From Saraqeb to Raqqa

2

Transcribed from episode #3 (“How El Raqqa Became the Capital of ISIS in Syria”) of Irrelevant Arabs and printed with permission. Edited for space and readability. Listen to the whole interview:

This intervention has never been about human rights, or even about trying to impose a certain “improved” political order on Syria. If it were about human rights, the US would have intervened after the chemical massacre, for instance, in 2013, or after any of the other massacres that had happened and were happening due to the regime’s air force. They declined to do that.

Mustafa: Today we have with us in our studio Murtaza Hussain and Anand Gopal. Together with me and Loubna, we’re going to be talking about the recent events and the history of what’s been going on with the campaign on Raqqa and in Syria in general.

Loubna Mrie: We decided to do this episode to talk more about what has been going on, because it hasn’t been getting much attention. Maybe Anand and Murtaza can explain to us why.

Anand Gopal: Just as background: Raqqa was the capital of the ISIS “caliphate,” and the campaign to overthrow ISIS—led by the Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the American coalition—started a few months ago. There’s only small parts of the city that are still under ISIS control; most of it has been taken back by the SDF, and some parts by the Syrian regime.

The campaign is really horrific in every sense of the word. Whole neighborhoods are just flattened. If you look at photos coming out of Raqqa, if you talk to people there, they describe it in apocalyptic terms. Nobody knows how many civilians have been killed, but we think thousands. Large portions of the city have been displaced; many are living in squalid IDP camps. Some have tried to flee to Turkey or other places.

NoBotherIf you saw images of the destruction of Aleppo when the regime destroyed at least half of the city, what’s happening right now in Raqqa is almost identical, only this time it’s being done by the American coalition. It’s shocking that this level of destruction is happening, and it’s surprising that nobody is really covering it in the same way that they covered Aleppo. And with the destruction of Aleppo, most journalists couldn’t get there unless they were with the regime, and despite that we saw a tremendous amount of focus on what was happening, we saw people interviewing locals over Skype, we saw people interviewing refugees. In Raqqa, you can actually get there if you’re a journalist. The borders have been opened from the Iraqi side for the last few months.

Some journalists have gone, but we see nowhere near the level of attention or interest, and I think a large part of that is because the main perpetrator of the violence in Raqqa right now is the US government and its allies. The media here hasn’t been doing its job in reporting that.

M: Let’s go back to before Raqqa became the capital of ISIS, before anything came under ISIS control. To begin with, ISIS was merely a military brigade that was working behind the scenes capturing Syrian granaries, as it did in Manbij, and trying to build its grassroots movement to take over. They were in mosques, and they were talking to people about how the Free Syrian Army was chaotic—which it may have been at that point.

My question is why it stayed under the radar in that early period, when everyone in Syria was saying the biggest problem facing the Free Syrian Army today wasn’t only the regime but it was also ISIS, and ISIS was growing. Now all of the sudden America is bent on destroying ISIS, and has forgotten that the regime is the one responsible for five hundred thousand people—and more—who have been murdered.

LM: And the Free Syrian Army was able to fight ISIS back in 2013, do you remember? It was December 2013, when ISIS had military bases in Aleppo, Idlib, and Latakia. The campaign—correct me if I’m wrong—started in Maskanah, because ISIS killed a leader of one of the brigades there and everyone went crazy, and they started to fight ISIS. From there the Free Syrian Army was able to take Jarabulus and al-Bab, and then the last battle was in Manbij. But when ISIS lost Manbij, more of their troops came up from Raqqa, and they were able to regain Manbij, Jarabulus, and al-Bab—and then they made Raqqa their capital.

BeYouM: I think this question could go to you, Murtaza. I’m assuming that the US had knowledge of the resistance against ISIS in that period (including, yes, the Saudi-supported brigades that were obviously working on the ground against ISIS when it started in Maskanah). Everyone was against ISIS. The activists, the civilian movement on the ground, mobilized too; there was a time period when everyone was posting pictures of themselves holding signs with anti-ISIS slogans. Why didn’t America come in to support the Free Syrian Army then? And why did they choose the Kurdish forces later?

Murtaza Hussain: Well, one thing to look at in the context of the current American intervention is that this intervention has never been about human rights, or even about trying to impose a certain “improved” political order on Syria. If it were about human rights, they would have intervened after the chemical massacre, for instance, in 2013, or after any of the other massacres that had happened and were happening due to the regime’s air force. They wouldn’t have needed any ground troops to stop this. They could have bombed airfields, they could have shot down planes. It would not have been a great challenge to them. And they declined to do that.

But now, for the last two or three years they’ve been bombing ISIS, and they’ve been bombing Jabhat al-Nusra (Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham). This campaign is slotted under a pre-existing American campaign, the War on Terrorism (which has been going on very opaquely for the sixteen years), and it started only after the US decided that what was happening in Syria was a threat to them.

These were people trying to figure out how to democratically run their lives for the first time ever, and you have to do that through practice, and make mistakes. Unfortunately, the Syrians were never given the space to do those things, because they were being bombed by the regime, they were being gassed. They weren’t being given weapons to defend themselves, and they were accused of being terrorists.

There was this conflict between certain rebel groups and certain extremists as well as the regime, but despite American rhetorical support there was never any practical effort to decisively intervene on the side of the rebels. They were supporting them in some sense, in words, and in who their allies were supporting. If anything, the American attitude from the beginning was that they they did not like any of these groups, and it would be fine for them if they all fought each other indefinitely, bleeding every party. Bleeding Hezbollah and Iran, and Russia—as well as bleeding the Syrian opposition, which they didn’t particularly like either. In fact, they liked having Bashar al-Assad in power because he guaranteed their interests for a very long time. He guaranteed, for instance, stability with Israel.

coupleBut now they are bombing Raqqa very fiercely. If they should have intervened anywhere, they should have intervened to stop these atrocities from happening in the beginning. But this is all because the conflict has been slotted into this War on Terror paradigm. It is what the government has been wanting to do for many years. A lot of people in America and elsewhere have bought into it, too: “We’re all fighting against the terrorists, and it doesn’t matter how we got to this point.”

And anything at this point is acceptable. This is one of the frameworks of the War on Terror: anything you do in response to “terrorism” is acceptable. Including flattening whole cities.

AG: I totally agree with that. But also I’d like to look more broadly at why the US didn’t support the uprising when they could have. I think there are two fundamental reasons. One has to do with American policy and interests, and one has to do with the nature of the opposition in Syria; we should look at both of them.

First, if we look at American policy, one consistency in US foreign policy for the last sixty or seventy years has been a deep-seated antipathy towards popular democracy and popular movements from below. For example, in Iraq in 1991, after the United States defeated the Saddam regime in the Gulf War, Bush called for people in Iraq to rise up in revolution, and Shi’a in the south and Kurds in the north actually did rise up. And they did it partly because they thought the Americans were going to come and support them, and save them. But very quickly the United States realized that a Shi’a uprising in the south might benefit Iran, and so they walked their words back and allowed the Iraqi regime to crush that uprising.

We see that kind of example again and again. Bahrain is another one. There was a movement for democracy, for the end of an exclusivist dictatorship, and the United States supported Saudi tanks going in and destroying that. Even in Egypt, there was a lot of ambivalence early on by the Obama administration, waiting to see which way the wind was blowing, and once they recognized that there was going to be an end to the old dictatorship and a new actor that we can deal with, whether the Muslim Brotherhood or Sisi, then there was a lot of re-engagement on that question.

When the United States saw the uprising in Syria, what they were confronted with was a popular democratic uprising, which the United States, as a state, is constitutionally incapable of dealing with. So, like in Egypt, it looked for actors that it can relate to, and those were not the “farmers and dentists” who Obama said were the people in the uprising.

LoveSyriaAnd there was a problem with the opposition as well, because it was very divided, it was very weak. Initially, the level of politics of the uprising was very low. It was a revolution whose symbol became the pre-Ba’athist flag. This is very unusual for a revolution, not to invent its own symbols but to go back to what came before. But when I say the level of politics was very low, it’s important to understand why that’s the case. The reason for it can be found in the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the way that dictatorship stamped out all political life. Unions were either co-opted or destroyed. Political parties were co-opted or destroyed. Every form of civic association was either co-opted or destroyed. Really, the only place that people could meet and congregate was the mosque on Fridays.

The types of spaces in which people could organize and fight back were very limited by being strangled by thirty or forty years of a horrific dictatorship. So it was unsurprising that the level of politics and the level of organization in the revolution as extremely low and extremely fractured. The United States saw that, and said, “Look, these guys are really divided and we don’t want to give them weapons, we don’t want to do anything, because we don’t know where it’s going to go.”

Well, fine, but something incredible about the revolution was that in the process of rising up, Syrians were discovering everything that had been stamped out and suffocated in thirty or forty years. There were cases in various cities where the government was overthrown and people ran their own revolutionary councils—which had all sorts of mistakes and missteps, but these were people trying to figure out how to democratically run their lives for the first time ever, and nobody can do that just through theory. You have to do that through practice, and make the mistakes that you do.

Unfortunately, the Syrians were never given the space to make those mistakes and do those things, because they were being bombed by the regime, they were being gassed, they weren’t being given weapons to defend themselves, and they were accused of being terrorists.

In cities like Manbij and al-Attareb, revolutionary councils were very well organized. They were running the city. They had police forces. But they had no funding whatsoever. So when any of the brigades decided to come in, whereas in a place like Darayya the revolutionary council had the power to ask them to leave, in a place like Manbij, they didn’t.

This is what kept outside support from coming in, along with a certain American antipathy, hatred, or at least distrust of democracy—of real democracy, not the sham formalistic democracy that they want to put around the world, but real democracy in which people actually have a say in their lives. The American government’s hatred of that made them very hesitant to support these masses that were rising up.

Those two things—the US hatred of mass democracy and the weakness of the masses coming out of a dictatorship—came together, and we saw the tragedy that ensued.

M: We weren’t even allowed to organize so much as a university club in Syria that wasn’t entirely loyal to and saluting the Ba’ath regime. So yes, there was huge chaos going on in the revolution, and a lot of people in Syria saw how that could be off-putting to so many supporters; it seemed like there wasn’t anyone to support.

But at the same time, let’s trace back the history to before the arming of the revolution, to the revolutionary councils, the tansiqiyat, the local coordinating committees that had existed for a very important part of the revolution and of course were destroyed by the revolution itself, by the arming of the revolution.

LM: They were not destroyed by the arming of the revolution. They were destroyed because most of the leaders of the coordination committees were taken away, so at some point people were forced to seek protection from the armed wing of the revolution. I will not agree with you that they were destroyed by the armed wing of the revolution. They sought its support and protection.

AG: Here’s a question to ask in those terms. If we look at the revolutionary councils in Syria, of which there were hundreds: they varied. There were some that were very strong, politically. Darayya, for example, was the epitome of this, where the military factions were subordinated to the revolutionary council. In other places, it was the opposite, the revolutionary council was just distributing aid and listening to whatever the military council said.

StayingIt’s interesting to try to interrogate why that’s the case. There are a couple of things that are unique about Darayya. One is its interesting prehistory before the revolution in activism, and everything that survived despite the regime. But the other reason is because it was besieged. It actually couldn’t rely on foreign funding or aid, so had to rely purely on other forms of legitimacy to survive.

M: That’s entirely true. In all of the cities with their backs to Turkey and an open border, more or less, we saw that support was coming in—and it was not support for the revolutionary councils as much as it was for the armed forces. That’s why I say the councils were destroyed by those armed forces. In cities like Manbij and al-Attareb, revolutionary councils were very well organized. They were running the city. They had police forces. But they had no funding whatsoever. So when any of the brigades decided to come in, whereas in a place like Darayya the revolutionary council had the power to ask them to leave, in a place like Manbij, they didn’t.

I also agree with you, Loubna, that a lot of the command of the local coordinations had been killed and been thrown in jail by the regime, but that didn’t stop them from regenerating. There were commanders who came and stood up and took the place of those who were taken away. But by that time the armed factions had sprung up and become a lot more powerful than those people were.

In places like Kafranbel, though, they had international presence because of their signs—those people had a lot more strength because the international community saw them. That’s a power, whether it’s done by one person or a million people.

AG: And nearby Kafranbel is Saraqeb. Saraqeb has probably one of the strongest revolutionary councils in the whole country today. They just had a democratic election this past summer. And the armed group there, the Saraqeb Revolutionary Front, is an ally or equal to—maybe even subordinated to—the revolutionary council.

I still haven’t completely figured out why, but there are a couple possible reasons. One is, again, there is a very interesting history in Saraqeb, pre-2011; for example the Syrian Communist Party was founded there. There’s a history of activism, there’s a history of politics there. But also the council itself has its independent sources of support that it can use as muscle to keep some of the brigades in check.

It’s important to talk about what happened, because without that it’ll be as though it didn’t happen. It’s important to keep talking about it, again and again. Because it’s a very critical moment where the people who “won” the conflict are trying to define everything that occurred. And if they are not to cement their hold on power forever, this needs to be challenged.

There’s a very interesting history in Saraqeb of how Ahrar al-Sham tried to set up its own council to undermine the Saraqeb council, and they failed. They and others had tried the same thing in other cities and succeeded. But they failed there, because the council itself had its own forms of revenue and also had a political history. It has a tradition that it could draw from, so it could withstand it.

LM: They recently were able to kick Jabhat al-Nusra out of this city.

AG: They had an election one day, and the very next day Jabhat al-Nusra tried to invade the city and people kicked them out. They had a proper uprising and kicked them out. To this day Nusra is not able to go in the city.

LM: It’s very interesting that we started in 2017 with what’s happening in Raqqa, then we shifted back to the councils in 2011 and the pre-2011 era. So let’s go back to Raqqa and what’s happening now.

M: It’s all related. We’re going back to these things to highlight a time period of the revolution that people have skipped. Part of why hundreds of thousands have died today is because they saw hope in those councils—and I don’t mean to sound romantic, they really did. The whole revolution, people came out because they saw we were able to organize. People started believing in this. But now if you ask, a lot of the people in Syria on the ground will tell you, “Screw this, man. I just want to live. I don’t care what you do. Freedom doesn’t feed my family and neither do you or your flag.”

So when I talk about America’s harsh military intervention in Raqqa today, I want to point out this could have been solved before, when the people of Syria stood up against ISIS and no one supported them. It wasn’t just the Kurds who stood up against ISIS. Every one of us stood up against ISIS.

LM: The first battles against ISIS were by the Free Syrian Army.

AG: In 2013 they kicked ISIS out of large parts of the country. It wasn’t until they took Mosul that ISIS had reinforcements and was able to come across the border, kick out al-Nusra in key areas, in Deir ez-Zor for example, and then move west from there.

MH: I think it’s a very good point you raise about talking about the whole history, because there’s an effort now to rewrite the history. As we know, history is written by the victors, and the regime for the time being has won. Now there’s an effort by them to redefine everything that happened as a war against terrorism from the beginning. And because ISIS exists and ISIS has attacked in the US and other places, it’s a very intuitive argument. But it’s totally false.

LoveAnExplanationWhat you’re pointing out is there was a very involved history to what happened. And now that the regime has regained control over most major cities, is taking journalists there and giving them their narrative, their narrative is filtering out to everybody. So it’s important to talk about what happened and put everything happening today in context, because without that context it’ll be as though this didn’t happen. It’s important to keep talking about it, again and again. Because it’s a very critical moment where the people who won the conflict are trying to define everything that occurred. And if they are not to cement their hold on power forever, it needs to be challenged.

AG: Exactly. Especially as Americans, we have a tendency to look at Syria and the debacle in Iraq as two examples of the same phenomenon: as invasions and terrible civil wars. Obviously Syria is a terrible civil war, but there’s something else about Syria that was never there in Iraq: that it was a revolution. That point is central.

I collect newspapers from Manbij, and the other day I saw a really amazing quote in one of them talking about the difference between Iraq and Syria. It said, “There are two ways to break an egg. One is to break it from the outside; you destroy whatever is inside, and it’s a mess on your hand. The other is if it breaks from the inside, which creates life.” This is really the difference between Syria and Iraq. This is something that we have to understand when we’re talking about even the destruction of Raqqa.

M: Definitely. And it’s so difficult to find out what’s going on inside the country today. When we talk about Raqqa here in the US, all I hear is about is the advances in killing ISIS. I have a friend who lives here whose family is from Raqqa, and he says it’s crazy: they’re acting as if ISIS is all that’s in that city, forgetting that it’s a city full of civilians. Every time one of those bombs falls—anyone who’s ever seen one of those bombs fall knows that there is no targeting that will not kill people who are standing on the side.

MH: This is very important. Because the lack of media scrutiny very predictably leads to the military being more callous in their behavior. If no one’s covering it, there are no consequences. If we look at statements by the US military officials running the campaign, they’ve been openly saying they bomb every boat coming out of Raqqa, without knowing it’s the main channel for civilians to escape. They’ve been inflicting incredible casualties by all accounts, and their response to any criticism is arrogant and imperious.

The entire world’s gotten worse because of this. There has been a refugee crisis, there’s been the rise of terrorist groups, it’s contributed to the coarsening of politics in Europe and America, the rise of fascist parties. In America, one of Donald Trump’s big talking points was about Syrian refugees, about the refugee crisis caused by this conflict. The entire world’s civic culture has been degraded by this.

But there has been a lot of criticism. The criticism that’s existed has been from a few outlets—Foreign Policy, the Intercept, Airwars. Most major outlets are covering this very little. Without that scrutiny, there’s no disincentive to bombing, and the fact is that the popular mood in America and elsewhere is that ISIS is such an evil and so ubiquitous that anything is a justified response to it.

They don’t know the history of Raqqa, what happened over the last few years. They don’t know there are human beings living there with as much respect for their life required as anywhere else. This is because ISIS is such a convenient enemy, and also because people are just sick of this. They don’t want to hear about it anymore, it’s too complicated. This has allowed them to have a freer hand than they ever would have had, and they’re behaving in that manner as well, as we’re seeing.

LM: It’s scary how the whole city is being painted as an ISIS city, which is not true. The first resistance against ISIS was in Raqqa, and many of the activists who had stood up against Assad there were later detained by ISIS. We still have so many friends in ISIS jails there, and we cannot tell if they are alive or not.

LetsGoActually most of the activists who fled Raqqa after ISIS are not sure if they want to go back at all, because they know about the SDF. It’s not fair to compare the Kurds to ISIS, but they know it’s one occupation replacing another occupation. They know that SDF is not really going to welcome activists who stood up against the government or who might speak out about their atrocities.

There are a lot of conversations about how maybe the Kurds will hand Raqqa to the government after the “liberation.” I don’t know, Anand, if you think that’s a possibility.

AG: It’s a possibility, but I think it’s very unlikely. The Kurdish issue is a very complicated one. It takes a while to unpack. But there is a trope out there that the SDF or the YPG are regime proxies. I actually don’t think that’s true. I think it’s true that they have played a counterrevolutionary role in various places. That’s undeniable. But to say that they’re regime proxies is untrue for a number of reasons.

One is just the historical basis of this group. It is a section of Kurds who were stripped of citizenship even before but also during the Assad regime—the worst discrimination that you can imagine was happening to Syrian Kurds. Second, one of the major components of the SDF, Thuwar al-Raqqa, was one the preeminent FSA groups that fought against ISIS, fought against Assad, then joined Nusra and did the whole carousel thing. But they are now part of SDF. They are not a leading member, and they have to take orders from the YPG, because they’re the ones who really run the show. But it’s a very complicated situation.

OtherwiseNothingnessWhat you said before is very true, though, which is that at this point most people just want not to be bombed. Not be conscripted. To be able to go from point A to point B without having a checkpoint. To put food on the table. The original political alignments have eroded and what we have now is a logic of survival. For that reason, I think, people will come back.

We’ve seen it in Manbij. People have come back. Not everybody, of course. If you’re a hardcore anti-regime activist, you’re not likely to come back, you’re going to be sitting in Turkey. But many ordinary people are coming back because Manbij is safe. Manbij is not being bombed at the moment. Which might go to your question: is the YPG or the SDF going to hand over Raqqa to the regime? I don’t think so.

LM: There are also lots of rumors saying that the Kurds and the Syrian government worked closely in Manbij, and Russian forces were also working closely with the Kurds in Manbij.

AG: This is not true. I can say that for a fact: this is not true. I can give you an example, of the Kitab roundabout, which you may know, on the western side of the city.

The Syrian opposition can be blamed, but then so can the Kurdish forces for the betrayal in Aleppo, and for the deal with the regime. I think there’s blame to go around on all sides. It’s a very difficult situation for people to deal with. But I do think it would be a mistake to see the Kurdish forces as a regime proxy or as in cahoots with the regime.

At some point, I think in March, regime supporters, shabiha who had run those gangs to break the legs of protesters back in 2011-2012 (these guys were parliamentarians, tribal sheikhs and others, who had been living in Damascus), came to this roundabout in Manbij and they raised the Syrian flag, took a selfie with it, and put it on Facebook. And everybody, especially the opposition, was like, “Oh my god, this shows that Manbij is now supporting the Assad regime. But within ten minutes, the Asayish—Kurdish security forces—showed up at the roundabout and tried to arrest everyone there. If the Asayish is that concerned about just a flag going up in one random roundabout in Manbij, they are not really working together with the regime.

Of course they are coordinating in some ways. There is a de facto ceasefire between the two, and there has been. But this is the original deal that Assad struck: “I will give you these territories; let me crush the revolution.” They didn’t talk about what happens after the revolution is crushed. That’s coming now. But that was the original deal.

MH: Do you think there will be a day when the regime attacks and tries to reassert sovereignty over the whole country?

AG: I think it’s coming to a head. It depends on what the Americans do. If the Americans stay there, then the SDF can use the Americans as a buffer.

MH: Robert Ford, the former US ambassador, has been saying very strongly that they’re not going to stay there. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but he’s been repeating that again and again, publicly.

RubbleAG: The Americans don’t have a very good track record of setting up bases and leaving. They have bases in 160 countries. Maybe this is one of those cases where they actually leave, who knows. But if they do, there’s no way there won’t be a major war between the SDF (or rather, the YPG) and the regime. The regime has said they want to conquer back every inch of Syria.

M: That’s interesting. I definitely see that, eventually. There’s no way anyone who knows this regime would believe that it would just simply hand over its oil territories to the Kurdish forces. And of course many revolutionaries have a very big problem with the Kurdish forces taking over those lands as well (I myself am not one of them).

AG: I’m not Syrian, I’m looking at this from the outside, and I can understand there’s blame to be put on both sides. There was an Arab chauvinist sentiment within the Syrian “interim” government, as well as Syrian revolutionaries saying there should be no nationalism and no independent Kurdish movement, that it should be a united Syria. If I were a Kurd I could understand completely why that’s not going to be appealing.

MH: That’s also partly due to the external backers of the opposition, like Turkey for instance, who were averse to secessionism. Loubna has written about this. The “interim” government based in Turkey would not acquiesce to any movement which granted any sort of permission to Kurdish autonomy or independence for that reason.

AG: I totally agree, but we should also lay this at the feet of the regime. Because this is Ba’athist ideology, which is very hard to uproot. We’ve had forty years of this, right? So I think that’s part of it. But you can also blame the Kurdish forces. The Syrian opposition can be blamed, but then so can the Kurdish forces for the betrayal in Aleppo, and for the deal with the regime. I think there’s blame to go around on all sides. It’s a very difficult situation for people to deal with. But I do think it would be a mistake to see the Kurdish forces as a regime proxy or as in cahoots with the regime.

LM: Can we speak about their atrocities? Can we speak about how they are conscripting?

AG: There is forced conscription, and even beyond that, there is a lack of democracy. We can talk about that. We know that one party [PYD] dominates this formation, and we know that it’s very difficult for independent voices to have any sway. I don’t consider their self-administration councils to be democratic in any way, because they are being handpicked. It’s undeniable.

We are all affected by what happens there. If it does go back to tyranny, we’re going to deal with even worse conflict and even worse groups than ISIS, even bigger refugee crises. So it’s very important that people think about that and don’t just acquiesce to letting one side, which has committed the vast majority of atrocities and is responsible for the situation to begin with, just walk away unscathed without any justice.

But you can peel it like an onion and see other issues. I’ll give you another example. The Naeem tribe, which is in the north, had been moved there by the Assad regime to take land from Kurds during the seventies. After 2011-2012, some people saw this as a chance to get that land back. There were some fights, and some of the people who lost their land to the Kurds went and supported ISIS. It’s a very complicated thing.

Again, the fact is that the regime has screwed this country in so many ways—and with Turkey and everybody else trying to control the conflict for their own interests—that to expect all these problems to be sorted out in three or four years is very hard to believe. I’m reading a book about the French revolution, and it’s astonishing to compare the experiences of the French revolution and the Syrian revolution. What’s striking to me reading it, as somebody who is studying the Syrian revolution now, is that so many things are the same. The chaos, the missteps, the hope, the self-activity. All of that is the same.

The big difference is that there weren’t twelve different countries each supporting their own faction to try to manipulate everybody. Can you imagine if, among the various factions of the French revolution, one was being supported by the king of Spain, one was being supported by Prussia…would France even be a democracy?

MH: I want to make one point, too: that there’s so much fatigue in the world with talking about Syria. From the beginning, the American administration in particular decided that this is “those people’s problem,” this is just the problem of the people over there, we’re not going to get too deeply involved in it unless we have to. But what’s happened in Syria has made the world so much worse. Not just in Syria. The entire world’s gotten worse because of this. There has been a refugee crisis, there’s been the rise of terrorist groups, it’s contributed to the coarsening of politics in Europe and America, the rise of fascist parties. In America, one of Donald Trump’s big talking points was about Syrian refugees, about the refugee crisis caused by this conflict. The entire world’s civic culture has been degraded by this.

CrazyDreamersWe cannot just look at this conflict and say that it’s something happening “over there,” or say that what happens in Syria now doesn’t matter, even if it’s tyranny, we’re tired of this, we don’t want to hear about it anymore. Because what happens there is intimately linked to what happens here, what happens in Turkey, what happens in Europe. If there’s not an effort to ensure that some sort of just outcome happens, if we just say that we’re tired of the Syrians and we don’t want to hear about it anymore, or just try to “go back” to what it was before—which is an illusory goal—we have to think really seriously about that.

We are all affected by what happens there. If it does go back to tyranny, we’re going to deal with even worse conflict and even worse groups than ISIS, even bigger refugee crises. So it’s very important that people think about that and don’t just acquiesce to letting one side, which has committed the vast majority of atrocities and is responsible for the situation to begin with, just walk away unscathed without any justice.

AG: I would even make it a little bit more precise, and say it’s not just what happened in Syria that the rest of the world has to deal with, but it’s the counterrevolution in Syria and the crushing of the uprising in Syria that all of us have to deal with.

M: I think that was a very good conversation about Syria.

LM: It made me sad. I don’t know if it’s the conversation or the wine.

M: I knew this episode was going to be hard on me and Loubna.

LM: It’s okay. Thank you so much, Murtaza, thank you Anand. We appreciate your time.

AG: Thanks for doing this.

MH: Thanks for having us.

All photos: Saraqeb Walls (Facebook)

OneDay

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “From Saraqeb to Raqqa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s