13. The Syrian Enlightenment


July 21st, 2020

43 mins 4 secs

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About this Episode

The Syrian revolution, any revolution, should not serve as a confirmation of received political ideas, but rather as a challenge to all that has heretofore been thought. We are not here to supply Syrians with an ideology that would have succeeded in their situation, but to ourselves be transformed in the light and heat of their actions. Some claim that we as Americans must focus on the enemy at home, but if we ourselves cannot show solidarity, cannot feel the need to understand and work together with those harmed by the same rotten world order we benefit from, then we are not ourselves yet able to meet our problems with the appropriate clarity and purpose. What we say and think about Syria has consequences for Syrians, this is true, but graver yet for the American left is what it means about us that we have spoken so recklessly and thought so little.

Hama was the catastrophe that defined the state, that created Assad’s Syria.

A kind of Nakhba occurred in Syria in the 1970s with individual rights being strongly curtailed, and where power and wealth were concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority. The culmination of this preventive counter-revolution was the movement against Assad in the 80s, wrongly ascribed as primarily caused by the Muslim Brotherhood, being brutally repressed, as we discussed in the last podcast. Yassin-Kassab and Shami discuss the catastrophe of the early 80s in this way: “Assad’s ‘revolution from above’ involved a general infrastructural modernization as well as grand and ultimately failed projects like the Assad dam on the Euphrates. Most significantly, Assad presided over a massive expansion of the Syrian state. By the 1980s one in every five workers would be employed in the bureaucratic or public sector. The army would grow to over 200,000 men, in addition to the police, various state-Party militias, and at least twelve overlapping security agencies… Assad further outraged his Arabist constituency by supporting Iran against Arab Iraq after 1980, and by joining the US-led coalition to drive Iraq from Kuwait in 1990. Economically, though Syria retained its bureaucratic-socialist character, further waves of liberalization were pushed through in response to recurrent debt crises. These policies, alongside an entrenchment of the crony capitalist elite, meant that by the 1990s ‘an upper class [had] emerged both greater in number and wealthier than the bourgeoisie of the pre-Baathist era… ‘Assad’s Syria’ (as state propaganda called it) was fascist in the most correct sense of that word. It sought to replace class conflict with devotion to the absolute state. Following the fascist corporatist model, the peasants and workers unions, the professional associations, the youth and women’s unions, as well as Party and army, were entirely absorbed into the state machinery. A facade of pluralism was provided by the National Progressive Front, set up in 1976, comprising the Baath and nine smaller parties which accepted the Baath’s leadership -- and by the People’s Assembly, where two-thirds of seats were reserved for baathists. Beneath the froth, Syria’s was a one-party system, and the party was controlled by one man. The state cultivated a surveillance society, everyone spying on everyone else and no one secure in position, not even the top generals and security officers. Hafez stood alone at the apex - the Struggling Comrade, the Sanctified One, the Hero of War and Peace - a rarely seen yet omnipresent leader who governed by telephone.” (BC, pp.12-14).

With the mass murder and razing of Hama in the early 80s, together with massacres and repressions in other places as well, a hard silence fell over Syria. The previous co-opting of Syria’s civil society and the constant threat of violence eradicated any meaningful space for resistance or even a minimum of free expression. Many report being afraid to speak their minds in private, for fear their children might repeat at school what had been said at home resulting in the heads of family disappearing into Assad’s torture camps. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/02/201129103121562395.html. At the same time, the regime ramped up the cult of Assad, compelling the population to attend and participate in mass demonstrations of support for the regime. Sam Dagher recounts Kaled al-Khani’s memory of cowering in a basement with a dozen or so women, old men and small children as the death squad arrived. The crowd was led in a chant of support for Hafez al-Assad that the regime had been forcing people to take up. I’m paraphrasing: “God in heaven your time is done. Assad now takes your place.” (p. 236). That situation, of cowering away from Assad’s forces or his bombs or his chemical weapons, that is an apt metaphor for the situation his rule prepared for the people captured by it. Nihad Sirees’ The Silence and the Roar is a classic of dramatized political fiction, on par with Animal Farm or Catch 22. Written on the eve of the revolution, the book vividly describes living conditions in Assad’s Syria. Housewives who couldn’t attend the pro-Assad rally had to tune into it on their television, playing it loudly enough to be heard by their neighbors who would otherwise have to report them. In the afterward to his novel Sirees notes:

“Is it possible for the silence and the roar to co-exist? The answer is most certainly, yes. In countries ruled by people obsessed with supremacy, authoritarians and those who are crazed by power, the ruler or the leader imposes silence upon all those who dare to think outside the prevailing norm. Silence can be the muffling of one’s voice or the banning of one’s publications, as is the case with Fathi Sheen, the protagonist of this novel. Or it might be the silence of a cell in a political prison or, without trying to unnecessarily frighten anyone, the silence of the grave. But this silence is also accompanied by an expansive roar, one that renders thought impossible. Thought leads to individualization, which is the most powerful enemy of the dictator. People must not think about the leader and how he runs the country; they must simply adore him, want to die for him in their adoration of him. Therefore, the leader creates a roar all around him, forcing people to celebrate him, to roar.” (p. 153). For fear of repression by the regime, Sirees originally staged the drama in an unnamed Arab country, but the afterword to the 2013 English version ends with the author saying “my heart is agonizingly heavy about what is happening in Syria, my homeland.” (p.154).

In her 2019 book Enlightenment on the Eve of Revolution: The Egyptian and Syrian Debates, Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab has gifted us with a masterful accounting of the enlightenment inspired discussion that preceded and inspired the Syrian revolution. In the late 80s several prominent Syrian intellectuals founded a journal entitled “Qadaya wa-shahadat” (Issues and Testimonies). From 1990 to 1992 the journal would issue six volumes. “The major themes of the journal were rationalism, democracy, modernity, modernization, the nahda (the renaissance), national culture, dependency, tradition, and history.” (p. 105). Crucially, Kassab discusses the nahda from its origins in discussions of the ideas of reason, human rights and freedoms that began in the Arabic speaking world before European colonialism (pp. 3, 151). In so doing, she is able to discuss the role of these ideas in the development of the modern Middle East without identifying the ideas with western culture. Too often, enlightenment ideals are considered as essential to one culture, which implies that some cultures are unsuited to human rights. By originating the debate around freedom and democracy in the 19th century, with thinkers like Rifa’a al-Tahtawi (1801-1873), Kassab avoids both the orientalist narrative that imagines Europe saving the Middle East and the orientalist attitude of the noble savage that imagines enlightenment is alien to the Middle East. I want to note again in passing the irony that enlightenment came to Europe from Syria during the crusades, and we imagine enlightenment reaching Syria from France as a foreign influence. Enlightenment ideals are no more European than they are Arab. Both regions struggle to achieve and maintain democratic institutions.

Syrian enlightenment thinkers all recognized the influence of Taha Hussein. Hussein promoted the ideas that enlightenment required democracy and robust modern education, that religion had to be understood in historical context and that there were no cultures that were better at understanding and affirming enlightenment ideals such as human rights. In Egypt enlightenment figures like Taha Hussein and Murad Wahba were enlisted to promote secularism in the name of the state that arose from the Officers’ coup that catapulted Abdul Nasser into power in 1952. The evolving authoritarian tendency in the Egyptian government put these intellectuals in the horns of a dilemma. They were given paid positions in the Egyptian government and were hence free to criticize traditional religious authority, but on the other hand they couldn’t prepare the kind of popular enlightenment that radical democrats, like Marx, would advocate because doing so would challenge the authority of the government. This is known as Wahba’s paradox. Because secular ideas were closely associated with the Egyptian state, religious reaction was able to pose as a discourse of opposition.

The situation in Syria was different. Kassab identifies two moments in the Syrian enlightenment: the one Sisyphean and the other Promethian. In Syria two conditions precluded intellectuals from falling into the Wahba Paradox: (1) the Syrian government didn’t hire thinkers who were free to say whatever they wanted (the Wahba paradox comes from the hypocrisy of the intellectual’s claims and government practice), (2) high Assadism was founded on the bones of Hama, on framing opposition as Islamist and using that as an excuse to crush all opposition. In this context, people who asked uncomfortable questions, as Sa’adallah Wannous did in his 1969 play discussing how Hafez al-Assad’s performance in 1967 sacrificed the Palestinian cause for the sake of securing Assad’s own power, such productions were censored. The result was that calls for public education and popular democracy were always framed as opposition discourses. On the other hand, not benefitting, as Hussein and Wahba had, from government support, these thinkers had a more limited audience. The journal Wannous published along with other thinkers like Faysal Darraj stands as a testimony to the quiet work done by these intellectuals. Six issues of Qadaya wa Shahadat (Issues and Testimonies) were published between 1990 and 1992. Faysal Darraj was born in 1942: his family fled Palestine for Damascus in 1948. His work underscores how the post-independence state in Syria and Egypt became authoritarian, oppressing its citizens with inequality, lack of democracy and human rights, and an inauthentic identity that was supposed to be inimical to these values. Crucially, these intellectuals were identifying freedom, democracy and human rights as values independent of cultural origin, items that Arabs aspired to out of basic humanity and not as an expression of occidentalism (Kassab, p. 115). This work was Sisiphean in that it was done not in a real expectation it would cause immediate change, but because in such a situation one cannot do otherwise. In the words of Saadallah Wannous’ address to UNESCO for World Theater Day in 1996: “We are sentenced to hope that what is happening today is not the end of history” (Wannous in Myers & Saab, p. 390). A year after this speech, Wannous died of cancer. Darraj is still alive, and would play an important role in the Promethean moment that followed.

After Hafez al-Assad died in 2000, there was genuine hope for liberal reforms that could open the space for public expression and democratic reform of the government.

In mid-August, a few days before Bashar al-Assad’s inaugural address, Riad al-Turk published an important essay in An-Nahar. Unlike the leader of the Syrian Communist Party who swore allegiance to Hafez al-Assad's Baath party, Riad al-Turk refused to give up the independence of his party to the Syrian state, and formed the Syrian Communist Party Political Bureau. For his political opposition to the regime in 1980 Al-Turk was arrested and imprisoned for the next 18 years (Kassab, p. 146). Al-Turk has been called “Syria’s Mandela” (Yassin-Kassab and Shami, p. 21).

His mid-August of 2000 essay was entitled: “Min gyayr al-mumkin an tadhall suriya mamlakat al samt” (It is not possible that Syria remains the kingdom of silence). Quothe Elizabeth Suzanne Kassab: “The main theme of his article was the fear that had come to dominate life in the country: people fearing the absolute and corrupt power of the regime, and people fearing each other for lack of trust, created by the security agencies through decades of voluntary and involuntary denunciations. Al-Turk called on Syrians to remember their history did not begin with Assad rule and that it would not end with it. He exhorted them to recall the more democratic past, in which even the Baath Party had expressed the genuine will of a certain constituency, unlike the mass party that became a puppet of Assad’s power. He gave the example of the Soviet Communist Party, which eventually collapsed, despite its official massive following. The problem, he wrote, was not Bashar al-Assad the person, but the power mechanisms that made him president, transforming the republic into a hereditary system of family rule. The republic, he recalled, had been built by Syrians struggling against colonialism and foreign interference. It needed to be preserved, not least because it was the only system that could tackle the country’s problems. The first step to reinstating republican democracy was lifting the weight of fear and silence through the peaceful mobilization of all sectors of society.” (pp.146-147).

In mid-September Riad Seif announced the first of many public fora to discuss potential reform. Hundreds were attracted to the initiative. Around Syria a number of public fora were organized where people debated ideas to reform the country. In September of 2000 a statement calling for democratic rights and the release of political prisoners was published; it is known as the Statement of the 99 (BC, p. 17). It was followed by a similar statement in January of 2001 called the statement of the 1001. The main organizers of the fora were all arrested, and the last of these arrests happened on September 11, 2001. The attacks on the World Trade Center that day were not the first or last time that the spectacle of violent terrorism would eclipse attempts in Syria at democratic reform.

Did these ideas inspire the mass protests of 2011? Kassab comments: “Were the moves of the Syrian intelligentsia involved in the Damascus Spring naive, politically unsavvy, and doomed from the outset? Were they isolated acts of an estranged elite, disconnected from people at large? Were the risks taken by speaking up and acting on ideas of civil mobilization worth their while, given the predictable price? Whatever the answers to such questions, events, including the outbreak of massive demonstrations in March 2011, showed that the ideas, moves, and people involved in the Damascus Spring were not disconnected from the general mood of the country. They seem to have been in tune with the pervasive alarm at the deterioration of things politically, economically, and socially, with the urgent need to address that deterioration rationally and publicly, and with the despair and humiliation that kept on growing in large sectors of society. Those ideas, minus the moves, were also there in the 1990s writings of the Sisypheans. To the question ‘Where are the intellectuals?’ so often heard at the outself of protest movements across the Arab world, particularly in Egypt and Syria, one should answer by pointing out all those writings (and sometimes moves) produced by Arab critical thinkers during the long years that preceded those movements. I am not arguing that the writings and ideas led to the movements in some causal way. Rather, I am noting the similarity of concerns, yearnings, and endeavors expressed by the writings of the Sisypheans, the moves of the Prometheans, and the demands of the Syrian protesters.” (147-148).

Protests broke out in Syria in 2011, first in Damascus’ Hareeqa neighborhood that had twice been leveled when it rebelled against the French occupation, and then in Daraa, sparked by the regime jailing and torturing a few teenagers for an act of vandalism. They had tagged a wall with “You’re time is come, doctor,” meaning that Bashar al-Assad would be the next tyrant to fall. Protests began with the simple aim of getting the regime to release the teenagers, but that must have immediately reminded Syrians of all the people they had lost to regime prisons over the years, all of their loved ones still in jail for simply speaking their mind. The social system of mutual spying that had been active for decades means that to protest against the Syrian system of mass incarceration could only mean people were choosing to connect again to each other instead of to the fear they had been living under. People who had never dared to have a political conversation in private now discovered that their friends and neighbors, and even entire cities, all wanted the same thing they wanted: to be free from this regime of death. Each protestor not only had to overcome the fear that they might be killed at the protest, but also the fear that the other people at the protest could denounce them. Protestors had to trust each other, and in risking their lives together they earned that trust. The nation of Syria was stirring to the first task of common governance: the defense of the people from those who would enslave and devour them. Wendy Pearlman is one journalist who made it her business to collect first hand accounts of the early protest movement: “One week after the start of protests in Daraa, tens of thousands joined in demonstrations across the country. The regime’s response -- offering some measures of appeasement while suppressing gatherings with force- sparked further indignation and resolve. A widespread expression captured what this historic moment meant for those who discovered themselves and their nation in its unfolding: Syrians broke the barrier of fear…

[Shadi an accountant from rural Hama] My first demonstration was better than my wedding day. And when my wife heard me say that, she refused to talk to me for a month…

[Sana, graphic designer from Damascus] I was very scared on my way to the demonstration. It was night. We put scarves over our faces so the security forces couldn’t recognize us and walked through narrow streets to the square. The square was lit and people were playing music, with drums and flute. I don’t know who grabbed my hands from the left or from the right, but we started singing and dancing and jumping. It was a party to overthrow the regime. At that moment I didn’t care about anything else. I was so happy. It was a moment that I will never forget for the rest of my life: the moment I stood together with strangers, dancing and shouting to overthrow Bashar…
[Waddah, graduate from Latakia] We got to the street and found about two thousand people demonstrating. I started to cry. I was sorry that I had rejected my nationality. I was sorry that I had insulted these people and said that they were cowards. I thought, ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You are my brothers. You are my people. You are extraordinary.” (Pearlman, pp. xxxix-xI, 82-85).

[Majd al-Dik, a child care social worker] “One day I dared to raise a slogan of my own creation, and I heard thousands of voices take up the refrain. My entire being trembled. I felt that I was respected and valued, despite my not having money or diplomas, the two principle sources of prestige before the revolution” –from A l'est de Damas, au bout du monde: Témoignage d'un révolutionnaire syrien by Mohamed Majd Al Dik [my translation].

[anonymous] “More people flooded in. Freedom is like a magnet; it attracts the people that have been silenced for too long… The chance is now available to speak up about the duty, to scream in the face of the suppressor, to prove all these identities that have been concealed by a tyrannical iron fist. Speeches were then delivered from the Clock’s platform; a woman takes a turn, then an activist, then a sheikh, then an enthusiastic young man.” –an eye witness describes the protest funeral procession in Homs of 18 April, 2011, from Burning Country, p43

“Al-Mahmoud Mosque was one of three main ones in town. Curious to see what was happening elsewhere, Suleiman and an older cousin drove to Al-Kabir Mosque…Men were in the courtyard putting on their shoes, others were streaming out barefoot when a single brazen cry shot out: ‘We want freedom!’… The youngster could have been heckled or beaten and handed over to one of the three mukhabarat offices in the town, or to the local Baath Party chapter. Instead, the men outside the mosque, including Suleiman, erupted into the chant. They surged down the main thoroughfare, Revolution Street, named for the 1963 coup that brought the Baath Party to power. Rastan had crossed the regime’s red line. All it took after forty-eight years was a student’s cry.” (from Suleiman’s story in No Turning Back, by Rania Abouzeid, pp7-8.).
Wherever protests happened, armed units from the army or from one of the dozen or so wings of internal security were summoned to massacre protestors. The forces thus employed were chosen for their ethnic compositions: Alawite and Druze units specifically chosen to massacre protestors in Sunni areas. The Free Syrian Army was formed with defectors who refused to fire on their countrymen, just the same way that the Russian military defected to the side of the revolution against the Czar in 1917.

We have to discuss the regime’s massacres to understand the methods and reasons for the extreme violence used by the Syrian regime. Assad’s regime was verifiably responsible for the deaths of nearly half a million people since the beginning of the revolution as of 2016 when keeping track became much more difficult ( http://sn4hr.org/wp-content/pdf/english/The_Societys_Holocaust.pdf

). Thousands have been shot and bombed at peaceful protests: others have been summarily executed when they refused to fire on protestors. Of the 56 sectarian massacres that have occurred since 2011, 49 have been committed by the regime. Often these massacres were targeted at communities as collective punishment for their assertion of the rights to free speech and assembly. Other times these massacres were directed at minority communities along with the targeting of Sunni religious sites to incite ethnic tension (Burning Country, p.112; and Ziad Majed p.72). Assad’s regime has used rape as a collective punishment ( https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/04/syria-has-a-massive-rape-crisis/274583/

). Starting in August of 2012 the Assad regime began dropping barrel bombs on the civilian populations in free parts of Syria (Yazbek, p. 220). Essentially a barrel filled with sharp metal shrapnel and explosives, the barrel bomb cannot be guided or targeted: it is dropped indiscriminately on civilian areas so that the earthquake of force and painful death and maiming it unleashes can terrorize whoever lives where it is dropped. As Syrians have exhaustively documented, being taken to one of Syria’s jails is a near certain death sentence, as was confirmed in a report by Amnesty International (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/07/up-to-13000-secretly-hanged-in-syrian-jail-says-amnesty). The regime specifically targeted hospitals in rebel held areas, leaving not one available, for instance, to serve a population of 200,000 in the final weeks of the siege and shelling of East Aleppo. Funerals have been targeted because they are sites of protest, yes, but also because they are moments for entire villages and neighborhoods to come together. The violence committed by the Assad regime is not senseless: it is meant to tear apart communities, to shred the public space, to pulverize the social fabric, to silence any voice that is not approved by the state embodied in Bashar al-Assad, and to commit such horrors that entire peoples will be irrevocably divorced. It’s not enough to kill his enemies, Assad has to kill the experience of collective action for freedom and democracy, unleashed by the Arab Spring. Such atrocities are only possible because the world has consigned the Syrian people to the shadows.

One of the Assad regime’s atrocities was the fostering of religious extremism. Remember how he murdered moderate leaders of the Hama protest movement in the early 80s? He did the same thing on a larger scale after 2011. In the next podcast I will get into foreign involvement in the Syrian revolution, including the US, ISIS, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and so on. I will also go in depth about the Sarin gas attack of 2013. But in this podcast, I want to focus on those most directly affected, on the Syrians who defied Assad.
Within the zones that were freed from the regime, Syrians established a form of direct democracy that we should hold on par with the Paris Commune. As early as March, 2011 protest leaders began organizing Local Coordinating Committees, soviets where all were equal that became the government in freed areas of Syria (BC, pp. 39,57). These committees were inspired by the writings of Omar Aziz, and in the city they began in, Douma, activists set up women’s centers to advocate against gender discrimination (BC, p. 125). Everything the progressive movement in the United States has been working towards, Syrians also worked towards while simultaneously fighting for the lives against a vicious regime. From Yassin-Kassab and al-Shami:

“Omar Aziz (fondly known to friends as Abu Kamel) was born in Damascus. An economist, anarchist, husband and father, he returned from exile in 2011 at the age of 63 and committed himself to the revolution. Working with locals to distribute humanitarian aid to suburbs under regime attack, he was inspired by the diverse actions he came across - the various forms of protest as well as the solidarity and mutual aid within and between communities, including voluntary provision of emergency medical and legal support, turning homes into field hospitals, and food collection. He saw in such acts ‘the spirit of the Syrian people’s resistance to the brutality of the system, the systematic killing and destruction of community.’ Aziz believed that protests alone were insufficient to bring about a radical transformation, and that a new society had to be built from the bottom up to challenge authoritarian structures and transform value systems. He produced a paper in the revolution’s eighth month, when the movement was still largely peaceful and before land was liberated, in which he advocated the establishment of local councils.” (BC. p68).
In Ghouta Majd al-Dik organized child day-care services for war orphans (Majd al-Dik). Countless such grassroots initiatives sprouted up around Syria, filling the vacuum left with the withdrawal of the regime. A whole series of podcasts should be done on just the various diy media initiatives that came about because of the revolution (BC, pp. 61, 163-182). Haitham al-Maleh and Razan Zeitouneh helped to found the Human Rights Association in Syria, which provides legal support to detainees and the families of detainees. Thanks to local organizing around Syria we know how many people were killed by the regime, prior to 2016 (Majd al-Dik, p. 205,). All such organizations were illegal in Syria under a 1958 law against the forming of civil society groups without government permission.

In Daraya locals collected books for a library: each book had its origin documented so that one day it could be returned to its owner who had evacuated or whose building had been destroyed by regime bombs (Minoui); their story gives us a fascinating view into the intellectual climate in the leadership circles of the revolution. Theirs was the first library free of regime control any of them had ever known. Some of their favorites were the movie Amelie, Ibn Khaldun’s 15th century secular masterpiece on historical change al-Muqadimmah, and Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. In this revolutionary book club of Daraya, the group experienced an enthusiasm for The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and organized two Skype conferences with experts about the book (Minoui, p.83). Under constant bombing, within a starvation siege, this group was focused on personal growth!

The typical course of events in the liberated zones involved the regime allowing ISIS to enter and take control, destroying these grassroots efforts in the process, and then escalating bombing campaigns before a negotiated surrender. Those who surrendered were bussed to Idlib, which is today the site of an intense struggle between Turkey and Russia with Syrian civilians in the crossfire. Since 2015 Russia has been targeting Syrian civilians with intensive bombing alongside Syrian chemical attacks to eradicate or expel the Syrian population. The massive wave of refugees that occured in 2015 is a result of this bombardment, and by all indications it was engineered alongside a media campaign to destabilize European governments and lift up the far right there. In his masterful Road to Unfreedom, Timothy Snyder discusses how Russia created this refugee crisis and then coordinated a media campaign at the same time to demonize Syrian refugees, but that’s for the next podcast.

There are people who, on the rare occasion that they think about Syria, imagine the conflict there occurred because of climate change. It’s fine to point out that poor agricultural yields contributed to people’s general discontent, but leaving the analysis there is inadequate. Agriculture had been industrializing for decades in Syria, with scores of people being robbed of their family farms for several decades. There were neoliberal reforms going on that stripped communities of social services. There was the strain on public services that refugees from Iraq were causing. All of this is true. I want to recall to our listeners Marx’s central insight in Capital Volume 1: that the root of all this evil is treating people as though they were mere objects, mere chess pieces on our board, and not capable of taking actions to affect change in their own lives. I have tried to discuss the Syrian revolution from a different angle: by taking seriously the ideas that drove it forward. I’ve been unearthing here for you the work of enlightenment thinkers within Syria and Egypt throughout the history of the last half century so that you could understand the context the Arab Spring happened in. The Arab Spring happens in a context where ideals of human rights, democracy and freedom are seizing hold of masses of people and compelling them into action. In all the previous podcasts in this series, I have explained why it is that the world’s progressives have fallen into a crisis of faith. We have been criticising liberal hypocrisy without affirming the basic rightness of those values and human rights. The result is that we have stopped championing human rights. There are many of us who haven’t made the step to explicitly give up on human rights as a total con, but there are many in our movement, most spectacularly Tulsi Gabbard, who have done this in practice. One place that the US abandoned in this way in particular is Syria, where we have de facto if not de jure declared liberal values as fundamentally insupportable, and that is the story I want to tell in the next podcast.


Abouzeid, Rania. No Turning Back: Life, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria. WW Norton & Company, 2018.

al-Dik, Majd and Nathalie Bontemps (tr). A l'est de Damas, au bout du monde. Témoignage d'un révolutionnaire syrien: Témoignage d'un révolutionnaire syrien. Don Quichotte, 2016.

Dagher, Sam. Assad Or We Burn the Country: How One Family's Lust for Power Destroyed Syria. Hachette UK, 2019.

Kassab, Elizabeth Suzanne. Enlightenment on the Eve of Revolution: The Egyptian and Syrian Debates. Columbia University Press, 2019.

Majed, Ziad. Syrie, la révolution orpheline. Éditions Actes Sud, 2018.

Minoui, Delphine. Les Passeurs de livres de Daraya: Une biblioteque secrete en Syrie. Editions du Seuil, 2017.

Pearlman, Wendy R. We crossed a bridge and it trembled: Voices from Syria. Custom House, 2017.

Sentence to Hope: A Sa'dallah Wannous Reader. Yale University Press, 2019.

Sirees, Nihad. The Silence and the Roar. Pushkin Press, 2013.

Yassin-Kassab, Robin, and Leila Al-Shami. Burning country: Syrians in revolution and war. Pluto Press, 2018.

Yazbek, Samar. The Crossing: My journey to the shattered heart of Syria. Rider Books, 2015.

Music: Reynard Seidel, Uprising, else Harry