Introduction by Off the Wall:
On 7ee6an, we have started an informal project aiming to identify ways to address the “fence sitters” on the Syrian Revolution. Many of us have encountered friends and family members, with whom we have identified in the past and in whose judgement we trusted for years. The split of opinion has been dramatic to some of us. We were raised the same, have always thought the same way (inasmuch as possible), and have always held the regime and its behavior, at least on domestic issues low regards. All of the sudden we see such people willing to take, full doze or in parts, the regime’s propaganda, about a cosmic conspiracy, and accepting a narrative of the events unfolding around them that is both detached from reality, and demeaning to their brothers and sisters who are being slaughtered by the regime. What makes it more dramatic to some of us is the fact that many of those friends and relatives are well educated, exposed to rational thinking, and capable of making rightful ethical choices in their daily lives. In the following, ZENOBIA attempts to provide some answers and to shed some light on possible means of addressing this crucial issue, which has threatened friendships and even familial relationships.
Narratives, Arguments, and Counter-Arguments
I KNOW what the argument is. I have heard the argument 10 zillion times now, here, and all over Facebook – on the lips of everybody’s fence sitting relative and half of the Syrian population! The reason that American leftist outlets like Counterpunch are publishing this as well – is because THEY TOO are predisposed to frame things through a suspicious anti-imperialist anti-”american hegemony” narrative and premise, so naturally they are going to be open to presenting the conspiracy argument or some more rational version of it that is not all hogwash certainly, but neglects the contradicting factors.
So, we have a problem. The problem is what is the counter argument!!!!!!
If our ‘conspiracists’ believe that the entire uprising is one big ‘plot’ and made up of traitors and thieves and radical islamist insurgents or people purely doing what they are doing because they were manipulated or paid by western agents, …. well this is such a reductionist and hopeless framing of the situation that no- counter narrative is going to sway this mindset or going to puncture it. It is so far to the paranoid- that there is no hope there that a new compromise understanding can be reached or that such person will be persuaded that supporting the Assad regime is equally dangerous and degraded a choice.
However, if – in contrast, the true fence sitters can acknowledge that indeed there is formidable legitimate uprising – of a large number of Syrian citizens- who have nothing to do with the imperialist designs of Western powers or their allies- but whose actions are legitimately a reflection of internal political desires and aspirations, – then even if one simultaneously believes that there are treacherous external forces at work and a regional struggle attempting to co-opt the Syrian revolution – there will be SOME ROOM for debate here about what is the correct ethical course to take – and room for debate and deliberation out of a strong counterargument that reflects this complex reality and the competing concerns, while having the potential to persuade said fence sitters that the LESSER EVIL IS IN FACT to side with the legitimate uprising and to take on the risks of potential western influence and attempts to manipulate the outcome to strategic advantage.
The precise argument has not been made yet. However the point is that A FORCEFUL COUNTERARGUMENT MUST BE MADE that makes concessions to this powerful narrative and set of fears of average Syrian and many inside and outside the middle east.
Personally, I am not discounting the basic storyline – put forth in the link you provided or in the “Counterpunch” piece. How can one ignore it? But the problem I have is in the all or nothing framework within which it is presented, as if the people of Hama, Deraa, Homs, and all the other smaller outlying cities and towns of Syria, or parts of Damas, are SIMPLY – at worst pawns of Al-Qaeda like agents and at best total dupes and zealots out for blood… , as if they have ZERO legitimacy…, as if someone- entire towns … what? had some undetected infiltrators come give a lecture? and then the people decided to revolt???
I mean seriously… has anyone actually DESCRIBED how this supposed scenario would work in concrete terms other than… ‘the Americans and Israel and KSA and Saad Hariri ‘ are “behind” this? What does it actually entail to be “behind” or to have manipulated entire fairly insular and isolated communities to do the bidding of outsiders?…. the notion is so entirely far fetched when discussed in concrete terms to account for everything that has happened.
Reality MUST be far in between. And I think- from my informal observance of so many dialogues and interchanges over many months, that MOST – Syrians, ascribe reality to this in between…. They BOTH believe the narrative of Western attempts at world domination or regional domination (led by America and Israel)… but they also do not discount the Syrian uprising as a complete fabrication…. they are aware of legitimate challenge to the Syrian government that has an ethical basis and they are not defending the behavior of the security response or the president in unqualified terms.
However, they DO NOT KNOW HOW TO RESOLVE THEIR DILEMMA of holding both these truths and knowing what to do – and what to think- therefore.
That is why they are fence sitters… (in addition to all the other complicating disincentives for supporting a revolution that Sheila has outlined many times and which are also significant factors but which I am putting aside her for the moment just to focus on the issue the ‘conspiracy’ issue as a pivotal problem)
the COUNTERARGUMENT must provide a SOLUTION FOR THIS DILEMMA.
I personally have spent weeks and weeks without knowing how to properly answer it.
ETHICS seemed at first the correct answer. That is to say -that no matter what the outer external threats are- we cannot stand by and watch a government respond by shooting its people, detaining, torturing, and subjugating communities with tanks and military threat of death or actual death. This seemed obvious to many. (As I recall – it was the answer – very simply that Husam gave for his choice of where to place his alliance despite his moderate belief in the conspiracy scenario of what is happening)
However, and ETHICAL argument doesn’t work on large swaths of the public because they are both desensitized to violence (I assume here) and also because they have simultaneously been persuasively told that the deaths and violence they have been seeing or informed about are 1) exaggerated and/or not happening 2) are justified in the cases where they are happening because the supposed “protesters” are not in fact protesters but are actually “criminals” and violent insurgents and infiltrators.
So, apparently, and Ethical argument fails because these cognitive denials and justifications provided by the government – negate the need for a fence sitter to consider an ethical stance necessary to be taken – as a response to the problem.
The dilemma seems to be resolved for most – by a decision process regarding what they fear most – (again putting aside deliberately for the moment the other weighing factors like personal economic pain and anguish over the disillusion going on in society, daily hardships anticipated, and unclear future alternatives and so forth) – that is to say…. fear of American hegemony and Israeli power, verses fear of the pathetic life that would continue under the Assads and the perpetuation of the current internal power system.
Additionally, I think the average person is NOT considering the question of what has IRAN, CHINA, And RUSSIA done lately for Syria????
And it is bizarre that the narrative has been hammered for so many years and years that the biggest and most important achievement and source of pride in this age is to stubbornly sacrifice every other political need to the alter of “resistance” to Israel (a resistance strategy that barely works at all – one should add)- that it still takes precedent over every other concern. The abhorrence for Israeli power is so entirely consuming, mythologized, the threat again – fetishized- to the point where nothing else can be seen or considered. And as such, this fear and obsession – with American power or Israeli power viewed as part and parcel- can only be understood as having been deeply imprinted with the sting of humiliation and injured pride, anger, resentment, fused now with bigotry for many. How else does one explain choosing IRAN as an ally???!!! Really? What do the minorities of Syria care about IRANIAN power?? or the non- minority fence sitters? No, this is a marriage of convenience – not love.
What in contrast is so dangerous about American power other than its support for Israel? in the minds of Syrians… (remember, as a mind bending fact, that it is the NON-Religious zealots – the secular supporters of Syria…who are supposedly most appalled at the notion of American influence taking hold in Syria)….? Our values? Half their family are emigrated to non- middle eastern countries. Our economic exploitation? That last would be a great Irony considering the economic sinkhole that Syria is now in- and from which Iran and Russia certainly – and even! China cannot pull her out. Alas, the issue comes back to the issue of Israel and wounded pride and humiliation.
This pitiful fact has to be recognized. It has to be addressed not by slamming on the Syrian defenses but by an irresistible argument for how CHANGE– including a change in strategic alliances CAN WORK IN FAVOR OF RESTORING SYRIAN PRIDE AND STRENGTH IN REAL TERMS.
RESISTANCE in the conventional way it has been waged on the Syrian stage has been pathetic and self-sabotaging. It has been self -destructive. It has not saved the Palestinians (if that were even truly the goal) nor restored Arab pride in any form. It has led to isolation, and economic decline, and toleration of a sick and ineffective form of government that has now sunk very very low in terms of its treatment of its citizenry.
RESISTANCE has been the biggest manipulation of all – in some sense for achieving very very little for the people of Syria. It has to be reclaimed and redefined. In fact, abandoned in favor of a VIABLE ALTERNATIVE.
A COUNTERARGUMENT must contain that alternative… for both restoring Syrian hope and pride as well as making obsolete and benign the influence of larger powers who are NOT in fact the biggest threat to society and survival.