Photo: Free Syrian Army gets hold of a Shabiha in Aleppo

(click image for source)

The violence in Syria has escalated in recent weeks as the rebels have improved their tactics and made gains in Damascus and Aleppo. The picture above purportedly shows rebel fighters in Aleppo who have captured a shabiha (center), a plainclothes pro-government militiaman (like Iran’s Basij). What does this picture mean for Syria, more broadly? I think it bears disturbing similarity to the images coming out of Libya at the end of that country’s civil war, especially those of Ghaddafi during his brief time as a prisoner of the Libyan rebels.

I find the appearance of the fighter on the left perhaps most striking. To me, his facial expression exemplifies the transformation the Syrian uprising has undergone. The unbearably raw, almost animalistic fervor looks like the now prevalent violent permutation that’s taken place across the increasingly unwieldy state of affairs on the side of the opposition(s).

I remember watching a livestream video from a funeral–protest in Homs in maybe March or April. A dense swathe of people circled in a flow conducted by megaphone singing. A bunch of little boys kept forming conga-style lines with each other and jumping around, defiant grins on their faces. The caption said security forces were standing by, ready to open fire if the crowd showed too much…what? I don’t know. Back then, I worried that the continued use of overwhelming force on a population that had already fully given itself to its cause — no turning back — would inevitably push it to respond in kind. What would you expect?

It’s a tall order, and maybe even ultimately pointless, to practice nonviolent resistance — also known as violent death — in the face of attackers who will conceivably never appreciate the idea that they’re incurring bad karma. Taking up arms in resistance in the Syrian case was a last-ditch effort, and rightly so: any foothold on the moral high ground becomes alarmingly tenuous. In the United States we like to say we kept it through our own Revolution, but, uh, that’s questionable. The saddest thing about the situation, not just in Syria but across human history, is the tragic irony we bring upon ourselves when we set out for freedom and end up with just more tyranny instead.

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