A Map of Non-Violent Activism in Syria
Non violent resistance in Syria? Don’t make me laugh. Those trying to topple Assad are all cannibals and head choppers….or so the likes of the academic “Angry Arab”, Asad Abu Khalil would, it would seem at times, try to convince you.
The reality is Syrians in their tens of thousands continue to resist the Assad regimes brutality (and sometimes resist certain armed opposition groups) through non-violent methods of staggering diversity and creativity. The extremely grim and brutal reality which regime apologists and quite often the mainstream media present is but one, extremely narrow perspective of what is going on in Syria. It is far from the whole truth.
A Syrian activist friend of mine, Omar al Assil, has recently produced a beautiful, interactive map of non-violent resistance in Syria. It was created with his colleagues in the Syrian Non Violence Movement including their members inside Syria.
I mention Abu Khalil as he was the first to respond to the map when the social commentator, Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi posted it on his Facebook wall on June 21. Abu Khalil responded smugly: “Very convincing. Is there a special color for beheadings?”.
Pulse Media’s Muhammad Idrees Ahmad responded eloquently in the same thread to Abu Khalil’s customary inelegance: “He wants you to make blanket generalisations; to make no distinction between the Syrian majority who oppose the regime peacefully, the minority who defend themselves with arms, or the few who commit unpardonable crimes. They must all be judged by the standard of the lowest among them. Find the most criminal action, and extrapolate it onto the whole opposition.”
That extrapolation is a common reaction by many who only want to amplify the negatives of those opposed to the Assad regime. Indeed it is the regimes strategy to not just amplify the negatives but exterminate the positives - quite literally when it comes to Syrian human rights defenders. The map and what it shows is a shining example of how many Syrians are peacefully resisting the regimes wide scale human rights violations and trying to build a brighter future. It’s a work in progress for sure and many more activities and initiatives will be added in the coming days and weeks.
I recently wrote about Omar and his colleagues in the SNVM and the campaigns training they have taken at Amnesty International. These activists, some inside Syria and some outside are despised by the regime and their apologists. Why? Because they are not committing human rights abuses – instead, they are campaigning against human rights violations and abuses. They are using methods which the regime and its apologists know are effective in the long term. They are genuinely fighting for a Syria for all – one which seeks to respect and protect the human rights of all Syrians. This confounds the regime narrative of blood thirsty jihadists rampaging and pillaging across Syria.
Omar got the idea to create this wonderful map when he was preparing a presentation for a peace group in Somerset, England. He wanted to list all the alternative newspapers and radio stations that started during the revolution and wanted to visualise it properly.
He told me he found an algorithm to visualise networks which was perfect to visualise the non-violence activities of the uprising. From there he formed a team consisting of SNVM members who started to collect the vast amounts of data about the grassroots activism in Syria.
Maimouna Alammar, who was arrested with her husband when she was pregnant with her daughter in the first days of the revolution, worked on this from inside Syria. She was key to this mammoth data collection operation and another SNVM member, Nisreen Alzaraee , translated the information into English. The project was in development for 3 months as there was so much activism and campaigning to document.
Omar said to me “It was very difficult and challenging to collect this amount of activities. We decided also to include some overview about each item in the map and a link to its website/Facebook page. Maimouna was working from inside Syria and most of the time she worked offline and without electricity to finish the project because of the difficulties to access the internet due to constant power outages”.
For Omar, the main objective of creating this map is to show the Syrian people and the rest of the world how powerful and widespread non-violence is within the Syrian uprising. He wanted to document the hundreds of activities involving tens of thousands of people to show a wider perspective of the revolutionary mosaic. This in turn would help challenge the narrative that all those opposed to the regime are “terrorists”.
Omar said “In the SNVM we believe that there is still a room for peaceful struggle and creativity amid all this chaos. Many people thought that the non-violence came to an end and this is a small step to show them that it is still there and they are using it or working with it on daily basis. So mainly it was to motivate people and the other aim is to document all these activities so interested people can have access to it easily.”
Omar and the SNVM plan to keep updating the map every fortnight. It is an excellent work in progress – regime apologists or indeed anybody that justifies human rights abuses, hate this sort of thing which makes the experience of navigating this map so much sweeter.
So check it out, especially those who think those opposed to the regime's crimes against humanity are medieval barbarians only looking to munch your heart out.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.