Why Support the Syrian Revolution
May 4, 2013 � Leave a
*Those infantile apologists for fascism who imagine against the facts that
Syria�s popular revolution is a foreign conspiracy won�t like this piece by
Michael Neumann, a frequent contributor to Counterpunch and the son of
Franz Neumann, the analyst of modern fascism. It is however, one of the
most morally compelling pieces on Syria that I have read. Originally
published at Insufficient
Many reasons are given for supporting either the Syrian revolution or the
units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). But while there is sympathy for the
Syrian people, hardly ever do those reasons speak to or from Syrian needs.
Instead the appeal is to the quite narrow interests of others, always in
negative terms: not supporting the FSA will encourage Islamic extremism,
invite a regional conflagration, squander opportunities to �have a say in
Syria�s future�(!), counter-productively encourage uncontrolled arms
proliferation, leave a legacy of anti-Western sentiment in S[image:
Syrians are essentially seen either as a menace, or as weaklings likely
incapable of countering some menace in their midst.
Of course the idea here is that solid reasons can only rest on hard-headed
realism, not sloppy sentiment. But there may be at least two other reasons
rooted in a less myopic assessment of the situation. They invoke
principles and large historical opportunities � which does not distinguish
them from the sort of �higher� motives that in fact drive a good deal of
political activity. They do have implications for the whole world, but
they originate not only in the interests but also in the achievements of
the Syrian people and their revolution One reason is �negative�, the
The negative reason has to do with what Syrians suffer.
It�s taken me a while to realize that most people probably don�t really
know the full extent of Assad�s cruelties, or how they compare to the
cruelty we know has been inflicted in so many times and places. It�s not
the sort of material that makes the front pages. An appendix to this post
gives some details. For several reasons, none solely sufficient but in
combination decisive, the horrors of Syria have unique significance.
First there is the sheer barbarism. Many r�gimes which have inflicted
tortures perhaps as ghastly as Assad�s � Chile�s Pinochet and the Iran
under the Shah come to mind � do not quite match his barbarism for one
simple reason: Assad�s tortures are not confined to adults, much less to
those who have ever posed any threat, but also to children not into their
teens. The torture of injured people in their hospital beds, and of
medical staff, is also very unusual. Sometimes victims are tortured in
order to reveal information, or at least to admit to something, whether or
not they did it. Often they are simply tortured to death, simply to have
them die in agony.
Second there is the scale of it. Those tortured run into the tens, perhaps
the hundreds of thousands. Multiple deaths under torture are reported
almost daily. Perhaps as many suffered in Cambodia, or Rwanda, or the
Congo; no figures are available.
In practicing such spare-no-one savagery on so vast a scale, Assad has had
very few rivals � perhaps Saddam Hussein. But in Syria there�s another
dimension to the nightmare � and it�s no less significant for being less
brutally tangible. Never before have such atrocities been not only so
visible, but so close to what might be called the mainstream world.
The torturers �get� Twitter and Facebook. They often record their torture
sessions, down to death and mutilation, on their cell phones. When the
perpetrators are captured, these videos get onto Youtube. In a world
civilization that practically defines itself through its exposure on
digital media, this sort of shamelessly public sadism gains a prominence
unique in modern history.
Because Syria�s atrocities are so open to the world � so much a part of
that world � the failure to support the Syrian resistance is no mere
Though history almost seems a succession of moral failures, this one is
Other evils, the mainstream world could ignore or minimize or pretend to
ignore. Not this one. Nor can some ideology or reason of state be invoked
as even a partial explanation or excuse. Syria is not important enough to
be strategically or economically key. Assad is no longer a useful ally to
anyone, and his r�gime represents neither a cause nor the pursuit of any
Indeed no cause can be invoked to support him. If the type and scale of
these cruelties are not worth opposing with determination and ferocity,
what is? What sort of justice or benevolence � for anyone � can be worth
pursuing if this evil is not worth confronting?
The world�s cowardice and passivity in the face of these crimes brings the
mainstream political order into irredeemable disrepute. No one can assess
the consequences of this failure, but it�s hard to imagine anything much
less than a definitive loss of stature for every mainstream principle and
every institution dedicated to uphold them, from the UN to the
International Court of Justice to NATO and the whole panoply of apparently
useless human rights organizations.
Here is an outcome whose dangers go far beyond such bogeymen as extreme
Islamists, sectarian warfare, stray weapons or regional destabilization.
The danger, though occasioned by Syria�s agonies, is of the mainstream
world�s own making. It will probably exceed by far whatever Syrians could
possibly do to others.
In short, the refusal to support the Syrian revolution exposes the
uselessness of every political entity - every nation, every court, every
assembly, every movement, every human-rights outfit � supposedly out to
civilize the world. If that sounds extreme, ask yourself by what date
you�d expect these worthy institutions to protect us from savage
repression. You might also ask how long it will take to forget so
prolonged and public a failure.
But there is also a �positive� reason rooted in what the Syrian revolution
If it prevails, the Syrian uprising will be the first truly popular revolt
to succeed since 1789 � the first since the dawn of the industrial age.
Unlike the Russian or Chinese or Vietnamese or Cuban revolutions, it is not
the design or possession of some �lite vanguard. Unlike the 19th century
revolutions of Italy or Latin America, it did not coalesce around the
leadership of, quite literally, a man on horseback. It did not arise under
the aegis of a military hero like Turkey�s Kemal Ataturk. Unlike the
Tunisian revolt, it did not succeed because the r�gime collapsed. Unlike
the Libyan revolution, it did not rely on outside participation. Unlike
the Egyptian revolution, it did not leave much of the old order in place,
so that nothing happens without at least the passive approval of the armed
When people go on about the disunity of the opposition, they haven�t
considered this difference. Usually you speak of disunity in reference to
something once united � a movement, a party, a state. And normally, that�s
what you find when there is a revolution. But no one tut-tutted that the
French Revolution �lacked unity�. Like the Syrian revolution, that was a
spontaneous uprising whose very disunity testified to the depth and breath
of its roots.
This is no mere historical oddity. It is proof of something quite
unexpected: that a people, starting with nothing, can prevail against a
tyrannous modern state with as large and sophisticated a repressive
apparatus and any tyrant could desire. The key component of this proof is
the courage of the Syrian people. That too exceeds anything previously
encountered: never before have civilians refused to be cowed by such
widespread cruelty, such firepower, and such slaughter.
The Syrian revolution brings new hope to the world, and therefore demands
wholehearted, unqualified support. Unqualified support does not mean
heedless support. It does not preclude resolve to address the very real
dangers such a revolution poses. Of course supporters also must be ready
to work against sectarian infighting and other forms of extremist violence,
both in Syria itself and beyond. But these dangers must be countered in
any case. These frightening possibilities should blind no one to the
compelling obligation, not to sit on the sidelines, but to help that
What follows makes for very unpleasant reading. Since it omits any
results of artillery or aerial bombardment, it�s only a very partial
indication of what�s inflicted on the Syrian people. In part, its
compilation is made necessary by the attitudes of the very humanitarian
agencies from which some of the material is derived.
These agencies seem to adopted the dogma that we must never weigh one human
rights violation against another � there is no better or worse. Every
nation gets its report and its scolding; every nation and every political
group is culpable. This stance suggests that if, for example, Syrian
revolutionaries sometimes violate human rights, which they undoubtedly do,
they are as unworthy of support as the r�gime they oppose. To think
otherwise then looks immoral, a sinister case of �the end justifies the
means�. The severity of the violations doesn�t seem to count. After all,
even �persecution� on religious or cultural group, if �consistent�, is
counted a �crime against humanity� by the International Court of Justice,
and that�s without any reference to what form the �persecution� might take.
This confuses morality with unreflective delicacy. It makes no sense in
principle: is there really nothing to choose, for example, between the
taking of one innocent life and the slaughter of several billion? It makes
no sense in practice either. We sacrifice innocent lives all the time,
not just out of necessity but also for convenience. We know, for instance,
that innocent lives would be spared if we cut speed limits by, say, 90%,
for non-essential vehicles. But we don�t even consider sparing them.
We�re no more fastidious in our political judgements on the past. Since we
know that wars inevitably take innocent lives, was it wrong to resist
Nazism, or to fight the perpetrators of the Nanking massacre?
Here are the testimonies. I have not included anything alleged against the
Syrian rebels, but you can consult Human Rights Watch if you like, and
judge for yourself whether there is no better or worse in this conflict.
� �A while ago, one of my students was detained. They hung him from
his hands for 7 days and tortured him brutally until he reached the point
of insanity. He was being tortured in a room where blood and urine stained
the floors; and dead, decayed, worm infested bodies littered the ground.
They forced him to sleep atop the bodies. He fear drove him to insanity,
but they were not done with him. They slaughtered him with knives in front
of the other prisoners.�
Shaikh Moaz Khatib, President of The National Coalition Of Syrian
Revolution and Opposition Forces, delivered during the Arab League Summit
in Doha Qatar on March 26, 2013-03-24*.)
� They had started out as 20 people in that room, but some had
died. They had not been fed for the entire duration of their detention. In
the room where I was held, an injured man on the bed next to me was beaten
at least once a day. His leg wasn�t treated. I could see the worms and
small insects crawling in and out of the wound with my own eyes. In the
same hospital, they would use a drill to gouge out eyes. They also used an
iron welder to burn the flesh off your body as you are awake. In some cases
also, they would use brute force to pull your hair out. At the hospital,
they also used the method of hanging you upside down. They kept people
hanging like that for days. Sometimes they changed the method of torture
according to your �crime�. For photographers and videographers, they broke
their arms, their wrists, and individual fingers. They also gore their eyes
out.� (*Avaaz reveals<http://www.facebook.com/notes/%D8%AA%D8%B3%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%B3%D9%88%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-syrialeaks/avaaz-new-report-details-locations-and-conditions-of-syrias-detention-facilities/272008116188242
and horror of Assad�s torture chambers*)
� �His captors drilled into his brain while he was still living,
burned his body with a welding torch, poked out his eyes and mutilated his
genitals, according to his brother. They tried to strangle him with a rope
so hard his fingers that were trying to stop the choking were almost
severed.� ( *Physician
** of brother�s torture in Syria.*)
� *A compilation<http://www.therevoltingsyrian.com/post/14705334586/torture-techniques-of-detainees-in-syria
� One released detainee said that he shared a cell with a young man
who had been forced to have a glass bottle with a broken top inserted into
his anus. One said that his cellmate had been raped with a metal skewer.
Others spoke of a detainee with whom they had shared a cell who, while
hanging in the shabeh position, had a cord attached to a large bag of water
tied around his penis. *(�I wanted to die: Syria�s torture survivors speak
� �One of them, Jihad Saleh, had his hands bound to his feet behind
his back and was left lying on his stomach without food. He starved to
death in the corridor outside my cell.� (*Military airport transformed into
torture cells in Syria:
� One 15-year-old told the charity he had cigarettes put out on him
when he was imprisoned in what used to be his school.
Another described being given electric shocks and sharing a cell with
decomposing bodies, while a third teenager, Wael, said he had seen a
six-year-old die after being tortured and starved.
The 16 year-old told the report�s authors: �I watched him die. He only
survived for three days and then he simply died.�
�He was terrified all the time. They treated his body as though he was a
dog.� (*BBC News <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19709041
Syria child trauma �appalling� � Save the Children*)
- �We were 70 to 75 people in a group cell that was 3 by 3 meters. We
slept with our knees to our chests. Some people had broken hands, legs,
their heads were swollen. There were 15- and 16-year-old kids in the cell
with us, six or seven of them with their fingernails pulled, their faces
beaten. They treat the kids even worse than the adults. There is torture,
but there is also rape for the boys. We would see them when the guards
brought them back to the cell, it�s indescribable, you can�t talk about it.
One boy came into the cell bleeding from behind. He couldn�t walk.� (Syria:
Stop Torture of
Human Rights Watch)
� In his first media interview since he fled his position as head of
the intensive care unit in an Aleppo military hospital, the doctor gave a
chilling eyewitness account of secret wards where he said patients were
tortured or sent to their death.
�Important arrested patients, those that had more information to reveal,
had to be healed. Those that were useless to them were sent to a secret
ward that we nicknamed �the dark room� where they were tortured, eliminated
or left to die.�
The doctor, who for security reasons can only be identified as Ahmed,
worked in military hospitals in Aleppo, Deraa and the suburbs of Damascus
each of which had these wards.
The patients were kept in �dire� conditions with their hands and feet
handcuffed to the beds and their eyes blindfolded in windowless wards,
often in a basement.
Deprived of antibiotics and painkillers, and often left to lie in their own
faeces, many of the patients sported gaping infected wounds.� (*Syrian
prisoners left to
military hospital �dark rooms�*)
� �The discovery of the charred and mutilated bodies of three young
medical workers a week after their arrest in Aleppo city is yet further
evidence of the Syrian government forces� appalling disregard for the
sanctity of the role of medical workers, Amnesty International said.
All three men were students at Aleppo University � Basel Aslan and Mus�ab
Barad were fourth-year medical students and Hazem Batikh was a second-year
English literature student and a first-aid medic.
They were part of a team of doctors, nurses and first-aiders who have been
providing life-saving medical treatment in makeshift �field hospitals� set
up to treat demonstrators shot by security forces and who could not
therefore go to state-run hospitals for fear of being arrested, tortured or
They had been detained by Air Force Intelligence since their arrest in the
city on 17 June.
The three students� burned bodies were found in the early hours of 24 June
in a burned-out car in the Neirab area of Aleppo�s north-eastern outskirts.
Medical personnel who saw the bodies at the morgue told Amnesty
International that Basel Aslan had a gunshot wound to the head and his
hands were tied behind his back.
One leg and one arm were broken, several teeth missing and the flesh was
missing from his lower legs, leaving the bone exposed. Some of his
fingernails had been removed.� (*AIUK : Syria: Detained medics tortured and
killed amid Aleppocrackdown<http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=20191
� �The woman was arrested at a checkpoint in Homs late last year.
As part of the torture, she alleges, rats and mice were used by
interrogators to violate women. She described an assault on another
prisoner which she says she witnessed.
�He inserted a rat in her vagina. She was screaming. Afterwards we saw
blood on the floor. He told her: �Is this good enough for you?� They were
mocking her. It was obvious she was in agony. We could see her. After that
she no longer moved.�" (BBC News � Syria ex-detainees
of rape and sex abuse.)
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