Syria’s revolutionaries, Omar Aziz was arrested and died in prison a short while later. Yet, before his arrest, he helped found four local councils in the working class suburbs of Damascus. The first was in Zabadani, an agricultural and touristic town surrounded by mountains, some 50 kilometres from the capital. The town was quick to join the uprising in March 2011, holding regular demonstrations calling for freedom and the release of detainees. By June, young men and women had formed a local coordination committee to organize demonstrations and carry out media work to communicate what was happening in the town to the outside world. Like the female Communards of Paris, the women of Zabadani also created their own forums. In mid-2011 the Collective of Zabadani Female Revolutionaries was formed. They participated in demonstrations in huge numbers and called for peaceful civil disobedience. They played a leading role in the Dignity Strike in December 2011, a nation-wide general strike that attempted to place economic pressure on the regime. In January 2012 they established Oxygen Magazine, a bi-monthly printed magazine providing analysis of the revolution and promoting peaceful resistance. The group later evolved into the Damma women’s network, which continues to work to support women to build resilience and alleviate the impact of violence in conflict affected communities, as well as providing education and psychological support for children.

Zabadani was liberated by local Free Army militias in January 2012. Barricades were set up and the town was brought under the control of its residents. A local council was established to fill the vacuum created by the regime’s departure. The town’s Sunni and Christian residents came together to elect the council’s 28 members from respected individuals within the community and to choose a president. This was Syria’s first experience of democracy in decades. The council established a number of departments to administer daily civil life, including for health care and humanitarian assistance, as well as a political committee involved in negotiating with the regime, and a court to resolve local conflicts. A military committee supervised the Free Army battalions to ensure security. Whilst the council representatives were all men, the Collective of Zabadani Female Revolutionaries played an important role in supporting the Council’s activities. Like the Communards of Paris, the people of Zabadani, who dreamt of a free and just society, managed to creatively self-organise their community independently from centralized state control.

Local autonomy and grass roots democracy was seen by the regime as its greatest threat. As the government of Versailles, which had refused to fight against the Prussians, turned their weapons on the Communards, so the Syrian regime directed all of its might against the people of Zabadani. The town was subjected to a siege, enforced by the regime and its ally the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, and daily bombing led to a dramatic worsening of humanitarian conditions. Inside the town, revolutionaries also faced challenges from extremist Islamist battalions which gained in prominence over time and finally wrested control from the local council in 2014. After a number of failed cease-fire agreements the regime regained control of Zabadani in April 2017, after which many of its residents were forcibly evacuated.

The experience of Zabadani was remarkable, but not unique. Over the course of the Syrian revolution, land was liberated to such an extent that, by 2013, the regime had lost control of around four-fifths of the national territory. In the absence of the state, it was people’s self organisation which kept communities functioning and allowed them to resist the regime, in some cases for years. Hundreds of local councils were established in the newly created autonomous zones providing essential public services such as water and electricity supplies, rubbish collection, and supporting schools and hospitals to keep operating. In some areas they grew and distributed food. People also worked together to set up humanitarian organisations, human rights monitoring centres, and independent media associations. Women’s centres were founded to encourage women to be politically and economically active and to challenge patriarchal mores. One example is the Mazaya centre in Kafranbel, Idlib, which taught vocational skills to women, held discussions on women’s rights issues, and challenged the threats posed by extremist Islamist groups. Unions were established for students, journalists and health workers. In the northern city of Manbij, revolutionaries established Syria’s first free trade union, which campaigned for better wages. Cultural activities flourished, including independent film collectives, art galleries and theatre groups. In the liberated town of Daraya, close to Damascus, revolutionaries built an underground library from books they salvaged from people’s destroyed homes.

After 2011, before the counter-revolution ground them down, communities across Syria lived in freedom from the tyranny of the regime. Power was brought down to the local level and people worked together for their mutual benefit, often in extremely challenging circumstances, to build a pluralistic, diverse, inclusive and democratic society that was the very antithesis of the state’s totalitarianism. They were not motivated by any grand ideologies, nor led by any one faction or party. They were driven by necessity. Their very existence challenged the myth propagated by the state that its survival was necessary to ensure the fulfillment of basic needs and stability. Syrians showed that they were more than capable of organising their communities in the absence of centralised, coercive authority by building egalitarian social structures and recreating social bonds of solidarity, cooperation and mutual respect. There was no one model or blueprint. Each community organised in accordance with its own needs, unique local circumstances and values – the very essence of self-determination – essential in a country which is as socially and culturally diverse as Syria. What they shared was a desire for autonomy from the regime and a commitment to decentralized, self-managed forms of organisation.

Whilst the experience of the Paris commune is well known and celebrated in the West, we must ask why similar experiments happening in our own time in Syria are not – why they have usually failed to attract even the most basic forms of solidarity. Whilst much radical theory holds pretentions to universalism, it often pays little attention to other, non-Western contexts or cultures. When leftists in the West think of Syria they often think of foreign state intervention, extremist Islamist groups, and numerous armed brigades jostling and competing for power and territory. Little attention is given to ordinary men and women and their courageous acts of defiance against a tyrannical, genocidal regime. These people formed the backbone of Syria’s civil resistance. They not only resisted the regime but built a viable, beautiful alternative to it. Their struggle became multi-faceted. They defended their hard-won autonomy from the regime and later numerous foreign forces and extremist groups that saw their existence as the greatest threat. They were shunned and often slandered by the international community, including by people who consider themselves part of the anti-imperialist left. Their existence became an inconvenience to the grand narratives people wanted to indulge in regarding Syria’s revolution and counter-revolutionary war. Epistemological imperialism left little room for Syrian’s lived realities.

As with the Paris Commune, there is much to be learnt from Syria’s revolutionary experience. In times of insurrection or at times of crisis, new ways of organising often emerge which provide alternatives to the hierarchical, coercive and exploitative systems practiced by both capitalism and the state. Through decentralised self-organisation, without the need for leaders or bosses, but through voluntary association, cooperation and the sharing of resources, people can transform social relations and effect radical social change. They show us that emancipatory futures can be built in the here and now, even in the shadow of the state.

*****

All quotes are taken from the English translation of Omar Aziz’s two papers on The Formation of Local Councils by Bordered by Silence, except for the introductory quote which came from Twitter, now deleted.

Thanks to Michael Karadjis for the heads-up. || TRR

Farouk Mardam-Bey: To “Leftist” Admirers of Assad’s Syria

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Farouk Mardam-Bey

To “Leftist” Admirers of Assad’s Syria
Farouk Mardam-Bey
Pulse
December 24, 2016

As a Syrian who has always identified politically with the left, I am particularly appalled by those men and women who call themselves left-wingers—and are therefore supposed to stand in solidarity with struggles for justice worldwide—and yet openly support the regime of the Assads, father and son, who are chiefly responsible for the Syrian disaster.

Following four months of intense bombardment by the Russian air force, Bashar Al-Assad’s army, along with Shiite militias hailing from everywhere and mobilized by the Iranian mullahs, have now finished “liberating” Eastern Aleppo. Liberated from whom? From its inhabitants. More than 250,000 inhabitants were forced to flee their own city to escape massacres, as had the people of Zabadani and Daraya before them, and as will many more Syrians if systematic social and sectarian “cleansing” continues in their country under the cover of a massive media disinformation campaign.

That in Syria itself wealthy residents of Aleppo, belonging to all religious sects, rejoice over having been rid of the “scum”—meaning the poor classes who populated Eastern Aleppo—is not surprising at all. We are accustomed to it: the arrogance of dominant classes is universal.

That Shiite mullahs stuck in another era celebrate the event as a great victory of the true believers over Umayyad disbelievers, or proclaim that Aleppo has been Shiite in the past and will turn Shiite again, can also be understood if one is familiar with their doctrine, as delirious as that of their Sunni counterparts.

Finally, that in the West politicians and opinion makers of the far right or the hard right reaffirm, loudly, their support for Assad is also quite natural. Such people have nothing but contempt for Arabs and Muslims, and they believe, today as ever, that these “tribes” must be led with a big stick.

But how could one fail to explode in anger when one reads statements in support of the regime of the Assads, father and son, issued by men and women who claim to stand on the left, and who should therefore sympathize with struggles for justice everywhere? How could one fail to become exasperated when one hears them praise the independence, secularism, progressive character, and even “socialism” of a lawless clan that took power in an army coup more than forty-five years ago and whose only concern is to keep exerting power forever? “Assad forever,” “Assad or nobody,” “Assad or we burn the country,” chant Assad’s partisans. And his “leftist” supporters nod approvingly under the pretext that there is no other choice: it’s either him or ISIS.

And yet the Syrians who rose in 2011 were the first to vigorously condemn the jihadi groups of all sorts and kinds, and in particular ISIS, that have infested their popular uprising after it was forced into militarization. Completely alien to the demands of liberty and dignity of the popular uprising, these jihadi groups focused their attacks principally on the vital forces of the opposition, whether civilian or military, and cracked down on the population in the areas that they managed to control. In so doing, they buttressed Assad’s propaganda inside Syria as well as internationally, allowing him to portray himself as a defender of religious minorities.

The same Syrians who rose in 2011 have moreover often expressed their distrust of those who have pretended, and continue to pretend, to represent them, and who proved to be incredibly incompetent. Hoping for a Western military intervention that was obviously never envisaged by the Obama administration, subservient to this or that neighboring country (Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Turkey), divided among themselves and non-existent on the ground, these self-proclaimed representatives were incapable of addressing the world with a coherent political discourse.

But neither jihadi intrusion nor the shortcomings of the self-proclaimed representatives of the Syrian revolution, nor any argument used to justify the unjustifiable, can invalidate two fundamental facts: that the Syrians had a thousand reasons to revolt, and that they did so with exceptional courage, under conditions of near-universal indifference, countering the ruling clan’s limitless terror, Iran’s imperial ambitions and, since September 2015, a US-approved Russian military intervention that has already killed several thousand civilians.

Is this “Syria of Assad”—where Iran and Russia act as they please, together as well as separately, and whose future now relies exclusively on their agreements and disagreements—independent and anti-imperialist? Let left-wing admirers of the Assad regime read the unconscionable treaty that it signed on August 26, 2015, granting Russia exorbitant privileges as well as complete and permanent immunity regarding all damages caused by its air force.

How can anyone seriously describe as “secular” a regime that, since its beginning and in order to perpetuate itself indefinitely, has striven to poison relations between religious communities, held Alawis and Christians hostage to its policies, presided over the contamination of Syrian society by the most obscurantist form of Salafism, and has manipulated all sorts of jihadists, and not only in Syria?

How “progressive” is it to promote the wildest type of capitalism, impoverishing and marginalizing millions of citizens who barely survive in the suburbs of the main cities? These impoverished Syrians were the main social component of the revolution, and they became the main target of the regime’s heavy artillery, barrel bombs and chemical weapons. “Kill them to the last” demanded the Shabbiha (Assad’s thugs) from the beginning of the uprising, so that the new “progressive” bourgeoisie could securely plunder the nation’s wealth and pile up billions of dollars in fiscal paradises!

If the above is not enough, one can also remind Assad’s “leftwing” supporters of the crimes against humanity perpetrated with complete impunity by Bashar’s father, Hafez, during his thirty years of autocratic rule. Two locations summarize them: the city of Hama, where over 20,000 people, possibly 30,000, were massacred in 1982, and the prison of Palmyra, the equivalent of an extermination camp where the jailers used to boast about turning the men they tortured into insects. It is this same impunity that some on the left alas want to extend to Bashar Al-Assad, the principal culprit responsible for the ongoing disaster with over ten million displaced, hundreds of thousands of dead, tens of thousands imprisoned facing torture and summary executions in jail.

Until the executioners are defeated and punished, Syria’s endless martyrdom risks foreshadowing many others in the world — a world from which Syria will have vanished.

Translated from the French by Joey Ayoub. Photo courtesy of Publishing Perspectives. Thanks to Danny Postel and the rest of the Pulse team for posting this article and their invaluable work in general. 

About Farouk Mardam-Bey

Farouk Mardam-Bey is a Syrian historian, author, and editor who has been living in exile in France since 1965. He was Head of Arabic at the library for the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris (1972-1986), an editor and then director of a French journal of Palestinian studies (1981-2008), and a consultant for the Arab World Institute (1989-2008). Since 1995, he has been director of the Sindbad series, part of the publishing house Actes Sud, which aims at translating Arabic works into French. His co-authored/edited books include the two-volume Itineraries from Paris to Jerusalem: France and the Arab-Israeli Conflict (1992-1993), Being Arab (2007), and Our France (2011). He has also edited and published a number of historical, political, literary and bibliographical texts and translated the works of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish into French.

Idrees Ahmad: Russia Today and the Post-Truth Virus

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Idrees Ahmad
Pulse
December 15, 2016

A video is circulating of a woman revealing “the truth” on Syria that is being withheld from us by “the mainstream media”. The woman is introduced as an “independent Canadian journalist”. She is said to be speaking  “at the UN”. The date is December 9, 2016. The video has become viral.

Eva Bartlett, the woman in the video, writes for various conspiracy sites including SOTT.net, The Duran, MintPress and Globalresearch.ca. But more recently she has emerged as a contributor to Russia Today. And though her wordpress blog is called “In Gaza”, and though she has a past in Palestine solidarity work, unlike the people of Gaza, she is a strong supporter of Assad and she uses language to describe Assad’s opponents that is a virtual echo of the language Israeli propagandists use against Gazans.

Bartlett was recently a guest of the Assad regime, attending a regime sponsored PR conference and going on a tour of regime-controlled areas herded no doubt by the ubiquitous minders (the regime only issues visas to trusted journalists and no visitor is allowed to travel without a regime minder). On her return, the regime mission at the UN organised a press conference for her and three members of the pro-regime US “Peace Council” (The organisation has the same relationship to peace as Kentucky Fried Chicken has to chicken). In the press conference they all repeated the claims usually made by the regime’s official media SANA and by Russia Today: all rebels are terrorists; there is no siege; civilians are being held hostage; the regime is a “liberator” etc.

So a conspiracy theorist with a blog who briefly visited Syria as a guest of the regime is declaring that everything you know about Syria is wrong. That you have been misled by everyone in the “MSM” from the New York Times to Der Spiegel, from the Guardian to the Telegraph, from CNN to Channel 4, from ABC to BBC, from CBS to CBC; that human rights organisations like Physicians for Human Rights, Medicins Sans Frontiers, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch; that international agencies like the UN and ICRC—they are all part of a vast conspiracy to malign Bashar al Assad. And the truth is only revealed on “alternative” media like the Kremlin’s own Russia Today! (watched by 70 million people a week according to its own claims)

In normal times something like this would provoke derision and dismay—or at least the person would be asked to provide verifiable facts instead of anecdotes (virtually everything she said is verifiably false). But these are not normal times. Supporters of the regime, admirers of Putin, and sectarian propagandists have latched on to this video. Kremlin broadcaster Russia Today has promoted the video heavily. And, in the game of Chinese whispers, the story has morphed into “a UN press conference”.

There is of course a deep racism at play here. Besides great international journalists like Christoph Reuter, Janine di Giovanni, and Martin Chulov, there are also many excellent Syrian reporters on the ground. But we are supposed to dismiss them because the truths that eluded all of them were vouchsafed to a Canadian blogger with a column on Russia Today!

What is happening in Syria is not a mystery. The facts are crystal clear. They are corroborated by multiple independent organisations. People who deny these facts only do so because of a will to disbelieve. It’s willed ignorance in the service of an ideology. This ignorance has been reinforced by Kremlin’s premier disinformation service: Russia Today. The broadcaster has rebranded itself “RT” to conceal its origins and agenda. It has even spawned a neutral-sounding viral video outlet like “In the Now.” Their aim is to sow doubt, feed cynicism, and confound knowledge. They are pressing a narrative—Kremlin’s narrative. And as the major perpetrator of violence in Syria, Kremlin has every intention to muddy the waters. (And no Russia Today is not “just like the BBC”. Have you ever seen a Russian government official questioned on Russia Today the way Tony Blair is questioned on the BBC by Jeremy Paxman; let alone the way Jon Snow on Channel 4 questions David Cameron?)

So next time someone shares a stupid video like this, hit them with facts. If they want to challenge them, then they should bring something more substantial than rambling nonsense from a conspiracy nut.

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There is an old joke. A wife returns home to find her husband in bed with another woman.

“What are you doing in bed with another woman?” she screams.

“What woman?” the husband replies.

“The woman I just saw in bed with you,” says the wife.

“Who are you going to believe,” the husband replies, “Me or your lying eyes?”

There is no doubt that the Western media has often failed in its coverage. Its reporting on Gaza and the journalism leading up to the Iraq war was abysmal. But western media isn’t devoted to obfuscating truth with the kind of single-minded determination that Russia Today is. It is deeply ironic that many people’s often justified disdain for western journalists has led the into the embrace of a channel that has no commitment to truth at all. And it becomes most pernicious when pro-Kremlin propaganda is dressed up as criticism of “the mainstream media”, “the establishment”, or “Washington”. As I wrote elsewhere:

“There are few things more commonplace than an Oedipal disdain for one’s own government. In this solipsistic worldview, one need not have to understand the dynamics of a foreign crisis; they can be deduced remotely. If you hate your own government then, by virtue of being in its bad books, a Putin or an Assad becomes an ally.

“Conversely, if people elsewhere are rising up against their far more repressive states, their cause is tainted because of a sympathetic word they might have received from your government. And all the images of agony do not add up to a tear of sorrow as long as they are relayed by a hated “mainstream media”. Indeed, victims are reproached for eroding ideological certainties by intruding into our consciousness through their spectacular suffering.”

My heartfelt thanks to Idrees Ahmad for his kind permission to let me reprint his essay here. TRR