The Boston Review has just published a major interview with activist & intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh by Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi, co-editors of The Syria Dilemma. Yassin al-Haj Saleh is often called the conscience of the Syrian revolution. Born in Raqqa in 1961, he was arrested in 1980, while a medical student in Aleppo, and imprisoned for his membership in a left-wing organization. He remained a political prisoner until 1996, spending the last of his sixteen years behind bars in the notorious desert-prison of Tadmur (Palmyra). Below, two extracts from the interview, which you can & should read in its totality here.
1.[In response to the statement that “for many in the West, the situation in Syria looks very confusing.] …I find it confusing that many people in the West find our situation in Syria confusing. Is it a matter of information and knowledge? I tend to think that it is a matter of politics. Confusion could be a function of a certain position toward our struggle: inaction, which in my opinion is the worst kind of action, not from our perspective as Syrians but also from a regional and international perspective, not to mention humanity and human solidarity with the oppressed.
Sectarian differences? What a subtle analysis! When an armed structure uses the supposedly national army, media organs, and resources to kill its own people when they oppose its tyrannical rule—this can hardly be considered a sectarian conflict. We’re not talking about just any structure—we’re talking about the repressive state apparatus of the Assad regime. It thus becomes absurd to explain the Syrian struggle in sectarian terms. To the best of my best knowledge, states are not sects, are they?
I am by no means turning a blind eye toward sectarian tensions and conflicts in Syrian society. Many writers, myself included, have written about sectarianism in Syria. My main conclusion is that sects are politically manufactured entities, and sectarianism is a political tool for controlling people, a strategy for political domination. It certainly is not a matter of social “differences” but rather a method for guarding social privileges and transforming a struggle against tyranny and manipulation into sectarian strife, a fitna. The word fitna has religious echoes about it, and it is remarkable that the ‘secular’ Bashar Assad used it sixteen times in his first speech after the beginning of the revolution on March 30, 2011.
2. [On the various extremisms rampant in Syria]. The general social law in Syria for the last three years, and indeed during the whole nightmarish Assadist decades, has been that extremism nurtures extremism. It is vital for the country that the source of extremism is dried up: the fascist regime has a whole complex industry of killing its wretched people, and the whole world now knows after the leakof 55,000 photos of 11,000 brutally tortured bodies. Sending this thuggish junta to the dungeon of history will be the first step towards the country’s recuperation. Only then can there be a dynamic of moderation and inclusion, leading to the isolation the most extremist groups. No moderation is possible in Syria without justice for the Syrian people. The relation between the concepts ‘moderation’ and ‘justice’ is clear in Arabic: The word I’tidal(moderation) is derived from Adl (justice); accordingly, injustices foster extremism.
What internationalist parties all over the world need to know is that there is nothing progressive or anti-imperialist or secular about the regime. It is a fascist regime, a deeply sectarian and deeply corrupt junta that is prepared to commit every crime to stay in power. In an interview on the day the Geneva II meetings began, an anchor from Sky News asked Assad adviser Buthaina Shaaban about the 11,000 killed in the regime’s factories of death. Her answer was: “And what about the fate of the Christians? Don’t you care about the fate of Christians? Do you know that eleven nuns are still kidnapped?” This is representative of the mindset of the regime. Commenting on the chemical massacre of August 21 in Eastern Ghouta, Shaaban said that those killed were children from coastal villages (meaning: Alawis) kidnapped, brought to al Ghouta, and gassed! Even the French colonialism that dominated Syria between the two world wars was not as efficient in its divide and conquer policy as the regime is.
It is also clear that the imperial powers are doing their best not to cause the regime to fall, or even to weaken it. Actually they’ve done exactly the opposite: they have not helped the Free Syrian Army or the Syrian National Council in establishing no fly zones and safe zones, which those groups have asked for since the autumn of 2011. Not a single Stinger missile was acquired by the FSA, though the regime has been using its jet fighters for more than eighteen months now.