First Person

Non-Violence Still Best Hope for Syrian Opposition

Opposition divided between advocates of violent and peaceful means of resolving conflict.

A recent series of explosions in the heart of Damascus and at intelligence buildings in Idlib came as a blow, and not just because of their demoralising effect, which is something Syrians are pretty much used to by now. They also served as an alarm call which forced us to pay attention and ask ourselves where we are heading.

It has been over a year since the Syrian revolution began, but the calls for freedom have not ceased despite the bloodshed, pain and ingrained fear that have become our daily fare.

As with justice, freedom has yet to be attained. And yes, the fear persists – only now it has assumed different proportions.

Today, we look back and think, is it us? Do we not deserve freedom, or was it a bad idea to begin with? What went wrong, or were things always wrong? Endless questions pile up, with no answers to them.

Finding the truth is a burden rather than a challenge or even an obligation, because the truth hurts. It is painful not only because one knows the opposition members and how much they have gone through, with Syrians’ best interests at heart, just to arrive at this point; but also because they subscribe to such widely differing sets of principles, which can be divided into the Mahatma Gandhi approach and the Che Guevara way.

If we take the Gandhi method, we Syrians have been “fasting” ever since we can remember, yet nothing has changed. We have offered the authorities chance after chance, but all we have got in return is banishment and exile from our own country. And today we are being slaughtered like sheep.

Then there is Che Guevara’s approach, summarised in his remark that “a people without hatred cannot vanquish a brutal enemy”.

Why this searching back through history? Because history repeats itself, and if we cannot learn from it, then its legacy means nothing – even if, as is often said, Syria is a different case.

The debate is complicated by all the rhetoric about hidden hands controlling things from afar.

It comes down to the question of which means – violent or non-violent – will lead Syrians to salvation, when they have got lost somewhere along the road of revolution. I hope I do not sound vain if I call for peace, for a non-violent approach to resolving the current impasse.

One of the obstacles to such a resolution is that the opposing sides are largely ignorant of one another. The government dismisses the opposition as a bunch of scattered groupings and “coordinating committees”. The opposition groups, for their part, refuse to admit that they may not wholly represent the Syrian nation. In the absence of free speech and opinion polls, we have no means of knowing whether they do.

The opposition movement should be peaceful. That is how it started out, and that is why it attracted people to join it and defy fear in an effort to build a decent life, something that most have never had. For Syrians, a decent life is about more than earning a living – it is about decency itself, living and being treated as a human being.

Coexistence is not a precondition for winning the revolution. The rebels who unbuttoned their shirts to face tanks with their bare chests have already won, in a sense. No, it is rather about living together peacefully once it is over, when everyone has the time to count their losses and mourn their casualties.

As I set down these thoughts with care, trying to convey a message of peace to my fellow patriots, I suddenly hear news of bloodshed during demonstrations at the University of Aleppo. My heart palpitates as it has done time and again over the last year, and my first thought is, “If my brother has been hurt, I’m going to kill them!”

Siba Barada is the pseudonym of a journalist in Syria. 


Also in this issue

Opposition divided between advocates of violent and peaceful means of resolving conflict.