Syria: Abundance of Images but Absolute Lack of Frame of Thought

Sawt al Niswa


The waves of revolutions in the Arab world have challenged so many assumptions, opinions, political streams and even political structural relations around the world, on macro and micro levels. Some link the revolutions to the same point of origin, some think they are product of global processes and others think they are informed by local political, economic, religious tensions.

The different revolutions that multiplied through specific fertile fields did not produce as much political tensions and radicalizations as did the ongoing Syrian protest against the rule of its dictator.

The case of Syria, like other Arab states, is complicated. Yet, one simplicity of analysis floats on the surface of many political streams. The simplicity of binary thinking, that is a product of long terms imperial and colonial discourses imposed on this region (and others), has been internalized and reproduced by many of the Arab intellectuals to this day.

Here in Palestine, Palestine of 67 or of 48, most political parties used the scenes and stories from the Syrian revolution to show off their commitments to these binary structures. We have political parties (I refuse to mention their names or post links or videos of their positions) that support the revolution against the secularist colour of the Syrian state; others support the revolution hoping for a neoliberal version of Syria, while a third faction voice their support for Bashar al Asad’s regime and celebrate his so claimed “anti-imperialist and anti-Israeli” stand. And some political individuals and groups stand beside the new (I claim neoliberal) constitution. We also have these forms of different political stands on Syria going out to the streets of central cities in Palestine and becoming a mini battle with verbal and physical violence.

The hegemonic narrative is of two camps reduced to two meta-narratives: One envisioning a pro-Islamic anti-Secular, anti-Asad Syria on the one hand and another of the Pro-Asad anti-imperialist Syria persuasion. This division also implies that pro-Islamic is also pro-Imperialism. It also implies that Asadist Syria is actually secular and stripped from religious sectarianism and that Bashar al Asad in specific is good for the Palestinian cause (as a Palestinian, I never could figure out this is the case) against the Israeli and U.S imperialism in the region. The fields of politics between these two camps are absented.

I choose to focus on those who always disappoint first: the Arab intellectuals of the so-called anti-imperialist position.
There is a tendency among many ‘leftists-anti-imperialists-socialists’ in the Arab world (Palestine and Lebanon and obviously in Syria) to believe that what they see on television or hear from the news about Syria is in fact external-Islamists pro-American forces destroying the stability of the socialist regime, of the great Syria that many Arabs are proud of.

This tendency, however, comes only to reaffirm this binary thinking that modernity, and the shadow of modernity that many Arab intellectuals find their comfort-zone in, brought to the world. These are binaries of ideologies that are sustained through sharp swords: that one is either is pro the Asad regime or pro U.S-Imperialism; as if one cannot generously and genuinely be against the cruelty of Asad’s military regime and against imperialist, capitalist or colonial regimes.

To my mind, this is a specific illustration of the way defeated intellectual and political positions inform and are informed by this binary discourse. It is beyond the concept of propaganda. You say ‘Syria’ and you invoke a rich political history of a hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Syria the representative of remaining Arab nationalism and the Moqawama (resistance) to the neighboring Zionist entity. You say ‘Syria’ and you relate to how so many Arab countries are sellouts to U.S imperialist regimes, but forget about the colonization of Iraq.

Yes, Syria represents all that, but its Asadist regime has also sustained a particular level of political oppression that has prevented the news of the massacres from reaching out to the world’s consciousness, and then comes the current slaughtering of thousands people and the bombardment of whole towns and cities.

This binary thinking is not only an ignorant judgment or an uninformed framing of the revolution in Syria, but it is also a defeated frame of thought. It is these internalized sentiments that claim that ‘Arabs cannot handle change’ or that ‘Syrians are not capable of leading a revolution.’

The minority of us, those of us outside Homs, Dar3a, Idlib, Hama and the longer list of all the brave Syrian towns, cities and villages, have a critical complicated humanitarian sense of both sadness and pride at the same time. A sense of honest anti-imperialist ideals as well as anti-Asad propaganda. Even the majority of Palestinians are torn about their support of the revolution in Syria and hesitant to express their full support for the Syrian people, while those same people in Syria have often showed ideological and national solidarity with people in Palestine.

Not surprisingly, being here, in Palestine, I have noticed that it is mostly people with feminist, anti-oppression, critical and freethinking ideologies who have broken this binary of “either one supports the U.S camp or the Asad camp”; they have reached a conclusion that, between Asad’s oppression and U.S imperialism, there is an invisible thin line or a lie. A lie, a hegemonic narrative, that Syria is a rule of heroes, while in fact it is a rule of the defeated hearts. The real heroes are on the fields attending one funeral after the other of men, women, and children. Sometimes whole families are killed by political suffocation.

Once, perhaps, an image was thousands words, it moved people to the streets. Today not even one thousand images can bring words to those who are sadly defeated from inside and to those who have internalized the reaction of silence: a thousand images are worth zero words.

The saying ‎’seeing is believing’ was never really accurate. People come with a frame through which they see the image. This is how you can view an image of a thoroughly bombarded city like Homs, with dead bodied everywhere and tanks invading their own lands, and pro-Asad subjects watching these images or those who are suspicious of the intention of the revolution can say:”it is external forces who have bombarded Homs and killed everyone there”!


We live in an age (perhaps a post First Gulf war age) where we have an abundance of images but an absolute lack of frame-of-thought, of anti-hegemonic thinking that knows that what we see is filtered through many oppressive-political frames.


Sawt al' Niswa



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