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Razan Ghazzawi at IAW – Toronto: “Who’s Afraid of Syria’s Popular Revolution?”

by Henry Lowi

March 3, 2013

Razan Ghazzawi spoke at the first public forum of Israeli Apartheid Week in Toronto, fresh from the front-lines of the popular uprising in Damascus. I am used to hearing and reading analyses of the “geo-political context” of the Syria crisis. Until now, these “contextual” discourses have demonstrated no empathy for the struggles of the Syrian masses, and lacked the spirit of solidarity. That is how Razan’s presentation differed.

Razan did not reveal much that I did not already know. But, she helped me reaffirm the broad strokes of the analysis that I published 8 months ago on Redress. She added some particulars that I will outline below.

She spoke of how students at Damascus University used to prepare and distribute clandestinely fliers in solidarity with the victimized Palestinians in Gaza. The regime did not tolerate any grassroots solidarity activity with Palestine that is not initiated and endorsed by the regime. That was telling. She later described how the Palestine refugees in Yarmouk camp were not permitted to participate in any political activity outside the camp. All political work by Palestinians was tolerated only within the confines of the refugee camp. The uprising has changed that. Palestinians from Yarmouk camp are participating in the revolution alongside their Syrian neighbors.

Another point that Razan addressed was: Who is the “Free Syrian Army”? She explained that, when the violent repression began, and regime soldiers began to defect, that was the beginning of the FSA. Later, when local activists and common people felt the need to defend themselves with arms, the local popular militias began to call themselves FSA. Then, there are Islamist armed groups, like Jabhat al-Nusra, that are sometimes referred to as FSA. Razan told of how the local night-time protest demonstrations, usually held on side streets, are protected and secured by the local people’s militias, based in the neighborhood, and referred to as FSA.

She described how revolutionaries are spending much of their effort functioning as relief workers, delivering food, health care, prisoner support, and other forms of relief to the suffering population. I have written about these local relief committees, about the need to generalize them, democratize them, unify them, and prepare them to be alternative organs of power.

In response to a direct question: “Do you support dialogue with the regime?”, Razan responded directly: “No.” Then, when asked: “Why not?”, she responded: “Why should we dialogue with a regime that arrests us and tortures us and kills us?!” The questioner did not seem to appreciate that revolutionaries, who are fighting to overthrow an oppressive regime, and for a new society, do not consider “dialogue” in the same way as do politicians and diplomats. Later, Razan wisely suggested that those who advocate “dialogue” with the regime should first demand the release of imprisoned political activists, some of whom might be interested in dialogue. Freeing of all political prisoners and detainees should be the first step, and would be an indication of the regime’s good faith in seeking “dialogue”.

Razan emphasized the difference between the “Opposition”, which is based outside the country, and the “Revolution” that is fighting within the country for political freedom. She had no patience for the “Opposition”. She also had no patience for those who would denounce the “Revolution” for the policies of the “Opposition” or for the crimes of counter-revolutionary Islamists.

Her presentation was fresh, authentic, unscripted, unpolished, and not carefully tailored to the expectations of the audience. I congratulate the organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week for inviting Razan Ghazzawi. There is no doubt in my mind that the Palestine revolution must support the Syria revolution, and learn from it. Local BDS activists need to learn that oppressive regimes are not overthrown by BDS campaigns, but by popular revolutions that are competently led, and by multiple forms of solidarity.

There were problems with the organization of the event. “Technical” problems had the event start more than ½ hour late. The moderator, a professor who specializes in Syria, did not merely introduce the speaker. He gave a political analysis of the Syria crisis, that could not be attributed to CAIA or SAIA or IAW, and that pre-empted the guest speaker. At the start of the Q+A session, the moderator did not set out any rules for the discussion, and did not set time limits. He failed to prepare a speakers list or recognize speakers in the order their hands were raised. He seemed to select speakers arbitrarily, and without the now-expected attention to gender parity. He commented completely inappropriately on the comments of speakers. He let a Spartacist speaker read an overly-long prepared statement. He ended the discussion abruptly, without warning, and seemingly arbitrarily. By mismanaging the discussion, the moderator permitted a volatile environment to develop.

The topic is an emotionally charged topic (“Who’s Afraid of Syria’s Popular Revolution?”). Syria is undergoing a civil war, and even families are divided. It was necessary to have a meticulously organized event, with a scrupulously fair and firm moderator, to ensure a discussion that is informative and that encourages the respectful exchange of points of view. IAW organizers can learn from this experience and re-visit and learn some of the basic rules of political organizing.

We all can learn from the Syria revolution and civil war that calls out for solidarity with the oppressed people who are fighting the fight that will ultimately lead to freedom for the people of Palestine and the entire Middle East.

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