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

by Mohja Kahf

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:;
2. Women of Salamiya:
3. Husam Ayash:
4. Hundreds of thousands protest in Syria:
5. On Taysir Alkarim's imprisonment:
6. Khawla Dunia:
7. Catherine Altalli:
8. My first cousin Hanan Lahham leading a protest in Daraya:
9. Freedom Days Syria and the Dignity Strike:
10. Stop the Killing movement of Syria:

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