Sunday, 19 June 2016

Spain and Syria: Beyond Superficial Comparisons

 I have a lot of respect for Paul Preston. One of my friends was a student of his at the London School of Economics. When I was at the LSE, I took the European Civil War class that he designed. I even rescued a copy of his biography of Franco that had fallen on to the railway track at the local station once. While I spent my teenage years reading a number of the anarchist and Trotskyist accounts of the Spanish revolution, I defer to Professor Preston’s much greater knowledge of Spain.
 However, I feel the reverse is the case with respect to Syria. Having spent the last 51 months following events in Syria on a daily basis, but reporting and analysing the experiences of Syrian revolutionaries, I think he falls for many of the false generalisations our media has made about Syria; that the opposition are undifferentiated jihadis, that the extreme jihadis of ISIS are the opposition to Assad, that the Assad régime is secular, that the West has been supporting the opposition.
 “It is impossible to generalise with any certainty about what has motivated the bulk of the jihadist volunteers from Western countries.”
 Certainly without asking them. Let’s give that a go.
 “It was the pictures everywhere, on Sky News that he was watching, of people being raped and children being killed, which inspired him to go,” said Mrs Sarwar. “These images were everywhere. He went to Syria to help the Free Syrian Army.”
 ‘Many British Muslims share Hussain’s view that Syria’s jihad has blurred lines. Al-Qaeda linked groups are involved – but many people believe that the conflict is closer in character to the civil war in Bosnia. Some compare it to the Spanish Civil War in which international brigades of young men fought against General Franco.
“My brother was not a terrorist. My brother was a hero,” says Hafeez Majeed. “If I could put it like this, if my brother had been a British soldier and there were British people in that prison, I know he would have been awarded the posthumous Victoria Cross.”‘
 “Parliament decided not to intervene, but it’s within this context that the two British men I’ve spoken to took it upon themselves to do, they say, what the government couldn’t, to defend the people of Syria. Now they’re back in the UK and living in fear of arrest.”
 ‘Similar motivations led Ibrahim to travel to Syria. He recalls being “horrified by the attacks carried out by the regime” when he saw images of dead civilians and crying children broadcast on the news, and claims that it was his duty to go there to help, because “if you had the means to go and help the oppressed, then you should”.’
 “They did not attack unarmed civilians.”
 I can only find one account of British volunteers participating in atrocities, but fighting for ISIS against Free Syrians.
 ‘In a letter to The Times, Brig-Gen Abdulellah al-Basheer of the Free Syrian Army asks for help in curbing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
He claims the group attacks opposition forces, not the Assad regime.
“We the Syrian people now experience beheadings, crucifixions, beatings, murders, outdated methods of treating women, an obsolete approach to governing society. Many who participate in these activities are British. The UK and US governments must support us to defeat terrorism in Syria and prevent it from being exported to Europe and the US.”‘
Which brings us to the second point.
 “The rebels are the disparate and fragile coalition.”
 Let’s be clear. ISIS are not a part of that coalition, but are a fifth column used by the Assad régime to undermine the revolution. Here is Nicolas Hénin, who was held as a hostage by ISIS.
 'Take for example, the number of times the Islamic State has actually fought the Syrian army over the course of the bloody war:
The ISIS fought the Syrian army when they seized the Menagh air base.
They also fought the army when they captured Division 17 in Raqqa (now capital of the declared Caliphate). Here they also captured a neighbouring airport.
The IS has also taken part in small-scale battles near Aleppo, Lattakia and Al-Qamishi.
This is the comprehensive list. And for a war that’s claimed 200,000 lives and displaced half the country, the number of battles remains suspiciously small.
 In fact, as of 2014, ISIS was earning $3 Million every day in the form of oil revenues. And a large portion of this oil is, to this day, sold to Assad. This complicity may be surprising. But it is not necessarily illogical. Because Assad stands to gain from the existence of the ISIS. It legitimizes his position as leader of the Syrian people. The “Assad or chaos” slogan is one he manipulates and brandishes with much success. The ISIS is the bogeyman. And by focusing on the malaise that is the ISIS, we are playing right into Assad’s hands.
 The Syrian people, as well as the Iraqis, would never accept the leadership of the Islamic State. It is an organization fraught with infighting and deceit. It cannot provide a viable Government in either country. It simply does not have the structural efficiency to. Additionally, the fear of the ISIS seems more potent than it is because of their ingenious PR campaign. We find ourselves shaken by their videos. We replay them time and again on television, further feeding into the deliberately cultivated fear. We are concerned that a future fighter of the ISIS may be among us. And in all this, we fail to recognize the sporadic, disorganized violence for what it is.
 The real threat remains Assad. In his absence, the Sunni majority will not feel compelled to align with the fanatic jihadis. The moderates will rise again. The conflicts will begin to resolve themselves. But the first step is to dethrone the ISIS from the status of “super-terrorists”. It’s what they want. And they are not a credible threat to the world.’
 Or more concisely from Murhaf Jouejati:
 “Assad has done much to prop up ISIS, first by releasing hard-core jihadis from his prisons under the guise of presidential amnesty to political prisoners (many of them now constitute the leadership of ISIS), then by aggrandizing ISIS financially through government purchase of oil from the fields ISIS controls (the Assad regime currently purchases electricity from ISIS), and now by concentrating most regime fire, in concert with ISIS, against moderate, secular rebels. In return, ISIS largely abstains from battling Assad’s forces.Without a strong moderate Syrian opposition, there is no way to defeat ISIS in Syria or force a real transition in Damascus.”
 Or Youssef Seddik, director of the press center of Aleppo.
 “There is a secret agreement between the Assad clan and Daesh. Assad leads imaginary battles against Daesh, he leaves arms dumps to them without a fight, as we have seen in rural areas near Homs, and Palmyra. In return, Daesh do not attack Assad’s forces and even blew up Palmyra prison, a symbol of the tyranny of Assad: it had no interest in documenting this and thus erased all trace and record of the torture practiced here for years by the regime.”
 Here is the former attorney-general for Tadmur, where the historic ruins of Palmyra are located.
 ‘ “A month before the city fell to Daesh, we had received information that Daesh was planning to attack Tadmur and the adjacent city of Sukhna. We conveyed the information to Assad himself,” said Mohamed Qassim, who formerly served as attorney-general in Syria’s central city of Tadmur. “But instead of laying out a plan to defend the city, Assad ordered military forces to vacate Tadmur in hopes of tempting Daesh to fill the vacuum,” he said.
 According to Qassim, Assad had wanted to give the impression that Daesh had captured Tadmur, from which the group hoped to advance on the central city of Homs to kill Alawites and Christians. “[Assad was confident] that the destruction of ancient monuments in the city would anger world public opinion and thus demonize the revolution,” he said.
 When he was serving as the city’s attorney-general, Qassim said, he had discovered scores of bodies of political detainees in regime-run prisons. “These people’s crime was to oppose the criminal Assad regime,” he said. Qassim added that political detainees had been subject to horrific forms of torture. “Many were beaten, burnt, tortured or crucified to death,” he said.
 “There were atrocities and crimes committed by Russia and the Assad regime that the world never knew about,” he said. He asserted that most of the city’s monuments, for example, had been destroyed by Russian airstrikes or barrel bombs dropped by regime aircraft. “Russian bombardments and regime [attacks] don’t target Daesh; rather, they are killing civilians, rendering thousands of the city’s residents homeless,” he said.
 Qassim went on to note that Russia — which began striking opposition forces in Syria last September — never attempted to retake Tadmur from Daesh. “It’s destroying the city and killing its people and is ultimately working to obliterate Tadmur,” he said.
 Qassim said dozens of Russian military experts had arrived in Tadmur when he was still serving as the city’s attorney-general. “These experts visited oil and gas fields to carry out maintenance and repair operations under the protection of Daesh militants,” he said.
 Qassim went on to disclose that regime forces were selling weapons to Daesh militants, asserting that a Syrian officer — named Mohamed Gaber — had been responsible for selling weapons to the militant group. “He [Gaber] smuggled weapons at night to Daesh militants and was paid by middlemen,” he said. Providing a glimpse as to how the weapons were procured by Daesh, Qassim said Gaber used to order extra weapons at one of the army checkpoints under his control. “[Shortly afterward] Daesh militants would attack the checkpoint, from which Gaber would order his troops to withdraw — leaving the weapons to the militants,” he said. “After the militants withdrew from the checkpoint, Gaber and his forces would return to find it emptied of weapons,” Qassim said.’
 “Others still are driven by the linked issues of inter-Muslim Sunni versus Shia conflict.”
 It is the Assad régime that has made the conflict sectarian. Here is Robin Yassin-Kassab, co-author of Burning Country, the best account of the Syrian revolution and Assad’s genocide.
 ‘Assad has deliberately started this war, he has deliberately made the thing militarised, and he deliberately made it sectarian.
 For a start, it hasn’t become completely jihadised, or Islamised. That’s been overdone. It’s been dramatically overdone in a rather Orientalist way, by commentators of left as much as right. Because there are still all of these democratic councils on the ground, self-organised communities, Free Army militias which a lot of journalists claim don’t exist, but clearly do. So that’s not the whole story. But how did it happen? Well, Assad deliberately provoked a war, because he knew that he couldn’t survive a genuine reform process, that one thing would lead to another, and he and his cohort would end up, at best, in prison, and stripped of their wealth. So as they wrote on the walls, “Assad or we burn the country,” they decided to burn the country, because the people didn’t want Assad. They did this because it worked before.
 In the late 70s, there was a movement of Islamist, nationalists, leftists, Communists, against Assad. Not a massive popular movement like 2011, but a movement nevertheless. It was so ruthlessly suppressed, that by 1982, all that was left of that movement was the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Which then out of idiocy or desperation staged an armed uprising in the city of Hama, at which point the Assad régime said, “Great! They’ve brought guns out, it’s a war situation.” They went in and flattened the historical centre of that ancient city, and killed somewhere between ten and forty thousand people, we don’t know how many, and that kept Syrians terrified and silent for the next decades until 2011. It worked. Then the Algerians did something similar in 91/92, and are still there, that régime is still in power. The Russians did it, from Chechnya I to Chechnya II, you see the same thing.
 Assad, at the same time that he was locking up and torturing to death tens of thousands of peaceful non-violent non-sectarian protesters, he was also releasing salafist jihadists from prison, and a lot of these people went off and founded these organisations, Jaish al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham, and even worse, went of to join the upper ranks of the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra (the al-Qaida franchise) and so on. He did this deliberately, he organised a series of sectarian massacres in 2012, on the plain between Homs and Hama, because he wanted a sectarian backlash. In order to terrify two constituencies. Firstly minorities in Syria, religious minorities, bourgeois secularists in Syria, who may have sympathised with the aims of the revolution, but when they saw angry Sunni Muslims threatening vengeance, as you do after massacres and children being tortured to death and a mass rape campaign, they suddenly thought, well if the alternative to this guy is people who may kill us just because of who we are, just because we aren’t Muslims in the way they are, then we have no choice but to stick to this guy. And secondly, the West. He’s done it very effectively. He’s convinced people that don’t know much about Syria, or don’t want to know much about Syria, in the West, that yes, this guy is the lesser evil. But he’s actually the source of the problem, him and his backers.’
 “Estimates vary wildly, although it seems clear that in Syria more foreign Sunnis are fighting with the rebels than there are foreign Shias fighting in defence of the Assad regime. Franco made an absurd claim that there were no foreigners among his troops.”
 This is absurd. Foreigners fighting with the non-ISIS opposition number a few thousand at most, Assad’s forces have almost entirely been replaced by transnational Shia jihadis.
 Ahmed Rahal:’When Assad’s army started to crumble, Assad had to form the so-called Shabiha squads. Shabiha were not proper military; they were armed gangs killing Syrians. When Shabiha could no longer hold back the Syrian revolution, the Assad regime invited mercenaries from abroad. First, they invited Lebanese Hezbollah; later, they brought Iraqi brigades and invited Qasem Suleimani with the Iranian Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (IRGC) and the Failak Al Quds corps. They also released and trained convicts from Tehran’s jails to send them as mercenaries to Syria. That was how control over the military passed from Bashar Assad into Iran’s hands, with Qasem Suleimani becoming Syria’s supreme warlord.
 But even after the Hezbollah and Iranian-Iraqi incursion, Assad continued to lose ground, having to seek the backing of the Russian air force to continue the extermination of the Syrian people. Today, Russian warplanes bomb Syrian civilians under the pretext of combating ISIS. Over 95% of all air strikes are made against Syrian civilians and the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
 Assad’s regular army is history now. Let’s count foreign mercenaries. Hezbollah: 15 to 20 thousand fighters from Lebanon.
Iraqi mercenaries: the al-Nujaba militia, Abu Fadl Al-Abbas, and others (approximately 36 Iraqi brigades), 20 to 30 thousand men, all Shiites.
Iran sent IRGC’s advisors Failak Al Quds: the so-called “army of volunteers” who “volunteered” to fight in Syria. Iran also sent Afghani convicts and junkies. All in all, 20 to 30 thousand people.
There are also mercenaries from Chechnya, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. 3 more thousand people have been recently brought from Nigeria.
All in all, there are about 100 thousand people fighting for Assad. This is not counting the Russian troops.’
On the other side, the rebels’ secularism and ecumenism has been hidden.
 “By 2012, the Assad regime intensified its armed crackdown against the unarmed protesters in Daraya. A terrible massacre occurred there on Aug. 24, 2012, as Assad’s regime sent troops, secret police, and members of the elite 4th Division to prevent residents from fleeing the city by any means necessary. Families were executed in their homes, whole buildings of women and children were machine-gunned in the streets, and residents were even decapitated — long before the so-called Islamic State even existed.
 The state-run media launched an aggressive propaganda campaign claiming Muslims were massacring Christians, aiming to stoke fear of the opposition in the Christian community. As regime soldiers went door to door, searching for people to murder, it was the Christian community of Daraya that opened theirs to protect those fleeing the atrocities. One Catholic church treated the injured and prepared food for them.”
 “I am afraid for no one,” he said. “It’s the people’s revolution, we are one people. The Christians are our brothers.”
 ‘If most rebels acted out of religious zeal, how did they earn support from members of Syria’s minorities? Salamiya, a majority-Ismaili Shite town of105,000, which held its first protests against the Assad regime in April of 2011, has hosted massive anti-regime protests deep into the Revolution’s armed phase. The Free Syrian Army head in Salamiya is himself Ismaili. Is he acting out of Ismaili religious zeal? Syrian Christians have also established multiple anti-Assad brigades . Did they raise arms out of passion for Jesus? Just two weeks ago, a group of 30 armed Alawi draft-dodgers urged others to join them because “We are shooting at [other sects] for Bashar al-Assad…Enough.” Were they acting out of love for Ali?
 We know why Syrian Christians, Ismailis and even Alawis have taken up arms against Assad, because they tell us why in their defection videos: the regime is “corrupt” and “tyrannical.” It “perpetrates massacres” and “destroys houses onto the heads of children.” These were the same reasons given by most Syrian Sunnis who defected. They are related to simple dignity and humanity, not religious zeal.’
 It is suprising that Syrians have not become more sectarian, given the sectarian murder the régime has rained down on them.
 ‘ “The regime wanted me to use excessive and unimaginable force against unarmed civilians and innocent people. … I felt I could not protect my family anymore… That is the reason why I defected and I’m proud of it. I refuse to kill my own people and destroy my own country.
Sectarian hatred was evident from the beginning of his superiors’ involvement: “The Alawite pilots often bragged [openly] during my time at Ksheish and Kweiress airport about how they dropped bombs and killed ‘Dirty Sunnis’. Sometimes we’d ask them: ‘Did you hit the target (rebels)?’ He’d say ‘No, I dropped it on a village or on fishing boats….who cares they’re all Sunnis let them burn.’ I swear on everything valuable that was their response.” In another instance, when a Colonel from Homs did not react to a newscast with screams of ‘terrorist,’ “he was handcuffed and a bag was placed on his head in front of me by the moukhabarat. He was then taken and tortured for a week before he was returned.” ‘
 “And now in Syria, shifting international allegiances and diplomatic hostilities between the many countries engaged in the conflict, along with the hesitant and indecisive role played by decision-makers in Britain, France and the United States understandably concerned only with their own foreign policy goals, has further inflamed an already volatile situation.”
 This hesitant and indecisive sentence tells us nothing about the reality of foreign intervention in Syria. What has happened is that the Russians have provided billions of dollars worth of weaponry, the Iranians tens of thousands of troops, while the West has provided little other than rhetoric in support of the opposition; and yet Assad is still losing, as he has lost all support in the country, and now rules only by fear and by the consent of his patrons.
 ‘President Obama: “It would be a mistake for the United States, or Great Britain, or a combination of Western countries to send in ground troops and overthrow the Assad regime. But I do believe that we can apply international pressure to all the parties, including Russia, and Iran, who are essentially propping up Assad; as well as those moderate opposition that exist and may be fighting inside of Syria, to sit down at the table and try to broker a transition.”
 It’s a straw man. Nobody asked President Obama to send in ground troops to overthrow Assad. The only variation he allows for in this schema is that other countries might also invade. There are other options. In his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg¹ he mentions that John Kerry asked for missiles to be fired at specific régime targets. Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic nomination to be the next president has come out in favour of a no fly zone, while Bernie Sanders is opposed. He could have called for the Syrian National Coalition to be recognised as the legitimate government. He could have supported the establishment of the FSA as the national army. He could have exerted diplomatic pressure on Iran and Russia to give up support for Assad and his régime, and pressured them to allow an immediate transition to a democratic and accountable government.
 Instead he did none of those things. He recognised the SNC as the “legitimate opposition”, allowing the US to pretend to be a friend and keep its leaders beholden to the West. He sent the CIA to Turkey’s borders to act as gatekeepers to ensure that weapons that might stop Assad’s massacres like anti-aircraft missiles were kept out, and the flow could be shut off if it looked like the rebels were advancing too fast. This isn’t an inevitable policy for the US, but it is one that the dead weight of their previous choices has tied this administration to.’
 ‘Two Syrian aid workers said they approached Kerry at a donor conference drinks reception and told him that he had not done enough to protect Syrian civilians. He then said they should blame the opposition.
“He said that basically, it was the opposition that didn’t want to negotiate and didn’t want a ceasefire, and they walked away,” the second of the aid workers told MEE in a separate conversation and also on the basis of anonymity.
 “‘What do you want me to do? Go to war with Russia? Is that what you want?’” the aid worker said Kerry told her.
 Both aid workers said Kerry told them that he anticipated three months of bombing during which time “the opposition will be decimated”.’
 Robin Yassin-Kassab:
 “One reason the rebels, the opposition militias have collapsed recently, is because the Americans have told the Saudis and others to stop delivering weapons. Not one anti-aircraft weapon, which is what the civilians need to defend themselves from this scorched earth and depopulation, not one of them has come through. So the Americans, who present themselves as Friends of Syria, certainly aren’t friends with the Syrian Revolution. They’ve just done a deal with the Iranians, at the same moment the Iranians are sending Shia jihadist militants to Syria and Iraq, which is making the Sunni Islamist backlash so much worse. When the Russians wanted to bring their own opposition team, so-called opposition team, to Vienna, the Americans said that’s OK. When the genuine Syrian opposition team said they wanted United Nations resolutions, that the Americans and Russians had already agreed on, implemented; for example, a ceasefire, and end to the aerial bombardment in civilian areas, John Kerry told the opposition that this was a precondition they shouldn’t be talking about at this stage. So whatever the rhetoric coming out of the Americans, their actions suggest they have handed this over to Russia and Iran. So in the name of disengagement, the Americans, back in 2013 when sarin gas was used, Obama’s red line over chemical weapons disappeared, they in effect handed Syria over to Russia. It hasn’t brought about stabilisation, it’s brought about an absolute disaster. It has dragged the West back in. This year, the pressure of refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean, it will be more than last year, and I wish the Europeans would stop waiting for the Americans, for American leadership on this, because it clearly isn’t coming.”
 ‘Kerry has specifically adopted Moscow’s two primary positions:
The First, making the “war on terror and extremism” the basis of any international approach in Syria. The Second, putting off for the time being any discussion of the fate of Assad, rather than making it the first step in any discussion of a political settlement, as the Syrian opposition has been demanding since day one. Kerry has now made it clear Assad does not have to leave anytime soon when he said: “It doesn’t have to be on day one or month one. There is a process by which all the parties have to come together and reach an understanding of how this can best be achieved.” ‘
 ‘When the first attacks occurred in March, Mr. Kerry issued an angry statement declaring that “the international community cannot turn a blind eye to such barbarism.” But the Security Council, paralyzed by Russian obstructionism, has taken no action. And Mr. Kerry and his spokesman made it clear that the Obama administration has no plans to do anything other than remonstrate with Vladi­mir Putin’s powerless foreign minister.
 It is well within the power of the United States to put a stop to the horrific attacks. It could impose a no-fly zone in northern Syria, where Idlib province lies, or simply shoot down the slow-moving Syrian helicopters carrying out the attacks. As former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford testified to the House committee, a failure to act won’t affect only Syria: “The international consensus against CW use forged after the horrors of World War I is being eroded with each new chemical attack,” he said. “This is a risk to our own soldiers’ safety and our broader national security.”
 No matter: “I don’t have any specific measures here that I can lay out for you” to stop the chlorine attacks, said State Department spokesman John Kirby. Tell that to the families of the children whose lungs are being burned away.’
 “After all, from September 1939 onwards, despite the class prejudices of the ruling class and senior military officers, the fight of the volunteers in Spain had become was the fight of the majority of British and French citizens. There will be no equivalent whatever the result of the war in Syria.”
 That’s a shame, because it there is much to support in the Syrian revolution, and it is the right-wing forces in Europe that benefit from stigmatising the refugees and those still fighting for their freedom.
 Robin Yassin-Kassab:
 “Living conditions are absolutely unbearable, in some places people are actually starving to death. There’s constant barrel bombing, etc., etc., chemical weapons, and so on. Having said that, the inspiring thing, and the thing the media really hasn’t covered very well, is that there are over 400 democratically elected local councils in Syria.
 Now this is something that is quite amazing, and I can’t understand why we’re not talking about it much more, because in the previous decade the West was invading the Middle East, to bring them democracy supposedly, on the back of tanks, and that didn’t really work out. Now, out of necessity, in places where the state has collapsed, or has been driven back; people have got together, they’ve organised elections, and they’ve got local councils that are trying to keep life going in the most difficult of situations. These people should be part of the solution.
 They’ve done it in different ways in different places, but in some ways they are elections as we would recognise here. So, for example, in the south, where the dominant militia is the Southern Front, a group of Free Army militias, they have refused to enter into alliances with Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaida group, they have had no problem at all with people organising elections in the south. The leaders of militias were not allowed to stand, so we’ve got civilian councils.”
 “Well, there’s something really beautiful about Manbij and many other cities like it in Syria in that the people have a sense of responsibility that has been pushing them to organize the city for almost- Manbij has been liberated for a year and three months almost – right now. And you find people in local councils, people in the police force, for example, the brigade and other organizations that are working completely without pay, without any form, not even a political agenda. It’s just that feeling of duty towards the country that’s keeping them there. Manbij has changed in many ways; we’re free. For the first time ever, the Syrian people are experiencing this freedom where they’re allowed to be politically active, where they’re allowed to look at the future from a completely different angle.”
 “While traveling with some of these Free Syrian Army battalions, I’ve watched them defend Alawi and Christian villages from government forces and extremist groups. They’ve demonstrated a willingness to submit to civilian authority, working closely with local administrative councils. And they have struggled to ensure that their fight against Assad will pave the way for a flourishing civil society. One local council I visited in a part of Aleppo controlled by the Free Syrian Army was holding weekly forums in which citizens were able to speak freely, and have their concerns addressed directly by local authorities.”
 Kenan Rahmani: ‘The “free” in “Free Syria” was palpable: talking to kids in the street, or to armed rebels who were protecting the city, or the representatives of the local administrative councils.’
 “Something struck me almost immediately about these two men; both broadcast something like hope. As we talked further, I realized it was something deeper than that; pride. A pride that I have never experienced. When they speak about their journey to Europe and of their brushes with death, they do so knowing that they stood on the right side of history, that they did exactly what they would want themselves or anyone to do in their situation; they stood and pushed forward when the Arab world was trying to rid itself of the regimes and dogmatic political doctrines that oversaw the repression of their generation.
 Though they carry trauma and scars from Syria, and while their families and friends are scattered, dead, or in prison, neither regret their role in the Syrian revolution. But Sami and Tariq have hope as well, a hope in knowing that perhaps the revolt in Syria will be a building block toward some better future. It had to happen, they stress, and once it had started, they had to push it as far as they could.
Such hope does not come from blind faith, but from knowing that something could work, from a sense of potential and possibility. That is what Tunisia and Egypt taught the world in late 2010 and early 2011, and it’s what drove people like Sami and Tariq to the streets of Damascus a month later. They live now knowing that they were among the millions who tried.”
 ‘As in a number of Arab countries, many of Syria’s women were largely confined to traditional roles before the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the outbreak of war. Now, however, more and more women are at the forefront of new efforts to solve local problems and counter the death and destruction that has engulfed the country.
 One of the ways they’ve done this is by starting their own independent magazines and radio stations, such as Jasmine Syria, Sayedet Souriya, Radio Souriyat and Nasaem Radio, which focus on highlighting the daily struggles of Syrian women amid the conflict.”The stereotypical image of women presented in media reflects a patriarchal society,” said Reem al-Halabi, director of Nasaem Radio, which is based in the northwestern city of Aleppo. “Women’s interests are not limited to fashion, beauty, cooking, family and children. This image does not reflect the real interests or concerns of Syrian women or how hard they are working to take part in building their country.”
 More women are also launching community initiatives, such as Women Now for Development, a center formed by women in 2012 in the besieged town of Hazza in the Damascus countryside to provide training in new skills. The initiative focuses on young women who have had to quit school due to the security situation and widows who need to generate income to support their families. Layla, the manager of Women Now for Development, said the conflict had paradoxically “opened new horizons” for some Syrian women. “They are more self-confident and not afraid to express their opinions anymore, and this is reflected in the way they raise their children and deal with their husbands and the society around them,” said Layla, who asked that her real name not be used for security reasons.Layla added that Women Now’s workshops about women’s rights have contributed to increasing the number of women who voted in local council elections in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, Damascus.’
 ‘They beat me. They beat me with a strap, kicked me with their boots, they beat me with everything they could. They broke my fingers. I am a surgeon and they broke all my fingers. They would lift me by my shoulder and leave me hanging like this for 3 hours. But the worst of all the torture I endured was cold (it was wintertime and I had no clothes on) and hunger: we were starving; they would not let us eat. They tortured me mentally threatening to rape my mother and daughter; they humiliated me as a human being and as a doctor. When they questioned me, I was standing before them stark naked, blindfolded, with my hands tied. It all lasted for 7 months.
 All this will end if the whole world continues its pressure and starts using all available means to stop the dictator, the murderer.
 Even if the regime succeeds in making Syria fall apart into several states, this will mean nothing: we will continue to fight no matter what. We’ll fight for a hundred years if we have to. Syria must be one country. After Assad goes, we will start building a new, free Syria: a democratic, multi-ethnic, and multi-confessional country.’


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  2. Just a note on agreeing with you about Paul Preston's article "Spain and Syria: Beyond Superficial Comparisons". You say his expertise on Spain, does not imply accurate comparisons without corresponding expertise on Syria. Without considering the role of "volunteers", even without this, his article is strange. Spain before Franco was only ever a semi democracy, governed by a land owning and business elite backed by the Catholic Church. Preston knows better than anyone the lack of control the new Popular Front Government of 1936 had over the state. The so called "rebels" controlled the vast bulk of the effective parts of the Spanish Army, with the unreserved support of Fascist Italy and Germany. Franco while being termed a "rebel", actually controlled the military apparatus of the state as Assad does. Franco was actually protecting the interests of a very well established Spanish elite, just as Assad does in Syria. Preston recognizes the similarities about foreign dictatorships, Franco had Italy and Germany, Assad has Iran and Russia. The ME he says is about oil and "war on terror" according to Western rhetoric. He does not say Spain was about "stability and avoiding war", and the "threat of extreme left" in the mainstream media at the time. There is no great difference. Then as now to a few people it was also about democracy. Sidestepping the emphasis about comparing the motivations of volunteers in Spain and Syria. The last sentence should be the first one, because it is the goal Preston is aiming for ... "After all, from September 1939 onwards .... the fight of the volunteers in Spain had become the fight of the majority of British and French citizens. There will be no equivalent whatever with the result of the war in Syria." That is exactly the point, there will. In the 1930s most people and the mainstream media did not see fighting in Spain as essential to fighting the rise of right wing authoritarianism, instead they saw it as a dangerous sideshow in a backward counttry. This is the same shameful mistake being made today about the courage of the Syrian people. The defeat of democracy in Syria and the lack of support for the Arab Democratic uprising in general after 2011, will be seen as the beginning of the collapse of Western democracies. We are undermined by our own elites who have too much wealth, power and vested indifference to the majority. Just as in the 1930s. Preston is an example of confidence overtaking expertise.