Friday, 15 April 2016

Labels Do Matter: It’s a Revolution, Stupid.


 Maryam Saleh:

'Since day one, there have been various competing versions of events: the Syrian people’s narrative has been of a movement seeking freedom and dignity, the Assad regime’s rhetoric has been of terrorists, infiltrators, and foreign conspirators, and the initial U.S. discourse was of support for the people.

In 2012, even as the Syrian opposition began to take up arms, it was abundantly clear that the government, propped up by Iran and Russia, was the unlawful aggressor, and the defenseless people were desperately trying to protect themselves and their communities.

Gradually though, the narrative in mainstream media and among policymakers shifted. Conflict or civil war, not revolution or popular uprising. Rebels or insurgents, not revolutionaries or freedom fighters. Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, Jabhat al-Nusra— an enemy of the revolution — somehow became synonymous with it. ISIS, which waged war on anti-Assad Syrians nearly a year before it began threatening the West, took center stage and became a primary global concern, eclipsing any discussion of the Assad regime’s ongoing wholesale slaughter of the Syrian people.

I grew tired of explaining to anti-interventionists that my people deserved to live without constant fear of barrel bombs, and that either a no-fly zone or anti-aircraft weaponry (or both) was necessary to accomplish that. I no longer wanted to explain that President Barack Obama’s August 2011 call for Assad’s departure did not transform the “revolution” into a U.S. ploy to effectuate regime change reminiscent of Iraq; that a popular revolution born in the streets of Syria was invariably different from a foreign occupation planned in the White House and Pentagon; and that President Obama’s policies (especially his appeasement of Iran and his chemical weapons “red line”) breathed life into Assad’s killing machine.

I became more cynical, angry, and jaded than I ever could have imagined, and I knew that if I spoke of al-thawra al-sooriyyeh to anyone watching mainstream media in 2015, I would come off as a lunatic. So I too began referring to Syria as a conflict, not a revolution.

Late last month, the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) negotiated a shaky (and extremely flawed) “cessation of hostilities“ in Syria. Syrians felt free to protest en masse for the first time in years. On March 4, a Friday named “The Revolution Continues,” Syrians held 104 peaceful protests throughout the country, renewing their basic demand for Assad’s departure. On March 11, protesters once again came out to “Renew Their Vows” to the Syrian revolution. And on March 15, Syrians celebrated the fifth anniversary of the start of the protests.

History will not be kind to those who abandoned the Syrian people, and the Syrian people will not look favorably on those who conveniently and lazily reduced their revolution for dignity to a civil war. Revolutions are messy, and they parry with counterrevolutions such that they often descend into war, but the war in Syria would not be without the revolutionary spark that ignited it. So I have resolved to stop being stupid. From today onward, it’s a revolution, never a conflict.'

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