Dispatch #5: 72 prisoners of conscience
I invite those of you who are Arab to correct me, but my fourteen years of living and working in the Arab world, plus 44 with a Lebanese spouse, have caused me to draw the conclusion that when a request is made – especially by a guest – Arab culture demands that it should not be refused. If, therefore, the host finds it impossible or unacceptable to grant the request, its fulfillment will be deferred indefinitely.
I regretfully must conclude that this is what is happening with respect to the request that the Mussalaha Peace and Reconciliation Mission made to the Syrian Minister of Justice on May 9, 2013, to release 72 nonviolent prisoners of conscience. Until now we have heard nothing but silence, which has only increased. The main figures in making the decision are silent and now even the intermediaries are silent.
The most powerful part of the Assad regime has always been the security forces, and it is clear that they would prefer to err on the side of what they view as “caution”, i.e. to keep “troublemakers” locked up, regardless of whether they are nonviolent or not, and to make an object lesson of them, as well. Security forces anywhere are not known for viewing mercy and generosity as a means of improving security, but rather to maintain tension, fear and a constant threat. I know of no regime on the planet where police forces behave otherwise; it is in their nature.
It is only when other elements of a regime are more powerful that moderating influences come to bear and the security forces must take a back seat. In that case, a more nuanced view can prevail and non-security concerns can be given greater consideration, possibly enhancing public security in a way that the security forces alone cannot.
However, this is not something we can expect from a security state, which is perhaps the only form of government that is possible in Syria, cynical as this may sound. Certainly, it is hard to imagine anything else emerging from the current regime, and few if any of the armed groups arrayed against it are likely to inaugurate a liberal democracy.
The nonviolent resistance groups that attempted to bring about a “Syrian spring” in March of 2011 would be good candidates, but how long would the U.S. and other great powers permit such a democracy to go its own course – potentially in opposition to U.S. policy? History is not kind to such experiments, as Chile, Nicaragua and even the Palestinian Authority have shown. Regrettably, an authoritarian regime is perhaps the only possibility for Syria, in which case the only choice may be between a U.S. puppet state and an independent one that sets its own course, possibly in concert with others that do likewise.
Regardless of this, it is for the Syrian people to decide, and it is up to us to respect their choice. The price they pay for a change in their government may be very great, but they are the only ones that can choose to pay it or not. Outside interference can only make that price higher, which is exactly what Syrians are paying now, with their voice hardly being heard at all amongst those of the foreign usurpers, each trying to impose its vision upon the Syrian people.
Those of us who view U.S. attempts to coerce the entire world into a support role for U.S. interests (meaning the interests of corporate and other lobbies who run the government for their advantage) as pernicious and destined to promote perpetual war and misery also have limited choices: to support or allow these forces to immiserate us and the rest of the world for their benefit or to combine our forces to prevent and end war and to create a more just and equitable society.
In the context of Syria, I believe this means refusing to provide any aid of any kind – lethal or nonlethal – to armed groups in Syria, to assist when possible in ending the violence, and to offer opportunities for Syrians to resolve their own visions for their own future amongst themselves without recourse to violence. These principles were articulated throughout the Mussalaha Peace Mission and in its final declaration.
I am proud to have been a part of the delegation and to have shared in the formation of its pronouncements as well. I am also grateful for the fellowship of our dedicated and visionary hosts and the remarkable and diverse delegates from around the world that formed the mission. I believe that that we advanced the cause of peace and reconciliation to a degree that will only be known as further events unfold.
This may be the last dispatch in the series, although I will certainly alert you of any new developments with regard to the prisoner situation. The Free Palestine Movement (FPM) and its affiliates and sponsors will now consider a proposal to create a new project for Syria, so as to maintain the original mandate of FPM while following up on the Syria solidarity actions that so many of you supported.
With thanks for your continued support,
Paul Larudee, for the FPM Team