Friday, 6 September 2013

Syrian Anarchist Challenges the Rebel-Regime Binary View of Resistance

As the US intensifies its push for military intervention in Syria, virtually the only narrative available swings from the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad to the role of Islamist elements within the resistance. Further, where dissent with the US position appears, much of it hinges on the contradiction of providing support for Al Qaeda-linked entities seeking to topple the regime, as though they represent the only countervailing force to the existing dictatorship. But as Jay Cassano recently wrote for tech magazine Fast Company, the network of unarmed, democratic resistance to Assad's regime is rich and varied, representing a vast web of local political initiatives, arts-based coalitions, human rights organizations, nonviolence groups and more. (The Syria Nonviolence Movement created an online, interactive map to demonstrate this intricate network of connections.)

Meanwhile, the writing and dispatches of Syrian anarchists have been enormously influential in other Arab struggles, with anarchists tortured to death in Assad's prisons memorialized in the writing of Palestinians, and at demonstrations for Palestinian political prisoners held in Israel. Two key features of this unfolding warrant close attention: the manner in which anarchists in the Arab world are increasingly staging critiques and interventions that upend the contradictions held up as justification for US foreign policy, and the ongoing conversations between anti-authoritarian movements in the Arab world that bypass and remain unmediated by Western reference points. Whether Syrian anarchists' insistence on self-determination as a central organizing principle can withstand the immediate reality of violence or the leverage of foreign interests remains an open question.

Nader Atassi is a Syrian political researcher and writer originally from Homs, currently living between the United States and Beirut. He runs the blog Darth Nader, reflecting on events within the Syrian revolution. I talked him into chatting about its anarchist traces, and the prospect of US intervention.

Joshua Stephens for Truthout: Anarchists have been both active in and writing from the Syrian revolution since the get-go. Do you have any sense of what sort of activity was happening prior? Were there influential threads that generated a Syrian articulation of anarchism?

Nader Atassi: Due to the authoritarian nature of the Syrian regime, there was always very little space to operate before the revolution began. However, in terms of anarchism in the Arab world, many of the most prominent voices were Syrians'. Despite there being no organizing that was explicitly "anarchist," Syrian bloggers and writers with anarchist influences were becoming increasingly prominent in the "scene" in the last decade or so. Mazen Kamalmaz is a Syrian anarchist who has written a lot over the last few years. His writings contain a lot of anarchist theory applied to contemporary situations, and he was a prominent voice in Arab anarchism long before the uprising began. He's written a good deal in Arabic, and recently gave a talk in a cafe in Cairo titled "What is Anarchism?"

In terms of organizing, the situation was different however. In the tough political landscape of an authoritarian regime, many had to get creative and exploit openings they saw in order to organize any type of movement, and this led to a de facto decentralized mode of organizing. For example, student movements erupted in Syrian universities during the second Palestinian intifada and the Iraq War. This was a type of popular discontent that the regime tolerated. Marches were organized to protest the Iraq War, or in solidarity with the Palestinian intifada. Although many members of the mukhabarat infiltrated those movements and monitored them closely, this was a purely spontaneous eruption on the part of the students. And although the students were well aware how closely they were being watched (apparently, mukhabarat used to follow the marches with a notepad, writing down what slogans were being chanted and being written on signs), they used this little political space they were given to operate in order to gradually address domestic issues within the regime-sanctioned protests about foreign issues.

Article Continues: Syrian Anarchist Challenges the Rebel regime..