Members of the international diplomatic community have increasingly urged – reportedly, “pressured” – Syrian political activists opposed to the Assad system to accept Assad’s continued governing role. This is painful to me. I am not going to use this piece to dictate policy, because we all have policy preferences. Rather, I am going to try to understand, and to reveal my heart to you, because it is only in deep understanding that a sustainable path forward will emerge.
When I first heard this news, I was incredulous, then uneasy, and then in pain. I realized that I long for a shared reality, a shared seeing of how beautiful freedom is. From afar, from the comfort and safety of relative freedom, it has sometimes been easy to make a political calculation about the likelihood of an uprising to outlast or overthrow a government somewhere else. In contrast, living in (or returning to), an internal place of shared love of freedom, I don’t experience a giving up on the needs for freedom in exchange for some other needs. While it may be difficult and tiring and painful and it may take awhile, I experience a continual returning to a place of creativity and openness, willingness to learn about how can I support Syrians having freedom and peace and safety. It’s not an either/or (these needs).
When I turn my attention to analysts or policy leaders urging opposition to accept a continuation of the Assad system in some form, I imagine that you, yourselves, might be experiencing a deep longing and pain around your unrealized dreams for Syria and Syrians. Maybe a frustration or hopelessness or self-judgement (I experience all of these, myself) around how hard you have tried. Even though it’s uncomfortable and painful and may make you sick, stay with those feelings – long enough to see some doors open inside yourself.
When we can be in intimacy with our own emotions, the love of freedom can live in us, too, and can guide us and be with us in our work. I want this love of freedom, this need for freedomand dignity, to be included in the solutions we’re articulating or thinking about, to live out in our work, too. I’d love to be with you in that space.
For more sources like those in the first paragraph, see the EU's think tank recent policy paper on Syria, or the Brookings paper that foregoes exploration of paths to meet Syrians' political needs for a focus on "ending the war" regardless, and “reconstruction.”