An anarchist traveller’s perspective on Syria

Link to the video:

In this video, I abolish all pretention of objectivity and take a look at the conflict in Syria from my own point of view. Additionally, I reflect on the lecture I gave on Thursday 3 May. It turned out to be a pretty tense evening, for I received a fair amount of criticism, some of which I incorporated in this video. Normally I was supposed to put the video of the presentation online, but due to technical difficulties I only got the last five minutes of the lecture and the discussion round.

Below are the full transcript and sources of this video.

Hi, I am Bas, a 22-year-old Belgian student Arabic studies, but, more importantly, an anarchist. This means that I detest the fact that governments rule over people, and that I strife for an alternative world where individuals interact on a voluntary basis. In my opinion, a stateless society is not only possible, it is our only moral option because government by nature violates the non-aggression principle for it is built on the use and threat of violence.

Between Friday 6 and Sunday 15 April, I travelled to Syria – specifically to the government-held cities of Damascus, Homs and Tartous. I was there during the last bombings and the subsequent victory of the Syrian army in eastern Ghouta; during the alleged chemical attack, which we by now know almost certainly for a fact was a hoax;[1] and during the bombings of Syrian targets by Israel, the US, Britain and France. Although I talked to so many people of all stripes and colours, perhaps I can describe my travel experience best in this one little anecdote.

As the breaking news of the peace agreement between the Syrian government and Jaysh al-Islam, the last remaining rebel group in eastern Ghouta, started pouring in, I was having a very interesting conversation with a Christian who makes handcraft Arab oud instruments in his tiny shop in one of Damascus’ countless souks. Among other things, he told me a story about a group of French journalists visiting his souk once upon a time. Because it was some sort of holiday, Christian and Muslim shop keepers gathered to talk and have breakfast together on the street. The French journalists accepted their kind offer to join them, but one of them had a rather strange look on his face. Asking him about his facial expression, the shop owner was told by the journalist that something like that would never happen in his home country, especially not between people of different faith. Indeed, what is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear “Syria” here in the West? Violence, conflict, tension and division. Yet, almost everyone I talked to stressed how tolerant they are towards people of other faith, and how they, above anything else, want to uphold Syria’s secular society. Indeed, Syria has always been a cultural mosaic of countless religions and ethnicities, which for the most part have lived together in peace with each other throughout history. Syrian people were just so imaginable kind and friendly, and although it would be cartoonish to say that they agree on everything, they seem to respect one another more than people do in the streets of Brussels. This made me wonder, to what extent is this really a “civil war,” and how did this all happen?

It is out of question that the government Bashar al-Assad inherited from his father in 2000 was very undemocratic and repressive. Similar to Nasser’s Egypt and post-Islamic Revolution Iran, however, authoritarian governance did not come suddenly out of nowhere. Rather, in Syria, just like in Egypt and Iran, anti-Western regimes came to power as a direct result of neo-colonialism, whereby large segments of the Middle Eastern population chose giving up freedom to strong anti-Western repressive states over rule under American puppet-governments like Saudi Arabia or the pre-Islamic revolution Iran of the shah. In 1946, Syria became an independent state overseen by a government which had been democratically elected in 1943 after the French, who had bombed Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama the year before, were finally kicked out. As the US took over from the Europeans as the dominant Western power in the Middle East, it did everything in its power to rail against Syria’s democratic beginnings and President Shukri al-Quwatli. The CIA engineered Quwalti’s overthrow in 1949 and backed the military dictatorships of Husni al-Za’im and Adib Shishakli. After Quwatli’s return from exile and re-election in 1955, the CIA planned but shortly before execution aborted two more coups in 1956 and 1957.[2]

This aggressive interference, along with unconditional Western support for Israel, pushed Syrian army officials and other elites more and more towards the Soviet Union. Finally, this artificially imposed political turmoil resulted in the coming to power of the Ba’ath Party in the 1960s and the coup of Hafez al-Assad in 1970, who legitimised his vigilant police state on very real threats coming from outside. Not only was there regular war and tension with Israel, numerous declassified documents and admissions from officials have revealed a steady pattern of attempts at regime change. When Hafez died, his son Bashar al-Assad was effectively conscripted to the presidency by the ruling Ba’ath Party. In contrast to the one-sided media image of a ruthless dictatorship, Syria’s political landscape before 2011 was way more complex. Assad did score low on fighting corruption and the repressive one-party state, but his foreign policy, secular rule and attention to women rights were a hit not only among Syrians but Arabs in general, as evidenced in him being chosen “personality of the year” by CNN’s Arabic readers in 2009. The limited opening up to political reform that Assad allowed resulted in the 2005 Damascus Declaration, in which oppositional elements across the whole of Syria’s political spectrum censored the “authoritarian, totalitarian and cliquish regime” but at the same time rejected “change that is brought in from outside.”[3] Yet, while massive demonstrations in Tunis and Egypt let to the overthrow of Ben Ali and Mubarak in January and February 2011, a Time magazine reporter in Damascus observed that there were no widespread protests so far, because, according to her, “even critics concede that Assad is popular and considered close to the country’s huge youth cohort.”

If the so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings were not an enough trigger for mass mobilisation in Syria, what was? Well, instead of in the country’s largest cities, the first protests happened in mid-March in the regional town of Dara’a near the Jordanian border in the south. While most Western media publications quoted unnamed “witnesses” and “activists” as saying that security forces brutally cracked down on peaceful demonstrations, Lebanese and Israeli media reported that while four protesters had been killed, seven police officers were killed as well by violent factions embedded with the revolts. Additionally, several reports observed rooftop snipers targeting both civilians and police, which is a modus operandi for triggering organised chaos that has been exposed in other suspicious events, such as the 1982 US-backed Muslim Brotherhood insurgency in Hama and the 2014 Maiden square demonstrations in Kiev.[4] The fact that the Dara’a revolt was engineered from outside, finally, was confirmed in retrospect by Saudi official Anwar al-Eshki, who told BBC television in 2012 that his government had sent weapons to the al-Omari mosque in Dara’a before all hell broke loose in the town.

The events in Dara’a, contrary to the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, did eventually trigger anti-government protests all over Syria. Mainstream accounts of these uprisings claim that the Syrian people massively rose up against the “quasi-dictatorial” regime, which cracked down on the peaceful demonstrators with an iron fist. Although this is definitely true to a certain extent, this narrative fails to take into account two very important caveats: 1) the fact that a significant part of the violence was perpetrated by armed insurgents, thus shattering the myth of an entirely peaceful revolution; and 2) the fact that massive pro-government rallies in reaction to the turmoil at least equalled, but likely surpassed, the amount of protesters in anti-government demonstrations. At the same time, Western and Gulf mass media ignored opposition groups who protested the government as well as foreign involvement, such as the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change in Syria and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, the latter which is Syria’s second largest secular party.[5] Rather than giving a voice to Syria’s real political opposition, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia began to fund, train and arm radical Islamists while western media covered up their acts of terrorism. As a result, when the CIA began backing anti-government militants in 2012, “moderate rebels” that it had trained, funded and armed went on to eat the heart of a dead soldier, torture and execute detainees, destroy and desecrate holy sites, sing songs praising Osama bin Laden and praising the 9/11 attacks, behead a 12-year-old Palestinian boy on camera and join ISIS.

To me, this does not look like the “revolution” we are told to believe led to the now over seven years old “civil war.” Rather, it smells like a foreign conspiracy, which was acknowledged last year by former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad al-Thani, who told both American and Qatari television that the US, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey, Jordan and other allies conspired to overthrow Assad from the very beginning of the revolts.

This was my conclusion at the end of a presentation I gave here in Belgium about a week ago. In it, I talked about the propaganda and false flags that foster the devastating war, public opinion inside Syria and the horrifying testimonies civilians from Eastern Ghouta told me personally. Although I did mention some of the human rights violations on part of the Syrian government at the end and underscored that the lecture was not in any way, shape or form an apology for Assad, some Syrian refugees nonetheless interpreted it as promotion for Assad and said that I focused too much on one side of the conflict. Although I want to emphasise that the former is really not my intention, perhaps the latter partially holds true. It was – and is – not my intention, however, to provide you with the truth. On the contrary, I invite you to do your own research and follow the link to the transcript and sources of this video so that you can make up your own mind.

It is definitely true that the Syrian government has used excessive violence against protestors, and that it imprisons and tortures activists. Yet, when the US contracted war of terror suspects out to Syria be to be tortured before the war, nobody batted an eye. There is also considerable evidence that the government did its own part in intentionally radicalising the insurgency, because it released jihadis from jail following the first months of revolts who went on to play leading roles in the formation of Jaysh al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham, Jabhat al-Nusrah and ISIS. According to an anonymous former Syrian intelligence official, who, it should be noted, favours Assad over the Islamist militants, this was a deliberate policy in order to Islamise the uprising and thus delegitimise dissent.

This shows that there is really no good side in this war. The tragedy is that Syrians are often forced to choose between the lesser of two evils, and in my opinion, this is not their – but our – fault. The more our Western governments intervene in Syria – whether directly, through proxy or even by humanitarian rhetoric – the more most Syrians will interpret these actions as aggression against their freedom and dignity. Although many do want more political freedom and less repressive government, the threat posed by the armed opposition – whether the not-so-moderate “moderate rebels,” al-Qaeda or ISIS; whose rise are all a result of Western imperialism if not direct arming, training and funding by the West and its allies – pushes most Syrian to gravitate not away from but towards the government. This is why the Syrian government is relatively popular, and a significant part of the Syrian population see Assad as a symbol of resistance. Similarly, this is why Hezbollah and Hamas have come into existence to deter Zionist aggression. This is why the most powerful empire the world has probably ever known is unable to wipe out the Taliban despite what is now its longest foreign war ever. This is why Iran’s theocratic government is able to survive and why it came to be in the first place. This is why a government such as that of North Korea is still standing. And, finally, this is why such a large part of the Russian population stands behind Putin. All these regimes can only survive and thrive not in spite of but because of Western intervention and empire. Whether we see through the propaganda of our own political overlords or not, the inhabitants of these countries understand that foreign intervention, however disguised, will lead to their subordination and enslavement.

But what do we do? We keep voting, thereby perpetuating the cycle of war and the believe in statism. Thus, the blood is on our hands.


[1] Iranian, Russian (see also here) and Syrian reporters were on the scene and have talked to victims, residents, witnesses and medical personnel who were present during the so-called attack, whom all confirm that the White Helmets staged the performance and that there was no chemical attack. Most notably, Syrian TV channel al-Ikhbariyya talked to 13 health workers, including eight doctors and three nurses, who worked at the makeshift hospital, and Russian and Syrian officials flew 17 eyewitnesses, including medical personnel and an 11-year-old boy prominently featured in the White Helmets video, to the Netherlands to testify at an OPCW press conference. One could argue that these news networks are biased, and that is definitely true. Yet, Western reporters have also visited the site of the alleged chemical attack in Douma and have come to similar, though more carefully constructed, solutions. This includes a lengthy report by One American News, a conservative rather pro-Trump TV channel; Robert Fisk, certainly one of Britain’s most respected Middle East correspondents; and a group of reporters from Agence France Press.

[2] Douglas Little, “Cold War and covert action: the United States and Syria, 1945-1958,” Middle East Journal 44, no. 1 (1990), 51-75.

[3] Tim Anderson, The dirty war on Syria: Washington, regime change and resistance (Montréal: Global Research, 2016), 25-6.

[4] Michel Chossudovsky, “Six years ago: the US-NATO-Israel sponsored al Qaeda insurgency in Syria. Who was behind the 2011 ‘protest movement’?”, Global Research, 09.03.2017,; James Corbett, “Dallas ambush follows pattern of provacateured false flags,” Corbett Report, 07.08.2016,; Anderson, The dirty war on Syria, 18.

[5] Anderson, The dirty war on Syria, 27-9.

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