For you, as a Syrian living in Europe, with ties to both Syria and the West, how do you feel about the EU and the international community’s lack of any engagement with the situation in Syria ?
From the very first hours of the revolt, I never believed or wanted to believe the robust pronouncements coming from Europe. In my writings I cautioned against taking what was being said seriously. Unfortunately, I wasn’t heard. Westerners contributed to the situation by encouraging the demands of the Syrian political opposition without any assurance of assistance to realize these demands. Of course, the West has its reasons for adopting a cynical attitude : wait and see. However, they misled the Syrians in making them believe in an international strong will ready to help them get rid of more than 40 years of dictatorship. From my point of view, the responsibility is with those who believed and not with those who “lied”. On the other hand, even if Syria is paying a huge price in this carnage, Europe seems to be unaware that Syria is close by and that the humanitarian, security and political repercussions will affect them sooner or later.
Do you find this inaction acceptable or understandable in any way ?
In the real world of politics, cynicism and hypocrisy form part of the process. Nevertheless, it’s absolutely shocking to observe the indifference towards the thousands of victims, the more than 3 million displaced people within the country, the more than 1.5 million refugees abroad, the refugee camps and the almost total destruction of towns and villages. From the point of view of governments it’s no big deal to wait, but we need to wake up civil society in Europe and get people to assume responsibility on a human and moral level.
What do you think is the most likely outcome for the struggle there ?
It’s difficult to say in the short term, but what is certain is that Syrians have broken down the wall of fear, they have rediscovered that they have rights, they have paid a very expensive price for freedom and in the medium to long term they will be able to rebuild the country. Among the most positive consequences of this revolution is the fact that people have discovered a belief in themselves and a knowledge that there is a possibility of change and of abandoning fatalism. For sure, all this comes at a very high price. These new attitudes encourage several forms of extremism, but it’s also certain that these men and women who were able to challenge a ‘securitocracy’ form of government will manage to bring about a civil and democratic society.
How could instability in Syria affect nearby countries ?
As I said before : the consequences will be huge. In the confusion of the situation, the neighbouring countries will enter a state of instability which is already beginning to manifest itself. The question of refugees is not the only humane crisis resulting from this revolution. Surprisingly, added to that is the development of a radical form of resistance to Syrians and their demands. Leaving people in this morass is a solemn call to extremists. The total lack of awareness of the external players is beginning to create a dangerous phenomenon for international security.
How do you feel the al-Assad family and Baath party have governed Syria for over 40 years ?
The Baath have not existed as a political party in Syria since the beginning of the 1970s. It has become an integral part of the security system. Thus, the last decades have anchored the culture of fear, the systemic corruption and the clannishness at the heart of society. The economic system has become a field of influence for the various components of the political class. All public space has been monopolised : no real civil society, no trade unions and strict control over public expression. However, I must stress that the Syrian political opposition has always stretched out its hand to the political powers to open up structural and meaningful reforms (the Damascus Spring in 2001 and the Damascus Declaration for Democratic Transition in 2005). All these attempts have been rejected, and several of the leaders are stagnating in prison.
Journalists have been increasingly targetted in recent wars. Do you think this is causing a lack of unbiased information coming out of conflicts like that in Syria ? Is it a way of controlling the flow of information ?
From the beginning of the revolution, the regime understood well the lesson from Tunisia and Egypt : to start repression behind closed doors. Consequently, the foreign press which was not in complicity with the regime did not have access to places where events were happening. That gave place to the emergence of a new phenomenon : the journalist citizen. Young peaceful activists who started to cover the events, to take photographs and to create short amateur films. That gave place at times to exaggerations due only to lack of experience.
You have to realize also that Syria has lived since 1964 with three national newspapers which completely resemble each other. Journalism in Syria is one of the most controlled and biased professions. Right now we have clandestine newspapers, free radio and television channels and journalists who are learning on the job. As well as that there are brave Western journalists who manage to enter areas under the control of the opposition and pay dearly for their investigation of the truth, without making propaganda for the revolution. On the other hand, there are journalists who agree to play the game of the powers that be by falsifying the truth and by expressing only the regime’s vision of things for ideological (Pavlovian left or extreme right) or lucrative reasons.
If you had to sum up why the conflict is taking place in a few sentences, how would you do so ?
Purely peaceful protests for the first 6 months, asserting freedom, dignity and justice. A bloody repression, arrests of thousands and massive destruction. A militarisation of the revolution. An emergent civil society and actions little reported on by the media. The continuation of the peaceful revolt in parallel with the military actions but that’s being ignored by the Western media since it’s not “sexy” : no corpses, no weapons and especially, few beards…. Dead ends at regional and international levels. Hypocrisy and indifference. Extremism. A delayed action bomb, the explosion of which will affect all the players.
Representatations of Syria and Arabs generally are fairly general and stereotypical in the West, and Ireland particularly, where we have had little contact with the Arab world.
It’s true, unfortunately that stereotypes dominate the attitude of Westerners towards Arab countries. At the same time, I believe that the revolutionary processes in progress will change this limited vision of things. These populations know their rights and are suited to democracy like other human beings. It is true that the process is long and complicated but the first step has been taken.
What kind of political cartoons will you be showing at the Cork World Book Fest, and what kind of points will they get across ? Are political cartoons a particularly important way to make comments on political affairs in Syria ? (They are not very important in Ireland)
What will accompany my speech, are not just cartoons but photographs and pictures which show the creativity of young girls and boys in this revolution far removed from the corpses and blood. I’ve realized during these last few months that people also need to be made aware of these human instincts.
Any other thoughts you might like to express ?
I hope that as an outcome of the event in which I am participating as part of the Cork World Book Fest attendees will be motivated to question the news that they hear and that they will look closely at the suffering of Syrian men and women.