A Nonviolent Strategy to Liberate Syria


Human Wrongs Watch

By Robert J. Burrowes*

DAYLESFORD, Australia,  16 November, 2016 – In early 2011, as the Arab Spring was moving across North Africa and the Middle East, small groups of nonviolent activists in Syria, which has been under martial law since 1963, started protesting against the brutal dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad and demanding democratic reforms, the release of political prisoners, an increase in freedoms, abolition of the emergency law and an end to corruption.

robert-j-burrowes11

Robert J. Burrowes

By mid-March these protests, particularly in cities such as Damascus, Aleppo and Daraa, had escalated and the ‘Day of Rage’ protest on 15 March 2011 is considered by many to mark the start of the nationwide uprising against the Assad dictatorship.

The dictatorship’s reaction to the protests became violent on 16 March and on 18 March, after Friday prayers, activists gathered at the al-Omari Mosque in Daraa were attacked by security forces with water cannons and tear gas, followed by live fire; four nonviolent activists were killed.

Within months, as the nonviolent protests expanded and spread, the regime had killed hundreds of activists and arbitrarily arrested thousands, subjecting many of them to brutal torture in detention.

This pattern has continued unchecked. For the earliest of a succession of reports that document this regime violence against nonviolent activists, see the Human Rights Watch report ‘“We’ve Never Seen Such Horror” Crimes against Humanity by Syrian Security Forces’.  

For the most recent report, see the UN Human Rights Council report ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Deaths in Detention in the Syrian Arab Republic‘. 

In recent commentaries on the war in Syria, both long-time solidarity activist Terry Burke – see ‘U.S. Peace Activists Should Start Listening to Progressive Syrian Voices‘  – and long-term Middle East scholar Professor Stephen Zunes have encouraged the anti-war movement to listen to Syrian voices in framing their response, particularly given the tendency within some sections of it to support ‘the extraordinarily brutal Assad regime – a family dictatorship rooted in the anti-leftist military wing of the Baath Party’. See ‘Anti-war movement must listen to voices within Syria’s civil war‘.

One such Syrian voice is that of scholar and nonviolent activist Professor Mohja Kahf. In her account of the Syrian uprising against the Assad dictatorship – see ‘Then and Now: The Syrian Revolution to Date. A young nonviolent resistance and the ensuing armed struggle‘  – Professor Kahf offers the following introductory paragraphs:

‘The Syrian uprising sprang from the country’s grassroots, especially from youth in their teens, and adults in their twenties and thirties. They, not seasoned oppositionists, began the uprising, and are its core population. They share, rather than a particular ideology, a generational experience of disenfranchisement and brutalization by a corrupt, repressive, and massively armed ruling elite in Syria.

‘The uprising began nonviolently and the vast majority of its populace maintained nonviolence as its path to pursue regime change and a democratic Syria, until an armed flank emerged in August 2011.

‘The Syrian Revolution has morphed. From midsummer to autumn 2011, armed resistance developed, political bodies formed to represent the revolution outside Syria, and political Islamists of various sorts entered the uprising scene. Since then, armed resistance has overshadowed nonviolent resistance in Syria.

‘…political bodies and support groups for the revolution’s militarized wing, have become venues for internal power struggles among opposition factions and individuals, and entry-points for foreign powers attempting to push their own agendas into a revolution sprung from Syrian grievances, grown from the spilling of Syrian blood on Syrian soil.

‘Many in the global peace community can no longer discern the Syrian uprising’s grassroots population through the smoke of armed conflict and the troubling new actors on the scene. Further, some in the global left or anti-imperialist camp understand the Syrian revolution only through the endgame of geopolitics. In such a narrative, the uprising population is nothing but the proxy of U.S. imperialism.

‘Such critics may acknowledge that the Assad regime is brutal, but maintain from their armchairs that Syrians must bear this cost, because this regime has its finger in the dike of U.S. imperialism, Zionism, and Islamism. Or, perhaps they agree that a revolution against a brutal dictator is not a bad idea, but wish for a nicer revolution, with better players. Eyes riveted to their pencils and rulers and idées fixés, such critics abandon a grassroots population of disenfranchised human beings demanding basic human freedoms in Syria. This is a stunning and cruel failure of vision.

‘The voices of the original grassroots revolution of Syria are nonviolent, nonsectarian, noninterventionist, for the fall of the Assad regime, and for the rise of a democratic, human rights upholding Syria that is bound by the rule of law. They are still present in this revolution. Who will hear them now, after so much dear blood has been spilled, so much tender flesh crushed under blasted blocks of cement, so much rightful anger unleashed?’

Other Syrian voices offer a similar account. See, for example, the recent book by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami titled ‘Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War‘ reviewed in ‘Book Review: Burning Country‘.

If Syrians and their solidarity allies are to develop and implement a successful nonviolent grassroots strategy to end the war in/on Syria and remove the Assad dictatorship, then we need a sound strategic framework that guides the comprehensive planning of our strategy. Obviously, there is no point designing a strategy that is incomplete or cannot be successful.

A sound strategic framework simply enables us to think and plan strategically so that once our strategy has been elaborated, it can be widely shared and clearly understood by everyone involved.

It also means that nonviolent actions can then be implemented because they are known to have strategic utility and that precise utility is understood in advance. There is little point taking action at random, especially if our opponent is powerful and committed (even if that ‘commitment’ is insane, which is frequently the case).

There is a simple diagram presenting a 12-point strategic framework illustrated here in the form of the ‘Nonviolent Strategy Wheel‘.

In order to think strategically about nonviolently resolving a violent conflict, a clearly defined political purpose is needed; that is, a simple summary statement of ‘what you want’.

However, given the complexity of the multifaceted conflict in the case of Syria, it is strategically simpler to identify two political purposes. These might be stated thus: 1. To end the war in/on Syria, and 2. To establish a democratic form of government in Syria (which, obviously, requires removal of the dictatorship).

Once the political purpose has been defined, the two strategic aims (‘how you get what you want’) of the strategy acquire their meaning.

These two strategic aims (which are always the same whatever the political purpose) are as follows: 1. To increase support for your campaign by developing a network of groups who can assist you. 2. To alter the will and undermine the power of those groups who support the war/dictatorship.

While the two strategic aims are always the same, they are achieved via a series of intermediate strategic goals which are always specific to each struggle. To keep this article reasonably straightforward, I have only identified a set of strategic goals that would be appropriate in the context of ending the war in/on Syria below. For a basic set of strategic goals appropriate for ending the dictatorship, see ‘Strategic Aims‘.

Before listing the strategic goals for ending the war, I wish to emphasise that I have only briefly discussed two aspects of a comprehensive strategy to end the war in/on Syria: its political purpose and its two strategic aims (with its many subsidiary strategic goals). For the strategy to be effective, all twelve components of the strategic framework should be planned (and then implemented). See Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy

This will require, for example, that tactics that will achieve the strategic goals must be carefully chosen and implemented bearing in mind the vital distinction between the political objective and strategic goal of any such tactic. See ‘The Political Objective and Strategic Goal of Nonviolent Actions‘.

Strategic goals to end the war in/on Syria

I have outlined a basic list of strategic goals below although, it should be noted, the list would be considerably longer as individual organizations should be specified separately.

Many of these strategic goals would usually be tackled by action groups working in solidarity with Syria campaigning within their own country. Ideally they would be undertaken by activist groups with existing expertise in the relevant area (for example, experience in campaigning against a weapons corporation) but this is not essential.

Of course, individual activist groups would usually accept responsibility for focusing their work on achieving just one or a few of the strategic goals (which is why any single campaign within the overall strategy is readily manageable).

It is the responsibility of the struggle’s strategic leadership to ensure that each of the strategic goals, which should be identified and prioritized according to their precise understanding of the circumstances in Syria, (so, not necessarily precisely as identified below) is being addressed (or to prioritize if resource limitations require this).

So here is a set of strategic goals to end the war in/on Syria:

(1) To cause the women in [women’s organizations WO1, WO2, WO…] in Syria to join the liberation strategy by participating in [your nominated nonviolent action(s)/campaign(s) and/or constructive program activities].

For example, simple nonviolent actions would be to wear a national symbol (such as a badge of the national flag and/or ribbons in the national colors) and/or to boycott all media outlets supporting the war. For this item and many items hereafter, see the list of possible actions that can be taken here: ‘198 Tactics of Nonviolent Action’. https://nonviolentliberationstrategy.wordpress.com/strategywheel/tactics-and-peacekeeping/198-tactics-of-nonviolent-action/

(2) To cause the workers in [trade unions T1, T2, T…] in Syria to join the liberation strategy by participating in [your nominated nonviolent action(s)/campaign(s) and/or constructive program activities]. For example, this might include withdrawing their labor from occupations that support the Syrian military forces.

(3) To cause young people in Syria to resist conscription into the Syrian military forces.

(4) To cause young people in Syria to refuse recruitment into the Free Syrian Army, al-Qaeda and its affiliates/allies, the Islamic State (Daesh) and its allies.

(5) To cause the members of [religious denominations R1, R2, R…] in Syria to join the liberation strategy by participating in [your nominated nonviolent action(s)/campaign(s) and/or constructive program activities].

(6) To cause the members of [ethnic communities EC1, EC2, EC…] in Syria to join the liberation strategy by participating in [your nominated nonviolent action(s)/campaign(s) and/or constructive program activities].

(7) To cause the activists, artists, musicians, intellectuals and other key social groups in [organizations O1, O2, O…] in Syria to join the liberation strategy by participating in [your nominated nonviolent action(s)/campaign(s) and/or constructive program activities].

(8) To cause the students in [student organizations S1, S2, S…] in Syria to join the liberation strategy by participating in [your nominated nonviolent action(s)/campaign(s) and/or constructive program activities].

(9) To cause the soldiers in [military units M1, M2, M…] to refuse to obey orders from the dictatorship to arrest, assault, torture and shoot nonviolent activists and the other citizens of Syria.

(10) To cause the police in [police units P1, P2, P…] to refuse to obey orders from the dictatorship to arrest, assault, torture and shoot nonviolent activists and the other citizens of Syria.

(11) To cause young people in [the US, NATO countries, Russia and other countries fighting in Syria] to refuse recruitment into their respective military forces.

(12) To cause conscripts into the military forces of [NATO countries, Russia and other countries fighting in Syria] that still use conscription to conscientiously refuse to perform military duties.

(13) To cause military personnel in the military forces of [the US, NATO countries, Russia and other countries fighting in Syria] to refuse deployment to the war in/on Syria.

(14) To cause young people in [your country] to refuse recruitment into the Free Syrian Army, al-Qaeda and its affiliates/allies, the Islamic State (Daesh) and its allies.

(15) To cause former soldiers in [your country] to refuse recruitment as mercenaries by corporations that supply ‘military contractors’ to fight in Syria.

(16) To cause the activists in [peace groups P1, P2, P…] in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by encouraging their members to boycott [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…]. For example, this might include boycotting all commercial flights that use Boeing and Airbus passenger aircraft given the heavy involvement of these corporations in the production of military aircraft.

(17) To cause the activists in [environment groups E1, E2, E…] in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by encouraging their members to boycott [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…]. For example, this might including boycotting all commercial products of General Electric given the heavy involvement of this corporation in the production of military engines, systems and services.

(18) To cause the workers in [trade unions or labor organizations T1, T2, T….] in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by encouraging their members to boycott [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…].

(19) To cause the women in [women’s organizations WO1, WO2, WO…] in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by encouraging their members to boycott [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…].

(20) To cause the members of [religious denominations R1, R2, R…] in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by encouraging their members to boycott [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…].

(21) To cause the members of [ethnic communities EC4, EC5, EC…] in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by encouraging their members to boycott [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…].

(22) To cause the artists, musicians, intellectuals and other key social groups in [organizations O4, O5, O…] in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by encouraging their members to boycott [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…].

(23) To cause the students in [student organizations S1, S2, S…] in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by encouraging their members to boycott [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…].

(24) To cause the consumers in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by boycotting [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…].

(25) To cause more individuals in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by conscientiously resisting paying [part/all] of their taxes for war.

(26) To cause more organizations in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by conscientiously resisting paying [part/all] of their taxes for war.

(27) To cause [weapons corporations W4, W5, W…] to convert from the manufacture of military weapons to [the specified/negotiated socially/environmentally beneficial products].

(28) To cause [banks B1, B2, B…] to cease financing the weapons industry.

(29) To cause bank customers to shift their deposits to ethical banks and credit unions that do not finance (or are otherwise involved in) the weapons industry.

(30) To cause [religious organizations R4, R5, R…] to divest from the weapons industry.

(31) To cause [superannuation funds S1, S2, S…] to divest from the weapons industry.

(32) To cause superannuation fund customers to shift their money to ethical funds that do not finance (or are otherwise involved in) the weapons industry.

(33) To cause [insurance companies I1, I2, I…] to divest from the weapons industry.

(34) To cause insurance customers to shift their policies to ethical insurance companies that do not finance (or are otherwise involved in) the weapons industry.

(35) To cause [corporations C1, C2, C…] that provide [services/components] for [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…] to cease doing so.

(36) To cause the workers in [trade unions or labor organizations T4, T5, T…] to withdraw their labor from [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…] [partially/wholly], [temporarily/permanently].

(37) To cause the workers in [trade unions or labor organizations T7, T8, T…] to withdraw their labor from [corporations C1, C2, C…] [partially/wholly], [temporarily/permanently].

(38) To cause [corporations C4, C5, C…] that provides [services/supplies] to [military bases MB1, MB2, MB…] to cease doing so.

(39) To cause the workers in [trade unions or labor organizations T10, T11, T…] who work in/supply [military bases MB1, MB2, MB…] to withdraw their labor [partially/wholly], [temporarily/permanently].

(40) To cause the workers in [trade unions or labor organizations T13, T14, T…] to withdraw their labor from [corporations C4, C5, C…] [partially/wholly], [temporarily/permanently].

(41) To cause [corporations C7, C8, C…] that manufacture and supply spy satellites for military purposes to cease doing so.

(42) To cause the workers in [trade unions or labor organizations T16, T17, T…] to withdraw their labor from [corporations C7, C8, C…] [partially/wholly], [temporarily/permanently].

(43) To cause [corporations C10, C11, C…] that provide [services/components] for the militarization of space to cease doing so.

(44) To cause the workers in [trade unions or labor organizations T19, T20, T…] to withdraw their labor from [corporations C10, C11, C…] [partially/wholly], [temporarily/permanently].

(45) To cause [corporations C13, C14, C…] that provide private military contractors (mercenaries) to fight in wars to cease doing so.

(46) To cause the private military contractors (mercenaries) who fight in wars to withdraw their labor from [corporations C13, C14, C…].

(47) To cause the soldiers in [military units M1, M2, M…] in [your town/city/country] to refuse to obey orders to [arrest, assault, torture and shoot, depending on your local circumstances] nonviolent activists campaigning against the war.

(48) To cause the police in [police units P1, P2, P…] in [your town/city/country] to refuse to obey orders to [arrest, assault, torture and shoot, depending on your local circumstances] nonviolent activists campaigning against the war.

(49) To cause individual members of the military forces at [Military Base MB1/Drone Base DB1/Navy Ship NS1/Air Force Base AFB1/Army unit AU1/Marines unit MU1] in [your town/city/country] to resign.

(50) To cause individual members of those corporations that employ/supply private military contractors (mercenaries) to resign.

As you can see, the two strategic aims are achieved via a series of intermediate strategic goals.

Not all of the strategic goals will need to be achieved for the strategy to be successful but each goal is focused in such a way that its achievement functionally undermines the power of those conducting the war.

The difference between success and failure in any struggle is the soundness of the strategy.

*Author:  Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence.

He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981.
 
Robert J. Burrowes is the author of ‘Why Violence?‘ 

Websites: 

http://thepeoplesnonviolencecharter.wordpress.com (Charter)

http://tinyurl.com/flametree (Flame Tree Project)

http://tinyurl.com/whyviolence (‘Why Violence?’)

http://anitamckone.wordpress.com (Songs of Nonviolence)
http://robertjburrowes.wordpress.com

His email address is flametree@riseup.net.

Don’t miss these Robert J. Burrowes’ articles in Human Wrongs Watch:

Punishment Is Violent and Counterproductive

A Nonviolent Strategy to End the Climate Catastrophe

Gandhi: ‘My life is my message’

An Open Letter to the People of the United States: Election or Revolution?

An Open Letter to the People of Brazil

Nonviolent Revolt in the Twenty-First Century

A Nonviolent Strategy to End War

The Psychology of Ideology and Religion

The Delusion ‘I Am Not Responsible’

Lament for Humanity: A 50 Year Reflection

A Critique of Human Society since the Neolithic Revolution

Islamophobia: Why Are So Many People So Frightened?

A Friendly Critique of the Break Free Climate Actions

Why Set Up a Shell Company in Panama? The Psychology Driving Illicit Financial Flows

Ending Human Violence is a Task for Each of Us

Understanding Self-Hatred in World Affairs

An Open Letter to the People of West Papua

The Struggle for Merdeka in West Papua

Dispossessed in the Name of ‘Security’

Extinction Is Forever

The Climate Talks in Paris Will Fail: Why?

Exposed by Wikileaks: The US Empire According to Itself

Gandhi Jayanti, Gandhi’s Dream

Disaster Capitalism: Outsourcing Violence and Exploitation

Elites Want More Refugees: Why?

The Psychology of Projection in Conflict

Nobel Peace Laureates Endorse Violence

Revolting World

Most Attitudes and Beliefs are Outcomes of Fear

Comforting a Baby Is Violent

Exposing Lies, Telling the Truth

Why Elites Love Drones

Peace Lessons: How to Reduce Violence

Legacy of War

Saving Passengers of the Good Ship ‘Titan… Earth’

Violence Against Women: Why We Keep Getting it Wrong

Why Do We Fear Challenging Authority?

Vykom: Strategic Nonviolent Action Against Untouchability

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: