Archive for August 2011
The World Tonight on BBC Radio 4 ran a segment on Amnesty International’s investigation of 88 deaths by torture in Syrian custody in recent months. The 88 include 10 children. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Thousands are missing. Following the report there’s an interview with Andrew Green, a former British ambassador to Syria, and with me. I agree with Andrew Green’s final comment, that the lack of a recognisable alternative to the regime constitutes a major obstruction in the way of the revolution. It does seem, however, that a consensus opposition council is now slowly emerging, including Syrians inside and outside the country, and of a broad range of political inclinations. Best of all, it seems that Burhan Ghalyoun is emerging as the opposition’s leader or figurehead. Ghalyoun is a popular secular intellectual. If Islamist voices are accepting him as a compromise figure, this is proof of their growing maturity.
Here’s the audio:
walls to scrawl graffitti on
slabs of stone for carving
if you crush it it sings a song
changes colour with a stamping
meat to hang upon a hook
wire conducting electricity
balls to kick around the yard
to reduce to pure simplicity
wet cloth to dessicate
sweet sounds to silence
flaps and buttons to be tugged off
obscenities to be licensed
unruly features to be trimmed and then
punished, then punished, then punished –
the guilty corpse, the damned – to be
punished, dissected, turned inside out
so all the world can see
Somebody said to me recently, “The Libyans will soon be doing business with Israel, whether they like it or not.” Here we go again: the assumption that the Libyans have no agency of their own, even after they’ve so dramatically taken the initiative to change the course of their own history. Yes, Libyans took help from NATO, Qatar, and the UAE when they found themselves with no other option. This doesn’t mean they are fated to be slaves of the West. Even Iraq doesn’t do business with Israel, and Iraq has suffered a full-scale US occupation.
Such easy assumptions about the Libyan people arise from racism, usually of the unconscious, ‘well-meaning’ variety. This racism consists, first, of indifference to the people’s plight under Qaddafi, or outright denial of their plight. The rose-tinted view of life under the dictator is reminiscent of the Zionists who assure us that Gaza has swimming pools and shopping malls and that Palestinian Israelis live better than any other Arabs. The rush to highlight the crimes of the revolutionaries (sometimes relying on Qaddafi regime propaganda) is accompanied by silence over the far greater crimes of the quasi-fascist tyranny.
Libyans (and, to a degree, Syrians) are seen as passive tools in the hands of the devilishly clever White man, as childlike people who don’t know their own best interests, as people best advised to shut up and enjoy being tortured for the sake of the greater ‘anti-imperialist’ good. The right of the Libyans to life and freedom, and to make their own decisions, becomes less important than the right of certain people to feel self-righteous.
Three films from the Syrian Revolution. The first is a good illustration of why the revolution will win. Uniformed insecurity forces chant the tired old ‘with our souls and blood we sacrifice for you, Bashaar.’ It’s clear that their hearts aren’t in it. At least one soldier looks completely bewildered. The people of Inkhel respond by chanting ‘with our souls and blood we sacrifice for you, o martyr.‘ Their hearts are certainly in it. The second film (after the break) comes from Kisweh, a suburb of Damascus, and you should play it with the volume up. It demonstrates the Syrian appreciation of rhythm and drums as well as of freedom (hurriyeh). The third is a song sung by ‘Najwa from Nawa’ – Nawa is a village in the Hawran – calling on Bashaar to ‘irhal’ – get out.
And here‘s Foreign Policy’s comment on the assault plus a gallery of Farzat’s cartoons.
On the radio I said that the Syrian regime isn’t trying to be popular at present. Escalating its attacks on Syrian cities in Ramadan, increasing the gunfire at the dawn prayer and at the break of fast: these are not moves calculated to win popularity. Likewise, when regime torturers force the detained to pray to a picture of the dictator, and to repeat ‘There is no god but Bashaar’, they are not seeking approval. It’s much more basic than that. The message is: We can do whatever the hell we like. We can outrage you as much as we choose. We can shock you with our barbarity and then shock you again, because we are unimaginably strong.
But they aren’t strong. They are very weak indeed, as we will all soon – insha’allah – discover.
Ali Farzat, the Arab world’s greatest cartoonist – in fact one of the very best and bravest creative voices in the Arab world – was bundled into a van by Syrian regime filth last night. Some hours later he was found bleeding at the side of the airport road. First reports suggest that his hands have been broken.
I’ve often used Ali’s cartoons to illustrate online pieces. His work has been the perfect choice – its tone is tragicomic; he never minimises the pain of the contemporary Arab situation even as he laughs at it. His pen, and his blessed hand, draw the catastrophes of dictatorship and occupation, of misogyny and class oppression, of bureaucracy, hypocrisy and ignorance. Ali is a valuable friend of the Palestinian people: I hope those fools who still believe the Syrian thug regime is a ‘resistance regime’ will note this well.
I discovered Ali Ferzat when I lived in Damascus in the late 1990s. His work was published in state newspapers. He seemed to be one of the rare few – poet Muhammad al-Maghut and actor Yasser al-Azmeh were others – who were permitted to transgress the state’s taboos. When Bashaar inherited power in 2000, Ali was granted permission to start up his own satirical newspaper, ad-Domari (‘the Lamplighter’). A couple of years later the initiative fizzled out under the pressure of mounting censorship and intimidation. The episode was symptomatic of the deceptions of Bashaar’s early years.
A few months ago the body of Ibrahim al-Qashoush, a native of Hama who wrote a popular anti-regime song, was found in the Orontes river. Ibrahim’s vocal chords had been ripped from his throat. Now the shabeeha regime has broken Ali’s hands. But it won’t break the creativity or the will of the Syrian people.
After six months of struggle, the Libyan revolution has arrived (again) in Tripoli. There may still be a trick or two up the megalomaniac’s sleeve, but the news coming in at the moment suggests a precipitous collapse. Saif-ul-Islam al-Qaddafi has been arrested. The tyrant’s daughter Aisha’s house is under the revolutionaries’ control, as is the military base of the formerly feared Khamis Brigade. The brigade in charge of protecting Qaddafi himself has surrendered. (The foreign supporters of Qaddafi and his supposedly ‘loyal’ subjects must be feeling rather silly now). Inhabitants of Tripoli’s neighbourhoods are pouring into their streets to greet the revolutionary forces.
Much of the credit for this victory must go to the revolutionaries of Misrata and the Jebel Nafusa. While the Transitional Council in Benghazi was busy fighting itself, the people of Misrata fought their way out of Qaddafi’s siege and then liberated Zlitan. The fighters of the Jebel Nafusa broke the siege around their mountains and then liberated Zawiya – which has suffered so much – and moved towards the capital. Last night revolutionaries in Tripoli, who have been launching small-scale operations nightly for months, rose in Fashloom, Souq al-Juma’a and other areas. Today they were met by their comrades arriving from the west and east.