|Syrian philosopher Sadiq Jalal al-Azm|
the revolution is a Syrian settling of old accounts and an overdue payment of bills that were the result of Syrian silence and cowardice in moments such as the siege of the city of Hama in 1982, and its destruction and killing of its people
The author of Critique of Religious Thought also stood with the revolution of the Iranian people against the rule, corruption, and tyranny of the Shah, and against his famous intelligence apparatus known for its ferocity (the SAVAK). He stood with it despite the fact that that the leadership role of the clergy and ayatollahs was evident from the outset, and as I recall, the left in those days was almost entirely in favor of the Iranian people’s revolution despite the fact that demonstrations emerged from mosques, cemeteries, and funerals
The author of Critique of Religious Thought also stood with Liberation Theologists in Latin America and other places, because Liberation Theology supported people’s liberation movements in those countries against base tyrants such as Samoza in Nicaragua, criminal coup-makers like Pinochet in Chile, and the rule of the bloody generals in Argentina. After all this, is it possible for the author of the mentioned book to fail or let-down in the issue of standing with the revolution of the Syrian people against the rule that has surpassed Samoza, Pinochet, the Argentine generals, and the Shah of Iran combined in its tyranny, murder, and destruction?
Syria swallowed the humiliation quietly and sedately, which was an unenviable position these days, and blood is being spilled today to erase its effects. The moment that the “Damascus Spring” tried to light a candle at the end of the tunnel, it was eliminated with a visible ferocity, and once again, Syria was silent and it accepted the suppression of the Damascus Spring with shocking normalcy. I will say again, in its revolution today, Syria spills this much blood in order to atone for all its past sins and erase its shame, and for this reason, I am with it.
In response to a question why, as a leading representative of the intellectual left he had decided to throw his weight behind the uprising, whereas many of its other exponents have remained at best equivocal in their support, or even refused to back it altogether, Sadiq al-Azm explained that this would first need an explanation of a development within the Syrian left:
... it is known that the left brings together committed activists and advocates from different religious, confessional, doctrinal, regional, ethnic, and tribal backgrounds for the sake of a future civil state which surpasses these primordial affiliations and loyalties. After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the left and its dispersal everywhere (especially the numerous and differentiated communist parties), many of these leftists reverted back to their primordial and more primitive loyalties, especially the religious, confessional and doctrinal ones
[...] the left split into a large block that adopted what might be called “the Civil Society program”. It is a program which emphasizes certain issues, such as: Respect of human rights (even if only in word, or in the minimum possible manner), priority for the idea of citizenship and its practice in addition to civil rights and public freedoms, equality before the law, separation of powers, a secular state, an independent judiciary, democracy, decentralization of power and effective governance rather than passing power around between family members, as is happening in Syria today. In other words, the largest bloc of the left retreated to the second line of defense in the form of a “civil society program,” and its defense in the face of military-security-familial tyranny on the one hand, and medieval religious obscurantism on the other hand. I think that this bloc of the left in general sympathizes with the revolution in Syria
..it is useful to return to it today for any attempt at diagnosing the Syrian revolution and understanding its nature, especially given that Fanon was a real pioneer in describing the mechanisms and the stages of transformation of political powers, parties, and organizations that start as parties and national liberation movements in oppressed third world societies but change into a clique of rulers completely separated from their beginnings, their popular foundations, and their liberal programs that they had adopted which formed the purpose for their coming to power, only for them to oppress and step on the neck of the wretched of their population
The contradiction here is not in my position, but in the position of those who once stood in support of the revolution of the Iranian people or the Liberation Theologists and their churches or for movements of national liberation almost everywhere, yet refuse to support the revolution of the Syrian people under the pretext that its demonstrations and protests spring from the mosque and not from the opera house or the national theatre, as Adonis justifies.
Adonis preferred denial, evasion and justification in his dealing with the changing reality of the Arab Spring, and especially the popular revolution in Syria. Adonis had raised the slogan “positions for change, freedom and creativity” in his famous magazine Mawaqif (Positions); however, when the serious change began to occur in Syria and freedom was near, Adonis retreated more than two steps backwards instead of absorbing seriously and critically the development of the changing Arab reality, and instead of critically reviewing the axioms of his cultural and epistemological apparatus in light of the mobile and new Arab Syrian reality. His slogans imply that such an intellectual would be at the forefront of people leaning towards change and freedom in Syria and defending them, but he preferred to distance himself from all of this and he discarded his slogan in the dustbin of history.
what is most important in secularism and democracy is their energetic capacity, particularly in diverse and pluralistic societies… In addition to this capacity to provide a good, positive atmosphere to restore civil peace, and not to oppress and use bare force, and to provide well tested mechanism (in many countries and people and societies and cultures today) for peaceful transfer of power as widely as possible in society. Among the characteristics of secularism and democracy is that they provide a neutral ground for the meeting of the various religious doctrines and beliefs that are exclusionary by nature, allowing them to interact in the public space, the national arena, and the political landscape based on common denominators and voluntary, free consensus that makes it impossible for any of these doctrines and dogmas to survive in a vacuum
democracy is usually acquired, and the secular state is also acquired and is not that easy to launch. There has always been a great many obstacles, internally and externally, for all. I also do not think that the enlightened secular elites’ goal was originally only to prepare their communities to become eligible to accept democracy. Their goal, ambition, as well as their demand was a comprehensive renaissance of the vocabulary of democracy and secularism.In analyzing why the secularization and democratization of Arab societies and political systems is such an uphill battle, the influence on al-Azm of Third-Worldist discourses as articulated by Frantz Fanon is clearly detectable:
This not only happened to us, but to all civilizations, cultures, and peoples. In the search for our enlightenment and renaissance, we always come back to Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani and Mohammad Abdo, but a bit of scrutiny will show that there was something like al-Afghani and Mohammad Abdo [Abduh, ck] and what they represent in Iran, Russia, India, China, Japan, and Africa. So I think that the issue of enlightenment is much larger than groups of educated and secular elites that are trying to make the people eligible to accept democracy through public awareness of the need of secularism and secularization to overcome the failures and existing deficit. And I do not think that the current Arab Spring revolutions are able to set aside the idea of a broader enlightenment in ahistorical sense, if they had wanted to, because they also speak the language of reform, democracy, renewal, freedom, dignity, renaissance, and constitutionalism.
one of the most important things that intellectuals can do in the beginning is get rid of what is called the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Information, then form their own cultural bodies, literary forums, intellectual circles, and independent autonomous unions, and manage them all without abidance to anyone or the dominance of one over the other.
Then, it is up to the intellectuals to be generous with the best that they have to offer to the people, so that the intellectual in the New Syria is active and engaged.