There are larger, longer pieces in the works for this space, so please don’t stop checking in. There is also now a facebook page that I hope to build out.
An interesting, if repetitious article, out last week, made a few essential points.
Though I have spent time with both sides of the conflict, I could never make grand claims to be speaking on behalf of the Syrian people or the Syrian opposition. Today, Syria is a divided country with heated differences. Even within the opposition, views are heterogeneous.
Rather than making grandiose assertions about Syria, we should be more circumspect in our judgements.
If you are not a decider there is probably no value in deciding. And almost no one is a decider. Yet so many westerners want to decide, to decree, to make up their minds. They want to be informed or be able to claim that they are informed or to be seen by others as informed.
There is a huge danger in deciding. All future data and questions will be tinted by the prism of that decision. You’ve dropped an anchor without prompting and with much open water in front of you.
But there is a more important point I am going to try to express well (and I might fail in that, apologies).
It is that, given the opacity to which we are subjected, one will never arrive at some transparent answer. We’re only going to arrive at views stated with reservations. And the calibration of those reservations, the attempt to make those calibrations explicit and clear, is what makes an opinion sage. It may not make it trustworthy.
If someone states their reservations with some dubious calibrations, that is, in fact, exactly how we can find them a distrustful voice. But it was still sage to state the self undermining information for us — it gives us a method by which to work through their thinking. When you read writers who don’t make their lenses observable to others, a lot of ‘take my word for it’ ism or leaving things unsaid, that’s when suspicion should rise. And it is difficult because they may just be bad at expressing thoughts with clarity (as I am being here). Or they might not see the necessity.
We cannot just view light and be done with it. We should be made privy to all the curvatures through which it passed. And this is something that can be done by humans making and hearing arguments that can’t always be done in the physics of real world observation. We can state an argument and how we came to have it and why we continue to make it and through which lenses we see it, all in the same breath.
There is no cost associated with leaving a question ‘unresolved’ particularly when we add nuance to a previous position or when we reshape our interim opinion of it. Our opinion should always be an interim manifestation — appearing as a snapshot because we are asked to retrieve it — a slice in time of a moving thoughts. Only people who actually have to make big decisions, like judges and politicians, have to ‘decide’ — if for a moment.
On their next visit to Syria, these government lackeys should ask to visit small villages such as Harem and Kafr Nubul, which clamoured for more freedom through peaceful protests and were answered by bombs from fighter jets.
That was the other part of the first quote I wanted to highlight, “I could never make grand claims to be speaking on behalf of the Syrian people. “This is worse than leaving things unsaid — speaking for a group of people.
It happens in the coverage over and over again, I think because many journalists and writers see it as an attainable privilege. It is a ubiquitous indulgence of human writers. But beware it. In all my writers on Syria, even those that are giving voice to others’ stories, I have only ever tried to speak on behalf of myself. To present a larger constituency is unethical and impossible.
More and better coming.