Friday, February 15, 2013

Lessons from Syria

Jade Salhab

There are two parts to this brilliant article by Beesaan el Shaikh in Al Hayat (Arabic) which I believe is an imperative read for anyone interested in the Arab uprising.

The first part of the article uses the tragedies generated by the revolution as a very compelling argument NOT to support it. The second part, near the end, turns the argument around making a simple but slam-dunk case for the revolution.

I want to use the first part to rephrase a position I expressed in the very beginning of this revolution, days before the first Assad speech and the subsequent violent turn of the uprising: I expressed then my hope that Assad would do the wise thing and grab the opportunity to reform the regime by himself, because that was the only transition that would avoid destroying Syria, or handing it to Islamic extremists.

I was naïve in my hopes, obviously. But I believe that hope is a moral imperative. I knew then, like all those who lived through Lebanon's civil war, that no matter where it happens on this earth, or why, or how legitimate, when an uprising turns into an armed rebellion, there is absolutely no controlling of the damage it can make to the structure of society and its ability to recuperate post conflict (think Iraq, Lebanon, but also Salvador, Tchetchnia, or Sri Lanka more globally).

The unspeakable price of civil violence in terms of social dismantling (even more so than the toll on human life and heritage), is why I still believe that any people who has regime change in progress (i.e Tunisia, Egypt) - or in perspective (i.e Jordan, Morocco, or the Gulf in the coming 5 to 15 years) - must bend itself backwards twice, maybe thrice, before engaging in violent struggle, or violent ‘defense of the achieved revolution’ – as opposed to radically peaceful rebellion or political compromise.

One of the reasons I respect Moaz el Khatib so deeply is his awareness of this fact, and his courage to remain constantly open to compromise with the regime for the sake of ending violence – because he knows that no matter how high the price of such compromise is, it will always be lower than the one of sustained violence.

Don’t get me wrong, just like Beesaan el Sheikh says in her article, I believe that there is no choice BUT to support the Syrian revolution because it is the only legitimate and humanly acceptable path forward. But I certainly hope that idealists learn the lesson and understand that wars are, under all circumstances, unwinnable: because even by winning them, we destroy the basic social infrastructure that makes that victory worth anything.

This might sound obvious to some, but the consequence is less so: only a slower transition, or a stubbornly peaceful uprising can come at a lower cost.

I want to end by drawing a relevance to Tunisia and Egypt: compromise is a high price you might need to pay to avoid the higher price of a torn society. And if compromise is impossible (and it should take a lot before you get to this conclusion), than maintain your struggle peaceful at all cost (i.e no military repression of ‘medieval forces’). The alternative is worse than you can ever imagine or calculate.


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