Saturday, 30 September 2017

Crafting civil society in Ghouta

Photoblog: Crafting civil society in Ghouta

 'To the untrained eye, it may not seem like "resistance" of the traditional variety one expects to see in Syria.
 But for people in Eastern Ghouta, a town just outside Damascus, the chance to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of Assad's bombs is just that.

 The display at the opening of the Eve Centre for Arts is not just of arts and crafts made from recycled bits and bobs and damaged furniture, but a display of resilience, of perseverance.

 It is a demonstration that, despite being under siege by Assad's troops since 2013, life here goes on.'

Extracts from The Impossible Revolution by Yassin al-Haj Saleh

 'Not once have Islamists been excluded in Syria without the exclusion of all independent opposition currents as well, exclusions that left the country a political wasteland. While it is true that including Islamists in a pluralistic political system is not an easy task, the alternative is tried-and-tested, and is unsatisfactory.'
 [Introduction, p5]

 'I also wrote a letter to European intellectuals, urging them to pressure their governments to aid Syrians in their struggle for justice.'

 'Many Syrians, including myself, had no reason to regret that the junta might be punished for at least one of its crimes, after it had used air power, long-range missiles, and chemical weapons against its own people, and after it had killed thousands of them under torture, committed sectarian massacres, and even invited other murderers to join the killing spree. Since that time, it became clear that punishing a murderous régime was something too progressive for the US establishment. A few days later, the Obama administration sealed a deal with the Russians. Not only was the deal a free pass for Bashar al-Assad to go on killing Syrians by other means, but it was also a warrant of immunity against any form of punishment. It was an earth-shattering blow for Syrians who were looking forward to a new progressive Syria. It was also an invaluable boon to Daesh and the al-Nusra front, as well as to the Assads. Impunity is the mother of terrorism: more impunity means more terrorists ranging free.'

 [pp 18-19]

 'It is appropriate to speak in terms of a revolution because many Syrians are radically changing themselves while struggling to change their country and emancipate their fellow Syrians. For that reason in particular, it will be very difficult to defeat the uprising."
 [Chapter 1, The Revolt of the Common People, p30]

 'The real identity of the régime consists of the combination of an obselete, inhumane political apparatus with a glamorous material façade.'

 'Is it not likely that political Islamists will have the final say in a post-Baath Syria? This is a valid speculation. It is not a new issue, nor is it the worst possibility when it comes to personal and clannish dictatorships.'

 'Syrians and observers outside Syria have documented videos showing groups of mukhabarat [secret police] carrying out acts of violence similar to punitive expeditions and colonial campaigns, using tactics that have also characterized sectarian militias from Lebanon [Hezbollah] and Iraq. A film from al-Baidha village is the most famous among these clips, but it is not the only one.There are other videos capturing armed shabiha in uniform, forcing an unarmed man to chant: "There is no god but Bashar". [This is also recorded by the British film-maker Sean McAllister who was making Syria: A Love Story when he was briefly arrested in Syria]. Another shows them commanding a different man to do the same, until the commander ordered them to "bury that animal".; this man kept declaring "There is no god but God" while they proceeded to bury them alive.'
 [Chapter 2 The Syrian Shabiha and Their State, pp 49-50]

 'It is still difficult to describe the violence of the Syrian state security agencies as "state" violence - as legitimately organized - in the same way - in the same way that one cannot describe the infamous Tadmur Prison as a "state" facility. Because in fact, the security agencies are more like an occupying army, one that has thoroughly penetrated society with violence, hostility, and an almost racist supremacy. They have paralyzed society, making resistance impossible outside the context of a full-blown revolution, as seen today.'

 'The etymology of the term "shabiha" [semi-offical rape and extortion gangs] is obscure. Is it perhaps derived from "ashbaah" (ghosts), since the shabiha are outlaws who work in the dark, both literally and figuratively, flickering in and out, and vanishing just as swiftly? Does it stem from the "shabah", a once popular and plateless Mercedes Benz that senior shabiha seemed to prefer for their operations and to set themselves apart. Or perhaps it has to do with the idea of "shabh", the "extending and expanding of privileges and powers," as when someone is forced under torture to a position where his feet barely touch the floor while his hands are high up, tied to a horizontal metal bar. In this case, "privileges" refer to an official authorization for a task, while "tashbih" is the act of torturously "stretching and extending" this authorization, which is what the shabiha do.'

 'If the régime wins its confrontation with the uprising, the government system will be run by tashbih, the country will be ruled by the shabiha, and we will witness levels of brutality and discrimination even more severe than those of the 1980s. If the revolution is crushed, it will not be followed by "reform" of any kind, but by a return to the fascist tashbih for years to come. The present régime knows no other way to govern: when people submit to it, it enslaves them; when they rise up against it, it kills as many of them as it can.'

 'There is a growing anger towards the ritualistic emphasis on the peaceful character of the revolution, an emotion that sometimes leads beyond merely accepting armed confrontation to the point of even embracing it.'
 [Chapter 3, The Danger Of a State Of Nature, p66]

 'Its [the régime] methods of aggression and abuse are known worldwide due to the uprising's own coverage.: nails being ripped out; skinning; electrocution of the genitals and mutilation with sharp objects or lasers (in public hospitals, no less); eye gounging; throttling; in addition to the more traditional methods of corporal punishment (foot whipping, electrocution and sleep deprivation); stripping of prisoners and insulting them individually or as groups - not to mention the insults specifically directed at women and children.'

 'What do arms, religiosity, and the request for international protection have in common? A predisposition toward shelter: for the sake of self-protection or self-defence, one seeks refuge in the Almighty, and seeks shelter from the most powerful.'

 'At the core of the continuing Syrian ordeal is the so-called "régime": insane and extremely aggressive, its character increases the probability that its opponents will be pushed into acting unreasonably. Under such Khaldunian circumstances, in which inevitability rules, there is no place for policy and forethought. The most a sane individual can do is expose the reigning imperatives. This amounts to adopting an observer status, with no effect on the course of events.'
 Towards the end of the second phase of the revolution, and still more during the third, voices within the Syrian opposition began to express reservations about the military section of the revolution, claiming it was responsible for provoking the régime's brutality. But on it own terms the argument is faulty in three regards. The military component was an inevitable and even "objective" response to the régime's brutal violence. One would not expect those who advocate this position would work trying to regulate the activities of the FSA, but if we were to reject these efforts, the outcomes would only lead to uncontrollable chaos. In addition there are thousands of fighters who have been moved to protect their fellow citizens in full awareness that the fate awaiting them at the hands of the régime is gruesome murder. Do we deprive them of any moral or political protection?'
 [Chapter 4, Arms and the Revolution, pp85-86]

 'Today, Syrians cannot choose between the existence and non-existence of the military component. They do have a choice about whether the military component should exist with or without order. There is no question: the former is preferable.'

 'There are serious complications in the militarization of the revolution, and a way must be found to remedy them. There are the human and material losses resulting from militarized conflict, militarization and the use of arms could limit identification with the revolution, and the issues that would confront the (anticipated) post-revolutionary Syria following a peaceful toppling of the régime would be incomparably easier to handle than the issues that would follow an armed ousting of the régime.'

 'To the memory of Hamza al-Khatib.'
 [Hamza al-Khatib was a thirteen year-old boy from Daraa in southwestern Syria. He participated in protests during the early stage of the revolution, and was detained by the notoriously brutal Air Force Intelligence. His mutilated body was delivered to his parents in May 2011, showing a broken neck, severed genitals, and gunshot wounds in his chest and arms]
 [Chapter 5, The Roots of Syrian Fascism, p91]

 'The régime's brutality has been accompanied by flagrant bigotry and incandescent hatred toward the rebels. On examination, one may not find a systematic fascist ideology or distinct fascist social organizations, but rather a mixture of unrestrained violence, and an ideology that at best overlooks violence, at worst justifies and encourages it.'

 'By the time the rebellion began, there were some 150,000 Kurds who had been deprived of citizenship for half a century. Kurds were unseen and unheard in Syria, a situation that led to an understandable exasperation that has manifested itself in an animosity toward Arabs. This will inevitably lead to much ethnic and political upheaval in the near future.'

 'The geographical and cultural separation of Arabs from the rest of the world has laid the foundation for a mistrustful international outlook, particularly toward the West. This scepticism extends to neighbouring non-Arab countries, and even to most other Arab countries, the governments of which are viewed as conspirators or double agents. Conspiracy theories are rampant all over the globe, but in Syria they are central to the régime's political doctrine and worldview.'

 'It is noteworthy that anxieties about cultural invasion arose during the 1990s simultaneously with three events: the wave of democracy in Eastern Europe following the implosion of the Eastern bloc; the peace negotiations with Israel, which violated the doctrine of absolute Arabism (alongside cultural invasion, "anti-normalisation" with Israel became the topic du jour); and the emergence of satellite broadcasting, which broke the state's monopoly over the media. Immunization against cultural invasion became a matter of utmost importance to counter the declining value of official doctrine in the context of growing openness to the world.'

 'The régime's top priority was to remain in power forever. Everything else - including national integration, the restoration to Syrian control of the territories occupied by Israel, social openness, the development of education and of fair judicial systems had to be lower on the list of priorities and subject to sacrifice in situations of conflict with the primary imperative.'
 [Chapter 5, The Roots of Syrian Fascism, p104]

 'Each group sees themselves as superior in their manners, modernity, reason secularism or religion. Each thinks of themselves as victims of the other's bullying (with "self" and "other" defined in terms of ethnic and sectarian language). The other is the most backward , heretical, fanatical, aggressive, or self-centred. Moreover, each group sees itself as the most persecuted, the one exposed to the most extreme form of discrimination, accused of the most despicable charges, and the one whose rights have been flouted the most.

 'Another mechanism mobilized in the service of atomizing the people was the spread of the fear that if we do not kill them, they will kill us.'

 'Tadmur Prison in Palmyra was the place where sectarianism joined with organized fascist violence in the last two decades of the rule of Assad père. The régime was keen to recruit Alawites to fill most positions across the prison; most of the prisoners were Islamists. The characteristic practice of consistent torture throughout those two decades, especially against Islamists, makes it the Assad's true dynamo; it is the shrunken soul of the régime and its core hellish aspect.'

 'Neoliberalism is compatible with political authoritarianism all over the world. In Syria, add to that an inherited tyranny with totalitarian traits, and explicit fascism will be the response to any public uprising. To use Marxist terminology, the régime of Bashar al-Assad is merely the "general staff" of this class.'

 'In addition to reflecting the rise of the new bourgeoisie, the features of modernity that surfaced during the reign of Bashar al-Assad were shaped by a modernist ideology that spread regionally and globally after the fall of the Soviet Union. The new bourgeoisie see the people as backward, illiterate, ignorant fanatics who are responsible for their own living conditions, which are a function of attributes rooted in their beliefs, nothing to do with social and political factors. This modernity is an ideological supplement to the violence carried out by the intelligence services against backwards riffraff.'
 [Chapter 5, The Roots of Syrian Fascism, pp112-114]

 ' "Modernism" provides a ready-made pretext to oppose the revolution because some of its early protests came out of mosques.'

 'The absolutist formula of Arab nationalism functions as a basic mould that shapes the innermost justification for Syrian fascism. Sectarianism provides an emotional supplement that charges Syrian fascism with sentimental passion, and establishes the need for segregation among the people. The class privileges of the new bourgeoisie are the guarantees of protection. A strike against the pillars of fascism must involve a shift toward a constitutional conception of nationalism. It is of the utmost importance to develop an anti-sectarian culture, which above all involves putting the issue on the table, instead of taking the head-in-the-sand approach that most Syrian intellectuals adopt when addressing the régime's taboos and sensitivities.'

 'Over the last fourteen months, three ongoing processes have contributed to the emergence of a tendency toward nihilism. The continuous, aggressive violence by the régime: the killing, torture, arbitrary executions and burning of people. This induces intense feelings of shock and anger, particularly among Sunni Muslim communities, which feel targeted in a discriminatory way by the régime's extreme violence. The deeply divided and ineffective Syrian political opposition; the problem lies specifically in the unnecessary, unjustifiable, and persistent infighting, which is most likely driven by attempts at self-promotion, and the deeply mediocre standing of most opposition spokespersons, manifest in their lack of discipline and a clear, shared vision. The regional and international paralysis regarding the Syrian crisis, which has persisted for over a year. Some Arab countries and world powers initially made clear statements that blamed the Syrian régime for killing its people, statements that reassured Syrians that they were supported in their struggle and their sacrifices, and that the days of the Syrian régime were numbered. Today, however, almost fifteen months into the revolution, these countries and regional powers have done nothing. Their statements have simply not been borne out by action. The régime has concluded from such posturing that it has a free hand to decide the fate of Syrians. This has led to a widespread feeling among Syrians that they have been left to their own devices, and that the world is indifferent to them, if not actively conspiring against them. Syrian collective memory is replete with episodes that justify such scepticism, especially toward the Western powers.'
 [Chapter 6 The Rise of Militant Nihilism, pp122-123]

 'Sunni Islam has incurred the greatest burden as a result of the linkage of Islam and terrorism. If we work to rethink and clarify the concept of terrorism by using it to describe the practice of non-discriminatory, politically motivated violence, one driven in particular by a deep sense of injustice, then, and only then, would it be possible to speak of nihilistic or terrorist tendencies in Syria today. Seen against the régime's suppression of the revolution with unrestrained, terrorizing violence, the issue at hand is the arbitrary violence that is likely to increase. By contrast, it is no mistake at all to describe the terror of the régime as nihilistic, or that the régime is the most nihilistic force in Syria, because of its siege mentality, based on a fundamental withdrawal of trust in the outside world.'

 'The fact that there are reasons for terroristic resistance does not grant it legitimacy. Terrorism may or may not punish the guilty, but it necessarily hurts the innocent, owing to its arbitrariness. Therefore, terrorism possesses a criminal dimension, regardless of its reasons, motives or justifications.'

 'In Syria, there have been operations that could be described as terrorist, but there were also strong, plausible suspicions about the régime's involvement in organizing them to look that way. While there is no doubt about the expansion of the use of violence by agents opposed to the régime, most of that violence is not nihilistic. There have been examples of unfocused, chaotic violence, unacceptable from the point of view of justice and human rights. However, these violations remain limited in comparison with those committed by the régime.'

 'Until recently the modern history of Syria hadn't witnessed a slogan as unique as "Assad or no one!" or its twin, "Assad or we burn the country!" 9both versions rhyme in Arabic. It appeared not prior to but in the context of practice, from which it derived its power. It is a catchy slogan: shockingly honest, incredibly obscene, and strikingly extremist. It is a condensed expression of the "theory" and practice of the Syrian régime.'
 [Chapter 7, "Assad or No One", p149]

 'We have four Syrias, with four symbols. There is "Assad's Syria", whose symbol is Assad's image. Second is the "Syrian Arab Republic". However, this group lacks an independent political will, something reflected in the acquiescence of the "Syrian Arab Republic" to "Assad's Syria". Insurgent Syria is symbolized by the flag with the green stripe on top. Many come from deteriorating cities and towns; alongside them are a well-educated, independent segment of the middle class and a diverse group of intellectuals and political activists. It includes some who are keen to highlight an Islamic dimension to their opposition by adding the phrase Allahu Akbar (God is Great) to the white stripe in the middle of the green flag. Finally we have a Salafist, Sunni Syria, which is symbolized by the black banner. This Syria is mostly rural. Assuming the régime or "Assad's Syria" falls at some point, many who follow the red flag would turn to the green. Winning the struggle against "Assad's Syria is likely to reveal more cleavages among those who follow the black banner as well, separating the rigid jihadist and Salafist groups from those occupying a "grey zone", as well as those who take the black banner as a representation of a general Islamic identity and a regained religiosity. I think the Salafist current is more complicated than it appears to be. This is one of the biggest questions that confronts the Syrian revolution: solving this riddle is incontestably a top priority. In passing let me point to a distinction between Salafist jihadists, such as the Nusra Front and ISIS (Nusra pledged allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri in what could be interpreted as a struggle with Daesh [ISIS] for al-Qaeda legitimacy), and the "Army of Islam" and similar groups. For the latter, the link between Salafism and jihad is less essential because these groups are composed of local Syrians. The former are Islamic Internationalists, in organization and political vision.'
 [Chapter 8, An Image, Two Flags, and a Banner, pp158-165]

 'A range of outside "sponsors", mainly from the Gulf States, have found their way to the revolution: they combine Salafist religiosity and wealth, and have used their rentier money to corrupt as many as possible.'

 'From the revolutionary viewpoint, the black banner has the same alienating effect as the presidential image: both are united by their exclusion of dissent. Assadist slogans have been modified and turned into Islamic ones in many areas, "al-Assad or No One!" turned into a poorly spelled version "al-Aslam or No One!" Assadists are but one small party imposing itself on the public sphere. Likewise, Aslamists are those Islamists who desire Assad's power for themselves.'

 'Supporters of the green flag feel left to their own devices. The régime has not only used fighter jets and long-range missiles against them but also chemical weapons, and it has morphed the Syrian struggle into a sectarian regional war on Syria soil. (Note: My reference to chemical weapons here illustrates the many tactical uses to which the régime has put them. I personally witnessed two attacks in April and June of 2013 in East Ghouta, before the chemical massacre in August 2013).'

 'The new Syria is capable of being - and should be - the product of an historic compromise between the green and red flags to the exclusion of Assadist imagery and the black Aslamist banner.'

 'Once Bashar took office, Syria was introduced to a form of economic liberalization, one usually referred to as "crony capitalism". The traditional opposition has not developed a thorough understanding of the régime's new centres of gravity: wealth and extraordinary privilege, along with political domination and the security apparatus. Today, the régime is a security-political-financial complex.'
 [Chapter 9, The Destiny of the Syrian Revolution, p178]

 'Violence has affected millions of Syrians, and poisoned the souls of all. Airstrikes have targeted populated areas, including a series of strikes on bread lines in August of 2012; populated areas have been bombarded by long-range scud missiles; and 21 August 2013 witnessed chemical weapon attacks that killed 1466 people and injured about 10,000 in East Ghouta. A very large number of people experience daily scenes of blood, death, and dismembered human bodies. Because of death's abundant presence, and from fear of being targeted, no one attends funerals anymore except a few relatives of the victims. The above shouldindicate something of the hell into which millions of Syrians have been living for the last thirty months. Nearly one-third of Syrians (about 7 million people) have been displaced from their homes. This is comparable neither to the Nakba (Palestinian exodus) of 1948 and 1967, nor to the wave of Iraqi asylum seekers that followed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is likely that there are 200,000 people held in detention centres around Syria: merciless torture is carried out every day. This brutality has likely played a role in the resort to armed resistance, and in the preference of many people to risk death in combat rather than detention. Countless women have been raped in prison or in their homes by the régime's forces or by the shabiha. The number of those injured and disabled may be half a million or more.'

 'The ancient Arabs believed that a bird called al-Sada leaves the body of a slain man and shrieks unceasingly until revenge is taken. Today there are undoubtedly tens of thousands of al-Sada birds crying out for revenge all over Syrian skies.'
 [Chapter 9, The Destiny of the Syrian Revolution, pp181-182]

 'To extinguish the prevailing violence, by any means possible and at the hands of whomever, has become a legitimate aspiration. The abused, the vulnerable, and the humiliated cannot rightly be blamed for it.'

 'The problem is that as Assad's violence continues, there is very limited space for public, organized opposition to violence and arbitrariness - but it is only organized public action that might be capable of stemming the tide.'

 ' "Foreignness is still a pertinent characteristic even when these jihadists are Syrian. JIhadists are foreign everywhere, their homeland is their doctine.'

 'To me, the tension between [ the Nusra Front and ISIS] doesn't seem to be about a consistent Syrian-national orientation. Instead, it is linked to the Front's better understanding of the Syrian environment when compared to Daesh [ISIS]. This state of affairs, however, conflicts with the jihadists' explicitly internationalist intellectual and political models, and it is not clear how this interpretive conflict might be resolved. Will the Front come to resemble Daesh and possibly dissolve into it? Or will it be resolved in favour of interests within the Syrian framework, of the ansar [local supporters]?'

 'The story of Michel Samaha presents a typical example of the role played by the Syrian mukhabarat (intelligence apparatus) in the jihad trade. Samaha is a former Lebanese minister who is currently (in 2017) serving a jail sentence in Lebanon for plotting to detonate bombs targeting some Christian figures in order to frame Islamic jihadists, at the behest of Assad's intelligence services. His example shows that the mukhabarat play a role that goes beyond dirty tricks: they are also adept at shuffling the cards in order to manipulate the minds and attitudes of the public. This is one of the most important aspects of intelligence work, and likely constitutes a large part of what Syrian intelligence does, alongside its Iranian and Russian partners. In Raqqa questions have arisen about the régime's air force. They have never launched airstrikes on Daesh's headquarters, despite the fact that it is located at the well-known local Provincial Palace. But they have shelled other populated sits, and killed civilians continuously. Is it possible to avoid the suspicion of links of some sort between the régime and Daesh?'

 'Last April in Eastern Ghouta, I heard a saying attributed to Ho Chi Minh: "If you want to destroy a revolution, shower it with money!" Money has played a hugely corrupting role, and come close to killing the spirit of initiative, volunteerism and courage that arose during the first year of the revolution.'

 'Daesh is the most obvious example of a religious-military fief, and is the one most inclined to avoid conflict with the régime. Daesh calls itself a "sate" but it acts on the communities under its control like a colonial power. Other military organizations frequently enter into open hostilities with Daesh: this happened in Raqqa during the first two weeks of August [2013] with the Ahfad al-Rasul Brigade ("Grandsons of the Prophets"), which is associated with the General Staff of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and again with the FSA during the first week of July in the town of Dana, near the Turkish border in the province of Idlib.'

 'The lack of discipline among some of the FSA groups, and the notoriety of some other groups linked to it, provide fertile grounds for Islamic militant groups, which may not usurp private properties, but which do see public property as a reservoir for acceptable plunder. The Salafist Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiyya (Islamic Movement of the Free Men of Syria) seized the equivalent of 6 billion Syrian pounds (around 50 million US dollars at that time) from the Central Bank of Raqqa after wresting control of the city from the régime in the first week of March 2013. No one knows how that enormous sum of money has been spent, and the movement has not provided any statement or account of the fate of those public funds to anyone.'

 'According to Islamists, the world is an evil, corrupt, dangerous, and offensive place that is secretly controlled by Israel and the US, which use the Arab régimes as pawns. I have heard this simple harangue from Islamic jihadists, who take it as the one and only truth. The standard accusation against opponents of the Assad régime has always been collaboration with an unidentified enemy - usually the US and Israel. But it seems Daesh considers every independent Syrian activist to be an agent of NATO. This accusation is a legacy from al-Qaeda's experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.'

 'The Assad régime has no problem coexisting with religious-military fiefdoms. The régime was the first to speak about them, and is likely to have been involved with engineering some of them. Before the revolution, the régime was already a private military fiefdom ruled by a hereditary emir: Assad. He would have preferred to restore the status of a full emirate to his rule, but only because he cherishes his inheritance.'

 'As the Lebanese academic Gilbert Achcar has written: "The sooner the Syrian régime falls, the better. The longer it stays in power, the greater the risk of sinking the country in barbarism.'

 'The dynamic of military feudalism is linked to violence, the emergence of jihadists, the role played by various secret services, and political money. However the most powerful and potentially explosive of these drivers is the continuation of the régime as an "Israel-like" aggressive power in an exposed "Palestine-like" world surrounding it. The fall of the régime would not mean an immediate end to the process of "feudalization" - but there is no hope of stopping this feudalization without overthrowing the régime.' Perhaps the overthrow of the régime would put new counter-dynamics into play for the benefit of a new form of Syrian nationalism that could halt the creeping "un-reason" with which religion conceals and protects fragmentation, tyranny, and the plunder of public resources.

 'I vote for the Syrian nation-state. The idea of a Syrian nation can provide a consistent, positive orientation for combatting the Salafist jihadist formations and other tendencies toward military feudalism, including those of Assad. Syria is a historical asset, a foundation from which all Syrians can benefit. What would subsidiary entities created by dismembering the Syrian body really be? What would be their histories and meanings?'

 'We know nothing about the course of a path leading to a new governable, livable Syria. Bot the truth remains that there is nothing progressive, national or humane about "Assad's Syria", or about Salafist Syria (already many Syrias), or about a Kurdish strip of Syria that does not care about locals' opinions and preferences and that is now a source of additional conflict and violence in an already afflicted country.'

 'The Syrian situation is likely to develop in one of four or five directions. One possibility is that the Assad régime will triumph. This is unlikely within current horizons. Such an outcome would devolve into the rule of shabiha (Assadist thugs) and into extreme forms of brutality, looting, murder, detention, and torture. It would also result in an aggressive Iranian domination of the country. Syrian society would be crushed economically, politically, and psychologically. Another possibility is a victory for the revolution by force. We would likely get an Islamic régime rather than a Baathist one: instead of "comrades" ruling us, we would be ruled by "brothers". The most likely outcome to follow getting rid of the Assad fiefdom would be a new conflict among or against the new fiefdoms - first, the aggressive Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but also all the other, less coherent and organized fiefdoms. A third possibility is a peaceful, political settlement through which the régime undergoes a fundamental change and the page is turned on "Assad's Syria". There is not the slightest indication that this is likely to happen. The régime's structure is open to only two choices: remain the same or break down entirely. The fourth possibility is the persistence of current conditions. Edward Luttwak theorized, characterizing the conflict as the régime and its allies against an opposition dominated by Islamists, that a prolonged stalemate is the only outcome that would not harm US interests. The actual situation in the past thirty months coheres with such a perfidious judgement. Finally, isn't there a fifth possibility of international military intervention? I would expect this potential interference would take the form of Israeli-style strikes against specific sites to punish and discipline the régime but not to bring it down. This would save face for the Obama administration after the Assad régime's frequent use of chemical weapons. It would give the régime a moral victory: it came out of an international confrontation still able to strike and abuse. The prospect of a full-blown intervention to topple the régime seems non-existent because it would add the régime to the list of targeted enemies alongside jihadist formations, al-Qaeda and the like.'

 'Conventional wisdom on sectarianism holds that it stems from the existence of "sects" in a given society, and that sects are nothing but various confessional groups, coexisting in a natural state of constant dispute, mistrust, or even war. Yet this theory fails to explain why only certain societies are prone to overt sectarian tension, even though hardly any society is free of religious and ideological diversity.'
 [Chapter 10, The Neo-Sultanic State, p213]

 'It is worth mentioning that stripping the Syrian Army of its active political character and turning it into a tool of oppression went hand in hand with turning the page on the war between Syria and Israel (1973-74),. Almost immediately - in 1976 - a new chapter began with war waged against the Palestinians and Lebanese in Lebanon, and then against Syrians in Syria. The army changed from a highly politicized national army to a passive political tool serving as a guardian of tyranny. It is not accurate to describe either Hafez's rule or that of his son Bashar as a military régime. The correct description is an intelligence system, or a system revolving around its own survival and security function, which is based on intelligence services in times of peace and on military units with a security function in wartime.'

 'What is the significance of a policy that favours Alawites, one that places them in high military and security posts? It points to the transformation of a social category into a public political caste. I refer to a public political caste for the purpose of conceptually representing the discriminatory situation benefitting Alawites, with implying that Alawite are politically free or that they are rules, just as the situation regarding the public religious caste, Sunnis, whose doctrines were generalized socially through law, does not bring tangible benefits to all or most Sunnis, but nevertheless counts as a structural advantage for Sunnis in those areas.'

 'The considerable revenues of sectarianism, in the form of straightforward identification with the régime and profuse loyalty, all place the Assad régime in a stronger position to confront the public. By contrast the creation of a national trust requires large-scale investment in education, the legal system, economy, and culture to secure long-term revenues.'

 'Sectarianism is largely a power relation. When we speak of sectarianism, we speak of hatred, coercion, of war, camouflage, and deception. Such demonstrable associations explain how, over time, sectarianism came to constitute a reservoir or pretexts for murder, crime, massacres, and endless wars.'

 'At an early stage in the reign of Hafez al-Assad, two distinct states began to take shape in Syria, a visible "outer state", comprised of a government, administration, official army, educational institutions, and courts, who have neither power nor freedom, and a private and sectarian "inner state" that enjoys sovereignty over people's fates, internal domestic affairs, public resources, and regional and international relations. To illustrate the duality, Riyad Hijab, who had served as prime minister for a time in 2012 before his defection in August of that year, theoretically held the second-highest position in the "state" after Bashar al-Assad. However, Jamil Hassan, who serves as Head of Syrian Air Force Intelligence Directorate (the most brutal division during the revolution in Syria), occupies a much more significant position within the state. Hassan is a "régime man", and he give orders more than he negotiates. By contrast the prime minister can barely broker even trivial matters, such as the appointment of a new employee, and lists of dismissed staff are sent to him direct from intelligence.'

 'The the early years of his [Hafez al-Assad's] reign, a new class started to emerge in the Baathist realm. It relied on income generated from two sources: the monopolization of the business of public coercion; and the formation of compulsory partnerships with the remnants of the traditional bourgeoisie. Gradually, the level of social justice began to decline. Occupying a position of public authority started to become a way of ensuring socio-economic advantage. Security forces that had just emerged victorious from confronting both active social and political protests and armed conflicts against Islamists (1979-1982) were given the green light to commit atrocities and rewarded with privileges including mandatory partnerships with local notables. Aside from this, income comes from extorting large segments of the population, or the direct transfer of income to this feared security janissary. Such circumstances justify talking about an internal colonialism, that provides a framework that allows armed Aassadist squads to seize private property through tashbih (bullying and intimidation) and robbery. The above is sufficient to give a sense of the extent of our non-existent social justice. The legal system also fell to pieces. The security system handled judicial functions without any interference. Not once in decades of Assad's rule was a security official held accountable for his crimes against the public, including cases of torture, murder, and confiscations of properties on a large scale.'

 'To the extent that power was centred on the person of the president, loyalty to him became the greatest of values. An epidemic of report writing sent to the security services by informants began in the 1970s. Loyalty was always mixed with fear, and with personal gain at others' expense. These practices were in effect national training in treachery. The security agencies were schools for malice, treachery, and cynicism. But above all, they were factories of terror and murder. Getting rid of this system and putting its leaders on trial is a national duty, second to none.'

 'Instead of sending delegations of notables to support the new Sultan as a sign of allegiance and loyalty, under Assad the people were obliges to place their votes of approval in ballot boxes in a manner that was both ostentatious and carnivalesque, with security monitoring to inhibit those who might dare to vote no.'

 'In the eighties, the Sultan - as a person and as a régime - became the most important thing in the country. The highest value became power, with money and kinship competing for second place. The significance of values such as work, knowledge, competence, and culture was in steep decline. How are needs met in "Assad's Syria"? By being someone with power or close to someone in power. This is very effective, but not available to many. By money. In most case applicants are people who already live in poverty. They express this state of affairs in simple language. This is zulm (injustice)! Zulm is a lack of money combined with a lack of an influential network. A third way of serving needs is kinship. Our only Shiite comrade in prison was released in 1982, after a year and a half in detention; because his father secured a meeting with Hafez al-Assad; the father belonged to one of the national Progressive front (NPF) parties (a coalition of pet communist and Nasserite parties under the leadership of the Baath Party - officially, the NPF is the highest political command in the country).'

 'There is a class of tame "oppositionists". They keep the telephone of numbers of key intelligence officers: this allows them to masquerade as mediators between their partisan "sects" and the intelligence services. These "oppositionists" are practically part of the régime through the role they play as intermediaries. As Lenin differentiated between "His Majesty's Opposition" and "Opposition to His Majesty" before the Bolshevik Revolution, one should distinguish between "His Excellency's Opposition" and "Opposition to His Excellency" in Syria. The presence of the former is contingent upon the existence of His excellency, and would disappear with him.'

 'There are greater number of intelligence officers, army men, and other influential, powerful men in the Alawite milieu (10-12 per cent of the population) than there are in other confessional communities. The availability of clientelism to Alawite partially makes up for a lack of money and modifies the severity of injustice. There are also bishops and businessmen in the Christian milieu (about 5 per cent of the population, before the revolution) with whom the régime is keen to reconcile. The régime gives special attention to Christians to expand its social base, and to enhance its "international" legitimacy - posing, in fact, as the protector of minorities and of Christians in the eyes of the "secular" West. Widespread discrimination and the lack of access to wasta [mediation] in non-urban Sunni environments helps explain why political mobilization in the Arab Sunni community takes an Islamic form. Among Kurds (8-10%) there are influential figures as well, although this small network consisting of a few individuals is likewise unable to mediate for the whole Kurdish community. This deficit is the reason for the high level of political mobilzation within the Kurdish community, and helps explain why it takes a nationalist form. These realities help explain the fact that the strongest victimhood (mazloomiya, a word etymologically related to zulm) narratives in Syria today are Kurdish and Sunni. In the Alawite community, by comparison, a narrative of superiority (self-attributed to " modernity" in general and "secularism" in particular) is more prevalent today than the narrative of victimhood that had been very powerful until the 1970s.'

 'It is useful here to recall three important points. A routine, publicly available means of meeting people's needs barely exists. Money performs all the functions of favouritism, but is also governed by a principle of scarcity. One is required to look for wasta among relatives, but not among strangers. Kinship becomes the necessary framework for pursuing and meeting one's needs. This process already permeates victimhood and superiority narratives, conflicts and risks, violence and victims - all things that the neo-Sultanic régime has engendered in abundance over the last two generations.'

 'We now live in a post-September 11 world, one that has placed "Islam" - Sunni Islam in particular - in the position of global villain. This climate has revived old colonial discourses centred on Islam and fundamentalism. These discourses advocate a coercive secularism and systematically denigrates the "unenlightened" and the "irrational". Any cruelties visited upon such people are greeted with tolerance and leniency by both the Western and domestic "first world".'

 'With the decline of the social functions of the state, new forms of severe deprivation emerged - 37 per cent of Syrians were living below the upper poverty threshold ($2/day in 2007) while 11 per cent were below the lower poverty threshold (near $1/day in 2004). Most people of the lower class never have their needs served, and have no access to the "keys" through which their needs can be met. This is a spring of resentment and anger. The Syrian revolution broke out due to a confluence of two things: a chronic failure of the régime, the consequences of which were suppressed by the so-called "wall of fear" in Syria; and positive, successful examples in Tunisia and Egypt that gave the impression it was possible to topple Sultanic fortifications. Initially, the main participants in the revolution came from two sectors: the "working society", who wanted legal justice, relations of citizenship, and "freedom"; and the impoverished sectors of the population. Later, these were joined by some secondary, less influential members of the new notables,such as ministers, members of parliament, and ambassadors - those whose power did not go beyond that of the outer state, or had limited influence within it.'

 'Why have we not seen privatization of the public resources and facilities in Syria? The answer is simple: the Sultanic transformation. Through the transformation, the state and the country as a whole became the property of the Sultan and the ruling dynasty. Privatization is unnecessary because of the private condition of the state.'

 'The revolution against Islamic rule will not be complete until the role of sects is crushed - only then will the population be emancipated from the status of subjects and from the chains of dependency.'

 'The policies of neo-Sultanic rule are based on spreading fitna [disorder] among the governed, so that it may remain above all the rest, lofty and condescending.'

 'The sectarian régime is only sustainable to the extent it provides discriminatory identification for a certain sect or sectarian alliance, but its ultimate goal is to create personal profits and privileges for first the Sultan and then for the new notables. The régime succeeds as long as the barriers that divide the poor at the bottom (Sunnis and Alawites for example) are greater than the ones that separate the lower class from the middle (a lower-class Alawite from an Alawite notable). What is important for the élite of the sectarian régime is the power and wealth in their possession. The rights and dignity of the people are secondary, mere rhetorical tools of governance.'

 'The shabiha opened what they themselves called "the Sunni market" with goods looted from neighbourhoods in and around Homs, about a year after the outbreak of the revolution. This phrase affords a deep glimpse into sectarian phenomena as relatinships of power and coercion - here, as a direct tool for looting and transfer of wealth. Such things are not, under any circumstances, a matter of beliefs and identities.'

 'Lebanon is a neo-Sultanic state without a Sultan. In the context of present interconnections between the two Sultanates, Lebanon is the incomplete one with a large "security branch" (i.e. Hezbollah) that is leaning more towards Sultanism, and the complete model is currently beset by a revolution. However, the situation in Lebanon follows the situation in Syria, and the very Syrian Sultan today follows the Iranian imperial centre, as does the Lebanese "Intelligence Branch". The key to the regional face of sectarianism is the Sultan and territorial control, not, under any circumstances, religious and sectarian groups, Shiites, Sunnis, and so on.'

 'A few years before the revolution, the expression ramrameh (Ramization) became popular, referring to how the most lucrative secors of the Syrian economy were handed over to Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of Bashar, and the Assad family, effectively making him the "economic sultan" of Syria. In that period, there was a common joke that the Syrian economy is either Mukhalef (unlawful) or Makhlouf.'

 'The outer, local bourgeoisie is highly sectarian and generally plunders its own sects.The central bourgeoisie plunders public resources and wider society. The central bourgeoisie also distinguishes itself through its monopoly of revenues from economic exchanges with the outside world, along with projects and assets outside Syria; the outer bourgeoisie is exclusively domestic.'

 'Is there any justification for using the concept of bourgeoisie in naming these two groups? Should we not rather talk about feudal lords? Despite the political restrictions against most Syrians, they are not serfs tied to their place of work. Anotherthing that justifies my hesitation in describing these groups as feudal is that they are not stable hereditary classes.
Collectively the new bourgeoisie and the Sultanic centre form what might be called the society of white Syrians, superior in class and culture to a black backward, intolerant, and obscurantist public. It includes the "enlightened" and "civilised" Sunni Muslims who are loyal to the Sultanic centre, and who renounce all the democratic opponents of Sultanism, those who are actually preoccupied with issues of justice, equality, and human dignity, regardless of their religious and sectarian backgrounds.'

 ‘The guard forces, leaders aside, are not part of the bourgeoisie. In fact, the guards often complain about the bourgeoisie and openly resent them. Despite the explicitly negative feelings, the guard forces do not rebel against the bourgeoisie. Security and military forces with security functions have never, not even once, sided with the general population or expressed a sense of connection with them After the revolution began, defections were very rare.’
 [Chapter 10, The Neo-Sultanic State, p274]

 ‘The death of Hafez inaugurated the time of the dynasty. The Assad family has taken the place of the father – not only because Bashar is weaker than his father or less qualified, but because whoever succeeds Hafez is an heir, he is not the founder nor is he the greatest. Sticking with him is required for the cohesion of the Sultanic family and the Sultanate as a whole, but this does not signal an appreciation of his personhood. Bashar has no personal use value, only an exchange or public value. When necessary, he can be replaced. That is possible one day.’

 ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’s version of “Islam” can also be a mask for a Sunni privilege to discriminate in favour of Sunnis. Sectarian and illiberal animosity against Islam is no excuse for exempting aspirations for Sunni dominance from criticism.’

 ‘Bouthaina Shaaban, the bigoted and deluded advisor to Bashar, brought up fitna (strife) and Salafi emirates only about ten days into the revolution. Later, she became known for her statements about the victims of the chemical attacks in Ghouta, saying they were abducted children from “the coast”, (i.e. Alawites) and attributing her words to the people of the region. Following the “Caesar” report early in 2014, which revealed that 11,000 people had died under torture between March 2011 and August 2013, her poor reputation was reinforced by the way she lashed out in response to a question from CNN about the victims of torture. Advisor Shaaban said: “Isn’t the West Christian? Do you not care about the fate of Christians who were kidnapped by the terrorists of Ma’loula?” ‘

 ‘Early on, the régime’s journalists attributed a slogan to the protests that I personally believe was coined by Michel Samaha: “Alawites to their coffins, Christians to Beirut!” It is unfathomable how such a slogan would reportedly arise only during demonstrations in Latakia!’

 ‘What has happened since mid-2012 was a handover of leadership to the Iranians and their followers from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. The 18 July 2012 assassination of top Syrian military and intelligence officers could have been a settling of accounts to the benefit of Sultanic hawks and their Iranian patron. Until this time, peaceful demonstrations were on the rise; the highest number recorded was in June 2012, when there were more than 700 demonstration locations. Warplanes began to be used against cities in July,. Bombing of the bread lines in front of bakeries in Aleppo and neighbouring regions took place in August 2012. We also recall that before the end of 2012, chemical weapons and Scud missiles began to be used. The shabiha were institutionalized before the end of that year as well, with many of its members receiving training in Iran. All this was preceded by well-known sectarian massacres in Houla, al-Qubeir, Karm al-Zaytoun, and Banias, and by the emergence of the “Sunni Market”. Earlier the regime released jailed Salafi jihadists. Meanwhile the blogger Tal al-Mallouhi, the eighteen year-old girl arrested on 26 December 2009 and framed as a spy and sentenced to five years, is still in Adra prison.’

 ‘Syrians must regain their country from its current neo-Sultanic rule. Syria needs an effective system of administration and legal justice that ensures people’s needs are met regardless of their kinships and their wealth.’

 ‘Contemporary Salafism is a schismatic phenomenon, hostile to the world. Its only destination is death, In my opinion, Daesh has stepped up because the revolution as an aspiration to own life and liberty has stumbled and fallen. Salafism emerged because there are no social revolutionaries in Syria. Salafists’ social bases have overtaken those of the social revolutionary forces.’

 ‘Whatever the political paths leading out of the current situation may be, it seems that opportunities for deliverance from jihadist Salafism (including Daesh, al-Nusra Front, and others) will be limited without deliverance from the Assads. Assad’s Sultanate and jihadist Salafism are two sides of a single process of national destruction.’

 ‘What we need in Syria is a combination of social and legal justice, and a mixture of republican political activity along with a greater degree of local democratic governance. This would address legitimate Kurdish demands, respond to vital development needs, and reduce sectarianism as well as the prospect of emergent state-dominating sects or denominations.’

 ‘We must ensure equal rights for Alawite Syrians as individuals and as a community. Alawites are not Sunni, and neither are Druze, Ismailis or Shiites: they should not have to endure Sunni education in schools or refrain from public expressions of their own identities. Similarly, the Kurds are not Arabs: they should not be stripped of their personality and language, and Arabic should not be imposed on them.’

 ‘I have tried to develop some conceptual categories that might be useful: public sect, private state/outer state/inner state, and the idea of the neo-Sultanic state, along with the distinction between the two sides of sectarianism (guarding and clientelist), and the distinction between segments of the new bourgeoisie.’

Friday, 29 September 2017

Rep. Adam Kinzinger: Syria continues to suffer from Assad's wicked, horrible acts. It must end

Children sit outside their damaged house at the mountain resort town of Zabadani in the Damascus countryside, Syria, Thursday, May 18, 2017. A U.S. airstrike struck pro-Syrian government forces for the first time, hitting a convoy in the desert near the border with Jordan, U.S. officials and Syrian activists said, an apparent signal to President Bashar Assad to keep his forces out of a zone where U.S.-backed rebels are fighting the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

 'Since the ceasefire in Syria agreed to by President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the summer, news reports on the Syria conflict have become blips on the radar and scarcely reported. However, just because we aren’t hearing about new atrocities committed by the brutal dictator Bashar Assad and his allies doesn’t mean the atrocities have stopped.

 In the past two years, the Syrian conflict has shifted from a war for hope and opportunity to one in which Russia and Iran continue to prop up their evil ally Assad, while also killing innocent people with impunity.

 Recently I read a Fox News article on the torture Syrians face inside Assad’s prisons in Syria, and shared it on my Twitter page. As I read some comments on my tweet, I realized that yet again, this is just one of many stories that the Assad regime will deny and then utilize its sympathizers across the world to lambast as “fake news.”

 Furthermore, stories like these will continue to be ignored by the rest of the world because that’s easier than accepting that the genocide still happening in Syria.

 The Assad regime will tell you the witnesses from the prison are not in their right mind. It will treat the validity of witness statements with the same disregard it treated video footage of search and rescue efforts by the White Helmets – rescue workers who risked their lives to save people after targeted bombs destroyed schools, homes and hospitals. But to Assad, reports of these atrocities are false and his regime has claimed the footage was staged.

 In all likelihood, the Assad regime will deny the credibility of the Fox News article, just as it denies any article or report that sheds light on the atrocities being committed every day. For example, the regime denied the report that the its Sednaya Prison houses a crematorium to hide the evidence of slain prisoners’ bodies – despite the U.S. State Department confirming it as fact.

 To this day, the Assad regime continues to deny any involvement in the April 4 sarin chemical attack in Idlib that claimed the lives of nearly 100 civilian men, women and children.

 Denying true stories about its atrocities is nothing new for the Assad regime. It claims the suffering of its own people is just propaganda, as it did with Omran Daqneesh, the 3-year-old boy who became the face of that suffering. Photos emerged in September 2016 of the boy, his face bloodied and dusty with a dazed reaction from the barrel bomb that had just hit his home.

 Just a year later, this little boy is being used by the media manipulators in the Assad regime, who claim that he was a prop for Western propaganda against the regime. The same regime that bombed his home and killed his brother is now saying that he is the victim of the Western world.

 The attacks on innocent civilians continue across Syria. Just this week, Russian jets attacked a “de-escalation zone” in Idlib and claimed the lives of nearly 40 people in the nearby marketplace and villages. There were no ISIS fighters in Idlib, just another criminal bombing by murderous allies of the Assad regime.

 While there is so much going on in the world today, we cannot forget the people of Syria. We need to continue bringing to light the ongoing atrocities of Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers.

 Far too many people – world leaders, scholars, reporters, Syrian citizens – have become resigned to the situation in Syria. They believe Assad has won the war and now his Iranian patrons will become even more emboldened to wreak havoc across the region.

 Nuclear deal or not, we know the true intentions of the Iranians and have seen their involvement in the atrocities under Assad. We know that the Iranians want to build a land bridge from Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea to expand their power grabs in the region. We cannot allow this to happen, and as such, I will continue to push for a strong U.S. response to Iran’s meddling in the region.

 As the co-chair of the Friends of a Free Stable and Democratic Syria Caucus, I will encourage colleagues to join my efforts in bringing this issue to the forefront.

 For six years, the people of Syria have lived through horrendous conditions. The lack of action by the West has caused them to believe there is no hope or opportunity left for them other than the brutality of Assad.

 Without this hope and opportunity, without getting an education or the chance to live in peace, the children of Syria will continue to become prime targets for terrorist recruitment. It’s already happening at an alarming rate, and the glimmer of hope for these children diminishes every day that the global community fails to step in.

 From sending greater humanitarian aid to imposing sanctions on the Assad regime, we are making efforts to help the Syrian people, but we must do more. It's up to all of us to join the conversation and do something to stop this genocide.

 Call your congressman, call your senator, write to the White House, reach out to the State Department to see how you can help with humanitarian aid and be a voice.

 More than six years of war and over 500,000 lives lost is too much to endure. We have an obligation to put an end to this suffering. I urge you to join me to put a stop to Assad and allow a chance at peace for innocent Syrians.'

FILE - In this May 18, 2017 file photo, a Syrian National flag hangs out of a damaged building at the mountain resort town of Zabadani in the Damascus countryside, Syria. The Syrian government on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 dismissed White House allegations that it was preparing a new chemical weapons attack, as activists reported an airstrike on an Islamic State-run jail in eastern Syria that they said killed more than 40 prisoners. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Syrian Rebels Reddit: How Western Powers fail to understand how the Assadist Regime works

Image result for syrian rebels reddit

 'Here a brilliant example for typical failure of the Western 'inteligentsya' to understand how the Assad regime 'works' - and thus a failure to comprehend the Assadist propaganda too.

 Namely, a gentleman working for one of think-tanks in the EU - 'Clingendael, Netherlands Institute of International Relations', has published the paper: Syrian Militias Supporting Assad: how Autonomous Are they?.

 For a paper concentrating on one of crucial issues of this war, this one is an abysmal failure.

 For example, it says:

 "Formed in 2013, the NDF has evolved into the administrative umbrella for Syrian armed groups loyal to Assad,10 with an estimated 50–60,000 members nationwide. Serving in the NDF originally also provided a way for Syrian men who had avoided conscription into the SAA to avoid prosecution or forced conscription by defending their home areas, although this benefit is reportedly being steadily rescinded."

 Mere 10 minutes of googling should turn at least half a dozen of links clearly showing the NDF was established 'already' starting in November 2012. I.e. not in 2013. Furthermore, not one Assadist ever attempted to make it secret: one of NDF's intentions was to intentionally criminalize whatever was left of the SAA (through offering higher salaries than the regime).

 And, as usually, the author is completely failing to mention the - crucial - IRGC's involvement in this process. Just like he's missing the point about the IRGC intentionally creating sectarian militias. Nah, the author does like if Assad paid for 'NDF' from his own pocket...

 "While the original shabiha-type groups were only able to fill security gaps in areas already under the regime’s control, their legalisation, combined with training and support provided under the NDF framework, upgraded the ability of some groups to contribute meaningfully to the battlefield successes of the Assad regime. Indeed, regular posts about their battlefield prowess and support for the SAA rapidly became a standard feature of their social media profiles."

 ?!? This is imposing the question: is the author unable of researching, connecting dots and drawing useful conclusions - or just clueless about the Syrian War...?

 Apparently, it's both. See here (p3):

 "Further expansion and professionalisation of armed groups loyal to the regime was brought about in October 2015 by the creation of the SAA’s 4th Corps following Russian intervention in the war. All loyalist armed groups were folded into this new Corps. Some groups, such as the Desert Hawks, were transferred to the remit of the NDF, which itself sat under the 4th Corps, while others, such as the Bustan group, which did not fall under the purview of the NDF, were still situated under the 4th Corps."

 and the note 15 reads:

 "Bustan is the name for a charitable group run by Rami Makhlouf that serves as an organising body for several militias, some of which sit within the NDF while others sit outside it, although still administratively under the 4th Corps. The criteria for which groups fell under or were pushed into the remit of the NDF, as opposed to just the 4th Corps, is unclear.)"

 With other words: yes, the author admits he is clueless about this war, and how the Assad regime works. He's not even able to list what units were put under the command of the IV Assault Corps, and thus can't know about their backgrounds. This is getting very clear in the table on Page 5, where the author is wildly throwing together various groups of 'NDF', IRGC, Hezbollah and whatever else on the same pile, and then can't cite the background for most of forces in question (fact is: even the Quwwat Nimr is paid by the IRGC, not by Assad, not to talk about all the others).

 On pages 6 and 7, the paper is attempting to discuss how the system of Assadist regime and its control works. Between others, this statement makes it clear the author/s have no clue about the basic function of two 'crucial' Assadist militias:

 "On the other hand, groups like the Desert Hawks and the Tiger Brigade are used by the regime as ‘rapid response units’, and are rushed across the country to assist regime forces in need of frontline paramilitary support."

 The regime permits these loyalist armed groups to boast of their battlefield successes...

 What a surprise, isn't it - considering that's in regime's very own interest.

 Overall, if this is 'the best' EU's 'inteligentsiya' is able of... then 'good night'.


 Because answering all these questions is so idiotically easy. So much so, it really leaves me at the loss of words how comes at least 'reasonably intelligent' people do not understand the Assadist system.

 Generally in Syria, top executive power is in hands of 'President' (Bashar al-Assad). His personal authority is the same like state authority and all of his powers are derived from it.

 Further down the chain of command, civilian authorities of Syria are divided into 14 governorates; the governorates are divided into a total of 60 districts, which are further divided into sub-districts.

 A governorate is governed by a governor, which is appointed by the President, nominally approved by the Syrian government. The governor is responsible – only to the president – for administration and public work, health, domestic trade, agriculture, industry, civil defence, and maintenance of law.

 Each governor is assisted by a local council, which is elected by a popular vote for four-years terms: each council elects an executive bureau from its members, which works with district councils and administers the day-to-day issues.

 Nominally, district councils were administered by officials appointed by the governor. These officials served as intermediaries between the central government and traditional local leaders (village chiefs, clan leaders and councils of elders). After six years of war, the reality is dramatically different.

 Before the war, local councils were dominated by members of the Ba’ath Party. Meanwhile, and especially in northern Hama, there are also representatives of the Syrian Socialist National Party (SSNP); in Aleppo and Homs there are Hezbollah/Syria, etc., etc., etc..

 Now, the essence of understanding the current system is knowing - and understanding - how it came into being. The background of all the militias fighting 'for Assad' is the same. As the war erupted and then spread, Ba'athist local councils began organizing their own militias. About 50% of staff of these were members of the Ba’ath Party with a minimum of military training, and armed by the regime already since earlier times (early 1980s).

 The importance of militias continued to grow with the dissolution of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA): more than half of its staff defected by spring of 2012, while a quarter was already lost in combat. The remaining units disintegrated through the orders to secure over 2,000 checkpoints all over Syria. In the course of this process, local militias absorbed all of the police and most of SAA’s functions (which was necessary due to massive defections).

 Concluding that local militias are more reliable and combat effective than the SAA, Iranian officers of the IRGC-QF (IRGC's Qods Force, i.e. 'Jerusalem Corps') then decided to expand and provide proper military training to units in question, and formalize their status. Additional militias came into being, most of which...nah: nearly all of which were recruited, established, trained and armed by the IRGC-QF. Initially, the system worked with help of local criminal networks. See so-called Shabbiha. Contrary to original militias of the Ba’ath (staffed by unpaid volunteers on temporary basis), these groups were staffed by so-called Shabbiha that served as professional militiamen. Regardless of their backgrounds militias took over the tasks of the police and began providing security.

 The status of such militias was formalized through the establishment of the National Defence Force (NDF), in November 2012. There was never any kind of trace of doubt: the 'NDF' was established by the IRGC. Every single of its units. But mind: the IRGC never established a centralized command of the NDF. Instead, it dealt - and continues to deal - with every single of militia originally established as 'NDF' as a separate entity.

 Ever since, militias are bolstered through intentional criminalisation of remaining SAA personnel: these are paid wages that make them unable to support their families, prompting continuous defections. In turn, militias are offering much higher wages and full amnesty from prosecution (whether of prosecution for defection or any other crime).

 How is then the Assadist regime controlling this situation?

 In a very simple fashion: through control of supplies. Then, as every stupid studying wars should know: supplies are the essence of war. No supplies = no war.

 In Syria, all the stocks of food (including state-sponsored grain and egg-imports), fuel, electricity, arms and ammunition, public transport, telecommunications (Syria Tel), and water supply for large cities, are controlled by:

 the president,

 his ‘Inner Circle’ (Maher al-Assad, Mohammed Makhlouf, Rami Makhlouf, Havez Makhlouf, and Thou al-Himmah Shaleesh), and

 the ‘Confidantes’ (Ali Mamlouk, Abdel Fattah Qudsiya, Jamil Hassan, Mohammad Nasif, Rustom Ghazaleh, Rafiq Shehadeh, Ali Younes, Mohammad Deeb Zaytoun, and Bassam al-Hassan).

 Persons in question are in control over a conglomerate of major companies, some of which are in private hands (like Syria Tel, owned by Makhloufs), while others are state-owned. Control over all of related companies is exercised via intelligence services responsible directly to the President (Air Force Intelligence and Military Security Intelligence). Therefore, the President, members of the ‘Inner Circle’, and the ‘Confidantes’ are in control over the water supply, bread supply, electricity supply, phone and internet services, and fuel and fertilizer supply.

 This means: anybody who wants to fight there - no matter for what reason - is dependable on the president, the 'Inner Circle', and the 'Confidantes' for arms, ammo, food, water, electricity etc. If these do not provide, the militia in question can't fight.

 ...which brings us to the topic of financing. This is a very complex issue, and I've discussed it already about a dozen of times (at least; the last time in the thread here). So let me just summarise it as follows: Assad regime is bankrupt since November 2011. Ever since, it's living from loans from Tehran. As of 2015-2016, the situation reached a point at which Tehran had to provide for up to 60% of Assadist budget. Nowadays, it's probably more. There is clear evidence for this and this is available online (can provide all the necessary links, if somebody is curious to pursue that story further).

 With other words: the IRGC finances the president, his 'Inner Circle', and the 'Confidantes' - in turn making them able to exercise control over various militias (for which fools in the West still think are 'NDF').

 The system of that control - exercised through such gangs like Quwwat Nimr - and distribution of supplies, is the essence of what is nowadays the 'SAA'. Means: there are 'divisional headquarters', based and still designated on old divisional designations of the SAA. Each of these is responsible for specific geographic area - and thus for supplying militias in the given area. That's why not only the Assadists but the Russians too have it as easy to claim, 'SAA' is doing this, and 'SAA' is doing that.

 Is that all really that hard to understand...?'

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

How One Syrian Fought to the Death for a Free Internet

 'In 2003, when Jon Phillips was 24, he met someone who changed everything about how he perceived the world. At the time, Phillips was a graduate student in computer science and visual art at the University of California, San Diego. Rather than work for a big tech company, as most of his friends were doing, he wanted to use his computing skills to “build society and community.” So he turned to open software, collaborating with strangers every day on Internet Relay Chat, a platform that software developers use to chat in real time while working on projects together. One day, while he was on an IRC channel developing an open source clip art site, someone with the username Bassel popped up.

 Bassel wrote a patch for the site, then went on to develop a software framework for a blog platform that he and Phillips called “Aiki,” which was also the name of Bassel’s pet turtle. Phillips had no idea who Bassel was, where he lived, or what he looked like, but they spent hours hacking together, and eventually Phillips picked up more details: Besides the pet turtle, he learned that his collaborator lived in Damascus and was of Palestinian and Syrian descent; he taught Phillips that the Arabic term inshallah, “God willing,” could also mean “no.” He would joke with Phillips while hacking, “Don’t say inshallah, dude, don’t hex it, inshallah means it’ll never happen!” Eventually, Phillips learned his full name: Bassel Khartabil, though he went by Bassel Safadi online, a reference to his Palestinian origins in the town of Safad.

 Phillips and Khartabil met at a time of great optimism for “open culture” advocates like them. Both men became active in the Creative Commons, a movement dedicated to open source programming and a culture of sharing knowledge across the world. Khartabil saw the internet and connectedness in grand, almost utopian terms, and in November 2009, he and Phillips organized an event at the University of Damascus called Open Art and Technology. It was the first significant “free culture” event in Syria—and the first time Phillips and Khartabil met in person. They invited a variety of artists, including the Syrian sculptor Mustafa Ali. After a speech given by the CEO of Creative Commons, who had traveled from the United States to Damascus, the artists stood up one by one and pledged to put their art in the commons, licensed for sharing, open to all.

 “It was cool, like, is this really happening?” Phillips says. “We were sitting there, like, Dude, yeah, we did this, man. This is our thing. This is the ultimate social hack.” For Khartabil, it was a highlight of his effort to bring more Syrian art, culture, and knowledge onto the internet; it was the web as a peaceful revolutionary force.

 Six years later, Khartabil was dead. Syrian military intelligence arrested him in Damascus on March 15, 2012. He was interrogated, tortured, and imprisoned in the Saydnaya military prison and Adra prison, sometimes in solitary confinement. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined that Khartabil’s imprisonment violated international law and called for his release, to no avail. Then, in October 2015, he disappeared from Adra, without any government statement of his whereabouts. Friends and family started a #freebassel campaign, believing he was still alive somewhere. But on August 1, 2017, Khartabil’s wife, Noura Ghazi Safadi, who is a human rights lawyer, announced that his family had confirmed his death. “He was executed just days after he was taken from Adra prison in October 2015,” Ghazi Safadi wrote on Facebook. “I was the bride of the revolution because of you. And because of you I became a widow. This is a loss for Syria. This is loss for Palestine. This is my loss.”

 Bassel Khartabil was born in 1981 to a Palestinian writer and Syrian piano teacher. By the age of 10 he had learned English using a CD-ROM on his father’s computer, according to his uncle Faraj Rifait, and got his own computer at age 11, a birthday gift from his mother. He spent a lot of time during his teenage years learning to program in C and translating historical books, especially ones about ancient Middle Eastern history and Greek mythology. Khartabil was barely 20 when he started working on a 3-D virtual reconstruction of Palmyra, the ancient city near Homs, collaborating with Khaled al-Asaad, a renowned archaeologist and expert on the ruins.

 Online connectedness was still fairly rare in the Arab world in the mid-2000s, when Khartabil was becoming active on the internet. Facebook had just been launched, internet access remained excruciatingly slow within Syria, and content in Arabic was limited. But a small group of Arab youth, mostly city kids in their twenties, embraced both the internet and the Creative Commons view of collaboration, connection, and sharing. During Ramadan, Creative Commons organized iftar potlucks where attendees broke the fast together while discussing poetry and entrepreneurship. In Tunis, the organization hosted a three-hour concert with musicians from across the Arab world, which was recorded and released with an open license, for free. The vision was to get together, build things, and share them, instead of hoarding knowledge for profit, or keeping societies closed. Khartabil was one of its firmest advocates.

 In 2005, Khartabil and Donatella Della Ratta, an Italian scholar who was doing research in Syria and was Creative Commons’ regional manager, started Aiki Lab in Damascus. Aiki Lab was not political, Della Ratta says, but Khartabil was holding hackathons and teaching kids to code and there was potential in the skills they were learning that Syria’s police had not yet caught on to. “Before the uprising, you couldn’t even gather in a public space without having mukhabarat approval,” Della Ratta says, using the Arabic term for the secret police or military intelligence. “They were scared of people gathering in places like cinemas, cafés, doing anything more than playing backgammon—it wasn’t about the websites. That was the least thing.”

 Khartabil, however, saw the possibilities. In 2009, when Al Jazeera was one of the only news organizations with correspondents covering the war in Gaza, Khartabil helped convince the network to release video footage with a Creative Commons license, so that more of the world could see what was happening. Being a “digital native” was not about having a lot of social media accounts, Della Ratta says, but about empowering people to be informed and connected. “It’s not about writing bullshit posts on Facebook,” she says. “It’s about a culture that’s deeply rooted in people who are like us, surfing the internet and believing we are equal.”

 In a region with severe social inequality and corruption, these ideas were mesmerizing—and dangerous. “It’s about the culture of sharing. And that’s exactly why Bassel was killed,” Della Ratta says. “In this region run by authoritarians, they all work to divide people. And we were working to unite people.”

 In 2011, the Arab Spring erupted. Mass movements led by young people overthrew governments in Tunisia and Egypt and began filling the streets in Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. Assem Hamsho, a photographer who was imprisoned twice for participating in protests, met Khartabil in February 2011 at a demonstration in front of the Libyan embassy in Damascus. They waved candles and handwritten signs, chanting, “Qaddafi, out, out!” Syrians had not yet begun protesting against their own government—there was still too much fear—but they would gather in solidarity with citizens of other Arab countries.

 One month later, in March 2011, 15 schoolchildren in Daraa, in southern Syria, wrote on a wall: “The people want the fall of the regime,” a slogan of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. They were imprisoned and tortured, sparking protests in Daraa that quickly spread. In Damascus, Hamsho, Khartabil, and their friends joined in. “For the first time, you felt courage,” Hamsho says. The protests were peaceful in the beginning, with hundreds of thousands of civilians marching, clapping, and singing in the streets. “Nobody was afraid of anything because we all had one heart,” Hamsho says. “You’d go to the protests, and there was power in the people. We’d go to cafés, talk politics, and this had never happened before. You just thought, I’m going to stand with my conscience now.”

 Tamam al-Omar, a graphic designer, also met Khartabil in 2011. He recalled how Khartabil cheered a group of exhausted protesters with a bag of Snickers. They had spent all day chanting in a plaza, and he started passing candies out to everyone as if distributing sweets at a Syrian wedding. “I remember the joy in his eyes,” al-Omar said. “It was a celebration.”

 Khartabil met Noura Ghazi during these demonstrations. Al-Omar watched his friends’ love grow as the government crackdown worsened. In one 2011 video, Ghazi sits on Khartabil’s lap and kisses his cheek, joking about how they met while under siege in the same house. “We really love each other, we fit each other so well, we really want to live together,” Ghazi beams. “We’re afraid for our families, more than for ourselves,” Khartabil says, pressing his face to hers. By December 2011, the United Nations had already reported that more than 5,000 Syrians were killed in the uprising, with thousands more in detention. But people like Khartabil and Ghazi were convinced that by documenting and broadcasting what was happening, using their real names, other countries would intervene. “We thought if we only reported what was happening to international news, and the UN saw, we thought it would end,” Hamsho says. “Then we saw that the whole world is a liar, and humanity is a lie.”

 Mohamed Najem, an activist in Lebanon, helped Khartabil by sending iPhones, which weren’t allowed in Syria at the time, from Beirut, to make sure “the stories of the peaceful uprising were being told.” The internet was coming under state control in Syria, so Bassel would resize and upload pictures, setting up proxies and VPNs to get images and videos out to international media. “He was on a mission inside Damascus to make sure that the voices of the people doing the uprising would be heard,” Najem says. Phillips remembers Khartabil telling him how badly they needed camera phones: “He said a phone with a camera is a hundred times more powerful than a gun.”

 Khartabil gave computer security consultations and taught Linux to al-Omar, who was making revolutionary posters at the time. “He encouraged me to publish the art without copyright,” al-Omar says. “‘The poster is the revolution. It’s not about you, it’s about all of Syria, and all the people,’” Khartabil told him.

 Khartabil’s work—sending live broadcasts of protests from his phone to outside media—was putting him in the government’s crosshairs, but he was calm and clear-headed. As the danger increased, Ghazi, Khartabil, and al-Omar started meeting in a secret house every two to three days, sometimes staying overnight. They’d cook together, eat, run out to photograph protests, then come back to hide. They were all wanted by security. When friends were arrested, Bassel would delete their Facebook accounts to prevent police from getting into their messages.

 Aiki Lab closed during this time. Phillips remembers that Khartabil called him in 2011, saying that security forces had raided the space. “He was like, ‘Hey man, this thing is very real, it’s happening here—they came in and just took all the TVs,’ ” Phillips says. Khartabil was still attending international Creative Commons meetups, but he was distracted, always on the phone with people back home, where emergencies kept arising. “He’d be like, ‘My dad, they don’t have water, they’re out of water,’ ” Phillips says. “He’s freaking out. ‘My mom, there was an explosion, I have to go find her.’ ”

 The last time Phillips saw Khartabil was in Warsaw, at a Creative Commons meeting in 2012. Late one night, Phillips and Khartabil were having drinks alone, and Phillips started imploring him not to return to Syria. “I was screaming at him, ‘Don’t go back, man, you’re gonna die.’ He goes, ‘It’s fine. If I die, it’s fine.’ ” Phillips started to cry when Khartabil said this. “It was, ‘I’m going to help my people. And if I die, so be it.’ That’s why it hurts so bad,” Phillips says.

 Khartabil was arrested in his office on March 15, 2012, days before he and Ghazi were supposed to be married. He was held, incommunicado, in a military prison, then moved to Adra prison in 2013. There he met Wael Saad al-Deen, a photographer and documentary filmmaker who’d also been interrogated and tortured. “I wasn’t a protester. I didn’t have weapons, just a camera, laptop, mobile, and hard drive,” says Saad al-Deen. He was kept initially in military detention with 120 people in a room measuring about 10 by 20 feet, in the Kazaz area of Damascus. “It’s extremely crowded. You don’t sleep. Every two days someone would die just from being there,” Saad al-Deen says. He was interrogated about his photographs and films. “They hit you, they use electricity, they torture you, and no one knows anything about us,” he says. “There is no contact with the outside world.” He saw tens of people die in those few months. “One day it’d be two people, another day five,” he says. “There were women too, and children with us who were only 12 or 13 years old. There were elderly people as well.”

 Adra is a civilian prison, which was an improvement over the military confinement for both men. Saad al-Deen and Khartabil were kept in the same section for two years and three months, and were able to see each other every day. Khartabil got back in touch with Noura, and they had a simple wedding ceremony through prison bars. Friends smuggled letters in and out. He wrote to Phillips, describing the military prison and his attempt at suicide:

 “Cell No 26: is the cell I spent 9 month in. It is 2 by 1 meter with no light at all… I decided to end my life in cell No 26 after 8 month of no light and no hope. Then canceled the idea when I thought of Noura’s eyes and got the feeling that I will see them again. That moment changed and saved my life and charged me with power.”

 Khartabil wrote to friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, finding the humor to make fun of the prison guards’ tech ignorance: “I’m living in a place where no one knows anything about tech, but sometimes the management of the jail face problems on their win-8 computers, so they bring me to solve it so I get a chance to spend few hours every month behind a screen disconnected. Also I had to write them a small app for fingerprint recognition ones, and it had to be on visual basic since there is no other real language installed, it was my first time with Microsoft, so it took me two hours to learn their technology, four hours to write the code, and one minute to hate it. Don’t tell anyone of that ”

 He also wrote: “Of my experience spending three years in jail so far for writing open source code (mainly) I can tell how much authoritarian regimes feel the danger of technology on their continuity, and they should be afraid of that. As code is much more than tools, it’s education that opens youth minds and moves the nations forward. Who can stop that? No one…. As long as you people out doing what you are doing, my soul is free. Jail is only a temporary physical limitation.”

 Khartabil asked Najem to create an anonymous blog and Twitter account for him, titled “Me in Syrian jail,” and wrote out 140-character-or-less tweets on paper, which were then smuggled to his Lebanese friend for typing and posting. “We can’t fight jail without memory and imagination #Syria #MeinSyrianJail,” he tweeted on April 5, 2014.

 Inside the prison, Saad al-Deen and Khartabil tutored each other in classical Arabic and English. Al-Deen composed Arabic poems while Khartabil painted pictures to go with them. Friends smuggled books to them, and they discussed artists and authors: Salvador Dalí, Abdul Rahman Munif, Dan Brown, Gabriel García Márquez. Al-Deen couldn’t read the English books Khartabil had, but he was waiting for Khartabil to finish translating Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture into Arabic. He’d already translated Karl Fogel’s Producing Open Source Software. Al-Deen had never heard of open source before, but Khartabil explained it all, and they fantasized about starting a company together after they got out of prison.

 Outside, the Syrian war spiraled. Extremist groups like Jabhat al-Nusra gained power. In 2013, the Syrian government used chemical weapons against civilians in East Ghouta. In 2014, ISIS declared a “caliphate” headquartered in Raqqa. Soon, a US-led coalition began bombing Iraq and Syria. In 2015, the Syrian refugee crisis, which had already overwhelmed neighboring countries Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, spilled into the Mediterranean, with thousands of migrants—many of them Syrian, many of them children—dying in the sea.

 On October 3, 2015, Saad al-Deen was with Khartabil when military police entered Adra prison. They called the names of 10 people, Khartabil among them, and said to put on their pajamas, take nothing but their washing supplies, and move. “Anyone who’s taken like this, they don’t come back,” Saad al-Deen says. “It’s known. This is the way to death.” Khartabil had rarely shown fear, but in this moment, both men were afraid. “When you’re about to disappear, and this is the real moment, and we knew he wasn’t going to come back—I felt—it was one of the hardest moments of my life,” Saad al-Deen says. Khartabil had become closer than family to him, but at that moment neither one could speak. “Everything happened in five minutes,” Saad al-Deen says. “They took him, and after three days, his bed was given to someone else.”

 The #freebassel campaign escalated after Khartabil disappeared. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales wrote an article about him for The Guardian. The Creative Commons community produced a volume of essays titled The Cost of Freedom, including an imagined conversation with the director of Star Trek, arguing for Khartabil to be a character in a 2017 Star Trek TV series. Phillips pushed to revive Khartabil’s 3-D Palmyra project and advocated for Khartabil’s release through open art installations. In 2015, the Islamic State extremist group destroyed Palmyra’s most precious monuments and al-Asaad, the archaeologist with whom Khartabil had collaborated to make his replica of the ancient site, was beheaded in a public square. Phillips did not know it at the time, but five months after that beheading, the Syrian government executed Khartabil. He was 34 years old.

 When news of Khartabil’s death came out last month, most of his friends had already been killed, imprisoned, or were living outside of Syria, refugees with little hope left for the revolution they’d once taken to the streets. Hamsho left Syria in June 2012, after a second prison stint. He spent some time in Lebanon, helping refugee children with remedial education. Now he’s living in Strasbourg, France, 37 years old, learning French. “Every day I go to see friends, go to language exchange, get a glass of beer. Of course I’m thinking about Syria,” Hamsho says. “I can’t stay here. But I also can’t go back.” Al-Deen lives in Istanbul, where he worked for a time with an NGO helping Syrian children and is now making a documentary about Syrian women’s stories in Turkey. Najem is in Beirut, still training social media users, though since 2011, he says, many countries have adopted more restrictive laws in the name of combating terrorism.

 Al-Omar is 31 years old and a refugee in France. He left Syria in June 2014, after enduring imprisonment and torture. The worst part of hearing about Khartabil’s death, he says, was being unable to mourn with anyone in person. He called three friends that day. “We’re all in different countries. Bassel has died and none of us could be with him. None of us could give him a flower. There isn’t even a room for us to sit together. Today we just have telephones, Skype, WhatsApp—I’m talking with my friend in Canada and our friend is lost, but we can’t even grieve together,” al-Omar says. “This is like the revolution. It’s lost and broken and there’s no place for it.”

 Della Ratta spoke from Rome, where she’s written an ethnography titled Shooting a Revolution, on the photographers and filmmakers who were killed in 2011 and 2012. “An entire generation was filming to produce evidence, but while they were shooting a revolution, they were shot,” Della Ratta says. “We should take it very seriously when the international community is dealing with Bashar al-Assad like he’s not doing what he’s doing, which is killing his people and executing people like Bassel. It’s a very sad story but it deserves to be told. Otherwise an entire chapter of this situation in Syria will be lost.”

 At least 17,723 Syrians have died in custody, according to Amnesty International. Since 2011, more than 65,000 people have disappeared, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Noura Ghazi started an organization advocating for the detainees’ release, or at a bare minimum informing families of their whereabouts. Khartabil’s family is requesting access to his remains and more information on his death. Creative Commons has established a memorial fund in his name to support other Arab developers and entrepreneurs.

 But it is a very different time. “There’s a lot of blood and violence and fear in the Middle East again,” Della Ratta says. Bassel gave his life for a peaceful vision that ended in what Della Ratta called “hell,” a hell that continues to consume even those who have escaped the country physically. Refugees like Saad al-Deen are haunted by what happened in Syria. Yet he doesn’t regret the revolution, despite his years of prison, torture, and witnessing death. “I want Bassel to be an inspiration for Syria’s youth. We should not give up on our rights to live in safety and freedom,” Saad al-Deen says. “I wish everyone would learn from him and his faith in change.” Della Ratta agrees. “We need people in the Middle East to stay resilient, as Bassel was,” she says. People are still sharing some of his tweets, she says, pointing out one in particular: “They can’t stop us #Syria”.'