You can now read my review of Ilana Feldman’s ‘Life Lived in Relief: Humanitarian Predicaments and Palestinian Refugee Politics’ in the latest issue of The Middle East Journal (summer 2019)
You can now read my review of Ilana Feldman’s ‘Life Lived in Relief: Humanitarian Predicaments and Palestinian Refugee Politics’ in the latest issue of The Middle East Journal (summer 2019)
In this blog post I would like to share my personal experiences of carrying out qualitative research in what contemporary scholars call the “Global South” (Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt) and the “Global North” (Australia and the United Kingdom). To convey my message clearly, I adopt the classical political geography of “South” and “North” with the intention of neither confirming these narrow categories nor of universalizing my personal experiences but in order to work towards an honest sociology of knowledge through such peculiar experiences.
In particular, I discuss what I think are some of the emerging behavioral and ethical tendencies in today’s research economy and its main methodologies. On the one hand, the reluctance in the “Southern” environments in recognizing their own tendency to embrace predominant ways of producing knowledge. On the other, the reluctance of “Northern” research entities to acknowledge their own positionality within the global scenario – that is, accepting the fact of conducting research as outsiders and, above all, the sociological harm of pretending localism. The result of these two tendencies is, from my perspective, a globalized impoverished attention to factual awareness, which depends on the personal involvement of researchers in the context they study and the cultivation of the capability to build and rebuild a continual relationship with the subjects and the places studied beyond the duration of fieldwork research.
The “Southern” tendency to perceive the practice of producing research as antithetical or substantially different to the North consistently builds on the universal romanticization of the research produced in the Global South, cutting across the North and the South. Indeed, while the research and academic institutions that I worked for in the Global South tended to believe that their fieldwork quality standards were inherently higher, the fact of being at the mercy of external – and unstable – sources of funding often endangered their existence and alternative ways of working. In these circumstances, fieldwork mostly took place in relatively small timeframes and, likewise, theories needed to be quickly wrapped up, making it difficult to identify any effective counter-culture of knowledge production. Studies on publishing locally and perishing globally have importantly highlighted the material constraints of localizing research. While “Southern” knowledge is barely known and mentioned by North-produced researchers (although it often marks significantly several fields of studies), it is also important to add that, in my own experiences across the Arab world, large segments of upper and middle classes tend to receive their postgraduate education and establish their scholarship in Northern institutions, thereby being trained according to Northern criteria while trying to preserve their reputation of being local researchers. In similar ways, Southern institutions often delegate fieldwork to research assistants who struggle to receive intellectual acknowledgment. (The same acknowledgment that many “Southern” research institutions have been looking for in the international arena, still dominated by Global North’s epistemologies and funding sources). In this regard, I have seen no co-authorships offered to research assistants, who undergo processes of alienation similar to those recently discussed in the context of the institutions of the Global North. Likewise, I have witnessed similarly exploitative relationships which seek to build knowledge upon the anonymity and the belittling of an underpaid workforce, whatever the latter’s passport is.
Despite acknowledging the partially ethnic character of some of these power dynamics – such as European academics versus local researchers in the Arab Levant, mostly when the former lack the necessary linguistic skills and in-depth knowledge of the research settings – I would like to emphasize some nuances. While the global archetype of neoliberal academia certainly does not stem from Southern institutions, largely due to colonial legacies, in my experience I have identified hierarchical and alienating structures of research-making across different cultural patterns of knowledge production.
Dauntingly, ethical research and decolonial methodologies are becoming tokenistic worldwide, turning into a further disenfranchisement of diversely vulnerable researched subjects, such as refugees. In this scenario, the Global North currently promotes itself as a pioneer advocate of ethical research – a phenomenon which has led to a proliferation of publications on the topic, rather than finally aiming for a radical transformation of research and for the uprooting of the vulnerabilities of the researched.
With no intention to bury unequal historical relationships, the intrinsic “non-ethicness” of such structural deficiencies needs to be observed across Norths and Souths. To ethnographers, if quality fieldwork means collecting relevant data, it also needs to mean collecting what matters at a local level and in an appropriate way. Contextual relevance and cultural appropriateness inevitably require generous timeframes. Doing less but long-term research and paying under-explored forms of respect to the researched may be the way to go.
Moreover, a pressing question may center on the tyranny of grants and funding, which is said to dictate the design of today’s projects. To what extent is this the cause of such an unacknowledged sociology of failure in academic research? The present tendency is to design methods that involve an extremely large number of interviews and what I would call the “participatory approach fever”. The result of a misinterpretation of what “participation” should mean is subcontracting scientific evidence to researched subjects overburdened with theoretical expectations and over-theorizations, a tendency which seldom turns out to provide sound empirical evidence. In this vein, Northern-led research not only tends to romanticize the South, which would not be new in postcolonial scholarship, but increasingly invites the South to actively participate in its own romanticization. Affected by “participatory approach fever”, many scholars in the Global North feel urged to depict their work as local, while also missing the fact that sharing their own conscious positionality vis-à-vis the researched would instead be an invaluable point of departure in the effort to avoid ethical and scientific failure. Indeed, such a self-acknowledgment would finally contribute to nuancing the multiple cultures in which research design, data collection, writing, and knowledge production are embedded – cultures that are hardly definable within the categories of “North” and “South”.
In light of these considerations, I ask myself how ethnographic studies can survive without being sociologically relevant and, at times, even culturally appropriate. Subcontracting the production of knowledge either to local researchers or to the researched themselves is certainly not a one-size-fits-all answer. Yet it looks unfeasible for many researchers across the globe to dispose of proper time and funding to conduct research over a longer timeframe and develop a localized understanding of the contexts they wish to study. I identified a similar issue when I realized that some researchers who have a poor command of the local language shy away from hiring an interpreter due to a lack of material means or because they are in an environment that frowns upon social science researchers who lack contextual skills. While peacefully sharing one’s own limits and assets would potentiate empirical analysis overall, everyone wants to be the “voice of the Global South”. Instead, no one wants to be the Global North, impeding a honest sociology of knowledge. Thus, how do we decolonize sociological and anthropological knowledge and, at the same time, the sociology of knowledge, if the drivers of epistemological coloniality, across Norths and Souths, have managed to make themselves invisible?
Humanitarian Rackets and their Moral Hazards: The Case of the Palestinian Refugee Camps in Lebanon by Rayyar Marron. Abingdon and New York: Routledge 2016. 188 pp., £110 hardcover 9781472457998, £36.99 paperback 9780815352570, £36.99 e-book 9781315587615
Rayyar Marron’s book provides a critique of how academic and activist accounts of Palestinian refugee camps end up reinforcing the humanitarian narrative of refugee victimhood. By underlining refugee economic and political agency, especially in the camp of Shatila in Lebanon, Marron recounts economic fraud and tactics that not only guarantee refugees’ survival and empowerment, but also seek to suggest a de-romanticised configuration of ‘refugee’ within the Middle Eastern moral economy. The author questions human suffering underlying the formulation of social and humanitarian policy. In this vein, in the scholarly literature, camps are defined not only as “sites of exilic nationalism” (p. 5), but also of resistance (p. 4). In this context, Marron contests how “Palestinianness” is addressed as a mere humanitarian cause, where refugees are passive aid recipients in need of international compassion.
The book is composed of an introduction, seven chapters, and a brief conclusion. The lengthy introduction aims to collocate the book within the framework of the de-romanticisation of vulnerability and of refugee agency: but it struggles to anticipate the core arguments. Chapter 1 intends to show how Palestinian refugees themselves seek to repackage their originally military cause as humanitarian due to the decline in funding, therefore often portraying themselves as “dispossessed peasants” (p. 44). Marron emphasises the identity crisis through which Palestinian refugees in Lebanon passed through when the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was removed from Lebanon in 1982. Nevertheless, the chapter loses the opportunity to accurately describe what the author sees as a crucial historical moment, when Palestinians dropped the militant guerrilla culture as a public discourse to embody the exceptional case for assistance. More attention to this historical moment would have unraveled how the Palestinians’ unethical tactics to guarantee everyday life – such as smuggling and political protection rackets – are actually connected to daily grievance. The author, making the important attempt to de-romanticise the refugee category and refugee agency, however ends up focusing only on one side of the coin, providing a predominantly negative representation of camp society. A nuanced approach to examining everyday life would instead have informed the longstanding dialectics between need and greed in refugee economies.
Chapter 2 suggests the emergence of a Palestinian nationhood in connection with the pan-Islamic and pan-Arab cause (p. 50), in a complex framework of foreign state patronages. Marron specifically argues that a Palestinian sense of national belonging precedes the PLO battles, while providing shy hints of this pre-exilic society. This chapter does not provide the specificities of whom, where, and what led humanitarian definitions and practices to a negatively nuanced – but under-explained – everyday racketeering and appropriation.
In Chapter 3, the author argues that the PLO and the Palestinian political movement of Fatah radicalised the political landscape in Lebanon, seeking direct influence from within the formal institution of the parliament (p. 76), or through studentships, as cadres of Fatah enrolled as students in Lebanese universities (p. 78). By conducting robberies and soliciting funding, the PLO and Fatah militarised the civilian refugee community, raising violence in the camps. The author describes the “neopatrimonial” tendencies of Fatah and the PLO in terms of “self-enrichment” rather than the official rhetoric of the “revolution” (p. 87). Marron thus opposes the narratives that depict the so-called Palestinian revolution as an effort against Lebanese sectarian politics.
Chapter 4 highlights the challenges of organising camp society outside of patronage legacies. The pervasive influence of factional politics on refugee lives is in fact mentioned as the most deleterious issue for the Palestinians, rather than poverty or lack of infrastructure per se. On the one hand, the chapter is not too convincing in the attempt to incorporate humanitarianism into the discussion of patronage, where political groups compete for assistance, recruiting their families and allies in the capacity of beneficiaries or employees within humanitarian projects, including the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) (pp. 93-95). On the other, the author clearly shows how camp dwellers challenge the legitimacy of the popular committees, as they represent the interests of proxy states to the camp society (pp. 103-104). Marron here opposes the tendency of the scholarly literature to separate out the Palestinian oppressive sovereigns from the refugees.
Chapter 5 provides accounts of rent-seeking and illegal housing (p. 111) to shed light on camps as sources of livelihoods and proliferation, by specifying, for instance, that the percentage of Palestinian camp dwellers who own their homes (82%) is higher than Lebanese nationals (68%). Besides, Chapter 5 seeks to approach the humanitarian framework, by mentioning how NGOs are captured by competing factions in the camps (p. 116). Marron, however, is not detailed in showing how ordinary people participate in these dynamics, risking, on the one hand, a new homogenisation of refugees – shaped by negative agency – and, on the other, a new homogenisation of humanitarians, who emerge as victims that are over-burdened with responsibilities, and finding “their path disrupted by amorphous forces” (p. 124).
The role of humanitarian agencies which stems from this chapter is slightly opaque: the attentive reader is left with several questions regarding what humanitarian projects the author precisely refers to until Chapter 6, when Marron finally outlines the political economy of refugee camps and NGOs. Drawing on Horkheimer’s theory of rackets, the author largely draws on her own ethnographic experience as a teacher in a vocational school in Shatila to inform her argument that the protectors in refugee camps are also the sources of violence (p. 126). The experiential anecdote serves to illustrate how factions, influential retired community members from different political constituencies, camp residents, and humanitarians participate in the “racket society”. Likewise, Marron mentions that public services are privatised by camp factional officials to appropriate aid from outside (i.e. waste removal service, electricity grid, etc.). Nonetheless, the author often mentions dynamics of welfare power-sharing, which can surely overlap with humanitarian interventions, without telling us how she frames such overlaps and, furthermore, is too quick to label all of the service providers in the camp as “humanitarian”.
While in the first instance the author depicts the humanitarian system as caught up in the racketeering dynamics as a mere victim, in Chapter 7, she nuances their action as a “moral hazard” (p. 149) in the crystallising refugee vulnerability and as facilitating the amplification of statelessness (p. 146). Racketeering against UNRWA projects is therefore seen as the only means by which camp dwellers can access resources (p. 163). In the effort to normalise refugee camps and dissuade public narratives from ossified victimhood, Marron concludes by asserting the humanitarian exacerbation of camp racketeering dynamics but, at the same time, denouncing how humanitarian failures have been “deflected away from camp society and back onto the Lebanese state and the international community” (p. 171). The author here argues that “humanitarian assistance is not a measure that ensures collective welfare”, but rather an individual entitlement for which racketeering is necessary in order to obtain “fair shares”. I find this the most significant and intriguing argument advanced, which, probably, should have been introduced and developed earlier in the book.
Throughout the chapters, the reader struggles to identify the voices of Marron’s interviewees and her own empirical evidence. Among her second source-based historical accounts around the formation of a camp habitus oppression, the refugee individual, however, is not well visibilised: refugees seem to be given agency through the negative morality of the humanitarian rackets and political neopatrimonialism, while being unable to turn camps into civil societies.
Moreover, to me, the choice of the title remains unclear, as the humanitarian discourse and practices are not given the largest room for analysis. By the same token, the geography of the camps in Lebanon is not clearly outlined, emerging as an abstract and therefore easily homogenisable space, while most of the accounts and the camp history provided actually regard Shatila exclusively. The book’s overall imprecise structure hinders a still needed in-depth discussion of humanitarianism in camp societies.
While revealing a specific disciplinary approach is not essential in my view, the author could have been more explicit in several sections in defining her positionality while in the field and the local politics of knowledge. The book presents a very large number of key themes which therefore remain hinted at rather than properly explored, scattering the reader’s attention. On the whole, this book is primarily a historical account for social sciences scholars and researchers interested in refugee-related issues, and humanitarian practitioners. I particularly suggest this book to those who engage with the history of Palestinians in the region, and the way camp politics intertwines with the domestic politics of “host societies”. In this regard, the author provides insights from relevant first hand experience and important secondary sources, which inform the current debates on politics, refugeeness, and humanitarian governance.
Estella Carpi is a Research Associate in the Migration Research Unit, Department of Geography, University College London, working on Southern-led responses to displacement from Syria in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. She received her PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Sydney (Australia) with a research project on social responses to conflict-induced displacement and humanitarian assistance provision in contemporary Lebanon. In the past, she also worked as a researcher in Egypt, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates, mostly focusing on humanitarian and welfare systems, forced migration, and identity politics.
(Syrian refugee children at school in Turkey. Photo credit: worldbulletin.net)
Despite the traditionally temporary character of their interventions, humanitarian agencies providing ad hoc services in crisis-affected areas are increasingly viewing education as a necessity. As such, education has been progressively integrated into the standard humanitarian toolkit. Delivering formal education in crises, however, remains an enormous challenge. On the one hand, development aid does not provide adequate support to countries in long-term crises, and on the other, humanitarian aid generally does not prioritize education. Among displaced communities, education often loses its own acknowledged potential to bring refugees closer to the civic and political fabric of host countries. In early 2015, I observed this challenge first-hand while visiting Za‘atari and Mrajeeb el-Fhood refugee camps in northern Jordan, which are currently home to approximately 142,000 Syrian refugees (UNHCR 2017). In this context, looking at schooling curricula and materials offers interesting research avenues.
One of the most basic educational challenges in refugee settings is that of school dropouts. In 2012, approximately 121 million children were out of school worldwide, of whom 33.8 million were in conflict-affected countries and 6.2 million in Arab states (UNESCO 2015). School dropout rates are often attributed to the daily pressures that make child labor a necessity for many refugee families. However, refugee children face a number of other important barriers in accessing formal education. These barriers may be physical (military checkpoints), bureaucratic (the need to provide documentary evidence of previous schooling), economic (cost of transportation) or linguistic (not speaking the language of formal education in a host country). Moreover, an underappreciated factor affecting dropout rates is the quality of camp schools. Finally, refugees very often initially view displacement as short-lived and think that children can wait to return home to resume formal studies. This short-term approach affects decisions regarding what kind of education refugee children should receive.
In tackling school dropout rates, international NGOs have increasingly provided education to supplement that officially offered by host states. On a visit to Za‘atari, I spoke with a Syrian woman and a Jordanian teacher who explained that the dropout rate from formal schools financed by NGOs and UN agencies was high; informal NGO education programs had been much more successful than formal classes, even though NGOs did not provide official certificates (cf. HRW 2016). These views are supported by wider data indicating that in Jordan’s Syrian refugee camps children leave school in order to attend informal training seen as more engaging (UNICEF and REACH 2014).
Given this “humanitarianization” of education, the “emergency education” model may reduce our understanding of education to a simple humanitarian toolkit item. Instead, in both home and host states, schooling has myriad consequences. In particular, it contributes to shaping new curricula and ideas, which in turn lead to the emergence of specific political subjectivities and communities (Kenyon-Lischer 2005), which crystallize as a spontaneous response to the provision of various care services. For instance, in Za‘atari, humanitarian assistance—reliable health services, lifesaving vaccines and, sometimes, daily meals—is being provided to children in humanitarian educational spaces. Furthermore, NGOs also use these spaces as hubs to distribute aid to the community (INEE 2011).
From an anthropological perspective, what is interesting is the manner in which school curricula change following displacement and the re-establishment of social networks in new places. The humanitarian system is now one of the main actors providing refugee education and it has been crucial to the emergence of a “pedagogical culture of transit.” In refugee settings, temporary school programs become permanent (in)formal forms of “emergency education”—often delivered through psychosocial support programs—and they shape refugees’ socio-political and civic interaction with their surrounding space. This raises the issue of where camps are located and the extent to which they are segregated from local communities. For instance, Mrajeeb el-Fhood is in an extremely isolated desert location, distant from potential sources of livelihood and critical infrastructure.
I would like to suggest that anthropology has a crucial role to play in investigating the extent to which “emergency education” has been devised as a tool to integrate refugees into the local population or merely as a stopgap measure tailored to refugees as individuals in transit. Throughout my interviews with Syrian refugees in Za‘atari and Mrajeeb el-Fhood, their lack of enthusiasm towards schooling services was evident. Among many other factors, this seemed to play a large role in family decisions to alternately remain in the camps, move within Jordan, or leave the Middle East altogether. For example, most of the children I met in Za‘atari stated that they wanted to return to Syria: in a family of eight children, none was attending school, and four had dropped out two years earlier. Children’s unwillingness to stay in school was certainly related to the ease with which they could access it. However, it also had to do with the perceived low quality of “emergency education” in Jordan—a decisive factor in family decision-making regarding migration. This low quality was largely defined politically; that is, Syrian children felt the education they were receiving did not enable a reconstruction of Syrian history and memory. As Mara’, a nine year old girl from Dara‘a, recounted, “I don’t like schools here. There are 50 pupils in a class, and we don’t learn anything about Syria. No politics, no history … I ended up here, and I don’t know why!” Indeed, all students reported that they were required to follow the Jordanian curriculum. Siham, a 14 year old girl from Eastern Ghouta similarly stated, “I dropped out a year ago. I was wasting my time … I don’t feel the desire any longer to go to school here. The teachers don’t know where I come from.” In a parallel case, a Palestinian refugee I interviewed in Amman argued that values of Palestinian nationhood were promoted principally via NGO education rather than through formal UN schools operating in Palestinian refugee camps. These examples point to an important divide between refugee communities and institutional schooling.
What I call “emergency education” has become integral to emergency relief in diverse crisis-affected zones. On the one hand, some humanitarian donors and teachers use education as a tool to consolidate a specific regional identity. For example, Bahraini, Qatari, and Saudi schools have been established in Za‘atari. Arab Gulf–funded humanitarian services have been strongly associated with the politicization of aid and with the opportunistic formation of new political and social subjectivities (Al-Mezaini 2017). On the other hand, global North humanitarian educational programs are believed to aim ideally to neutralize refugees as political subjects, in accordance with humanitarian principles and security agendas traditionally upheld by a “global liberal governance” (Duffield 2008). In a global context of increasing hostility to migrants, NGOs and UN agencies are concerned less with refugees’ educational aspirations, and more with whether education in crisis settings contributes to social stability in host countries (UNHCR 2015).
In fact, in the Middle East, education has often been thought as a strategy to solidify social control and maintain political order, rather than one to achieve the Western ideal of education as critical to the development of independent political awareness. Likewise, the international emphasis of “emergency education” has often been on integrating refugees into host communities (EU Commission 2016) to achieve social cohesion. In contrast, I argue that in the Middle East, refugee and government schools, as well as other educational programs, have been important (though sometimes unintentional) spaces of political and cultural socialization despite decades of political oppression explicitly aimed at creating and preserving the constituencies of ruling regimes. That is, individual socialization at school occurs through various pathways, some of which are independent from the political reasons behind their establishment.
New concepts of “humanitarian education” are thus emerging that require us to critically unpack humanitarian actions and values beyond their ostensible neutrality. The needs and aspirations of refugees should be the driving force behind building a school in emergencies. In this regard, I ask: Does such education “of transit” help generate socio-cultural resilience for refugees facing increasingly protracted displacement? Beyond the formation of new collective identities, how do young refugees envision their future within such schools founded on humanitarian goals?
My preliminary research on “emergency education” looks beyond what role schooling plays in conflict and in peace building—alternately a victim of attacks or complicit with the perpetrators (Pherali 2016). Instead, it asks what the implications are of a “pedagogy of transit”—one conceived of as a short-term endeavor in which schools are a pre-resettlement educational experience that, at times, becomes permanent.
Estella Carpi is a postdoctoral research associate at University College London and Humanitarian Affairs Adviser at Save the Children UK. Holding a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Sydney, she is primarily concerned with social responses to conflict and to crisis management.
I have reviewed Diana Allan’s book “Refugees of the Revolution: Experiences of Palestinian Exile” for Anthropological Quarterly (Spring 2016). You can access the PDF file at this link:
“Guerre in Siria, Iraq e Palestina: ecco perché la religione non c’entra”
Dalla Siria all’Iraq, dall’Afghanistan alla Palestina, passando per il Libano e i tumulti sull’altra sponda del Mediterraneo: il discorso confessionale ha oscurato le cause socio-economiche dei movimenti di protesta fornendo ai regimi autoritari il pretesto per presentarsi come garanti dell’unità nazionale.
MONDOULTIME NOTIZIE 29 APRILE 2016 17:16 di Davide Falcioni
Articolo a cura di Enrico Bartolomei e Estella Carpi *
Dall’inizio dei movimenti di contestazione nel mondo arabo, che hanno rovesciato regimi pluridecennali in apparenza incrollabili e rimesso in discussione gli equilibri di potere nella regione, nei principali media e nei circoli degli esperti di politica estera si è affermata la tendenza a spiegare le cause delle proteste attraverso le lenti del confessionalismo, per cui i fattori che determinano la vita politica nel mondo arabo-musulmano sarebbero le tradizioni religiose nella loro irriducibile differenza. Il discorso confessionale ha oscurato le cause socio-economiche dei movimenti di protesta, mascherando le ambizioni regionali delle potenze straniere e fornendo ai regimi autoritari il pretesto per presentarsi come garanti dell’unità nazionale.
Questa griglia di lettura della realtà ha radici profonde che vanno oltre il mondo arabo, ed è stata alimentata da una teoria molto influente delle relazioni internazionali inaugurata dal politologo americano Samuel Huntington, che ha avanzato la tesi dello “scontro di civiltà”, spiegando come alla base dei conflitti post-Guerra Fredda ci siano in primo luogo le differenze culturali e religiose tra i vari popoli. Questa visione semplicistica e fondamentalista degli eventi storici, per cui i gruppi sociali vengono definiti in base alle appartenenze etniche, religiose o comunitarie, non solo ignora la molteplicità dei fattori alla base dei conflitti contemporanei, ma anche l’uso politico che abili “manipolatori del confessionalismo” fanno di queste differenze per difendere i propri interessi.
La grande narrazione confessionale
Dopo gli attentati dell’11 settembre 2001, la guerra globale al “terrorismo islamico” – inaugurata dagli Stati Uniti con l’invasione dell’Afghanistan e dell’Iraq – è diventata la copertura usata dalle classi dirigenti di vari regimi per eliminare gruppi insorgenti, movimenti separatisti o di liberazione. All’indomani degli attentati, l’allora primo ministro israeliano Ariel Sharon paragonò il leader di al-Qaeda Osama Bin Laden al presidente palestinese Yasser Arafat, presentando l’invasione militare della Cisgiordania durante la Seconda Intifada come necessaria per “smantellare le infrastrutture del terrorismo”. Lo stesso discorso viene ora riproposto, questa volta nei confronti del partito politico palestinese Hamas, prima di ogni operazione militare nella Striscia di Gaza. Il nuovo clima politico post-11 settembre permise anche al presidente russo Vladimir Putin di ridefinire la seconda guerra cecena come guerra contro il terrorismo, giustificando agli occhi della comunità internazionale la brutale repressione della guerriglia cecena.
Recentemente, il primo ministro Benyamin Netanyahu non ha esitato a strumentalizzare l’ondata di razzismo e islamofobia seguita agli attentati di Parigi, equiparando il “terrorismo dell’ISIS” al “terrorismo palestinese” nel tentativo di convincere i dirigenti e l’opinione pubblica europea che la lotta di liberazione palestinese è mossa dallo stesso odio anti-ebraico e anti-occidentale che viene generalmente attribuito al salafismo jihadista.
I manipolatori delle identità confessionali
Lungi dall’essere entità omogenee con caratteristiche immutabili, le identità confessionali ed etniche sono costruzioni sociali, vale a dire il prodotto storico di conflitti tra vari gruppi sociali che hanno utilizzato le diversità tra le varie componenti sociali nella lotta per il controllo di risorse materiali. Le appartenenze confessionali nei conflitti sono state strumentalizzate politicamente in primis dai manipolatori delle identità, come le classi dirigenti o i gruppi in competizione per la costruzione del consenso o per il controllo delle risorse. Questi principali attori manipolatori sono a loro volta il prodotto di una complessa relazione con la costruzione della loro stessa identità e garanzia di potere politico. Pertanto, il discorso confessionale è pienamente impiegato nei rapporti di potere ed è spesso elaborato come razionalizzazione d’interessi politici e strutture di dominio.
La strategia coloniale del divide et impera
Il confessionalismo è servito a legittimare la spartizione coloniale europea del Medio Oriente in seguito alla prima guerra mondiale. Presentare i conflitti nel mondo arabo-musulmano come il risultato dell’eterna lotta tra sunniti e sciiti, dispensa l’occidente dalle sue responsabilità storiche di protettore o rivale di questo o quel gruppo religioso o etnico. Difatti, la Francia e la Gran Bretagna hanno cinicamente sfruttato queste diversità per assicurarsi il controllo geopolitico delle risorse energetiche e la sicurezza domestica nella regione, ridisegnando arbitrariamente i confini, creando entità statali artificiali e ostacolando l’emergere di movimenti e partiti multiconfessionali e transnazionali (come quello comunista e panarabista baathista, o nasserista) che ponevano al centro delle loro rivendicazioni l’emancipazione politica ed economica piuttosto che le appartenenze comunitarie, religiose o etniche.
in foto: Israeli security forces walk in the Jerusalem’s Old City near the al–Aqsa mosque
In altri casi, le potenze straniere hanno affidato alle “minoranze confessionali” le leve di un potere parziale rendendolo solo complementare agli interessi esteri. Ad esempio, in seguito alle lotte che i drusi del Monte Libano sotto l’egida britannica conducevano nel XIX secolo contro la componente cristiano-maronita – supportata dalla Francia – il confessionalismo fu istituzionalizzato nel sistema politico (1920) con la creazione dello stato libanese su base elitaria cristiano-maronita, contribuendo a innescare tensioni che hanno dato origine a decenni di guerra civile. In Palestina, la Gran Bretagna s’impegnò con la Dichiarazione di Balfour (1917) a sostenere il progetto sionista di creare uno Stato ebraico, favorendo l’immigrazione di coloni ebrei europei. In Siria, le truppe coloniali francesi arruolarono le minoranze, tra cui gli alawiti, per sedare la rivolta nazionalista araba. La setta alawita venne poi dichiarata ramo della corrente sciita negli anni Settanta a seguito di un avvicinamento politico tra il presidente siriano alawita Hafez al-Asad e l’Imam sciita Musa as-Sadr. A seguito dell’attuale conflitto siriano e l’escalation della violenza attuale, è significativo che un’élite di esponenti intellettuali della comunità alawita abbia dichiarato un distanziamento dal regime di Asad e quindi la propria indipendenza confessional-clericale dalla corrente sciita dell’Iran e del Hezbollah libanese, strenui difensori del regime siriano.
Il confessionalismo e l’autoritarismo delle élite arabe
L’utilizzo delle identità religiose o etniche a fini politici costituisce tuttora un capitolo importante nella strategia del divide et impera messa in atto da diversi attori politici, così come lo era al tempo della dominazione coloniale europea.
L’intervento USA in Iraq nel 2003, finalizzato all’instaurazione di un governo sciita per rispecchiare l’appartenenza confessionale di gran parte della popolazione, come anche la lotta per l’egemonia regionale tra Iran e Arabia Saudita, hanno rafforzato la retorica delle identità comunitarie, fomentando in particolare lo scontro binario tra sunniti e sciiti. I movimenti di contestazione popolare nel mondo arabo, incentrati su rivendicazioni di democratizzazione dei sistemi politici e di giustizia sociale, sono stati anch’essi deragliati sui binari del confessionalismo – se non dall’interferenza straniera – da regimi autoritari, élite al potere, o quei gruppi che vogliono ritagliarsi una fetta di legittimità, ergendosi a difensori di questa o quella comunità.
L’uso politico della religione ha inoltre permesso ai regimi autoritari di contrastare la creazione di fronti unitari, agitando lo spettro di una sanguinosa guerra civile e infondendo dunque un ampio desiderio di stabilità da raggiungere a qualsiasi costo. In Siria, la trasformazione della rivolta popolare in guerra civile a sfondo confessionale ha permesso al regime di Bashar al-Asad di giustificare la repressione militare dei manifestanti, descritti come terroristi tout court, così come alle potenze regionali come Iran da un lato, e vari Paesi del Golfo arabo dall’altro, di intervenire nel conflitto. A loro volta, le milizie sciite o sunnite si sono spesso presentate come difensori ufficiali delle rispettive comunità religiose. Formazioni jihadiste come il Fronte an-Nusra e lo “Stato Islamico” hanno proclamato di voler riscattare la comunità sunnita oppressa dal “regime eretico alawita” e dai suoi alleati sciiti.
Intimorite dinanzi alla prospettiva di un sollevamento popolare, anche le monarchie del Golfo hanno riproposto la tesi della lotta religiosa tra sunniti e sciiti per impedire il diffondersi di movimenti di contestazione interni. L’Arabia Saudita, ad esempio, ha potuto giustificare l’intervento militare in Bahrein presentando il movimento di protesta locale come una rivolta sciita orchestrata dall’Iran. Il governo del Bahrein, a sua volta, ha strumentalizzato le proprie politiche migratorie accogliendo solo rifugiati siriani sunniti – seppur in numero esiguo – pur di contrastare i sollevamenti popolari interni a maggioranza sciita. Il paradigma confessionale è stato utilizzato anche per liquidare le forze del cambiamento rivoluzionario e quindi restaurare quelle del vecchio regime. Il colpo di stato del generale Abdel Fattah as-Sisi nel luglio 2013 è stato presentato come necessario per impedire l’islamizzazione forzata dell’Egitto ad opera dei Fratelli Musulmani e i loro tentativi di provocare una guerra civile.
Dal discorso confessionale ai flussi migratori in Europa
All’interno di confini più simbolici che territoriali, le diverse componenti sociali han sentito il bisogno di definirsi come diverse l’una dall’altra e di reclamare diritti o adempiere ai doveri civili definendosi in termini identitari, piuttosto che come parte costituente di uno stato sociale che garantisce diritti e servizi di prima necessità.
Ma in che modo il discorso confessionale dello scontro di civiltà tocca le sponde europee? In nome della sicurezza contro la minaccia globale del terrorismo islamico, una serie di legislazioni anti-terrorismo limitano le libertà civili e i diritti fondamentali della persona. Anche negli stati che si definiscono democratici, lo “stato di diritto” lascia progressivamente il posto allo “stato d’emergenza”. Il discorso confessionale serve anche per giustificare la gestione militare e securitaria dei fenomeni migratori. Nella propaganda islamofobica e xenofoba, ormai non più appannaggio esclusivo dell’estrema destra, le categorie dei migranti e dei richiedenti asilo vengono sempre più associate al pericolo dell’invasione islamica, che metterebbe in discussione la purezza dei valori cristiani e occidentali, e alla minaccia del terrorismo jihadista. L’equazione clandestino-musulmano-terrorista diventa sempre più accettabile agli occhi dell’opinione pubblica europea.
L’uso di identità confessionali ed etniche per spiegare eventi storici, politici, e addirittura psicologici, è di per sé un atto fondamentalista. In questo senso, le violenze di oggi su scala globale e la convinzione che i flussi migratori siano un qualcosa da accogliere o rifiutare, fanno parte di una lotta all’affermazione di valori e principi propri che si vogliono sancire come universali.
Mentre il profugo o il migrante sono concepiti come elementi in eterna lotta, gli aiuti umanitari sono standardizzati, spesso tradendo la diversità dei bisogni dei beneficiari. La sofferenza dell’Altro, come la sua minacciosa violenza, sono rese omogenee e indivisibili. Quando episodi di violenza spezzano la normalità su cui son disegnate le nostre vite quotidiane, e quando tali episodi sono relazionabili a fenomeni transnazionali generati o facilitati da migrazioni o rivendicazioni di stampo confessionale – prevalentemente islamico – i clandestini che sbarcano, denigrati esclusivamente secondo la loro matrice identitaria confessionale, vengono meccanicamente associati al fallimento delle politiche europee e alle reti islamiche estremiste transnazionali.
In altre parole, la paura delle società occidentali di tradursi in spazi a rischio imprevedibile – cosa che finora ha prevalentemente turbato le vite umane nel “Sud globale” – è arginata tramite avanzate tecnologie di sicurezza e sorveglianza, nonché prontamente consolata da mezzi informativi e di assistenza sociale che tendono a mantenere i confini identitari del “diverso”: l’assimilazione o il riconoscimento dell’eterogeneità di quest’ultimo diluirebbero troppo la sua presenza all’interno delle società di arrivo.
Il “diverso”, da una parte, è in lotta col proprio simile nel Sud globale, in quanto parte di un mosaico identitario che va “sanato” da principi e diritti universali, propugnati dal nostro lato del Mediterraneo. Il “diverso” diventa invece uniformabile ai suoi simili quando il Sud globale si sposta verso il Nord globale, ponendo quest’ultimo al cospetto di nuove rivendicazioni. Mentre ci proponiamo di curare e arginare l’emergenza negli stati mediorientali attraverso agenzie umanitarie in loco, l’insicurezza imprevedibile alla quale siamo di fronte ora – la stessa che pone sullo stesso piano gli immaginari “Nord” e “Sud” – finisce per rafforzare questi totalitarismi identitari: i veri mali del nostro tempo.
* Enrico Bartolomei ha conseguito il dottorato di ricerca in storia dell’area euro-mediterranea all’Università di Macerata. E’ tra gli autori di Gaza e l’industria israeliana della violenza (DeriveApprodi 2015) e tra i curatori dell’edizione italiana di L’occupazione israeliana (Diabasis 2016) di Neve Gordon.
Estella Carpi ha conseguito un dottorato in antropologia sociale alla University of Sydney (Australia). Attualmente consulente di ricerca per la New York University (Abu Dhabi) e Lebanon Support (Beirut), si occupa principalmente di Levante arabo.
Riprendo le parole di Chiara Comito di “editoria araba” per offrire un riassunto sulla vicenda del poeta palestinese Ashraf Fayadh. Condivido anche l’elenco degli appuntamenti italiani di quest’oggi che fanno parte della campagna internazionale Life and Freedom for Ashraf Fayadh – Wordwide reading, oggi in contemporanea in 43 paesi per parlare del caso dell’artista condannato alla pena capitale in Arabia Saudita.
Pubblicherò anche le poesie tradotte in italiano da Jolanda Guardi, Silvia Moresi, Caterina Pinto, Simone Sibilio, Alessandro Buontempo, e Aldo Nicosia
Chi volesse leggere la sentenza di primo grado contro Ashraf, diventata condanna di morte, può farlo qui (link inizialmente pubblicato su “letture arabe” di Jolanda Guardi).
IL CASO DI ASHRAF FAYADH
Del caso di Ashraf ha scritto Chiara Comito qualche giorno fa su Internazionale:
“Poeta, artista e curatore d’arte, Ashraf Fayadh da circa due anni si trova in carcere ad Abha, in Arabia Saudita, con l’accusa di apostasia, di offesa alla morale saudita e di aver diffuso idee ateiste con la sua raccolta di poesie intitolata Al taalimat bi al dakhil (Le istruzioni sono all’interno), pubblicata a Beirut nel 2007 dall’editore libanese Dar al Farabi.
Nel novembre del 2015 un tribunale saudita l’ha condannato alla pena di morte per decapitazione, respingendo così il verdetto precedente di un altro tribunale, che gli aveva inflitto quattro anni di detenzione e 800 frustate.
Ashraf Fayadh è nato in Arabia Saudita, dove vive e lavora, da una famiglia di origine palestinese. Fa parte del collettivo di artisti anglosauditi Edge of Arabia, che promuove l’arte araba e saudita contemporanea, con cui ha curato la mostraRhizoma alla Biennale di Venezia del 2013. Fayadh è stato anche il curatore di un’altra mostra, Mostly visible, esposta nel 2013 a Jeddah. Mostly visible era un’esposizione indipendente, autoprodotta e creata dal basso, che riuniva una ventina di artisti sauditi dai 18 ai 45 anni e che aveva come obiettivo quello di “promuovere la scena artistica saudita, ancora effervescente e giovane, e far sì che lo sviluppo dell’arte contemporanea in Arabia Saudita diventi mostly visible”, cioè esca dall’ombra.
Ashraf era, ed è tutt’ora, molto conosciuto nel circuito artistico saudita indipendente. Era, ed è conosciuto nella città di Abha, diventata un centro importante per la produzione artistica locale. Su Rhizoma aveva detto: “Il nostro obiettivo è fornire una visione chiara delle trasformazioni radicali vissute dall’arte saudita, che oggi è più in connessione con le sue radici, con una cultura più genuina, rappresentata dalla consapevolezza delle diverse condizioni di vita in Arabia Saudita”.
Le notizie circa i reati di cui è accusato sono confuse, a volte contraddittorie. Secondo l’organizzazione Pen international, che difende gli scrittori e gli intellettuali oggetto di pressioni e minacce, Fayadh sarebbe stato denunciato da un uomo con cui nel 2013 aveva avuto una discussione in un caffè di Abha per questioni artistiche. Sempre secondo Pen, i sostenitori di Fayadh ritengono che il poeta sia stato punito per aver postato su YouTube un video in cui era ripreso un esponente della polizia religiosa saudita che frustava un uomo in pubblico.
Altre accuse lo indicano colpevole del reato di aver intrattenuto relazioni illecite con alcune donne, le cui foto sarebbero state trovate sul suo cellulare. In questo caso Fayadh aveva spiegato che si trattava di foto scattate durante un’esposizione artistica a Jeddah. Secondo l’attivista per i diritti dei migranti Mona Kareem, citata da The Guardian, Ashraf starebbe invece pagando per le sue origini palestinesi”.
Questa lettura continua qui.
Tutte le poesie tradotte per i reading di oggi le potete leggere nel pdf scaricabile gratuitamente a questo link.
Le poesie che seguono sono tratte da “Le istruzioni sono all’interno”, di Ashraf Fayadh, Dar al Farabi, Beirut 2007.
Tratto da “In merito al petrolio nel sangue” (Traduzione di Simone Sibilio)
Globuli neri di petrolio
circolano tra le tue cellule
e riescono a liberarti laddove neanche la tua nausea vi riuscì
che male o danno può mai arrecare il petrolio
se non inquinare l’aria di una miseria che si lascia alle spalle
e il giorno in cui s’anneriranno quei volti
di chi scoprirà un nuovo giacimento
e il tuo cuore si gonfierà
così che dalla tua anima
per il bene comune,
quella, del petrolio sarà la promessa, una promessa esaudita,
Le tre leggi della Patria (Traduzione di Silvia Moresi)
Ogni Patria pacifica ….o in guerra costante…
Ogni Patria che, giorno dopo giorno, senza lamentarsi viene calpestata dai tuoi piedi…
diventa nel cuore…qualcosa su cui l’esilio esistenziale non ha influenza…
e che gli toglie importanza.
Rappresentazione (Traduzione di Jolanda Guardi)
Un uomo e una donna che indossa la ‘abaya legale fermi ai piedi
Un corvo li osserva dall’alto ed è come vedesse se stesso
allo specchio in compagnia di un uomo che non ama…
Un uomo che non sa che Ibn Firnās era una barzelletta storica
di cui nessuno ride eccetto un corvo che non è obbligato
a sognare di volare!
L’ultima stirpe di rifugiati (Traduzione di Caterina Pinto)
L’asilo: stai in piedi in fondo alla fila
per avere un tozzo di patria.
Stare in piedi: una cosa che faceva tuo nonno… senza conoscerne la ragione!
e il tozzo: tu!
La patria: un tesserino messo dove tieni i soldi.
E i soldi: fogli su cui son raffigurate le immagini dei leader.
E l’immagine: prende il tuo posto fino a che ritorni.
E il ritorno: un essere mitico… che si legge nei racconti della nonna.
Fine della prima lezione.
Mi rivolgo a te perché impari la seconda: qual è… il tuo significato?
Nel giorno del Giudizio… stanno in piedi, nudi.
Mentre voi nuotate in condotti fognari
Scalzi… fa bene ai piedi
ma non fa bene alla terra.
Per voi ergeremo pulpiti… e faremo conferenze.
E la stampa scriverà su di voi in modo decente.
Verrà sviluppato un nuovo composto… per eliminare lo sporco
e solo a metà del prezzo.
Affrettatevi per ottenere metà della quantità.
Perché la crisi idrica è molto grave.
#freeAshraf è l’hashtag se volete condividere foto, video e post degli eventi di oggi sui social media.
L’INSEPARABILITÀ DELLE SCELTE INTELLETTUALI ED ECONOMICHE: L’ASSOCIAZIONE DEGLI ANTROPOLOGI USA
VOTA A FAVORE DEL BOICOTTAGGIO ACCADEMICO D’ISRAELE
di Estella Carpi
Lo scorso 20 novembre a Denver (Usa) è stata una data storica per l’AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION (AAA), che, nel corso della riunione annuale più popolata nella storia dell’associazione, ha approvato l’appello della società civile palestinese di boicottare le istituzioni accademiche israeliane con una maggioranza di oltre l’88% – ovvero 1,040 voti contro 136.
Il provvedimento verrà trasmesso la prossima primavera a tutti i membri per una votazione finale a scrutinio elettronico.
La AAA, votando a favore del boicottaggio, intende riaffermare principi anti-razziali e di non-violenza e, allo stesso tempo, estirpare una volta per tutte le radici inizialmente coloniali delle scienze antropologiche.
All’evento, Ilana Feldman, docente di antropologia e diritti umani alla George Washington University, ha specificato l’importanza di supportare la causa palestinese in qualità di professionisti e non solo di individui privati, aldilà delle controversie attuali dell’antropologia nel fungere da eco e testimonianza per i popoli oppressi. Sono gli intellettuali ad avere in primis l’opportunità storica di stare dalla parte dei diritti umani, e a dare quindi efficacia a questo movimento collettivo per la giustizia.
Ricercare e pubblicare sulla questione Israele-Palestina non può e non deve bastare più: l’atto politico di sostegno al boicottaggio è diventato una necessità intellettuale per onestà e coerenza verso gli studi che, per l’appunto, son stati condotti sull’argomento.
Da un lato, l’impegno dell’antropologia nell’opporre l’illegalità dell’occupazione dev’essere indubbio quanto il beneficio che tale disciplina sa offrire tramite la ricerca soggettiva e il coinvolgimento individuale dei ricercatori. Dall’altro, resta ignoto come tale boicottaggio verrà messo in atto su un piano internazionale accademico, e quali mezzi utilizzerà per assicurare che la presa di posizione istituzionale non dia luogo alle discriminazioni dei singoli.
Inoltre, la decisione di firmare la petizione a favore del boicottaggio non può esser vissuta come “facile” da coloro che fanno ricerca con sensibilità politica e sociale, giacché la preoccupazione di far più male che bene sussiste pur nella consapevolezza comune che la violenza e l’illegalità odierne abbiano già toccata il fondo.
Atti come il boicottaggio portano spesso a divisioni nel corpo intellettuale, o a pregiudiziare la ricerca e, per alcuni, a politicizzarla con scarsa auto-riflessività. Per di più, si è di fronte al rischio di ipocrisia da parte di alcuni accademici, qualora votino per il boicottaggio delle istituzioni israeliane mentre mantengono la propria posizione in istituzioni finanziate da enti dubbi da un punto di vista etico-politico.
Questa sembra essere stata la posizione dell’antropologo James Ferguson. Secondo questo studioso, il significato del boicottaggio deve risiedere soprattutto oltre gli ambienti accademici, e non deve perdere di vista il vero fine di tale scelta politica: trasformare le istituzioni israeliane piuttosto che esprimere un’opposizione essenzialista e decontestualizzata al regime di violenza in atto. Tuttavia, fin tanto che tale regime persiste, tale opposizione ha il dovere di restare incondizionata.
Restano delle perplessità riguardo alla schiacciante vittoria del boicottaggio quando, all’indomani delle votazioni, si vedono numerosissime tazze di carta raffiguranti il logo di Starbucks – una delle catene commerciali di ristorazione sanzionate dal movimento per il boicottaggio – sui tavoli delle aule del convegno di AAA.
Piuttosto, la vera arma contro l’occupazione, e un passo determinante verso la giustizia sociale, sono rappresentate dal boicottaggio economico dei prodotti che finanziano la violenza e le illegalità dello stato israeliano contro la popolazione civile palestinese all’ordine del giorno.
In ultima analisi, il voto di maggioranza schiacciante a favore del boicottaggio accademico – all’interno del cosiddetto BDS (Boycott Disinvestment and Sanctions) – afferma la volontà degli antropologi di contribuire alla legalizzazione delle società in cui il loro lavoro viene prodotto.
In altre parole, l’atto e il verbo antropologici devono rimanere imprescindibili l’un dall’altro perché l’accademia stessa acquisisca un senso all’interno delle nostre società. E l’antropologia deve chiarire il suo messaggio ora più di prima, nell’era delle più svariate interdipendenze transnazionali e della proliferazione di progetti di ricerca sterili a livello sociale.
Il giorno in cui i singoli rinunceranno al caffè più alla portata di mano negli Stati Uniti e altrove, e non esiteranno a fare due passi in più per acquistare un caffè più giusto e solidale, quei voti promettenti dello scorso 20 novembre troveranno la loro vera ragion d’essere. Perché solo allora il boicottaggio non sarà semplicemente votato, bensì conosciuto nelle sue pratiche e nei suoi effetti, poi “sentito”, e quindi spontaneamente messo in atto.
بقلم اندريا ليوتي
الدكتور تيم اندرسون محاضر قديم في الاقتصاد السياسي في جامعة سيدني وهو ترأس وفداً رسمياً مكوناً من حزب «ويكيليكس» الاسترالي والجمعية المؤيدة للنظام السوري «هاندس أوف سيريا» الى دمشق حيث التقى الوفد بالرئيس السوري بشار الاسد و بعض مسؤولي حكومته في كانون الاول ديسمبر 2013.
الدكتور تيم اندرسون من اشد مؤيدي الاسد ولكن يدعي انه يدعم «الشعب السوري واستقلال تقرير مصيره على الرغم من الضغوط الامريكية-الصيهونية» وما زال ينظم محاضرات في جامعة سيدني ويتحدث امام وسائل الاعلام لتشويه حقائق الثورة السورية.
لسوء الحظ حضرت احدى من محاضراته يوم 6 اذار مارس 2014 ولدي الكثير من التحفظات على دعاية الدكتور تيم اندرسون والمفكرين الكثيرين من اليسار الغربي الذين اصطفوا مع نظام الاسد بمبرر الفكر «المضاد للامبريالية» كصحافي شاهد الوضع الميداني على الاراضي السورية واللبنانية والتركية منذ اندلاع الثورة في عام 2011.
اولاً: على الرغم من الاجندات المعروفة وراء بعض وسائل الاعلام الغربية والخليجية (وليس فقط في تغطية الشؤون السورية)، لا يمكن عدم ذكر الاسباب الرئيسية لارتباك تصوير الوضع السوري على كافة وسائل الاعلام و هي تُعزى الى المضايقات التي عانى الاعلاميون منها في سوريا. عندما كنت اعمل في سوريا في عام 2011 اضطررت الى اخفاء مهنتي ولتفادي الرقابة الحكومية على تحركاتي فاُعتقل زميلي البرازيلي بدون اي تهمة إلا عمله في الصحافة الحرة هو قضى خمسة ايام في الزنزانة المنفردة. وانا مُنعتُ كذلك شخصياً من الدخول الى سوريا في عام 2012 بسبب لقاءاتي الصحافية مع المعارضة السورية و حضوري للمظاهرات السلمية في عام 2011. بالاضافة الى ذلك، هناك عدد غير قابل للتخيُل من الصحافيين السوريين (وهم من معارفي الشخصية) الذين تعرضوا الى الاعتقالات والتعذيب والقتل من قبل الاجهزة الامنية بسبب جهودهم في تغطية الثورة.
لذلك يجب على كل منتقد تغطية الاحداث في سوريا مثل الدكتور تيم اندرسون ان يأخد بعين الاعتبار هذه التضييقات ولا ينكر حدوث المظاهرات الشعبية في الفترة الاولى والمجازر المرتكبة من قبل النظام لاحقاً. و لا تبرر «المقاومة» ضد انحياز الاعلام الغربي الغاء وقائع الحراك الشعبي و وحشية نظام الاسد المجذرة في تاريخه من خلال الاستفادة من مصادر اغلبها مؤيدة للنظام السوري (مثل قناة «روسيا اليوم» و قناة «بريس تي في» الايرانية والراهبة اغنيس مريم الصليب) و في غياب خبرة ميدانية خالية من الرقابة الحكومية داخل سوريا.
ثانياً: النظام السوري، يا دكتور اندرسون، ليس «شاملاً اجتماعياً» كما ليس متعاطفاً مع القضية الفلسطينية خارج مساحة مصالحه المضيقة. ويلفت انظار الكل وقوع قطاع شاسع من المناطق الريفية السورية تحت سيطرة المعارضة وهذا ليس صدفة ولكن نتيجة تهميش شرائح واسعة من سكان الريف على خلفية السياسات الاقتصادية النيوليبرالية لنظام بشار الاسد وكان ينتمي الكثيرون من المتظاهرين الذين التقيت بهم خلال تواجدي في دمشق و تركيا ولبنان الى هذه الطبقات المهمشة سواء الريفية أو المدنية، ناهيك عن مشاركة الاكراد في الثورة السورة التي لا يمكن فصلها عن تهميش الاكراد الاقتصادي ضمن سياسات النظام البعثي.
وعلى الرغم من الصورة النمطية عند بعض دوائر اليسار الغربي، تاريخ النظام السوري لا يتطابق مع «رواية المقاومة ضد الكيان الصهيوني» جراء تورط الحكومة البعثية في ذبح الفلسطينين في مخيم تل زعتر اللبناني في عام 1976 بتنسيق مع المليشيات المسيحية. والقى النظام السوري القبض على كل ناشط فلسطيني معارض له ويكفي ذكر باسماء سلامة كيلة، الفلسطيني الماركسي الذي الجأ الى المنفى في الاردن بعد احتجازه في عام 2012، والناشط الفلسطيني من مخيم اليرموك خالد البكراوي الذي استشهد تحت التعذيب في سجون الاسد في عام 2013. ومن جدير الذكر ان خالد البكراوي عارض دعاية النظام الاسدي في ذكرى النكسة الفلسطينية في عام 2011 عندما دفعت الحكومة شباب المخيم الى خط النار الاسرائيلي عند حدود الجولان المحتل في محاولة صرف الانتباه عن الحراك الثوري السوري. وعلى رغم من اصابته بالرصاصة الاسرائيلية في هذه «المسرحية»، لم يقتنع البكراوي بعفوية نظام الاسد في دعمه للقضية الفلسطينية. واتذكر تماماً استياء الفلسطينين الذين شاركوا في المظاهرات اللاحقة ضد «تجارة الدم الفلسطيني» في مخيم اليرموك.
ناهيك عن الحصار المستمر المفروض من قبل النظام على مخيم اليرموك و تطبيق تكتيك «الموت جوعاً اما الاستسلام» على غرار حمص والغوطة الشرقية. وبالنسبة للمصلحة الاسرائيلية، كان كلام رامي مخلوف واضحاً عند اندلاع الثورة السورية عندما قال ان الامن الاسرائيلي مرتهن ببقاء نظام الاسد ،كما اكد المقكر الفوضوي الامريكي نوام تشومسكي، وهو معروف بمعارضته للدولة الصهيونية، ان كان بامكان إسرائيل التدخل عبر الجبهة الجنوبية لو كان من مصلحتها ان تدعم المعارضة السورية وتضعف النظام المشغول على الجبهات الشمالية ولكن لم يحدث اي تدخل. وفي حقيقة الامر، عبر مسؤولو إسرائيل في عدة المرات عن تفضيلهم ل»العدو المعروف» (بشار الاسد) على «العدو المجهول» (الفصائل المتعددة من المعارضة السورية). وعلى رغم من كل هذه الادلة ما زال يصر الدكتور الندرسون على انتماء النظام السوري الى خط «ممانعة المشروع الصهيوني».
ثالثاُ: صورة النظام السوري كمناهض الاسلاميين وعمود الفكر العلماني في الشرق الاوسط صورة بعيدة عن الواقع تماماً. لو كان النظام السوري علمانياً، فلماذا يمنع الدستور المسيحيين من الحصول على رئاسة الجمهورية ولم يقُم النظام بالمجازرالطائفية بحق اهل السنة في بانياس والبيضا في ايار مايو 2013 كما لم يعتمد على مساندة الميليشيات الشيعية العراقية والايرانية واللبنانية. بالاضافة الى ذلك، ليس هناك اي دليل في تاريخ على جودة الانظمة العلمانية (مثل نظام «الارهاب» عقب الثورة الفرنسية والاتحاد السوفياتي ونظام مصطفى كمال اتاتورك) مقارنة الانظمة الدينية بما يتعلق باحترام حرية التعبير.
وحتى اذا نفترض ان الخيار العلماني افضل من الاسلاميين (وانا لا اختلف مع ذلك بشرط وجود التعددية السياسية الى جانب العلمانية)، لماذا لا يشير الدكتور اندرسون الى العلاقات السابقة بين نظام الاسد وبعض الفصائل الاسلامية المسلحة السنية بما فيها كتائب غرباء الشام التي انخرطت لاحقاً الى صفوف المعارضة السورية؟ لماذا لا يقول اندرسون كلمة وحدة حول الافراج عن اهم المعتقلين الاسلاميين بما فيه زهران علوش من جيش الاسلام في ايار مايو 2011؟ لماذا لا يتحدث عن مقرات تنظيم «داعش» المتطرف التي لم يتم استهدافها من قبل الطيران الحربي السوري الا في بعض الحالات النادرة؟ لماذا لا يذكر اندرسون ان تنظيم «داعش» الذي ارتكب باسوأ جرائم بحق الاقليات العرقية والدينية لم يعُد يقاتل الى جانب المعارضة بل ضدها ولصالح النظام؟ لماذا لا يلمح الى التقارير الكثيرة المتوفرة حول اختراق هذا التنظيم من قبل الاجهزة الامنية السورية؟ لاي سبب لا يعلم اندرسون عن احتجاجات اهالي مدينة الرقة على انتهاكات التنظيم «داعش» المسيطر عليها وعدم مناشدتهم لعودة النظام الاسدي على رغم من كل شيء؟ اذ هناك الكثير من الاسئلة غير المطروحة واهمّها التالي: من المستفيد الاول من رسم المعارضة بلون اسلامي ومتطرف بدون فروق منذ بداية الحراك الثوري وحتى عندما لم يُعرف بعد معنى كلمة «داعش» في سوريا؟
رابعاً: ينضم اندرسون الى سلسلة طويلة من الباحثين والصحافيين الغربيين الذين يلجؤون الى مفهوم حماية الاقليات والمسيحين بصورة خاصة لغايات سياسية فتستّرهذه التوجسات قابلية للعنصورية لا تستحق اي صفة اخرى وتنتج من الافتراض ان كل المسيحين مضطهدين لاسباب دينية وليس هناك اي احتمال ان يتم استهدافهم على خلفية سياسية او اقتصادية. وعلى سبيل مثال، تم اختطاف الكثير من السيريانين في مدينتي القامشلي والحسكة لاغراء ثرواتهم الجهة الخاطفة بالحصول على فدية ضخمة. بالاضافة الى ذلك، لا توجد اي خلفية تاريخية دموية تبرر هذه المخاوف من مصير المسيحين السوريين في غياب حزب البعث، كما يتناقض هذا الاعتقاد مع مبادئ «اليسار» الحقيقية بينما يتشابه مبدأ «حماية الاقليات» الذي روجتها السلطات المستعمرية الفرنسية لتبرير وجودها في سوريا. اذن واجب حماية الاقليات خدعة الجأ اليها النظام السوري و ادت الى التردد الغربي في دعم المعارضة السورية، كما قللت اهمية الغارات الجوية اليومية طالماً ان تجري في المناطق السنية مع ان اغلبية الشعب السوري من هذه الطائفة وطبعاً اغلبية الضحايا من نفس الطائفة.
واذا ننظر الى تاريخ تطور هيكال الجماعات الاسلامية، فيتميز فكر الدكتور تيم اندرسون بالاحكام المسبقة عليها: ما هو الفرق بين اصول حزب الله و المقاومة العراقية ضد الاحتلال الامريكي و بعض الفصائل من المعارضة السورية؟ ألم يشارك حزب الله في الانتخابات البرلمانية اللبنانية في عام 1992 على رغم من برنامجه الاول لتطبيق نظرية ولاية الفقيه في لبنان بعد ان اصبحت خلايا الحزب الاولى معروفةً بالتفجيرات والاختطافات خلال الحرب الاهلية ؟ ألم يتبني معظم المقاومة العراقية المدعومة من حيث المبدأ من قبل اليسار الغربي (سواء الشعية او السنية) العقيدة الاسلامية ولم يتحول بعض الفصائل منها الى احزاب مقبولة في الانتخابات العراقية مثل الصدريون؟ اذن لماذا الاسلاميون السوريون يستأهلون صفة «الارهابيين» غير قابل للتغيير فقط و ليس هناك اي طريق للتعامل معهم الا على سبيل المجازر في حماة والجزائر؟
وبكل صراحة، ننصح للدكتور اندرسون ولكل محلل يدعي انه «مضاد للامبريالية» ولذلك يدعم النظام السوري ان يراجع المبادئ الاساسية للعقائد اليسارية وبالخصوص واجب التضامن بين الشعوب وليس بين الحكومات.
My name is Andrea Glioti, I’m the journalist who intervened at Dr. Tim Anderson’s talk at Sydney UNI “Why I went to Syria” on March 6 (2014), an event promoting a blatant apology of the Syrian regime under the pretext of “counter-information”. A professor of political economy, Tim Anderson (https://www.facebook.com/timand2037?fref=ts) has been part of a delegation led by the Wikileaks Party and the Asadist activist group “Hands Off Syria”, which paid its homage to the Syrian regime during a visit of solidarity in December 2013. This is a response to some of the absurdities I heard about the Syrian conflict and, apart from the single case of Anderson, it addresses several points continuously raised by the so-called “anti-imperialist left”. It would be actually fair to rename this ideological stubbornness on Syria as a Stalinist-Soviet approach, if we were between the 1950s the 1960s, Anderson and his likes would be probably denying the Hungarian and Czech revolts ever took place. If we were in the Spanish Civil War, they would probably defend the Soviet decision to crush the anarchists. As long as a government sits in the anti-American camp (no matter the hypocrisy of Syrian foreign policies in this regard), it doesn’t really matter if it tortures leftists in its own prisons. Dr Anderson and his likes claim to hold the truth on what’s going on in Syria, this truth could be sum up in a Western-backed plot denying any sort of agency to the Syrians who took the streets in 2011. In their eyes, they’re only puppets, they would have never risen up after more 40 years of authoritarianism , they needed the Zionist-Salafi-American trust to give them a green light.
I’m an Arabic speaking Middle Eastern politics graduate, who has been covering Syria from inside the country for 10 months between 2011 and 2013 and I spent the rest of the time between Turkey and Lebanon, mainly in the border regions, where most of the Syrian refugees are located. I’ve worked with a wide range of media including “corporate” and “leftist” magazines (The New Internationalist, the German TAZ, the Swiss-German WOZ fall in the second category), being a freelancer, therefore I don’t even fit into the category of mainstream corporate media. Having said this, the sources Dr Anderson relied upon during his presentation could hardly be considered “independent” sources of information, despite his efforts to present them as such: Russia Today, in the words of Putin, reflects the views of the Kremlin, just like the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reflects the views of the pro-Syrian (regime) 8 March coalition. Among the sources quoted there was also Mother Agnès de la Croix, a Palestinian-Lebanese nun closely related to the Asad regime (http://pulsemedia.org/2012/08/21/dead-journalists-and-sister-agnes-mariam/) and the French far-right (http://vicinoriente.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/la-monaca-di-assad/). Anderson’s talk was covered by the Iranian Press TV: if the station’s anti-US biases were combined with a minimum degree of professionalism, then my intervention wouldn’t have been censored, after I raised several critical points Anderson intentionally ignored.
Notwithstanding the political biases of Western and Gulf media [the focus on Syria in contrast with how Bahrain has been overlooked and the role played by certain American media in advocating war on Iraq in 2003, despite the lack of any evidence on its chemical arsenal, just to quote two examples], the solution is not to take at face value the version of events provided by pro-Syrian regime sources to come up with a credible alternative narrative. Journalism is about verifying facts, a strong ground-driven knowledge of the context you’re talking about, a reliable network of local contacts and, ideally, some fluency in the local language (Arabic): all these aspects were totally absent in Dr Anderson’s conference.
While retaining the right to be skeptical about the Western media’s coverage of Syria, everyone should bear in mind that the main reason of the conflicting news reports coming from this country is the restrictive context journalists are forced to operate in: while based in Damascus in 2011, I had to pretend being a student to avoid being monitored 24/h by security forces, my Brazilian colleague Germano Assad has been detained in confinement for five days under the only accusation of being a journalist. I have been denied access to Syria in 2012 and told I was not welcome there anymore on the grounds of the interviews I conducted with local political dissidents. I’m sure this was the reason, because of the content of the questions posed to my colleague Assad under interrogation. This is just an idea of what you have to endure as a Western journalist, if you’re not there on an official parade organized through government press visas. It goes without saying that Syrian journalists “enjoy” a much worse treatment: one of my personal acquaintances had to leave Syria recently, after having been tortured and put on trial for “working without a license” and “spreading lies”. Let us not forget WHY it is so difficult to work in Syria and inform about the ongoing events.
Going back to Anderson’s talk, first of all, you don’t claim to show support for one “nation”, if you only sat for pastries with Asad, that’s not showing solidarity with the “Syrian people”, that’s an official delegation voicing its support for a Government.
During my stay in Syria I had the chance to walk around without any escort, both in Damascus in 2011 and in the province of Hasakah in 2013: this clearly makes the difference from an official visit to Damascus (actually, to a certain extent, it makes the difference even in comparison to some other journalists, who have only been escorted into Syria by rebel brigades). As a matter of fact, Anderson didn’t meet with anyone from the opposition, neither from the armed factions nor from the civil peaceful movements (and there are lots of peaceful activists still active in Syria… http://www.syriauntold.com/en) .
There was a lot of talk on US imperialism and Zionism: could Anderson provide any actual evidence that the US have been willing to overthrow Asad? All the red lines have been crossed (including the use of chemical weapons), three years have passed and I haven’t seen any intervention. If they really wanted, they could have done it much earlier. This picture of Asad as a staunch anti-American also stands in contradiction with the rapprochement between Washington and Damascus in 2010, marked by the appointment of ambassador Robert Ford. The position of the US on the Syrian events has been largely stumbling, due also to the fact that they didn’t receive any green light from the Israelis. Did Anderson bother to listen to Rami Makhluf- Bashar al-Asad’s cousin and one of the most influential business figures in Syria- when the revolt started in 2011? He said clearly that the Israeli security was dependent on the permanence of the Asad regime.
If you brand the Asad regime as an anti-Zionist vanguard, then you probably disregard some historical facts: no offensive was launched against Israel since the October war in 1973; Hafez al-Asad’s Syria was willing to reach a peace agreement with the Israelis in 2000, on condition of the return of the occupied Golan Heights and a renewed access to the Sea of Galilee, hence a pragmatic approach concerned about national sovereignty rather than the Palestinian cause; Palestinians were slaughtered by far-right Lebanese Christian militias in cooperation with Syrian troops in the massacre of Tel Zaatar during the Lebanese civil war; the PLO has been at odds with the Syrian regime for a long time, since the latter was not willing to jeopardize its national interests for the sake of the Palestinian cause (See what the socialists have to say about this http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2000/06/assa-j16.html). I would also suggest Anderson and his likes read more on the so-called Red Line agreement between Israel and Syria during the Lebanese civil war, a deal brokered by Kissinger to share regions of influence (http://www.merip.org/mer/mer236/syria-lebanon-brotherhood-transformed#_5_).
The Israeli officials maintained an extremely low profile position on Syria during the events and why on earth should they have pushed for the removal of Asad, if he kept the Syrian-Israeli border quiet for forty years? They look more worried about a new unknown diverse galaxy of rebel groups controlling the border, whereas they know exactly what to expect from Asad. Have a look at what Noam Chomsky had to say about the Israeli stance on Syria (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MQeGHoiPj4&feature=youtu.be Is he too part of the corporate media?): he clearly points at the fact that, if the Israelis wanted to support the opposition, they could have just opened another front on the Golan. Such a move would have weakened the Syrian army by opening a new front in the South: a much less costly option to support the armed opposition than an open scale offensive on Damascus. But nothing like this happened and Anderson still define it as a regime from the “Resistance” axis.
Until now, the Syrian regime is enforcing a devastating siege on the Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, because part of its inhabitants joined the rows of the opposition. I have been collecting evidence of the first anti-regime demonstrations in Yarmuk on my blog since June 2011 (in Italian https://mabisir.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/2-blogging-five-months-of-revolution-inside-syria-5-6-june-2011-golan-to-yarmuk-palestinians-joining-the-syrian-uprising/), when Palestinian protesters were shot at for chanting against the exploitation of the Naksa day at the hands of Ahmad Jibril’s PFLP-GC: in that case, the demonstrators voiced their indignation, after several residents of the camp were literally “thrown” in front of the Israeli rifles at the border in order to divert the attention from the Syrian uprising. Khaled Bakrawi, a Palestinian activist from Yarmuk, was killed under torture in the Syrian prisons in September 2013: he took part in the Naksa march and was outspoken about the way the Syrian regime had exploited the fervor of the Palestinian youth, despite having been himself wounded by the Israelis at the border (http://budourhassan.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/death-under-torture-in-syria-the-horrors-ignored-by-pacifists/).
I personally know several Palestinian leftist dissidents unknown to the media who had to leave Syria or ended up in its jails, but I cannot name them, as it might affect their upcoming trials or their return to Syria in the future. One of the most famous ones, Salameh Kaileh, a marxist Palestinian (http://links.org.au/node/2841), had to flee to Jordan after having been arrested and detained in 2012. Was he an Islamist too? Perhaps a Zionist?
Has Anderson ever read how the Palestinian anarchist Budour Hassan has totally debunked the claims of those who portrait Damascus as a champion of the Palestinian cause (http://budourhassan.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/analysis-the-myth-of-palestinian-neutrality-in-syria/)? What about the experience of Omar ‘Aziz, a Syrian anarchist who returned to his country upon the outbreak of the uprising to help organizing the first local revolutionary committees in Barzeh, which are considered “some of the most promising and lasting examples of non-hierarchical self organization” (http://tahriricn.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/syria-the-life-and-work-of-anarchist-omar-aziz-and-his-impact-on-self-organization-in-the-syrian-revolution/)? He died because of a heart attack in February 2013, after having been detained for three months in the Adra prison. During his talk, Anderson mentioned a visit to Adra, blaming the “radical Islamists” for the constant shelling, but I doubt he ever asked about whom is detained in the local prison, didn’t he?
A comparison with Afghanistan and its pre-Taliban empowerment of rural classes was made in the introduction and Anderson repeatedly labeled the Syrian regime a “socially inclusive” Government. This means he didn’t even bother to check the map of the areas controlled by the opposition: basically a wide portion of the countryside is in the hands of the rebels. Why? Because the uprising was more popular among the rural outcasts, namely those who have been impoverished by Bashar al-Asad’s shift towards neoliberalism and those who have been always marginalized under the Ba’th, like the Kurds living in the Northern countryside (See another Syrian socialist perspective on the “inclusiveness” of the regime’s economic policies http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article3380). Although it wouldn’t be objective to argue that the social gap in Syria was as wide as the Egyptian one, for example, the Syrian case is remote from “social inclusiveness”, it looks more like an economy controlled by a gang of affiliates and tycoons like Rami Makhluf, who are the antithesis of social justice.
Anderson depicted the uprising in Aleppo as led by religious fundamentalists, but he didn’t mention at all that a vast segment of the urban classes who sided with the regime are actually part of the Syrian bourgeoisie, epitomized by Aleppo’s traders. Did the so-called “anti-imperialist left” embrace a moral struggle to defend the urban upper classes against peasants, on the basis of the length of the beards of some of these peasants, who are homogeneously branded as “Islamists”? In July 2011, I visited a group of metalworkers in their workshop in Qadam (Southern Damascus), they were all taking part to the protests, one of them was a Syrian in his twenties with a degree in computer science he was never able to use: his father passed away and he had to seal shawarma machines to cover the expenses of his young brother living with him. This young graduate was also a hip hop singer from the group Refugees of Rap and we recorded a track together called “The Age of Silence” (Zaman as-Samt) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umQ3xGj4E2Y), which deals with the drive behind the protests. Is the “anti-imperialist left” supposed to empathize with the demands of this kind of marginalized urban youth or to side with the ruling classes?
Was the regime “socially inclusive” towards 2 to 4 million Kurds, who are mostly secular minded? Not at all. In 2013, I’ve spent five months in the province of Hasakah, a region affected by chronic poverty, despite its natural resources. The history written by the Ba’th is made up of racist Arab settlement policies confiscating wide shares of Kurdish lands in Hasakah (the so-called al-Hizam al-Arabi, the Arab Belt policy). The regime has also abided by a census conducted in 1962, who stripped off the Syrian citizenship thousands of Syrian Kurds. Even though the Kurdish regions are rich of oil, all the refineries were built in Homs and Banyas to impede the economic empowerment of rural peripheries.
During Anderson’s talk, I heard him praising “elections” and “pluralism” under the Ba’th and I confront this with the story of one of my close acquaintances in Hasakah, whose nails have been removed under torture on the grounds of its affiliation to the Yekiti Kurdi Parti. Is this the pluralism he’s talking about? Or is this pluralism about the Minister of Reconciliation Ali Haidar, the secretary general of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), that Anderson mentioned in the ridiculous attempt to provide evidence that other political forces are tolerated inside the Ba’thist government? Is Anderson aware that from 2005 until 2012, despite the dissident history of Antoun Saadeh’s party, its Damascene branch has been part of the National Progressive Front established by the Ba’th to create an umbrella of loyal parties behind the facade of pluralism? Is he aware that Ali Haidar has recently endorsed the candidacy of Bashar al-Asad for the upcoming presidential elections? I personally know some SSNP members, who quit the party, after they realized to which extent it had become involved in the recruitment of pro-government militias (shabbiha) in 2011.
As I said during my intervention at the talk, I attended several demonstrations both in Damascus and in the suburbs of the capital in 2011: I heard no sectarian slogans, saw children and women taking part to the uprising and witnessed live fire opened on demonstrators by security forces. Peaceful protesters were even beaten up in front of my eyes as soon as July 2011 in the Old City (in Italian https://mabisir.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/6-blogging-five-months-of-revolution-inside-syria-in-italiano-proteste-nel-centro-di-damasco-se-rimaniamo-fino-a-domattina-saremo-mezzo-milione-27-luglio-2011/), in the center of Damascus. My colleague Germano Assad has been prevented by government supporters from filming this demonstration, he had to escape after they started shouting at him: “This is not Syria!”. This is just an example of the state of denial some regime supporters live in, when it comes to recognizing the occurrence of peaceful protests: one of the attendants of Anderson’s talk, a Syrian who claimed to have lived in the Old City, insisted he never saw any protest in that part of Damascus. The aim is to deny protests ever took place, then to deny massacres occurred (as this was what Anderson’s conference was all about): it reminds me of the attitude of Holocaust’s deniers, or that of those Lebanese Phalangists who assert their party never slaughtered Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila. No matter the extent of evidence and accounts you gather, they will keep denying. In the end, their angle of view is identical to the one adopted by the Syrian State television: I remember very well the cameramen of al-Ikhbariyya filming the empty streets of Barzeh (Damascus) patrolled by security forces, while they were perfectly aware that a demonstration was going on a few blocks away.
I used to know personally one of the peaceful protesters who were chased by regime supporters in that occasion in the Old City: he died in 2013, after taking up weapons to fight the regime in Aleppo. Should we consider him as a terrorist as well? On which moral ground are we denying protesters the right to take up arms? One of the points raised during Anderson’s talk was that protesters were indeed armed since the beginning of the revolt. This was definitely the case in some regions, like Idlib, where demonstrators from Jisr ash-Shughur took up weapons to defend themselves as early as June 2011: I wrote about it and I criticized the way some Western media denied the presence of armed elements (http://www.majalla.com/eng/2012/04/article55230561), but I don’t understand why Syrians should be condemned for having resorted to violence against a brutal security apparatus.
The main argument used by Anderson to advocate support for the Syrian regime was the stereotypical juxtaposition between an allegedly secular government and a radical Islamist opposition. When I stressed the genuine roots of the Syrian uprising, the only answer Anderson could provide was: “Well, I don’t deny there have been mistakes committed by the police (what a nice euphemism for forty years of “mistakes”), but could you name one secular/non Islamist brigade in the opposition?” The premise of such response is that, as long as they’re Islamists, it’s perfectly fine to kill them. Islamists have been on the Middle Eastern “stage” for almost one century, they’re still there despite what happened in Hama, but Anderson (and numerous other Islamophobic “analysts”) still perceive them as a cancer implanted by Western agendas to be uprooted with violence. I wonder whether Anderson has ever argued the same about Hamas and Hezbollah on their resistance against Israel, weren’t they to be condemned on the grounds of being Islamist forces? If the West was to keep looking at Hezbollah through the lens of its original plan for the establishment of an Islamic republic in Lebanon and the abductions of foreign civilians carried out in the ’80s by the party’s first embryos, no one would have imagined to see the Shi’a militia accepting its current role in the Lebanese electoral system. The same goes for the recent prospects for US negotiations with the Talibans in Afghanistan, which were completely unforeseeable after 9-11. Then, why are we to rule out the possibility that some of the jihadist groups fighting in Syria today might change their position and accept to engage in parliamentarian politics later on?
What about the Iraqi resistance under American occupation? Has Anderson paid attention to the fact that most of the insurgents were actually jihadists and many of them are currently fighting against the Syrian regime? Are they to be considered “fallen heroes of anti-imperialists” suddenly turned into “NATO-backed mercenaries”, even though nothing changed in their ideological background?
Furthermore, Anderson made no reference whatsoever to what has been written on the ties between Damascus and a wide range of Islamist Sunni militant groups previously active in Lebanon and Iraq, now fighting on the side of the Syrian opposition, including Fatah al-Islam (http://wikileaks.org/gifiles/docs/214642_analysis-for-edit-syria-throws-fatah-al-islam-under-the-bus-.html) and Ghuraba’ ash-Sham (http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/radicals-are-assads-best-friends). It was also completely omitted the fact that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the militia responsible of the worst atrocities committed in Syria in the name of jihadism, has actually spent more time fighting other rebel factions than the regime and its headquarters are rarely targeted by air raids. There has been plenty of accusations from different political and military factions with regards to the ties between Damascus and ISIS ( https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=508278592619820&set=a.473931262721220.1073741828.473917376055942&type=1&theater, https://twitter.com/JadBantha/status/421263028978343936/photo/1, http://hawarnews.com/index.php/component/content/article/43-2013-02-24-21-16-12/7835-2013-11-13-12-04-59, http://claysbeach.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/bashar-al-jihad-is-isis-child-of-regime.html), whose rise perfectly suits the Syrian State media’s relentless efforts to portray the uprising as an Islamist one since its early phases. During my stay in Syria in 2013, I gathered local witness accounts on Ahmad Muhammad “Abu Rami”, the former Syrian military intelligence chief in Rmaylan (North-Eastern Syria), who allegedly joined the rows of the al-qa’idist Jabhat an-Nusra in November 2012. I also spoke with a former Syrian security official in Ras al-‘Ayn, who confirmed me how easily certain rebel brigades were infiltrated by figures known for their ties with the regime.
In addition to this, Anderson failed to mention how the regime granted amnesty to some of the top-leaders of the Islamist opposition back in May 2011 (including for example the Islamic Army’s Zahran ‘Allush), a few months after the outbreak of the uprising, in a move which could hardly be seen as “coincidental”, as it contributed to the sectarian drift of the revolt.
This is not meant to say that the Syrian regime and the Islamist hardliners share the same agenda and the latter ones do not aim at overthrowing the government; it also remains challenging to evaluate the truthfulness of certain reports, even when they’re built on intelligence sources, but we should bear in mind that they are often as credible as the reports putting the blame exclusively on the Gulf for the rise of radical Sunni groups. What is unquestionable, in my opinion, is the completely misleading portrait of Damascus as a champion in the struggle against Islamism in the light of its historical connections with Islamist networks.
These historical connections include the Syrian support for Hamas, Hizbullah, the Amal Movement (a group established with the explicit purpose to crush Lebanese communists), the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and several other Islamist groups. If the Syrian regime was a promoter of secularism in the region, then it should have restricted its support to secular anti-Zionist militant groups. If the Syrian regime were secular, then it shouldn’t allow Lebanese and Iraqi Shi’a militants to fight on its side against Sunnis, or did Islamism suddenly become an exclusively Sunni phenomenon? If the Syrian regime were secular, it wouldn’t have supported the ethnic “cleansing” (tathir, in the words recorded on video of one of the perpetrators, https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/nownews/pro-regime-militant-speaks-of-cleansing-banias) of Sunnis in Bayda and Baniyas in May 2013. If the Syrian regime were secular, the Constitution wouldn’t prevent a Christian from becoming the president of the republic until now just like it wouldn’t state that “Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) is a fundamental source of legislation.” (http://www.al-bab.com/arab/docs/syria/syria_draft_constitution_2012.htm). If the Syrian regime were secular, Alawis wouldn’t dominate the intelligence branches to the extent that their coastal dialect is mocked in every single joke on the security forces.
Having said that, I honestly don’t understand the point of defending a regime on the ground of its alleged secularism, if we take a look at how history is rich of examples of authoritarian secular rule such as the Reign of Terror in post-revolutionary France, Kemalist Turkey and the Soviet Union.
Another aspect of the rise of Islamist factions in the opposition Anderson and his likes fail to grasp is where “money and guns” come from or, to put it clearly, they know where they come from, but they consider this an outcome of the Islamist ideology of all the insurgents. They seem to ignore the reality of those fighters who had to turn to an outward version of Islamism to catalyse financial and military support: this was the case of the Farouq Brigades from Homs, that quickly became the equivalent of a franchise capable of attracting Qatari funds and, for this reason, it started to attract a wide range of groups under its name (http://www.arab-reform.net/sites/default/files/empowering%20the%20democratic%20resistance.pdf). This didn’t mean there was an Islamist unified vision among all the groups gathered under the Farouq brand, whose Islamist outlook might well have been as pragmatic as the Salafi-looking beard grown by the Farouq’s young commander Abdul-Razzaq Tlass, upon his rise to fame. During Anderson’s talk, when I mentioned the Farouq Brigades as an example of a non-Islamist group, I probably failed to make clear that this was not meant to claim that they are secular, but that their Islamist facade has been pragmatically motivated rather than related to an uncompromising commitment to the establishment of an Islamic state. It is the same pragmatism which led Hezbollah to accept funds from Qatar – a State with whom the party could hardly share any political and religious identity – for the reconstruction of war-ravaged Lebanon following the Israeli aggression in 2006. It is the same pragmatism which saw Hamas, on the other hand, receiving Iranian funds, regardless of their political and religious affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood.
As the Syrian conflict kept growing in intensity, securing funds became a crucial factor behind the mushrooming of Islamist hardline factions, in comparison with the initial “low cost” peaceful phase almost void of sectarian drifts. In 2013, I spoke with a Syrian journalist who visited the Eastern Ghuta (Damascus) between March and April and he reported to me how Free Syrian Army soldiers had a daily limit of around 30 bullets (the figure might be higher, but the point was that their ammunition was limited), whereas the Islamic Front could count on unlimited ammunition. This obviously led to an increased number of fighters joining the ranks of the Islamist factions. In June 2013, I travelled towards al-Hul (Southern al-Hasakah) on a truck driven by a Kurdish rebel fighting on the side of ISIS and Ahrar ash-Sham: he kept joking about his beard and how he had to grow it to be accepted among jihadists, while promising to go back drinking arak as soon as the war was over. The umpteenth confirmation of how pragmatism was often a priority at the expense of the ideological drive.
As a matter of fact, there are few groups with a distinct leftist stance within the rows of the opposition: one of these exceptions are the recently formed Factions of the People’s Liberation (Fasa’il Taharrur ash-Sha’b https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=sR5wcCzLyzo), set up in Duma in March 2014. These groups saw the light in the explicit attempt to counter both the regime and the most obscurantist forces of the opposition, but their capabilities are clearly limited due to lack of funds.
Anderson thinks he can wave the banner of anti-imperialism from the pulpit of his lectures in Australia, but he doesn’t seem to care about the fate of those real Syrian anti-imperialists, who are perishing on the ground without receiving a single cent from the Gulf monarchies. It would have been enough to use the funds wasted on the Wikileaks delegation’s trip to Damascus to relief the budget of the Factions of the People’s Liberation, if the aim was to support popular resistance, but Anderson’s farce is more about “copy pasting” Hugo Chavez’s quotes on Asad to feel the revolutionary vibes on Facebook.
Another paradox of Anderson’s unconditional support for secularism against Islamism is that he resorts to the good-for-all-purposes scaremonger of Christian persecutions to back the Asad regime, so that when I mentioned the Farouq Brigades, I got reminded the way “they expelled Christians from their neighbourhoods in Homs”. First of all, to argue that Christians were evicted on the basis of their faith and not as a result of the conflict is an assumption even contested by Catholic sources (www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=13804). Secondly, Anderson and other “minorities-obsessed” scholars take for granted that Christians are always persecuted because of their religion, while dismissing the possibility for some of them to have been targeted as collaborators of the regime or because of their affluence (for example, the wealth of some urbanized Syriacs was behind their kidnappings in Hasakah and Qamishli in 2013): the implicit premise to this discourse is that Christians are all innocent, they never took sides (not a single word is spent on the loyalist stance of most Syrian clerical institutions throughout the uprising) and they are suddenly in need of Western assistance to escape Islamic zealots. When the idea that Middle Eastern Christians are in need of protection was part of the French Mandate’s search for legitimacy, it was despised by “anti-imperialists” as colonialist propaganda, whereas now it is at the core of the concerns they happen to share with pro-Asad Western fascist and Catholic circles (with whom they also share sources like Mother Agnès de la Croix). As the French scholar Thomas Pierret wrote on his Facebook page, after the hypocritical indignation aroused by the displacement of Armenians from Kassab at the hands of Syrian rebels among the same people who turn a blind eye on the regime’s daily use of barrel bombs on the neighbourhoods of Aleppo controlled by the opposition, “whoever cares more for an Armenian from Kassab than for a Sunni from eastern Aleppo is a racist”.
During his visit to Syria, Anderson claims he had the chance to witness the coexistence between Christians and Muslims under the shelter of the regime, thus envisaging a future of religious persecutions, if the opposition will ever take over the country. First of all, this is a distortion of Syrian history, where there is absolutely nothing proving a higher rate of anti-Christian violence before the Ba’thist coup in 1963. Anderson went on specifying that most of the rebels are actually foreigners, an allegation common among Asadists returning from government-sponsored tours of Syria, where they never met with one single opposition fighter, just like Anderson did. I personally met with combatants from a wide range of anti-government factions in Lebanon, Turkey and Syria, and the overwhelming majority of them were Syrians, including the hardliners from Ahrar ash-Sham , Ghuraba’ ash-Sham and Ansar ash-Shari’a. Most foreigners fight within the rows of ISIS and they advocate a brutal form of Islamic autocracy Syrians are unfamiliar with: when the militants of this group vandalized a church in Raqqa, its Syrian residents took the streets to protest against religious intolerance, but they didn’t certainly call for the return of the regime. Of course, all of this was not mentioned in Anderson’s talk, where the message needed to remain “foreign Islamists make up most of the opposition and they pose a threat to the Ba’thist religious tolerance.” This was actually the same message conveyed by a Syrian woman who stood up to intervene during Anderson’s talk, when she accused the opposition of organizing protests from inside the mosques, thus suggesting the movement was already an Islamist one since its outbreak. As usual, it went completely ignored the fact that mosques were used by all protesters, regardless of their political and religious beliefs, because of the ban on unauthorized public gatherings. Over these years I spent covering the Syrian uprising, I never met someone who obtained a government license to organize a rally against the regime.
During the conference, there was also room for some racist remarks on the Bedouin roots of the Gulf sponsors of the opposition, as Anderson reported, laughing at the comments of a Syrian government official on their status of camel riders/shepherds (I cannot recall the exact words, but it was definitely a stereotypical racist joke on Arab Gulf tribes). As if it wasn’t enough to resort to Islamophobia under the guise of secularism and religious tolerance, Anderson turned to blanketing the (Sunni) Arab tribes as a bunch of rural barbarians, probably ignoring the fact that millions of Syrians are clan members with kinship links in Gulf countries.
Lastly, Anderson attempted to prove Syria never witnessed an uprising by asserting that “no revolution has ever targeted schools and hospitals and prevented kids from education.” Such assertion implies the absurd claim that the government forces have never targeted schools and hospitals. In addition to this, Anderson ignores all the initiatives launched in opposition-held areas to support education, civil society and local projects, despite the continuous bloodshed (http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/04/education-aleppo-syria-war.html?utm_source=Al-Monitor+Newsletter+%5BEnglish%5D&utm_campaign=23ea4fcada-January_9_20141_8_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-23ea4fcada-93102377). In 2013, I visited several times the city of Ras al-Ayn (North-Eastern Syria), when it was still under joint Arab-Kurdish control without any presence of the regime: no one told me of kids prevented from going to school and the hospitals and the small clinics were actually struggling to function, thanks to the voluntary efforts of the doctors affiliated to the rebel militias. Unfortunately, most of these armed groups were prioritizing the arms trade over the availability of medicines and I wrote about this issue (https://mabisir.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/free-syrian-army-neglects-health-sector-in-ras-al-ayn-sere-kanye/), but I was also aware that the same hospitals could not be used to heal wounded protesters when they were controlled by the regime. The reality is much more complicated, if you verify it on the ground, but what you get from Anderson is just that the rebels are medieval bogeymen targeting schools and hospitals.
In conclusion, if some of you had the patience to read through all of this, my personal advice is to remain sceptic of those scholars who abuse their academic positions to spread out ideological propaganda on issues they are completely unfamiliar with. If I happen to spend two weeks during a phase of political turmoil in Cuba, a country Anderson is probably more knowledgeable than me about on the basis of his experience, I would remain aware of my ignorance on Cuba and wary about claiming to hold the truth on the unfolding events. I would expect Anderson and his likes to do the same. Thanks.
I also welcome every Syrian who lived through the uprising to express his/her indignation at Anderson’s denial of his/her efforts to depose the current regime.
Personal observations of myself, others, states and exile.
Blog di Asmae Dachan "Scrivere per riscoprire il valore della vita umana"
Update on Syria revolution -The other side of the coin ignored by the main stream news
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Views on anthropological, social and political affairs in the Middle East
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Views on anthropological, social and political affairs in the Middle East
Ho sempre immaginato che il Paradiso fosse una sorta di biblioteca (J. L. Borges)