Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy

Few can tell the story of the Syrian revolution better than Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, who has been engaged in political activism in Syria for decades (spending sixteen years in jail for that, and now living in exile). "The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Revolution" (2017) is Yassin's first book in English, but he is a prolific writer in Arabic, penning hundreds of articles since the onset of the revolution.

The book is a compilation of ten of Yassin's articles, which provides a unique look at the changing circumstances and ideas over the years (2011 to 2015). However, it also has downsides. As these articles were not written as book chapters, there is repetition and the book does not have the connected nature that a purpose written book typically does. For clarity, this is not the book that tells the Syrian story from beginning to present, rather the author writes that "this book does not tell the story of the Syrian revolution: it is rather an attempt to trace and chronicle some of its paths" (p. 24). In many ways, the essays describe failing systems: the failing revolution, the failing state, the failing international community (e.g. p. 19 on the US and Russia).

For this post, I share some quotes that relate to the mass uprising of people:

  • "As the survival instinct kicks in, the more abstract demands for democracy and self-determination will be seen as unnecessary luxuries. And while the revolution identified itself with goals that were civic-minded and public in spirit during its early stages, today these are barely discernible within what has become an extremely desperate struggle against a brutal power" (p. 65-66)
  • "I believe that the role delineated for the military component helped the peaceful revolution. Contrary to widespread belief, those who took up arms did not replace the peaceful revolution but rather contributed to its expansion and resilience. An approach limited to peaceful protesting would have weakened the revolution in confrontations with the regime, whatever the unquestionable moral superiority of a purely peaceful protest" (p. 87)​
  • "A powerful, unscrupulous offender, against whom a weak defender will not embrace high-minded principles that compromise the capacity for self-defence – under such conditions, conscience is a luxury, and so are culture and politics. It is a fateful situation, predisposed toward destruction" (p. 73)​
  • "We are locked in a vicious cycle. The long-standing violence of the regime provokes strong emotions among the abused, causing them to act violently and unjustly when they have the opportunity, while society seems to be continually surprised by what is happening and unable to either to organize itself against violations at the hands of the new aggressors or to influence their behaviour" (p. 183). 
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