The Free Soldiers

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, has called for international intervention to keep civil war from breaking out in Syria. As the death toll rises to over 3,000 and civilians still refuse to be subdued by the use of force, the mission of the Syrian army has changed “from protecting the homeland to protecting the Assad regime”.[1] This week protesters in Syria marched for “The Free Soldiers”, soldiers who have refused to shoot civilians and deserted the Syrian army. Many of them have joined the resistance movement after fleeing from the army, which executes deserters.[2] The loyalty of the Syrian army is crucial to the Assad regime; a regime which has remained in power for forty years through the use of force, not from a hegemonic ideology, which makes it different from most countries in the modern world. Assad is perhaps perceived to “have power” because he often uses the army and the Mukhabarat to intimidate his people into submission. Can anyone really “have power” though? According to Foucault, “power exercised on the body is conceived not as a property, but as a strategy, that its effects of domination are attributed not to “appropriation,” but to dispositions, maneuvers, tactics, techniques, functionings; that one should decipher in it a network of relations, constantly in tension, in activity, rather than a privilege that one might possess; that one should take as its model a perpetual battle rather than a contract regulating a transaction or the conquest of a territory. In short this power is exercised rather than possessed; it is not the “privilege,” acquired or preserved, of the dominant class, but the overall effect of its strategic positions – an effect that is manifested and sometimes extended by the position of those who are dominated.” Bashar al Assad’s “power” exists in his maneuvers and tactics of practicing violence against dissenters. It is the effect of his power that matters, rather than the forty years of history behind it- and the “effect” is currently completely ineffective. If the people who are dominated are no longer hindered by their fear of the Syrian army, and have never been bound to Assad by ideology, then he can no longer exercise power (let alone create the illusion of possessing it). If the UN commissioner’s request for international aid is answered, what would one expect as a cure? A new institution of domination- but with a more democratic mask? Could the people of Syria even be united by ideology with such a diverse population, or will they always be subjects of force in order to keep their state intact?

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