user preferences

New Events

Mashriq / Arabia / Iraq

no event posted in the last week

A Close look at the Syrian revolution

category mashriq / arabia / iraq | imperialism / war | opinion / analysis author Tuesday November 06, 2012 19:17author by A Syrian comrade Report this post to the editors

This could to some extent tell my situation when I was inside the "liberated territories" of Syria, that is the territories controlled by the free army, the armed forces of the Syrian opposition... [Italiano] [Français]

A close look at the Syrian revolution

An Anarchist among jihadists

This could to some extent tell my situation when I was inside the "liberated territories" of Syria, that is the territories controlled by the free army, the armed forces of the Syrian opposition. But still it is not the whole truth. It is true that not all the free army militants are devoted jihadists, although most of them think, or say, that what they are practising is "Jihad". The truth is there are a lot of ordinary people, even thieves, etc. among them, as in any armed struggle.

My first and lasting impression about the current situation in Syria in that there is no more a popular revolution going on there; what is taking place there is an armed revolution that could degenerate simply into a civil conflict. The Syrian people, which has shown unprecedented courage and determination in the first few months of the revolution in defying Assad's regime despite all its brutality, is really exhausted now. 19 long months of fierce repression and lately of hunger, widespread scarcity and continuous bombardment by the regime's army, is weakening its spirit. Cynically, the beneficiary of all these hasn't been the regime, but the opposition, especially the Islamists. Depending on its international relationships, especially with the rich Gulf despotic governments, the opposition now can feed and support the hungry population in the areas controlled by its forces. Without such support, a grave humanitarian situation could be taking place.

But this support is not provided for free, neither by the Gulf rulers, nor by the opposition leaders. They are, like any other authoritarian force, asking the masses for submission and obedience. This in fact could only mean the real death of the Syrian revolution as a courageous popular act of the Syrian masses. Yes, I helped some jihadists to survive [1] and others to go back to fight; but my real intention was to help the masses I belong to, firstly as a physician, and secondly, as an anarchist .

To tell the truth, I don't think that our problem is with Islam itself. Islam can also be egalitarian, or even anarchistic. In the history of Islam there have been scholars who called for a stateless and free Muslim society, even a free universe without any sort of authority. The problem with what is happening now in Syria is not only the difficult and bloody process of changing a ruthless dictatorship, but might even be worse: substituting it with another dictatorship, which could be worse and bloodier. Early in the revolution, a small number of people, mainly devoted Islamists, claimed to represent the revolting masses and self-appointed themselves to be the true revolutionaries, the true representative of the revolution. This went unchallenged by the mainstream of the revolutionary masses and intellectuals. We did oppose such authoritarian and even false claims, but we were, and still are, too few to make any real difference.

These people claimed that what was taking place was a religious war, not a mere revolution of oppressed masses against their oppressor. They very aggressively used the fact that the oppressor was from another sect of Islam, different from the sect of the majority of the people he is exploiting, a sect that has frequently been judged by Sunni scholars in the past to be against the teachings of true Islam, which is even worse than non-Muslims. We were shocked by the fact that the majority of Alawis, the sect of the current dictator, who are poorer and more marginalized than the Sunni majority, did support the regime; and that they were participating in his brutal suppression of the revolting masses. This came as "evidence" of the "actual religious war" taking place between Sunni and Alawis. And in this regard these people could really claim to be the real Sunni; they are Muslim scholars and they are so sectarian that no one can challenge them in this regard. In fact, they built their spiritual and moral authority before the material one.

Then came the material support from the Gulf rulers. Now the potential for any real popular struggle is decreasing rapidly; Syria is governed now by weapons; and only those who have them can have a say about its present and future. And that is true not only for Assad's regime and its Islamic opposition. Everywhere in the Middle East the great hopes are disappearing rapidly - in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. The Islamists seem to be getting all the benefits of the courageous struggles of the masses. And they could easily initiate the process of establishing their fanatical rule, without strong opposition from the masses. I could feel exactly like Emma Goldman felt in 1922 when she broke with the Bolsheviks and finally became disillusioned with their rule. In fact, no one in the whole Arab and Muslim world looks closer to the Bolsheviks nowadays than the Islamists. Even devoted Stalinists lack the full criteria of their ancestors, compared to the Islamists. For a long time they were badly repressed by local dictators, used to frighten the masses and the West; and because of that might have looked as if they were the most decisive part of the opposition to these dictatorships. At the same time, they really have the same efficient propaganda machine as the Bolsheviks did once. They are so authoritarian and aggressive, exactly as the Bolsheviks were during the decisive days of the October Revolution. So it seems logical that the Arab peoples opted to try them in power, or to accept their rise to power. Even to hope, as the Russian workers and peasants did once, that they could really create a better and different type of society. In the case of Emma Goldman, she awoke very early from such disillusion; for the masses, it took so long to realize the truth. Still Emma thought, rightly in my opinion: the masses were very right to rise up and try to change their miserable reality, the big "mistake", if it could be described as a mistake, was made by the authoritarian forces which sought to hijack the revolution. We still support the revolution, not its false "leaders".

Building the libertarian alternative: Anarchist propaganda and organization

The other issue that I think is so important for us, Arab anarchists and the Arab masses, is how to build the libertarian alternative: that is, how to initiate an effective anarchist or libertarian propaganda and how to build libertarian organizations. To tell the truth, I have never tried to convince anyone to be anarchist before. I have opted only for free dialogue between "equals" with everyone. I have never claimed that I know everything or that any anarchist or any other human being deserve to be the "guide" or the "leader" of others, that anyone deserve to be in the same position as the Pope, Muslim imams or the general secretary of any Stalinist or Leninist party. I have always thought that trying to affect others is another way to practice authority upon them. But now I see this issue from another perspective: it is all about making anarchism "available" or known to all those who want to fight any oppressing authority whose repression they are suffering from; be they workers, the unemployed, students, feminists, the youth or ethnic and religious minorities, etc. It is about trying to build an example or sample of the new free life in the body of a free or libertarian organisation; not only as a living manifestation of its potential presence, but also as a MEANS to achieve that society.

We have to make anarchism well known to all the slaves and victims of all the current suppressive systems and authorities. EFFECTIVE ANARCHIST PROPAGANDA is, I think, the first aim of such organizations. In a word, we are witnesses of the bankruptcy of the "secular" authoritarian trends (including the nationalist and Arab–nationalist, Stalinist and other verities of Leninism), and very soon the bankruptcy of the authoritarian religious ones. The future alternative should be, logically, a libertarian one. Of course, anarchism cannot be implanted artificially - it must be a "natural" product of the local masses' struggles. But still it will need good care and to be properly highlighted. This will be, supposedly, the role of our propaganda. Still there will be no "center" in our organisation, no bureaucracy, but still it is supposed to be as effective as its authoritarian counterparts, or even more efficient. Still our Stalin or Bonaparte is not in power, still the Syrian masses have the opportunity to get a better outcome than that of the Russian revolution. It is very true that this is difficult and is becoming more so every minute, but the revolution itself was a miracle, and on this earth the oppressed can create their miracles from time to time. This time also, we, Syrian anarchists, are putting all our cards and all our efforts with the masses. It could be no other way, or we would not deserve our libertarian name.

[1] I want here to give some details about this. In fact it wasn't easy for me to be among Jihadists, but for some reason, it wasn't the same to treat them as a doctor. For me, I was so clear - since the first moment I entered that front hospital where I was working - that I would treat anyone who needed my help, be they civilians, fighters from any group and religion or sect; and I was so convinced that no one could be mistreated inside that hospital, even if they were from Assad's army. I will insist here that my real problem, and that of the oppressed in general I think, is not with god himself, but with human beings who act as gods, who are so sick with authority that they think and act like gods, be they secular dictators like Assad or Islamic imams, etc. God himself is never as deadly dangerous as those who "speak" for him.

author by Milan Rai - Peace Newspublication date Thu Nov 08, 2012 14:39author email editorial at peacenews dot infoauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

This is a really important insight into what is going on. We would really like to print it in Peace News, a London-based radical paper. Please get in touch to give us permission!

You can check out our website - please email us if you're willing for this piece to be reprinted.

Best wishes

Milan Rai
author of Chomsky's Politics, War Plan Iraq

Related Link:
author by Wayne Pricepublication date Tue Nov 13, 2012 06:13author email drwdprice at aol dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

These comments, by "a Syrian comrade," are excellent. As he points out, anarchists are particularly sensitive to the danger that a revolution can be taken over by revolutionary authoritarians, out to establish a new dictatorial state. As he says, the problem is not Islam as such. Islam, like any other religion, can be consistent with libertarian socialism. The problem, in this case, is a certain interpretation of Islam, which is used to justify a particularly dictatorial version of nationalism. With the failure of Marxism-Leninism on a world scale, rebellious people have often turned to some variety of authorirtarian religion for salvation from above.

The writer rases the main problem of contemporary anarchism: "I have never tried to convince anyone to be anarchist before.... I have never claimed that I know everything or that any anarchist or any other human being deserve to be the "guide" or the "leader" of others,"

Anarchists have been so afraid of being authoritarian, that we have bent over backwards not to fight for our ideas. We have left the field open for all sorts of statists to present their ideas: reformists, pro-imperialist "democrats," moderate Islamists, extreme fanatical Islamists, secular nationalists, religious nationalists, Leninists, etc., etc.

It is essential for anarchists to raise our ideas, to organize ourselves in order to raise our ideas effectively, openly, and honestly, not as people who "know all the answers," or who want to be the new rulers, but as comrades in the struggle. In particular we need to warn the workers, peasants, and all the oppressed, about the dangers of imperialism, Islamist statism, and other forms of authoritarianism. This is not elitissm on our part. It is part of the process of the self-organization of the people. .

author by ajohnstone - socialist party of great britainpublication date Tue Nov 20, 2012 21:02author email alanjjohnstone at yahoo dot co dot ukauthor address scotlandauthor phone naReport this post to the editors

"Syria is governed now by weapons; and only those who have them can have a say about its present and future."

Wasn't it Mao who said “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

It is sad that the early potential and hope has disappeared. See link

"We have to make anarchism well known to all the slaves and victims"

It was William Morris long ago who said the job of socialists is to make socialists.

"it should be our special aim to make Socialists, by putting before people, and especially the working-classes, the elementary truths of Socialism; since we feel sure, in the first place, that in spite of the stir in the ranks of labour, there are comparatively few who understand what Socialism is, or have had opportunities of arguing on the subject with those who have at least begun to understand it; and, in the second place, we are no less sure that before any definite Socialist action can be attempted, it must be backed up by a great body of intelligent opinion - the opinion of a great mass of people who are already Socialists, people who know what they want, and are prepared to accept the responsibilities of self-government, which must form a part of their claims."

In a personal aside, years ago i had a conversation with an anarchist doctor involved with Black Flag who wished to go to post-Kymer Rouge Cambodia as a medic. He hoped he could convince the local population of anarchism. I mentioned that his priority would end up being employing his medical skills, not his political acumen.

Related Link:
author by Jessica Corbett - Peace Newspublication date Tue Sep 17, 2013 19:23author email reporter at peacenew dot infoauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors


In December 2012 - January 2013 Peace News reprinted this piece with your permission. ( I am currently working on story about Syria for the next issue of Peace News. If you are willing, I would like to speak with you about the recent events in Syria and the continued movements within and related to Syria. We are working with a tight deadline, so any correspondence would need to take place this week. Please feel free to email me at

Jessica Corbett

Related Link:
This page can be viewed in
English Italiano Deutsch
© 2005-2021 Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by [ Disclaimer | Privacy ]