Those living in Syria look at things differently. When they are exposed to the terms of debate outside Syria, they smile helplessly, disappointingly, and critically all at once, as though those on both sides of the debate that is happening outside Syria are talking about an imaginary thing, not about realities on the ground. People outside Syria are literally at each other’s throats discursively and physically, arguing over the prioritization of resistance to imperialism or resistance to dictatorship while most local Syrians are wondering about personal security, food, electricity, the safety of their family, and the possibility of dying altogether during the next round of clashes in their neighborhood. Most importantly from an analytical point of view, we erroneously assume that their preferences are stable, but they are not. They too change with circumstances, a perfectly rational behavior.
Thanks to the armed groups who have now perfected—and sometimes surpassed on individual counts—the perennial brutality of the regime, one is hard-pressed in Syria to find a cause or a foreseeable scenario to cling to. Under such conditions, daily matters reign supreme over meta-narratives that are not necessarily unimportant, but have become thoroughly irrelevant for most Syrians. Hence, that smile that many local Syrians draw on their face in the face of meta-narratives spewed by all of us on the other side—to which people click “like,” or not.
This physical detachment, however, does not automatically privilege the analysis of all insiders equitably. Some of the cruder analysis has come from inside Syria. And though such analysis can be discarded as such, it cannot be dismissed as a real expression of real matters, however flawed.
Those of us who have family, friends, and colleagues in Syria with whom we are in touch on a daily basis, and those of us who read Syria news coming out of everywhere and nowhere, know that the discussions inside Syria are far more visceral and real, where positions often reflect immediately consequential action, and where political trade-offs are not academic or theoretical: people die as a result of certain positions. Political trade-offs can mean the difference between being able to provide for one’s family and not being able to put food on the table every night, or not being able to stay in one’s home that same night.
Things to remember when discussing Syria.
Yes. This. I always try to tell people this.