The World of Syria, Syria of the World 

As Syrians we have found ourselves thinking globally, not only because we are very bitter and angry at the world that left us to be killed for more than 2000 days, not because we know the world more than others, not because almost the whole world is literally in Syria, but because we have become the world. Essay by Yassin al-Haj Saleh

In March of this year, when six years would have passed since the Syrian Revolution started, its crushing would have perhaps been completed, shattering the lives of a countless number of people and their social and livelihood environments. Besides, it is only expected after a crushed revolution to see a very brutal counter-revolution, which will be a continuation of the crushing of the revolution and its communities, with unimaginable forms of overlapping between foreign control, Russian and Iranian, and domestic fascist “tashbih”[2]. This is not a subjective anticipation of atrocities that may or may not happen in the future; it is based on what we have already witnessed in Syria after the Assadi state was able to crush a social rebellion it faced in the early eighties of the twentieth century, and on a steady historical observation indicating that the dominant elites retaliate brutally against those who dared to revolt against them after they defeat them.

The Syrians have fallen under prolonged and profoundly cruel tyranny, which went to war against its subjects twice, the first between the late seventies and early eighties, and again for the past almost six years. The violence of the Assadi state against its subjects is not punitive, but was always based on humiliation. This violence caused the death of tens of thousands in the first war, and the arrest, torture and destruction of the lives of tens of thousands. In the second war, hundreds of thousands were killed, and similar numbers detained or tortured while the displaced and refugees were in the millions. All this happened before the eyes of international organizations and actors over months and years.

How can this be explained? I think it is closely related to, first, Syria being a microcosm, in a region that is the most internationalized in the world, the Middle East, and the world being a macro-Syria. In Syria, the world recognizes itself, the self that it does not want to change or re-consider, neither does it have the will to face and repair. The world, through its international institutions and major players, is in a constant state of denial of its responsibility for the extremist constitution of the contemporary Middle East, which was based on minoritarian rule, extremism and exception (Israel and Saudi Arabia being the most prominent examples). The Assadi regime in Syria is also based on this very trinity of extremism, exception and minoritarian rule, and does not allow the people to have a say in the political structures that govern them. This has paved the way for the ongoing massacre against them for the past years.

In 2013, after the regime committed a chemical massacre in Ghouta[3], the Americans and the Russians came to a sordid deal, which ensured the survival of a regime that had violated the international law and crossed Mr. Obama’s “redline”, murdering 1466 of its subjects within an hour. The offender was stripped of a weapon whose ownership was considered the right of the international elite only, but was effectually given a license to continue to kill by other means. This is what the Assadi state has actually done with everyone’s knowledge and under their watch. Before that license and more after it the shabbiha regime invited additional partners to participate in the murder feast, which continues to this day. The international parties that signed the deal did not lack information neither the awareness of what was happening in the country. Everything was clear and known to all. It seems, according to the information available, that the inspiration for the criminal deal came from the Israeli neighbor, which itself, always enjoyed extreme exception from the rules of international justice. It is also an elitist state that has been given a full license to continue with its own killing against Palestinians.

What we have witnessed for years in Syria, and before that in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine, is an extremist form of exposure of defenseless people, the condition of “homo sacre,” whose killing has no meaning or sacrificial value according to Giorgio Agamben. Syrians were not only killed in abundance; they were killed and blamed, killed and slandered, killed and dehumanized, and exterminated all the time like pests. The killing of the dehumanized people was considered deserved due to their fanaticism or terrorism. Their deaths were not considered acts of sacrifice that has any emancipatory meaning. No one in the whole world, except a few people here and there, acknowledge that this is a genocide of the Holocaust type. Why? Simply put, because no one is willing to see the Nazi while he looks in the mirror. Culturalist and/or geopolitical discourses that share Middle Eastern studies, both depopulated, have been in circulation for a whole generation, and both of them are dehumanizing, pushing us into invisibility. These two are genocidal discourses.

This extreme case of injustice is contagious, regionally and globally.

It affected Syria before any other. The rabies of extremism spread in Syria strongly after the criminal chemical deal, which was a heavenly gift to the nihilistic Islamic organizations. There was a global state of denial about these formations: there were considered a special product of our societies, of the past and of religion. But in reality these formations have arisen from the modern world, where they were born, with the extremism of oligarchic regimes providing them opportunities to live and grow. For its part, these poisonous nihilist formations poisoned the lives of so many Syrians, Iraqis and middle easterners. In this way, they were complementary to the impact of the forces of international control and the local extremist regimes.

The plague of extremism and discrimination also spread in the region as a whole, in Iran and Iraq, the Gulf, Egypt and Libya. With extremism, hatred and hate crimes appear. Formations such as Daesh, Qaida, and Shiite militias such as the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, are forces of active hatred.

The world order was another environment for this contagion, where the forces that invest in fear and prefers it as a natural political environment, and looks at the stranger, the immigrant and refugee as a danger and a source of pollution. “Never again”, it seems, does not apply to the Syrians. These are utterly exposed, and their extermination is not a big problem.

The world that has left Syria to shatter, has become more Syrian itself, and is walking on the path of self-destruction. More than at any time since World War II at least, the world’s reserves of hope, altruism and confidence appear at their lowest levels, and despair, selfishness, fear of the future and distrust of the neighbor are progressing in the world.

In our view as Syrians, the world is a Syrian issue. Since the chemical deal at least, the main issue is no longer Syria, it is the world. What we need is to change the world, which prevented change in Syria. This is simple logic. Since it does not appear that there are opportunities for liberatory change in the world today, it is likely that we are going to face globally spread fear, despair and hatred, more violence and humiliation, more hardened souls and insensitivity. Trump’s been elected in America, and maybe soon Fillon in France, the rise of the populist right in Europe, and also Putin and Bashar Assad, Netanyahu and Abdul Fattah Sisi, these are all dreadful signs of a progressively shattered world.

The world is a Syrian issue, definitely. But before that Syria is a global issue: four permanent members of the UN Security Council are in a state of war in Syria, and the fifth, China, offers training support to the murderer in addition to political cover. Israel has bombed in Syria whenever it sees fit. Iran and its followers in Iraq and Lebanon are participating in the murder feast. Turkey today is on Syrian territory. Nihilinist Sunni Jihadists from dozens of countries are fighting in Syria, and there are Kurdish fighters from four or five countries … Despite all this, there are no serious indications that Syria is regarded as a global issue that need to be resolved on the basis of justice and equity, or at least something close. The contemporary world contributed to aggravating the Syrian malady, which in turn has made the world sicker. The problem today is not that the world is not helping us; the problem is that the world is not helping itself. The world, our one world, is left abandoned, with no one to care about it, and no one to represent it while the major powers are acting according to a selfish and narrow-minded logic, leading to the deterioration of the situation in these countries themselves, not only in the world as a whole. The international institutions are empty and helpless, and their global nature weaker than any other time since the emergence of the United Nations nearly 70 years ago.

This global resignation does not promise anyone anything good.

As Syrians we have found ourselves thinking globally, not only because we are very bitter and angry at the world that left us to be killed for more than 2000 days, not because we know the world more than others, not because almost the whole world is literally in Syria, but first of all because we have become in the world. We have been thrown outside our country; our trajectories are those of dispersion all over the world, exposed without legal and institutional protections, without having recognized status, and without many of us being in any one country. One can be here now, but he does not know where he will be shortly after. We are here and there, and we are not here nor there (according to the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish). We, with the Syrian Palestinians, have become more global than anyone else in the globe today. This does not mean that we tell the truth to or about the world, nor that we are closer to the essence of the world than others, but it does mean that the world is for us, more than for anyone else in the world, our project. The world is a trajectory, not a reality, and we have been thrown in divergent and convergent trajectories around this trajectorial world.

We are the world.

You want to know something about the world? Just have a closer look at Syria and at the trajectories of Syrians or Palestinian Syrians, and their destinies.

[Yassin al-ham Saleh is a Syrian writer based in Istanbul since mid fall 2013. A former political prisoner between 1980 and 1996 for being a member of communist party opposing Hafez Assad regime. The author of five books, on Syria, Prison, Islam, and culture.]


[1] This text was is a modified version of a talk delivered at the first meeting of the Lancet Commission on Syria, held at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, 1-2 December, 2016.



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