Metropolitan Digital

The Conversation

  • Written by Wendy Pearlman, Associate Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University

Amid headlines about the Islamic State group and photographs of rubble, it can be easy to forget that the Syrian war began as a nonviolent uprising.

March 15, the uprising’s eighth anniversary[1], serves as a reminder that any enduring end to the Syrian conflict must address the grievances and aspirations that propelled its beginning. Violent repression cannot create a stable solution, no less a just one.

I’m a scholar of Middle East politics[2]. Since 2012 I have interviewed hundreds of displaced Syrians across the Middle East and Europe. Those interviews are collected in my book, “We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria[3].”

Their stories describe suffocating fear and silence under the authoritarian regime that Hafez al-Assad[4] established in 1970 and his son Bashar inherited[5].

They also describe how people risked their lives and worked together to fight their oppression.

Adapting and submitting

Before the civil war, a single ruling party[6], state surveillance[7] and pervasive covert informants led Syria’s parents to raise children on the saying “Whisper, the walls have ears.”

How the Syrian uprising began and why it matters Million of Syrians fleeing the government crackdown of the 2011 uprising left the country. These children are in northern Lebanon, March 4, 2012. REUTERS/Afif Diab[8]

An “Emergency Law[9],” in place since the 1960s, gave security forces far-reaching powers to arrest anyone at will.

“If they got even a sense that you’re not completely submitting to their demands, you’d be put where the sun doesn’t shine,” a university student told me. “No one would hear from you again.”

While security rule created fear, everyday corruption made indignities the norm. People with whom I spoke recounted their exasperation with paying bribes at every turn and watching regime cronies get rich while their livelihoods deteriorated.

Most demeaning was the sense that complicity was the only way to survive. A mother shrugged, “You just adapted to oppression and rotted along with it.”

Rebirth and transformation

In early 2011, the Arab Spring[10] galvanized millions in protest in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. Outside analysts and many Syrians themselves judged that a history of state violence left Syrians too afraid[11] to go out. When a new Facebook page called for revolution on March 15[12], a few individuals broke the barrier of fear.

That Friday, larger protests formed in southern Syria and security forces opened fire, killing[13] two unarmed protesters. A week later, tens of thousands joined demonstrations[14] across the country.

Syrians recall those demonstrations and the hundreds that followed, as creative celebrations[15] filled with dance, song and a sense of rebirth. After a lifetime of having to chirp praise for “the Leader,” this was the point Syrians went out and said “no.” Some describe it as the first time they had heard their own voice[16].

A graphic designer described how her husband was the first of the two of them to attend a demonstration. He returned to say, in tears, “Anyone who doesn’t live this moment cannot consider himself alive.” After her first demonstration, she told him that he was right.

Many felt that experience of protest was transformative socially, as well as personally. Hundreds of neighborhood committees[17] formed to organize protests, bringing together people of different backgrounds to exchange ideas and work together. This civic engagement[18] defied the collective distrust that the authoritarian state had actively fostered in order to control society.

Solidarity could be heroic.

“People took huge risks just to spread leaflets or bring someone to the hospital,” a young woman recalled. “I also did crazy things to rescue total strangers … Because we were together, shouting for the same goals.”

How the Syrian uprising began and why it matters In this citizen journalism image, people gather around the bodies of what they claim are protesters killed in clashes with police near Damascus, Syria, April 22, 2011. Image acquired by AP[19]

Assad crushes dissent

It took 12 days and 61 deaths before Bashar al-Assad delivered his first address about the crisis.

“If Bashar had made reform, we would have cheered him and made him king,” an engineer recalled.

Instead, the president vowed to crush unrest, which he denounced[20] as a foreign conspiracy to foment sectarian strife.

People I interviewed regard such rhetoric as itself a strategy to “sectarianize[21]” the conflict to divide citizens who shared a unifying aspiration for accountability and good governance. They insist that demonstrations often began at mosques not because they were led by Islamic extremists, but because mosques were the only place where people could legally gather. Many knew stories about Christians or atheists who participated in Friday prayers simply to join marches from the start.

Pounded by repression, the uprising swelled during spring 2011. Calls for reform escalated[22] to demands to topple the regime. After months of overwhelmingly peaceful protests, some in the opposition took up arms[23].

The regime intensified its reprisals from tanks[24] to indiscriminate aerial bombardment[25]. Other states and non-state actors intervened on the side of the regime or an increasingly fragmented array of rebel groups, propelling a multi-sided war that shattered the country.

“We tried our best to build something,” an activist told me, a heavy sense of loss in her voice. “We faced a lot and we faced it alone. But we lost control.”

Telling the story

Today, violence has killed more than half a million[26] Syrians and forced some 12 million[27] to flee their homes.

Observers increasingly assert that the Assad regime has “won[28]” the Syrian war.

As the saying goes, history is written by the victors. Assad has a tight grip on media[29] and, in the years to come, Syrians expect that he will continue to promote a story about the conflict that ignores or maligns those who found their voices in peaceful protest eight years ago.

This will be a vengeful denial of one of the century’s bravest shows of people’s power. No less, it will be a denial of the many ways in which Syrians today continue[30] to call for a society with freedom and justice – and without fear.

References

  1. ^ uprising’s eighth anniversary (www.pri.org)
  2. ^ scholar of Middle East politics (www.polisci.northwestern.edu)
  3. ^ We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria (www.harpercollins.com)
  4. ^ Hafez al-Assad (www.theguardian.com)
  5. ^ son Bashar inherited (www.nytimes.com)
  6. ^ single ruling party (read.dukeupress.edu)
  7. ^ state surveillance (giswatch.org)
  8. ^ REUTERS/Afif Diab (pictures.reuters.com)
  9. ^ Emergency Law (legal-agenda.com)
  10. ^ Arab Spring (www.npr.org)
  11. ^ too afraid (www.aljazeera.com)
  12. ^ March 15 (www.washingtonpost.com)
  13. ^ killing (www.npr.org)
  14. ^ demonstrations (www.nytimes.com)
  15. ^ creative celebrations (www.nytimes.com)
  16. ^ voice (www.jadaliyya.com)
  17. ^ neighborhood committees (www.plutobooks.com)
  18. ^ civic engagement (www.fifthestate.org)
  19. ^ Image acquired by AP (www.apimages.com)
  20. ^ denounced (www.nytimes.com)
  21. ^ sectarianize (www.hurstpublishers.com)
  22. ^ Calls for reform escalated (www.theguardian.com)
  23. ^ the opposition took up arms (www.thenation.com)
  24. ^ tanks (www.theguardian.com)
  25. ^ indiscriminate aerial bombardment (www.hrw.org)
  26. ^ half a million (www.nytimes.com)
  27. ^ 12 million (www.worldvision.org)
  28. ^ won (www.theguardian.com)
  29. ^ media (www.poynter.org)
  30. ^ continue (www.reuters.com)

Authors: Wendy Pearlman, Associate Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University

Read more http://theconversation.com/how-the-syrian-uprising-began-and-why-it-matters-112801

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

Phish’s 2018 Fall Tour to Conclude with Four Performances at MGM Grand Garden Arena

LAS VEGAS (May 15, 2018) – Phish, the American rock band known worldwide for its dedicated fan base, recently announced a 14-date Fall tour which will conclude in Las Vegas with four performances at...

Blane Ferguson - avatar Blane Ferguson

Dave Damiani and The No Vacancy Orchestra are “Bending The Standard”

Tina Sinatra, Dave Damiani & Landau Murphy Jr. celebrate 100 years of Frank Sinatra in Los Angeles There have been stories about independent filmmakers, but how about the independent big band...

Tom Estey - avatar Tom Estey

Billboard Chart-Topping Saxophonist VANDELL ANDREW Returns With New Single

From the vantage point of 30, his age and the name of his infectious, sensually grooving new full length album, Vandell continues to be fueled by the impressive roar of accolades and achievements th...

Metropolitan Digital - avatar Metropolitan Digital

Metropolitan Business News

5 reasons to store your goods

There comes a time in most people’s lives when storing their household goods and furniture in a secure storage facility is necessary. It’s easy to think that you’ll never need to use storage, but it...

Metropolitan Digital - avatar Metropolitan Digital

How much can you afford to spend on car finance?

So, you’ve made the decision to buy a new car using car finance? This is a really exciting time and you’ll be filled with questions about the best car finance for you as well as how much of your inc...

News Company - avatar News Company

Marketing Impact of Having Online Product Reviews

Whether they are searching online for a service or a specific product, in many cases customers tend to look for online product reviews. They often want to make a comparison to other products or simply...

News Company - avatar News Company

NYC-BASED PUBLIC TELECOM GIANT TCC TELEPLEX LAUNCHES

“TOMORROW’S HIGH TECH DIGITAL NETWORK TODAY” WITH ITS REVOLUTIONARY, MULT-MEDIA AND SERVICES DRIVEN IAP “EVERYTHING” KIOSK The TCC Teleplex IAP Kiosks Include a High-Res 360-Degree Webcam, a 22-...

Thomas Estey - avatar Thomas Estey

HOW TO PREPARE FOR RETIREMENT: Finding and Living Your “It”

The name of my Woburn, MA financial services firm is Summit Financial Partners for a very good reason – because the clients I work with have either reached their retirement summit (i.e. they’re ready ...

Ryan Skinner, Founder and Principal, Summit Financial Partners - avatar Ryan Skinner, Founder and Principal, Summit Financial Partners

How to build a distinctive Brand Voice

Nearly four decades ago, I made a presentation that captured considerable attention in the marketing community. The subject was ‘Brand Voice.’ The concept is widely used today by branding profess...

Alan Siegel Founder and President Siegelvision - avatar Alan Siegel Founder and President Siegelvision

Holidays

Maya Beach Opens to Tourists

Despite recent reports that Southern Thailand's famous Maya Beach will close for three months this year, in fact no decision to this effect has been made by Thai authorities. Phi Phi Nati...

Maevadi Rosenfeldt - avatar Maevadi Rosenfeldt

SKYN LAUNCHES GUIDE TO THE BEST PLACES TO GET INTIMATE

SKYN®, Australia’s best-selling condom*, today launches its very first SKYN® Places of Intimacy Guide.   Curated in partnership with GQ Magazine and Conde Nast, the Guide features 30 lux...

SKYN - avatar SKYN

Under the Stars with Grand American Adventures

Small group adventure specialist Grand American Adventures offers a comprehensive range of thrilling tours across the Americas, but what really sets their tours apart is the unique accom...

Louise Woodruff - avatar Louise Woodruff