FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Homage to Aleppo

The reporting of the situation in Syria since protests against the Assad regime broke out in 2011 has never been particularly clear. Confusion as to what the situation in cities and the countryside actually is seems to depend on who is providing the narrative. Part of this lack of clarity is due to the tight hold the government in Damascus has on the mainstream news outlets. Censorship and news manipulation seems to be part and parcel of the regime’s toolkit of repression. From the other side, the reliability of cellphone videos and tweets of those resisting the regime suffer(ed) from the sender’s tendency to exaggerate aspects of the street protests and, as time wore on, other questions regarding some of the funding of certain bloggers raised other questions about their agendas. In other words, as the adage says, the first casualty was truth.

Tragically, those early days of the rebellion in Syria have long ago been lost in the fog of the civil war ravaging the country. The only thing certain about the situation is that it is much worse than it was five years ago. Another undisputable truth is that the Assad regime continues to control the government in Damascus and has maintained this control with the same methods the Assads have always used to maintain control when faced with resistance–sheer brutality. Beyond these known facts, most everything else about Syria and the conflict within its borders is clouded with lies, half-truths, government barrel bombs, terrorist bombings, outside interventions, Islamic State (Daesh), and US, European and Russian air assaults. As a resident of the United States, I find myself skeptical of every bit of news about Syria and its war. At the same time, I continue searching for some text that will provide some kind of narrative that holds up to examination.

41O4xcVemwL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_I believe such a narrative now exists. Titled Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, and written by two supporters of the protest movement that became international news in 2011, this book provides an emotionally restrained history of the Syrian people’s struggle against the Assad regime. The text begins with an introduction to Syria’s history and the role of the European powers in the creation of its twentieth-century incarnation. From there it discusses the institution of the Ba’ath regime, its domination of the nation for decades, the infiltration of neoliberal capitalism into the Syrian economy, the US invasion of Iraq and the movement known as the Arab Spring. This discussion is both nuanced and concise, ending with a description of the politics of the movement against Assad’s regime in the early weeks of protest.

Combining great journalism with a protester’s perspective, the authors Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami then move into the bulk of the book’s content: a report on the battles on the ground and a chronicle of the resistance. In creating this narrative, Burning Country clearly delineates the resistance’s trajectory from a secular, anti-regime rebellion based in the workers and farmers of Syria into a multifaceted war between Syrians supporting the regime (and its allies) versus the Syrian religious and democratic opposition, with foreign Sunni extremist fighters opposing both. It is a tale that is at times reminiscent of the conflict in Iraq following the US invasion of that country in 2003. At other times, it is uniquely Syrian, with its own sectarian rivalries turning into bloodshed known to Syrians from ages past. It is always tragic.

If the reader is, like me, occasionally confused about the numerous tendencies and allegiances fighting in Syria, Burning Country helps to clarify some of those. At the same time, the authors seem to make some assumptions based mostly on their own politics and allegiances. This does not detract from the text, but it seems one should read this book with that awareness. If there is any elements of the book I find some fault with, one is when it blames the militarization of the situation on the regime, while simultaneously claiming that some elements of the resistance (primarily Salafist) were also calling for armed resistance. The other would be what I considered to be a misplaced belief that European and American governments should have done more, even imposed a no-fly zone. More importantly, as far as the relationship between religious and political movements goes, is the discussion of the Left’s failure in the Middle East and the consequent rise of religious organizations in the opposition to imperialism and the region’s authoritarian regimes.

This is a partisan text, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The authors are vehemently opposed to the Assad regime. The book is written with a belief that the northern powers (the West as they are known in their capitals) have failed in Syria and, in doing so, are propping up the Damascus regime. The approach it takes in its discussion of the Syrian conflict reminded me of another excellent text describing a nation’s civil war. That text is Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. Like the author of Homage to Catalonia, Yassin-Kassab and Al-Shami describe a bloody war between two enemies both claiming the soul of a nation. With the Syrian civil war as context, the reader is also presented with instructive and absorbing discussions of the struggles for power and over ideas within the forces claiming the revolutionary mantle. Although the account written in these pages is of a tragedy beyond most readers’ comprehension, it is a tragedy that will continue to be felt around the world, as refugees leave their ruined lives behind in search of some kind of living peace. This is but another reason it should be read by as many people as possible.

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

June 17, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
The Dark Side of Brexit: Britain’s Ethnic Minorities Are Facing More and More Violence
Linn Washington Jr.
Remember the Vincennes? The US’s Long History of Provoking Iran
Geoff Dutton
Where the Wild Things Were: Abbey’s Road Revisited
Nick Licata
Did a Coverup of Who Caused Flint Michigan’s Contaminated Water Continue During Its Investigation? 
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange and the Scales of Justice: Exceptions, Extraditions and Politics
John Feffer
Democracy Faces a Global Crisis
Louisa Willcox
Revamping Grizzly Bear Recovery
Stephen Cooper
“Wheel! Of! Fortune!” (A Vegas Story)
Daniel Warner
Let Us Laugh Together, On Principle
Brian Cloughley
Trump Washington Detests the Belt and Road Initiative
Weekend Edition
June 14, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump’s Trade Threats are Really Cold War 2.0
Bruce E. Levine
Tom Paine, Christianity, and Modern Psychiatry
Jason Hirthler
Mainstream 101: Supporting Imperialism, Suppressing Socialism
T.J. Coles
How Much Do Humans Pollute? A Breakdown of Industrial, Vehicular and Household C02 Emissions
Andrew Levine
Whither The Trump Paradox?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of 10,000 Talkers, All With Broken Tongues
Pete Dolack
Look to U.S. Executive Suites, Not Beijing, For Why Production is Moved
Paul Street
It Can’t Happen Here: From Buzz Windrip and Doremus Jessup to Donald Trump and MSNBC
Rob Urie
Capitalism Versus Democracy
Richard Moser
The Climate Counter-Offensive: Secrecy, Deception and Disarming the Green New Deal
Naman Habtom-Desta
Up in the Air: the Fallacy of Aerial Campaigns
Ramzy Baroud
Kushner as a Colonial Administrator: Let’s Talk About the ‘Israeli Model’
Mark Hand
Residents of Toxic W.Va. Town Keep Hope Alive
John Kendall Hawkins
Alias Anything You Please: a Lifetime of Dylan
Linn Washington Jr.
Bigots in Blue: Philadelphia Police Department is a Home For Hate
David Macaray
UAW Faces Its Moment of Truth
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Washington Detests the Belt and Road Initiative
Horace G. Campbell
Edward Seaga and the Institutionalization of Thuggery, Violence and Dehumanization in Jamaica
Graham Peebles
Zero Waste: The Global Plastics Crisis
Michael Schwalbe
Oppose Inequality, Not Cops
Ron Jacobs
Scott Noble’s History of Resistance
Olivia Alperstein
The Climate Crisis is Also a Health Emergency
David Rosen
Time to Break Up the 21st Century Tech Trusts
George Wuerthner
The Highest Use of Public Forests: Carbon Storage
Ralph Nader
It is Time to Rediscover Print Newspapers
Nick Licata
How SDS Imploded: an Inside Account
Rachel Smolker – Anne Peterman
The GE American Chestnut: Restoration of a Beloved Species or Trojan Horse for Tree Biotechnology?
Sam Pizzigati
Can Society Survive Without Empathy?
Manuel E. Yepe
China and Russia in Strategic Alliance
Patrick Walker
Green New Deal “Climate Kids” Should Hijack the Impeachment Conversation
Colin Todhunter
Encouraging Illegal Planting of Bt Brinjal in India
Robert Koehler
The Armed Bureaucracy
David Swanson
Anyone Who’d Rather Not be Shot Should Read this Book
Jonathan Power
To St. Petersburg With Love
Marc Levy
How to Tell a Joke in Combat
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail