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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Syria: From Protests to War

In the midst of all of the excitement and exuberance of a political protest, the protesters themselves in Syria were probably not thinking of the future of bloodshed that would ensue as Syria slid into full-blown civil war in 2011. As with most civil wars, civilians, even children, have not been immune from paying the price. On July 20, 2013, for example, government forces besieged the town of Saraqeb, striking it with rockets and tank fire, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.[1] The following day, Assad’s forces fired mortar rounds into a main market in the town of Ariha, killing at least 20 civilians.[2] Without doubt, the protesters during the Arab Spring in Syria could hardly have foreseen all the bloodshed. Had they known, it is not a sure thing that they would have or even should have gone ahead with the protests.
The contrast from taking time off work to join a protest march on a sunny day to finding one’s home destroyed and relatives dead in the rubble cannot be overstated. An ocean of time separates mouthing abstract democratic platitudes with friends and finding oneself in a world of hunger, fear and death. It is also difficult to relate the primped world of seasoned politics to the stygian hell of war. Yet politics and war are both about power and civic conflict. It can take surprisingly little for the civilized conflict in legislative chambers over power to break down into force and violence. The question is perhaps whether moving to democracy in an authoritarian state can be accomplished without giving violence the upper hand.

                                                                        After the Protests
                                                       A Syrian boy is being pulled out of the rubble of his house in Saraqeb.  Source: Getty
Put another way, protesting authoritarian rule on behalf of democratic principles is not something that should be taken lightly. In considering the full weight that such protests can have, the adults are making a decisive judgment for not only themselves, but also the children who would not be immune from the horrors of war. This is not to say that being willing to stand up for freedom is not worth it. Rather, it is to say that the implications ought not to be downplayed or even ignored in assessing at the outset whether launching protests to directly confront a ruthless dictator is the best means of ushering in democracy. People having a lot of power do not tend to give it up willingly, and they have the means to protect it by harming those people who would take it away.

See the video that complements this essay: http://youtu.be/NJm3ZaamhgA


Barbara Surk, “Syrian Army Bombs Northern Rebel Town of Saraqeb, Children Among the Dead,” The Huffington Post, July 20, 2013. 2. Jamal Halaby and Zeina Karam, “Syria Violence: Assad Forces Kill At Least 20 Civilians in Ariah, Dozens of Rebels Near Damascus,” The Huffington Post, July 21, 2013.