How to Remain Faithful to the Ideals of Fadwa Suleiman

Syrian secularists were in effect outside of the revolution, or on its margins at best, which begs question, why have they failed to pin their position on the Syria map, whether politically or militarily, while Fadwa as an individual managed to achieve all that presence alone?

29 August 2017

Muhammad Dibo

Current editor-in-chief of SyriaUntold (Arabic). He is a Syrian poet, writer and researcher interested in Syrian culture and economy. Dibo's latest work is an autobiographical book, "Like He Who Witnesses His Own Death," about his experience in prison during the early days of the Syrian uprising. He is a regular contributor in many Arab and international newspapers.

Translated by: Yaaser Azzayyaat

There is plenty of meanings to the immense emotional outcry, the grief, the bewailing and the eulogies we are witnessing today over Fadwa Suleiman. The sorrow seems to exceed mourning Fadwa alone, and lets out a lamentation over Syria and its fate; our dreams and slogans, and what should have been but was not. Reality now is that which should never have been; the negation of all what Fadwa has voiced, believed and fought for.

Away from disheartening sentiments that permeated much of what has been written -- a rightful and worthy farewell of a woman we failed to give sufficient credit -- two matters come to mind, both raising the need to understand our narrative and to move from reaction to action. If we were to be truly faithful to the ideal Fadwa had long held, then we should act and rebuild hope again. This is the best way to keep our dearly departed’s memory alive, and to redeem ourselves of the faults we have all committed.

Fadwa was a symbol of peaceful civil struggle; a rejection of militarization and boundless search for civil action’s potential. This struggle perseveres against tyranny by accumulating hope, garnering experience and maintaining faith in humanity, and by believing unequivocally that tyranny can be dismantled with galvanized minds and united wills. History shall not shut its window, and the possibility for action remains no matter how far darkness pervades.

Today, as the era of violent action nears an end, and after it became evident that guns alone are incapable of victory, the question of peaceful struggle arises again. Discussing the failures of armed resistance is not the purpose of this piece, nor is comparing it to peaceful resistance towards which the author of these lines does not hide his bias. That discussion has been outdated by the passing of time and events on the ground. The question we need to ask ourselves today is, why has peaceful struggle in Syria not survived?

Many answers have been suggested, but the question remains pending, in need of further revisions and investigations. After arriving at satisfactory answers, another question arises as to how can peaceful struggle be reactivated? Where, and by what means?

Regardless of our view of militarization, history tells us that all forms of resistance are legitimate. Wherever injustice prevails, resistance is a destiny. Peoples then choose their own methods of resistance. However, resistance movements show that the justness of the cause alone is not enough for victory, and neither is resistance alone. Without taking into account the local and the global realities, the form of resistance may reflect negatively against the cause. Relevantly, historical experiences suggest that peoples may move from nonviolence to violence, and then return to nonviolence at a later stage. Such transformations are often the outcome of observations, revisions and critical engagements with past experiences.

The life of Nelson Mandela in South Africa may serve as an example here. At the beginning of their revolutionary activities, Mandela and his comrades failed to achieve their people’s hopes through civil action, and a decision was made to resort to arms. Years later, however, violence bore no fruit. Then began the work on reactivating civil and political action, along with renunciation of arms. Mandela was thus taking his first steps into an emancipated South Africa. Despite the aspersions cast on him as a traitor to the cause, he remained firm in his belief and maintained the course of nonviolent struggle, leading his people to their long-awaited dream.

Today, if we are to be faithful to Fadwa’s path and to the dream she once had, we must first not yield to despair. All tyrants are eventually overcome, and if our enemy remained steadfast then that is because our methods were misguided, and therefore we have to fight again -- first by reviewing our past; second by drawing conclusions from it; third by seeking new theories and mechanisms of change; and forth by searching for means of applying them in reality.

Another thought we are reminded of by Fadwa’s passing is the fate of the secular democratic current in Syria. The departed has gone to incredible lengths in belonging to the revolution, and in identifying with its communities, breaking several sectarian, religious, ideological and patriarchal barriers... all while maintaining her beliefs.

She remained secular to the core, and avidly passionate about nonviolence. She firmly believed in the inevitability of change, and of the dreamed secular democratic state. All this was expressed and put into action among local activists who shared none of her interests or means of struggle. She succeeded in finding her balance, which Syrian secularists, be them elites, parties or individuals, have long failed to find. This implied that secularists were in effect outside of the revolution, or on its margins at best, which begs question, why has the Syrian secular current, or even the mere democratic one, failed to pin its position on the Syria map, whether politically or militarily, while Fadwa as an individual managed to achieve all that presence alone?

Fadwa believed in her project first and foremost, and she did not waiver her ideas. She believed in the power of the individual, and strived to put her belief into practice. Her initial intention in going to Homs was to work against resorting to military action, to raise awareness of its gravity, and to promulgate the notion that people should elect their representatives in their streets. Of course, she was not able to reverse an obdurate course of history, but at least she tried and strived as one Syrian secularist.

This is what Syrian secular and democratic revolutionaries lack: to have a revolutionary and democratic project that they strive to make a reality, rather than join others as mere decoration -- which Fadwa always rejected. She rejected all manner of incentive to join pro-revolutionary political bodies, and was met with nothing short of exclusion and disregard. But she remained lively and radiant, while dissidents resided in their hotel rooms, subject to daily accusations from every direction as they fail to shield the revolution and to defend its aspirations.

If we wish to honor Fadwa’s legacy, hopes and beliefs, we ought to strive towards overcoming the past, reopening the domain of the possible, and creating hopes once again.

[Main photo: Fadwa Suleiman (Alaan News TV/ Fair use. All rights reserved)].

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