x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The armchair pundits were right, and Syrians pay for it

Despite the loss of trust in the regime and faith in the outside opposition, thousands of peaceful protesters still call for freedom in Syria every day. Hearing them out is more important than ever.

On Saturday, May 12, a group of activists held a candlelight vigil inside the Damascus Citadel, in honour of the victims of the twin bombings that shook the capital two days prior, killing 55 people, wounding dozens more on the busy street near the notorious "Palestine" Intelligence branch. The quiet vigil was soon broken up by security forces. At least 12 activists were detained.

Although these aggressive acts by Assad regime forces are predictable - expected even - this vigil should not have been problematic. In the aftermath of the bombings, an outpouring of outrage and concern had flooded Syrian television screens and social media platforms. It seemed that mourning this tragedy was allowed - encouraged even - but on condition that grief is expressed by only one kind of citizen: the regime loyalist.

Martyrs have become the new commodity in the "media" war between opposition and loyalists, in order to claim the right to grieve the innocent civilians caught in the explosion, one needed to exclusively claim the official narrative and no other. But two days after the severe breach to national security, and the shrill claims that the country is under attack by international terrorist groups - this time, specifically Al Qaeda - why was the regime threatened by an innocent candlelight vigil? Because it threatened to unite the people and undermine the regime's divisive tactics with a simple but powerful message: "Stop the killing." And as we know, the Syrian regime does not like to take orders from anyone - not from Kofi Annan's six-point "ceasefire" plan, and definitely not from a group of youth carrying candles and flowers.

In the aftermath of this week's deadly massacre of over 100 people in Hula, the victims themselves have been classified into groups. The UN has placed the responsibility of deaths by shelling on the regime but has left the question of who slaughtered children open - committed perhaps by unknown "armed gangs" - as if the regime is incapable of committing such atrocities. As if such brutality was too extreme for even the Syrian regime.

In a recent interview Bashar Al Assad declared Syria is "losing the media war" but "reality is what matters." Really? That's news to many in the opposition. After filming hundreds of thousands of videos documenting the regime's shelling, destruction and torture, along with protests, funerals, mass graves and thousands of corpses, somehow, the conflict is still painted in the media as unclear, unverified, and always "complicated".

"It's complicated," is the one thing everyone agrees. Nuanced, circular arguments were debated while analysing an "Arab Spring" country, while the people from these countries chanted for freedom and saw themselves mirrored in the same struggles unfolding across borders. But the regimes and media insisted: Egypt is not Tunisia; Libya isn't Egypt; Yemen isn't Bahrain; and Bahrain isn't Syria. Of course, Syria is definitely not Libya. Syria's future, at best, should be compared to Iraq's present or Lebanon's past.

Cynics on the sidelines belittle the number of dead. They claim the videos are fabricated and declare the truth as elusive. They ridicule claims that bombings and coordinated murder cannot be executed by the regime, because it would be stupid for a regime to attack itself. But they do not state the facts.

Apologies to the Syrian people were made months ago, along with predictions of the inevitable civil war. We were told that the ever-sectarian revolution would be weaponised and radicalised. We were warned that our infiltrated and hijacked revolution would spark violence and would "spill over" across borders.

And now, 14 months in, the armchair pessimists lean back and smugly say, "I told you so."

While some may say Bahrain's uprising has suffered from the world's silence, it seems that Syria's revolution has suffered from the world saying too much. Empty chatter from Syria's so-called friends created a hazy narrative: between the regime and the Syrian National Council; between the Syrian Army and the Free Syrian Army; between force and non-violence. The question of Syria is simplified to an impossible choice of regional stability over the humanitarian crisis or the choice of resistance over repression.

There were many months when the struggle was peaceful, nonsectarian, without outside influences and contained within borders. But the critics shook their condescending fingers and raised their voices in unison, predicting the violence that was to be unleashed on the region.

Now, the detractors speak of the "two periods of the revolution": the peaceful, pure period and the violent, sectarian one. The same people who used to talk about the "armed gangs" and "Salafis" over a year ago, now talk about the principles of the revolution that were once upheld but have now have been regrettably lost forever. Even Syrian television now admits that the revolution began with legitimate, non-violent demands for much-needed reforms.

So why does the Syrian regime insist on detaining peaceful activists like the ones at the candlelight vigil or torturing writers like Salameh Keilah? Why don't they focus their efforts at ridding the country of Al Qaeda terrorists? The answer is quite simple, and not complicated at all: What regime would be stupid enough to attack itself?

The pessimistic "I told you so's" do not deter the will of the Syrian people. Despite the violence, sectarianism, and utter loss of trust in the regime and faith in the outside opposition, there are still thousands of peaceful protesters who call for freedom every day. The cynics refuse to see these people while the regime detains and tortures them.

And even on days like today, while we watch our children, Syria's children, piled in a heap with their throats slit open like slaughtered sheep, while the town of Hula digs yet another mass grave to bury its over 100 dead, the Syrian people still chant. They may chant with tears and cracked voices, but they chant. Because against the tyrant and his apologists, against the world's empty promises and universal conspiracies, the Syrian people are determined to claim the only "I told you so" that counts - the final one.

 

Amal Hanano is a pseudonym for a Syrian American writer.

Follow on Twitter @amalhanano