Radical optimism: dedicated to the soul of Choukri Belaid

Does our deep desire to attain the goals of the revolution, blind us to reality and to the process that is unfolding?

Some of us seek to avoid all feelings of doubt, being cautious with regard to the rising impact of extremist religious trends on the political horizon of the Syrian revolution. Those who take such a stance are usually secularists, and in particular, leftists. Such hopes have offered relief to many as they follow developments. Rational commentators have steered clear of statements which raise the alarm about events occurring every day on the ground. Analysts have preferred to rely on the social sciences, staying away from fashionable ideologies, or pre-existing prejudices. 

The notion of ‘the postponement of stages’ has thus steadily gained ground in the Syrian arena, and intellectuals supporting the revolution have consistently avoided, except very occasionally, criticising evident violations of our revolution. Quite justified apprehension of a future jeopardised by those whose ideologies exclude people not of their faith, has been set to one side. These rational fears question the wisdom of trying to combine those who support a revolution for freedom and dignity with those who oppose it on the grounds of piety or exaggerated manifestations of religious belief.

Almost two years into the journey of the Syrian revolution, we have closely examined parallel experiences of the rise of violence claiming a misplaced religious legitimacy taking place both in Tunisia and in Egypt. After hearing numerous accounts of particular practices in “liberated” Syrian areas that have come under the domination of a certain colour of ideology, a legitimate if simple question presents itself: are we to continue avoiding addressing these issues in a rational and unsensational manner, open to all the different reports and perspectives that may be brought before us in support of the revolution?

Are we supposed to stand by; observing, delaying, being indulgent, permissive and understanding of these stances? Should we defend seekers of darkness in Afghanistan, youth pirates in Somalia and those who burn manuscripts and demolish shrines in Mali? Does our traditional and justified hostility towards colonial forces, “Western and imperial” permit our partial support for those who mercilessly exploit heaven and terrorise innocent victims on earth? Does our deep desire to attain the goals of the revolution, blind us to reality and to the process that is unfolding?

This is an invitation to all to face the mirror of truth and to interrogate it without evasion. We need to understand the hidden cultural aspects of these phenomena and their social bearing upon the fabric of societies renowned (or so we imagined) for their moderation, harmony and tolerance.  These values should not be neglected in the belief that each fresh situation must be given its circumstancial benefit of the doubt and that we should support those who distrust or openly oppose the Syrian revolution.  

A reality that has nearly become clear is in place and bringing together the fragments of this reality will help us. Today, intellectuals of all schools of thought and especially those of Islamic belief need to come up with ideas that are accessible, analytical, critical and not based on endless self-justification.

We have lived through decades of self-justification and delay. And through our silence have killed many, from Farag Fouda to Choukri Belaid.

About the author

Salam Kawakibi is deputy director of the Arab Reform Initiative

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