Odai Al Zoubi – Syrian writer
There are still some people, perhaps innocently, asking what exactly is the Freedom the Syrians are seeking? Can the revolutionaries formulate a crystal clear concept of Freedom? Won’t the Syrian revolution present a risk to the Syrian society as a whole in case the Salafists took control of the State of Syria? Aren’t the Syrians risking replacing one despotism with another?
Those people are seeking a comprehensive vision of the concept of Freedom along with a clear picture for the future of the revolution and the nature of the desired regime.
The protestors and the revolutionaries are providing answers that do not appeal to the regime supporters nor those who are sceptical of the revolution. The answer of the protestors is decisive and final. We are here to topple the regime. Everything else is just details. This article is an attempt to explain the reasons why the protestors’ answer is the only acceptable and ethical answer. Any scepticism of their answer springs from unethical attitudes that ignore reality.
From a philosophical perspective, the answer to the question of Freedom arises from the circumstances the people are living. The question of Freedom is the question of Syrians living under a dictatorial regime since forty years ago. The answer to this question is their answer. Anything else is pure ranting that is not related to the lives of the citizens and does not take into consideration their circumstances, tragedies, hopes and aspirations. Any answer that does not take into consideration the specific realities in Syria is not a satisfactory answer. This analysis of the concept of Freedom extends to other concepts. The revolution is the revolution of the Syrian people and only they are able to give a true meaning to the revolution through their practices and choices.
Why do Syrians believe that toppling the regime is the means for attaining Freedom and everything else is just details?
Let us consider both the regime’s and opposition’s perspectives on Freedom.
As for the regime, there is a positive side and a negative one. The positive aspect is represented by the reforms. The regime has a reform platform. As the regimes leaders have asserted, these reforms had nothing to do with the demonstrations, the people and their demands. After half a century of Al Baath party rule and forty years of Al Assad family rule, the Syrian regime puts forward an obscure promise that the Freedom which we seek will be fulfilled by those who themselves prevented Freedom. These promises are accompanied by massacres and shelling of Syrian cities which make the Syrians fear rather than welcome those reforms.
In the media the regime focuses on the negative aspect of the question of Freedom by criticising the opposition and the Freedom they call for. From the regime’s point of view it is an American, western, imperial, extreme Islamic, terrorist Freedom. These are some from a long list of terms which the regime uses enthusiastically to describe this Freedom.
From the opposition’s perspective, their positive answer is represented by their calls for building a democratic state. All political opposition groups in Syria agree on this aim. Regardless of my personal opinion of some of the opposition groups, and disregarding the size of each of these groups, they all call for a democratic state. This applies to the National Syrian Council, the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, the Damascus Declaration, the Syrian Revolution General Commission, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, and most other groups. Disagreements between the opposition groups are centred on how to topple the regime, including the military option, and are not about toppling the regime per se or building a democratic state.
On the negative aspect, the opposition criticizes the reform projects proposed by the regime. In the opposition’s opinion, the regime is not serious about reforms and just wants to buy time. The regime’s structure, which for half a century was based on preventing Freedom does not allow it to reform itself. What is demanded is change. Regime change is an essential, but not the only, condition to attain Freedom.
Back to the original question. It is definitely not expected from the protestors to participate in a philosophical debate about the nature of Freedom. Syrians are presented with both the regime’s and opposition’s views on Freedom. The regime has for half a century rejected democracy and committed massacres when the Syrians revolted. On the other hand, the opposition is divided and politically fragile, but promises the ordinary citizen a project for democracy, which all opposition groups agree on, and will not turn their backs on.
This is the current situation in Syria. What is needed to define Freedom, is defending Syrians who are being killed everyday rather than a useless philosophical debate about the concept of Freedom. Freedom is their freedom. They are the ones suffering and the revolution is theirs. Any attempt to understand Freedom, as the Syrian people perceive it, should spring from the reality of the situation in Syria. We should start from this reality. To look down upon Syrians and hint that they are ignorant who do not comprehend the concept of Freedom, arises from ignorance of the Syrian situation, the ignorance of the concept of Freedom, and ignorance of the daily suffering of people. This ignorance is most obvious when the despotism of a regime which has lasted for half a century and which is carrying out daily massacres in a systemic fashion is equated to the weakness of the political opposition and the regrettable divisions within its structure. The previous point is central. The Syrians are answering the question about Freedom by stating that toppling the regime is the only mean to attain Freedom. Some are asking the Syrians to focus on the settling the problems of the opposition and address its weakness. Under the circumstances we face, that is not possible, and is not required.
On the ground, it is utterly not possible to reconcile between the Syrian regime and the concept of Freedom. The question of Freedom is not a metaphysical one. Freedom is not a project that is isolated from the facts on the ground. In this sense, Freedom is the daily demand of the Syrian people after fifty years of one party rule. The essential condition for Freedom is the absence of despotism. The despotism that carries out massacres. The despotic in Syria is clear and unambiguous; it is the regime that kills the Syrian people. The opposition is not despotic. The opposition is weak, fragmented, frustrated and frustrating but not the source of the problem. The Syrians know who is the despotic. Therefore when we ask what do Syrians want? What is their opinion of Freedom? The answer is: toppling the regime.
Freedom begins by removing the obstacle that is preventing Freedom. The regime is the obstacle. Toppling the regime is the only key to attaining the Freedom of the Syrian people.