The Syrian Uprising, UC Berkeley, and the Struggle to be Consistent

There are a number of issues related to the civil war in Syria that I’d like to address.

First, one of the blog’s commenters has suggested that there was an armed insurrection against the Syrian regime from the start of the uprising in March of this year. I categorically reject this notion. There is armed resistance to the regime now, definitely, but this wasn’t always the case. From the inception of the protest movement, the Assad regime has condemned it as a “foreign conspiracy” (Do these dictatorships read from the same playbook? Authorities in Tunisia, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Iran have all blamed their uprisings on foreigners!).  There are two main reasons why all these regime’s brand their respective uprisings as foreign conspiracies: 1. To discredit the protesters as foreign stooges and attempt to rob them of any legitimacy in order to prevent others from joining them; 2. To justify the crackdown of the movements.

Thus, in the case of Syria, after months of a seemingly endless crackdown, the allegations that it is a foreign conspiracy swarming with “armed gangs,” has become a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of the movement becoming armed. This is an especially growing phenomenon since so many soldiers are now defecting to defend the people.

The second point I want to address is that although the Syrian armed forces are largely Alawis, the minority off-shoot of Shi’ism that constitutes the ruling class in Syria, Alawis are not a monolithic bunch and not all of them support the regime.  This should be especially evident with the defection of Alawi soldiers.

Third, there is a tendency to criticize the movement for turning to arms. Although it is important to note that the movement by and large is still non-violent, many are resorting to weapons and the question I have to such critics is this: What are they supposed to do? The latest UN report notes that more than 4,000 Syrians have been killed in the past 9 months. Another 500 or so casualties, which will surely come unfortunately, and the death toll will equal that of all the American casualties in 8 years of war in Iraq! So I reiterate, what are these protesters supposed to do?

Finally, many of my Shi’ite friends, who championed the uprisings in Egypt and Bahrain, have been criticizing the movement in Syria because if the Assad regime falls, it would be a foreign policy disaster for Iran, the quintessential Shi’ite state. Many of these people expressed solidarity with the struggle in Egypt because Egypt under Mubarak was very much in the pro-US and anti-Iran camp.  And these same people condemned the Bahraini government because it’s a Sunni dictatorship ruling over a Shi’ite majority island. I think it’s important to be consistent, avoid sectarianism, and not employ the cold logic that states utilize when assessing global politics.  Only a state approaches human lives with such heartless calculations, i.e. “friendly” dictators that crush non-violent movements are acceptable while “enemy” dictators must respect the rule of law and abide by the wishes of its people.

With every one act of violence, whether committed in countries friendly to yours or whether it happens at UC Berkeley with campus police hitting non-violent student protesters, whether lethal or otherwise, the state or authorities chip away at their own legitimacy. In the case of Syria, long before the death toll there reached 4,000, the regime lost every ounce of legitimacy, regardless with whom the state is allied.

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