What’s Happening in Syria?

Erasmo Calzadilla

HAVANA TIMES — Even before the emigration fever hit Cuba, I dreamed of going to Syria. My sister married a guy from that Arab country, one who came to study medicine but was actually even better at storytelling.

Listening to the stories about his hometown, I ended up idealizing and falling in love with the ways of the people there (committed, serious, faithful, honest), especially since I was so disgusted with the moral laxity and superficiality of the sentiments all around me here.

Now I don’t see things the same way, though some of that youthful romanticism remains.

That’s why when the first blossoms of Arab Spring bloomed in Syria, I stopped to listen more than what most people did.

Al-Assad is a friend of the Castros, so here they tend to minimize the conflict. Nonetheless, the number of dead, missing and displaced persons is huge according to figures from the international media – more than 9,000 deaths alone. If true, this is a truly human catastrophe in the making.

It seems that on Friday, May 22, blood ran in the Syrian city of Houla. UN observers say pro-government militia fired heavy artillery (tanks included) on the civilian population.

Hundreds were killed – almost half were women and children. The secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, condemned the incident and several countries reacted by expelling their Syrian ambassadors.  Yet our official Granma newspaper had a very different version.

A day after the events, according to an article in the official “Communist Party” daily:

“Syrian forces intervened on Saturday against armed groups that were terrorizing the population in the town of Houla…

“The bands were identified as terrorists that had infiltrated the country from Turkey and Lebanon, both of which border Syria, and fired on the population at least six times, thereby forcing the army to intervene…”

So, according to Granma, the terrorists were the ones who fired on the civilians and the army intervened to defend them. This isn’t a case of the same event seen from different angles — like in Akira Kurosawa’s cinematographic masterpiece Rashomon (1950) — but totally contradictory versions. One of the two (or both) is lying.

My intuition says that they’re both lying. I think the Syrian spring has ceased being (if it ever was) a popular insurgency against the tyrant and has become a struggle between factions and bandits.

But that’s merely my intuition. If someone has a different version, please feel free to share it.

20 thoughts on “What’s Happening in Syria?

  • Grady, you ignore the fact there are thousands of Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards in Syria supporting Assad and slaughtering the Syrian people. Is that not imperialism?

    Hezbollah fighters are in Syria too, where they attacked Palestinian refugee camps which refused to support Assad.

  • It’s important to note that the Cuban ambassador to the UN has voted on several recent occasions in defence of the Syrian government of Bashir el-Assad and against motions for sanctions. It does not reflect well on the Cuban government to stand with the Butcher of Damascus.

  • Grady,
    as a socialist and supporter of ‘the people’, wouldn’t you at least agree that popular dissent deserves to be heard, and if it is not heard and comes to conflict, then wouldn’t you agree that it is only right to allow or enable a fair fight? I mean, the Syrian army has all the weight here. What do a bunch of posters count against tanks and artillery? What if it were you demanding your rights while staring down the barrel of a gun?

  • This lady,….Grady ross needs to wake up from her socialist utopia.

  • I consider the possibility of a large scale ground invasion of Syria highly unlikely under any scenario. In the case of Libya, there was the enforcement of a no fly zone with only a few special forces on the ground. The geography of Syria is very different than that of Libya and both its air defences and air force are stronger. So I’m not sure how much support there would even be to try to enforce a no fly zone.

    Should Russia and China come around, I see several more likely scenarios. One is a deal that would allow al-Assad, his family and maybe some senior aides to go into voluntary exile (likely Russia). This would be followed by a somewhat messy process of adopting a new constitution and holding elections somewhat similar to the change process underway in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

    A somewhat messier scenario is a Balkans style stand-off with the presence of a stronger contingent of Arab League troops and UN monitors to keep the warring factions apart and try to enforce the Kofi Annan peace plan. Can’t see this as a long-term solution but it may buy time to work on a permanent political settlement.

  • In a sense, what is happening in Syria, in The Lebanon, in Bahrain, etc. in this struggle between the Sunni (especially the fundamentalist branch) and the Shia is reminiscent of the murderous conflict that went on after the Reformation betwixt the Catholics and the Protestants. Besides the persecution of Catholics in England during the 17th and 18th Centuries, during the 16th and 17th Centuries whole regions of what is now Germany and Central Europe were literally depopulated by religious civil war. Fortunately for the West, The Enlightenment profoundly effected how most intellectuals viewed religion (though Marx would say that the comming of Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution was of more consequence than The Enlightenment). Too bad more Ataturks did not arrise in the Middle East (or more secular nationalists, like Nasser and Mosadek, were not more successful in crushing the intollerance of the Dark Ages)!

  • The civil war in Syria will only end when the Sunni and Alawi utterly exhaust themselves in murduring each other (as was the case –alas temporarily–with end of the civil war in the Lebanon in the 1970’s and early 1980’s). Since they have just begun this latest round, I suspect it will go on for quite some time. For outsiders to involve themselves would be bootless. A prediction: if the U.S. and Western Europe involve themselves in this civil war, it will spread to a more general–and regional–conflagration between Shia and Sunni.

  • Imperialism only wants one thing: permission from the public to invade Syria. You and those like you are being played by the media, just as you were being played with regard to Iraq and Libya. Wake up.

  • Well, Moses–now that you have retracted your wish for Navy Seals aggression–I don’t read the bible very much. But I have read it enough to deduce that, if the Abraham story is true, Ishmael was truly a blood son of Abraham, but that Isaac, by contrast, must have been an infant from a father and mother other than Abraham and Sarah.

    Sarah was way past menopause. I don’t think Jews believe in either virgin or post-menopausal birth–and neither do I. The only possibility is that old Sarah, in order to ensure that Abraham’s wealth would not go to Ishmael, his blood son by Hagar, their Egyptian slave, faked pregnancy and purchased another woman’s son in secret.

    Sarah had abused Hagar, trying to take away her new-born son by Abraham, but Hagar rebelled and would not allow it. Sarah apparently kept the grudge for many years. When she became afraid that Hagar and Ishmael would displace her as Abraham’s heir, she came up with a duplicitous scheme to disinherit Ishmael and therefore avoid being under the sway of Hagar.

    The biblical story would indicate the disgusting, conniving character of Sarah, plus the stupidity of Abraham and his disgusting disloyalty to his blood son Ishmael.

    And so, if the story is as set forth in the bible, the circumcised blood son of Abraham–who, according to “God,” would to be the ancestor of those who ought to own the territories we now might call Israel-Palestine–was Ishmael, the progenitor of the Palestinians and other Arabs.

    As far as the Jews and Arabs living together in peace and harmony, they already have done so down through the centuries, including and especially in old Spain. The Muslims and the Jews helped save the great heritage of the pagan Greeks and Romans, for later re-transmission to Christian Europe after the Dark Ages.

    What you ought to figure out, Moses, is that the only worthwhile future that the Israeli Jewish people truly have is through unity, co-existence and mutual appreciation with their Palestinian sisters and brothers in a united, democratic, non-theocratic political state.

    I do believe that the descendants of Abraham, the Jews and Arabs, can someday live together peacefully in a socialist cooperative republic. Getting through to arrogant, short-sighted people like you however is a big problem.

  • You are right, what happens in Syria should be solved by the Syrian people. Maybe we would’ve just stayed away from Nazi Germany too right? What happened in WW2 it was Hitler’s business, not Europe’s or America. I hope you are able to understand my sarcasm.

  • Grady, how can you sit back and ponder a make-believe world of socialist transformation while in the real world atrocities go on such as described in this link? http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/09/world/middleeast/syrians-bar-un-monitors-from-a-massacre-inquiry.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha2_20120609
    I live in the real world. How does anyone support the Syrian regime after this. Cuba mourned the death of North Korea’s former dictator. Do you know that people still die of starvation in North Korea because of government malfeasance? Now you and other Cuban apologists are supporting this mass murderer in Syria. Sen. Marco Rubio said something very interesting Thursday in a Senate subcommittee hearing on Cuban issues. He said that after the regime change (and biology demands that the regime will change) that names are being taken down today and will today will be remembered then. Grady, what side of history will you be on? Truly, there will be an accounting for what has taken place in Cuba.

  • The regime in Syria is the business of the Syrian people, not of Qatar, Saudia Arabia, Turkey, NATO, the US, UK or France.

  • Grady, I was truly being sarcastic in that comment but obviously my sarcasm was not sufficiently apparent to you. If I, for lack of clarity, caused you to misunderstand me, I sincerely retract that statement. BUT….in general, I emphatically support the use of US military force to protect American lives and interests abroad. I have traveled extensively throughout most of the world and I sleep a lot better at night when I am abroad knowing that there is a detachment of well-trained Marines at my embassy available to retrieve me should a foreign government decide to use me as a pawn in some dispute with my government. Read your US passport. It says you have certain rights. If those rights are violated, even you will be happy to see a couple of jarheads in dress blues show up to to get you. Secondly, I am impressed by your political optimism. But if you think the sons of Abraham, that is, Isaac and Ishmael will ever live together in a socialist utopia, you don’t read the Bible.

  • Moses, I doubt that Erasmo will be able to access the excellent analysis in the NY Times article. He is occasionally able to read comments on his blog. I assume this is why he asked readers to share their version of events.

  • Just to correct the record, Moses, I am not a communist (I used to be, and still look forward to a far-in-the-future world society without coercive states and classes). I am however a modern cooperative, transformationary socialist. I believe in socialist democratic state power, with silent, partial state co-ownership of most industry and commerce by cooperative workers on the well-proven Mondragon corporation model, with parallel ownership of lots of property by small business individuals and families.

    Nor am I anti-Semitic, Sir, as you have incorrectly assumed. With regard to Israel, I hope to stand with progressive Jews and Palestinians for a united, non-theocratic Israel-Palestine under one flag, as a democratic socialist cooperative republic–the same sort of republic that all the Arab peoples hopefully will someday achieve. Those who mistake the present, right-wing Zionist state for being pro-Semitic are objectively anti-Jewish. It is a shame and a disgrace that Jews like you are speaking against unity of Jews and Palestinians as a long-term “solution” to the problems of the Levant.

    But this is not about me. It is about the design of imperialism to destroy the present Syrian regime, in support of right-wing Zionism and control of Middle-East oil and gas resources. You spend your intellect and energy swallowing and parroting the capitalist and right-Zionist propaganda. You say, objectively, to hell with the long-term future of the Jewish people, and all power to hatred, disunity, racism, arrogance, and militarism.

    I don’t wish to converse with you, Moses, unless and until you sincerely retract your immoral wish for Navy Seals aggression against sovereign Cuba. You went over the line. You are an interesting thinker, but if you don’t make the retraction, please refrain from addressing me through HT.

  • Grady, give me one good reason why the fascist regime in Syria is worth saving?

  • Grady, why are communists like you so often anti-Semitic as well? “Monopoly capitalist media machine”? So you think al-Jazeera, the New York Times, and Le Monde are all the same company working together? Rather than parrot the same old diatribes given to you by the dinosaurs in Cuba, try to have an original thought. You are well to be distrustful of any single media source. But when ALL of those sources with reporters on the ground are saying the same thing with tangible audio/video corroboration, it is difficult to ignore that the al-Assad regime is the most probable suspect behind these atrocities. If not, why not permit unarmed UN monitors to visit the scene of the most recent massacre? Grady, there are too many Syrian survivors who have stated publicly having seen Syrian army regulars or the allied militias firing at innocent civilians. The Syrian people want a change in government, that is clear despite whose side you are on. The current regime exists today only because of Russian and Chinese support. The problem with guys like you who would like to see a more humane world is that you always end up supporting the least humane despots to make your case. Anybody who can agree with Hussein, Gadafy, Jong, al-Assad and Castro can not be trusted alone with sharp objects let alone to promote political theory.

  • Like you, Erasmo, I wasn’t there and must rely partly on intuition and common sense. I think it is fairly well established however that the hundreds who died in Houla were whole families shot or stabbed to death at close range, many with their hands tied, and that these were families who refused to support the uprising against the regime.

    Imperialism of course was all set to expel Syrian diplomats for a run up to NATO invasion a la Libya. It seems plausible to me that the terrorists who are instigated and supported from abroad would, in concert with imperialism, murder those loyal to the regime and blame it on the regime.

    Let’s not lose our heads and buy everything pumped out by the monopoly capitalist media machine. These media are part of the world counter-transformation, and are not to be trusted. One thing we do know for certain, is that imperialism, in support of the right-wing Zionist state, is seeking to destroy the Syrian regime. If we really have any intuition and common sense, let’s use it to see the big picture.

  • Erasmo, both sides in the Syrian conflict have committed atrocities. But the evidence is pretty overwhelming that the cold blooded murder of civilians in Houla was carried out by Alawi militias allied with the Syrian Army and the al-Assad regime. To understood the roots of the current Syrian conflict it is helpful to know that the al-Assads belong to a branch of Shia Muslims called the Alawi which represents about 15% of the population. About 70% of Syrians are Sunni Muslims, with the balance being Christians and Kurds.

    In many respects the current rebellion is history repeating itself. 30 years ago, Bashar’s father Hafez al-Assad used his army to put down a Sunni rebellion killing tens of thousands. This occurred with the protection of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. 30 years later Russia still protects the al-Assad regime but not to the same extent. This time the outcome could well be different.

Comments are closed.