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Jacopo Natoli on Tue, 6 Sep 2011 11:52:38 +0200 (CEST)

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The Blood of the Victim: Revolution in Syria and the Birth of the Image-Event


Text by Jon Rich

You can find the full original article at:



videos by Jacopo Natoli








(…) The broadcast image remained dominant during the revolutions throughout the Arab world, from Tunisia to Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya. Yet, with the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, it looks as if something major has changed. The revolution in Syria did not confront an authoritarian regime like those of Egypt or Tunisia. Aziz Al-Azmeh has labeled the regime in Syria a nizam mamlouki—a regime (nizam) that sees the people, the land, and everything above or below it, as an unquestionable part of its own exclusive property. In a sense, the Syrian mamlouki regime doesn’t care for the lives in its possession, and therefore finds it simple to punish them with death and starvation. In Daraa, things could not have been more clear: a city is punished by withholding electricity, water, and food, leaving it to choose between dying or yielding. It was a medieval kind of military procedure with no relation to modern times. It is well known that president Bashar al-Assad governs Syria from the memory of his father, the president Hafez al-Assad, who used fighter planes to bombard the city of Hama in 1982, executing a massacre with no modern parallel other than the massacre of Hiroshima. For Bashar al-Assad to govern from the memory of his father is somehow explainable, but if that memory is to be so obsolete and defunct as we have seen most recently in the actions of the Syrian security forces, then the invitations to coexist with the regime necessarily become irrelevant. Consequently, the equation created by the Syrian rebels, with their profound modernity, defeats not only Bashar al-Assad, but also the conscience of a world showing limited support for rebels who die in front of cameras.

From the outset of the crisis in Syria, political analysts waited for a demonstration of millions in Damascus so they could begin to anticipate the collapse of the bloody regime. Images of a million demonstrators is itself enough to change the logic of politics in the world, for it is irrefutable evidence that “the people want a change of the regime.” Yet the first weeks passed without a demonstration by millions. There were small demonstrations springing out of unexpected places in many Syrian towns and cities, and they were met by unspeakable violence from the security forces. The toll was modest in terms of numbers, but the rebels demonstrated an audacity that the world has not seen, and is probably not yet willing to see.



the Heart from the Moon




International television networks and news agencies backed away from showing the images of the blood and torn flesh that protesters shed fearlessly in the face of their oppressor. The excuse was the same: some violent scenes should not be broadcast live, for such images could have undesirable effects on viewers. But the images from Syria are not those that were previously the subject of distaste. They are not the images of Zarqawi, nor the images taken by privileged journalists in southern Sudan.

The image-makers of Syria, for the first time in history, simultaneously occupied two enormous roles: the role of the victim and that of hero. The Syrian photographer is a protester, but instead of filming the crowd he films his own personal death.





It is a form of suicide against the cameras that spares no one, even if the world’s networks refrain from broadcasting its images. The protester in Syria is simultaneously a victim of bare repression and a historian. A protester who writes history with his own blood, body, and nerves will be a challenge for future historians, but the revolution in Syria has also put the media to a difficult test. Régis Debray has said that the journalist is a dog going following scents, but this precise description does not apply to the Syrian image-maker/protester. The protester there does not resemble the journalist as a vulture attracted by the distant smell of blood. The protester in Syria transforms the security forces into vultures, for they show up wherever the protester is, and begin feeding on bodies. So much for the ordeal of the media and the traditional politics of solidarity.


The Syrian bloodshed puts yet another party to a harder and more significant test. One can assert without hesitation that the Syrian protesters defeated all forms of political movement using violence as a means of achieving their goals. The first losers were Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The Syrian image-maker is not the aggressor like Zarqawi, who used to film himself killing his victims. The video showing the security men in the village of Bayda stepping on the backs of the arrested might be close to this, but it is an exception more than it is the rule. The Syrians broadcasted images of their own death by live bullets, and the slain cannot be blamed for his blood. Still, this image-maker places the spectator in a complex position, for the person who sees these images can no longer risk being on the side of the killer, nor can he or she identify with the helpless victim.




no title



The Syrian image confronts the spectator with the impossibility of being Syrian, whether the Syrian is killer or victim. It is more than a spectator can withstand. This is perhaps why the Syrian images did not proliferate, as did those of the Egyptian revolution, for it becomes very difficult to say, “we are all Syrians,” as some would say we are all Palestinians or Egyptians. We are still far from equaling the Syrians in their stature or courage.


It is for these reasons that the victory of the Syrian revolution is imminent. If the Syrians were to fail in face of the mamlouki regime, no one in the world would endure this defeat. Since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, the world has had no choice but to side with the repressed.


The Tunisians and Egyptians, and before them the Iranians and Lebanese, have struggled to divert the image and the word from familiar paths. Their effort was not the product of an intellectual or conceptual maturity, but a concrete endeavor. These rebels knew that if they didn’t assume control over the processes of interpretation, and if they didn’t announce their manifestos concisely and without embellishment, they wouldn’t be able to shape their own destinies and those of their countries. Some revolutions succeeded and others failed, but the ones that failed were no less exemplary than those that were victorious or that still have hope for victory. Victory in revolution is not a theoretical lesson, for who can assure us that the French or Russian revolutions failed or succeeded? Yet we know that they inspired and effected change, not only in their immediate context but on an international scale. It seems that the eagerness of those rebels to assume control of the meaning of their revolutions was decisive in defining their nature and importance. However, those rebels did not experience the medieval machine of repression facing Libyan and Syrian rebels. The case of Libya is of course different from that of Syria, for the world rushed to condemn Gaddafi and his regime, and this made the theoretical burden on the Libyan rebels less imposing. The Syrians face a regime that hasn’t yet played all its cards, as its Libyan counterpart did. The Syrians want to prove that their affable president is not a reformer, as Hilary Clinton describes him to be, and that the secular regime is not a guardian of minorities as its men like to claim.


The Syrian protesters knew, while the rest of the world didn’t, that the moment they chose to go into the streets they would certainly fall into the blind trap of the Ba’athist death. By carrying their cameras and filming their personal deaths they deeply and radically changed the logic of an image that we once recognized from a commentary on an event to an accomplished event in itself.







Presumably, this change will continue to trouble the international media. In Egypt, Tunisia, and Iran, the word was the event, but this has always been the case. In Lebanon, the image never reached an event, but in many ways the events became an image. The Lebanese proclaimed that they faced a terrifying machine of repression—the same one that the Syrians now face—but that machine was dismantled early in the course of their revolution. The Lebanese simply waited in front of cameras, showing their willingness to confront the cruelty of repression without its ever having to materialize. In Syria we find the other side of the same equation: there were only a few people compared to the crowds of the other revolutions, but all of them were shot at and all of them were dying in front of cameras that documented their deafening and bloody deaths.

The Syrian authorities immediately made it a crime to possess a camera, and they arrested anyone found taking images on a mobile phone. The image that became an event has been strictly Syrian, for no one in the world has produced anything similar. The media, and television networks in particular, can no longer equal what the Syrian rebels have produced. They might have been lucky for having been banned from reporting on Syrian soil.


By turning the image into an autonomous event, the Syrian rebels were able to safeguard its meaning. They succeeded in guiding the process of interpretation while they claimed and endorsed the images of their own deaths. From now on, no state, people, or group has a right to tell them what is best for them, or whether their president is a reformer. The Syrian rebels now hold the exclusive right to interpret their own images, for the images are of the event of their death, and it is for this reason they hold the exclusive right to decide the future of their country.

















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