Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Competing Narratives in Syria:
Between Tired Slogans and a Looming Dawn
By Ramzy Baroud
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, August 9, 2011
There is no linear narrative capable of explaining the
multifarious happenings that have gripped Syrian society in recent months.
On March 23, as many as 20 peaceful protesters were killed at the hands of
the Syrian regime’s security forces, and many more were wounded. Since
then, the violence has escalated to such a level of brutality and savagery
that can only be comparable to the regime’s infamous massacres in the city
of Hama in 1982.
Listening to Syrian presidential advisor, Dr
Buthaina Shaaban – one of the most eloquent politicians in the Arab world
– one would get the impression that a self-assured reform campaign is
indeed underway in Syria. Her words also suggest while some of the
protesters’ demands are legitimate, the crisis has been largely
manufactured abroad and is being implemented at home by armed gangs bent
on wrecking havoc. The aim of the protests, as often suggested by
officials, is only to undermine Syria’s leadership in the region and the
Arab world at large.
Indeed, Syria has championed, at least
verbally, the cause of Arab resistance. It has hosted Palestinian
resistance factions that refused to toe the US-Israeli line. Although
these factions don’t use Damascus as a starting point for any form of
violent resistance against Israel, they do enjoy a fairly free platform to
communicate their ideas. Israel, which seeks to destroy all forms of
Palestinian resistance, is infuriated by this freedom.
also supported the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah, which succeeded in
driving Israel out of Lebanon in 2000, and torpedoed Israel’s efforts at
gaining political and military grounds in Lebanon in 2006.
narrative can also demonstrate the viability of its logic through palpable
evidence of open or covert attempts at targeting Syria, undermining its
leadership of the so-called rejectionist front. The front, which refused
to cede to US-Israeli hegemony in the region, had already shrunk
significantly following the invasion of Iraq, the surrender of Libya to
Western diktats, and the sidelining of Sudan.
More, the Israeli
government had been genuinely frustrated when the US failed to target
Syria during its regime change frenzy following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
After all, Israel’s faithful neoconservative friends - Richard Perle,
Douglas Feith and David Wurmser – had made ‘containing Syria’ a paramount
objective in their 1996 policy paper. Entitled ‘A Clean Break: A New
Strategy for Securing the Realm’, the document was written to help
Benjamin Netanyahu in his efforts to suppress his regional foes. It stated
that, "given the nature of the regime in Damascus, it is both natural and
moral that Israel abandon the slogan 'comprehensive peace' and move to
contain Syria, drawing attention to its weapons of mass destruction
program, and rejecting 'land for peace' deals on the Golan Heights".
Syria has also fallen in the range of US-Israeli fire on more than one
occasion. The so-called Operation Orchard was an Israeli airstrike with a
US green light. It targeted an alleged nuclear reactor in Deir ez-Zor
region in September 2007 and an American airborne assault against a
peaceful Syrian village in October 2008, killing and wounding Syrian
Although the official Syrian narrative claims that
these events alone should justify the army’s harsh crackdown on
pro-democracy protests, the rationale is challenged by a history of regime
hypocrisy, doublespeak, brutality and real, albeit understated willingness
to accommodate Western pressures and diktats.
occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights in June 1967 didn’t simply affect
regional power dynamics, it also ushered the rise of a new political mood
in Damascus. It was Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current president,
Bashar, who took full advantage of the shifting mood by overthrowing
president Nur al-Din al-Atasi. The new narrative was a triumphant one, not
aimed merely at recapturing Syrian and other occupied Arab territories
from Israel, but also positioning al-Assad’s Ba’ath regime as the leader
of the new Arab front. Although the 1973 war failed to liberate the Golan
of its invaders, leading to the ‘disengagement agreement’ with Israel in
May 1974, the official language remained as fiery and revolutionary as
ever. Oddly, for nearly four decades, Syria’s involvement in the conflict
remained largely theoretical, and resistance persisted only via smaller
Lebanese and Palestinian groups.
It seemed that Syria wanted to
be involved in the region only so much as to remain a visible player, but
not to the extent of having to face violent repercussions. It was an act
of political mastery, one that Hafez crafted in the course of three
decades and which Bashar cleverly applied for nearly eleven years. In
essence, however, Syria remained hostage to familial considerations,
one-party rule and the sectarian classifications initiated by colonial
France in 1922.
True, Syria was and will remain a target for
Western pressures. But what needs to be realized is that these pressures
are motivated by specific policies concerning Israel, and not with regards
to a family-centered dictatorship that openly murders innocent civilians
in cold blood. In fact, there are many similarities in the pattern of
behavior applied by the Syrian army and the Israeli army. Reports of
causalities in Syria’s uprising cite over 1,600 dead, 2,000 wounded (Al
Jazeera, July 27) and nearly 3,000 disappearances (CNN, July 28).
Unfortunately this violence is not new, and is hardy compelled by fear of
international conspiracy to undermine the al-Ba’ath regime. The 1982 Hama
uprising was crushed with equal if not greater violence, where the dead
were estimated between 10,000 and 40,000.
The Syrian regime is
deliberately mixing up regional and national narratives, and it is still
exploiting the decades-old political discourse to explain its inhumane
treatment of Syrians. Civilians continue to endure the wrath of a single
family, backed by a single political party. But there is only one way to
read the future of Syria. The Syrian people deserve a new dawn of freedom,
equality, social justice, free from empty slogans, self-serving elites and
corrupt criminals. Syria and its courageous people deserve better. Much
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net)
is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom
Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London), available on