Does it follow that we should see the Syrian civil war as a consequence of US imperialism? The answer is, ‘No’. The Syrian uprising of 2011 was one of several Arab uprisings against the devastation caused by the neo-liberalism of brutal authoritarian regimes throughout the region, the chain starting with Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia in December 2010.
Parents who pleaded with the local head of political security for their release were insulted and turned away. When several thousand family members and their supporters gathered to protest on March 18, security forces responded with water cannon and bullets, killing four. The next day, at their funeral, even more were killed, and wounded who went to the local hospital were detained or shot.
The government’s savage response sparked protests throughout the country by outraged Syrians, but these too were met with violence. Gruesome methods of torture and sexual abuse of large numbers of men, women and children were used, not to extract information but to terrorise dissidents into quiescence.
However, in many cases the repression had the opposite effect on the families and friends of the victims. For example, after 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatieb was tortured to death in May 2011 for participating in an anti-regime demonstration, local children walked in procession with his photograph and a banner proclaiming that he died a martyr. Local Coordination Committees (LCCs) were set up around the country; local councils were formed to organise humanitarian aid and the provision of basic services like water, electricity, education and waste disposal in rebel areas; field hospitals were set up to care for the wounded.
The regime needed to fabricate an excuse to use military force to crush this unarmed civilian uprising, and it did so by systematically trying to turn it into a sectarian conflict. It visited collective punishment on Sunnis, while extending preferential treatment to Alawis, but this was not enough. As Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami describe in their amazing book, Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, which is based on myriad interviews:
Assad then proceeded to try and wipe out not the Islamists that he himself had unleashed but the democratic opposition, using every conceivable means including barrel bombs, poison gas and the starvation sieges of entire neighbourhoods. The LCCs called on the opposition to continue their non-violent struggle, arguing that armed struggle would marginalise the civilian opposition and in any case would be out-gunned by the incomparably better-armed regime… read more: