Last week I had discussed Marcel M. Baumann’s piece to reflect on the (im)possibility of a mutual understanding of violence in future Syria.
After two years since the outset of the Syrian revolution, Jadaliyya has published a few days ago a series of articles written in Arabic by four Syrian authors on the concept and role of violence in the Syrian scenario.
I provide here a brief overview of the main ideas contained in each of the four commentaries: they differ from each other in an extremely interesting way, in spite of their shared strong opposition to Asad’s regime.
My personal stance can be positioned between Dima Wanus and Hassan ‘Abbas ways of thinking: even non-violence always demands confrontation in time of conflict. And confrontation is an obligatory stage in the mobilisation and uprising processes. Indeed, if initial non-violent confrontation, on one side, did not lead to any results but cruel repression, on the other, the current violent confrontation should have been “organized” and directed; in the sense of being conceived into a wider political project that needs to dismantle a given power, which, by its very nature, would never annihilate itself.
Dima Wanus, in “Violence is not the solution but”:
By drawing on Frantz Fanon’s “The wretched of the Earth”, where violence was used to combat colonialism, Wanus recalls the idea of a silent violence that the regime has been using for 40 years (‘onf samit) in Syria, and the way this power used to confiscate identity under the guise of “laicism” (musadarat al hauiyya tahta shi’ar al ‘almaniyya). Peaceful coexistence was not just an inherent characteristic of Syrians, as it is generally said: people were oppressed in fact by fear and submissiveness (khauf wa istislam).
Violence, therefore, turns to be a necessary tool to face long date oppression, after the regime has used it as a depreciation of the dignity of its citizens (imtihan la kiramat al muwatin al sury). Nonetheless, to her mind, violence is not the solution. Peaceful revolution was not a possible option in this scenario. A revolution in the Syrian context, which totally needs to disrupt the continuity with respect to the past to realise itself, cannot be judged according to standardised social, ethical and moral criteria.
Osama Sa’id in “Declaration of violence”:
Violence is used against the development of citizenship by the regime. The author speaks of the generalised violence in the Syrian context in terms of collective punishment (‘oqab jama’iyy): it is used against the sons of the national army, who are, in turn, under the control of the dictatorship. They have never been asked their opinion. They are just used to defend what they do not represent. And all these “state employers” have nothing but their job.
It is violence itself that led Syrians to such an extreme situation. Death does not sow but destruction (lughat al qatl wa al tankil allaty tazra’u al maut lan tahsud siwa al damar).
Revolutionaries, therefore, cannot act in the name of rights by using violence. He provides the examples of Afghanistan and Iraq to prove that violence has never brought any good.
Changes do not lie in blind killing (al taghiyyr la yatim by’l qatl al a’ma). He identifies in violence just a vicious circle of revenge and hatred. This has turned into a dangerous belief that the destruction of Syria is believed to have a “holy price”. The only positive aspect in the diffused violence is a new awareness in Syrian society (wa’y jadid).
A state is supposed to monopolise violence to be the only legitimate actor that controls it and uses it. In Syria instead, violence itself became State in order to have a frame in which it can be used.
In this way, it is the opponents that are blamed to have breached the responsibility for guaranteeing security, rather than the state.
In light of this, it is the non-violence of the opponents that should have created the strategic difference between the two fighting parts.
Mohammed al ‘Attar, in “Are there ways that have not been taken yet in Syria?”:
The use of violence should have been discarded in the Syrian conflict on the side of the revolutionaries, as that was exactly what the regime wanted to achieve in its divide-and-rule strategy: the destruction of the country if the regime’s stability would have wavered. The current armed resistance is compared to a trap set by the regime itself (mujarrad uquw’ fy fakh yada’uhu an-nizam al hakim).
The current massive repression, after all, was something expectable, as it is coherent with the regime’s logic.
Moreover, the use of violence triggers new difficulties for future Syria, such as a likely future campaign for post-conflict disarmament. Nonetheless, many citizens that have had no choice but taking up the weapons, would abandon them very willingly to get back to their normal life.
It is not possible to cut the regime’s head once for all: these violent strategies are generating just further blood and chaos. In his viewpoint, therefore, the reforms were possible by using pacific means.
Hassan ‘Abbas, in “The meaning of violence and its limits”:
In presence of authoritarian regimes, it is not conceivable to make real changes without resorting to violence. Nonetheless, ‘Abbas makes a neat distinction between chaotic violence and violence as an organized instrument serving a cause.
The regime in power, by its own nature, would not eliminate itself. Violence, in fact, is the essence of power (al ‘onf hua jawhar as-sulta), and inherent to political conflicts.
In other words, when used to dismantle injustice, the use of violence can be considered legitimate. It remains, however, a temporary instrument that must be part of a wider structured project, a political program that will offer directions about what is next.