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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Burning Country coming to Los Angeles

Here's the short story, the executive summary: In 2011 the Regime responded to the democracy protesters with the slogan "Bashar al-Assad or we burn the country." That is what we have been watching take place in Syria over the last five years.

The ​​North American book tour for Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami comes to Los Angeles this Friday and Saturday.

Friday April 1 at 3:00 PM
UCLA, Bunche Hall, Room 10383 (10th floor)
315 Portola Plaza​​—Los Angeles

Saturday April 2 at 7:30 PM
The Markaz, Arts Center for the Greater Middle East
5998 W. Pico Blvd.​—Los Angeles

Complete North American Tour Details

Here is an excerpt published by the Daily Beast:
How the Syrian Revolt Became Armed

The Bashar al-Assad regime has burned Syria with artillery, Scud missiles, barrel bombs and sarin gas. According to the United Nations Human Rights Council, it has committed “the crimes against humanity of extermination; murder; rape or other forms of sexual violence; torture; imprisonment; enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts.” Assad is responsible for the lion’s share of the violence, but criminal and authoritarian elements in the opposition’s Free Army and Islamic Front have contributed to the terror too. And the third force—the transnational Sunni jihadists, particularly ISIS—has murdered surrendered soldiers, opposition activists, journalists and gays, while subjecting religious minorities to forcible conversion or sexual slavery. Syria’s ancient heritage—most famously Palmyra—has been pulverized. Somewhere between 300,000 and half a million Syrians are dead. Almost twelve million have been displaced. None of this is pretty.

At the same time, coexistent with the horror, some Syrian communities are practicing democracy, organizing themselves for practical rather than ideological purposes, debating everything, publishing independent newspapers, running independent radio stations, and producing art, music and writing on a massive scale. This much more positive story is largely unknown outside the country. And that’s one reason why I, a British-Syrian novelist, and Leila al-Shami, a British-Syrian activist, wrote our book Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War.

One of the supposed reasons for the American and British invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 was to bring democracy to the Arabs. In Syria in 2016 there are over 400 local councils, most of them democratically elected, and most of us in the West have never heard of them.

Revolutionary Syrian voices have been drowned by war noise, inaccurate grand narratives and simplistic assumptions. Currently under full-scale Russian and Iranian military assault, they are now in danger of elimination. We may well end up with Putin’s preferred choice—only Assad and the jihadists left standing. So for the historical record, we should know that another alternative existed, and one of rare intelligence and courage. And for our children’s sake, we need to better understand the escalating Syrian tragedy, and to encourage our leaders to do better.

The extract below is excerpted from the chapter “Militarization and Liberation”:

In the months and years that followed… militarization—more specifically the scramble for weapons and funds—transformed the revolution from a leaderless movement into a cacophony of a thousand competing leaders, from horizontalism to a jostle of hierarchies—though horizontally organized committees and councils continued to work, and their work, increasingly focussed on basic community survival, became even more crucial in the absence not only of the state but sometimes of any infrastructure whatsoever. Furthermore, women’s role in the revolution was increasingly marginalized. Although women—particularly Kurds—did sometimes take up arms, they were largely excluded from the military struggle—a male hegemonic domain—and the civil struggle became much less visible, although no less important. As indiscipline and opportunist criminality tainted the resistance, and later as jihadism flourished, the regime found an excuse for its already steadily escalating violence, and gradually persuaded many at home and abroad that its survival was the least worst option for Syria and the region.

Still, abstract criticisms of the revolution’s militarization miss the point. Syria’s revolutionaries didn’t make a formal collective decision to pick up arms—quite the opposite; rather, a million individual decisions were made under fire. Yassin Swehat puts it like this: “It wasn’t a choice. Look at Homs. When thousands are praying in a square, peaceful, unarmed, and they are shot at, murdered—What do you expect to happen next?”

Violence has its own inevitable momentum. When residential areas are subjected to military attack, when neighborhoods experience the horror of children tortured to death, when young men are randomly rounded up and beaten, soon they will respond. Before moving on to media work, Ziad Homsi, a thin man with an intellectual demeanor, fought in Douma, in the Damascus suburbs: “It was a matter of self-defense. Everyone defended his own home, his own alley. Brigades were formed by the residents of one neighborhood, or by a group of men who worked together. It was a spontaneous process.”

According to Assaad al-Achi, the threat of sexual violence in particular pushed people towards arms. “Syria is very much a conservative, traditional society. Rape is something that will outrage the people. It is very emotional for them… By December 2011 rape had become a standard practice not only in prisons but by the army as well. When it went into towns, the first thing [soldiers] did was go into homes and start raping women in front of their fathers, brothers and husbands.”

But perhaps the greatest of all motivators for the armed struggle were traumatization and the thirst for vengeance. When AbdulRahman al-Jalloud left prison he continued to pursue civil revolutionary activities, but he puts this down to his prior political awareness and contacts. Those young men without such a background responded to their torments in a more concrete manner: “Ninety per cent of detainees picked up arms as soon as they were released. They had very personal reasons. The fighters I know, their houses were burned, their relatives killed, they were on the run.”

In this sense, the militarization was inevitable, and once it had become an undeniable reality, most civil revolutionaries sought to adapt. Some, in the face of the regime’s persistence, rethought their non-violent principles. One was Basel al-Junaidi, living in Aleppo: “We all expected death. I was scared to shower naked in case a bomb dropped. I saw massacres myself. For example, I saw the aftermath of a barrel bomb. I saw human remains scattered in the street; I heard the screaming. I’m trained as a doctor, but I was unable to act. I just stood there, petrified. The West thinks we’re used to this, but we aren’t of course. We’re like anyone else—we use computers and cars, not camels and tents. Look, I’m a secularist, an atheist… A religious person who saw this would want to blow himself up. Even me, if a close family member had been murdered like this, I’d certainly have taken up arms. At the start I was totally against militarization. Now I support it. I realize the regime can’t be toppled by peaceful means.”

In other words, militarization was not solely a natural human response to regime brutality; it also grew from the logical realization that civil resistance was not enough, that the regime would only go if forced. For after months of struggle, not only had sections of the populace failed to mobilize against the regime, some—most of the Alawi community, and the professional/sectarian core of the army—were prepared to actively support it, even to fight and die for it, no matter what atrocities it committed.

Marcell Shehwaro reports: “The violence was more than the people could bear. We couldn’t answer the question how civil resistance would bring down the regime. ‘OK,’ they said, ‘we can stick to the Dignity Strikes, but Bashaar’s being funded from outside. We can’t bring down the Iranian and Russian economies!’ We were offering them nice stories from Egypt while they were burying their dead. They asked, ‘Do you stick to selmiyyeh (peaceful) tactics because they’ll bring us victory, or for the sake of the selmiyyeh tactics?’ We could tell them that the West would see us in a brighter way if we were peaceful, but we couldn’t tell them this would bring victory. We couldn’t tell them, for instance, how civil resistance would free the detainees. Our stand, therefore, didn’t succeed. Every day people died, every single day. So the people armed themselves; they became used to weapons as they’d become used to civil resistance before.”

So the first—and seldom mentioned—component of the armed resistance was civilian. Every adult Syrian male had undergone compulsory military training; it wasn’t difficult, therefore, for terrorized “farmers and dentists” (as US President Barack Obama would call them) to organize defensive militias.

Alongside these volunteers—although volunteer is not the word—army defectors formed the core of the growing anti-Assad force. Very often they acted as the civilians did—they returned to their home towns, where they organized with their neighbors. These soldiers had been ordered to shoot protestors, and very often did, lest they themselves were shot by the intelligence officers at their rear. A combination of guilt, horror and fury propelled many to escape when they could, but perhaps most were killed in the attempt or hunted down in the following days. Usually they took only one weapon with them; sometimes they managed to break weapons out of stores. In every case they had to be prepared to fight to resist capture. Those who sheltered them had to face the fury too. Zaid Muhammad, a Palestinian-Syrian photographer from Aleppo, expresses the existential urgency of the situation: “Soldiers were ordered to kill their compatriots or be killed themselves. It was natural that those who were able to would defect, and the defectors had a right to defend themselves. Should the people have turned these men over to the regime? Of course not. That means the people had to prepare for battle.” More...

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Friday protests roll on in Syria, the Paris Commune of the 21st Century

There were more massive popular protests across Syria this Friday. The large anti-government protests that started the revolution five years ago have now returned in a big way for the last four Fridays in a row. They illustrate a number of facts: 1) The popular democratic revolution has not been defeated by five years of horrific violence by the regime of Bashar al-Assad and his supporters, only suppressed. 2) The main purpose of this murder of almost a half-million Syrians has been to suppression of this popular resistance and not to fight "terrorism."

The first fruits of the relative lull in violence brought on by the ceasefire agreement in Syria has been the return of massive peaceful protests demanding an end to the regime. The vigorous return of the people to the streets five years after the original protests show that the regime violence initiated five years ago, with Hillary Clinton's blessing, has always been primarily about suppressing those protests and the revolution they represent.

That is why regime violence, and recently the even more horrific Russian bombing, has always been directed at this rebellious civilian population. Their "War on Terror" has always been a ruse. It was they that first breathed life into Daesh, gave it substance and save-haven in Raqqa. Even today, Assad buys Daesh oil and Russian experts work in Daesh gas plants.

Maybe this is our problem after all...

Most Americans thought they could pay the situation in Syria no-never-mind. It was a small Middle-East country far away. So what if a dictatorship was massacring its own people? Not my problem! The general attitude of the US "Left" has been much more scandalous - on balance, it has weighed in on the side of the Assad regime and its Russian backers. It denied the sarin murder of 1400 the same way it denied the more generalized murder of half a million. They have been mostly quiet [check Democracy Now's coverage] while the first holocaust of the 21st century has been taking place under their noses - which is to say - available in their YouTube streams.

Not only did what start in Syria not stay in Syria, it now threatens to rock the world. I didn't know this conflict would be the engine behind two of the biggest issues in the 2016 US presidential campaign - the refugees from Syria and terrorist from Syria, when I first made the Syrian revolution the focus of my political work in 2011, but here we are. So now I say again:

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

And because this is the 21st century when imperialism is in its end game, and not the 3rd quarter of the 19th century, when imperialism was just getting started, this commune is much more important than the original.

I have been so bogged down with Linux SysAdmin work lately that I haven't had much time for blogging, so please allow me a few quick observations.

On the Brussels attack...

Since the Brussels attack, most of the commentary has been about how this shows that Daesh terrorism is a really a massive problem in Europe and, considering San Bernardino, the United States too. They speak of thousands of ISIS operatives in Europe and hundreds in the US. Promoters of Daesh call it ISIS. The object is to make us all very afraid and they have their own reasons for this.

They want us to fear a new Godzilla rising from the past, but I see in the evidence of their own police work, indications that this is not the case. The DNA evidence they have developed indicates that the Paris attack in November and the Brussels attack were the work of one close-knit Daesh cell from the Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels. And, in spite of the terrible loss of life they have managed to inflict, it sounds like they are falling apart. Salah Abdeslam was on the run because he chickened out in the Paris attack and threw his suicide vest into a trash bin. It took four months to track him down because he was hiding in a basement apartment, not because a whole community was protecting him, as some commentators would have you believe. Its really not that hard to hide if you stay inside. I don't know what's going on in most of the apartments in my building.

When he was found, the others panicked and carried out the hurriedly prepared Brussels attack, and as bad as it was, it would have likely been much worst if they hadn't been rushed, if they had time to get all their bombs to the site, for example. Here again one of their "dedicated jihadists" fled without carrying out his mission. Most significantly, their chief bomb maker blew himself up! And while this is most often the way jihadist bomb makers leave this Earth, this was not by accident. Precisely because most would-be bomb makers do depart before gaining the necessary experience to be effective, the experienced bomb maker is highly prized and protected by the terrorist organization. For one to blow himself up is a true kamikaze move. For a terrorist organization, it's the equivalent of a farmer eating his seed corn. So I see in all these things, a small [14 by one count] terrorist cell disintegrating fast. What I don't see in this story, so far, are signs of the other Daesh cells, that we are told number in the hundreds.

That doesn't mean a workplace shooting in San Bernandino by a couple that had no contact with Daesh won't be listed as one of their big terrorist attacks because they claim it, or that hundreds of innocent Muslims in Belgium and France won't be arrested to help authorities keep up the scare, because that's the way these ISIS promoters want it.

Another reason targeting Muslims to defeat Daesh misses the mark...

Trump and all the other Islamaphobic demagogues that see in the rise of Daesh an excuse to target Muslims in the US and Europe always seem to forget about the 20%.

What 20% you ask?

One study of French Daesh recruits found that about 20% had actually converted to Islam to join Daesh. In my own survey of US Daesh followers I was also surprised to see how many came from Christian families. Consider just three American Daesh wannabees I wrote about in November:
Sam R Hall of the local Clarion-Ledger reported "She [Jaelyn Delshaun Young] was a cheerleader, an honor student and a member of the homecoming court in high school." She also was the daughter of a Vicksburg police officer and a "recent convert" to Islam.
Shannon Maureen Conley, a 19 year old Colorado youth was arrested at Denver International Airport while attempting to travel to Turkey to join ISIS as a nurse and marry an ISIS member she met on the Internet. She was reported to the FBI by the pastor of her church, Family Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colorado.
Sinh Vinh Ngo Nguyen is the son of Vietnamese immigrants who was still attending Sunday Mass with his mother when he was arrested in Santa Ana, CA while boarding a bus to Mexico.
I don't know if 20% is the right figure, or what might apply across the board, but my point is that Daesh's appeal to young people in the US and Europe, while cloaked in religion, is not based on religion, and is effective only because of the deep alienation these people feel from their society. Just how will the Trump/Cruz plan to coral Muslims catch these non-Muslims before they make life changing errors? This is an angle on the story I haven't heard, so I thought I'd mention it.

While the people of Syria courageously press forward their revolution, the people of European and America are told to cower behind the threat of Daesh, a criminal-terrorist gang which the western authorities honor by calling the Islamic State. Juan Cole is right, it is neither. Those who know recent Syrian history know that Daesh is in large part the creation of the Assad regime, that it has Syrian security operatives serving as Daesh emirs, and that four years ago a representative of the Assad regime threaten to visit upon Europe and America precisely the type of terror attacks we have witnessed in Paris and in Brussels if the West ever bombed Syria, as it is now doing.

After the Paris attack, I reminded the world of that history with a post here, 20 November 2015, Assad's Grand Mufti threatened Paris type attacks in 2011. Last Friday, after the Brussels attack, the Syrian revolution turned out in force to remind the world of that history. The National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces reports:
Anti-regime Demonstrations Sweep Across Syria on Friday

25 March 2016
For the 4th Friday in a row since the truce has been declared on February 27, the Syrian people took to the streets today in many cities and towns across Syria chanting for freedom and demanding the fall of the Assad regime.

Activists dubbed today’s demonstrations “Assad is Source of Terror," referring to threats made openly by the regime’s Grand Mufti Ahmad Hassoun who previously threatened to send suicide bombers to carry out terrorist attacks inside Europe.

Demonstrators in the provinces of Damascus, Aleppo, Idlib, Homs, Dara’a, and Rural Damascus called upon rebel groups to unify and reaffirmed commitment to the goals of the revolution.

Detailed list of towns and villages where demonstrations took place: Jiza, al-Hirak, Dael, Saida, Jobar, Qaboun eastern Ghouta, Ein Tarma, Saqba, Douma, Arbin, Zamalka, Talbeesah, Rastan, Kafranbl, Maart al-Nouman, Khan Sheikhoun, Taftanaz, Bashiriya, al-Habeet, Hazzano, Jarjanaz, Azaz, Hullu, kafarhamra, al-Abzimo, and al-Hour. (Source: Syrian Coalition)

Saqba Near Damascus — “We Want Freedom”

Saida in Daraa Province

Friday protest at Busra al-Sham's ancient amphitheater today. Daraa, Syria

Friday protest in Qaboun, Damascus

Friday protest in Aleppo - Huluk neighborhood

Friday protest in Saqba in Damascus suburbs today

Aleppo residents use Syria truce to resume Friday protests

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

Saturday, March 5, 2016

104 opposition rallies across Syria on Friday show revolution lives!

There were at least 92 104 anti-Assad rallies across Syria on Friday. The popular Friday protests that launched the Syrian Revolution five years ago continue, in spite of the horrific violence they have been subjected to. As world powers, including the United States, seem more and more intent on shoving the criminal Assad regime down the people's throat, the voice of the Syrian people has been rendered almost silence in the world media and they are given almost no role in the debate about their country's future.

What has five years of ignoring the just demands of the Syrian people and turning our backs while Assad and his supporter resort to the mass murder of civilian to stay in power wrought? As many as half a million dead, the biggest refugee crisis since WWII, an EU being strained to the breaking point, the Islamic State terror and and in the United States, possibly the most reactionary and racist political campaign of the modern era.

I have a lot on my plate these days, including holding down a full time industrial job, but I realize that due to the criminal negligence of both the bourgeois and "Left" media, you probably won't hear anything about these rallies from other sources. You won't hear about them from Democracy Now, that's for sure!

Here are videos from a few of these rallies. I want to thank EA Worldview for collecting them.


Maarat al-Num’an in Idlib Province in northwest Syria:

Azaz, near the Turkish border:

Atarib in Aleppo Province:

Anjarah in western Aleppo Province:

Aleppo city:

In and Near Damascus




As-Safir in East Ghouta:

Southern Damascus:


Busra al-Sham:


Al-Yadudah, near Daraa:

Al-Hirak in Daraa Province:

Homs Province:

Al-Waer district in Homs city, which agreed to a ceasefire last year after years of siege and bombardment:



Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria