I’ve been deleting posts I have elsewhere on the web and I decided this poem was one thing I wasn’t yet ready to suppress out of existence. It’s the only poem I ever attempted. I believe I wrote it during my particularly insufferable years of high school. Pay the post no attention as I’m simply archiving it.
In this small piece of land
There has been more blood than anyone can imagine
More tragedies and travesties and catastrophes
More bombings and killings
More assassinations and invasions
In this small piece of land
Whole nations are created
Whole nations are decimated
Great leaders have fallen
Greater ones have risen
In this small piece of land
A 12 year old boy fought a tank
And in death became immortal
Representing the resistance of a nation
A hope to his proud people
In this small piece of land
That we see with a distorted perspective
of Israeli assaults in “self defense”
of Arab attacks as acts of terror
Of Israelis as heroes
Arabs as monsters
In this small piece of land
The word Apartheid has been resurrected
With roads for Jews and roads for Arabs
Rights for Jews and rights for Arabs
Neighborhoods for Jews and Neighborhoods for Arabs
In this small piece of land
No crime is unimaginable
Refugee camps exterminated
Holocaust survivors targeted
No act too detestable
No murder is unconscionable
All lives are expendable
In this small piece of land that knows no peace.
Since its start, the democracy movement in Bahrain has been the most inconvenient uprising in the Arab World for the United States. The United States saturates its political discourse with idealism and notions of American exceptionalism, yet when confronted with the island Kingdom of Bahrain, the United States is reduced to a mere cynical world actor that readily accommodates a monarchy over the many of tens of thousands of Bahrainis who are demanding the democracy the U.S. allegedly exports.
The United States can claim the distinction as the superpower that not only arms the brutal regime in Bahrain, but which also arms neighboring Gulf states which invaded Bahrain in order to participate in the crackdown. These are very inconvenient facts we must bring up as Bahrain continues to be normalized by the U.S. and the international community, a normalization that is illustrated by the Formula 1 event underway in the country.
The regime in Bahrain has vocally defended the Formula 1 race as a sporting event entirely unrelated to the political turmoil affecting the country. This comes as no surprise. No one counted on the regime to pass up a racing spectacle to distract itself from the bloodshed caused by its security forces in the poor and neglected villages on the outskirts of the capital. The difficulty with the Formula 1 race rests in the inability of the West to address its role in the ongoing repression in Bahrain.
The tear gas powering this weekend’s Formula 1 event was fired last week as it will surely be fired a week from now. The international film crews may disperse alongside the race car drivers but the diplomatic and military support offered by the West to Bahrain is a permanent fixture on the calender. The West simply can’t confuse itself as a neutral actor merely trying to decide if the race is in bad taste. Having intervened on behalf of the regime and at the expense of the Bahraini people, the West has no standing to condemn the Khalifa ruling family.
The protests by Bahrainis against F1 will rightly turn myself and many others away from the television broadcast, but will we be stirred next week when the protests dwell less on our sporting event and more on our teargas shipments? It’s a much easier task to question Bahraini and F1 officials about the appropriateness of the event, it’s far more difficult to question the appropriateness of our own conduct. The race is a travesty but F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone can’t drown out Bahrain’s cries for democracy with his race cars, nor can he be scapegoated for all the accumulated sins of Western powers.
To say a ceasefire has been established in Syria is an overly optimistic assertion. It’s an assertion that will be refuted by each bullet or artillery shell directed at residential areas in towns and cities across the country that have committed the offense of merely protesting Assad rule. Flawed and insufficient the ceasefire may be, it was desperately needed after a period of eight days when one thousand Syrians lost their lives in violence that showed no way of ending in either regime triumph or defeat.
The ceasefire, however, should be seen as a triumph to the various forces opposing the Assad regime. Assad has since the inception of the uprising portrayed it as the work of armed gangs, terrorists, and any other term that can be used to belittle and delegitimize opposition. For the regime to agree to a ceasefire doesn’t simply acknowledge the regime’s weakness, it acknowledges that Syria as a nation is contested territory the Assad regime is physically incapable of controlling even with all the tanks and soldiers at its disposal.
The ceasefire holds a great advantage to opponents of the Assad regime. If the ceasefire is entrenched in the days and weeks ahead, it can permit the intensification of the popular phase of the revolution that dominated the first half of the Syrian uprising. Even in its current tenuous state, the ceasefire has seen large and energetic demonstrations like this one today in the Damascus suburb of Douma:
If the ceasefire deepens and displaced families are permitted to return, protest mobilizations may soon return to their previous form of bringing hundreds of thousands to the street in contrast to the still magnificent mobilization today that brought out tens of thousands of Syrians.
The Syrian revolution is at its healthiest when the largest number of Syrians are able to participate in it. The armed phase, however justified in resisting a brutal military crackdown, simply doesn’t enable enough Syrians to involve themselves in the revolutionary struggle when it is in the form of an armed campaign, an armed campaign defined by smaller and highly mobile units avoiding direct confrontation with the full might of the regime’s army.
The revolution will find its completion through its original mass participation that left the regime so desperate that it stoked sectarian tensions in a cynical ploy to justify its own existence as a supposed vanguard of a united Syria. Toppling the Assad regime requires a diverse coalition from Syrian society, a coalition that stands a better chance of forming during this ceasefire than during the heat of combat that raged just last week. As described with biting accuracy years ago by Ella Shohat, “war is the friend of binarisms, leaving little place for complex identities.” In a society as rich with diversity as Syria, the role of an armed struggle is limited even with revolutionaries retaining the best intentions. I have little doubt that opposition fighters prevented an even greater death toll in population centers like Homs and Idlib. That said, armed struggle stands little chance in subduing the Russian armed Assad regime and stands a lesser chance of replacing it with a government that meets the aspirations of the revolution. Both these goals are to be achieved by the energy and ingenuity of Syria’s youths who initiated the revolution.
The Arab revolutions found their trigger in Tunisia and well over a year after Tunisians drove Ben Ali out of power and into exile, the completion of their revolutionary goals still demands street mobilization. Today, April 9th, The General Union of Tunisian Workers called a protest against the continued unemployment faced by Tunisians, especially Tunisian youths. However, the government of Tunisia maintained a ban on protests and police were used to disperse the crowds of demonstrators who assembled:
Governments will readily reorganize themselves to reestablish a facade of legitimacy. They will fight till the end, however, before conceding any ground on the fundamental inequality and poverty that structure both regime and society. As the following video shows, the government is ready to have Tunisians bleed in order to maintain this structure:
Since the Iraq War failed to quench the appetite for armed conflict held by some in Washington, there’s been a steady drumbeat of increasing frequency for war with Iran. We receive the weekly updates that Iran is however many months away from a nuclear weapon. Oddly, Iran has been months away from a nuclear weapon for several years now. When that fails, nameless officials warn of Iran developing missiles to put the U.S. within range. For these officials, this capacity itself would constitute a direct threat, a measure if used consistently means the U.S. has actively threatened every inch of the world with nuclear annihilation for some five decades.
The assumptive arguments about Iran’s nuclear intentions aside, the pre-war buildup differs from Iraq. With Iraq, there were crucial dates for opponents of the war to rally around. Millions protested to put pressure on the United Nations and successfully prevented the UNSC from legalizing the naked aggression against Iraq. Bush even gave Saddam a deadline before the U.S. would commence war, a period people used to mobilize additional protests, protests that ultimately failed to dislodge the country from its war trajectory as the staggering death toll from Iraq will forever remind us.
The build up to a war with Iran offers no such benefits to the anti-war movement. Netanyahu won’t make an appeal for war at the UN, a moment that would provide the chance for tens of thousands of protesters to urge world leaders to maintain and enhance peace. We can also be sure that Iran will not be given a last minute warning before the warplanes transverse the skies between Israel and Iran’s nuclear facilities.
We’re confronted with a war more dangerous than Iraq but without the obvious timing and location for the anti-war movement to mobilize. If war does breakout, we’ll likely find out without advance notice; only having it confirmed one morning, all of us waking up to news of an Israeli strike that drags the region and the U.S. into open war. We’d be left to campaign for a ceasefire after the destruction on Iran has been unleashed, nuclear fallout included. Opposing this next war demands a permanent vigilance, a challenge requiring exhausting and escalating effort.
This challenge demands a new dynamism to the anti-war movement much devoid of energy because of complacency since Obama’s election in 2008. The anti-war movement needs the disregard of protest norms adopted by the occupy movement. Millions marched against the Iraq War through pre-planned routes on inter-spaced days of action. To stop a war with Iran, the same or greater numbers are needed, but they must act to prevent the war, not just appeal to a peace embracing sanity our leaders don’t possess.
Preventing a war can’t be achieved by marches on the UN or White House alone. If it is achievable, it’ll be by occupying media institutions content to scare the public into war, media institutions disregarding ethical standards, let alone journalistic standards. They are the facilitators of war who have never found a conflict they disapproved of. We will also be required to physically wage peace by obstructing the war machine with sit-ins, strikes, and blockades of private companies out to profit from war.
This is all aspiration, but it’s important for a generation that has been repeatedly exiled back into apathy by governments that consider protests a public nuisance rather than the failsafe against the worst policy measure: war by choice. We must remind ourselves how we prevented the Iraq War from being legalized. Now, with enhanced tactics, we’ll move to prevent the war on Iran from being realized. When squares are occupied, schools are closed, & infrastructure is stalled, they won’t be able to dissuade others from joining us by suggesting we have no demands. We demand peace, and like the economic justice Occupy is striving for, we’ll enforce it on our own.
I came across this stunning video out of Bahrain, purportedly showing a faction of regime opponents effectively besieging a compound belonging to security forces:
This follows weeks of protests, attacks by security forces, and mass funerals for demonstrators who’ve been killed. With the anniversary of the peaceful uprising last February just days away, the regime is restricting access to the country, preventing Western journalists and even Al Jazeera from drawing attention to calls for democracy unheeded by those clinging to power.
Without a doubt, supporters of the regime will seize on the video I posted above as evidence of a violent plot within the country -advocates of despotism long disregarded originality. But the stones and molotov cocktails now being thrown by a segment of regime opponents can’t be equated with the violence of the regime, let alone used as justification for regime violence. The regime has full responsibility for security forces they employ, thereby having the ability to discipline and fire. Yet, security forces continue to inflict regular brutality on citizens. The broad opposition, however, has no such mechanisms or uniformity as the regime. After dozens of deaths at the hands of security forces, broken promises to reform and end abuses, the path to avoid greater unrest in Bahrain is by transitioning to democracy. This is a reality the regime will seek to obscure with a media blackout and more clouds of teargas.
There’s great alarm over the fate of Syria’s Revolution as the stalemate in the country leaves it subject to external forces capable of dislodging its beleaguered combatants. For the regime, it can rely on its Russian and Iranian benefactors to provide diplomatic, financial and military aid. For the opposition weathering military sieges in Homs, Hama, Daraa, and the suburbs of Damascus, such natural allies are not so readily found.
In the absence of natural allies, the opposition within Syria may soon or have already sought out the assistance of either Western powers or regional Arab states aligned with the West. This potential alignment has struck the most well placed suspicions of the West’s intentions, but it plays best to audiences in London and New York who are inclined to both support the popular revolution in Syria while opposing any foreign intervention, whatever differing forms it could take.
The article “Imperialism, Despotism, and Democracy in Syria”, by Columbia University professor Joseph Massad isn’t for an audience in besieged Homs. I’m at least hoping he wouldn’t argue to irregular fighters in Homs that they confront Assad’s tanks with what inadequate weapons they salvage from Assad troops just so he can be assured they surpass the highest of ideological purity tests. This is a test in blood that can result in a staggering death toll. It was a test some from the safety of London wished on the revolutionaries in Benghazi.
It’s a difficult situation and we owe it to ourselves and the people in Syria to acknowledge it as such. From that, I’m incapable of arguing an effective model to balance the need of Syria’s revolutionaries to make tactical choices with our need here in the West to maintain solidarity without abandoning our opposition to interference by the nations we reside in.
In any circumstance, as leftists in the West, we must own up to our own failings that leave an international order where revolutionaries have no where to turn when the dictator they fight plays by “Hama Rules”. They’re left with limited options while some like Joseph Massad righteously wield against them a yet to be assembled ideal method to defeat Assad without any external help to even negate the support Assad is receiving from Iran and Russia.
We would be foolish not to credit the judgment held by those in Syria who’ve waged an over ten month campaign against the regime. No one can say they’ve hurried to turn outside for help. They delayed escalation to arm struggle despite the brutal repression throughout 2011. They insisted on continuing their peaceful revolution even as Libyans achieved success in military battle.
We, like the tyrants of the Arab World, underestimate the Arab revolutions at our own peril. Tunisians renewed their revolution after the fall of Ben Ali to ensure his regime fell down with him. Egyptians are also undergoing this process in challenging the military state which produced Mubarak. Libyans, having lived through direct international intervention while toppling Gaddafi, have demonstrated to the world that their revolution is still in their hands, taking to the streets of Benghazi to protest the transitional government’s combined lack of transparency and commitment to change.
Just as we shouldn’t under estimate the Arab revolutionaries, we shouldn’t assign them our responsibility to defeat imperialism. That victory is to be seized by common struggle by those living in the West and those who’ve been made subject to it. It certainly won’t be won on the back of an Assad tank shelling the ill-equipped defenders of Homs.