Owing to the fact that the only a very small and select segment of Assad’s speech was covered in the English language press today, I translated some excerpts which didn’t make their way to mainstream media. After a careful reading of the speech, I can see why they excluded these parts, because to include them would be to undermine and discredit the mainstream narrative which depicts Assad as a brutal psychopath who is incapable of rational and meaningful discourse, let alone intellectual nuances. In fact, the Syrian leader made some very compelling arguments on a number of points, even engaging in conceptual deconstruction— a semantic exercise which, given the extent of western and Arab information warfare against the regime, is viewed by him as the first step to finding a resolution to the conflict. Assad is clearly aware of the importance of resisting discursive imperialism, which has played a huge role in this battle. In layman’s terms: lets start speaking the same language at least if we have any hope of solving this crisis.
Here is the full length speech in Arabic for all those interested: http://www.sana.sy/ara/2/2012/06/03/423121.htm
Translated excerpts below with my commentary in bold.
Not distinguishing between terrorism and the political process is a grave error which legitimizes terrorism…distinguishing between them is essential for understanding how to proceed [with the crisis].
This is a very valid point because the mainstream media and the “international” community commonly conflate the regime’s fight against terrorism, which is otherwise known as the “armed opposition”, with its reform process. In other words, its war against the terrorists is depicted a generic regime violence which targets unarmed protestors and which hence, undermines and negates any reforms it may have enacted. The implicit suggestion is that the regime should end its violence, i.e. its war against the terrorists
Much has been said about the political solution since the beginning of the crisis and there are those who talk of a political solution and other points or details related to it but until now, not one of them has suggested what is the relationship between a political solution and the terrorism which has dominated [the scene] since the beginning of the crisis…Will dialogue and a political solution stop the terrorist from doing what he has been doing until now? And did this terrorist decapitate heads and commit all kinds of heinous terror because there are two sides in Syria who are in a disagreement with each other? And does this mean that once we engage dialogue and agree on a political solution, the terrorist will say the reasons [for the terrorism] are now gone and I will abandon my terrorism?…this is illogical.
Obviously, the purpose of this passage is not to justify the absence of a compromise between both sides, but rather, to justify the regime’s need to continue with its policy of rooting out the terrorists who are committing a large portion of the insurrectionist violence, as well as those who are working with outside powers to transform Syria into a new Bengazi. It is his response to those who argue that a political solution alone would suffice to end the violence and civil war gripping Syria. Assad is emphasizing that the solution not only has a political dimension, but a security one as well.
We know that we are not facing a political problem because had we been faced with a mere political problem a side/party would have proposed a political or economic program and which we would then have responded to with a political or economic program of our own and in fact, this is what we did despite knowing from day one that the problem isn’t a political one. What we are facing is civil strife and destruction of the nation and terrorism is its tool.
We are facing a real war waged from the outside, and wars are dealt with differently from internal disputes.
Terrorism isn’t related to the political process; it is a separate phenomenon and its treatment is different. It doesn’t conform to any of the aforementioned criteria. We need to combat terrorism in order to cure the nation. As such, there should be no appeasement with it [terrorism]or with those who sponsor it, and none, save those who abandon it, should be forgiven. We will remain steadfast in our fight against terrorism while leaving the door open to all those who abandon it, provided their hands are not tainted with blood. Thousands of those implicated in bearing arms have been questioned and the state forgave them.
After talking about the political process, what is the political solution? The process itself won’t resolve the current crisis and won’t reduce terrorism. The political solution is something which is more comprehensive than mere laws and a constitution, and it is tied to all the underlying causes which led to this crisis, and which permitted foreigners—if we assume that we can count so-called “Arabs” as foreigners—to interfere in internal Syrian affairs… We need a political solution for all these things and all the legislation we passed can help in this but only up to a point. The political solution doesn’t start with laws, or with the constitution, or with any of these measures, but with [addressing] flawed concepts which we hadn’t taken note of before, but which must be dealt with at this stage.
Here, Assad is making a very important distinction between the political process and a political solution, contending that the two are not synonymous, and that the latter requires more than just reforms. Thus, although the solution is by definition political, it isn’t merely procedural. As before, the insinuation here is that a political solution is also in part, a security solution which addresses the underlying causes of the conflict—namely, outside intervention.
The political solution begins by distinguishing between a difference of opinion which is enriching, and a difference over the nation, which means destruction. Pluralism doesn’t mean fighting and clashes, but rather, complementing [one another] without being homogenous. Pluralism is an intellectual state before it is a political one, whereby we accept ideas which contradict our own, provided they don’t violate national interests and national peace. The solution begins when we understand that in firmly rooted nations faced with crisis situations, differences are resolved to the nation’s benefit. And the matter at hand is [judged as] either for or against the nation, not, for or against the regime and state. When priorities are based on the national interest and not on personal emotions, and when we base our debates on the distinction between opinion and truth, between aspirations and reality, and understand the relationship between ideologies and interests, we will realise that tactics which aren’t guided by a strategy are doomed to fail.
Some confuse between opposing state policies or specific officials’ behaviour, and opposing the nation. And this has happened in many cases and there also people who distinguished between the two cases, and there are also people who participated in supportive [of the regime] rallies which we saw quite a lot of and these are people who don’t support the state’s policies and they oppose many public officials’ behaviour but they are nationalists who know how to distinguish between the two, and they took to the streets to support the nation…
Did the millions of these Syrians who took to the streets [in loyalist rallies], do so because they support the mistakes? Or because they oppose freedom? Or because they support corruption and bribery? Knowing that these millions are those who are most affected by these mistakes and most opposed to such mistakes, and yet, they knew this wasn’t the appropriate time to talk about such matters and they knew that the aim [of the opposition and its foreign backers] was to replace these mistakes with huge catastrophes.
National greyness is no longer acceptable. In my previous speech…I spoke about how grey is no longer acceptable, and some accused me of eliminating other colours in the spectrum, that there was only black or white. The truth is, these people don’t distinguish between political greyness and national greyness. When there are parties and political currents and political figures who are in a state of disagreement or competition, I can afford to stand in the grey zone, I don’t have be with the first or second or third side…But, when the issue is a national one, and the problem is between my nation and another nation, I am automatically on my nation’s side, otherwise I am a traitor.
Here, Assad is basically equating Third Wayism with treason.
[On who was behind the Houla massacre] In such cases, the most basic question one asks is who stands to benefit and would the state and those who support it [i.e. shabeeha] take this action on the eve of Kofi Annan’s visit ? And we know who wants Anan’s plan and visit to be a failure. Did the state and those who support it take such action to subject itself to even more hostility from the Security Council’s members? This is illogical..
The crisis isn’t an internal crisis, it is a foreign war which is being waged with internal tools
There is a new, and quite plausible, alternative narrative that has emerged these past two days which describes the Houla massacre as Alawite retaliation for an earlier massacre committed by armed Sunni oppositionists against the Alawite village of al-Shoumariyeh. According to many unconfirmed reports, vengeful and armed villagers and /or shabiha retaliated for the massacre by butchering villagers from the neighbouring village of Houla. Apparently, the artillery rounds the Syrian army fired at rebel-controlled Houla was an attempt to end the bloodshed in Shamariyeh, or something to that effect. How the perpetrators of the massacre entered a rebel stronghold and executed such a large massacre unimpeded remains to be seen.
Although some claim the al-Shoumariyeh massacre occurred after the Houla massacre, the Syrian news agency, SANA, reports that “foreign-funded armed terrorist groups” committed massacres in al-Shoumariyeh and Taldao on Friday, 25 May, at 2:00 p.m. Considering that the Houla massacre is widely reported to have commenced around 3 p.m. that same day, it does appear that the Houla massacre occurred after the first two, or around the same time. None of this confirms the new narrative, but it doesn’t undermine it either.
While the details are still very murky, the UN seems to have caught on to this story, or some related version thereof, as its -peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous recently declared ”There is strong suspicion that the Shabiha were involved in this tragedy in Houla.” Russia has given its blessing to a UN investigation into the incident.
Like any of the narratives about the Houla massacre, the above story has not been substantiated by any evidence, least of all the dominant narrative which places the blame squarely on the Syrian regime. I only chose to comment on this alternative narrative because I deemed it more plausible than the latter, and hence, worthy of commentary, but it remains a narrative not a fact. I don’t necessarily deem it the most probable explanation for what happened in Houla on May 25, given how much the massacre served US-NATO-GCC interests. What I am arguing here though, is that even if we assume that this Alawite revenge narrative is true, that should not implicate the Syrian regime in the massacre.
I wrote a short post a few days ago on why I thought it highly unlikely the “regime” would commit an atrocity like this. I still stand by my analysis, despite the materialization of this new narrative. When I said regime, I actually meant the Syrian army, as all fingers were initially pointed at it. I didn’t/ still don’t think it makes any sense for a conventional armed force with a clear chain of command to subject itself to charges of war crimes—which is much easier to make when there is a clear-cut organizational hierarchy and hence, accountability, not to mention potential refusniks and defectors given the heinous nature of the crime— in a context of overwhelming international pressure and when the entire world is watching every move and mismove it makes. While I am aware that the shabiha constitute the state’s “unofficial” arm, (some compare it to Iran’s basij), I still deem it highly improbable that the Assad leadership would order shabiha to carry out a killing rampage on its behalf in a Sunni village it had already shelled, for the same reasons I outlined in my earlier post: it stands everything to lose and nothing to gain. And no, the “gain” of terrorizing the villagers and rebels into submission (assuming that is even an effective method of reasserting control) just doesn’t outweigh all the risks that accompany such a tactic. It is much more probable, that these armed elements acted out of revenge of their own accord, as revenge massacres often are.
As for the argument by opposition supporters and others, which regards the regime as being ultimately responsible for all violence, irrespective of its source, the fact remains that this is a government which no longer has full control of its territory, or a monopoly on the use of violence. Indeed, it is precisely for this reason that it’s trying to retrieve sovereignty over its land by the force of arms, and in so doing, exposing itself to often unfounded accusations of wide-scale repression, killing and war crimes. At the end of the day, what we have in Syria is a situation characterized by sectarian warfare, armed insurrection, al-Qaeda terrorism and blatant NATO-GCC intervention —hardly the ingredients of a strong centralized government which can be held to account for every act of violence that takes place on Syrian soil.
One can only wait for an impartial and objective inquiry before jumping to make predetermined conclusions which only serve the agenda of those pushing for a NATO invasion of Syria. So much political capital is being made out of this inconceivably evil massacre: Both France and the US have now expressed their willingness for military intervention in Syria as a result of this atrocity, which Kofi Annan has rightly labelled it a “tipping point” in the conflict. Uncovering the perpetrators is therefore imperative not only for justice to be served but also for averting a wider regional war.