What's next for the left's troubled relationship with Syria?
15 November 2016
Why are many Syrians - especially those who have long promoted human rights and greater democratic freedoms and/or were active in the revolution - critical of some voices on the western left?
First, let's talk about one source of tension: the issue of regime change.
Syrians today are divided between pro-government and pro-revolution camps - but that does not mean we cannot make any claims about the popular demands of Syrians, especially in the initial stages of the revolution. And during much of 2011 and 2012, millions of Syrians called for regime change ("Al-Sha'ab yureed isqat al-Nizam") - as soon as the the government began shooting us as we peacefully protested.
I would know - I was one of those protesters.
And we didn't do it on the orders of America, or to support alleged interests of large oil conglomerates. We did it after decades of repression and humiliation at the hands of a brutal regime, and we did it in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and other parts of the Middle East.
When the revolution started, I was 19 years old, and many people, like me, had no previous interest in politics - but we decided to join the demonstrations. In their first weeks, these protests did not go as far as calling for regime change, but were in solidarity with the city of Daraa - the first to protest against the government.
Did I care if America supported the uprising? Of course not; no-one on the street cared what Washington thought. It was an organic revolution fuelled by anger. We hoped it would bring change to the country in which we had grown up believing that all walls had ears, and that criticism of the government - even within your own home - was not allowed.
Now in 2016, the conflict is much more complex, but many on the Western left refuse to acknowledge the reasons and context in which Syrians originally called for regime change. In addition, they refuse to accept that millions of Syrians will always consider a Syrian government dominated by the Assad family illegitimate, because of the brutal violence it has inflicted and continues to inflict on them.Failing to recall this fact, or to always prioritise the US as the centre of analysism, denies Syrians our agency - especially because there is a very good argument that Washington may indeed have been a marginal actor in the conflict.
And at worst, it replicates some of the most patronising forms of Orientalism in which westerners tell Syrians which of their aspirations are legitimate.
Of course, taking the most recent fragment of this conflict and drawing conclusions is a much easier task. Trying to understand the longer-term chain of events or its timeline, however, requires time and energy.
Furthermore, it appears that many care much more about a future, theoretical US-western-oriented policy change on Syria - such as some kind of "safe zone" - rather than about the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who are being killed right now, the majority by the combined air forces of Damascus and Moscow.
I think this misplaced emphasis is probably the biggest frustration for many Syrian activists. It appears the western left cares more about holding civilian rescue groups accountable for allegedly insufficient transparency over sources of funding, than about the barrel bombs which necessitate the presence of the rescue workers in the first place.
I want to be crystal clear: Syrians will always care more about their children being murdered from the skies than whomever may have helped pay the salaries of Syrians who tried to rescue them from under a collapsed building. Full stop. More...
Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!