Saturday, June 9, 2012

Five Things to Read About Syria

A friend emailed me yesterday, "I'm trying to figure out what we should support in Syria.  Can you suggest anything to read?"

I have been worried about that myself.  Some of the more inane leftists here in the Bay Area have suggested that the Syrian government is not committing grave human rights violations, not massacring civilians, that it's simply a U.S.-supported "contra war" against a left-wing regime.  Though there's plenty of precedent for skepticism, it seems clear from reports of neutral people on the ground that that's not the case.  All the armed groups are probably committing atrocities but the government is certainly responsible for a lot of them, and has the biggest arsenal and army to do it with.

Nevertheless, I'm positive that U.S.-NATO led invasion or bombing will only make the situation much worse, and build support for the Assad regime.  So what is happening and who should we be supporting?

Here are a few things I found enlightening, though I could sure use your recommendations for more.  I'm going to ask Rayan El-Amine (cofounder of Left Turn, now living in his native Lebanon) to write a tutorial for us.

1. Syrian Opposition Divided Over Arms and Intervention 

Afra Jalabi is a Syrian-born Canadian journalist, a nonviolence activist and a member of the Syrian National Council.  I heard her speak at the Arab Women's Conference in March and was very impressed.  This is a video interview with her, and there's also a transcript.

…So there are many people … in the opposition, even on the ground, they feel that if there won't be intervention, external intervention, then let the people defend themselves. However, some of us, including myself, believe this is a dangerous option, because you have a civilian population that is not trained militarily, and that arming civilians would actually create further chaos.
You can also watch a video of Afra Jalabi speaking at Friends for a Nonviolent World conference.

2.  Back from Syria, Journalist Anand Gopal Warns Protesters "Face Slaughter" by Assad Regime

I heard Anand Gopal on Democracy Now after he returned from a week in Syria.The comment that really made me sit up and listen was this:
I had a lot of questions about the nature of the insurgency in Syria. And, you know, of course, the U.S. and the West are supporting, at least in word supporting, the insurgency. So I was coming at it with a very skeptical and critical mind. We went over the border, basically crawling under a barbed-wire fence and hiking over mountains for a long period. But when I got into Syria, what I found was completely different from what I expected, in that in every town and village, it was essentially the entire population was mobilized in support of the revolution. I mean, you had from little children to old people. Really, I’ve never seen anything like that before. And it showed to me the extent to which the revolution had a—has a mass, democratic popular base, and Assad doesn’t.

3.  Arab-American Media: Don't Turn Syria Into Another Lybia

From New American Media:
Editorial Note: Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s assault on the besieged city of Homs has left what human rights groups say are as many as 7000 dead, including American journalist Marie Colvin and French photojournalist Rémi Ochlik. The assault is the latest in a now 12-month old civil conflict pitting the autocratic ruler against rebels determined to end his decade-long presidency. Representatives from over 70 nations have now gathered in Tunisia for a “Friends of the Syrian People” meeting, which includes former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At issue is what kind of intervention, if any, should be taken. New America Media asked members of the Arab American media for their views.

4.  The State of the Struggle: Revolution and Counter-revolution in the Arab World

By: Lamis Andoni and Nora Barrows-Friedman (June 20, 2011)
Lamis Andoni is a veteran journalist covering the Middle East for over 20 years. She has worked for several Arab and Western publications and media outlets, most recently as a Middle East editor at Al Jazeera TV.
Nora Barrows-Friedman is a journalist, writer, and radio producer. She is a staff reporter and editor with The Electronic Intifada, and her work appears in Al Jazeera English,, Inter Press Service, and other outlets. She has been reporting from Palestine since 2004.
The brutal Syrian regime’s reaction to the popular protests has ended once and for all the argument, popular among the pan-Arab nationalists, Islamists and even some circles of the Left, that raising questions about the regime’s human record would weaken its position vis-à-vis American and Israeli threats.

5. On the perils of sectarianism in Syria 

As the Syrian tragedy becomes increasingly painted in sectarian terms, author Robin Yassin-Kassab asks why so many Syrians, including leftists, liberals and secularists, continue to ignore the issue. It is time, he argues, to break this taboo once and for all.
Good historical perspective, going back to the Sykes-Picot agreement outlining British and French spheres of influence after World War I.

6.  Saving the nonviolent revolution in Syria: For a credible strategy

Sadek Jalal al-Azm et al , Jane Mansbridge and Chibli Mallat, Sunday 26 Feb 2012
Willing countries can accelerate the process of delegitimizing Asad by surrendering the Syrian embassies to the SNC [Syrian National Council] as a far more legitimate representative of Syria than its present envoys. This measure will also promote defections in those embassies and in the Syrian diplomatic services. Should governments decide that giving up the embassy is too much under international law, they can provide serious logistics to help the SNC be the dominant voice on the world scene. 
 Sadek Jalal al-Azm is the leading public intellectual of Syria and is emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Damascus. Jane Mansbridge is Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values at Harvard Kennedy School. Chibli Mallat is a Lebanese lawyer and law professor, and the Chairman of Right to Nonviolence, an international NGO based in the Middle East.

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