Posts Tagged With: violence

Review of four Arabic commentaries: what legitimacy of violence in the Syrian scenario?


Last week I had discussed Marcel M. Baumann’s piece to reflect on the (im)possibility of a mutual understanding of violence in future Syria.

After two years since the outset of the Syrian revolution, Jadaliyya has published a few days ago a series of articles written in Arabic by four Syrian authors on the concept and role of violence in the Syrian scenario.

I provide here a brief overview of the main ideas contained in each of the four commentaries: they differ from each other in an extremely interesting way, in spite of their shared strong opposition to Asad’s regime.

My personal stance can be positioned between Dima Wanus and Hassan ‘Abbas ways of thinking: even non-violence always demands confrontation in time of conflict. And confrontation is an obligatory stage in the mobilisation and uprising processes. Indeed, if initial non-violent confrontation, on one side, did not lead to any results but cruel repression, on the other, the current violent confrontation should have been “organized” and directed; in the sense of being conceived into a wider political project that needs to dismantle a given power, which, by its very nature, would never annihilate itself.ديمة-ونوس_العنف-ليس-الحل-ولكن

Dima Wanus, in “Violence is not the solution but”:

By drawing on Frantz Fanon’s “The wretched of the Earth”, where violence was used to combat colonialism, Wanus recalls the idea of a silent violence that the regime has been using for 40 years (‘onf samit) in Syria, and the way this power used to confiscate identity under the guise of “laicism” (musadarat al hauiyya tahta shi’ar al ‘almaniyya). Peaceful coexistence was not just an inherent characteristic of Syrians, as it is generally said: people were oppressed in fact by fear and submissiveness (khauf wa istislam).

Violence, therefore, turns to be a necessary tool to face long date oppression, after the regime has used it as a depreciation of the dignity of its citizens (imtihan la kiramat al muwatin al sury). Nonetheless, to her mind, violence is not the solution. Peaceful revolution was not a possible option in this scenario. A revolution in the Syrian context, which totally needs to disrupt the continuity with respect to the past to realise itself, cannot be judged according to standardised social, ethical and moral criteria.أسامة-سعيد_بيان-العنف

Osama Sa’id in “Declaration of violence”:

Violence is used against the development of citizenship by the regime. The author speaks of the generalised violence in the Syrian context in terms of collective punishment (‘oqab jama’iyy): it is used against the sons of the national army, who are, in turn, under the control of the dictatorship. They have never been asked their opinion. They are just used to defend what they do not represent. And all these “state employers” have nothing but their job.

It is violence itself that led Syrians to such an extreme situation. Death does not sow but destruction (lughat al qatl wa al tankil allaty tazra’u al maut lan tahsud siwa al damar).

Revolutionaries, therefore, cannot act in the name of rights by using violence. He provides the examples of Afghanistan and Iraq to prove that violence has never brought any good.

Changes do not lie in blind killing (al taghiyyr la yatim by’l qatl al a’ma). He identifies in violence just a vicious circle of revenge and hatred. This has turned into a dangerous belief that the destruction of Syria is believed to have a “holy price”. The only positive aspect in the diffused violence is a new awareness in Syrian society (wa’y jadid).

A state is supposed to monopolise violence to be the only legitimate actor that controls it and uses it. In Syria instead, violence itself became State in order to have a frame in which it can be used.

In this way, it is the opponents that are blamed to have breached the responsibility for guaranteeing security, rather than the state.

In light of this, it is the non-violence of the opponents that should have created the strategic difference between the two fighting parts.محمد-العطار_هل-هناك-طرق-لم-تسلك-في-سوريا؟

Mohammed al ‘Attar, in “Are there ways that have not been taken yet in Syria?”:

The use of violence should have been discarded in the Syrian conflict on the side of the revolutionaries, as that was exactly what the regime wanted to achieve in its divide-and-rule strategy: the destruction of the country if the regime’s stability would have wavered. The current armed resistance is compared to a trap set by the regime itself (mujarrad uquw’ fy fakh yada’uhu an-nizam al hakim).

The current massive repression, after all, was something expectable, as it is coherent with the regime’s logic.

Moreover, the use of violence triggers new difficulties for future Syria, such as a likely future campaign for post-conflict disarmament. Nonetheless, many citizens that have had no choice but taking up the weapons, would abandon them very willingly to get back to their normal life.

It is not possible to cut the regime’s head once for all: these violent strategies are generating just further blood and chaos. In his viewpoint, therefore, the reforms were possible by using pacific means.حسن-عباس_معنى-العنف-وحدوده-

Hassan ‘Abbas, in “The meaning of violence and its limits”:

In presence of authoritarian regimes, it is not conceivable to make real changes without resorting to violence. Nonetheless, ‘Abbas makes a neat distinction between chaotic violence and violence as an organized instrument serving a cause.

The regime in power, by its own nature, would not eliminate itself. Violence, in fact, is the essence of power (al ‘onf hua jawhar as-sulta), and inherent to political conflicts.

In other words, when used to dismantle injustice, the use of violence can be considered legitimate. It remains, however, a temporary instrument that must be part of a wider structured project, a political program that will offer directions about what is next.

Categories: Syria | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Misconceived normalisation of violence in Beirut (by Estella Carpi – November 2012)

The October 2012 car bomb that killed Wisam al Hasan in Beirut-Ashrafiyye led me to think of the over-abused concept of “normalized violence” in Lebanon – and Beirut specifically – within the literature around it.

Poster in Tripoli, Lebanon; photography by Estella Carpi

Unearthing a misconceived “normalization” of violence in Beirut. The October car bomb in relation to generalized insecurity.

The 19th October 2012 car bomb in Beirut’s Ashrafiyye, within the Eastern district of the Lebanese capital, shed light on the re-articulation of the relations between the State, allegedly “inexistent” in the Lebanese context, and its society that lives in the constant effort to subjectively reformulate their citizenship, in the lack of a commonly shared nationhood.

New outbursts of violence seem to give a reason to the state to promote its technology of control, as Michel Foucault would put it. This complex re-articulation of relations has come to the fore with the October 26 White March from Martyrs Square (Beirut Downtown) to Sassine Square (Ashrafiyye, where the explosion was one week before). The “White March”, in which no political flag but the national Lebanese was waved, wanted to be considered as an act of social refusal of further violence and national solidarity, in addition to their political contestation of both the 14 and 8 March coalitions, which have politically and socially polarized the country into two sections after Hariri’s murder in February 2005. The White March mainly had the implicit aim of contesting the taken for granted watershed between what is “normal” and what is not in Lebanese parameters.

Social fear, as well as the perception of risk in Beirut, has specific historical explanations. Lebanese society seems to be doomed to live in a not-war-not-peace state, as Jeffrey Sluka used to define Northern Ireland during the clashes between Protestants and Catholics. Such an unstable state has engendered a social attitude towards violence that has been named by political scientists and journalists as “normalization”, which, in light of the Lebanese reaction to the last explosion, begs for a re-conceptualization.

The reluctance to admit that instability might increase, and the goliardic will of kidding about violence outbursts and of guessing about what will be next on the other hand, are both part of the same scenario. This is imbued with public exorcizing of individual fear and controversial familiarization with war. It is in this sense that Mahmud, 31 years old, from the Southern Suburbs of Beirut, told me six months ago that sometimes war becomes an opportunity: “My only way of positivizing something that will happen, even though not deliberated, it’s to think of it as a resetting space where you can really do whatever you like, since war generates a real state of chaos”.

Fear is rarely dealt with in the official public arena, and this is due to the way of maintaining social balance between the parts by hiding power relations. Such a balance can be maintained, in some cases, through re-distribution of insecurity: in this case by involving the eastern district of Ashrafiyye, an area of Beirut that, on a whole, is conceived more stable nowadays than the southern suburbs.

The importance of making the representational picture of Lebanese fearlessness emerge is able to bury the real phenomenological experience of people that inhabit the hurt public space. The quick renormalization of urban spaces can be found in the feeling of “human betrayal” that one might have while passing by Martyrs Square after Sunday 21st October clashes, and seeing that the martyrized space seems to have fallen into oblivion in its unresolved suffering.

Although the killing of Wissam al Hassan may eventually expand the jurisdiction of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) in the near future – still investigating on Hariri’s murder – the public perception and responsiveness to the latest assassination is highly different, and not merely due to the different role al Hassan was covering in the political scenario. Lebanese society has often expressed rejection of the 2005 March polarization through which any social fact is constantly interpreted – as also the current events in Syria.

Nonetheless, the external perception of violence in Lebanon, owing to the large media coverage and its representation of risk, ends up clouding the daily dimension of Lebanon’s open wounds and scars, to which the everyday predicament of most Sudanese, Iraqi and Palestinians refugees contributes, as well as the silenced detention life of Asian and African workers, basically enslaved by the classist system and constituting the most recent emblem of Lebanese frightening inequality. The widespread rhetoric of the Lebanese failing state has also domestically produced the same disguising effect as the international media.

Whereas the presence of military forces is synonymous with insecurity, potential risk and readiness for war in the foreigner’s viewpoint, it becomes instead absence of violence and warrant of stability and control from an inner perspective. The chronic presence of security forces merely makes visible further what is tacit on a public level: so to speak, the incubation of revenge plans and assassination circles, still able to vent their atrocity many years later (for example, I refer here to François al Hajj’s assassination in December 2007 as he was leading the Lebanese forces in Nahr al Bared camp in the June 2007 battle against Fatah al Islam, or, again, Elie Hobeika, assassinated in 2002 as he was one of those responsible for the Sabra and Shatila massacres in September 1982).

Widely shared fear in the Beiruti public space would generate fertile soil for what Rebotier calls “meta-narrative” of urbanity in the case of Venezuela. I would recycle differently his expression to indicate that a meta-narrative of social insecurity (that is to say a verbal space of individual expression of insecurity) would therefore unearth the several social misdeeds, usually ignored in the media coverage. Such a meta-narrative would have the potential, to my mind, to legitimate public sharing of individual fears, raise awareness in all Lebanese strata, and particularly enhance mutual understanding, the lack of which is too often attributed to the unfathomable culturalization and ethnicization of needs and demands in such a variegated context.

The potentiality of being a victim anytime and anywhere, regardless of one’s social and confessional affiliation or hierarchical status, temporarily leads to the de-politicization of social fear despite the subsequent social redefinition of scapegoats. In other words, while the assassination of al Hassan has merely aimed at killing the victim, it has temporarily de-politicized social fear. Even so, interpretations of the accident as an attempt to draw Christian parties into the ongoing disorders have not missed – since the explosion took place in one of the predominantly Christian districts of Beirut. For the most apocalyptical, even the menace of a new civil war can be perceived. On the contrary, clashes and disorders between Shiites and Sunnis in Tariq el Jadide and Cola Station in the Western part of Beirut do not generally generate the same public reaction among all social strata.

Social cohesion, in such circumstances, lies in the inexistent “golden age” that Lebanon has never experienced since its creation in 1920, with the beginning of the French mandate (al Intidab al Faransy). As such, social cohesion has always been epitomizing a mere ideal tension throughout the years. My personal considerations unluckily contribute to reifying Beirut as a space of hopelessness, and as the last straw of an intellectual proliferation on Lebanese “incurable wounds”. In order to emerge as a renewed social space, individual fears, on the one hand, should be overtly tackled and catharsis from fear discussed; on the other, catharsis itself must not be necessarily conceived as homogeneous and unanimous.

Thus, what has been generally meant by “normalization” is sometimes misconceived, as imagined in terms of social indifference towards violence outbursts or, yet, thought of as lack of “real” suffering, as though the suffering body needed to provide evidence to be accepted as such. “Every health care entity has addressed our psychological fears and our everyday disturbs as though it merely were a bomb in the 2006 war that made a difference in the miserable life we used to lead in South Lebanon until 2000”, a friend from Tyre says to me. In addition to the liberation from the Western hegemonic conception of fear, therefore, it is a real space of mutual recognition of fear and social denunciation that still lacks in Lebanon. The “territorial life” many Lebanese still tend to lead signals the common idea that security pragmatically means moving in an area that culturally, sometimes politically – and religiously in complex ways – represents them. In this sense, insecurity is exclusively produced by external factors, such as the arbitrary belief that Syrian refugees are the “new night sexual harassers” in Beirut s Eastern districts.

In a different way, the concept of normalization itself can entail, as a matter of fact, a “constant state of fear” – in Hebrew “sh’lo yarimu rosh”, in which, for instance, Israelis keep Palestinians in the occupied territories on a daily basis.
In the case of Lebanon, the phenomenology of fear described above basically lies in the fact that inequality, inseparable cause and product of insecurity altogether, is never openly questioned and even blurred by more blatant acts of violence, such as a car bomb.

Estella Carpi is a PhD Candidate at the University of Sydney and PhD Fellow at the American University of Beirut.

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