On the Necessity of Lasting Antagonism:
“Terror is not the same as violence; it is, rather, the form of government that comes into being when violence, having destroyed all power [between people], does not abdicate, but, on the contrary, remains in complete control.”– Hannah Arendt
Accompanied by the euphoric cheering of the civilians present, the fireball above the sky of Idlib seemed like the fulfillment of a long-awaited prophecy.1.“Syrian government helicopter downed as its troops take strategic highway
The regime’s response did not last long, claiming 13 lives and resulting in dozens of injured civilians in an attack on a marketplace in Idlib city.9.https://twitter.com/1962Wren/status/1227204637696122881?s=20 Meanwhile, the death of the helicopter crew was mourned by loyalists in the usual heroic manner, with social media thanking them for their martyrdom on behalf of the humble fatherlan
At this point, it is of less value to compare the acts of violence committed by actors in a war in which the opponents “declare themselves as a whole to be criminal and inhuman“14.Schmitt, Carl 2002: Der Begriff des Politischen, Berlin, pp. 94-95.,
The Banality of Evil
In order to make sense of the joyful cheering of the crowd,15.https://twitter.com/Ahmad1618A/status/1228346320106205184 it is necessary to understand the role of this war machine as the full expression of the despot’s rule of violence. Assad’s helicopters are the transmitters of precisely those dreaded barrels which, in addition to rusty shrapnel16.https://twitter.com/SyriaCivilDef/status/1199783076576055296?s=2017.https://twitter.com/QalaatAlMudiq/status/1161205580654100481?s=20 can also contain toxic gas when its usage offers a minor strategic advantage.18.Kasapoğlu, Can. “Barrel bombs in the Syrian civil war: A
In this context, the motivation of those pilots becomes the decisive factor, as on a daily basis they reaffirm their patriotic duty in the fight against terrorism by dropping their deadly cargo aimlessly over the densely populated cities of the rebellious areas. Such a task requires a certain amount of subjectivisation, which allows the pilot to distort his perception of his targets in such a way that he can interpret the ubiquitous information about the extent of his actions on the Internet as the intentional propaganda of the enemy or as a legal act against evil.21.https://twitter.com/Ahmad1618A/status/1157082698395148288
One could argue that this patriotic commitment is a response in accordance with the iron logic of totalitarian statehood, where the one who executes violence today could be the one who faces the same violence tomorrow.22.Arendt, Hannah 1955: ” Elemente und Ursprünge Totaler Herrschaft”, Frankfurt, pp. 73823.https://twitter.com/putintintin1/status/1194343207754174471?s=20 However, the social media presence of one pilot shows that he has already been socialised to the form of reason expected from the political system that understands violence as a modality of governance.24.https://twitter.com/Mr_Alhamdo/status/1227224988891197442?s=2025. https://twitter.com/IsraHazel/status/1227238910230556672?s=20 Through this modality, the regime defines its relationship with the citizen primarily through irrevocable authority, which is sanctioned with physical and psychological violence in case of non-compliance.26.Ismail, Salwa 2018: “The Rule of Violence: Subjectivity, Memory, and Government in Syria”, New York, pp. 1-2
It may be impossible to fully grasp the true motives of these
Social Segregation: The Wellspring of Tyranny
According to the political theorist Hannah Arendt, the essence of a totalitarian state is based on the combination of an existential fear of an omnipresent enemy and a fateful abandonment of the individual. In the face of this threat, the all-pervading logic of totalitarian rule functions as a haven of hope, in which “the dictator prepares his followers for the
The breeding ground for Syria’s totalitarian mentality begins with the “weaponisation of group identities”, which has become an inherent part of political identity under Assad’s rule.29.“Assad’s “eternal rule”: the long prelude to genocide”: Crisis Magazine Corresponding to the insights of Yassin
An artificial social fabric based on
The alienation of its citizens is at the heart of the regime’s decomposition strategy, in which sectarian identity is manipulated to create social asymmetry.34.ETANA Syria. “Manufacturing Division: The Assad Regime and Minorities in South-West Syria” Publication by Middle East Institut (March 2020) The paradox of this identity politics is that affiliation to a sect is not synonymous with a better position in the power hierarchy. Belonging to a sect is meaningless for the ruling clan as long as it is not linked to a political demand and leaves the asymmetry in the institutions of power untouched.
An experience made by all those Alawites who are forbidden to be part of a patronage network and are therefore excluded from the wealth of their elite.35.Nakash, Aziz. “The Alawite Dilemma in Homs: Survival, Solidarity and the Making of a Community” Publication by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (March 2013) pp. 3-836.Al-Haj Salih, Yassin. “The Syrian Shabiha and Their State – Statehood & Participation” Publication by Heinrich Boell Stiftung (March 2014) By binding the survival of Alawite identity to the eternal rule of the al-Kallasieh clan,37.“Not Alright with Syria’s Alawites” : The Washington Institute the ruling family condemns the whole community to an endorsement of its kleptocratic nature.
The State of Nature: Assad’s Spiritual Basis of Violence
Drawn as the guardian of Syrian secularism, the family’s state power built its authoritarian claim to validity on a fear of a religious war between Syria’s minorities and the tyranny of the Sunni majority. An imagination of horror, which was supplemented by the events of Hama in 1982 with the discursive metaphors of the war against religious terror, still serves as a mantra for the belligerent subject of today.38.“Republic of Violence” : al-Jumhuriya
But the wrath of the despot should first be directed against those who consider themselves the democratic heirs of his secular reign.39.Khatib, Line 2018: Tutelary authoritarianism and the shifts between, secularism and Islam in Syria, in: The Syrian uprising: Domestic origins and early trajectory, (Edit.) Raymond Hinnebusch/Omar Imady, New York, pp. 101 A campaign of annihilation against the most reasonable opponents of his rule, which accelerates the realization of the ominous prophecy of his cult. Unaffected by this purge, those rough figures remained, who make state intervention appear as an act of moral necessity. A morality in which the individual’s choice against the existential uncertainty under Assad is already a mortal sin.40.https://twitter.com/Mosa13Mosa/status/1227211445462618112?s=20
Terrorism: From Ideology to an End in Itself
To understand terror in Syria, one will not be able to avoid understanding its complexity. The use of terrorist violence by the state leads to terrorist violence by those who can no longer identify themselves as part of any state. This is a causality that the Assad regime has regularly used in recent decades to enforce its state interests from Iraq to Lebanon.41.“Evolution of an Insurgency” – Foreign Affairs In the face of the regime’s crisis of legitimacy, terrorism was less a problem than a solution to its struggle for survival. This pattern is reflected in the strategic utilisation of the military positions of religious fanatics on numerous occasions, as well as in the arbitrary use of the concept of terrorism as a denunciation against all those who dared to question the relations of domination.42.Becker, Michael. “When Terrorists and Target Governments Cooperate : the Case of Syria” in: Perspectives on Terrorism, Vol. 9, Issue 1 (2015)43.“Assad’s strategic use of ISIL made his victory in Syria possible” – al-Jazeera (opinion)44.“How the Assad regime has exploited “evacuation deals” to redirect ISIS against the rebels” – New States Man45.“”War on Terror” Rhetoric is being used to justify the killing of Syrians” – Truthout (Opinion) The Assad regime’s legitimacy as the guardian of secularism is based on claims of natural and historical origin: a collective destiny as an unequal community of sects, whose cohesion depends on human intervention and thus obtains the character of social necessity that must be realised by violence if necessary.46.Arendt, Hannah 1955: “Elemente und Ursprünge Totaler Herrschaft”, Frankfurt, pp. 733-735
The practice of terror, therefore, adopts the constant execution of the laws of natural and historical processes that drive this form of social destiny. The irrefutable nature of this social vision is also the basis for the distinction between friend and foe. Recalling the fact that the caliphate was proclaimed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in order to restore the dignity of Islam, which was taken from the Syrian Muslims by the infernal reign of the Assads, Daesh manifested a concept of the enemy derived directly from the regime’s reign of terror.47.Harkin, Juliette 2018: “Demands for dignity and the Syrian uprising”, in: The Syrian uprising: Domestic origins and early trajectory, (Edit.) Raymond Hinnebusch/Omar Imady, New York, pp. 175
The lie about the eradication of terrorism is revealed by the understanding that this war is the revelation of Assad’s tyranny, which blurs the line between state and non-state terror. Whether by unleashing its Shabiha on the streets or by recycling its former enemies as soldiers on the front lines, the practice of terror remains a principle of the regime’s totalitarian essence.48.Chabkoun, Malak. “Pro-Regime Militias in Syria: SAA Unit or Ad-Hoc Apparatus” Publication by Al-Jazeera Centre for Studies (2014)49.“As losses mount in Idlib, Damascus sends conscripts from “reconciled” areas to the front” – SYRIA Direct50.“Reconciling with death, dissappearance and fear” – Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity (Medium)51.https://twitter.com/Abdurahmanhrk/status/1231260737915572224?s=20
The theocratic fascists with their long beards became the dirty side of the coin and the starting point to keep up the populist campaign of “we as fatherland” against “them – the savages“52.al-Haj Saleh, Yassin. “The Dark Path of Minority Politics” Publication by The Century Foundation (2019), a dichotomy used as the foundation for the preservation of a victim myth, which describes the current state of the Syrian nation as a result of the agitation of a foreign conspiracy.53.Lesch, W. David 2018: “Bashar’s fateful decision”, in: The Syrian uprising: Domestic origins and early trajectory, (Edit.) Raymond Hinnebusch/Omar Imady, New York, pp. 137 This narrative is therefore the logical immune reaction of totalitarian rule against the emergence of any emancipation of thought, which “gives a secret meaning to every apparent event and a conspiratorial intent to every apparent political action.”54.Arendt, Hannah 1955: “Elemente und Ursprünge Totaler Herrschaft”, Frankfurt, pp. 741
The consequence of this reorientation of basic epistemological assumptions reinforces those uncertainties that create a fundamental need for orientation. The perspective of reestablishing order by annihilating those who threaten it promises a cognitive relief with which the feeling of abandonment can be endured, even if it requires an unfathomable amount of violence.
Tyranny’s Insatiable Need for Power
As Arendt already mentioned in her analysis of totalitarian statehood, this rule of violence “cannot generate real and reliable power, because it abolishes the plurality of joint action in unanimity“. She considers power as a means independent of violence, because violence destroys and isolates. The fear resulting from the brute force renders people incapable of action and drags the individual into a state of political apathy, a state of social abandonment in which “real ability to think and real ability to experience are destroyed at the same time“. According to her understanding, lasting power arises only in collective action, which fundamentally puts the tyranny under a constant thirst for power.55.Arendt, Hannah 1955: “Elemente und Ursprünge Totaler Herrschaft”, Frankfurt, pp. 741
In Syria’s case, this abandonment manifests itself, on the one hand, on the public level, through communicative manoeuvres, where every interlocutor must be anticipated as zalamat al-amn, or agent of the regime.56.Ismail, Salwa 2018: “The Rule of Violence: Subjectivity, Memory, and Government in Syria”, New York, pp. 76-78 On the other hand, the totality of the regimes rule affects the private dimensions of the Syrian people, in which the family resorts to political self-censorship and the mutual inhibition of political activism in order to remain exempted from further repression.57.Ismail, Salwa 2018: “The Rule of Violence: Subjectivity, Memory, and Government in Syria”, New York, pp. 110-111
With the deliberate isolation of its subjects, whose restricted interaction is ensured by the omnipresence of the Mukhabarat58.“Walls Have Ears: An Analysis of Classified Syrian Security Sector Documents” Publication by The Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) (April 2019), only violence prevails the fragile structure from disintegration. The fact that any form of critical deliberation must give way to the primacy of totalitarian contiguity has this inevitable consequence on the perspective of its ability to shape politics. With regard to this cultivation of a longstanding political culture of pronounced violence, it is doubtful that this form of conflict management is suited to deal with all the challenges that are seething in the social cauldrons of its persistence.59.ETANA Syria. “Despair and Decay: East Ghouta After 18 Months of Renewed Regime Rule” Publication by Middle East Institute (November 2019)60.“‘Poverty everywhere’: Palestinians in Syria living in desperate conditions” – Middle East Eye61.https://twitter.com/Elizrael/status/1222521710408282118?s=20
Today’s Grievance, Tomorrow’s Coup?
The tendency of the regime to continue to exploit the omnipresence of anger in society becomes visible through its judicial regulations in formerly rebellious areas. In keeping with the mentality of reconciliation according to the dictates of the victor, loyal citizens can assert their violation of personal rights against sympathisers of the revolution on the basis of private prosecution charges. The witch-hunt as a productive basis for social control and the guarantee that the conflict will remain persistent in the Syrian minds.62.Haid, Haid. “Look Beyond the Violence to Understand the Dangers That Remain” Publication by Chatham House (August 2019)
In addition to its function as a purgatory for all those groups of people whom the regime no longer considers to be part of its purified society,63.Batrawi, Samar/Uzelac, Ana. “Four ways in which the Syrian regime controls refugee return” Publication by Clingendael – Netherlands Institute of International Relations (September 2018) Idlib gains new meaning for the regime’s strategy of fear. Despite the ongoing propaganda to revive the last remnants of patriotic fervour and the economic necessity of its highways, the last bastion of rebellion seems to be closely linked to the fate of its tormentor.64.“The M5 Highway of Death is the Key to Controlling Syria” – TRT World65.“Rewards Outweigh Risks for Assad in Drive to Retake Idlib” – Bloomberg
In the face of massive corruption in the public sector, an erosion in living standards due to a total collapse of currency, as well as widespread lawlessness on the part of various militiamen, the poorest classes in Assad’s loyal areas, who have made the greatest sacrifice for the maintenance of order, are beginning to complain loudly.66.Tsurkov, Elizabeth/al-Ghazi, Suhail. “People can’t even afford to buy bulgur: Discontent is on the rise as Syria’s economic crisis worsens” Publication by Middle East Institute (February 2020)67.https://twitter.com/Elizrael/status/122771413696184320068.“War by other means: Syria’s economic struggle” – Synaps Network It becomes difficult to justify the slaughter of sons when Assad refers to the survival of those state institutions that are rotten from the inside and that have become the organisational platform for capitalist accumulation of those who have generated wealth from suffering.69.“Bashar al-Assad’s Hollow Victory – Foreign Affairs Within the headlock of western sanctions, the country will have to give up its remaining wealth as a blood duty to its Russian and Iranian backers.70.Hatahet, Sinan. “Russia and Iran: Economic Influence in Syria” Publication by Chatham House, Middle East and North Africa Programme (March 2019)
The expressed grievances of those people are the expression of the seething anger of the loyalist lower class against the decadence of the elite, which, without the persistence of the existential threat, could lead the conflict back to its roots of an internal class conflict.71.Daher, Jospeh. “Syria: The Social Origins of the Uprising” Publication by Rosa-Luxemburg Stiftung (July 2018)72.“More Tribal, More Sectarian, More Crony Capitalist Than Ever” – Jacobin Magazine Thus, social tension becomes the lifeline of Assad’s rule, because if the behemoth disappears, the regime must once again devote itself to precisely those social issues that it cannot make disappear into the depths of its dungeons.73.“Time to Recommit to Syria” – Foreign Affairs
Perpetuating the Enemy
The validity of the reputation as “the least worst option for Syria”, which the regime was able to enforce through manipulation and the use of systematic violence in the perception of many Syrians in the regime-controlled areas, has a limited life span.74.“Syrians are Ready to Accept Bashar al-Assad as President” – Foreign Policy75.Khaddour, Kheder. “The Assad Regime’s Hold on the Syrian State” Publication by Carnegie Middle East Center (July 2015), pp. 14 The illusion of an improvement in the living conditions of all those who find themselves back under the yoke of the dictatorship can only be maintained by the existential threat of the jihadist enemy.76.“Idlib’s despair won’t end bloodshed in Syria. It will provoke a rebel fightback” – The Guardian (Opinion)
The fact that the Turkish intervention in Idlib severely impaired the military capacities of the Syrian military, and thus any further large-scale offensive is postponed for an unknown period of time, is an additional gain of time for the declining life span of the Assad regime’s claim to validity.77.https://twitter.com/hxhassan/status/1235627316497330180?s=2078.“Turkey downs two Syrian fighter jets as it intensifies Idlib attacks” – The Guardian79.“Turkish drones and artillery are devastating Assad’s forces in Idlib province – Here’s why” – Forbes The fall of the Syrian Gaza would not only decide the fate of several million people, but probably also the legitimacy of permanent family rule. A continuum of violence in Idlib is not only the public presentation of the regime’s true essence. It may be the necessary condition for its continued existence.