“Live Free or Die Rally” for #Syria: Video + Report

by Louis Proyect, Unrepentant Marxist on September 29, 2012

As should be obvious from two of the speakers at last Saturday’s rally, there was zero sympathy for the violence that took place in the aftermath of the viral Youtube video “Innocence of Muslims” nor for the killing of the American Ambassador in Benghazi that turned out to be unconnected.

Doomsday warnings about a Salafist takeover of the struggle against Bashar al-Assad must have escaped the attention of the Syrian-Americans for Democracy, the organizers of the rally who conveyed the spirit of the Arab Spring and not some threat about a Taliban-like tyranny imposed on a freedom-loving people. I suspect that there will be a jihadist influence in Syria just as there was in Libya. And as was the case in Libya, the people know how to act in their own interest, as the uprising against extremist militias in Benghazi should have demonstrated, and as well the recent election in which Islamist parties fared poorly.

Unlike Libya, the Syrian revolutionaries fight without the protection of a no-fly zone. Despite all the nonsense from dogmatic leftists who serve as unpaid propagandists for Bashar al-Assad and Muammar Ghadafi before him, the weaponry used in the struggle is mostly retrieved from defeated Syrian soldiers, purchased on the black market, or cobbled together in machine shops whose owners support the struggle. C.J. Chivers of the New York Times has written two excellent articles about the do-it-yourself character of Free Syrian America (FSA) armaments that are a must read:

  1. Syria’s Dark Horses, With Lathes: Makeshift Arms Production in Aleppo Governorate, Part I
  2. Syria’s Dark Horses, With Lathes: Makeshift Arms Production in Aleppo Governorate, Part II

Of particular interest is his take in part two on what this cottage industry reflects about Syrian society and al-Assad’s tenuous grip on the country:

Now look beyond these battlefield curiosities for what they are really trying to tell you. This trade is important for many reasons. Having fielded arms that borrow from the work of Palestinians, Iraqis, Libyans or Lebanese fighters for Hezbollah, it suggests the busy cross-pollination of Middle Eastern insurgencies and uprisings. But this martial craftsmanship also speaks to something larger than regional tides. An important element is local and national. When tradesmen and businessmen organize to the degree that Syrian antigovernment fighters have organized, they indicate the depth of popular anger and the extent of a population’s commitment to the fighters’ cause.

And that leads back to one of my blog’s regular points. It’s quite easy, when gazing upon such weapons, to miss the point of their existence. As interesting as these are, makeshift rockets and mortars do not win wars. Nor do zip guns, or even zip guns in modular form. These weapons are likely transitional. They mark a phase. If the day comes when Syrians storm the country’s presidential suite, most of the fighters won’t be carrying homemade firearms, just as they won’t be carrying pitchforks and rakes. They will be carrying assault rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades.

What the makeshift weapons really speak to is the degree of organized commitment of many people seeking to topple the current government in Damascus.

Why? Because the manufacture of the weapons shown in this post is a dangerous and difficult craft. In ordinary times, ordinary men would not come together for this kind of project. It defies good sense to brew explosives from industrial or agricultural precursors, much less to assemble remote detonation systems on your work bench or in your home, or to pack pipe bombs and fuzes [the British spelling apparently] that you and your neighbors will fire through a steel cylinder at positions occupied by a conventional army. Even testing these weapons carries risks, as evident not just in Mr. Turki’s account of the errant rocket’s boomerang course but in Badr’s 20-meter long lanyard.

What’s more, the physical risks are only part of the obstacle to this kind of underground industry taking shape. The social barriers are significant, too. To reach this point, many tradesmen have to set aside time and energy and form their own intellectual and material collective. And so the technical merits of these weapons, and their origins, point to the human side. Like the cartoon below, the very existence and aspiring complexity of these weapons all but announce that many people stand behind the fighters. This is an insurgency that has matured.

Recently there has been a lot of buzz about a “regional solution” that would bring together powers that traditionally have been at odds, including Egypt’s ruling party the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Long-time leftwing journalist Walden Bello has found reasons to cheer about this in a Foreign Policy in Focus piece titled “Staunching Syria’s Wounds” co-written with Richard Javad Heydarian, an Iranian living in the Philippines who has written for Asia Times, Tehran Times, and Russia Today (RT), three outlets it must be said that tilt in a Ba’athist direction.

Their article starts out on a curious note:

Unlike the “lightning” revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, where strongmen were overthrown in a matter of weeks, the Syrian uprising has instead entailed a slow-motion disintegration of the rich tapestry that has characterized Syrian society for centuries.

It would be more correct to say that one strongman was overthrown in Egypt to be replaced by a new bunch that holds power over the parliament and that continues to use repression against its opponents.

As is so frequently heard from both liberals and leftist friends of al-Assad, Syria is facing a Islamist nightmare:

Notwithstanding the almost universal demand for democracy among the Syrian population, what we are witnessing is the frightening possibility of a Sunni-dominated opposition—spearheaded by a less-than-moderate Muslim Brotherhood and buttressed by the inflow of armed extremists—waging an all-out war on not only the minority Alawite sect that has stood by President Assad and his regime, but also other minority groups, such as the Christians and Shiites, perceived to be invested in the Baath party.

Odd that they have completely missed the same “frightening” developments in Tunisia, a country they lauded in the first paragraph:

Tunisia govt responsible for police impunity: lawyer

By Antoine Lambroschini (Agence France-Presse) – 4 hours ago

TUNIS — Tunisia’s Islamist-led government is “morally and politically” responsible for police attacks against women, the lawyer for a young women allegedly raped by two policeman and charged with indecency said on Thursday.

“It has a political and moral responsibility,” Bouchra Belhaj Hamida told AFP.

Police violence “is not organised, but the language of the (Ennahda) party on women has paved the way for it,” she added.

“Since October (when the Islamists were elected to power), there have been many cases of moral, sexual and financial harassment by the police. When they see a modern woman, a Tunisian woman, they reckon they have the right to hold them to account” for their behaviour, Hamida said.

“Women victims (of harassment) are then condemned.”

Who knows? Maybe if Tunisia had gotten on Iran’s wrong side, our intrepid journalist/experts might have noticed that the nasty Islamists were in charge. They seem particularly excited by new developments with the Non-Aligned Nations in the driver’s seat:

Among the most prominent in the third camp is Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who has emphasized the need for a regional Syrian Contact Group composed of all relevant regional powers—including Iran, the external actor that wields the largest leverage over Assad—to build an effective framework for a political resolution of the crisis. The framework would be backed by a UN mediation led by the veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi. Morsi’s proposal has been endorsed by both Russia and Iran.

During the recent Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit—which brought about 120 countries, 17 observer nations, and around 30 heads of state to Tehran—the Iranians also proposed the formation of a special NAM committee under the leadership of the organization’s past, current, and future chairs: Iran, Egypt, and Venezuela. This could serve as an institutional bedrock for a coordinated regional and international approach as proposed by Morsi. The key element here is the emphasis on political dialogue, compromise, and pressure on both sides of the conflict to end the ongoing cycle of violence. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Washington, Riyadh, or Ankara will ever agree to such arrangement.

There’s a certain cognitive dissonance at work here. Bello and Heydarian feel that, “The key element here is the emphasis on political dialogue, compromise, and pressure on both sides of the conflict to end the ongoing cycle of violence,” but the committee assigned to sort things out consists of Iran, Egypt, and Venezuela.

Maybe there’s something I’m missing here, but two out of three of these states have been the bedrock of support for Bashar al-Assad.

But what about Egypt?, my shrewder readers might point out. Doesn’t the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni-based party that supposedly is the polar opposite of the Shiite clergy that rules Iran, rule Egypt? Isn’t this a sign that traditional rivalries can be superseded in the interests of peace?

To start with, it is important to understand that peace in itself is not the be-all and end-all. As frequently heard on mass demonstrations in support of one cause or another: “No Justice, No Peace”. During the late 60s and early 70s, there were many Democratic Party politicians and even some Republicans (including Richard Nixon) who wanted to see a negotiated settlement in Vietnam that would lead to a lasting peace. Is there any big difference between their goals and the goals of Morsi?

Despite their apparent irreconcilable differences, there is one thing that Morsi and Ahmadinejad have in common. They both would prefer to see a solution in Syria that more closely resembles what took place in Egypt, not in the sense of Sunni rule but rather a housecleaning that can restore business as usual. One can easily imagine them coming to an agreement around a Manaf Tlas presidency. Tlas was a Sunni general and member of a family that enjoyed great wealth and power in Syria, and formed part of the inner circles of the Baathist machine. His defection signaled that some members of the ruling class had decided that the long-term viability of the al-Assad regime was guarded at best.

Guess what, they are right.

Joshua Landis, a Syria expert whose fear and hatred of the FSA is almost palpable, had this to say about Tlas in a recent blog post:

Syria’s opposition needs a national leader desperately. It is important to note that by its very nature, the Syrian regime is constructed to prevent any such leaders from emerging. Indeed, to date, the opposition is struggling to unite behind a single person/entity. Each faction sees this as its only chance. Manaf’s military background is important in this chaotic environment. His secular credentials could attract a large following including the country’s minorities. Alawites were heavily represented in the Republican Guard division that he led. Many reportedly respected and trusted him. This relationship is crucial, if the opposition is to convince Alawites to stop fighting.

“Manaf’s military background is important in this chaotic environment.” That rather says it all.

“World Has Failed Us” Sept. 1 rally, NYC

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Brian S. September 30, 2012 at 12:40 pm

I think you’re rather unfair to Joshua Landis: his site is mostly an aggregator for published news and comment and a conduit for the views of others. And very useful it is.It is sometimes a bit confusing, but I don’t read the post you are referring to as written by him. As to his personal views, I think these have shifted in the course of the conflict (and are difficult to locate on his site) – but the items I’ve seen elsewhere don’t seem to me to reflect any strong bias – he talked, for example, back in February about the future leadership of Syria emerging from the small,local militias of the opposition.
I think you are right to flag up the role of Manaf Tlass – I have no doubt that the would be the US’s a favoured candidate to head up a transitional government: but I don’t see his being very well placed to do so, at least not at present. He has no base of support – not in the exile opposition, not from any of the FSA groupings, and certainly not from the civilian opposition. Before he can be projected into a central role, the US will have to reconfigure the forces on the ground, which is what they seem to be trying to do by offering to channel support to groups who support their agenda (centralised command, signing up to the Geneva convention, etc.) The trouble is they are not prepared to offer any serious carrots (like anti-aircraft weapons) in exchange for compliance.
The most interesting idea I’ve seen so far about how to create an authoritative opposition leadership was floated by a former French diplomat who writes a regular column for Le Monde: he has suggested getting the various “liberated zones” under FSA protection to elect representatives to provide the core of a “transitional government”. Whether that idea could gain any traction with the Hollande administration, I don’t know.


Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp October 1, 2012 at 10:19 am

I agree with you re: Landis. I wouldn’t describe him as hostile to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or the revolution. He’s more of a policy wonk realist type with no dog in any fight.

There are Libyans who are working to centralize the FSA from below independent of U.S. or Turkish machinations:

Here’s the announcement of the recent move of FSA HQ from Turkey into Syria made from the headquarters of Liwa al-Ummah:

The author of the “Stage Two” Libya piece fought with the Tripoli Brigade which helped start Liwa al-Ummah in Syria.

So the internationalist spirit of Spain 1936 lives on, just not on the Western left.


Louis Proyect September 30, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Brian, since I respect your opinions highly, I took a second look at Landis. You are right. He has never stooped to the Angry Arab’s level. To be more accurate, he would best be described as similar to Bassam Haddad from Jadaliyya, who hopes in vain for a negotiated settlement.


Arthur October 1, 2012 at 10:55 am

The issues raised in the post promoting Manaf Tlas should not just be lightly dismissed as vain hopes for a negotiated settlement.

No end result without free elections is plausible.

But all kinds of transitional arrangements are possible (eg compare Tunisia, Egypt and Libya).

Anything that can be done to reassure Alawis and other minorities so that they will accept a transition would be enormously worthwhile. The dangers of sectarian revenge are exploited by the regime but that does not make them purely imaginary. They are very real dangers and the fears about this, especially among Alawis would be of major importance even if they had no basis in reality. (BTW Landis would be especially sensitive to such issues as married to an Alawi).

Incidentally encouraging fighters to sign up to a centralized command and interational humanitarian law strikes me as positive.


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