Egyptian demonstrators hold a banner reading "From Tahrir to Sol, democracy for all"
My contribution to the International Conference on Non-Violence.
Tunisia, 1-3 November 2012:
Reactions to the Arab Spring and the way strategic powers have tried to profit from changes in the region do not leave much room for trust in governmental support. When we mobilize as citizens, whether it is in Egypt, Syria, Spain or the US, we are questioning the roots of power systems and structures, so it is not very realistic to expect we can go to those same systems and structures for support and solidarity.
We should expect to count on citizen support and solidarity. We have shared this solidarity in a very exciting way, since mobilizations that started in Tunisia spread to other MENA countries and then, with different connotations, to Europe, the US, and the rest of the world. All these movements shared the same hunger for change, for new forms of representation, for a re-definition of the concept “citizenship”.
The differences between demonstrating in a democratic country such as Spain and in openly repressive countries such as Syria or Iran are obvious, and we can all see the repercusions in real-life time. We do share, however, a need for change, a will for change led by young people who do not feel represented by old systems and structures. This can be seen through the new narrative citizens are creating using new media within a context of growing distrust of traditional media.
Even though the common ground is clear and citizen solidarity has helped ignite change throughout the region and the rest of the world, over the last months we have witnessed attempts (media, political) to divide us, to highlight what separates us instead of our bonds and shared values. Some of these attempts to divide us have succeeded.
Syrian activists have seen with great sadness and disappointment how our legitimate reivindications of freedom and justice have been undermined by geostrategic analysis that disregard the repression we have been facing for decades. We have been shocked to discover a so-called “anti-imperialist” discourse that distinguishes between people who have the right to rise against oppression and those who don´t.
Syria has gone from being an information black hole to becoming number one Youtube-video producer in the region. By recording and sharing with the world the events that they are witnessing, Syrians are risking their lives to send an SOS message that no one seems to be listening to, including the ones who have stood against oppression in other cases of human rights abuses. They say the Syrian revolution has gotten contaminated by international interests. Is this our fault? Do Syrians have to deal not only with being bombed, tortured, arrested, displaced, humiliated? Do we also have to be held responsible for attempts by others to profit from our suffering?
Since March 2011 Syrians have been teaching the world a lesson of non-violence. Even though this movement was faced with crackdown by the government and there is now an armed rebellion that emerged months after the beginning of the revolution, non-violence movements and initiatives continue to exist in Syria, facing unprecedented brutality. There are countless examples, the “Stop the killing” movement is just one of them:
Syrian activist Rima Dali holding a "Stop the killing" banner in Damascus
The non-violence movement will continue to lose ground as mainstream media and political agendas focus on geostrategic and military aspects and undermine many Syrian voices on the ground. Syrian voices, MENA citizens´voices, citizen voices all over the world are now easier to reach than they ever were, and yet many continue to look for intermediaries and geostrategic analysis that disregard the Syrian context and dynamics.
1. Let´s listen to citizen voices. To different, diverse citizen voices. Especially to young citizens who are leading movements and changes that the older generations did not see possible. Here are just a few examples of sites and platforms I follow, but there are countless others:
Image from the group of art designers "Syrian people know their way"
2. Let´s silence governments who silence citizens. Governments who kill, torture and silence journalists are not reliable. Let´s not go to them for quotes and insights on how to solve the problems that they created.
3. Language is sensitive. Language contributes to configuring and (de)legitimizing our movements
- Dictator vs. president
- Thugs / Mafia vs. police / authorities
- Assad´s army vs. security forces
- Neo-liberal vs. anti-imperialist
- Human rights abuses vs. sectarianism and hatred
- Revolution vs. civil war
4. Let´s build our own networks
The Internet allows for bonds and interaction that were very difficult until very recently. Let´s use all the tools at our disposal to work together and join efforts. Coordination and citizen bonds have been crucial for revolutions to spread the way they did during 2011.
5. Let´s focus on the universal values our movements stand up for: freedom of expression, social justice, women´s rights, struggle against corruption, non-violence. Let´s not fall into geostrategic traps, let´s run away from the view of the world “in two blocks” (“imperalist” vs. “anti-imperialist”) which does not adjust to our complex and diverse realities. Human rights do not belong to any particular people, group or country, and those who abuse human rights do not either.
Have you heard about Rotation Curation? It is the process of rotating the spokesperson on a social media account. It was originated in December 2011, when a project called Curators of Sweden was launched, handing the official Twitter account @Sweden to a new Swedish person every week. Each person managing the account contributed to manifesting Swedish diversity through their own voice and personality.
I loved this idea when I first heard about it and wished it would spread to different countries and contexts. Now this initiative has reached Syrians and is my turn to manage the collective account @TweetweekSyria. Starting on June 1st, Syrian curators will take turns in managing it, I will be responsible for that during the first week, June 1-7.
After more than a year since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, my personal Twitter account has become mainly devoted to news coming from Syria, where there hasn´t been a single day without a story of tragic death and a story of inspiring courage.
I lived in Damascus in the 80s. I have only returned for vacations since then, but I haven´t forgotten how I went to school dressed in the military uniform children used to wear until very recently. I haven´t forgotten the chants we repeated to honor the leader whom we were taught to view as immortal. I haven´t forgotten the silence and the whispering of adults when children where around. And I will not forget the first time I wrote about Syria, after years writing about everything else and carefully avoiding my father´s country. My country, too. I still have a hard time understanding where Syrians found the courage to break a wall of fear and silence that it took decades to build. My admiration for these people does not fit in a million tweets.
This week the @tweetweeksyria account will be tweeting in Arabic, English and Spanish, probably retweeting in some other (Romanic) languages. Please helps us spread the word about Syrian news so that we can keep attracting more people to the Syrian struggle, which is about freedom, justice and dignity, universal values that we should all defend together. I hope we will soon get to tweet these three words: “Syria is free”.
Meanwhile, here´s the first tweet I will be publishing from the tweetweeksyria account in a few hours:
We will never forget you, Bassel. #Syria #FreeSyria
(From the TweetWeekSyria blog)
Why Tweet Week Syria? #RotationCuration is a very democratic experience at its heart. There might be many reasons why such a program is important to Syrians and Syria in general, but the most important is that since Syrians are at the verge of drastic political and social change, we believe that offering a platform to which many people pay attention (Syrian and global citizens) and many Syrians can use to cast their voices and speak their ideas will hopefully be of tremendous value, through social media channels that are becoming mainstream.
If you’re Syrian and have anything that you’d like to say, or know of anyone who’s ideas you want to be heard, click on Nominate a Curator and submit a nominee.
This week Muslims celebrate the festivity of Eid Al-Adha, that commemorates Abraham´s sacrifice. In this year of revolutions, uprisings and changes, this festivity means even more for Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa. People in Syria, after months of unbearable loss due to the regime´s brutality, do not have much to celebrate. The town of Homs, where the uprisings began, has seen peaceful demonstrators killed every day since mobilizations began, and they continue to struggle against opression while they bury their beloved ones. These days are a great occasion to show them support and solidarity, and we can do that through an awesome campaign organized by a group of Syrian expatriates who encourage people to do this:
1. Dial 0096331, then dial 7 random numbers
2. Say “Happy Eid”, or “Eid Said”, or “Eid Mubarak” + the country where you are calling from
3. If you know Arabic you can definitely say how you feel about Homs and share your best wishes for the town and for Syria. Please don´t mention anything political or that can be used against them.
The campaign is already huge and lines are collapsed sometimes, but I just managed to reach a Homsi home, and a sweet lady answered. I told her I was very proud of Homs and wished them the best. She kept saying “Shukran shukran shukran”.
Here´s an audio of a Saudi man who did the same thing. It´s very touching to hear, and for those who don´t understand Arabic, here´s the translation:
Salam Aleikom/ Aleikum Es-salam / Who´s talking? / This is Mohammad AlMudhem, from Saudi Arabia / Oh, son, you got the wrong number, / Yes, I know, sister. I´m calling you randomly, to tell you just one thing. /Tell me, dear/ We stand with you in solidarity, with all our hearts /God bless you, my son/Listening to you makes me very happy, sorry to disturb you, I just wanted to wish you Happy Eid / God bless you, my son! / Best wishes and I hope you stay safe / Who´s talking again? / This is Mohammad Almudhem / God bless you, best wishes and longest life to you/ But tell me about you, is your family ok? / Yes, we are, thanks so much, God bless you, God bless you!
Follow the event on Facebook and the #CallHoms hashtag on Twitter.
Last week I had the opportunity to take part in a conference with a very challenging title: “Social Media Heroes”.
It was organized by Fundación Telefónica and Aerco, which did an amazing job, providing us with live streaming and simultaneous deaf-mute translation. I admit that I was hesitant about the title in the beginning, but then I realized that I was going to have a unique chance to present a large audience with some very real heroes: the Syrian activists who are risking their lives on a daily basis to make a difference in their country, to bring freedom and justice to a context of institutionalized unjustice and repression.
Syrians are doing an outstanding job trough their use of technology and the Internet to register and share what is happening in one of the most closed and repressive countries in the world. They´re not only working on making change happen but they are also narrating and sharing their own history. In my presentation, “Activism in Syria: the Internet and decentralized communications for social change”
I went through some of the threats activists face, how they protect themselves and the continuing battle between freedom and repression online and offline. Please let me know what you think!