From the responsibility to protect to the responsibility to remain detached (March 2013)

Syrian Moral Hierarchies

Since March 2011, the Syrian Revolution received relatively minor support from political and human rights activists, compared with the strong support expressed for the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. While international media and some think-tanks have recognized the immorality of the Syrian regime, it appears insufficient to undertake a proper step towards real solidarity and activism.

The morality of the disparate tactics employed by the Syrian opposition has not been widely recognized. Besides, the high social cost of what is often portrayed from within as international treason, now weighs on the genuine social forces that had started the revolutionary process. Indeed, the weakness and lack of accountability by the opposition, which is believed to have prematurely failed, has certainly not come out of the blue.

Ultimately, the international community has limited its action to diplomatic support and mere rhetoric in favor of the opposition. Therefore, among the sizable presence of jihadi groups, the unprecedented ruthlessness that the regime is showing to a neo-skeptical public is too often equated to the other armed groups.

The Syrian refugees I recently spoke to in Akkar (North Lebanon) talk of “real betrayal” of a part of their society, as well as treason of the so-called international community, which, with its self moralized apathy, has ended up extending the regime’s life. According to many people I interviewed in North Lebanon, Islamophobia is viewed as one of the main reasons for the international skepticism around the revolution in Syria.

In Halba, I interviewed a Syrian refugee who vented the following:

“From outside things have been depicted as mere terrorism, whereas the anti-regime fighters’ violence is also product of the government’s oppression… The West is skeptical about our revolution because it fears Islam. Why do you constantly believe to be the universal definers of “extremism?” What is extremism, when we have to resist extremist cruel repression?”

Western analysis of Syrian Revolutionaries can be described as moral hierarchicalization. This position seems to be followed by self-defined “moderate” and nostalgic pro-revolutionaries, who declare to have been disappointed after the armament of the “rebels.” Competition exists for the second position on the morality podium with the allegedly “non pro-regime people, yet committed to prioritize the Palestinian cause and the regional balance,” who have actually ended up supporting the Syrian regime.

Finally, it is appalling to observe that Bashar Assad’s loyalists, who adopt tout court the regime’s rhetoric, have achieved a greater degree of morality if compared to unconditional revolution supporters, considered instead as the least moral. The most common accusations toward the people that have unquestioningly aligned with the revolution are warmongering and imperialism, for the sake of US interests.

By using the interpretative lens of my interlocutors, Syrians feel largely betrayed by the international community, that hypocritically ensures its solidarity by providing aid and alleviating their suffering, while considering their armed resistance immoral.

Internationals should wonder how they can still be suitable to advocate for rights and reconciliation, if they are locally perceived as hypocritical traitors by the revolutionaries. Despite the partial crisis of identification of Assad’s opponents in the various armed fringes – particularly in the case of the jihadi group Jabhat al Nusra – not only the jihadist groups, but even secular protesters had not been empowered with morality in official discourse. Indeed, the unarmed protesters were accused of serving foreign interests, and rejected Assad’s reform plans proffered in 2011.

As long as there is no accepted moral sphere, any foreign contribution to the Syrian reconciliation process seems to be arduous and schizophrenic in its goals.

After all, there is no more disguised imperialism than using ineffectiveness and detachment at will, as the West has done so far in Syria. As a result of moral suspension of judgment and opportunistic wariness for military intervention, outsiders will now have additional cause for hailing themselves as the role model for morality and human rights, while boasting their impartiality.

Post-war Syria, therefore, will probably have to face reconciliation with the international community too: maybe even more challenging than the first one between its several religious and political realities, much to our arrogant surprise.

(Estella Carpi is a PhD Candidate at the University of Sydney and a PhD Fellow at the American University of Beirut. Since 2010, she has been conducting her research on the local experience of humanitarianism in Lebanon from the 2006 war with Israel until the present, in the framework of the aid provision to Syrian refugees. After studying Arabic in Milan and Damascus, she has worked for UNDP-Egypt and the International Development Research Center based in Cairo (2008-2010). She has been active in supporting the Syrian Revolution in Lebanon and Australia. You can follow her on her blog)

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