‘Little Gandhi’ pays the price for pacifism

‘Little Gandhi’ pays the
price for pacifism

The death of a peaceful protester has sparked
despair in Syria, Liz Sly reports.

From http://fairfaxmedia.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx

Tags: Syria, Ghiyath Matar,  heroes, quiet heroes, peace, pursuit of peace, Liz Sly, Washington Post

It is from
numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each
time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or
strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and
crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those
ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression
and resistance.
Robert F.
Kennedy
, South Africa, 1966
US Democratic politician (1925 –
1968)
It is from
numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each
time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or
strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and
crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those
ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression
and resistance.
Robert F.
Kennedy
, South Africa, 1966
US Democratic politician (1925 –
1968)

TO THE
extent that the stillleaderless Syrian uprising can be said to have any leaders
at all, Ghiyath Matar, a tailor with a fondness for flowers, was one of them.

Photo: Human Rights Watch Activist: Ghiyath Matar died in
custody.

His name
was little known outside the Damascus suburb of Darayya, where he lived and
worked and soon was to become a father. But there he was regarded as a hero, an
inspirational organiser of antigovernment rallies whose passionate commitment
to nonviolence earned him the nickname ‘‘Little Gandhi’’.

When his
brutalised body was delivered to his parents’ home last week, four days after
Syrian authorities detained him and a month shy of his 25th birthday, the
shockwaves rippled far beyond.

A man who
had encapsulated the youthful idealism of Syria’s grassroots protest movement,
pioneering the tactic of handing out roses and water to the troops sent to
shoot demonstrators, had died in custody.

And with
him, a little piece of the Syrian revolution also seemed to die.

Activists
across the country shuddered with outrage and with fear. US Ambassador Robert
Ford showed up at Matar’s wake, as did other western envoys, to express support
for his pacifism at a time when many frustrated protesters are clamouring for
arms. Twitter exploded with tributes, many of them quoting the testimony he
delivered to his activist friends in anticipation of his death.

‘‘
Remember me when you celebrate the fall of the regime and . . . remember that I
gave my soul and my blood for that moment,’’ he wrote. ‘‘May God guide you on
the road of peaceful struggle and grant you victory.’’

Whether
his wish will be heeded seems in grave doubt, however. Matar is by no means the
first protest organiser to die in detention since the revolt against President
Bashar alAssad’s rule began in March. But his death comes at a critical moment
for the uprising, which is entering its seventh month amid few signs that
Assad’s government is in danger of falling.

The mass
protests that drew hundreds of thousands of people in cities such as Hama and
Deir al-Zour earlier in the year have been crushed by highly publicised tank
assaults, in which hundreds died. Demonstrations continue on a daily basis
nationwide, but so do the killings – 54 have died since Matar was buried last
Saturday, human rights groups report.

And out
of the spotlight, a systematic sweep of activists in the Damascus area has
netted dozens of key players in recent weeks, including Matar, chilling the
protest movement there and casting into doubt prospects that the capital will
one day be able to muster the momentum needed to seriously challenge the Assad
regime in the one place where it really matters.

The
momentum is ‘‘dying’’ in Damascus, said Alexander Page, an activist based in
the capital who uses a pseudonym to protect his identity. He said he knew Matar
and has seen nearly 20 other colleagues disappear into detention. ‘‘A lot of
people have gone into hiding, and a lot of people are not taking part in
protests,’’ he said.

Many
activists suspect that informants have penetrated their ranks.

Some
activists have been caught in sting operations similar to the one that snared
Matar, who had been in hiding for months after his prominent role leading
demonstrators in chants of ‘‘peaceful, peaceful’’ drew the attention of
authorities.

Exactly
how Matar died isn’t clear. A video of his body shows what relatives suspect
are burn marks caused by electric shocks. There appeared to be bruising around
his throat. There were also two bullet wounds to his abdomen, and some
witnesses reported a car chase and shooting as the men were captured.

But as
word of Matar’s death spread, despair deepened among some activists that
peaceful protests alone won’t be enough to bring down the government, Page
said.

‘‘We know
how peaceful this guy was, and he was tortured to death, and it shows that if
we continue like this, we’ll be treated like anyone who had a gun and was a
terrorist,’’ he said. ‘‘Everyone’s really, really angry.’’

Matar’s
relatives and friends pledged to uphold the pacifism he preached.

‘‘There
are many views, and one of them is to take up arms,’’ said a close friend of
Matar. ‘‘His death is a grave loss for us,’’ he added. ‘‘But there are many
people who have been killed before, and there are many more deaths yet to come.
The revolution is still there, and it cannot be shut down.’’

 

Washington Post

Sourced from http://fairfaxmedia.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx

 

 

It is from
numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each
time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or
strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and
crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those
ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression
and resistance.
Robert F.
Kennedy
, South Africa, 1966
US Democratic politician (1925 –
1968)
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