Let’s begin with the title of the book. What do you mean by the “orphan revolution?”
I chose this title, which was used by Farouq Mardam Bey in one of his articles two years ago, because, in my opinion, it accurately describes the condition of the Syrian Revolution. It is a revolution that, from its inception, has not enjoyed proper support or solidarity as guaranteed by its “advocates,” or at the very least, not in proportion to the amount of sacrifices and nightmares that have pursued the Syrian people due to the violent response of the Syrian regime and its allies, Iran and Russia.
Suffice it to say that today, despite more than 130,000 killed, 150,000 detained, 8 million displaced, chemical attacks, missile and air raids, and photos of the “death industry” inside Assad’s prisons, the global response has not met its responsibility, politically, militarily, diplomatically, in the courts, or on the streets. This gives us a people left to face a severe, monstrous, and well-equipped killing machine: an image of orphans.
So why this abandonment, or this global onlooker mentality?
There are many reasons which I have tried to explain in the book. Some relate to the reality of international relations today, others to conflicting regional interests, a regression in “Western” interest in the Middle East, the rise of a culturalistic school towards our region that sees violence as normal behavior for its groups. Then there is Islamophobia, causing some to defend the regime or be biased in its favor as a secular and progressive alternative to Islam, despite being despotic and criminal. Finally, there are those who believe in “conspiracy theories,” and they are many. This group interprets the world as a series of plots into which all people fall victim.
The book is dedicated to “media and legal activists in Syria.” Who are these activists, and where do they stand on the revolution today?
These are the thousands of youths, male and female, that were pushing for the revolution in several regions from day one. They organized protests and sit-ins, filmed and photographed what was happening around them on their mobile phones. They also worked to defend detainees, document violations, record lists of martyrs, and write in newspapers not only about the situations in Syria and its prisons, but also about the joy found in freedom of speech and of the press.
They also uploaded pictures and videos to social network sites, thereby increasing media outlets, while at the same time issuing periodic statements and reports that allowed us to follow the course of revolution. Thus, they established a shared Syrian memory which prohibited forgetfulness and the Assad regime from drowning out the people who stood up to seize their freedom and defend it. Let it be known that hundreds of these activists paid the price for this with their lives, and hundreds more today are in prisons, in exile, and in hiding. Most of those still able continue to work for the cause, or work in the fields of development and aid. But of course their leading influence over the trajectory of the revolution regressed since the summer of 2012, after the armed resistance turned into the dominant means in facing the regime.
I must point out that when I finished the book at the end of November 2013, Razan Zaitouneh, who through her work embodies the activists I mentioned earlier, along with Samira Al-Khalil (a former political prisoner and an activist from day one in the revolution), Wael Hamada (activist and husband of Mrs. Zaitouneh), and Nazem Hamady (lawyer, activist and poet), had not yet been kidnapped. In my opinion their kidnapping is one of the most brutal and ugly acts, both for what it meant and for its location (in Douma in the heart of the “liberated” East Ghouta), as well as for the responsibility for the kidnapping by a large, militant Islamic group that controls the region. Therefore, I amended the dedication in the French version, which was issued in Paris, to read: To Razan Zaitouneh, Samira Al-Khalil and Faïek al-Meer. The latter played a very important role in the revolution, having previously spent 12 years in the Assad prisons, and was arrested on October 7, 2013.
But is “revolution” an accurate description of the current conflict in Syria? Can it be said that the revolution has been hijacked as stated by many of the activists you just mentioned?
That question is often repeated, and I believe that repetition comes from an idealistic definition of a revolution, where it is considered to be a general, noble, and peaceful rebellion against an oppressive government. But that definition flies in the face of the history of revolutions. For you will find violence in revolutions, as well as opportunists, changes in the leadership and in social orders, and lots of mistakes. You will also find that in a revolution as deep-rooted as Syria’s, the innermost parts of society are brought out, both the most praiseworthy and the most vile. The revolution, therefore, continues, and the entry of an armed resistance is a tragedy that was forced upon Syria by the barbarianism of the regime and the global community’s resignation of its duties. There is no doubt that this entry changes many matters and pushes “war lords” to the forefront, especially with the passage of time, with outside players able to interfere by building up influence and buying loyalties and settling scores.
That is all happening in Syria today, but that does not alter the essence of a struggle against a despotic regime that enslaves its people, nor does it alter the essence of the regime itself or its fascism that can be seen through terrifying violence every day. But as for the talk of a stolen revolution, it has no scientific meaning. If what is meant by this talk is the tyrannical practices of the Islamists, then the issue is their military presence and participation in the fighting. Most of them are from rural Syria and the suburbs of the marginalized cities.
Of course I am speaking about the Islamists of the revolution, and not about ISIS or the jihadists coming in from abroad and who thus have no link to the Syrian cause. They have fought the revolution and punished its people — especially in Raqqa— much more than they have fought the regime, which was glad of their arrival from the beginning as they serve its propaganda and weaken its enemies.
If we asked you what is the greatest thing that the Syrian revolution has achieved to date, what would you reply?
The restoration of “Syria the society” and “Syria the people.” For Syria, apart from the current situation and its future outcomes, is no longer merely borders and geopolitical strategy, as Hafez al-Assad wanted it to be, and as he and his son named it “The Assads’ Syria.” It no longer belongs to them, living outside the era they once wanted for it: “Forevermore,” as their hideous slogan said. But the price has been very high, and, of course, dreadful.
This conversation is excerpted from an Arabic-language interview in the Lebanese electronic newspaper, NOW. Translation and publication is by permission from Mr. Ziad Majed.
This interview appeared in Al Jadid, Vol. 18, No. 67.
Translated from the Arabic for Al Jadid by Joseph Sills.
Translation Copyrights © 2015 AL JADID MAGAZINE http://www.aljadid.com