In the good old days, back in 2003, when being a Syrian dissident held no special meaning except to those in pursuit of mirages and unimaginable circus acts, our political statements were quite avant-garde. Many inÂ SyriaÂ have never heard anyone speak to them in this fashion before because they were raised in an environment of exclusionary ideas and limited narrative.
I remember, early on, a Kurd asking me what fate will be awaiting the Kurds of Syria once liberated from Assad. I said that it is not up to me to decide the fate of the Kurds, it’s theirs to decide. The statement made several rounds of Syria and was quoted in many of the articles published by the Syrian opposition at that time. It was a new ceiling many did not expect. No one ever spoke to the Kurds in this way using a language most conspired to avoid even though it is the rights of the Kurds to hear it from Arabs and more importantly to impose it.
Ever since, many other ceilings were either broken or raised. Some of those raised dealt with the rule of law, some dealt with cultural and heritage issues, and some dealt with civil societies and the role they will play in the future. One of the most important ceilings we broke, however, dealt with how the Syrian opposition viewed the regime.
In 2003, if you said you wanted to reform the regime, you would probably end-up in jail. Today, the regime itself speaks of reform. If you said you wanted Syria out of Lebanon, the regime would kill you (especially if you were Lebanese because most Syrians did not dare speak within those parameters), today no one pays attention to this kind of language not because the Assad regime has vacated Lebanon but because this matter has become inconsequential as compared to hotter potatoes.
Before the Syrian Rebellion, if an oppositionist talked of regime change, he/she would be sentenced to anywhere from 5 to 10 years in jail. Dr. Kamal Labwani was sentenced to 12 years and Assad tacked another 3 years later because LabwaniÂ criticizedÂ the regime while in jail. But today, almost all of Syria is demanding regime change and with that, the ceiling got higher.
Many of us were able to detect the real dissident from the infiltrators through the language they used. If you stayed away from the two words regime change, there was a reason to doubt their authenticity.
In the fall of 2011, the concept most feared by the Assad regime is military intervention and self-defense by the civilian population, which means an armed conflict leading possibly to a civil war. Watching Libya fall because of NATO has again raised the ceiling as to what is considered acceptable and what is considered too dangerous for Assad to accept.
So when the SNC spokesman Birhan Ghalioun made the statement that regime change is our goal but without the right of the Syrian people to defend themselves (i.e. Peacefully) in addition to no military intervention, it gave Syrians a pause. What is the aim of the Syrian opposition if not to dismantle the regime by any mean available to us? Having failedÂ peacefullyÂ for seven months, we must resort to a more potent alternative.
Today, what separates a dissident whose goal is to change this regime by any means possible as compared to one who oscillates and plays on words are two concepts: Military Intervention and the right of Syrians to defend themselves. Anyone who calls for regime change but seeks a peaceful solution to the conflict without providing a roadmap on how to achieve regime change peacefully is viewed with skepticism.
Even if our hope is pegged on an internal military coup, this is considered a military intervention and non-peaceful. Any oppositionist who stands at a distance from self-defense and military intervention and has no plan to change the regime peacefully should be considered an infiltrator.