Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Peace in Syria: A Syrian Response to the UNAC Attack on Terry Burke

Say "Peace in Syria:" A Syrian Response to the UNAC Attack on Terry Burke 
by Mohja Kahf

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Mohja Kahf is Professor of Comparative Literature, University of Arkansas (mentioned by us for identification only)

August 27, 2016

[Terry Burke's In These Times' article is here. - Stanley Heller.]

Two wrongs don't make a right. Being against U.S. military intervention in Syria is no excuse for supporting the brutal Assad regime.

Want to be for peace? Be for peace. Say, "Stop the killing in Syria." Say it to all parties.

Oppose bombing? Say, "Stop the bombing in Syria." Say it to Assad. Say it to the rebels and to the Kurds. Say it to ISIS and the Nusra Front. Say it to the U.S. Say it to the Russians and the Iranians. Say it to the Saudis and the Turks. Say it to everyone responsible for bombings. But don't exclude Assad when you say it. Don't exclude anyone. Stand against all the killing in Syria, and you will have found a way to stand for peace in Syria.

U.S. peace activist, be for peace. Say "break the starvation sieges in Syria." Say it to Assad, who is the besieger of dozens of Syrian towns. Say it to the rebels, who have besieged at least two towns. Say it to anyone and everyone who is starving civilians in my country of origin.

Peace activist, do you know that the Syrian regime's constitution gives police immunity and the president unchecked power? Do you know that Syrians lived under martial law from 1963 to 2011, when it was replaced by the same law with a new name? Do you know that Bashar and his ruling elite plundered the country for over a decade with neoliberal "social market reform" that lined their pockets and caused poverty to skyrocket? Surely you cannot in good conscience go on junkets sponsored by Assad and paid for by the sweat of the Syrian people, peace activist.

Do you know that in the spring and summer of 2011, hundreds of thousands of Syrians marched peacefully in over 400 towns in Syria to demand the release of prisoners of conscience, their sons and daughters? Peace activist, at least support the release of all prisoners of conscience in Syria, no matter who holds them. Surely, peace activist, you do not defend authoritarianism, whether Assadist or Islamist.

Peace activist, do you understand that masses of Syrians protested in those marches because they want the fall of this regime and their human rights back, independently of any U.S. agenda? Do you know that Hama's square was full of hundreds of thousands of Syrians who were nonviolent and nonsectarian and loudly against the regime, week after week, through July 2011? Call those hundreds of thousands of Syrians proxies of imperialist agendas. Or deny their existence; maybe Syrians imagined it all, those heady days, the hope, the camaraderie. But don't support a dictator, peace activist.

Deny that Syrians chanted "the people want the fall of the regime" from their hearts. Maybe, in your view, Syrians have no hearts. They have no heads. They have no will. Maybe Syrian crowds can only have roared "the people want the fall of the regime" because they are pawns in a war started by the CIA. Perhaps all over Syria, in the villages, in the cities, among Sunnis, Christians, Alawites, Druze, and Shia, anyone in my country of origin who hates the authoritarian regime is an agent of imperialism. Salamiya, a predominantly Ismailia Shia town, was among the first to protest, led by women; deny those women, call them foreign agitators all-but don't support Assad.

Deny the live ammunition Assad troops fired, killing hundreds of unarmed protesters month after month throughout 2011, beginning with young Husam Ayash in Dara on March 18, 2011. Deny the bombs Assad dropped from helicopters on crowded civilian quarters for nearly a year before the horrors of ISIS surfaced. Deny that barrel bombs are used by the regime to kill civilians indiscriminately. Deny that the same Syrians who protested Assad are also protesting ISIS, now squashed under two layers of authoritarianism. Surely you stand against all authoritarianism, peace activist.

Let actual Syrians with agency and voice be utterly absent from your gaze, U.S. peace activist. Ignore the activism of four Syrian women, including Catherine Altalli, a Christian Syrian, who organized the peaceful march for the families of prisoners of conscience on March 16, 2011, only to witness those gathered get electrocuted and clubbed by Assad's police. Ignore the minority women's activism which created Syria's Stop the Killing movement that sought to restore nonviolent protest throughout 2012. Ignore this part of our recent history and transform all Syrian protesters into deluded proxies or silent victims for your use, as you put on rallies in the U.S. saying displaying Assad's picture and saying "Hands Off Syria" but not to the main killer in Syria, not to all parties killing in Syria.

Deny my friend Tayseer Elkarim, who was one of the Syrians protesting. He was 31 years old. He had just struggled to finish a medical degree. He ran to his balcony in Damsacus. He heard the chant "the people want the fall of the regime." He made the decision to join the marchers. He ran into the crowd. He later treated wounded protesters in secret-unarmed protesters wounded by Assad's brutal troops. He belongs to the Syrian Nonviolence Movement, a group that Syrians formed inside Syria which I later joined from diaspora as a Syrian-born woman who holds U.S. citizenship.

Go ahead, deny that Tayseer was imprisoned by Assad from December 2011 to March 2012. Tayseer was tortured for four months. His teeth were broken in torture. He was tortured for protesting. He was tortured for treating wounded protesters. He later escaped from Syria. My American dentist saw his teeth and gave him a free root canal. "Because I can see what's been deliberately done to his teeth. He's been through enough." Tayseer is not just a Syrian victim; Tayseer is a physician. Now he treats patients in refugee camps. Meanwhile, U.S. activists go on junkets arranged by Assad to come back and deny what Tayseer, and thousands of other Syrians, have experienced.

Deny Tayseer's pain, then. Deny his broken teeth. Deny every broken tooth of every Syrian tortured by Assad. Maybe it was all a sleight of hand produced by those who want to prop the U.S. war machine. Accuse Tayseer and his fellow protesters of feeding the U.S. war machine, because that's what was on their minds, standing on their balconies in Syria. Just don't support Assad.

Deny my fellow poet Khawla Dunia, journalist from an Alawite background, who went out to protest with the first protesters. Deny the testimonials she posted from under regime bombing. Deny that our beloved Syrian television star Fadwa Suleiman, who is Alawite, marched and sang with the protesters time and again, sending out her testimonial videos from Homs' mass peaceful protests. Perhaps it was all an illusion produced in a Qatari studio, the masses of Syrians of different sect backgrounds who went out in civic unity against the regime, chanting "Sunnis and Alawites, we all want freedom!"

Deny the existence of my first cousin, Hanan Lahham, longtime nonviolence teacher. She led protest marchers in Daraya on25 April 2011. Do you know that her small Damascus school teaching children by the principles of nonviolence was closed by the regime for joining the Dignity Strike of December 2011, a strike organized by the peace activists of Syria in a collective called Freedom Days Syria?

Deny all the lived experiences of Syrians under a brutal police state, and deny the vicious suppression of their peaceful protest movement of 2011, if you must. You can only do this if you stay far away from Syrians-because all Syrians, whether for or against the Syrian protest movement, at least know it happened. All Syrians see other Syrians in their range of vision, but you don't seem to see or know any Syrians close up, U.S. peace activist.

So, U.S. peace activist, stay in your viewpoint whose beginning and end is a debate over militarism and imperialism in your own society. What we say as Syrians only seems to confuse you, in your dogged focus on your particular pro-war/anti-war debate, so don't notice that our unique struggle does not simply fill a convenient slot in that debate. If we disagree with your position in that debate, you think it means we must want the opposite of what you want. We want for Syria: an end to the killing by all parties and an end to authoritarianism of all kinds. That takes creative thinking. We wish you would join us in creative thinking. But you're adamant about not listening to Syrian peace activists.

So don't listen to a single Syrian. Don't seek out Syrian peace activists. We forgive you. Only, in your single-mindedness to be anti-war, do not support Assad.

Peace activist? Be for peace. Say "stop the killing in Syria" to everyone. And then you will have found a way.


1. Fadwa Suleiman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZT1PdiQVNI;https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nT329nbsVXs
2. Women of Salamiya: http://www.newsyrian.net/ar/content/%D8%AF%D8%AC%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%84-%D9%86%D9%88%D9%81%D9%84-%D9%86%D8%B9%D9%85-%D9%83%D9%86%D8%A7-%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%B1%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%B9%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%B7-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D8%B3%D8%AF-%D8%B3%D9%84%D9%85%D9%8A%D8%A7%D9%8B-%D9%84%D9%88-%D8%AA%D8%B1%D9%83-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%85%D8%B1-%D9%84%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B2%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D9%88%D9%89-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%AE%D9%84%D9%8A
And: https://budourhassan.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/the-forgotten-revolution-in-salamiyah/
3. Husam Ayash: https://suic2011.wordpress.com/our-martyrs/
4. Hundreds of thousands protest in Syria: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jul/22/mass-syrian-protest-assad-deaths
5. On Taysir Alkarim's imprisonment: http://www.freeweekly.com/2014/08/28/displaced-syrian-citizen-overcomes-adversity/
6. Khawla Dunia: https://www.englishpen.org/translation/books-writing-revolution-the-voices-from-tunis-to-damascus/
7. Catherine Altalli: http://www.cnn.com/…/07/world/meast/syrian-revolution-women/
8. My first cousin Hanan Lahham leading a protest in Daraya:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1U_wr1LY-PE
9. Freedom Days Syria and the Dignity Strike: https://tahriricn.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/syria-the-struggle-continues-syrias-grass-roots-civil-opposition/
10. Stop the Killing movement of Syria: http://anarchismenonviolence2.org/spip.php?article174 

Syrian poet, novelist, professor Mohja Kahf and poet Marvin X at the  University of Arkansas, Fayettevile where she teaches English and Islamic literature. She considers Marvin X the father of Muslim American literature. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Two Poems for Syria 

by Marvin X and Mohja Kahf

Oh, Mohja
how much water can run from rivers to sea
how much blood can soak the earth
the guns of tyrants know no end
a people awakened are bigger than bullets
there is no sleep in their eyes
no more stunted backs and fear of broken limbs
even men, women and children are humble with sacrifice
the old the young play their roles
with smiles they endure torture chambers
with laughs they submit to rape and mutilations
there is no victory for oppressors
whose days are numbered
as the clock ticks as the sun rises
let the people continue til victory
surely they smell it on their hands
taste it on lips
believe it in their hearts
know it in their minds
no more backwardness no fear
let there be resistance til victory.
--Marvin X/El Muhajir

Syrian poet/professor Dr. Mohja Kahf

Oh Marvin, how much blood can soak the earth?

The angels asked, “will you create a species who will shed blood

and overrun the earth with evil?” 

And it turns out “rivers of blood” is no metaphor: 


see the stones of narrow alleys in Duma

shiny with blood hissing from humans? Dark

and dazzling, it keeps pouring and pumping

from the inexhaustible soft flesh of Syrians,

and neither regime cluster bombs from the air,

nor rebel car bombs on the ground,

ask them their names before they die. 

They are mowed down like wheat harvested by machine,

and every stalk has seven ears, and every ear a hundred grains.

They bleed like irrigation canals into the earth.

Even one little girl in Idlib with a carotid artery cut

becomes a river of blood. Who knew she could be a river 

running all the way over the ocean, to you,

draining me of my heart? And God said to the angels, 

“I know what you know not.” But right now,

the angels seem right. Cut the coyness, God;

learn the names of all the Syrians.

See what your species has done.

--Mohja Kahf    

Marvin X on Sectarianism 
Marvin X
Black Arts Movement poet
Gene Hazzard
Sectarianism has been known to spark religious violence throughout history. For many years we saw the ugly head of sectarianism in the struggle between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, the constant bombings and killings.
In Africa violence between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria has approached genocide. Iraq is the latest hot spot of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims. For decades the Shia had been oppressed by the Sunni minority, especially during the regime of Saddam Hussein. When he was overthrown by the US and the Shia majority took political power, naturally the Sunnis were resentful, no one likes to lose power and privilege. Because many Sunnis look upon Shia as heretics, this justifies their sectarian cleansing, even though there has been Sunni/Shia harmony, including marriages throughout the years, but presently there is migration of Shias from Sunni neighborhoods and towns and visa versa. Very little of the refugee plight has made news.
Of course the US is the cause when she installed the Shia majority, even though majority should rule, we are taught in American Democracy 101. But the resulting violence was predictable and much of it could have been prevented if the Americans had not been the "peacemakers."
Now the violence is being instigated by the insurgents who are directing their wrath against the Shia as well as the Americans. And naturally the Shia are taking revenge since they have political and military power, including their own militias integrated into the army and police but loyal to their sect leaders and imams.
We must see the Sunni violence against the Shia in the broader picture of regional politics. The Sunni regimes in Saudia Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, the Gulf States and elsewhere have no desire to see a Shia government in Iraq, however loosely allied it may be with Shia Iran. The Sunni governments have stated their opposition to a Shia expansion from the Tigris/Euphrates to the Mediterranean, uniting with the populations of Shia in Syria and Lebanon where the Hezbollah fighters are a political and military force supported by Iran.
Have no doubt that the regional Sunni regimes support the insurgency in Iraq. These regimes would rather have their young men leaving their nations to commit suicide in Iraq rather than be part of the opposition within their authoritarian regimes. Better their sons fight the infidel Americans and heretic Shia.
Of course the historical dispute between the Sunni and Shia began in 632AD upon the death of prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Thus this Sunni/Shia conflict is much more outstanding than colonialism, including the neo-colonial Americans. There is no hatred like religious hatred. We can see that violence between Sunnis and Shia has surpassed that between Sunnis and the Christian Americans, supposedly the enemy of all Muslims. For sure, Americans were the catalyst, but the roots of the present sectarian violence began over succession to the prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The Sunnis said the successor should be selected from among the people, Abu Bakr. The Shia said it should be from the prophet's bloodline, Ali. The Sunnis won out and labeled the Shia heretics, especially when they elevated the status of Imam Ali and future Shia Imams to the level of the Caliphs or rulers after the prophet, including veneration of their tombs in various Shia holy cities such as Qum in Iran, Najaf and Karbala in Iraq. Several Shia imams were assassinated, including Ali and Hussein.
There are major Shia rituals that celebrate the martyrdom of their imams. The Shia feeling of lost is similar to the feeling of lost among Sunni Muslims in America about Malcolm X allegedly being assassinated by the Nation of Islam. This feeling of lost is shared by much of the African American community. 
Malcolm's death caused a great division that has yet to heal and may never heal, despite the unifying efforts of Farakhan with his Million Man Marches and other efforts.
Perhaps we can understand the Sunni/Shia struggle from this perspective. There are some Blacks who hate other Blacks as a result of the Malcolm X affair more than they hate the white man for all his centuries of evil and wickedness against Blacks. For the US government's role in the Malcolm affairand have no doubt about their involvement, they benefited by divide and conquer, that classic Willie Lynch slave master tricknology.
Sectarian violence in Iraq may continue unabated, for it is beyond civil war, beyond American occupation, but deeply rooted in religiosity, myth and ritual. Even Sunni fear of Shia regional expansion is rooted in Shia eschatology or end time. This is evident in pronouncements from the Shia regime in Iran, boldly determined to pursue a nuclear weapons future and calling for the destruction of Israel, motivated by their belief the time has arrived for Shia geo-political and spiritual domination, and certainly Iraq will play a role in this Shia myth-ritual drama.
This drama has implications far beyond any American notion of installing democracy in Iraq or anywhere else in the region, for people are motivated by mythology and prophecy, political aspirations being secondary. It is their spiritual aspirations that are primary. Shia Iran appears prepared to commit mass suicide challenging the Americans and Europeans over nuclear technology, even though the Iranians have every right to posses the Islamic bomb, just as we have the Jewish bomb and the Christian bomb. I say get rid of all the nuclear weapons or level the playing field as in the wild wild west: let everybody pack.
As per Iraq, it doesn't matter whether the Americans stay or go, they have opened Pandora's box and mean spirits are blowing in the desert winds. Only Allah knows how these issues will be resolved. Perhaps the Sunnis and Shias shall fight until they tire of killing, then reconcile in the manner of Isaiah, "Let us reason together."
Source: Beyond Religion, Toward Spirituality, Black Bird Press, 2007  (c) 2006 by Marvin X (El Muhajir)
*   *   *   *   *
Marvin X has given permission to Harvard University to publish his poem "For El Haji Rasul Taifa" from Love and War: Poems by Marvin X (1995). The poem will appear in The Encyclopedia of Islam in America Volume II, Greenwood Press, edited by Dr. Jocelyne Cesari of Harvard's Islam in the West Program. Mr. X is co-editor of the forthcoming anthology Muslim American Literature, University of Arkansas Press, edited by Dr. Mojah Khaf. He is also in the forthcoming Muslim American Drama, Temple University.
from Chickenbones, posted 19 June 2006

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