One of good articulated stories that came out of Syria was A Tour Inside Syria’s Insurgency by Paul Wood (of the BBC) to The Atlantic; a really fascinating read, but black in its overall theme. I highly recommend reading the full 4,000-words article, which is comprehensive and diverse in its coverage.
The article shows how corrupt and brutal the regime is, but paints the picture of how the peaceful protests were forced to turn their dignity struggle with the government to be increasingly violent (check this Arabic announcement which I copied from a local revolution facebook page) and militarised. The story talks about the torture of Qutaiba, the peaceful protester who is looking now to buy pistol silencers in Lebanon to protect himself.
Now, there is a small but growing insurgency. Paul Wood describes his experience of being smuggled into Syria from North Lebanon. It’s a two-way traffic: medicines, weapons into Syria, and injured people into Lebanon. Paul Wood describes how the Free Syrian Army operates – pretty leaderless (senior) groups of armed defected soldiers working based on their local conditions, and worrying about the $500 cost per RPG too.
Many people (including myself) dislike the term ‘civil war’, but it’s pretty much existent now in Syria. Not necessarily because of the presence of the violence, but because of the current strong social divide. This internal war is likely to intensify as Bashar Assad clings onto power at any cost as is happening now. The regime is always feeding sectarian divisions to galvanise its sectarian clan (among its supporters) behind it, including stimulating the ‘mantras’ of the fear of ‘the minorities from the majorities’, and the worry about the ‘country’s stability’.
Again, the article does summarise what’s happening in Syria including how high the sectarian tensions are. I struggled to choose what to quote from the article overall, as it contains numerous important and chunky parts, but I want to highlight the below one: how the regime is responding in a brutal and sectarian manner on every level – in hospitals in this one. Excuse me for block quoting, but I want to preserve the meaning:
One question — who is Alawite and who is Sunni? — was in the background for every moment of my time in Syria, surfacing again and again in the conversations we had with fighters, activists, and local people. [ At the next safe house, I met Haydi Abdullah, who had been a nurse at the military hospital in Latakia before fleeing to join the opposition. After the protests started, he told me, any medical staff whose loyalty was not believed to be 100 percent were sacked. In practice, Sunni doctors and nurses were replaced with Alawites, who were thought more loyal to the Alawite-led government. "All the hospitals now have turned into huge military posts, full of security men," he said. Injured demonstrators "would receive all kinds of insults from the nurses and doctors: 'Bastard. Son of a bitch. Whore. Son of a dog. You spy, you agent of Israel.'" Haydi said he had seen four patients, injured protestors, murdered in the hospital. One man was brought in with a chest injury. "He would have survived but they [the doctors and nurses] beat him and stabbed him with needles. If my face had shown even a sign that I was upset, I would have been sent to jail.”
Shocking. I never heard of this happening anywhere else, not even in Lebanon during its peak sectarian violence in the civil war. If the regime can get doctors to behave in an animatistic way, then society can’t be more deeply divided. The story continues with another black image (I say a resulting one of the above) of this sectarianism from city of Homs:
Abu Mohammed described worsening sectarian violence in Homs (though of course he spoke from a Sunni perspective). Alawites were setting up their own unofficial checkpoints to kidnap Sunnis, whether they were known government allies or not. “Later we find their bodies dumped on the side of the road.” A Shiite village was stopping buses, checking IDs, and shooting Sunnis. (Alawites are a sect of Shiism.) A girl had been raped and beheaded, the purported work of the Shabihah, or “ghosts,” a pro-government militia that recruits mainly among Alawites. Abu Mohammed blamed the regime for all this.
The Syrian regime is reading its ‘plan of attack’ (literally) from the outdated ‘1982 Hama book‘, rather than the ‘2011 Arab Spring book‘. Moreover, with the sectarianism in mind, the situation in Syria is now appearing cancerous; the longer Assad stays, the wider it spreads, and the more malignant it becomes. Syria is walking in the irreversible footsteps of Lebanon and Iraq. Sad, Bless.
Photo credit: Free Syrian Army operatives in action in civilian clothes, and the screen shot taken from a YouTube video released by them. You can check other images from a BBC clip (of Paul Wood’s undercover mission).