International diplomacy may be at a standstill. Other nations such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United States may be supporting either the regime or the rebels with arms, money, or intelligence. But by the credible reports coming out of war-ravaged Syria, more people there are quietly turning against Bashar al-Assad without resorting to violence.
As friends and families see their desperate situations, they are uttering whispers of peaceful dissent to each other, creating a “silent majority” that will do more than weapons or diplomacy by showing where they stand.
“Polarized and paralyzed, the international community’s behavior puts the onus on Syrians to work it out among themselves,” states the International Crisis Group (ICG), a keen watcher of world conflicts. “Housewives and civil servants have become shrewd and fearless activists. People speak of inspiring friendships. The pride taken in collective achievements plays no small part in providing individuals with this sense of personal accomplishment.”
More Syrians are creating a remarkable, courageous network of assistance to keep violence in check, the ICG states. “In the tug of war between society’s demons and its ability to resist them, the most encouraging aspect has been Syrians’ at times striking self-awareness, grasp of dangers ahead and attempts at course correction.”
This is how the best revolutions take place – from below. Or as President Obama put it in a speech at the Holocaust Museum last April about how to counter mass atrocities: “You don’t just count on officials; you don’t just count on governments. You count on people mobilizing their conscience.”
President Assad, whose armed forces have turned into one big militia defending a shrinking number of supporters, claimed in a recent interview that he has legitimacy to rule. “I still have public support,” he said flatly.
Not according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, based on reports from the UN monitoring mission in Syria. The regime has “lost its fundamental humanity” while the Syrian people “want peace and dignity,” he said.
Journalist Stephen Starr, who lived in Syria from 2007 until February of this year, says a silent majority will finally take sides as it sees more of the brutality of the regime. His new book, “Revolt in Syria: Eye-witness to the Uprising,” looks at the many fears of the country’s ethnic and religious groups but also finds a common revulsion at violence and a desire for freedom from fear.
Or as the ICG put it: “As society inches toward collapse, collective self-defence mechanisms appear to be kicking in to prevent – or, at a minimum, contain and postpone – the looming prospect of all-out civil strife.”
Amid all the finger-pointing over Syria’s war – including a UN Security Council unable to unite on this issue – the one constant has been a slow-motion mental shift among Syrians. Guns and big-power maneuvers are almost useless against that.