The Syrian Revolution is not dead. It's alive and kicking but very different from the revolution of March 2011. Syrians talk about 3/2011 with fondness -- "the good old days" -- when the villagers faced government soldiers and protested with their voices and banners. They talk about the nonviolent activities they did to mystify and craze the government. The remote controlled recorder placed inside a box in a famous Damascene souk. The box was then sealed and locked with metal chains. From afar, revolutionaries turned the recorder on and it repeated "irhal ya Bashar" (leave oh Bashar) over and over again. The soldiers tore apart the souk to find the source of treason and never succeeded. The green laser lights that beamed onto the presidential palace that spelled out a similar demand for Bashar to depart. That revolution of wit and nonviolence is long gone, but not the Revolution. The Revolution is not dead.
"How can you call this a war?" asked a young Syrian man. "We don't have an army. We are not trained and our weapons are mostly stolen from government troops. A war necessarily means two sides fighting one another. We are civilians fighting the State. This isn't war, this is self-defense. This is a Revolution."
Whatever you call it, it's all-consuming. Hardly anyone works anymore. Jobs are few and far in between. Men have devoted themselves to the Revolution. They spend their days morphing from humanitarian workers to fighters to husbands and fathers. They also spend a large part of their day and night visiting one another, exchanging stories and reporting the news of their village and the local areas. There is no electricity, so no television. Internet is even scarcer. This socializing has become the life line for the locals and can mean the difference between life and death; which village(s) are being targeted and which roads are off limits. Without taking heed of these conversations, one can pay a dear price.
One of the villagers was hit by a rocket because he took a road that exposed him to government troops. While drinking tea, the men talk about this young man. "He wanted to take a short cut," one says. "Everyone knows that road is exposed to government troops," says another. "He had just gotten married a few months ago," says a third. "Wallah, if you're going to be a revolutionary, you should never get married," says a fourth. So go the conversations of the Revolution.
In the distance, we hear the rockets. While theses villages are not being directly targeted at the moment, one never knows when they will be. They are "liberated" with quotes. There are no soldiers, no pictures of Bashar, no government flags, no Baathist songs. But the villages are not fully theirs. "You can't be fully liberated when the government still controls the skies," I am told over and over again. Nor can you be liberated when the government controls the utilities and the currency.
"The government is distracted," says one man as we look at the skyline. It lights up as rockets are being launched. We see red lights in the sky and then hear an explosion. "Lak yil3n rohok," mumbles another. We add another day to the tally. It's been 11 days since this village was last targeted. "Its a dangerous quiet," says a man almost in passing. I realize that everyone around me has long accepted death as a reality. Many of them doubt they'll outlive the Revolution. "I can't imagine life without that noise," says one man as we hear an explosion. He doesn't flinch or raise his head. It might as well have been a fly whizzing in his ear -- an accepted nuisance.
"Knowing what you know now," I ask three men, "Would you have kept the Revolution peaceful?" Two immediately say "no" and the third says "yes." "We would have picked up arms the very first day," say the two men. "We were stupid, naive. We thought that there was something called an international community, human rights, the United Nations. We thought that this was the age of the Internet. We thought that the world would watch our videos and not allow us to suffer and die the way that we have these past two years. But we were stupid. Had we known the world would turn its back on us, we would have fought from day one rather than wait and be slaughtered."
"But," I ask, "didn't you ever think there would be a price to be paid for the world to intervene? Didn't you know that there is no selfless intervention? Look at Iraq or Libya. Didn't you think that geopolitics would be an issue, that Israel would be part of the equation?"
"My dream in life is to cast a ballot, to be counted," says one of the men. "When I joined this Revolution, I just wanted freedom, a voice. I didn't realize I had to learn everything there is to know about foreign policy and geopolitics and Israel and warfare and the price of international and humanitarian intervention. I just wanted to be treated like a human being and vote. And that remains my dream."
Whoever says the Syrian Revolution is dead has not been inside Syria. It lives in the every breath, action, thought, in the every atom of the Syrians here. It is not a glorious Revolution nor one that should be romanticized. It is full of pain and suffering, full of death and loss, full of costs and risks, full of mental and psychological anguish, and full of mistakes. But until every Syrian revolutionary dies, until the villages are fully exterminated of their inhabitants, until the human spirit is crushed and hope is completely extinguished, the Syrian Revolution remains alive.