A Nonviolent Strategy to Liberate Syria

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Editor’s note: While we do not completely agree with the author’s analysis of factors leading to the strife in Syria, we share his desire for greater peace, freedom and stability in the region.

By Robert J. Burrowes

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.

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
emphasize 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 Syrian revolutionary 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‘.

(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.

 

Biodata: 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. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?‘ His email address is flametree@riseup.netand his website is at http://robertjburrowes.wordpress.com

Robert J. Burrowes
P.O. Box 68
Daylesford
Victoria 3460
Australia
Email: flametree@riseup.net

Websites:
Nonviolence Charter
Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth
‘Why Violence?’
Nonviolent Campaign Strategy
Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy
Anita: Songs of Nonviolence
Robert Burrowes
Global Nonviolence Network

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3 Responses to A Nonviolent Strategy to Liberate Syria

  1. lobotero says:

    Great post…I would like to re-blog it in IST next week….chuq

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