Today a MESA panel discussed how the people committed to the Syrian revolution of 2011 experienced and continue to experience their lives. The most powerful was a presentation by Professor Wendy Pearlman of Northwestern University. In 2012 and 2013 she interviewed revolutionaries who had fled Syria to Jordan and Turkey. She speaks of four phases of fear:
- Fear as the coercive authority of the state: Before the revolution, “the walls have ears” and rumors of information about torture are everywhere.
- Fear as a barrier to be broken: During the protests, people muster a new ability to act through or despite fear. Some quotes: “Is that protester a man and I’m not a man?” “My generation could go out and protest, my parents experienced Hama 1982 [a massacre of protesters by the Hafez Assad regime].” “I engaged my humanity for the first time.” “It was better than my wedding day.”
- Fear as way of life: As the revolution devolves into a civil war, fear becomes the backdrop. People experience terror physically – breaking out in acne, having digestive problems. Horror becomes normalized – bodies buried in every public park, weekly routine planned around Friday massacres. From “Thank goodness the walls no longer have ears” to “Yeah, but now we don’t have walls.”
- Fear of the future: Now many of these young peaceful leaders are in exile. To some extent they have lost the sense of solidarity. They are closing in on themselves. They fear the radical Salafi trend: “All people could talk about in October 2013 was “Da’ash: ‘We did all these things for the revolution, and then Da’ash came and did all these things.’ The fear of the regime is gone, but now there is a fear of revolution itself.”