The Syrian Revolution and Global Inaction

(di Estella Carpi*, per Middle East Insights). In the wake of the putative failure of the Syrian political opposition and the debates that this sort of political miscarriage engendered, an element of the international think-tank has insisted further on the need for securing the Syrian state and its “Axis of Resistance” with Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah, in a bid to advocate for Palestinian rights and regional balance.

The world looked to the UN Security Council to take action, but members of the Council, yet again, failed to agree that large-scale systematic violations of human rights committed against its own people by a government intent on maintaining its power was no longer an endogenic matter of state sovereignty. Despite the hype surrounding the “responsibility to protect”, the international community remains substantially inactive when faced with mass atrocities.

Such global inaction has often been disguised by a pool of off-the-cuff news analysts, and the US factual passivity, even in light of current mild UN steps, has not been tackled.

Therein, new illusive rhetoric has stemmed from the split between a geopolitical and a biopolitical approach: the wellbeing of the state and the wellbeing of people seem to be at loggerheads. To secure the former would imply observation and inaction alongside revolutionaries or, in the best of cases, humanitarian action alongside civilians, victims of anti-regime “armed terrorists” and of the rumoured impending “civil war”.

While human security and dignity have not been pursued as aprioristic goals in the political agenda of international players, with the recent armament of rebels and the consequent massacres from both the regime and resistance fighters, everyone apparently now cares for human security in the country.

The security of citizens should be the responsibility of their state. When the state does not play this role, or even menaces the wellbeing of its citizens, the responsibility to protect passes to the so-called international community. This time, however, the need to secure humans for their benefit has not attracted a great deal of policy or humanitarian interest.

The reluctance to intervene in the Syrian crisis also denounces the increasing politicisation of non-state networks of aid and relief: the principle of protecting human security is increasingly used, abused and neglected at will.

In such a frame, political realists who think that the state remains the primary object to be secured are back on the road. Likewise, when contingencies of life and unavoidable risks are not meeting international interests, state sovereignty still prevails on the sentimental effort for transnational governance in a world where the principle of non-interference is largely going awry.

By defining biopolitics as a technology of life that operates at the level of the population and promotes human security, the biopolitical concern has played a controversial role in the security of the Syrian state and the maintenance of the regional balance in a sadly wide landscape of international journalists, pseudo-leftist activists and scholars, who readily plunged into a Syrian Revolution smear campaign. Rather, to guarantee the security of the State, meant as a concomitantly negotiated contract subscribed by its own citizens, would also mean to assure the security of the Syrian population itself, whatever its stance on the Assad regime. The Syrian case, therefore, should shift future research to the collapse of the state-centred/population-centred security dichotomy.

Shockingly, the time of exclusive state sovereignty seems now to have returned. To consider unreliable the Syrian National Council (SNC) has been the official pretext not to delegitimate the current regime and not to declare Syria a de facto “failed state”, as a result of a suddenly enlightened counter-rhetoric around the biased pathologisation of Middle Eastern governments and societies.

In a similar vein, the awkward nature of some alignments with Assad’s regime at the grassroots level has never been explored. The ongoing support for the Assad regime from a sector of the Syrian population has always been considered socially grounded, and never instead been interpreted as a mere panic-stricken attempt to maintain the status quo and kill the transitional germs that would give birth to a series of traumatic changes – necessarily traumatic as in any other dictatorship that has never given space for political opposition and alternative governmental experiences.

As a result of this blurred advocacy for the regime’s solidity, the state is basically invoked in its abstract and ideological construction as a psycho-social reaction to the fearful absence of points of call that the Syrians should face in the case of Assad’s departure. On this purpose, I would not like to presume the intimate will of all Syrians to topple the current regime, in a bid to bring grist to my own ideological mill. That would mean to play the same cringeworthy game as those who considered the Arab conscience – as though it were a single one – incapable of desiring and struggling for democratic change. To presume an understanding of what masses of people really want would be inappropriate for a researcher not-based in Syria (as I currently am), as well as for someone witnessing the current events.

The requests of marginalised and impoverished Syrians, backed by the calls of several Syrian intellectuals and artists, were initially representing the margins. Today, the Assad’s supporters ideologically strive to preserve the centrality of the regime that is inevitably shifting out and that, paradoxically, is emerging as a new margin of the Syrian state. As Talal Asad would say, the “margins” have been pervading the entire state since March 2011 when protests initially flared up, in the sense that the sovereign force of the regime has been expressed throughout the months in its continual attempts to deny the margins themselves.

In a state that has become its own margins, I wonder how the need for securing people’s lives correlates to the need for maintaining the Syrian state as a political entity.

Then, what should be rehabilitated is the authentic technology of protest, that is to say the political, social, and economic claims for change that had been advocated for since the very beginning of the Syrian Revolution.

But once again, humanitarian sentimentalism produced and supported, deconstructed and denied “humans” at will.


* Estella Carpi è studentessa di dottorato presso l’Università di Sydney.