By Khawla Ghazi
Every story needs its popular hero to play the role of the primary carrier of sufferings, disappointments, and triumphs, upon whose shoulders it bases itself; and whom it supplicates for salvation from injustice, oppression, and tyranny. This, at least, was the case in popular folklore, wherein imagination plays a central role in the consecration of the hero as a man endowed with supernatural powers in the collective subconscious.
In the modern era, it is the media and literature that have assumed the role of manufacturing and consecration of popular icons. In the Arab world, the hero was embodied in the person of the president or king as savior; as the oppressed and repressed people tend to succumb to the notion of the heroic figure’s divinity. This is diametrically opposed to modern civilized peoples, who have gone to great lengths in the building of human capacity and self-reliance, rather than reliance on others.
The consecration of the ideal of heroism in the face of injustice was the an active—as well as a rhetorical—factor in the launch of the so-called Arab Spring; ranging from the Tunisian Bouazizi who set immolated himself, to the children of Daraa who wrote “The people want to overthrow the regime” in honor of the Egyptian Revolution—with the subsequent disastrous reactions by the security forces that have plunged the entire Syrian nation to its perish.
Over the past five years, many personalities appeared who were enshrined by Syrians on Facebook—during the initial phase of the Revolution—as revolutionary icons. Prior to the militarization of the Revolution, people like the Banias native Mohammad Biasi, Hamza al-Khatib, al-Qashush, and al-Sarut, Zainab al-Husni, and others, became icons. It was during that phase, in which the regime media was hard at work in attempting to discredit and find faults and untruths in the ideals that these icons seemed to represent; as well as to attempt to break their halo, and promoting the idea that the championing of these icons was baseless and mere calumny.
The process of iconoclasm was reciprocal between both the opposition and the regime. The tearing down of Hafez al-Assad’s statues; the curses inflicted on him and his family in the demonstrations—both on the ground in reality, as well as in virtual world on Facebook; in addition to a collection emails which, at the time it was purported, were [unbecoming] exchanges between Bashar al-Assad and the daughter of the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations.
To take the city of Homs as an example, many revolutionary icons made their appearance in the city by virtue of live satellite broadcast. This reached the extent wherein the Qatari Foreign Minister in a meeting of the Friends of Syria in Paris held the shoulder of one such icon, as a representative of the mobilized Syrian youth to talk about the Syrian Revolution and its demands.
The star of many of these icons has faded now. No one can now recall the beginnings of the Revolution, with the amount of damage that has been heaped upon the country and the people. The Syrian opposition offered little more than noise, most of which was limited to the media, and which had no impact on the ordinary people who believed in the ideals of the Revolution. They were simply left to the open skies, abandoned to asylum and the rigors of life in refugee camps in the corners of the earth to eat away at them. The amount of donations that has reached the Syrian opposition is almost as large as the budgets of states; where did the money go? And where is the media glory of these people?
In the militarization phase of the Syrian Revolution, it was the military commander who became the hero of Facebook tales. For, on the ground no one can ascertain the seriousness or effectiveness of those symbols, nor the actual spread of their popularity. In the areas where weapons spread, numerous officers as well as military, police, and intelligence personnel who defected from the military establishment appeared. Some sought refuge in Turkey, while others headed to Lebanon and Jordan. Those remaining headed local units, and battalions bearing Islamic names spread, in a dramatic transformation of the Syrian Revolution which—ruefully and deliberately by the Arab Gulf financiers, who found in the Syrian Revolution a golden opportunity to break the symbolic aura of the revolution ideal—became Islamized.
Thus, the basic objective of the formation of military brigades—i.e. to protect demonstrators and to repel the regime’s scourge for residents of their areas—gave way to these brigades becoming tools in the hands of their financiers, as well as pawns and pressure cards to be employed against the regime in eventual subsequent negotiations.
Two such personalities around whom there had been consensus as being revolutionary military icons, were the Haji Mare’ and Abu Furat. In addition, the city of Aleppo has contributed to the emergence of brigands upon whom praise was heaped—such as Hasan Jazarah who, while hailed as an important revolutionary, was nothing but a common thief thriving upon the looting and pillaging of factories and industrial plants, as has become common knowledge among Aleppans.
In the Damascene Ghouta, Zahran Aloush kidnapped the well-known and respected human rights activist Razan Zeitouneh, who holds a dear place in the conscience of a majority of Syrians identifying themselves with the Revolution. In Raqqa north of the country, Islamist factions also kidnapped [Italian Jesuit Priest] Father Paolo, who voluntarily came to them as a negotiator and communicator. Father Paulo is also one of the most influential and prominent figures, by virtue of his advocacy in favor of the Syrian Revolution.
Can one, thus, say that the Syrian Revolution [in the pre-Islamic, pagan, tradition] has devoured its gods made out of dates before it starves? Or could the absence—and dispersion—of a unifying objective, and the emergence of a plethora of conflicting objectives, have contributed to the destabilization of the [Revolution’s] basic starting points?
There is no doubt that there are major pitfalls in which the Syrian Revolution has stumbled. The entry of foreign element thereto has contributed to the consecration of these elements’ culture—alien to the Syrians and their own culture. Therefore, the tearing down of [Hafiz al-Assad’s] statues no longer became based on their representing an authoritarian phase; but merely because they are idols whose presence is undesirable under the proscriptions of the Sharia. Despite much effort dispensed by some activists to justify such happenings on the ground as representing a “revolutionary situation;” such could not be farther from the truth. Many a conscientious activists—admittedly very few—tell how northern Syria is not controlled by Syrian [military] Brigades; but rather by a hodgepodge of foreign Islamists from around the world, with a handful Syrians under their command.
Much as folk tales need a “storyteller” or narrator; so does our modern era, in which the the media became the “storyteller," with each medium sprinkling their own mix of “spices” over these stories and all their heroes. Social media—such as Facebook—have also contributed in the spread of oral tales with a lightning speed in the alleys and in the arrival of some narrators to the rank of "Gwatih "prominent their narrow pathways and alleys; and by making some narrators into Facebook celebrities, “storytellers,” and icons in their own right. These Facebook icons, in turn, resorted to chopping off necks and fed on the dates of their own gods. Illusion and fantasy still plays its game in the consciences of these people. Each of them still believed that they would—through his or her Facebook page—will stir the conscience of the world; whereas reality speaks another language that has nothing to do with either real or virtual “icons.” Thus we are in front of a country devoured by the idea of “icons” and their perpetuation; a country greedily devoured by its own children; and wherein—after five long years of strife—citizens no longer are concerned with anything save for finding a safe haven, and a dignified life far removed from the various combatants and their clashes.
Until this s realized, Syrians today remain hostage to the hero-manufacturing industry—those heroes who, due to their own vulnerability, are currently flailing in the wind, like fallen leaves.
Blessed are those Syrians who remained untainted by, and immune to, the drivel and illusions of the heroism of war figures—in every time and place.
* Opinion articles published do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Rozana.