Reflections

The Syrian Revolution

The Syrian Revolution is the first major popular revolution of the 21st Century. Like most popular revolutions, the erstwhile ideals of its early leaders, a group of secular nonviolence activists, were soon set aside as the violent crackdown unleashed by the Assad regime, with the support of its regional and international backers, most notably Iran and Russia, produced a similar violent backlash among its opponents.

Consequently, the country was plunged into a civil war in which various regional and international players cultivated their proxies along sectarian and ideological lines. The indifference of the international community and the unwillingness of major powers to push for a quick political solution, or to at least back moderate rebels at a time when they formed the majority of rebel fighters, have called into question the very legal and intellectual foundations of the new global order that seemed to be emerging following the end of the Cold War and the formulation of such legal doctrine as the Responsibility to Protect.

The Syrian Civil War has so far claimed close to 500,000 deaths by conservative estimates, dislocated more than half the country’s population of 23 million, with an estimated 6 million becoming refugees in neighboring countries and the European Union, and destroyed the majority of the country’s infrastructure. The result is the worst humanitarian disaster of the 21st Century, so far.

The Declaration 

The recognition provided in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the right to rebellion comes both as a moral endorsement, removed from consideration of tactics, be they violent or nonviolent, as well as a recognition of the natural order of things, that is, of the fact that, human nature being what it is, tyranny always tends to breed rebellion, often as a “last recourse” for a subjugated people. Indeed, people seem to be deeply aware of the dangers inherent in revolutionary action, so much that their decision to rebel is never taken lightly. That’s why popular revolutions are rare occurrences as opposed to regular warfare between states, empires and nations.

But when push comes to shove, the human spirit will always cry out: “Malo periculosam libertatem quam quietam servitutem,” or “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful servitude.”

Note: “Malo periculosam libertatem quam quietam servitutem,” or “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery,” is a statement attributed to Rafal Leszczynski, the Count Palatine of Posen (1650–1703). But the statement became more known when quoted by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and later by Thomas Jefferson in a letter sent to James Madison on January 30, 1787.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights - Preamble 

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures,  national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

An Age of Chaos 

Whereas revolutions come as a last resort for a people intent on reclaiming or defending their basic rights and freedoms and improving the quality of their lives, the inevitability of violence as a legitimate revolutionary method depends heavily on the nature of the crackdown unleashed by the autocratic regimes involved, the ideology of some of the revolutionary forces, and the response of the international community to the situation.

In itself, nonviolence is largely a modern concept and is seldom a viable option in the case of societies where communal identities remain strong and are leveraged as part of the authoritarian power structure, with the ruling elites exploiting and feeding inter-communal differences and distrust as an effective instrument of control, and where organized crime is often orchestrated by high-ranking members of the ruling regimes and often involves the use of state institutions.

Indeed, the emerging international alliances between organized crime syndicates, authoritarian regimes and, increasingly, international terrorist networks is creating a situation where peaceful transition is rendered impossible, and where popular revolutions often disintegrate into civil and proxy wars involving a dizzying variety of domestic as well as regional and international actors.

Ours, then, is another age of chaos, even if seemingly manageable, and the saga of our continued survival and progress as a species continues to be one written in the blood of the weakest amongst us. Though none of us is completely innocent of this, the guilt is far from being evenly shared. Knowing, or believing, that we are not all equally guilty might be the only form of justice many of us will experience.

Mirror, Mirror 

The Allure of Liberty 

1. 

She is perfect exactly on account of her myriad shortcomings,
and beautiful exactly on account of her scars. Indeed, her
contradictions are the essence of her undying allure. So
when she beckons, as she eventually does, we all listen,
and follow, each of us responding to a different facet of hers,
one that better corresponds to our own inner disposition at
that hapless moment in our lives when we heard her fateful
call. Is she really liberty? Or is it blind fate? It’s hard to tell.
It’s always hard to tell. But the beckoning is too alluring,
and we listen, we always listen, even when we pretend not to,
even when we fail to act, or act wrongly. For her we sacrifice
our innocence. For her we sacrifice even her. Yes. We often
sacrifice her in her own name! And as her irony meets
ours, our cynicism proves no less deep, our irrationality no
less wanton, and our logic no less cold.

2.

She brings both resurrection and death, redemption and
damnation, as we grow inside her womb, continuously
trying to climb out of it, only to fall right back –
the perennial children that we are, that we will forever be.
But her warmth is never enough for us, never enough to
quell our yearning for something beyond, something vague
and, perhaps sinister, something whose beckoning is far
more alluring and deadly than hers. And she cannot lead
us to it. Her beacon-hand is not enough guidance. But then,
those who still crave guidance can never be truly free. For
freedom lurks in the dark, and all that bathe in the light is

nothing more than an illusion.

Sacrifice 

Liberty feeds on sacrifice. We cannot be free to be who we are unless we are willing to let go of who we are. Revolutions often require a literal translation of that. For revolutions are carnivorous, perhaps even omnivorous. In order to give they must take, and take, and take. Revolutions call on us to sacrifice the very things for which we are fighting: our comforts, our freedoms, our lives. It’s the future that reaps the rewards. Some compare revolutions to vortices, and black-holes, but that’s a short-term view. On the longer run, it’s better to think of revolutions as noria, the ancient waterwheels that kept so many fields fertile for so many centuries, if not millennia.  

Blind Fate

Once unleashed, revolutions proceed as dispassionately as fate itself, as life herself: they follow their own objective laws, irrespective of their impact on people’s lives and the erstwhile ideals that inspired the early revolutionaries. The beginnings become irrelevant as dark yearnings are released and different forces, motivated by anything but the erstwhile ideals, compete for control.

Battlefield Self

Our souls are the battlefields where all revolutions break out and all wars are waged, and our minds are the mirrors where all our fears and desires are reflected. We are the terror and the salvation, the beginning and end of wisdom, and folly, the sum total of our existence, with no meaning lurking beyond us, at least not one that we can ever discern. 

The Illusion  

1.

We live in constant anticipation of a better tomorrow, of victory over the odds, and our own shortcomings, of redemption. By intensifying this expectation in our souls, popular revolutions set us up for constant disappointment.

2.

How illusory they prove to be, how fast decaying and forgettable they always turn out, those early moments, those early days when the mere prospect of the thing feels like victory.

Martyrs 

The martyrs – the salt of all revolutions, and wars. The enablers and forestallers of the inevitable. The makers and victims of fate. The ultimate heroes. The consummate clowns. And always the seeds of what’s to come.

Worst Offender

As things stand today, the Assad regime is the worst human rights offender in the world, and one of the worst in modern history. It stands responsible for the overwhelming majority of the devastation and killing that Syria has witnessed since the onset of its prodemocracy revolution back in 2011. Airstrikes and the use of barrel bombs have played a key role in helping the Assad regime overpower its opponents and wreak bloody havoc on their host communities. 

Refugees

The Syrian refugee crisis is the worst that the world has witnessed in decades. But it’s only part of a larger phenomenon with which the world has to deal. Thousands of refugees and migrants from all different sorts of backgrounds have drowned in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe where promise of a better life awaits them. The overwhelming majority of these refugees were running from conflicts.  

Popular Revolution 

Popular revolutions tend to distill and intensify the human experience, packing every passing moment with the kind of dramatic developments that usually unfold over lifetimes. Acts of palpable hate, love, betrayal, fear and sacrifice become a daily occurrence. Acts of great heroism or villainy become commonplace. Every day the human drama unfolds in all its glory, vainglory and heartache, its chapters written in the hearts, minds and souls of its protagonists. It’s through the words and actions of these figures that the rest of humanity will get to experience the effects of what was deemed to be, geographically and temporally, an isolated, perhaps even contained, event. For popular revolutions have since the dawn of humanity been universal in their impact, not to mention timeless. Our awareness of this is of little or no import. It’s not awareness that matters here, not on the short run anyway, but the objective realities that have been changed by the revolutionary processes, the things in the fabric of our lives that have been irrevocably altered.

The Handful 

Only a handful of those who start a popular revolution are ever ready for what comes next, their choice of tactics notwithstanding. And only a handful will ever live long enough to see the victory that they had sought.

The Counter-Revolution 

1.

Popular revolutions are popular on account of the wide support they receive from certain segments of society, not because they are the product of social consensus. On the contrary, popular revolutions are polarizing phenomena that fragment society by pitting different segments against each other, and break the state by overtaxing the capacity of its institutions. The ongoing mobilization of different segments soon paves the way to civil war tearing apart the very fabric holding the country together.

2.

Although they heavily depend on participation from poor communities from the urban and rural areas, popular revolutions are often instigated and led by disaffected members of the intellectual and professional classes. Quickly after the beginning, however, leadership of these revolutions passes into the hands of more violent elements leading to the rise of warlords of different stripes and backgrounds. The erstwhile ideals and goals that inspired the revolutions are soon forgotten. Meanwhile, the revolutions are opposed by a similar array of forces whose livelihood and sense of security depends on the ruling regimes and the preservation of the status quo.

Liberty vs. Security 

In the absence of liberty and justice, peace becomes a tyrannical value, and stability and security blatant forms of oppression, one that rots and deforms the minds of its victims. Yet, people remain oblivious to that until the last moment when the rot propels them to rebel. Their rebellion does not cause the rot, it merely exposes it so that it could no longer be ignored. In themselves, however, revolutions are not the cure, nor are they conducive to it on the short run. On the short run, all that revolutions can accomplish is to break the status quo, opening up the floodgates to all possibilities, the good, the petty, and the purely evil. It is the latter that tend to prevail, on the short run.

The Cabal

Cabals and even full-fledged cults are the bread and butter of revolutionary processes. What is a popular revolution without them but pretend play? And while “cabal” might be too macabre a term to describe those who first conceived, inspired and led the revolutions, most, if not all, groups that emerge down the road tend to behave exactly like cabals: small circles of deformed souls demanding blind loyalty from their members as they conspire against all others.

The Ritual

At some point in popular revolutions, slaughter turns ritualistic, as revolutionary forces seek to impose a sense of order on the areas that came under their control. Indeed, all popular revolutions end up consuming their children. Revolutionaries are cannibalistic par excellence, if not even autophagic. This is why revolutionary leadership devolves into criminality, as leaders become warlords responsible for feeding and satisfying the basic appetites of their “followers.”

Un-holy Liberty

Liberty is not meant to be worshipped. Why should she? Liberty is merely a need and a necessity, just like food, and people don’t worship food, do they? But should they ever be deprived of it, or feel that it is threatened somehow, they’d fight for it, or fight to protect what they have of it, wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t you? People don’t need to worship something in order to fight for it. They just need to become convinced of its overriding necessity in their lives. For some, security will remain a far greater need than liberty, and they will fight against liberty itself to maintain it.

Civil War

Civil wars borne out of popular revolutions often metastasize into multiple conflicts over territory, spoils and influence, with political ideologies and parochial interests playing a major role in the situation. Alliances are formed and abandoned in an ad hoc manner, with the most cynical ones, that is, those formed by the most radical elements from opposing sides, proving to be the more lasting. Moderates become the common enemy and are soon eliminated.

The Toll

There is no power in the universe more capable of deforming the minds and souls than popular revolutions and civil wars. Indeed, these tragic developments are the living proof of the lingering relevance of our animal nature in our continuingly haphazard existence. How else can we explain how quickly we turn against each other? How what seems like a fleeting blink is more than sufficient to allow for the unleashing of all manners of beasts from under our skin? It’s as though in reality we are all monsters who have for long been waiting for the right moment to shed our thin veneer of humanity and reveal our true selves. Or genies stuffed in some old lamps who, after century of unjust imprisonment, have finally been let out and have emerged spiteful and vindictive seeking revenge for what happened to us, our rage blinding us to the fact that we have just been saved. Yes. We seek salvation but, when it’s finally at hand, we recoil in horror and spit and trample upon our saviors metamorphosing into replicas and clones of the very monsters who had long imprisoned us, and against whom we have always vowed to rebel. And through our own unruly behavior we justify and legitimate our oppression.

Oblivion

There is something about revolutionary beginnings that seems to inspire oblivion in all: revolutionaries, loyalists and cynical onlookers alike. For the spark is always irrelevant, just as its timing and nature is unpredictable; it is that thing that actually catches and grows the fire, whether by accident or design, that makes all the difference. For this, revolutionary processes should not be judged by their beginnings, but by the issues they bring to the fore: the old unresolved grievances and all those ugly truths that went unrecognized and ignored for far too long. In their frantic search for the new and the better, the early revolutionaries might have wanted to move beyond all these things, but it is with the worst and most senescent that they have for long to contend. For no one can move into the realm of the fresh and the new until they are completely disentangled from the chains of the rotten and the old.