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March 13, 2012

Syrians revolution for dignity

Mohamad Rachid

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There are innumerable good reasons for Syrians to revolt against the Asad regime. The country is saturated with corruption, nepotism, favouritism, bribery, lawlessness, and inept economic policies that have impoverished a lot of people. But the overwhelming cause for the Syrians to revolt is to win back their DIGNITY.

They have been deprived of it through extreme fear and persecution.

The regime has systematically humiliated Syrians and confiscated their freedoms. It has seen them as objects in the “den of Asad.” Syria is called “Syria of Asad;” it is his. He is referred to in the Syrian media as “the Master of the country” and “the eternal leader.” The citizens are “slaves” in his farm. They should be grateful that he is their leader. As one member in the “People’s Assembly” said to him last March: “Mr. President, you deserve to be leader of the entire world, Syria and the Arab world are too little for you.”

The Asads, the father and the son, have ruled Syria with brute force and sheer fear for four decades. Hafez slaughtered more than 25,000 men, women, and children in the City of Hama in 1982. He taught the population in action, not in words, a basic lesson; the regime is vicious and brutal, and it will do anything to stay in power. The regime is to be feared all the time and everywhere. Citizens should not even contemplate rising up against it.

To bolster the atmosphere of fear, the regime created a massive security apparatus and permeated every aspect of life in Syria. The apparatus consists of seventeen different security agencies; they spy on people and on one another. Every citizen fears all others. Trust has evaporated from society and has been replaced by doubt and apprehension.

In reality, hundreds of thousands of people work as informers for the regime. The Mukhabarat (secret police) employs tens of thousands of people as full-time spies. Tens of thousands more have been recruited to work undercover. They usually have other jobs as disguise; thus, most taxi drivers, convenient store workers, trash collectors, food-stands’ sellers, coffee shops and restaurants’ waiters, and even beggars in the streets are “eyes for the regime.”

In addition, many professors and students at universities, professional union members, government’s employees, charitable organizations’ workers, imams and Khateebs, priests and pastors became spies. They would report all of those who might have views deemed contrary to government’s policies and positions.

Doubt and fear have pervaded all corners of society and turned it into a superficial and shallow one. There is nowhere to hide, there is no safe haven. Syrians actually do believe that all of their activities are being monitored by the regime, and they are being “followed” all the time.

Fear among Syrians has become so pervasive they have developed common sayings to reflect their continuous anxiety and dreadfulness.  “Walls have ears.” This means: be careful of what you say, it WILL be heard, and it will be used against you. “Walk next to the wall and ask God that you remain covered (unseen or unnoticed).” “Put your head with others’ heads (in submission to the ruler).” “Kiss the hand that you cannot challenge (or confront), and ask God that it will be broken.” Fear perpetuated a sense and a culture of hopelessness, helplessness, and inertia. The Syrian citizenry has surrendered to its fate; Asad.

Horror remains with Syrians even when they are abroad. The majority of Syrian expatriates do not bother to join Syrian social clubs, as most other nationalities do to retain their identity. For them, any Syrian national can be an informer for the regime. Hence it is better to stay away from gatherings that may include people who are “unknown” to you. Syrians limit their political discussions to their closed circle of friends. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Fear has inhabited Syrians to the point that when protests and rallies against Asad began in the West, most Syrians stayed home frightened that informers might infiltrate such events, and they get “written-up or reported” to the regime.  And there were many stories to support such proposal. In fact the Syrian embassy in Washington had utilized some of its agents all over the US to collect information about activists and take pictures of protesters.

Mohamad Anas Haitham Soueid was one example. He was “arrested and charged in Virginia with spying on anti-Syrian protesters in the United States and passing the details on to Damascus,” Reuters reported last October.

But the regime’s decades-old plots and practices against its citizens collapsed as a house of cards before the magic of the Arab Spring. Inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, Syrians overcame their fear and rose up against Asad. They realized that fear undermined their dignity and impeded their freedom. They went out shouting: “No more fear, no more fear.”

One of their first shouts, in their first rally, on Feb 17, 2011, in al-Hareeqa Market at the center of Damascus, was: “the Syrian people will NOT be humiliated.” This sent shivers into the body of the regime, and it immediately dispatched the inferior minster to calm the protesters. He inquired:” Are you demonstrating?”  “That is shameful, that is shameful.” The minister, it seems, was wondering: how could they transgress the tyranny of the regime? How could they break away from the culture of fear?

A month later, fifteen school children between the ages of 10-15, in the southern city of Daraa, wrote on the walls: “the people want to topple regime.” It might have been a coincidence. It might have been an imitation of the Egyptian revolution’s cries. But in the case of Syria, there is not going to be dignity for Syrians except by overthrowing the regime of fear.

Mohamad Rachid, who has a master’s in Political science from the University of Colorado, has served as Imam in the US and Canada (Richmond Masjid, BC) for more than 8 years.  He has lectured at the University of Colorado, Simon Fraser University, and the University of British Columbia. He lives in Richmond, BC.

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