Transcript: Syrian Revolution 10th Anniversary Interview with Razan Ghazzawi

Demonstrators protest against the bloody crackdown by the regime outside the Syrian embassy in Madrid on April 24, 2011 – Dominique Faget

First released 15 March, 2021. Original interview available here.

YouTube video of interview available here.

*Syrian Revolutionary Dabke plays*

*Where’s My Jetpack by Radio Free Babylon plays*

Ani White: Kia ora, hello comrades, and welcome to Where’s My Jetpack, I’m Ani White.

Derek Johnson: And I’m Derek Johnson. Hola, comrades.

This month is widely recognised as the tenth anniversary of the Syrian revolution, so we’re interviewing Syrian-American activist Razan Ghazzawi on women’s liberation and the revolution. But first, some recs. Ani..

Ani White: We’ve rec’ed this before but the books Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War by Leila al-Shami and Robin Yassin-Kassab, and also, The Impossible Revolution by Yassin al-Haj Saleh. Both well worth reading.

The Alliance of MENA or Middle East and North African Socialists have a number of very good videos of international forums and discussions. I particularly recommend Feminist Politics and the Syrian Revolution, which features our guest for this month, Razan Ghazzawi, as well as a number of other speakers. And they have a lot of those sort of international forums of activists and various continents, various countries, very worth-while educative forums. So yeah, the Alliance of MENA Socialists.

Derek Johnson: Yeah, that’s a very good resource. I also want to link to CounterVortex by Bill Weinberg, it has some pretty good articles over there and republishings. For instance this one, ‘Russiagate, Syria and the Left’ by Terry Burke with the Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria (CISPOS) in Minneapolis and the website for that organisation is www.cispos.org.

Also, I want to recommend the Bellingcat website. They do a lot of very good content and they’re constantly being attacked by Tankies and Nazbols as working for the State Department or the CIA, which is a crock of shit. I especially want to recommend their piece, ‘Pro-Assad Lobby Group Rewards Bloggers On Both The Left And The Right’ that exposes Red-Brown propagandists for Assad monetarily rewarding them with the Serena Shim Award. There’s winners like Jimmy Dore, the comedian turned toxic political commentator, who has been calling for a left-right populist alliance, like with the Boogaloo Boys. He won the award and was paid $250,000. You can check his IRS statements, if anybody thinks that’s a lie, as well as any of these other people. Visiting guests of the regime included Tulsi Gabbard and Dennis Kucinich who once ran for president of the United States.


Ani White: Yeah, andI recommend the documentary Women of Syria: Unheard No More by Amnesty International.


Derek Johnson: I want to also recommend a reprint that CounterVortex did of a piece by Leila al-Shami on ‘Omar Aziz: Syrian Anarchist’, which is an excellent history of an actual Syrian anarchist and the movement building he helped start with western leftists, ignoring unfortunately the Syrian local councils.

“Omar Aziz was born in Damascus, he returned to Syria, from exile in Saudi Arabia and the United States, in the early days of the Syrian revolution. An intellectual, economist, anarchist, husband and father. At the age of 63 he committed himself to the revolutionary struggle. He worked together with local activists to collect humanitarian aid and distribute it to suburbs of Damascus that were under attack by the regime. Through his writing and activity he promoted local self-governance, horizontal organisation, cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid as the means by which people could emancipate themselves from tyranny of the state. Together with comrades, Aziz founded the first local committee in Barzeh, Damascus. The example spread across Syria and with it some of the most promising and lasting examples of non-hierarchical self-organisation to have emerged from the countries of the Arab Spring. In her tribute to Omar Aziz, Budour Hassan says, he “did not wear a Vendetta mask, nor did he form black blocs”.”

Ani White: As always we’ll link these in the blog post at jetpack.zoob.net.

Before we move on to the interview, just a note. As well as being the official Tenth Anniversary of the Syrian Revolution, this is also the second anniversary of the Christchurch shooting in Aotearoa New Zealand when a far-right terrorist targeted two mosques and took out fifty people. Some of those attacked were themselves Syrian refugees. We remember the dead and fight for the living.

We also have another bonus episode released today with video essayist Bryon Clark on the far-right in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

*Chant: Asha’ab yurid izquat an-nizam (“The people want the fall of the regime”)*

Ani White: For the political thought segment we’re interviewing Razan Ghazzawi on the Syrian Revolution. Razan is an award winning human rights defender, blogger, exiled Palestinian Syrian U.S. based scholar activist and a doctoral researcher in gender studies at the University of Sussex. Her thesis looks at different forms of mobilisation of queerness in the context of the War on Terror in the Syrian war. Ghazzawi was detained twice by the Syrian state and was exiled by Al-Qaeda and ISIS groups in Northern Syria. She is the founder of the Feminist ArQives and a co-founder of the Karama Bus project in Idlib.

Welcome to the show and thanks for coming on.


Razan Ghazzawi: Thank you for having me!

Ani White: So, can you tell us about the early days of the revolution, which is sort of widely talked about as beginning ten years ago today?


Razan Ghazzawi: Thanks for that. Well, a lot to be said about those moments. I like to talk about them as moments because it’s really a very different form of protest. When it started in Tunisia and Egypt a lot of people in Syria, at least where I was in Damascus and the people around me – I’m talking about some bloggers, because there was blogging at that time, some film makers, some artists – so me and the community around me really wanted to protest and really wanted to be on the streets. We did start a solidarity protest – and this is a very important idea; how the protest started in Syria. We started in solidarity, in Damascus at least, with the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. Then throughout these protests and throughout these, let’s not say protests but these solidarity sit-ins really, it kind of shifted towards more of a protest demanding the state itself to condemn what happened in Dar’aa, for example, on the 18th of March (2011) when children were tortured and some of them were tortured to death. Like Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb and others because they were drawing graffiti on their school. The idea of advocating for children’s rights is an essential ideal when we’re thinking about the protests in Syria and also when we’re thinking about the protesting in Syria in those earlier days we also need to be thinking about solidarity as a notion not just within the Syrian state or geography but also across North Africa and the West Asia region.

I wanted to quickly talk about the debate that’s been happening, like: ‘when did the revolution start in Syria?’ There’s a big debate which is referred to as a kind of a city-centred debate or a city-centred side or one is more of a suburb-centred side in the sense. That some people would say, “oh no, the protests started in February in Damascus” and others would say, “no, actually the protest started in Daa’ra.” which is the periphery, outside the centre. I’m finding the either / or narratives or either / or solutions… it doesn’t have to be either / or. We can say, “protests developed in different ways in Damascus” then how would they develop in Daa’ra. We can just easily embrace the protests that happened in Damascus as well as Daa’ra and this is kind of my approach, that we really cannot say that the protests, the sit-ins, the movement that happened in Damascus we should erase them just because it’s the centre, because it has a different kind of symbolism against the state. Which it’s more difficult to protest in Damascus, the capital, than it was in Daa’ra. So in that sense this is how I personally view the earlier days of the uprising.


Ani White: You were imprisoned twice, triggering an international solidarity campaign. Can you talk about that?


Razan Ghazzawi: Yeah. *Sighs* I mean, I was in detention in prison at the time and I remember in prison and detention, as was the case in a lot of authoritarian military states, you’re in prison or detention, you’re cut out of outside information. You don’t know what’s happening outside, so I had no idea there was an international solidarity campaign until I was released. When I was released I remember I logged in to my Facebook and I saw a lot of people adding me as a friend request and I was a bit overwhelmed with the solidarity campaign. I’m very thankful from my readers and my friends, bloggers, because I’ve been blogging since 2005 in Damascus. I also started in Arabic but then I shifted into English because there was a lot of bullying from how I was talking a lot about sexual harassment and LGBTQ content. So I was not able to write in Arabic and I shifted into English and I think that shift made me more accessible to a wider readership and I think that affected why there was a huge campaign, I guess. I’m very thankful and at the same time I have used that access to talk about other detainees.

Derek Johnson: Thank you for sharing that.

Your research concerns the role of the LGBT struggle in the Syrian revolution. Can you talk about this?

Razan Ghazzawi: Yeah, so.. *sighs* This is an ongoing process. I am personally more looking into the idea of surveillance. How do we think about surveillance and how do we think about security in Syria? When we think more about those issues from a perspective of an LGBTQ positionalities and subjectivities. So how do people who actually have different or non-normative gender or sexual identities and expressions, how do they experience check points? In my thesis I focus on check points because they were an emergent form of surveillance that appeared and occurred in the uprising. They were used by the state to hunt down protesters and they wanted to close the connections, the bridges between certain neighbourhoods. They were collaborative in terms of aid, in terms of smuggling activists who were wanted. So there’s a lot of forms of solidarity, also forms of activism that happened across neighbourhoods, across cities and suburbs, and the check points were really there to cut and rupture those connections. So this is what I’m trying to do in my thesis. Through the life histories, interviews and ethnographic research, I’m trying to capture those kind of nuances. What happens when we think about check points from the perspective of a trans woman or someone who’s a femme gay or a butch or any person who’s just for the first time in a direct, well, not the first time really but let’s say there’s different interactions depending where you are with the state? Some of my interlocutors tell me that in Latakia no one would talk to you if you look gay, whatever that means. People in Damascus would have different stories to tell about that. There’s more security, there’s more surveillance. So I’m trying to look at all of those connections and debates, and seeing how they connect together. I’m still in a writing up process so I’m all over the place with my topic and my thesis. It takes some time to make sense of everything.

Ani White: And it’s not something that I’ve seen a lot of writing on or discussion of; is the role of LGBT struggle in the revolution. So, I understand that. I’m in the middle of my PhD myself so it can be hard to talk about it mid-stream, but it’s good to get an impression of where you’re at with that research. Very interested to see how that turns out.

But can you talk about the phases of militarisation and how they have affected women in the revolution?

Razan Ghazzawi: Yeah. This is also a debate about the phases of the militarisation and I would say there’s a mainstream debate, a mainstream perspective, a general idea that people had to carry arms and to protect themselves. I do think this is correctly part of the narrative, this is essentially very important, yes. People did. The Syrian state have used, monopolised, and weaponised every single element of the state – the state infrastructure, the state hospitals. There was no safe space to go to. The campus was not safe. I have colleagues who have been tortured to death on campus. I have friends who have been disappeared on universities… Students were beaten on campus. There was really no sense of safety in any state institution during the uprising and this is early on. People were protesting; students, workers, and the state increasingly started to use weapons, thugs and also escalated. This is what pushed some communities to defend themselves and I think this is a very important acknowledgement to say that communities did want to protect their communities from the Syrian state army.

But also at the same time I’m really worried about just talking about this narrative because even though it is true it is not the full story. I think the reason why we need to talk about how communities defend themselves [is that] we need talk about what do other players in the region and worldwide benefit from putting arms in, let’s just say, some of the communities who are eager to defend themselves.

So I think this is why I think it’s very important to be critical from the early on to the role of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and also Turkey. The Muslim Brotherhood specifically did want to try to gain political grounds by militarisation and by putting arms in the hands of some of the revolutionaries on the ground. This kind of narrative when we’re talking about the state violence and how communities were trying to protect themselves I think it’s very important to remember the role of the Muslim Brotherhood, the role of the Gulf, the role of Erdoğan also trying to push for militarisation to co-opt the uprising. I think this is where I disagree with some of the experts and some of the diaspora-based experts on Syria, who see only one narrative and are trying to romanticise the struggle as if we were just pushed toward militarisation. It’s not exactly the full truth; people were also trying to resist militarisation and trying to stick to non-violence because they knew and they understood this is not the strength of the movement. But, you know, things get complicated and this is why they were bullied – non-violent, anti-violent – and also some of them like professor Mohja Kahf, for example, who’s really a visionary. Also Razan Zaitouneh and others who’ve been really visionary feminists and visionary human rights advocates and writers who would see that while we need to defend ourselves, at the same time we need to be careful of how militarisation would effect, not only women, but also communities in the long-run. This is true, as you said with your question, a lot of the people – I don’t identify as a woman, I identify as nonbinary femme – but we can say that a lot of the people who are non-normative, they are not cis men, they are not macho. Also, masculinities, even femme masculinities were also not welcomed to be part of the uprising. So it is something that a lot of challenges that social movements go through and it’s only the nuances and the people from within the movement who are wary about these conflicts that need to really be advocating how to get out of them and how to address them rather than to just sugar-coat them and romanticise them.

So yeah, I think that we have a lot of work to do on that front, of how to really trace how the militarisation of the movement did affect communities in the long-run and farmers and workers and nonconforming people. Not just politically but also in gender, racially and class-wise. So this is a debate that is very important to think about when we think about militarisation. 

Derek Johnson: How did the revolution become sectarianised?

Razan Ghazzawi: It’s a big question. I definitely cannot answer that fully but I personally would say when we’re thinking about social movements, new spaces emerge and new spaces open and that made a lot of people want to co-opt that space. I think this is what happened. What happened is a lot of people, like for example, Adnan Al-Aroor. Al-Aroor is a personality, a character. He’s a public figure who used really his money and his connections to disseminate really sectarian discourse early in the uprising. That’s what made a lot of people actually withdraw, critical and scared to join. Specifically people who are also scared of movements in Syria. At the time there was a lot of people who wanted to talk about the danger and harm of this discourse and there were a lot of efforts to combat this hatred but again with the militarisation things got really out of control. This is the curse of militarisation, that you have little space, you don’t have as powerful tools to convince or rather to combat this extremist, takfiri that I’d like to call them, movement.

I think that sectarianism is something that we need to – and I would say racism, patriarchy and classism – they all need to be thought about specifically as anti-revolutionary, as counter-revolutionary culture and that we really need to think about challenging.

Ani White: Yeah, I think there’s a case to be made that there’s two forms of counter-revolution that have occurred. Obviously the brutal counter-revolution from the Assad regime but then the issue of the internal counter-revolution and that’s maybe a more difficult question in a way.

Can you talk about the Kurdish struggle?


Razan Ghazzawi: So, I am personally someone who – I mean, this is a very important thing to say – I am learning. I am learning, I am someone who has been living under military dictatorship all my life. I was isolated from the Kurdish struggle. We were brought up to believe we were all Arabists and we were all Arabs, so the idea is very new to me personally as someone who is learning about my communities and different communities that are living in Syria. I do not see myself as an expert but what I can say is that what I’ve learned from the Kurdish struggle in Syria.

From early on in 2012 when the F.S.A. [Free Syrian Army] had started to gain control, there was a case, I don’t remember when, but in 2012 when the F.S.A. wanted to get into Kurdish areas and Kurdish dominated villages I remember a lot of people I respect on Facebook, they shared posts saying that this is very dangerous. When the Arab-backed revolutionaries would go into Kurdish dominated areas under the pretext of liberating it, that that would create a lot of tension in the long run. I think this is a very important sensitivity that a lot of the Arab revolutionaries do not reflect on. There’s a lot of hatred, a lot of racism. I’m talking as someone within the movement. I’m not talking about, you know, a lot of diasporic conversation and debate about the Kurdish struggles is very much ethno-Orientalist, I would say. This is something I talked about in my article and Al Jazeera English, is how to be critical of social movements but at the same time but also careful of how this could lead into hatred towards the Kurds. For example, in an Arabist culture that the Assad regime had been advocating and the anti-Kurdish and anti-Indigenous practices that had been happening in Syria against the Kurds and against the Indigenous communities. We’re talking also about Assyrians, we’re talking about a lot of Indigenous communities. This is an historical oppression of Kurds; not to use their language, not to use their culture, not to have their children to be named their Kurdish names. They had to be named Arabic names. They cannot own, they cannot work. All of these struggles that the Syrian Kurdish people have suffered long before Hafez [al-Assad] came. This is also important to say, it’s something that Arab opposition, Arab revolutionaries, don’t think about as much and I think we have a lot more work to learn about each other. This is revolutionary work when you dismantle a dictatorship and a military in a way that you would reflect on your own privileges as someone who is an Arab in Syria. Let’s just say that privilege is not really the right word here but more access than the Kurdish citizens or stateless, actually, people. That is very important revolutionary thinking that we don’t do as much.


Ani White: And what role have the various international states played in Syria?


Razan Ghazzawi: I call it the War on Syrians. It’s just a war on the people in Syria. In the partition, the conflict, the proxy-war – it’s a co-optation of the movement. It is how a popular movement, how a just movement, has turned into a war and how people who have been protesting with so much agency and so much energy to think about the future and to build a future, and how it is today facing the consequences of the war methods that Assad and their allies have started and chose.

Ani White: There are obviously so many states that have played various roles.


Razan Ghazzawi: That’s a big question really.

Derek Johnson: Yeah, that’s been the big problem and I think that’s played into a lot of the reactionary propaganda of writing off the revolution as just proxy wars and the U.S. or somebody just doing a regime change and that kind of talk.

What remains of the democratic revolution either in Syria or the diaspora?

Razan Ghazzawi: This is where I like to talk about revolutionary moments, not a revolution that has a time-frame of when it began and when it ended. I’m not really in favour of thinking about revolutions like that, I’m thinking about revolutions as a constant movement. It happens. Protesting in Damascus in 2011 in March or February, this is how protest was but now ten years later it could be something else, it does not mean it ended. People have changed forever. I have the very strong belief that people who protested once in front of scary powers, military and states, I do believe that people who have done that are always protesters. As a PhD student I protested against my first supervisory team. I know a lot of students in my school did not do that. So when I hear the stories of students who are scared to change their supervisory teams because this is how academic work happens – you just have to accept, you just have to deal with it. But I did not. And because I protested once I will always protest, whether in academia or any other place or space. This is why I don’t think the revolution ended, I feel that people are creative. They have different forms of protest. This is true. I feel that today a lot of communities care about their children, they care about their relatives, they care about sending support and solidarity, caring about ‘let’s just help my friend to get to Europe’. All these forms are forms of protest. This is why my PhD looks at nonbinary ways of protest. How can we think about protest away from the mainstream idea that a revolution only happens inside the country or only happens when there’s people marching in the street. I’m not saying that I am positive about the future, I’m definitely ten years older than I was before. I’m also very tired and I’m very burned out. I’m still healing from the past ten years. A lot of people are like that. I just feel like I’m a different person and I’m only talking about myself. And I am a stubborn person and I feel like a lot of people are like that. I do feel like people who are healing and they’re taking a break, they will make other revolutions in the next ten years.


Ani White: Yeah, it’s been good to see the recurrence of some of these uprisings, in Lebanon as well.

You’ve worked with Raed Fares of Radio Fresh in Idlib and he was assassinated by Al-Qaeda, and you had your own troubles with Al-Qaeda and ISIS in Northern Syria. Can you tell us about this?


Razan Ghazzawi: After my release and second detention I decided to leave Damascus because I was burned out from detention and I could not do it again. I was told that I was wanted for a third detention because of, as I was explaining to you, the work we were doing with Leila and Ana Uday in between in Yarmouk Camp in Damascus, specifically around medicine and aid. So after I decided to go to Kafr Nabl, in Idlib, Raed told me, ‘you can stay, you can do your work’, I decided to co-found the Karama Bus project, which is a psychosocial support project. It provides alternative education to IDP children – Internally Displaced children. In Idlib in the area at the time, we’re talking about – I went there in December 2012 – and I stayed there until the end of 2013. So we’re talking pretty much in the whole of the 2013 year. So the area at the time it was newly liberated, a lot of families had left their villages and they went to take shelter in schools. So there was a large number of families living in schools and a large number of children who did not go to schools and also they did not have access to play. So what we did is that we were a bus of four people and we used to go to six villages in Idlib. We had a projector, we screened cartoons, songs, we also played sport with the kids. We used to go there around sunset, so there was a little bit of sun there, we played sport and then we’d start preparing to screen some cartoons. We’d stay there like for like couple of hours and we’d go back home.

So that kind of movement everyday, everyday, everyday for a week. It kind of brought some headache from ISIS, which was towards the middle and the end of 2013. I started to get people coming over to say – I was not veiled at the time, I refused to wear the veil. And I used to get people coming to me, to my office, telling me that, ‘Sister, you need to put your your veil on. It’s provoking people.’ And of course, when I say provoking people, we’re not talking about communities. People working with me, families and their mothers and their kids are all accepting. It’s just that ISIS and Al-Nusra, and also, I have to say, F.S.A. were not accepting of me at the time, of me being like a non-conforming female assigned at birth and who’s non-veiled. So, that was on the one hand, and the second hand, also Raed, he was very much vocal against extremists. He was very much an advocate of secularism. He used to talk about that and used to draw Kafr Nabl banners. So there was a lot of tension in the air – what we wanted and, at the same time, what was the power on the ground and how it’s changing due to militarisation. What happened afterwards is really me and Raed were on a tour. Towards the end of 2013 in the US we’re trying to speak about Syria, speaking about Kafr Nabl, we’re talking about our work and then we hear that our colleagues in Kafr Nabl were raided by ISIS; were raided and they were kidnapped. Our toys, our tools were confiscated. Our laptops, our projector, that I was just telling you about, it was all confiscated by ISIS. Even the toys were smashed and broken, our offices were broken. This is why it wasn’t I’m able to go back to Kafr Nabl after this raid. This happened after several times of people coming to Raed and coming to my office to kind of warn us about our discourse. So that’s when Raed told me, ‘Razan, you should not come back unless you are veiled’. That’s what he said and that’s when I decided I’m not going to be coming back veiled. Raed survived the first assassination attempt. That was in early 2014. He remained underground, not even going to his place, not even seeing his kids and his wife. He remained underground for two years, escaping ever since that assassination attempt until he was killed with Hammoud in 2018 while I was doing my PhD fieldwork in Beirut, Lebanon, at the time.

Raed is someone who, I call him an intellectual and a community organiser. There’s so much to be written about Raed and people like Raed. I don’t think, even though a lot has been said about Raed I don’t think he’s been appreciated enough; what he did and what he done. He was a mayor, in my view. He was a Kafr Nabl mayor, he was an excellent mayor. He knew how to internationalise Kafr Nabl in a way to talk about the solidarity of the revolution. Kafr Nabl was one of the earliest villages to be in solidarity with the Kurdish struggle. I do not endorse all of their banners. Some of their banners, I think I disagree with. We want to we don’t want to romanticise each other’s work as well. I mean, I’m very critical of romanticisation and making people look perfect. We’re not perfect. We have a lot of issues we need to talk about. But for the most part, we did our best and Raed, he was a mentor that I still reflect on his leadership and his wisdom.

 
Ani White: Thanks for sharing that.

Are there strong connections between women’s groups in the Middle East and North Africa and are there any kind of internal tensions?


Razan Ghazzawi: Yeah, I like to think about women’s groups that they’re not homogenous groups. Definitely not every woman is a progressive woman, not every woman is a feminist. So, for example, I’m right now reading a book by Bouthaina Shaaban and she talks about Damascus diaries. She only talks about Assad and the peace process. So a state feminist, like Bouthaina Shaaban, or like, a right wing feminist, you know, this is also part of the women’s movement in the region. You have a lot of, also, right wing feminists in the uprising, of course. Woman groups are like huge groups, there are a lot of groups. In Syria, they are over, I don’t know, I cannot really count any more. I mean, the last time I checked, there was over 150 groups. So one of the groups I remember, their goal was to combat homosexuals in Idlib. So you see what I’m saying? There’s different movements or different dimensions or different struggles or different discourses really. I would say NGOisation of the movement is pretty much part of that. Definitely there are different not just internal conflicts. I would say it’s more political conflicts, more political, different positionalities. What kind of feminist or women’s movement that is going to advocate for the rights of the stateless, the rights of refugees, the rights of single moms, of IDPs, of sex workers? What kind of women’s movement or feminist movement is working on also talking about Palestine as an essential kind of struggle?

 
Derek Johnson: Yeah, it seems to seems to be that kind of complication everywhere.

Can you talk about the relationship between the Syrian revolution and other international struggles such as the Palestinian struggle?


Razan Ghazzawi: Yeah. For some reason, there’s a contested relationship between the Palestinian struggle and the Syrian revolution. I think the Syrian opposition make it difficult because they’re reactionary. A lot of the Syrian opposition and I would say some of the mainstream revolutionaries are a bit reactionary when it comes to Palestinian struggle because they see it as, ‘How has Assad co-opted anti imperialist struggle?’ He wanted to say that ‘I am the person who would support Palestine. So you have to be okay with everything I do so that we continue supporting Palestine, or be anti Zionism or anti imperialist’. And in doing so there’s no human rights whatsoever. Now the Syrian opposition, they came and said, ‘Okay, we don’t want to talk about Palestine anymore. We don’t want to talk about the centrality of Palestine. We don’t care about Palestine, we care about us. Syria first.’ Even some of them would want to talk to Israel. Actually some of them went to Israel. I will say some of the Syrian gays even went to Israel and some of the Syrian gays in Berlin they’re also practising normalisation with Israeli artists and performers.

So it’s really interesting that what Hafez al-Assad and Bashar did, they created a reactionary movement within the social movement towards Palestinian struggle. A lot of Syrians I feel are reactionary, kind of like really fed up with Palestinian struggle and I think this is what’s alarming. This is the work of intellectuals that we need to be very aware of what states push us to because of the way they co-opt struggles they push us to think about struggles the way that they do. That actually made a lot of, unfortunately, some of the Palestinians, let’s just say, Ali Abunimah for example, in Chicago where I am right now. His discourse, for example, is very problematic towards the Syrian revolution. So because he very much believed the discourse of the Assad regime, he believed the state’s discourse. He does not want to listen to people’s discourse. So you have all of these kind of public figures in the Palestinian movement, unfortunately, who would believe what Assad is saying.

You have at the same time the Syrian opposition. They would be reactionary to what Assad has done and is doing. You would have these two not trying to push more of a collaborative solidarity discourse between the two struggles or trying to really obstruct that solidarity. So this is why the work of grass-roots was important here and the work of intellectuals, artists and activists is to kind of remember how our struggle is different. Well, it is different, because, you know, settler colonialism is different from Assad, right? I mean, we’re not to say we’re the same. But at the same time, because we live different struggles, because we have different oppressions it is important that we have this solidarity. I think that also this is something to work on, hopefully, in the future.

Derek Johnson: So what is to be done?

Razan Ghazzawi: Personally speaking I’m looking at being a teacher. I feel like I have gained so much insight and I have had been through experiences and met so many amazing people the past ten years. I’ve learned so much and I’ve made so many mistakes that I’m reflecting on. I’m learning so much about self-care and learning so much about burnout, and my limitations and my capabilities, and also self-love. I have to thank a lot of the Black feminists who have been writing about these issues a long, long time ago. So personally I would say, reading about other people’s struggle, other people’s work so that we learn how to communicate our struggle. That’s a lot of work and we need to be more creative, I feel, not just to continue to produce the same old. I feel like there’s a lot of repetition happening, especially now with the Ten Years Anniversary. We’re going to keep on continuing romanticisation, continuing celebrating the heroics of our uprising and I’m really at the point of, that’s really nice but let’s just talk mistakes now. Let’s just talk what can be done. How can we think about the kids who have not experienced anything but camps so far? We have so much youth that are really struggling with paperwork they’re not even able to settle down, they’re not able to continue their studies. I’m really worried about the children and the youth of the region in Syria, in Yemen, in Palestine, in Lebanon. I think about them a lot. I think this is one of the reasons why I want to be a teacher and why I’m doing my PhD is because I wanted to bring all of this insight to the academy. Academy has been learning, slowly, about the struggle but they’re a bit stuck with their buzz words. You know, ‘Arab Spring’ and ‘counter-insurgency’. I’m just thinking about how to create different curriculums, how to create different knowledge production that is very much closer to communities. To also give them tools to communicate their own struggles and how to support their work, if that makes sense?


Ani White: Yeah, absolutely – building those connections.

Thanks for coming on the show and sharing where you’re at with everything.


Razan Ghazzawi: Thank you so much for having me. I hope I made sense! I felt like some of the stuff I said maybe did not make sense.

Derek Johnson: No, it made a lot of sense. Thank you.

*laughs*


Ani White: Yeah, I understand we’re in the process of figuring things out and it was good to hear where you’re at with that.


Razan Ghazzawi: Thank you. Thank you for having me.


Ani White: Thanks.

As always, listeners, if you found this useful please donate to our Patreon at www.patreon.com/jetpack1917 also please drop a review at Apple Podcasts. Thanks for listening.

Derek Johnson: Solidarity! And we’ll see you, in the future!

*Chant: Asha’ab yurid izquat an-nizam (“The people want the fall of the regime”)*