With Syria back in the news due to the horrific chemical weapons attack last week that killed hundreds and threats from the US to engage in military strikes, below are some do’s and don’ts for progressive/radical anti-war organizations/activists in the US as you figure out a proper response.
1. DON’T in any way say or imply both sides are wrong and it’s not clear who we would be supporting if we get involved militarily. This is an insult to every Syrian who has and continues to go out in the streets and protest both the regime and those forces who are looking to use this time of war to assert their own power over others. It is a shame how many progressive groups in the US just jump on the “both sides are bad” wagon so we shouldn’t get involved. There are one million children who are refugees and that is the fault of the regime. It is the regime who is bombing cities with jets; it is the regime that has ruled the country with brutal force for decades. Any statement that doesn’t acknowledge this is again an insult to those who have sacrificed so much.
2. DON’T over conflate Iraq and Syria. Just as ludicrous those who look to Kosovo as an example of military intervention to support it in Syria are, it is quite pathetic when so many progressives and leftists are just obsessed with supposedly false chemical weapons claims. There are 100,000 Syrians dead, majority killed by conventional weapons. So there are a million and one excuses for the US to intervene and faking chemical weapons attacks is not needed. There is also no basis I believe in claiming al Qaeda has access and uses such weapons. Al Qaeda fought the US for a decade in Iraq and not once deployed such weapons. But all of a sudden they’re using them in Syria? And if the rebels had these weapons, the regime would’ve fallen a long time ago.
3. DON’T obsess over al-Qaeda, Islamist extremists, jihadists, etc. Since 9/11 progressives have rightly shunned the use of all these labels when it comes to the US War on Terror, yet we now use them freely when it comes to Syria and actually believe it. The overwhelming majority of Syrians, both those who have taken arms and those who continue to resist through nonviolent means, have nothing to do with the extremist groups and are rising up against all forces who are destroying their country, whether they be regime or supposed “opposition” groups. It is also important to understand that the Free Syria Army is not a central command army with orders given from the top. It is a loosely affiliated group of different battalions and anyone can claim to be part of it.
4. DO point out all the US failures toward Syria and how dropping bombs on the country is not what is needed. I personally don’t believe that US is going to get militarily involved. They promised weapons to the rebels and have yet to deliver. No way is the US getting in because as has been pointed out by Gen. Martin Dempsey and in a NYT opinion piece, it is so much for useful for US “interests” for Syrians to kill each other. I think taking a position of the US should not get involved through a military intervention is fine. DON’T put it as “Hands off Syria” implying this is some kind of American conspiracy. DON’T argue this is about US not having a right to taking sides in a civil war. DON’T make it all about money for home since we do want more humanitarian aid. DO frame it as what will help bring the suffering of Syrians to an end.
5. DO point out US hypocrisy as it judges Russia for sending weapons to the regime. Just last week a story came out that the US is sending $640 million worth of cluster bombs to Saudi. Weapons continue to flow to Egypt, Bahrain, and Israel despite massive human rights violations. DO call for an end to all sales of weapons to all regimes in the region.
6. DON’T let genuine concerns with US imperialism, Israel, Saudi, etc make you look at pictures and videos of dead children and think conspiracy. Bashar is an authoritarian dictator and his record of resistance is a bit sketchy. Just remember he collaborated with the US on things such as CIA renditions. Just because the CIA is training a few fighters in Jordan or some anonymous rebel leader is quoted in some Israeli paper doesn’t mean this isn’t a legitimate Syrian uprising against a brutal regime.
7. DO highlight the continued bravery of the Syrian people who take to the streets and protest against the regime, extremists, and all others looking to destroy their struggle for freedom and dignity. As in with everywhere, coverage of violence trumps coverage of continued nonviolent resistance.
8. DO strongly urge people to donate for humanitarian aid. Between deaths, imprisonments, internal displacement, and refugees, I think 30-40 percent of the Syrian population is in one way or another uprooted.
9. I have no actual solutions to suggest that you encourage people to support. Perhaps pushing for an actual ceasefire might be an option, which would require pressure on Russia to tell Bashar to back down. I know my not having answers about how to resolve anything is a shortcoming, but sometimes the best course of action is to just be in solidarity with folks in their struggle through simply recognizing it.
10. Syrians deserve the same respect for their struggle as all other struggles in the region: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and always Palestine.
Ramah Kudaimi is a Syrian-American activist in DC. You can follow her on Twitter @ramahkudaimi.