Millennial Letters

Syria's Nonviolent Resistance Ignored by Media

Much has been said about the level of violence in Syria, where bloodshed continues between armed rebel factions and President Bashar-al Assad’s possibly chemical-weapons-equipped regime.

What with bomb attacks in Damascus and reports of rebels leading offensives with surrogate PlayStation-controlled tanks, nonviolent protest activity may not seem like headline-grabbing material. 

But Syrian author and activist Mohja Kahf says nonviolent protest there not only started the whole uprising, but continues to feed unrest. The prominent Damascus-born poet and writer, author of The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, has been a vocal supporter of nonviolent campaigns in her homeland.

“Where is Syria’s nonviolent resistance?” Well, she says, they “started the uprising, and nonviolent resistance aimed at bringing down the brutal regime has never stopped.”

“I am a rank-and-file member of the Syrian Nonviolence Movement,” Kahf told me by e-mail, referring to a European nongovernmental organization created by Syrian exiles last year. Her parents were exiled from Syria when she was a child, but the Arab-American writer, described by the New York Times as “something of an idol among Muslim American women,” is closely monitoring developments in Syria along with her husband, Najib Ghadbian, a member of newly formed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.

The new coalition, whose head briefed top EU officials on a possible peace plan yesterday, “may be a useful body, but we are still waiting for The It, and I believe ‘It’ has to come from inside, from the youth really driving the revolution on the ground,” Kahf said.   

The work of nonviolent movements in Syria has been completely “overshadowed by armed rebellion stories in the media,” according to Kahf.

“I’m continually shocked by how few people realize that a) nonviolent resistance started the uprising and that b) it is still going on,” she wrote. “Anyone out there who is not aware of Syria’s nonviolent resistance needs to answer the question, ‘Where have you been?’”

“Week after week, hundreds of nonviolent protests are logged across Syria,” she explained, citing “street demonstrations” as well as campaigns by “nonviolence activists on the ground in Syria, even under shelling.” She claimed a recent labor strike shut down major commercial districts in cities across the nation (and sent links to videos here)—saying it so paralyzed the regime that soldiers in Damascus were ordered to “break locks on closed shops.”

“Perhaps,” adds Kahf, a comparative literature professor at the University of Arkansas, “the regime was recalling that a nonviolent strike brought South Africa’s viciously repressive apartheid regime to its knees in the late 20th century.” 

Syria’s economy is already severely weakened due to a raft of international sanctions, with the Institute for International Finance yesterday forecasting that the government will likely spend all its foreign reserves by the end of next year.


Photo Credit: Freedom House

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