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Forty-four months and forty-four years/6- Samira, Razan,Wael, Nazem, and the other absolute others

From right to left: Razan, Wael, Samira, Nazem. The words above read: "A year has passed since the abduction of the activists of the revolution of freedom and dignity".

About fourteen months ago, a group of masked gunmen kidnapped my wife and partner, Samira al Khalil, in Douma, which is a few kilometers to the east of Damascus. Abducted along with her were Razan Zeitouneh, Wael Hamadeh, and Nazem Hammadi. Since that time, we - the families of "Douma 4"- have received no direct information about these two women and two men, although we are sure that the perpetrator is a salafi military formation called the "Army of Islam."

Samira had been detained between 1987 and 1991 for being a leftist activist who opposed the regime of Hafez Assad. In the years preceding the revolution, she participated in numerous opposition activities, including protest sit-ins in the streets of Damascus; the two of us were arrested briefly after one of them in the spring of 2004. Samira also took part in many protest actions after the revolution began.

Razan is a lawyer, writer, and human rights activist, highly respected both at home and abroad. In 2011, she helped establish the Local Coordination Committees (LCC). This revolutionary association played an important role in organizing popular protests and promoting media coverage since the beginning of the Syrian revolution in the spring of 2011. They also developed an early political vision of the revolution's aims before any of the traditional parties could budge. Since 2012, the LCCs have played a large role in relief activities. Razan was also the main founder of the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), the most credible local information network about detainees and victims of the revolution.

Wael, Razan's husband, was arrested twice in 2011 and 2012. He was tortured savagely. "Razan's hero," as she herself described him, was a political activist before the revolution. He met Razan for the first time during some solidarity activities with the Palestinians against the Israeli aggression in 2002. The two then worked together for a human rights organization. Our mutual friend Nazem, a poet and lawyer, worked with them. If it were not for Nazem's and Wael's assistance, Razan would not have been able to do a lot of what she did in the LCC and VDC.

All four are peaceful activists, though their idea of revolution does not exclude forms of armed resistance. As a matter of (hitherto unknown) fact, the LCCs tried to contribute to the organization of resistance in some areas, and in early August of 2012, they proposed a code of conduct for the free Syrian army that was committed to Geneva Convention standards. Razan wrote it up and I provided a short introduction. Our final document was approved by some brigades of the FSA, but its influence melted away in few months under the heat of the struggle.

Because they were wanted by the regime, Razan, Wael, and Nazem were all forced to live in hiding in Damascus. In the spring of 2013, the regime began to pursue Samira too. Razan and Samira then went to Douma in Eastern Ghouta, where regime forces had been expelled in the fall of 2012. I had preceded them shortly before, in April of 2013, after two years of underground life in the capital. In July of that same year, I left for my hometown of Raqqa. In September, Razan and Samira were joined in Eastern Ghouta by Wael and Nazem.

The abduction of the Douma 4 has proven to be a great boon to the regime, since all four are all active opposition figures who represent the original liberatory values of the revolution in their persons, in their work, and in their histories. Their abduction in a "liberated area" facilitated the reduction of the Syrian struggle to a conflict between the Assadi state and salafi groups, which is the very thing the regime has wanted from the start. This state of affairs also suits the salafi groups that, in turn, want to portray themselves as the only agents struggling against the regime. The vital interests of both parties have converged on marginalizing the founding role of revolutionary political and human rights activists and radical intellectuals. This has been the case since the beginning of the current round of the Syrian struggle about four years ago, and, indeed, for decades before that.

Samira had been running the "An Nisa' alaan"(Women Now) center in Douma, which provides resources for local women to produce things that help them support their families. And among the four, her symbolic status is especially resonant. As a former political prisoner, Samira symbolizes the continuity of our struggle across two generations. Being of Alawi descent, Samira is also a symbol of the cross-communal character of the Syrian struggle. As a woman abducted by Islamists, Samira is positioned where the two fronts of our desperate struggle have met: on one side we face the Assadi neck-tie fascists, on the other the Islamic fascists in beards. Together, Samira and Razan also represent the major role of women in the Syrian revolution, something that should be ennobled in culture and art. Finally, Samira (who is very courageous, yet modest) is full of humanity, a great listener, and very steady and committed in her political views - all traits that make her an excellent example of women's struggle for freedom in Syria.

Razan, born in 1977, is of a younger generation, and she has established herself as one of its leading activists. She transformed the practice of human rights in Syria from a compliant domain of organizations for tired and retired persons into something revolutionary: for her, human rights entailed a militant activism against tyranny and a powerful, principled defence of justice. Her field experience with Islamic political prisoners is unmatched. How ironic that she was kidnapped by Islamists! Razan is also a gifted writer, and was a strong, effective manager of the LCC and VDC's work.

The abduction of two women and two men wanted by the regime in an area outside of regime control was a profound political and symbolic blow against a radical democratic current that was the most trans-communal and trans-regional in Syria, even though it was not well organized. This crime did not mark the origin of attacks against this current: many of its activists were arrested, killed, or forced to go to exile, at the hands of both the Assadis and salafis. But their abduction was the sole criminal act that blackened the horizon of the revolution and raised the most pessimistic outlooks about its future.

There are two things I find especially frustrating about the events I have just related. The first is that we (the families and friends of the abductees) lack any kind of support from a state or states. We have no millions to bribe to the kidnappers as the French, Italian and Spanish states did to Da'esh in order to secure the release of their respective citizens. We are also not affiliated with an influential sect, 'minority', or armed group. Second, there is no judicial system that we may resort to – locally, internationally, or any place in between. The United Nations does not care for the fate of individuals (or peoples, for that matter) and the International Criminal Court deals only with states.

As activists and families of the kidnapped we find ourselves in an unfortunate position. On the one hand, we do not want to isolate the cause of these two women and two men from the general Syrian cause, which is a bitter struggle against a criminal Assadi-Iranian-Russian alliance. But on the other hand, it is impossible for us not to show special regard for our loved ones who are in the hands of a Da'esh-like organization that still denies its responsibility for the crime - a denial that only intensifies our concern now that more than 400 days have passed. What is more, we have not received help from the official opposition bodies, which did not even express solidarity.

We are not completely isolated, however. Our two campaigns in 2014 to alert international human rights organizations along with other progressive organizations working in many countries met with positive responses. Dozens of these organizations signed statements condemning the terrorist kidnappers and calling for the release of the abductees. But this support has not borne fruit. These organizations have no influence on states or on fascist organizations.

Living through this cause for fourteen months and the Syrian cause for forty seven months, one cannot help but feel that there should be new rules of accountability on the global level. The current world order is oligarchic and corrupt, fraught with racism, characterized by ever more powerful states and ever more weakened societies, as well as the ethical and political putrefaction of the global left. After many lost opportunities to stand in solidarity with Syrians, and the generally indifferent position of the world towards the plight of millions of people, one is tempted to ask questions. Suppose that the Assad state had launched a nuclear attack against some rebellious regions? Would the world as it stands today have punished the aggressor? I doubt it very much. The present world order has utterly failed to deal with the biggest tragedy in a generation. It is therefore losing its legitimacy – the UN and its Security Council included.

Scattered among exposed populations under air and missile bombardment, tortured detainees, kidnapped persons of unknown fate, the internally and externally displaced, and refugees without defined rights, Syrians now constitute a human archipelago of legal nonentities that cross borders of states, cultures, identities, and "civilizations," and who have been pushed to the extremes of the human condition.[1] For such nonentities, so apparently despised and abandoned, who have found no justice and not even understanding in this (un)civilized world of nations and identities, only a world without nations and nationalities, without borders and passports, could be hospitable.

Internal framework of the Syrian struggle broke apart in the second half of 2012. The international framework that was supposed to protect civilians in Syria has not been functional from the beginning. Now a global security (counter-)revolution is in progress. When you fail to meet "their" criteria for democratic struggle, fascism gains ground everywhere, even in "your" household. The ghost of the absolute other is never far away, she/he is inside you.

The Syrian struggle raises fundamental questions about the state of the world and the human race, ones that could prompt new, liberatory ways of thinking. The Syrian struggle carries us beyond the pseudo-leftist analyses of Slavoj Žižek[2] who first proclaimed it a "pseudo-struggle" before dissolving it altogether into the binary of "the West/Islam." Samira, Razan, Wael, and Nazem are not agents in some pseudo-struggle. They are the (hopefully) living witnesses of a genuine struggle that is full of life... and death.

Lots of thanks to Kelly Grotke who edited this text.

[1] Da'esh itself, however savage, is only one island in this archipelago, an extreme possibility among extreme possibilities.

[2] A philosopher who knows absolutely nothing Syria.

Samira and Razan in Douma in the first days of 2013, brooms in hands, sweeping in a street.
After 29 years in prison (1973-2003), Fares Murad was severely ill with spondylosis. He died in 2009, he was 59. Samira is on his right and Razan on the left.
Posted 10 Feb 2015
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