Racists exploit BDS and Israel to advance their agendas of hatred

 
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By Khaled Diab

As recent motions in the German Bundestag and US Congress reveal, both the BDS and pro-Israel movements are exploited by racists as fig leafs to further their agendas. These racists must be exposed and challenged.

Friday 24 May 2019

Taking a leaf out of the US Congress‘s playbook, Germany’s Bundestag has labelled the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as “anti-Semitic” in a non-binding resolution which enjoyed cross-party support.

Given that Germany has, in recent years, instated or participated in numerous sanctions programmes, one would think that its parliament could tell the difference between targeting a repressive regime and hating an entire people.

After all, I do not regard Germany’s earlier decision to sanction the Syrian regime for bombing its own people, or its embargo on arms sales to Saudi Arabia for its warmongering in Yemen, as expressions of anti-Arabism or Islamophobia. Instead, they are efforts to deploy ‘soft weapons’ to curb or stop these conflicts – or at the very least not to profit from them or be a party to them.

Likewise, the entire EU, including Germany, as well as Israel and many Jewish groups, boycotted Austria briefly after Jörg Haider’s Austrian Freedom Party became part of the governing coalition in 2000.

“The pattern of argument and methods of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic… [and] recall the most terrible phase of German history,” the motion issued by the German federal parliament stated.

Although I admire Germany’s efforts to come to terms with the crimes against humanity committed by the Hitler regime, and the country’s determination to avoid a repeat of that tragedy amid a massing current of anti-Semitism, this effort to equate the present BDS movement with Germany’s dark Nazi past is way off the mark.

There is no equivalence between a totalitarian, genocidal state which stripped Jews of their rights and very nearly succeeded in exterminating European Jewry, and a civil society campaign which defends the human rights of Palestinians and opposes the decades-old Israeli occupation. Suggesting that the two are the same is tantamount to blaming the victims for their demise.

What adds insult to injury is the German far-right’s efforts to jump cynically on the anti-BDS bandwagon.

It is beyond ironic that the extremist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which claims to be Israel’s “one true friend” in the Bundestag while simultaneously stoking anti-Semitism and nurturing nostalgia for the Third Reich, has put forward the harshest alternative resolution, calling for an outright ban of BDS in Germany.

This must appear to be a can’t-lose proposition to the far-right party, which can now deflect criticism of its anti-Jewish agenda while disguising its anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry in a cloak of virtuosity. Moreover, European anti-Semites supporting Israel is not as odd as it sounds because they have long regarded it as channel for removing Jews from the West.

This variety of stealthy anti-Semitism needs to be challenged as actively as open racism against Jews.

Those, like the Green party, who voted for the resolution on the progressive end of the spectrum are inflicting unforeseeable damage on German democracy, by curtailing citizens’ freedom of expression and action. It also sends the implicit message that even peaceful forms of Palestinian resistance are not acceptable in some western eyes.

That is not to say the German authorities should stop challenging and combating the poison of anti-Semitism, but they should focus on actual incidents of Judeophobia, rather than stigmatising an entire anti-occupation movement.

Although the principles of BDS are not anti-Semitic, in and of themselves, the movement can and does attract anti-Semites.

Some racists instrumentalise the movement to cover up their irrational hatred of Jews and to conceal their hateful bigotry behind a sheen of respectability. Others allow their sympathy for the suffering of the Palestinian people to plunge them down the rabbit hole of rabid racism.

This leads to the sorry and troubling situation in which some pro-Palestinians perpetuate the vilest and filthiest of anti-Semitic tropes, such as the myth that wealthy Jews covertly run the world through their alleged control of the global banking system, not to mention the seemingly supernatural powers they ascribe to Israel and the Mossad.

Some truly ludicrous variations of this which I have heard or encountered include the myths that the Israeli Mossad was behind everything from the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks to the creation of the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group and the master puppeteer behind the Syrian civil war.

Most sickening is when a BDS supporter or pro-Palestinian sympathiser downplays or downright denies the Holocaust, either by claiming the Holocaust never took place or by insultingly insinuating that the Zionist movement played a role in the persecution of Jews in order to win sympathy for their cause, thereby simultaneously blaming the victims and absolving the perpetrators.

A recent example of this was a short video downplaying the extent of Nazi extermination drive and purporting to reveal “the truth behind the Holocaust and how Zionism benefited from it”, which was posted by AJ+ Arabic last week. Al Jazeera quickly deleted the offensive tweet and suspended the two journalists whom it said made and published it.

It is imperative that efforts to combat and weed out this insidious racism are scaled up, both in the Arab world and the West, for the integrity of the pro-Palestinian movement and for the safety and security of Jews.

While the BDS movement is clearly not racist, it is not necessarily as effective as some think, nor as ethically straightforward as its advocates believe, and a convincing moral case can be made for supporting, opposing or modifying it.

One thorny question relates to the issue of fairness. Although it is completely understandable that Palestinians would focus on their own cause and engage in a boycott of their oppressor, it is less clear why outsiders would choose this cause over others.

For many pro-Palestinian activists, their support is part of a broader humanist worldview that opposes injustice and oppression wherever it occurs and regardless of whomever commits it, such as is the case with Jewish supporters of the Palestinian cause. Moreover, Palestine and Israel are of enormous symbolic, political and historical importance, both in the Middle East and the West.

However, some are guilty of selective outrage and the hypocrisy that accompanies it. For instance, there are those who rail against the crimes and injustices of the Israeli occupation while defending the crimes and injustices of, for instance, the Assad regime.

Then, there is the conundrum of collective punishment, especially when it comes to the cultural and academic boycott of Israel and the blanket “anti-normalisation” movement in the Arab world, which impacts even Israeli progressives, such as celebrated author and academic Shlomo Sand, and sometimes even Israeli journalists sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, such as Amira Hass.

And, as the anti-normalisation camp becomes more vocal in Palestine, on the back of a quarter of a century of disappointment and decades of dispossession, this also inhibits joint action between Palestinian and Israeli civil society and citizens, as several peace activists confessed to me during a recent visit to Ramallah.

But the reality is that Palestinians will not be freed by BDS alone. In addition to a targeted boycott of the institutions that facilitate the occupation, there needs to be targeted engagement between Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs and Jews. The goal of the conflict needs to shift from vanquishing a determined enemy who refuses to bow down to gaining a steadfast ally to bow to in mutual respect.

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Hypocrisy and the Holy Land

 
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By Khaled Diab

In their reactions to Donald Trump’s hypocritical Jerusalem declaration, many Arab and Muslims leaders have exhibited their own grotesque double standards.

At the behest of the Turkish president, Islamic leaders gathered for an extraordinary summit to denounce Trump’s declaration.
Source: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Twitter account

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Exercising his peerless talent to make enemies and infuriate people, Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there changes nothing on the ground – except perhaps highlighting the extent of American hypocrisy and how Washington was never an impartial broker.

Nevertheless, Jerusalem is a city of enormous symbolic significance, not just to Jews and westerners but also to Arab Muslims and Christians, and the Palestinian struggle has been at the heart of Arab and Muslim consciousness for generations.

This partly explains why a merely symbolic announcement from Trump has triggered such angry reactions both in Arab corridors of power and on the streets. Another factor is the need to forge a semblance of unity in this bitterly divided region.

Arab League foreign ministers warned that Trump’s move “deepens tension, ignites anger and threatens to plunge the region into more violence and chaos,” as though it was not already mired in both.

In keeping with the League’s track record of futile, toothless endeavours, the ministers said they would seek a UN Security Council resolution rejecting Trump’s move, as though the US was not a veto-wielding permanent member.

Lebanon’s foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, urged the Arab world to adopt economic sanctions against the United States. While Bassil was outspoken in his defence of Palestine, his position towards Palestinians is a different matter.

The foreign minister has previously stirred controversy with his opposition to the naturalisation of not only the recently arrived Syrian refugees but also the Palestinian refugees who have lived in Lebanon for decades. Bassil is even against allowing Lebanese women to pass on their nationality to their children if they are married to a Palestinian or a Syrian.

While Bassil is an extreme and bigoted example, loving Palestine but disliking the Palestinians is a fairly common dissonance in Lebanon. This is reflected in how angry protesters clashed with riot police outside the American embassy in Beirut, with some denouncing the US as the “enemy of Palestine”.

Meanwhile, nearly half a million registered Palestinian refugees call Lebanon home, many of whom live in poverty and socio-economic marginalisation, excluded from numerous professions, in one of the country’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps, including the infamous Shatila in southern Beirut.

Of course, Lebanon has been a frontline state in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It has integrated some Palestinians and its failure to integrate the remainder partly rests on the fear of what this would do to the country’s delicate balance of power, which dangerously and precariously hinges on a sectarian fulcrum. Some Lebanese are opposed to the integration of Palestinians on the grounds that this keeps the Palestinian cause alive, even if it exacts a heavy human cost.

At a rally in Beirut last week, Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah, speaking by video link, urged Palestinians to rise up against Israel and vowed that “Jerusalem and Palestine and the Palestinian people and the Palestinian resistance in all its factions” would become his group’s top priority.

One wonders why the Palestinians of Syria were not a priority for Nasrallah, whose militia has been actively supporting the Assad regime in its destruction of Syria, including Yarmouk, the Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus, upon which the regime and its allies have inflicted a cruel siege and fought a number of battles.

Not to be outdone, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed to lead Islamic efforts to resist the US move, even hosting a summit of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation to prove his point. Calling Israel a “child-murderer state”, Erdoğan pledged to “continue our struggle within law and democracy… Our road map will show that it will not be easy for them to realize their plans.” What Erdoğan failed to mention is that he has almost destroyed Turkey’s democracy and undermined the rule of law through a systematic campaign to jail journalists and critics and to purge the state of opponents and enemies, both real and perceived.

After the summit, Erdoğan pledged to open a Turkish embassy in East Jerusalem. However, he built a cunning escape hatch into his plan by claiming that he could not, for now, open this embassy, because East Jerusalem is under occupation. This sounds like low-risk grandstanding to me, as Turkey already has a consulate in Sheikh Jarrah. He could declare that the embassy, if he really wanted, and hang a sign outside, even if it pissed off the Israelis or led to the Israeli taking action against the consulate-cum-embassy.

The reason Erdoğan talks the walk but does not walk the talk is because of all the Turkish interests at stake. What is also absent from Erdoğan’s inflammatory remarks is that, increasingly isolated like Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu, he ratified a lucrative reconciliation deal last year with Israel, the country he accused of infanticide.

While Turkey has longstanding official relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia, which severely reprimanded Egypt for its peace deal with Israel and ostensibly upholds the Arab boycott of Israel, is seeking closer ties, not to work towards peace and reconciliation in the Arab-Israeli conflict, but to build a mutual alliance against Iran, Riyadh’s belligerent regional rival.

Regardless of which side of the Gulf spat they stand on, much of the Gulf Co-operation Council has been hungrily eyeing Israeli technology, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar all finding covert paths, via middle countries, through which to import Israeli products, including military ones.

This, along with Saudi Arabia’s hatred of Hamas and murderous starvation of Yemen, could explain the muted reaction from Riyadh compared with other Arab and Muslim capitals. Moreover, Saudi Arabia, under the de facto leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is keen to build an axis of autocrats with wannabe dictator Donald Trump in Washington.

Egypt’s reaction has also been fairly reserved. This is partly because of the mutual appreciation society President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi enjoys with Donald Trump, and partly because Egypt has an ambivalent relationship with the Palestinians.

On the one hand, the Egyptian regime has helped Israel maintain its blockade of Gaza by keeping its Rafah crossing mostly closed and has stoked hatred and fear towards Hamas. On the other hand, Egypt has been a central mediator, though hardly an unbiased broker, in intra-Palestinian efforts to mend bridges, helping clinch the recent reconciliation accord between Fatah and Hamas.

Beyond the regimes, on the street, where outrage is generally more genuine, much of the anger has been on behalf of stones and symbols rather than flesh and blood humans, and has featured a troubling element of religious bigotry.

Over and above the chanting of tired and outdated slogans, there has been little in the way of creative new approaches to break the deadlock and support the Palestinians.

____

This is the updated version of an article which first appeared in German in Die Zeit on 14 December 2017.

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Greek island teaches Europe how to welcome refugees

 
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Boštjan Videmšek/DELO

The Greek island of Tilos has hosted more than seven times its population in refugees… and has done so with dignity, respect and with its own limited resource.

Photo: ©Boštjan Videmšek

Tuesday 15 August 2017

A tired middle-aged man, dressed for autumn even though it was a sweltering July afternoon, was quietly staring out at the clear blue sea. His old soldier’s face had a frozen, immutable aspect to it, but you could still sense he was awash with emotion. With the sun mercilessly beating down on the nape of his neck, he was stoically yet carefully monitoring his five children chase one another on the almost deserted beach. Every now and then a thought escaped his lips – usually no more than a word or two. In these conditions, it was hard to remain of sound mind if one didn’t have an occasional chat with oneself.

“I haven’t slept for five years,” the man eventually told me. “Five years! Can you even imagine what that means?”

Mohsen is a former high-ranking officer in the Syrian government forces. He hails from the northern city of Hasaqa where the Kurds form the majority of the population… A city where, from the war’s outbreak in the spring of 2011, the members of the Kurdish militia have often coordinated their manoeuvres with the officials in Damascus. This marriage of convenience somehow held out to the present day.

Mohsen used to command 400 men. For a long time, he had managed to hold on to his hope that all-out war could be avoided. His hopes withstood even the fact that after the first few weeks of the mostly peaceful demonstrations against the Bashar al Assad regime, his superiors ordered him to start jailing the protesters en masse.

The demonstrations in the Kurdish-majority region were not as intensive as those in other parts of Syria. About a year into the riots, when the country had already plummeted into the abyss of war, his superiors ordered Mohsen to relinquish his command to the Kurdish units.

It was not the first direct order this proud Syrian patriot refused to carry out. The crux of his argument was that Syria was Syrian, not Sunni, Shi’a, Kurdish or Christian. Since he was very popular with his soldiers and revered by many of his superior officers, the authorities chose not to jail him. Instead, they transferred and demoted him. He knew what was coming next.

“I no longer have a future, but my children do”

Pressure was slowly put on Mohsen’s family. The mukhabarat, the country’s security and intelligence service, followed his every move and monitored his every word. Eventually, they imprisoned his brother. Then he was given another impossible order: his unit was to open fire on the protesters.

This was when the international fighters looking for a holy war had already started reaching Syria through the Turkish border. And with them, intelligence officers and arms dealers. Mohsen rounded up his soldiers and told them he was deserting. His men were free to either join him or comply with the orders from Damascus. Some of them decided to join him. At the end of 2012, he struck off for Iraqi Kurdistan, accompanied by his family and a number of his former troops.

He managed to get a job in Dohuk, but the Syrian intelligence was hot on his trail. He was considered a traitor, and the war soon splashed over the Syrian border to the north of Iraq.

In June 2014, after the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS or ISIS) took Mosul, the extremist Sunni militia began conquering the Kurdish territories. As ISIS neared Dohuk, the outlook became increasingly grim. Despite his dreams of the Syrian war ending, Mohsen finally resigned himself to a refugee’s fate.

He took his family to Turkey, where he knew he was not safe on account of his status as a ‘traitor’. Still, he spent more than two years in the vicinity of Izmir, after deciding not to register as a refugee. When the Balkan route opened up, it was generally seen as everyone’s golden chance to reach Europe. Yet Mohsen waited, hoping against hope the situation back home might still somehow improve.

When he learned that he had been stripped of all his assets in Hasaqa, he realised this was no longer an option.

After the EU and the Turkish government struck their bargain, things became much worse for the Syrian refugees in Turkey. Sadly, Mohsen was too late to strike off for Greece… Too late for his family to be granted permission to spend the rest of the war in Germany.

“I decided to try to reach Europe because of the children. I no longer have a future, but they do. It’s my duty to do everything I can to help them on their way. Forty days we waited for a boat, and then the smugglers boarded us onto a small ship. There were so many of us… And it was very very cold. The captain was taking the ship around in circles. I knew something was not right. Maybe he was drunk? We changed our course countless times, and then we hit a huge rock. Eventually, we were rescued and transported to Greece,” Mohsen says, describing the scenes from eight months earlier.

Mohsen was talking to me on the small Southern Aegean island of Tilos, which he now calls his home. “Here on Tilos all I wanted was to get some rest,” he smiles. “But now I would very much like to stay. These people have treated me like a human being. I had already forgotten what that even means. I feel welcome, safe and useful here – seeing how I can take care of the kids while my wife goes off to work… I can simply say that I’m living again. And I have begun to enjoy a good night’s sleep. After five years. I am so grateful for all that.”

Tilos Hospitality Centre

Along with his wife and five children Mohsen resides at the Tilos Hospitality Centre, a tidy refugee settlement in the seaside village of Livadia. This sleepy yet somehow still lively village is proof positive of what can be achieved when humanity triumphs over fear, prejudice, xenophobia, racism, and politics.

The centre, which is made up of 10 comfortable residential units housing 46 Syrian refugees, is decidedly not a refugee camp. It is an open, free and dignified residential area providing shelter for people whose lives have been completely wrecked by the war. It is a place of hope and – the importance of this cannot be overstated – of activity.

Many refugees, especially the women, had little trouble finding work on the island. At the time of our visit, coinciding with the height of the tourism season, not a soul on the island was unemployed. Quite the contrary: many of the locals are working 18-hour shifts.

Tourism is Tilos’ main source of income, so the summer months have to be milked for all their worth. The refugees are paid perfectly respectable wages in the hotels, restaurants, bistros and at the local bakery. Legal help has also been made available to them, while the Tilos Hospitality Centre is constantly visited by volunteers from all over Europe. The centre is both a study in the humane integration of war-torn souls and an antithesis to the sum of the EU’s (anti-)refugee and (anti-)immigrant policies.

This commendably complex approach is far from accidental; the islet of Tilos is a paragon of progressiveness in other respects as well. In a few months, Tilos is set to become the first Mediterranean island to boast energy self-sufficiency. One hundred percent of its power will be drawn from renewable sources like the sun and the wind. This warm green refuge has thus become the meeting place of two key issues affecting our present and future: migration and renewable energy. Most of the dominant Syrian-war narratives have proven all too oblivious to the fact that climate change has been a major factor contributing to the conflict’s escalation, especially by driving the impoverished rural masses to leave their drought-scarred land and move to the cities.

On Tilos, the local community is functioning like one giant cooperative: interdependent, highly responsible, free of ideology and propelled by humanism. Tilos was, in 2008, the location of the first gay marriage in Greece. From as far back as 1993, hunting has been completely outlawed on the island, which is in its entirety protected by the EU’s Natura 2000 programme.

Tilos is the future as it might have and could have been across Europe, had other places not succumbed to xenophobia and fear. Simplicity so complex it boggles the mind.

“Doing what is normal and what is right”

The island is located only 17km from the Turkish coast. Outside the tourist season, it is inhabited by only 823 people (and approximately 10,000 free-ranging goats). Between 2013 and 2016, more than 6,000 refugees landed here. Most of the incomers had been dumped by the smugglers on the smaller beaches – they had simply been left there to die, since the cliffs and the rocks made it impossible to leave.

The local activists, led by the mayor Maria Kamma-Alfieri, soon cracked the smugglers’ pattern. They started following the Tilos-bound boats to be able to gather the shocked, traumatised and often severely dehydrated refugees from the remote beaches. Nearly every resident of the island with a boat or a small ship had taken to the sea, saving hundreds and hundreds of lives.

At first, the rescued refugees were housed at the local orthodox church, only to be transferred to a deserted barracks. Almost no help was coming from outside, so the living conditions were rather poor, while the incomers only grew in number. Yet the people of Tilos refused to give up. They decided they would do everything in their power to help.

In the end, they managed to defeat both – the state and the EU bureaucrats. A year ago, the Tilos Hospitality Centre, housing exclusively Syrian families, opened its doors in Livadia. For the locals, this aim was self-explanatory, a product of their basic decency and genuine desire to help. For those of us who have spent the better part of a decade chronicling the refugees’ tragedy, it was a quite a shock. This alone tells a lot about how things stand.

“We’re simply doing what is normal and what is right,” shrugged Elena Pissa, a driving force behind the centre. “We are normal human beings. We know what to do, that’s all. But unfortunately, you’re also quite right: in this racist and selfish world, what we’ve done here on Tilos is unusual – exceptional even. And that’s a scary thought, isn’t it?”

I got talking to Elena over a cup of ice-cold cappuccino. I could sense she was a deeply tired woman. She had long forgotten what a holiday felt like.

From morning to late afternoon, she takes care of her wards. She helps refugees in every way possible: she takes care of the paperwork, calls up the relevant officials, arranges emergency medical appointments, forms legal strategies with lawyers, finds work, mediates in their family disputes, coaches her colleagues and keeps up everyone’s morale. When she is finished with her duties at the refugees’ settlement, she relocates to her tourist shop in the village, where she remains until 11 at night.

Her business is not exactly thriving. It has not been the best of seasons for Tilos, but Elena is holding on, having to provide for herself and her 11-year-old son. This activist with a degree in management from Athens hasn’t even been to the beach this year. By focusing so hard on the needs of others, she has been neglecting her own. Elena has little time for compromises. Now is simply not the time. Greece has found itself on the frontline of the battle for what remains of Europe’s basic human decency, and Elena is a crack commando of the grassroots’ special forces.

Wills and ways

So what’s so special about Tilos?” I asked the mayor; Maria Kamma-Aliferi, who had taken over the helm after the sudden death of her legendarily progressive predecessor Tasos Aliferi. Maria has been serving as the mayor for the last six years. She has never ran in an election. Around here, it is deemed enough that she has the people’s support and a college education.

The thing about Tilos it’s probably how the people here are keen to embrace innovation. Like renewable energy sources. On many other islands or even in the mainland cities, the reactions would have been mostly negative. But here we’re very serious about the environment. Its protection is our basic aim. If the community is an open one, free of prejudice and taboos, then everything is so much easier. I guess this is why we see our achievements as something completely normal. We are working towards our objectives step by step, carefully planning our moves in advance. The key is always focusing on the good of the community. You can’t just force on people something they do not want. Once they established the refugees were not a threat, they quickly opened up. In time, they realised the refugees’ presence could even prove beneficial to the future of our island. Much the same can be said of our renewable energy project.”

According to the mayor, Tilos has never suffered much from xenophobia. As recently as 15 years ago, the small island had been almost deserted, its young people moving away en masse. The local school used to be empty then, while it now takes care of the needs of 80 children… A number sure to experience a significant boost in the autumn, when the refugee youngsters are set to join in.

The island was close to being dead,” the mayor recalls. “But then our solidarity came to the fore. When the first refugees started coming in, our small community immediately accepted them in our midst. The first hospitality centre was built by the local volunteers. We made all of it ourselves.”

According to Maria Kamma-Aliferi, the most important thing was for the island’s residents to come face to face with the people, particularly the children, who had undergone unspeakable horrors. “When we looked into the little ones’ eyes, we could see naked fear. The smugglers simply dropped these poor boys and girls on a bunch of rocks. They were shaking like leaves. How can you remain neutral and unperturbed when you see a freezing crying baby no more than twenty days old? These people’s only crime is to have survived,” she notes.

The island may be facing numerous problems, mostly of the financial and infrastructural variety. But the locals are firmly set on pursuing their hospitable policies. They have long stopped counting on help from Athens – not only because of the state’s long stumble on  the brink of bankruptcy but also because of its traditional neglect of its more remote islands and regions.

The mayor seemed hopeful the Greek state might at least aid the islanders with respect to the refugees, since the island’s council is planning the opening of a dairy processing company as a joint venture between four local and four refugee families. The entire project is estimated at around €150,000, and any scrap of help from Athens would be welcome.

“Our problems need to be viewed as a challenge. We have made our choice, so there is no question of changing course. Regardless of how small the island is, we’ve already managed to take care of thousands of refugees. If only some of our larger [regions] could muster up the will – think of all that could be accomplished. I can only hope that some of them might yet be inspired by what’s happening here,” she urges.

Improvised fun

Photo: ©Boštjan Videmšek

In the late morning heat, a huge and fairly slobbery mongrel dog was chasing a saggy punctured ball thrown by the refugee children. Little boys and girls were darting off all over the place, the dog was happily barking… But both sounds were drowned out by the sound of the cicadas.

Abu Kareem from Daraa, who was eight and bizarrely confident, picked up a guitar and started playing something remotely resembling a tune. His older sister Hiba gave him a pointed glance and quickly confiscated the instrument, taking it up herself to play a traditional Greek melody. An elderly Syrian refugee lady was hanging laundry. A delicious smell wafted over from a nearby kitchen. All over the clean and comfortable settlement, even those refugees who worked the night shift were slowly waking up.

As for the sleepyhead children, they were being roused from their slumber by a Belgian volunteer named Sofie De Bois. Summer school was about to kick off, providing Greek and English classes to the refugees and Arabic lessons to the activists. Sofie, a 24-year-old student, runs a series of fairly improvised psycho-therapeutic workshops. They consist of drawing classes, chess, guitar and electric piano lessons, some pretty wild looking yoga, something resembling a jazz ensemble – and a lot of happy noise-making needing no justification whatsoever. After finishing up, Sofie then spends her evenings and nights waiting tables in one of the cafeterias.

The local activists were seated around a huge wooden table in the shade. Most of them have been actively saving lives for the past few years. A number were currently employed by the Solidarity Now project financed by the UNHCR. Their contracts are good until the end of 2017. They are hoping they will get renewed, but lately they have started to worry.

Over the past two months, the Greek authorities – spurred on by the EU – have chased the NGOs from most of the islands. From 1 August 2017, the Greek government took over the control of the so-called refugee ‘hotspots‘, which are prisons in everything but name.

This, at least, is the official plan. For the migrants and refugees trapped in Greece, this is catastrophic news. The Greek authorities have neither the personnel nor the finances to take care of the country’s 50,000 refugees, most of whom got stuck here after the closing of the so-called Balkan refugee route, stranded between their destination somewhere in central or northern Europe and the increasingly unstable Turkey.

The ‘residential centres’ on the islands are currently holding more than 10,000 people. Most of them have been there for more than six months. An additional 2,200 can be found on the mainland. The state has turned this precarious situation into a business opportunity, as the funds Brussels used to allocate to the NGOs will now be rerouted straight to Athens. But for the Tilos Hospitality Centre, the pernicious new arrangement will not come into effect until the new year at least.

When the ground quakes

Maysoon al-Deri, 30, also comes from Daraa – a city in the southeast of Syria, where the insurgency against Bashar al-Assad was first sparked. It was a spark that soon triggered a civil war, which then exploded into a global conflict of sorts, given how many countries are currently involved in the conflict.

The war didn’t need long to claim the home of this mother of five young children, ranging from the ages of two to ten. In spite of her house being destroyed, Maysoon remained in the war-torn city until 20 February 2016, when she set off for the Turkish border. A large portion of her journey was through ISIS-controlled territory. For the first time in her life, Maysoon put on a burqa – purely for safety reasons. She didn’t take it off for almost two months. This is how long she, her husband and their children had to wait to cross the Syrian-Turkish border. When they finally reached Turkey, the pathway to Europe had already been welded shut. After the deal involving €6 billion had been struck, the Turkish authorities began to implement heightened security measures to restrict the refugees’ movements. They also cracked down on some of the smuggling ‘ networks.

The family managed to contact a smuggler who, on second attempt, got them to the Greek island of Lesbos. For the first time, actual shots were fired at them – not by ISIS but by the Turkish coast guard. They then spent four months in the infamous residential centre of Moria, in essence the modern version of a concentration camp. “It was a very warlike experience,” Maysoon recounts of her experience there. “We have horrible memories! The situation there was inhumane, simply inhumane!”

Last September, when the UNHCR authorised the family to relocate to Tilos, a glimmer of hope returned to their lives.

“When we got here, I was ill and absolutely exhausted. It took a long while before I regained some of my strength. The people here were helping me on every step of the way. I’ll always be grateful,” she told us at the Hospitality Centre on the morning after a forceful earthquake had shaken Greece, including Tilos. Maysoon’s head was covered with a headscarf, and it seemed she still hadn’t completely woken up. She had slept straight through the earthquake, being rather used to heavy turbulence. Yet some of the refugees had been given quite a jolt. Many of the children were terrified that the war had caught up with them again.

Maysoon has spent the last 10 months here on Tilos. The small Aegean island has become her temporary home. Until the war in Syria simmers down, she refuses to budge. She is especially proud of having found work waiting tables at one of the local restaurants. Come autumn, the older contingent of her kids is set to enter school here. Her husband has also managed to find a semblance of peace.

“I’ve stopped dreaming of Germany or other European countries,” she smiled. “I know it’s hard for refugees anywhere you go. Here, we have everything we need. We won’t have it better anywhere else. The people here are so helpful, they took us in… things are very nice and warm and peaceful.” Maysoon told me she still sometimes catches herself gazing at the sea, wondering how it was possible all her children had survived the journey. “So many – so many have drowned,” she remarked. Just last year, some 5,500 people perished in the Mediterranean sea trying to reach Europe. This year, the tally currently stands at 2,500, making the death toll more than 30,000 since the turn of the millennium.

“I didn’t think I could ever get rid of the fear… For a long time, I was so afraid someone might come after us. It’s such a relief to be able to take a walk at one in the morning, after I’ve finished up at the restaurant… I walk along the beach and think, ‘It is so peaceful and quiet there by the sea. People respect me here,'” reflects Maysoon.

Maysoon’s train of thought was broken by a burst of hysterical crying from her two-year-old son. A toy car made of steel got stuck to his lip. The problem was quickly solved, but the toddler’s tears kept flowing. “He tries to eat everything he can get his hands on, everything,” the boy’s mother smiles.

Before she came to Tilos, Maysoon al-Deri never had a job. “I’m so happy to be able to work here. This way I can feel free, strong and self-dependent. True, I get tired quite a lot, but it’s a good feeling. I hope it lasts.”

The fact that many of the women have found employment while the men stay at home to tend to the children is a revolution in its own right. At first, there were some problems, Elena Pissa recalls, since it was necessary to break down the cultural barriers. But a little tenacity went a long way. In just a few months, integration fell into step with emancipation.

“For the first time in my life, I have a job! I’m cleaning apartments and preparing breakfast. It’s not particularly hard work, and I’m having a good time doing it,” Waala al-Hariri smiled bashfully.

A whole new circle of hell

Waala, 28, is a mother of two. She reached Tilos last November after spending close to eight hard months on Lesbos. Along with her husband and two children she had fled the war, only to face a whole new circle of hell over here in Europe.

For a long time, she was simply unable to comprehend it. “There were 80 of us on the boat I arrived on. The smuggler was laughing, telling us we were taking a trip with the Death Tourist Agency. It was so horrible. Every time I think back on the journey, I start crying.”

As she was telling me this, Waala’s sharp green eyes were cutting through me like twin laser beams. In Syria, she had to quit school just before graduation on account of getting married. Her ambition is to continue with her education and one day open a beauty salon. But not on Tilos, not here in Greece. Like many of the local refugees she and her family wish to push on towards Germany. The relatively ideal living conditions on Tilos are not enough to keep them here, since many of them are desperate to reunite with family members located somewhere to the north.

“To be frank,” Waala says, “what I really want is to return home… But the war is not going to be over for a long time. Our house was badly damaged in a bombing raid. All Syrians should be on their way back to rebuild their country, but I know this won’t be possible for a long, long time.”

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The Arab media paradox: Free expression amid repression

 
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By Khaled Diab

Frustratingly for Arab dictators and despots, no matter how much they try to silence, intimidate or co-opt the media, new loud and critical voices emerge.

The frontpage of the normally pro-regime al-Musawer protests the storming of the journalists syndicate and the media crackdown in Egypt.

The frontpage of the normally pro-regime al-Musawer protests the storming of the journalists syndicate and the media crackdown in Egypt.

Wednesday 11 May 2016

It is not just the news that is depressing. The state of the media around the world is increasingly becoming a cause for alarm. Tuesday 3 May was World Press Freedom Day and almost everywhere you turn your gaze, media freedom is under threat from governments, terrorist organisations, crime syndicates and corporate interests.

Freedom House’s latest report found that global media freedom was at its lowest level in a dozen years.

According to the Washington-based watchdog, only 13% of humanity enjoys access to a free press. Even in countries where freedom of the press is legally protected and supposedly sacrosanct, the media is experiencing mounting pressure, as governments exploit the threat of terrorism to enact restrictive legislation and populist right-wingers find ways to co-opt or muzzle the media.

A similar message is echoed by France-based Reporters Without Borders whose latest Press Freedom Index (PFI) has registered a growth in violations of nearly 14% since 2013. This reveals “a deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels” which “is indicative of a climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests”.

These violations can verge on the insultingly absurd. An example that would ring familiar with many Arabs was the case late last year of a Thai man who was arrested for “lèse majesté” late last year for allegedly “insulting” not the ailing King Bhumibol himself but his beloved dog in a series of Facebook posts. As is often the case, the real target of the junta’s ire are the allegations the same man published about widespread corruption in high places.

In both rankings, the turbulent and conflict-ridden Middle East props up the bottom half of the global league and, according to Reporters Without Borders, is “one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous regions for journalists”. Freedom House concurs, noting that “governments and militias increasingly pressured journalists and media outlets to take sides, creating a ‘with us or against us’ climate and demonising those who refused to be cowed”.

Journalists here are at risk from repressive regimes and their security apparatuses, armed militias and terrorist groups, religious radicals, not to mention the threats posed by regressive laws, those above the law or general lawlessness, depending on the location. With all the dangers to life and livelihood which independent media professionals in the region experience, it is almost a miracle that anyone would make journalism their career choice.

The main good news about the region’s media emanates from Tunisia, the only Middle Eastern country to rise in the PFI rankings. But even in the Arab uprisings’ greatest success story so far, journalists still face regular harassment and often exercise self-censorship.

The largescale war against media freedom in the Arab world actually distorts a key and perhaps paradoxical truth: never have Arabs enjoyed freer access to information and never have the region’s journalists and citizens mounted such a constant, consistent and comprehensive assault on the state’s media dominance. This is especially the case in the frontline states of the Arab revolutions.

The most incredible and laudable examples of this must be the journalists and citizen journalists working to record and broadcast the truth in the region’s war zones – Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.

Despite being the deadliest country for journalists in the world, many Syrians continue to put their lives on the line to  report on the crimes and violations of the Assad regime, ISIL and other armed groups. One of the most dramatic examples of this is the award-winningRaqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently’, a citizen-journalist group reporting independently out of ISIL-controlled territory.

Although government crackdowns have narrowed the space for free expression, frightening and cowing many in the process, the region’s courageous independent journalists have been forcing open the cracks left behind.

In this regard, the digital and social media have been a lifeline. Two prominent examples of this are the audacious and daring investigative journalism sites Inkyfada in Tunisia and Mada Masr in Egypt.

For their part, regimes have been fighting back. Not only have Arab governments invested heavily in surveillance and monitoring technologies, they have also sought to beat activists and revolutionaries at their own game by building up a dynamic propaganda presence online.

But frustratingly for Arab dictators and despots, no matter how much they clampdown on free expression and try to silence, intimidate or co-opt the media, new loud and critical voices, whether underground or in broad daylight, invariably emerge.

This was amply been demonstrated by the remarkable media and protest campaign spearheaded by the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate to defend press freedom, call for the resignation of the interior minister and demand an end to repression.

Although the days are long gone when Arab regimes enjoyed a near monopoly on the flow of news and information within their borders, they still act as though they can control the minds and consciousness of their citizens.

Once upon a time, Arab leaders could figuratively parade without clothes in front of their pliant media and hypocritical “Yes men” and nobody would dare tell the emperors they were nude. Though our leaders would love nothing more than our turning a blind eye to their naked lust for power, millions of Arabs are no longer willing to applaud our emperors’ new clothes. The Arab public has become unwilling to accept illusion and delusion as substitutes for actual change.

It is high time for Arab governments and other repressive actors to learn that the wise way to deal with criticism is not to shut down critical media but to respond to and engage with opponents and critics, and to enact meaningful and deep reforms.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the updated version of an article which first appeared on Al Jazeera on 3 May 2016.

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ليست سورية هي المسألة، المسألة هي العالم

 
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بقلم بوستيان فيدمشك

في لقاء موسع، يتحدث الكاتب والناشط البارز ياسين الحاج صالح هنا عن سوريا الماضي، الحاضر المأساوي والمستقبل المجهول.

صوري 1

الأربعاء 27 يناير 2016

ياسين الحاج صالح، من مواليد 1961، كاتب سوري يعيش في تركيا منذ خريف 2013. كان سجينا سياسيا شيوعيا أيام حافظ الأسد لمدة 16 عاما. زوجته سميرة الخليل مخطوفة منذ الشهر الأخير في عام 2013 من دوما في غوطة دمشق، وأخوه فراس مخطوف من قبل داعش في الرقة منذ تموز 2013. وله كتب منشورة عن الشأن السوري، وعن الإسلام المعاصر، وعن تجربة السجن.

نشرت هذه المقابلة باللغة الانجليزية هنا

ترجم المقابلة عن الانجليزية فاتح تامر، وراجعها ياسين الحاج صالح

_____

كيف حالك؟ وأين تعيش اليوم؟
أنا بخير، شكراً على السؤال. حين كنت في سوريا اعتدت على القول: ليس لدي أسباب شخصية للشكوى، ولا أسباب عامة للرضا. لكن بعد الثورة، واختطاف زوجتي سميرة وشقيقي فراس، ثم عيشي خارج البلد، في اسطنبول، صار ما هو شخصي عاماً وسياسياً أكثر من أي وقت مضى، وما هو عام وسياسي صار شخصياً جدا. إنها حياة صراع.

بماذا تشعر عندما ترى الكثير من أبناء بلدك ينزحون من النزاع الأسوأ في وقتنا الحالي؟ هل توقعت هذه الهجرة الجماعية؟
قبل أسابيع، ساعدت شخصيا بتهريب زوجة أخي وابنهما من تركيا إلى اليونان. وكمبتدئ في هذه الصنعة، استشرت أصدقاء، والتقيت بمهربين، واخترت أحدهم في النهاية. كنت قلقاً على سلامتهم، واسترخيت طبعا لدى وصولهم إلى بلد أوروبي، وإن لم يكن البلد الذي أرادوا الوصول إليه في البداية. يبقى الآن تدبير أمر النصف الآخر من العائلة، أخي وابنيه الأصغرين، ليلتحق بالنصف الأول. وبمساعدة أصدقاء، نعمل الآن على تأمين شقيقي الآخر وعائلته في بلد آخر، هذا بعد أن تم اغتيال صديق مشترك لنا، الصحفي والمخرج الوثائقئ ناجي الجرف في 27 كانون الأول 2015 في تركيا.
كما ترى، ندعو أنفسنا إلى عالم لم يكن كريما معنا ولم يساعدنا على التحرر في وطننا.

لا، لم أتصور يوماً إمكانية حصول نزوح واسع كهذا. لم أتوقع أن يتمكن النظام من قتل مئات الآلاف من السوريين، وأن ترتفع حظوظه بالبقاء بالسلطة كلما ازداد عدد ضحاياه. لم أتوقع نشوء كيان متوحش مثل داعش. ولم أعتقد بإمكانية مشاركة حوالي 70 دولة في قصف بلدي، قصف لا يستهدف المجرم الذي يحكم البلد، بل قوة إجرام جانبية.

كيف ترى التعاطي الأوروبي مع أزمة اللاجئين؟

كلي إعجاب بكثير من الأشخاص من البلدان الأوروبية، متطوعات ومتطوعين أفرادا. معجب بكرمهم وشجاعتهم، وأراهم يشرفون الجنس البشري. تأثرت كثيراً برسالة وصلتني من امرأة نرويجية قبل حين، جاءت من بلدها لتساعد اللاجئين في جزيرة ليسبوس اليونانية. أما بالنسبة للحكومات فليس من العدل أن تشمل بمجموعة واحدة، ألمانيا ليست كهنغاريا، والسويد ليست كالدنمارك، لكن أظن بأن الدول كلها تعمل على بناء أسواء عالية حولها لمنع تدفق اللاجئين إليها، وبشكل خاص الفقراء والضعفاء منهم.
تقوم الحكومات الأوروبية منذ شهور بالضغط على أنقرة لعدم السماح لللاجئين بمغادرة تركيا. في تشرين الثاني 2015 دفعوا للحكومة التركية مبلغ 3 مليار يورو مقابل حماية الحدود الأوروبية من خطر اللاجئين.
مع كل هذا الدم الذي أريق تحت أنظار العالم خلال الأعوام الخمسة الماضية قادت البشري نفسها نحو الفقدان الكامل للشعور الأخلاقي. أعتقد بأن عدم الاكتراث الذي أظهره العالم بخصوص المحنة السورية سيؤدي بالمؤسسات السياسية كلها إلى إحساس أدنى بالمعاناة الإنسانية في كل أنحاء العالم.

في وضعٍ غارق بالفوضى كهذا، أين ترى يمكن الحل أو الحلول؟
يمكن للمرء أن يفكر بتسوية تاريخية تنهي الحرب، وتضمن انسحاباً شاملاً للقوات الأجنبية، وتؤسس لبيئة سياسية مختلفة كليا في البلد. يمكن لحل سياسي مستدام أن يبنى حصراً على أساس أكثرية سياسية جديدة في سورية. ولا يمكن تحقيق هذا الأمر عن طريق مواجهة داعش لوحدها، أو النظام لوحده. يتطلب وجود أكثرية سورية جديدة حدوث تغيير سياسي جوهري، وهو الأمر الذي لا يمكن تصوره بدون وضع حد نهائي لحكم سلالة الأسد، وهي في السلطة منذ أكثر من 45 سنة،وتتحمل المسؤولية عن حربين كبيرتين في البلد: حرب 1979-1982 وحرب 2011 الجارية الآن.
هذا التغيير هو الشرط السياسي والأخلاقي المسبق للوصول إلى حرب على داعش بمشاركة واسعة من قبل السوريين. ما زالت القوى العالمية حتى الآن تحاول وضع العربة أمام الحصان عن طريق استهداف داعش وحدها، متجاهلة جذورالعسكرة والتطرف والطائفية خلال السنوات الخمس الماضية، أعني نظام الأسد. هذه سياسة قصيرة النظر ومحكومة بالفشل، بصرف النظر عن أنها لا أخلاقية. إنها وصفة مثالية لحربٍ لا تنتهي.
يمكن أن يتم بناء سوريا الجديدة على عدد من الأسس الجوهرية: اللامركزية، اعتبار الجماعات الإثنية والدينية والمذهبية المختلفة جماعات متساوية تأسيسيا، مساواة حقوقية وسياسية بين المواطنين الأفراد (عرب وكرد وآخرون، مسلمون ومسيحيون وآخرون، سنيون وعلويون وآخرون: متدينون وعلمانيون وآخرون). من غير المقبول الحديث عن سوريا كدولة علمانية، كما تنص وثيقة فيينا الموضوعة في 30 تشرين الأول 2015، حين لا تتطرق الوثيقة نفسها لأي شيء عن العدالة والمحاسبة، وتتجنب كلمة الديمقراطية. هذا الضرب من إعطائنا محاضرات عن العلمانية يذكر بأسوأ خصائص الخطاب الاستعماري.

ماذا يجدر بما يسمى “المجتمع الدولي” فعله؟ وماذا عن الأمم المتحدة؟
السنوات الخمسة الماضية كانت فرصة ممتازة لمتابعة آلية عمل المؤسسات الدولية والقوى العالمية. بالنسبة لي لم تعد القضية قضية سورية وحدها، إنها قضية العالم. ليس الأمر أنني لا أتابع ما يجري في بلدي، لكن العالم حالياً موجود في سوريا (70 دولة دخلت بالحرب هناك).
أرى أن عالم اليوم يفتقر إلى كوامن العدالة والحرية أكثر من أي وقت مضى منذ نحو قرن. في كانون الأول من 2015 ألمح فلاديمير بوتين إلى إمكانية استخدام الأسلحة النووية ضد “الإرهابيين”، هذا تصريح استثنائي وغير مسؤول، وقد قوبل بصمت مطبق من المجتمع الدولي. بعده بأيام قال الرجل نفسه بأن العملية العسكرية الروسية في سوريا “لا تشكل عبئا على الميزانية… بل إن من الصعب تخيل تدريب أفضل منها للقوات الروسية. يمكن أن نتدرب هناك لمدة طويلة من دون أن نلحق أي ضرر بخزينتنا”. تصريح مليء بالغطرسة الاستعمارية، لكنه لم يستثر أي ردة فعل على الإطلاق من الأمم المتحدة أو القادة الغربيين، ولا من مجموعات حقوق الإنسان أو المنظمات اليسارية في العالم.
تطور الوضع في سوريا من ثورة ضد الطغيان الى مسألة عالمية، المسألة السورية. أرى أن صنع المسائل هو النهج السياسي للأقوياء في صنع التاريخ. المسائل أوضاع معقدة تبث اليأس في النفوس، وهي تدوم عقوداً أو أجيالاً بأكملها أو “إلى لأبد”، كما يقول أحد شعارات موالي الأسد، وخلال هذا الوقت الطويل ينشبك الفقراء والضعفاء في أوضاع معقدة لا مخرج منها. وعلى النقيض، فإن نهج الضعفاء السياسي هو الثورات التي تخلق الوضوح والأمل. إن سحق الثورات في سوريا والمنطقة عموماً هو المهمة المتشكرة التي تجمع الأقوياء في سوريا والمنطقة والعالم عموماً. هذه العُقدة الغوردية التي يعقدونها ستبقى معنا لوقت طويل للغاية.
تاريخياً، سارت المسائل والحروب الكبيرة سارت معاً على قدم وساق. المسألة الشرقية انتهت مع الحرب العالمية الأولى، والمسألة اليهودية وجدت “حلين نهائيين” في الحرب العالمية الثانية وما تبعها، الثاني منهما كان على حساب الشعب الفلسطيني. ويمكن للمرء أن يضيف المسألة الكردية: منع الأكراد من تشكيل دولتهم، وهو أيضاً منبع للكراهية واليأس والحرب. سوريا مساحة تقاطع لهذه المسائل الثلاث معا.
لهذا السبب فإن سوريا هي تمثل عالماً مصغراً ومثالاً عالمياً. لا حاجة للقول بأن الأمم المتحدة والمجتمع الدولي هما صانعو مسائل، بل هم قوى ثورة مضادة. لا ينتظر المرء منهم أن يكونوا قوى ثورية، لكن دورهم كان إجرامياً بحق.

هل الانقسام السني-الشيعي أعمق اليوم من أن يحل سياسياً؟
إنه كذلك. ولكن لا يوجد حل سياسي للانقسامات الطائفية. وعلى كل حال، ليس الانقسام بحد ذاته هو المشكلة، المشكلة هي الصراع العنيف بين الجماعات الاعتقادية. وعلى العكس من الاعتقاد السائد في الغرب، فإن هذا الصراع ليس شيئا يترتب تلقائيا على وجود سنة وشيعة. في الحقيقة وعلى النقيض من ذلك، الصراعات الاجتماعية والسياسية هي التي تحرك هذه الانتماءات الخاملة وتشحنها بكهرباء سياسية خطرة. فتحولها عمليا إلى أحزاب سياسية، بل عسكرية. وهذا أيضاً من مناهج الأقوياء في إضعاف الشعوب المتمردة لتحويل الصراع من النطاق السياسي الاجتماعي الذي يتمثل بالمواجهة بين النخبة والفئات الأضعف إلى النطاق الثقافي الاجتماعي المتمثل بالمواجهة بين الضعفاء على جانبي خطوط الانقسام الدينية والاعتقادية. ما أريد قوله هو أنه يلزم أن تدرك بصورة أفضل ديناميكيات وعمليات النزاع السياسي الاجتماعي في بلدان مثل سوريا، العراق، البحرين، إيران والسعودية، وكذلك والنزاعات الاقليمية من أجل فهم الانقسام السني الشيعي نفسه. هذا الانقسام يتعمق اليوم بالتأكيد، ويجري استخدامه كأداة للسيطرة على الجموع وتعميق الهيمنة على المنطقة. الطائفية عموما هي استراتيجية للسيطرة السياسية. والمسألة في النهاية مسألة سياسة، ليست مسألة دين أو ثقافة.

هل بإمكاننا القول بأن سوريا لا تزال قائمة كبلد، كدولة؟
مجدداً، سوريا اليوم هي العالم. هناك أكثر من 70 دولة مشتركة بالحرب بشكل رسمي، ويوجد أيضاً جهاديون من أكثر من 70 دولة موجودون أيضاً هناك. سوريا مسألة عالمية، رمز فريد للظلم واللامبالاة والنسيان. لدينا سوريا هذه على الأقل، سوريا الرمز.

يؤسفني القول بأنني لست واثقاً من بقاء سوريا كبلد قابل للحياة. الاحتمال الوحيد لنجاة سوريا هو تغير سياسي جوهري. سوريا كما هي الآن بلا تغير تموت، عاجلاً أم آجلاً. فقط سوريا المتغيرة ستكون قابلة للحياة.

إن الأسباب الأولية لنشوء الحرب ووحشية النظام هي أمور قد تم بشكلٍ أو بآخر نسيانها في الرواية الغربية عن الحرب. لماذا؟

بشكل رئيسي بسبب علاقة تماه بين النظام والقوى العالمية العظمى على المستويات البنيوية والرمزية. ان عقيدة الحداثة هي مسألة مشتركة بين الفاشي بربطة عنق، بشار الأسد، وهؤلاء القادة ذوي ربطة العنق في الغرب الذين ينقصهم بعد النظر والإحساس بالمسؤولية العالمية. للأمر صلة بشكل ما مع تكون النخبة السياسية في الغرب، وهي مكونة من أشخاص ذوي دخل عال، منعزلين تماماً عن المعاناة الشعبية الناجمة عن السياسة. وهذا أحد مصادر أزمة الديمقراطية في الغرب ذاته. فالديمقراطية تموت حين تنفصل عن الصراع من أجل العدالة. نحن نشاهد بأعيننا كيف أن الديمقراطية تتقلص الى مجرد تكنولوجيا سياسية لإدارة الأزمات. منهج إدارة الأزمة، بانفصاله التكويني عن القيم وقضايا العدالة هو اليوم المنهج السائد في السياسة خلال السنوات ال25 الماضية، حتى في الغرب. هذا المنهج ليس نافعاً في شيء سوى خلق المسائل، والشرق الأوسط هو التجسيد الفعلي لهذه السياسات اللاأخلاقية.
وترجع بعض جذور ضعف الذاكرة الى تكوين الوسائل الاعلامية الكبرى في الغرب، حيث يتجه التفضيل إلى ما هو مثير على حساب ما هو هام إنسانياً وسياسياً. على سبيل المثال، قطع رأس رجل ما أكثر إثارة من قتل 100 آخرين ببرميل متفجر، وأكثر نيلا للاهتمام والتغطية الإعلامية. نتماهى مع من يقتلون بطريقتنا، جرائمهم مثل جرائمنا ليست أخبارا ولا تغطيها أقنية الأخبار التي نتحكم بها. لكن يصيبنا الهلع من هؤلاء الذين يقومون بالقتل بطريقة مختلفة، هنا الجريمة خبر جدير بالاهتمام، إلى درجة قيام وسائل الإعلام الغربية بشن حملات دعائية لداعش على مدار سنتين.
على فكرة، أعتقد بأن هذا الافتتان بداعش، وقد بدأ في صيف 2013، مرتبط بصورة وثيقة بالصفقة الكيماوية المشينة بين الولايات المتحدة وروسيا. فهم منها نظام الأسد ضمنياً أنه من المقبول أن يقتل الناس بأسلحة أخرى، ليس تلك التي قمنا نحن بتحريمها. كانت وسائل الإعلام الرئيسية مطيعة للغاية بتغطية كل ما تقوم به داعش وتهميش كل جرائم النظام، هادفةً لإضافة الشرعية على تلك الصفقة الخسيسة بين حاميي السلام  العالمي المفترضين.
الهوس بداعش هو وسيلة متبعة لغسيل عار تلك الصفقة. ترغب وسائل الإعلام والنخب القوية أن تبقى الشعوب متسمرة أمام العجيب المعروض، وتظل أذهانهم معلقة بقاطعي الرؤوس الوحشيين، المختلفين تماماً عنا وعن شعوبنا العزيزة. أريد أيضا أن أضيف شيئاً فيما يتعلق بمسألة الهوس بداعش. يخيل لي أن هذا المستوى المجنون من القتل والسيطرة الذي تمارسه داعش في المناطق التي تحتلها هو المستوى الذي تطمح النخب القوية في “العالم المتحضر” لتقليده. هذا العنف له وظيفة رئيسية: إنه يرفع سقف ما يمكن فعله بالشعوب في بلاد أخرى، معطياً نخب السلطة في كل مكان إحساساً بالسيطرة والحرية. فاذا كان من الممكن القيام بهذا الفعل هناك اليوم، فلعله سيكون ممكناً هنا أيضاً يومأ ما. داعش تمثل التجارب المخبرية التي يراود مخيلة نخب غربية محاكاة ما تفعله يوماً ما. طوباهم هذه هي كابوسنا. ولهذا بالضبط ينبغي أن تشعر الشعوب في الغرب بالقلق مما يجري في سوريا في السنوات الخمس الماضية. لا تدافعوا عنا، بل دافعوا عن أنفسكم!

هل هنالك أي جهة على الاطلاق تقوم بلعب دورٍ ايجابي؟
جهة خارجية؟ ربما لا. لكنه سيكون خطأً كبيراً ان استنتجنا من هذا الكلام أن كل الأطراف متساوون بالسوء. السجل التركي معقد، لقد قامت باستقبال حوالي مليوني ونصف لاجئ، وضعنا هنا مقبول، وحتى الآن أخذت تركيا موقفاً متسقا من نظام الشبيحة في سوريا، لكنها سببت العديد من المتاعب بسبب مخاوفها غير المنصفة وغير العقلانية حيال الكرد على جانبي الحدود. موقف فرنسا كان غالباً ثابتا أيضاً. كلا البلدين كانا واضحين طوال الوقت وحددا أن المجرم هو نظام الأسد، وأنه يجب أن يتم التخلص منه وحاولا التصرف على هذا الأساس، ولكن تم كبحهما عن طريق الولايات المتحدة. مثلت واشنطن العدو الأسوأ للثورة السورية، أسوأ حتى من روسيا، التي كانت عدواً صريحاً منذ اللحظة الأولى، بالاضافة لايران وتوابعها العراقية واللبنانية. لست مناهضا أصوليا للامبريالية على طريقة من يعتقدون أنها جوهر سري مكنون في مكان ما في الولايات المتحدة، ربما في البيت الأبيض أو البنتاغون أو السي آي إيه، ولكني حاولت جاهداً أن أجد أي عوامل إيجابية في السياسة التي انتهجتها إدارة أوباما حيال سوريا، ولم أفلح. العالم بأكمله أصبح مكاناً أسوأ من ذي قبل، وخاصةً بعد الصفقة الكيميائية والتي كانت بمثابة هدية كبيرة لداعش وجبهة النصرة، وبالتأكيد للأسد.

أما بالنسبة للأطراف الداخلية، فأعتقد أنه يمكن تعريف الظلامية بأنها القول بعدم وجود جيدين في الصراع السوري، وأن الكل سيئون. أرى بأن هذه نظرة أصولية، تشبه أسلوب داعش في التعامل مع قضيتنا. أنا لا أقول بأنه لا يوجد سيئون، هنالك كثير منهم، ولا أريد القول أيضا بأن هناك الكثير من الأشخاص الجيدين، وهو صحيح طبعا، ما لم يكن الواحد منا روبرت فيسك أو باتريك كوكبيرن أو فلاديمير بوتين. عوضاً عن كل ذلك، أريد إحداث تحول في الباراديغم من التوزيع الرجعي لتصنيفات جيد وسيء إلى النظر في الديناميكيات الفعلية للصراع. سبق وألمحت الى المجزرة الكيماوية والتي قضى بها 1466 سورياً على يد النظام الأسدي في آب 2013، والصفقة الكيماوية بين الأميريكيين والروس والنظام. دعني أتوقف هنا قليلا: ما كانت تلك الصفقة؟ كان هنالك أربع أطراف، وليس ثلاثة، في ذلك الوقت: النظام، الأميركيون، الروس، ثم ملايين السوريين الذين كانوا يقاومون نظام الطغمة الأسدية لأكثر من سنتين وخمسة أشهر حينها، سلميا في البداية وبالسلاح لاحقاً. لم يكسب النظام من تلك الصفقة المخزية نجاته فحسب، بل أيضاً الحصانة والإفلات من العقاب. تمكن الروس من إنقاذ نظام عميل لهم وكسب دور أعظم في المنطقة والعالم بشكل ملحوظ، في حين نجحت الولايات المتحدة (ومن خلف الكواليس، اسرائيل) في تجريد النظام من أسلحته الخطيرة والتي كان يفترض بأنها رادعة لاسرائيل.
الطرف الذي تم التضحية به بشكل كامل هو الطرف الذي كان قد فقد لتوه 1466 شخصاً في ظرف ساعة واحدة: السوريون الثائرون. لهذا السبب كانت هذه الصفقة خسيسة، وكذلك كان “أبطالها”، وعلى الأخص من اسمه باراك أوباما.
وبسبب وحشية النظام، وخسة أنوات العالم الكبار، انطلقت موجةٌ من التطرف والأسلمة والعسكرة والاستماتة، وغيرت كل شخصٍ في البلد، ومن بينهم أنا. في أيلول 2015، تواجدت في أوسلو لعدة أيام، وهناك ظهرت في برنامج تلفزيوني. قبل البرنامج، سألتني المقدمة إن كنت معتدلا؟ أجبتها: لا، لست معتدلاً. ارتاعت لبرهة، فأرادت أن تطمئن: لكنك علماني، أليس كذلك؟
تقرر العادات الخطابية في الغرب أن كلمة “معتدل” تعني بأنه يقف معنا (نحن كمركز للعالم)، وهي مرادفة أيضا لكلمة “جيد”. وتكون “متطرفا” و”سيئا” إذا وقفت الى جانب شعبك.
من جهتي، أنا سيء.

كيف ترى التورط التركي في الشأن السوري؟ وما هو مستقبل المسألة الكردية؟
هذا هو المنبع الرئيس لأهم أخطاء الحكومة التركية في سوريا. لم تتمكن تركيا من التعامل مع المشكلة الكردية في أراضيها على أساس من المساواة والحرية والأخوة. الآن هنالك حرب حقيقية في المناطق الكردية في تركيا، يجري فيها إذلال للناس الفقراء وتشريدهم وقتلهم. وقد صدَّرت الحكومة التركية إلى سوريا تجربتها السيئة بالتعاطي مع الأكراد. وكي تصير الأمور أسوأ، قام حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي الكردي السوري باستيراد تجربته في تركيا إلى سوريا، واستورد معها مطبقيها، ومعها الرمزيات الخارجية للإيديولوجية الحداثية الرثة، المصمم خصيصاً لسحر المُعنّسين (الذكور غالبا) من يساريي للطبقة الوسطى في الغرب. سبب هذا الكثير من المعاناة حتى الآن، وأخشى أنه في سبيله إلى تسبيب المزيد. ما نشهده الآن برأيي هو عملية بناء نظامٍ حزب واحد مغالٍ في النزعة القومية الكردية، وله علاقاتٍ خفية مع نظام الأسد وإيران، وأخرى أقل سريةٍ مع الولايات المتحدة وروسيا.

كيف يمكن قتال داعش بصورة فعال؟ شخصياً، أنا لا أرى أي إرادة سياسية حقيقية لمحاربتهم بالقوة المطلقة.
أنت محق. لا ترى إرادة سياسية لقتال داعش لأنها غير موجودة ببساطة. هنالك إرادة سياسية لاستمرار الحرب طويلاً. وبقاء داعش جيد للحرب كي تستمر. زوالها هو الشيء السيء من وجهة النظر هذه. ولهذا يبدو العالم موحداً في وجه هذا التنظيم الفاشي ضعيف التسليح، بدون تحقيق أي تقدم في سبيل هزيمته.
أعتقد بأن المنطق الأميركي لتحليل المشكلة هو كالتالي: داعش قوية برجالها، لذلك علينا أن نحاصرهم في منطقة محددة، كي لا ينتشروا في كل مكان كما حدث بعد غزونا (الهستيري) لأفغانستان في 2001. ثم أنه يجب أن يبقى بشار نظراً للدرس الذي تعلمناه من غزونا (الإجرامي) للعراق وتفكيك الدولة فيه. أما بالنسبة لهؤلاء الذين هم ضد داعش ويحاربون الأسد، يعني… يعني هم غالباً “سيئون”. وربما يسير التفكير الروسي هكذا: نريد لبشار أن يبقى بالسلطة. ولتحقيق هذا علينا أن ندمر أولئك الذين يحاربونه حقاً. طبعا سنتكلم علناً عن حرب على الإرهاب فقط، وعن وقتال داعش. أليس هذا ما كان الأميركيون يطنطنون به طوال الوقت؟ عندما نسحق كل هؤلاء الذين هم ضد داعش وبشار، فإن التفاهم الضمني بيننا وبين الأميريكيين سيصبح علنياً، وسنقرر مصير سوريا والشرق الأوسط سويةً. اسرائيل ستقف معنا. نحن نستطيع أن نعطيها أكثر من ما يمكن أن يعطيها الأميركيون.

فلندع جانبا هذا التخطيط الاستراتيجي الافتراضي، أعتقد أنه ليس من الصعب أبداً قتال داعش، لكن لا يمكنك أن تفعل ذلك وأنت تتجاهل بشكل ممنهج القوات المحلية التي واجهت هذا الكيان في الماضي، وبينما أنت تعتمد على تنظيمٍ فاشيٍ آخر، نظام الأسد.

هناك ثلاث مستويات لصراع مثمر مع داعش. أولاً، يجب أن يتم تحديد قضية عادلة لهذه الحرب، ولا يمكن لهذه القضية أن تكون سوى العدالة والحرية لهؤلاء الذين تقمعهم داعش، وهو ما لا يمكن تحقيقه مع تجاهل المصدر الرئيسي للقمع والظلم، نظام الأسد. كيف تريدني أن أحارب داعش وأنت تتعامل من وراء ظهري مع نظام طغموي قتل أو تسبب بقتل 300000 من أبناء بلدي؟
ثانياً، يجب أن تكون هناك رؤية سياسية واضحة لدعم انتقال ديمقراطي للسلطة في سوريا والعراق. ستكون أوضاع الانتقال فوضوية في كلا البلدين لسنوات قادمة أو حتى أكثر، لكن هذا سيكون أفضل بكثير من حرب تستمر لأجيال طويلة ضد داعش، كما قال كل من جولي بيشوب وزير الخارجية الأسترالي ومارتن ديمبسي رئيس هيئة الأركان المشتركة الأميركية السابق، في كلمات مماثلة منذ عدة شهور.
ثالثاً، نحتاج استراتيجية عسكرية واضحة ومن الممكن تطبيقها خلال شهور أو سنة أو سنتين. ما أراه الآن هو حرب من دون هدف معلن بوضوح، بدون جدول زمني، وبدون حلفاء محليين (حزب الاتحاد الديمقراطي ليس حليفاً حقيقياً، فهو مرتبط بعلاقات مع النظام الفاشي، وهو غير ديمقراطي في تعامله مع السكان المحليين، دعك عن أن الاعتماد المنفرد عليه سيؤدي الى التسبب بمشكلة إثنية كبيرة في سوريا).

التعبئة الدولية اليوم ضد داعش تحفزها نزعة إبادة، وليس تحقيق العدالة. وهذا بالضبط ما يميز التعبئة التي تقوم بها داعش ضد العالم. هل من المستغرب حقاً أن نعترف بأن داعش هي انعكاس لصورة عالمنا الحالي على المرآة؟ كيف يمكن أن نفسر هذا الانجذاب المرضي للكتابة والحديث عن داعش في وسائل الاعلام الغربية بغير ذلك؟ بغير هذا النزع لنزع السحر عن وجه العالم؟
ربما هذا هو السبب الحقيقي لانعدام الرغبة في قتال هذا العدو العالمي المفترض.

ما سيكون دور داعش المستقبلي في سوريا والعراق؟
لا شيء على الإطلاق.
داعش هي مزيج من استعمار استيطاني ونظام فاشي وإرهاب عدمي. وهي بذلك مضخة للشر والموت يجب أن يتم تفكيكها بالكامل.
لكن من الضروري أن يكون هناك تغيير كبير بالتعبئة الحالية النازعة لإنسانية المسلمين، التي قد تتسبب بمجزرة كبيرة. أفضل نقطة للانطلاق هي فهم حقيقة داعش كقوة في العالم وتفسيرها بأدوات تحليل علمانية. ليست داعش شيئا دينيا، ولا هي نمو لبذرة في صلب الإسلام عابرة للزمن.

ومن المؤسف أن المرء لا يرى فرصة لتغيير، عندما نرى أشخاصاً مثل سلافوي جيجك يتبرع بالمشاركة في هذه الحملة الهستيرية، مزوداً إياها بمنطق تصنيفي حربي من قبيل “نحن” و”هم”، وتعميمات جاهلة عن الصراع السوري (صراع زائف حسب رأيه) وعن سوريا التي لا يعرف إطلاقاً شيئاً عنها، لا عن مجتمعها ولا عن تاريخها ونظامها السياسي واقتصادها السياسي وبيئتها الإقليمية. هذا النجم ما بعد الحديث كتب مؤخراً مقالةً ذات نزعة أكثر حربية بعد عن العلاقة بين تركيا وداعش، مقالة مبنية بالكامل على معلومات مغلوطة وعلى شغف بالكراهية. إذا أخذنا هذه الوقائع بعين الاعتبار، أخشى بأن الآمال بتغيير في مسارات التفكير أصبحت أضعف بشكل ملحوظ.

يخيل للمرء بأن داعش على قدر ما هي سيئة للسوريين والعراقيين، هي شيءٌ جيد للغرب ولروسيا. لذلك فالسؤال عن مستقبل داعش يجب أن يكون: هل سيقومون يوماً ما بفعل شيءٍ حقيقي لتفكيك هذا الكيان؟ هل هم حقاً معادون لهذا المزيج من استعمار استيطاني ونظام فاشي وتنظيم إرهابي؟ لعلهم يتعرفون في داعش على أشياءً يتعرفونها جيدا في أنفسهم.

هل ما يجري هو إعادة ترسيم للحدود في المنطقة؟
من المحتمل أننا داخلون في عملية كهذا. رسم حدود الشرق الأوسط كان نتيجة ما انتهت إليه الحربان العالميتان الأولى والثانية، والتغيرات التاريخية في مسألتين رئيسيتين، المسألة الشرقية والمسألة اليهودية، وجرى بإشراف القوى الاستعمارية التي شكلت النظام العالمي الحالي. سوابق حربي العراق ولبنان تفيد أن إعادة رسم الحدود ليس بالموضوع السهل. لكي يقع شيء من هذا القبيل يجب أن يحدث واحدٌ من شيئين بالضرورة: نظام عالمي جديد، و/أو تطهير عرقي على مستوى هائل، يتسبب بضحايا أكثر مما وقع في رواندا.

ولا أرى كيف من الممكن أن رسم حدود جديدة للمنطقة سيؤدي لحل أي مشاكل معلقة فيها. منذ الآن تبلغ أعمار الدول الموجودة في منطقتنا مئة عام تقريبا، وهي أقبل للإصلاح من دول جديدة ستكون إما صافية عرقيا أو طائفيا، وبالتالي أقل قابلية للترقي السياسي والأخلاقي لسكانها، أو مختلطة، لكن بدون ضمانات لعدم تصاعد الأوضاع لحلقة جديدة من الحروب العرقية أو الطائفية. وفي كلا الحالتين ستسعى كل من هذه الدول الجديدة الصغيرة لحماية نفسها من نظيراتها عن طريق اللجوء إلى القوى الاستعمارية القديمة نفسها التي رسمت الخرائط القديمة، ورعت الصراعات الحالية نفسها.
أنا مع (1) إصلاح دولنا (لامركزية، استقلالية محلية واسعة وحكم ذاتي، إلخ…).
(2) دولة فلسطينية سيدة.
(3) دولة كردية سيدة.
أتطلع أيضا إلى قيام كومونويلث شرق أوسطي حيث يعيش سوية العرب، الاسرائيليون اليهود، الأتراك، الأكراد والايرانيون، على أسس من المساواة والاحترام والرخاء المشترك.

سوريا تدمرت، يوجد الآن أكثر من 4.5 مليون لاجئ وأكثر من 11 مليون نازح داخل وطنهم. الدولة انهارت، جيلان على الأقل أصيبوا برضوض نفسية شديدةوتحطمت حياتهم بشكل غير قابل للعكس. ما الذي يمكن فعله للمساعدة؟ كيف يمكننا الانطلاق من الصفر؟ كيف نعيد بناء المجتمع؟
أولاً، علينا أن نسحب السكين من الخاصرة. نظام الأسد هو سكين، سكين مسمومة، لن تتعافى سوريا أبداً قبل إزالتها. ثانياً، سوريا ستحتاج الكثير من الوقت لتتماثل للشفاء. انه أمر مؤسف للغاية أنه لا يمكننا أن نتوقع المساعدة من المجتمع الدولي الذي ساعد بالأحرى في غرز السكين في مكانها منذ البداية. التعافي الوطني أصبح مهمةً غاية في الصعوبة، لكن ما تحتاجه سوريا بشدة هو إطلاق دينامية معاكسة لما سبق من دينامية عسكرة وتطرف وطائفية، دينامية مصالحة واعتدال واستيعاب للجميع. الناس الآن ناقمون ونزاعون إلى الثأر ببساطة لأنهم لا يزالون تحت القتل. من شأن دينامية مختلفة أن تقوي الاستعداد للتعاون والتفاهم المشتركين.

أعتقد أن عددا متزايدا من الناس سيعملون من أجل سوريا جديدة وأكثر استيعابا في اللحظة التي تنزع فيها السكين الأسدية من الجسد السوري. هم الآن متناثرون في كل أنحاء العالم، لكن حدوث تغير حقيقي في البلد وبناء سوريا جديدة سيكون قضية  جامعة لأكثرهم.

معظم المتعلمين غادروا البلد. كيف ترى المستقبل في وطنك؟
سؤالك مؤلم. إن لم تمت سوريا، فالعديد من هؤلاء الذين غادروا البلد سيعودون. وسأكون واحداً منهم بالتأكيد. أنا بانتظار أصغر فرصة للعودة. علي أن أقتفي أثر زوجتي وشقيقي الذين خُطفا في 2013.
أعتقد بأن إبداعية الناس يمكنها أن تفعل الكثير. اتحاد الضعفاء والمحرومين هو أمر ممكن، وهو ما سينقذ سوريا. أرغب بالعيش في سوريا جديدة أو سوريا تتغير، وسط الناس الذين يصارعون من أجل الحياة. لقد عشت هناك حياتي كلها.

كيف تؤثر مأساة شعبك على طريقتك بالكتابة؟
أنا بالأساس كاتب مقالات. أجد متعة في ذلك وأعيش منه.
ولما كنت الناجي بعد أن اختطفت زوجتي وشقيقي والعديد من أصدقائي بدون أي معلومات عنهم، فأنا أحاول أن أروي قصصهم، كي لا تضيع وتنسى. هذا أحد أهم المواضيع التي أكتب عنها.

وككاتب، أعتقد بأن مساهمتنا النوعية ككتاب في الثورة المخذولة تتمثل في إحداث ثورة في مجالنا الخاص، مجال الكتابة، والثقافة عموما.
الثورة ثقافية هي أمر ضروري جداً في سوريا والعالم العربي، وهي المشروع الوحيد الذي من الممكن يصون كرامة المخطوفين والمعذبين والمقتولين. أعرف أن عملي مشرب اليوم بحس مأساوي جاء مما أصاب سورية، وأصاب أحبابي، وأصابني شخصيا. في اللغة العربية هناك علاقة اشتقاقية بين كلمتي المعاناة والمعنى، وأعتقد بأنه يجب إعادة بناء ثقافتنا على أساس من معاناتنا وتجاربنا المريعة.
إلى ذلك، أرى أن الثقافة ميدان استراتيجي لصراعنا في هذا الوضع الاستثنائي. لقد قلت فوق شيئاً عن الأعداء وميادين الصراع. يمكن أن تكون الحرب أداةً في الصراع عندما يكون لك عدو واحد (طغيان السلالة الأسدية)، لكن السياسة هي الوسيلة عندما يكون لديك عدوين (لنقل الأسديين والجماعات الدينية المتطرفة)، أما الثقافة في الميدان الأنسب عندما تكون بمواجهة ثلاث أعداء: سلالة الأسد، المجموعات الإسلامية العدمية وقوى الامبريالية العالمية، روسيا والولايات المتحدة أساسا. بالطبع يجب أن تتشكل الثقافة بالطريقة الأنسب للرد على التحدي المتمثل بهذه القوى الثلاثة اللاانسانية. ما يوحد هذه الميادين الثلاثة من الصراع هو الذاتية والإبداع.
إنها مسألة انعتاق.

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Yassin al-Haj Saleh: “Syria is a unique symbol of injustice, apathy and amnesia”

 
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By Boštjan Videmšek/DELO

In an exclusive interview, prominent Syrian writer and dissident Yassin al-Haj Saleh talks about Syria’s past, tragic present and uncertain future.

صوري 1

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Yassin al-Haj Saleh is a leading Syrian writer, a former political prisoner and one of Syria’s foremost intellectuals. Ever since his student days, Saleh has been a vocal critic of the Assad regimes. He was arrested in 1980 during the presidency of Hafez al-Assad and spent the next 16 years as a prisoner of conscience.

During the early days of the Syrian uprising, his voice became louder than ever. In 2012, he was given the Prince Claus Award (supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs) but was unable to collect it, as he was living in hiding in Damascus. In 2013, he fled to Turkey. His wife and brother were abducted the same year. He is the author of several books,  including Deliverance or Destruction? Syria at a Crossroads (2014).

Here, he speaks to Boštjan Videmšek about Syria’s past, tragic present and uncertain future.

How and where are you right now?

I am fine, thank you. When I was in Syria, I used to say: I have no personal reasons to complain of, and no public reasons to be contented. After the revolution, with the abduction of my wife Samira and my brother Firas and my living in exile in Istanbul, the personal has become public and political much more than before. The public and political has become personal. It is a life of a struggle.

How do you feel when you see so many of your fellow citizens on the run from the most horrible conflict of our time? Did you expect an exodus like that?

Weeks ago, I helped smuggle my sister-in-law and my nephew from Turkey to Greece. As a beginner, I consulted friends, met smugglers, and chose one.

I was anxious about their safety, and was relieved when they arrived in a European country, even if it was not the one they wanted to go to. The other half of my brother’s family, he and his two younger sons, are to join the first half someday. With the help of friends, we are trying to arrange things for another brother and his family to take refuge in another European country, after a mutual friend of ours, the journalist and film maker Naji Jerf, was assassinated in Turkey on 27 December 2015.

We are helping ourselves to a world that did not help to liberate us at home. Never had I contemplated the possibility of such an exodus. I did not expect that the regime would kill hundreds of thousands of people and that its chances of staying in power would grow bigger as the numbers of its victims soared. I did not expect the emergence of a monstrous creature like Da’esh [ISIS]. I did not expect that around 70 countries would be partners in bombing my country: not against the ruling criminal, but against an offshoot of his monstrosity.

How do you see the European handling of the refugee crisis?

I am impressed by many people from many European countries, mostly individual volunteers. Their generosity, courage and humanity dignify the human race. I was touched by a message from a Norwegian woman who was in Lesbos helping refugees. As for governments, while it is not fair to include all of them in one category – Germany is not like Hungary, Sweden is not Denmark – I think they are unified in building higher walls in the face of the influx of refugees, specifically the poorest and most vulnerable ones.

For months now, European governments have been pressuring Ankara not to allow refugees to depart from Turkey. In November, they promised to pay €3 billion to the Turkish governments to guard European borders.

With all this blood that has been spilt over the past five years right under the world’s nose, humanity has led itself down the path to full ethical numbness. I suppose the indifference the world showed towards the Syrian ordeal will lead to even less sensitivity to human suffering in political institutions everywhere.

Where do you – in this chaotic situation – see the solution(s)?

One could think of a historical compromise that ends the war, guarantees full withdrawal of foreign forces, and is the basis of a wholly different political landscape in the country. A sustainable solution can only be built on a new political majority. This cannot be achieved through facing Da’esh alone or the regime alone. A new Syrian majority requires a substantial political change that is impossible to envisage without putting a full-stop to the rule of the Assad dynasty that has been in power for 45 years, a dynasty responsible for two big wars in the country: 1979-1982 and 2011-…

This change is the political and ethical precondition for a war against Da’esh with the broad participation of Syrians. The global powers have so far been putting the cart before the horse by targeting Da’esh only, ignoring the root cause of the militarisation, radicalisation, and sectarianisation that has occurred over the past five years, namely the Assad regime. This is a short-sighted and failing policy, not to mention unethical. It is a prescription for an endless war.

The new Syria could be built on a number of essential principles: decentralisation; thinking of different ethnic, religious and confessional communities as equal constituent communities; full equality among individual citizens (Arabs, Kurds and others; Muslims, Christians and others; Sunnis, Alawites and others; religious, secular and others). It is not acceptable to talk about Syria as a secular state, as the Vienna document of 30 October 2015 states, when the same document says nothing about justice and accountability, and avoids the word democracy. Lecturing about secularism reminds one of the worst traits of the colonial discourse.

What should the so-called international community do? What about the UN?

The past five years were a great chance to follow the international institutions and the world powers. For me, it is no longer Syria, it is the world, which is in a deep crisis. It is not that I do not follow what is happening in my country, but the world is in Syria (around 70 states are at war there).

I tend to think that the world lacks the potential for freedom and justice more than at any time over the past a century. In December, Vladimir Putin raised the possibility of using nuclear weapons against “terrorists”, an extraordinarily irresponsible statement that was met with utter silence form the international community. A few days later, the same man said that the Russian offensive in Syria “is not a serious burden for the budget … It’s hard to imagine a better exercise [for the Russian forces]. So we can train there [in Syria] for a long time without any serious harm to our budget.” Full of colonial arrogance, this statement stirred no reaction at all from the UN or Western leaders, not even a word from human rights groups, or any leftist organisations in the world.

The situation in Syria has developed from a revolution against tyranny to a global question, the Syrian question. Creating questions is, in my opinion, the political method of the powerful in shaping history. They create complicated, despair-inducing situations that last decades or generations (or forever, as an Assadist slogan says), during which the poor and weak are entangled in ineffectual struggles. By contrast, the method of the vulnerable is to create clarity and hope through revolutions. Crushing the revolutions in Syria and in the region has been the common job of the powerful local, regional and global powers. The Gordian knots they create will be with us for a long time.

In history, questions and big wars walked hand in hand. The Eastern Question ended in the First World War, and the Jewish Question found two “Final Solutions” in the Second World War and its aftermath (the second at the expense of the Palestinian people). One might add the Kurdish question: denying the Kurds statehood, which is also a source of hatred, despair, and war. Syria is an active field for this question now.

That is why Syria is a microcosm and a global metaphor.  Needless to say – the UN and the international community are creators of questions, or are, indeed, counterrevolutionary powers. I do not expect them to be revolutionary, but their role was criminal indeed.

Is the Sunni-Shia divide now too deep to overcome it politically?

It is. But there are no political solutions to confessional divisions. However, division in itself is not a problem; the problem is the violent struggle between the confessional groups. Contrary to the common wisdom in the West, this struggle is not something primordial that emanates from the very fact that there are Sunnis and Shia. Actually, it is the opposite: social and political struggles mobilise these idle belongings of ours and electrify them, or charge them politically. They transform into political, indeed military, parties. This is also the method of the powerful in order to weaken rebellious people and transfer the struggle from the socio-political field (the underprivileged v the elite) to the socio-cultural field (our underprivileged against theirs). What I want to say is that we need to know better the dynamics and processes of the social and political struggle in countries like Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the regional struggles to understand the ‘Sunni- Shia divide’. This is deepening indeed. It is being used as a tool to rule the masses and to exercise regional influence. Sectarianism, in general, is a strategy for political control. So it is politics, not religion or “culture”.

Can we say that Syria still exists as a country, as a state?

Again, Syria is the world. More than 70 countries are formally at war in the country, and jihadists from more than 70 countries are also there. Syria is a global question, a unique symbol of injustice, apathy, and amnesia. We have this Syria, at least – the symbol.

I am sorry to say that I am less sure about Syria as a viable country. The only chance, however, for Syria to survive is substantial political change. Unchanged, Syria is a dying land, sooner or later. Only changed will Syria become viable.

The reasons for the war and the brutality of the regime have been more or less forgotten in the Western narrative of the war. Why?

Primarily due to the identification between the regime and the major powers on the structural and symbolic levels. The modernist ideology is a common issue between the fascist with a necktie, Bashar al-Assad, and those neck-tied leaders in the world who lack vision and global responsibility. This issue is, in a way, related to the formation of the political elite in the West: high-income people who are fully isolated from politically inflicted human suffering. One source of the crisis is democracy in the West. If separated from the struggle and human aspiration for justice, democracy dies. In front of our eyes, we are witnessing democracy being reduced to political technology for dealing with crises. Crisis management, with its innate divorce from values and issues of justice, is the dominant method of politics over the past 25 years, even in the West. This method is good for nothing but creating questions, and the Middle East is the incarnation of these extremely unethical policies.

Some additional roots of this amnesia are related to the constitution of the powerful mass media in the West: the exciting is always more preferable to feed the masses on than what is humanly and politically important. For instance, beheading a man is more exciting than killing 100 with a barrel bomb. We identify with these who kill the way we do (their crimes, like ours, are not news), but we are enchanted with those who kill in a different way to the degree that we have offered Da’esh free propaganda for two years.

By the way, I think this enchantment with Da’esh that began in the summer of 2013 has deep connections with the sordid chemical deal between the US and Russia, which practically informed the Assad regime that it was okay to kill people with other tools, not with the one we had forbidden. The mainstream media was obedient in highlighting whatever Da’esh did and sidelining the crimes of the regime in order to legitimise that despicable deal between the two big global keepers of the peace (read: war). Da’eshmania is a way of suppressing the shame of that deal. Media and power elites want the masses to remain mesmerised, with their minds fixated on those exotic decapitators, who are absolutely different from us and our dear masses.

I want to add one additional thing concerning this fascination with Da’esh. I suspect that the mad extent of killing and control that Da’esh is practising in the regions it occupies is the level the power elites in the “civilized world” aspire to imitate. That violence has an essential virtue: it pushes past the limits of what can be done to the population at home, giving the power elites everywhere a sense of mastery and freedom. If this can be done there, it will be possible here someday. Da’esh is the laboratory test the elites like to peep at and hope to imitate someday. It is their utopia and our dystopia. That is why the population in the West should be anxious of what has been happening in Syria for the past five years. Do not defend us, defend yourselves!

Is there any player at all who has  a positive role?

External players? Maybe not. However, it would be a big mistake to conclude from that that all the players are equally bad. Turkey’s record is mixed: it welcomed around 2.5 million refugees. Our situation here is acceptable and, so far, Tukey has had a consistent position towards the Shabeeha regime in Syria, but it caused a lot of trouble because of it is irrational and unjust concerns about the Kurds on both sides of the border. France’s position was mostly a consistent one, too. Both countries were clear all the time that the culprit is the regime and it should be overthrown and they tried to act accordingly, but were kept back by the United States. Washington has been the worst enemy of the Syrian revolution, worse even than Russia, which was a clear enemy from the first moment, along with Iran and the latter’s satellites in Lebanon and Iraq. I am not an essentialist anti-imperialist who thinks that imperialism is an essence hidden somewhere in the US, maybe at the White House, the Pentagon, or the CIA, but I tried hard to locate any positive elements in the Syrian policy of Obama’s administration in Syria. The world at large has become a worse place, especially after the chemical deal which was a big gift to Da’esh and al-Nusra Front (and, of course, to Assad), than it was before.

As for internal players: I think one can identify obscurantism as the position of saying that there are no “good guys” in the Syrian conflict; they are all bad. I see this as an essentialist, Da’esh-like way of approaching our cause. I do not imply that there are no bad guys, there are many; neither do I want to say that there are many good guys, which is of course true, unless one is Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn, or Vladimir Putin. Rather, I want to make a paradigm shift from that reactionary distribution of labels of good and bad, to the actual dynamics of the struggle. I alluded before to the chemical massacre in which 1,466 Syrians were killed at the hand of the Assad regime, and to the chemical deal between the Americans, Russians and the regime. What was that deal? There were four actors, not three, at the time: the regime, the Americans, the Russians and millions of Syrians who had been resisting the thuggish regime for more than two years and four months, peacefully at the beginning then with arms. The regime gained not only its survival from that sordid deal but also impunity; the Russians managed to save a client regime and won a greater recognised role in the region and the world, while America (and from behind the scenes, Israel) succeeded in disarming the regime of the dangerous weapons that were thought of being deterrent to Israel. The party that was completely sacrificed is the one who had just lost 1,466 people in one hour: the rebellious Syrians. That is why that deal was despicable and its “heroes”, especially the one named Barak Obama, were extremely villainous.

Due the regime’s brutality and the baseness of the big egos of the globe, a dynamic of radicalisation, Islamisation and militarisation, was triggered and changed everybody in the country, myself included. In September 2015, I was in Oslo for a few days, where I appeared on a TV programme. Before this show, the presenter asked me, if I was “moderate”. No, I am not, I replied. She was alarmed, but she wanted to be sure: “But you are secular, aren’t you?” For the discursive habits in the West, ‘moderate’ implies that siding with us (“We are the centre of the world.”) and “good” are synonyms. You are “extremist” and “bad” whenever you side with your own people.

Of course, I am bad.

How do you see Turkey’s involvement and the future of the Kurdish question?

This is the main cause of the Turkish government’s biggest mistakes in Syria. Turkey has not been able to deal with its own Kurdish problem on a basis of equality, freedom and fraternity. Just now, there is a real war in the Kurdish regions in Turkey, with poor people being humiliated, displaced and killed. To Syria, the Turkish government exported its bad experience in dealing with the Kurds. And to make things worse, the Syrian PYD imported from Turkey its experience there, people to apply this experience, and with spades of the modernist ideological rubbish, designed specifically to enchant middle class left-wing spinsters (mostly males) in the West. This has already caused a lot of suffering, and I am afraid it will only cause more. What we are witnessing is, in my view, the building of an ultranationalist, one-party system, with hidden connections to the Assad regime and Iran, and less hidden ones with the US and Russia.

How can we effectively fight Da’esh? Personally, I don’t see any substantial political will to fight them with full force.

You do not see political will to fight Da’esh because there is none. There is political will for the war to go on. Da’esh is good for the war to continue. Its demise is the bad thing from this perspective. That is why the world seems unified against this ill-equipped (in military terms) fascist organisation, without making progress toward defeating it.

I think the American reasoning goes this way: Da’esh is strongest in its men. We have to besiege them in a certain area, so they will not spread everywhere the way they did after we (hysterically) invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Bashar should stay according to the lesson we learnt from our (unjustifiable) invasion of Iraq and dismantling the state there. As for those who are against Da’esh and fighting Bashar, well, er… they are mostly bad. The Russian monologue maybe goes like this: we want Bashar to stay in power. To achieve this we have to destroy those who are really fighting him. Of course, we will talk only about a war against terror and fighting Dae’sh, is it not that what the Americans have been droning on about the whole time? When we crush all those who are against Bashar and Da’esh, the clandestine understanding between us and the Americans will become public, and we will decide the fate of Syria and the Middle East together. Israel will side with us. We can give it more than the Americans are able to do.

Imaginary strategising aside, I think it is not at all difficult to fight Dae’sh, but you cannot do so while systematically ignoring the local forces that did face this entity in the past, and relying on another fascist organisation, namely the Assad regime.

There are three levels of a fruitful struggle against Da’esh. First, to honestly build a just cause for this war, and this cannot be but justice and freedom for those oppressed by it, which in turn cannot be achieved while ignoring the main source of oppression and injustices, the Assad regime. How do you want me to fight Da’esh while you are dealing from behind my back with a cliquish regime that killed 300,000 of my fellow citizens? Second, there should be a clear political vision of supporting a democratic transition in Syria and Iraq. Things will be messy in the two countries for years to come or even more, but this is still far better than a war that goes on for generations as both Jolly Bishop, the Australian foreign affairs minister, and Martin Dempsey, the former American head of staff, said in similar words few months ago.

Third, you need a clear military strategy that can be achieved in months or a year or two. What I see now is that we have a war without a clearly expressed aim, with no timeframe, with no local allies (The PYD is not that ally: they have relation with the fascist regime, and they are not democratic, let alone that relying solely on them will creating a very big ethnic problem in Syria). The international mobilisation against Da’esh is annihilation-oriented (not geared towards justice). But this is also the essential feature of Da’esh’s mobilisation against the world. Is it that far-fetched to say that Da’esh is a mirror reflection of the present world? How else can we explain this morbid attraction to talking and writing about Da’esh in the media of the West? This dis-disenchantment of the world?

Maybe this is the reason for this reluctance to fight this supposed global enemy.

What will be their role in the future of Syria and Iraq?

Absolutely nothing.

Da’esh is a mixture of settler colonialism, a fascist regime, and a nihilist terrorist organisation. As such, it is a pump of evil and death that should be completely dismantled.

But there should be a big shift in the current dehumanising mobilisation that affects all Muslims and promises us only a huge massacre. For effecting such a shift, the best starting point is to understand Dae’sh as a worldly power and explain it through secular tools of analysis. It is not a religious thing, not a flourishing of a primordial seed within Islam.

It is a sorry fact that one does not see any prospect for such a shift, when even people like Slavoj Žižek volunteer in this hysterical campaign, providing it with a warring classificatory logic of us and them, and stupid generalisations about the Syrian struggle (a pseudo struggle according to him) and Syria that he knows absolutely nothing about – its society, history, political system, political economy, regional environment. That postmodernist superstar wrote recently an even more combative article about the relationship between Turkey and Da’esh – one based on false information and a passion for hatred. With this in mind, I am afraid hopes for a change of course become considerably slimmer. One may even think that Da’esh, as bad as it is for Syrians and Iraqis, is something good for the West and Russia. So the question of Da’esh’s future is: will they ever do anything real to dismantle this entity? Are they really antagonistic to this combination of settler colonialism, fascist regime, and terrorist organization? Maybe they are identifying in it things that they know very well in themselves.

Are the old borders in the region being redrawn?

It is possible that we are in the process. Drawing borders in the Middle East was an outcome of two world wars and historical shifts in two questions (the Eastern and the Jewish one), under the supervision of the colonial powers as they shaped the present world system. The precedents of Iraq’s and Lebanon’s wars denoted that creating new states and redrawing borders is not as easy as we may think. For such a thing to happen, one of the following two is a pre-requirement: a new world system and/or a massive ethnic cleansing; one that surpasses Rwanda.

I do not see how redrawing new maps in the region will solve any older problems. Our present states are already a century old at least, and they are reformable far more than new states that will be either pure, and consequently less capable of ethical and political promotion, or mixed, with no guarantees of not spiraling into a new circle of ethnic or sectarian wars. And in both cases these new smaller states will seek protection from each other by resorting to the same old colonial powers that drew the old maps, and that patronised their very present struggle.

I am for (1) reforming our states (decentralisation, autonomous regions, etc.); (2) a sovereign Palestinian state; (3) a sovereign Kurdish state. I look forward to a Middle Eastern commonwealth, where Arabs, Israeli Jews, Turks, Kurds, and Iranians live together on a basis of equality, respect, and shared prosperity.

Syria has been destroyed, with 4.5 million refugees and more than 11 million people displaced inside their own country. The state has collapsed, at least two generations have been deeply traumatised, their lives irreversibly shattered. What can be done to help? How do we start from “ground zero”? How do we rebuild society?

First of all, you have to remove the knife from the loin.The  Assad regime is a knife, a poisoned one, that Syria will never recover from without it first being removed. Second, Syria will need a long time to convalesce. It is regrettable that one cannot expect help from “the international community” that helped plunge the knife in the first place. National recovery has become a formidable task, but what Syria needs most is to launch an opposite dynamic to that of militarisation, radicalisation, and sectarianisation – one of reconciliation, moderation and inclusivity. People are vengeful now just because they are still being killed. A different dynamic will encourage a predisposition towards co-operation and mutual understanding.

I believe that an increasing number of people will work for a new, more inclusive Syria, the moment the Assadic knife will be plucked out of the Syrian body. They are now scattered all over the world, but real change in the country and building a new Syria will be a collective cause for the majority of them.

Most of the educated people fled. How do you see the future of your country?

Your questions are painful. If Syria does not die, many of those who fled would come back. I will be one, definitely. I just want a minimal chance to go back home. I have to track down a loving wife and a brother, both abducted in 2013.

I believe that the creativity of people can do a lot. The alliance of the vulnerable, the underprivileged, is possible, and they will save Syria. I only want to live in a changing/changed Syria, among the people who are struggling for life. I lived there all my life.

How does the tragedy of your people affect the way you write?

I am essentially an essayist. I enjoy doing this and I am living off it.

Having survived after my wife, my brother and many of my friends were abducted with no information about them, I am trying to tell their stories, to prevent them from lapsing into oblivion. This is one of the main topics of my work.
As a writer, I think our specific participation as writers in the let-down revolution is to achieve revolution in our own sphere: writing and culture in general. A cultural revolution is extremely vital in Syria and the Arab World, and it is the only project that radically dignifies those abducted, tortured and killed. I know that my work is now imbued with a tragic sense, derived from what befell Syria, my beloved and me personally. In Arabic, there is a telling etymological relation between suffering and meaning, and I think that our culture should be rebuilt around our horrible experiences of suffering.

Besides, I feel that culture is a strategic field of our struggle in this exceptional situation. I said something before about enemies and fields of struggle: war could be a tool of struggle when you have one enemy (Assad dynasty tyranny), politics is the method when you have two enemies (say tyranny and religious extremism), but culture is the right field when you have three enemies, as we have: the Assad dynasty, the nihilistic Islamic groups and global imperialist powers, principally the US and Russia. Of course, culture should be formed in a way that responds best to the challenge of these three inhumane powers. What unifies these three fields of struggle is autonomy and creativity.

It is a matter of emancipation.

 

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