What future for Syria?

A debate on the likely outcomes of the protests in Damascus and elsewhere.

Where does Syria's future lie -- and is Bashar Al-Assad part of the problem, or part of the solution? What should the West do to encourage reform in the country? A panel discussion at the Mosaic Rooms in Kensington attempted to address these questions.

The speakers were Chris Doyle of Caabu; Malik Al-Abdeh of the London-based opposition channel Barada TV; Gilbert Achcar, professor of development studies and international relations at SOAS; and Ammar Waqqaf, a member of Syrians in Britain, a group which supports the Assad government's reform programme.

Doyle kicked off by saying that he believes the Assad regime will go, and Achcar agreed, although he added that he was less optimistic about the country's immediate future. "The challenge is how to reconstruct the Syrian state in a way that resembles the political majority in the country while guaranteeing the rights of minorites," said Al-Abdeh, "This is the fundamental struggle."

Waqqaf, who believes that Assad regime should remain in place and embrace a reformist agenda, raised concerns that opposition forces' actions were "devastating to social cohesion".

The discussion also covered the issue of social media -- a key factor in other Arab Spring uprisings. Al-Abdeh said that Syria's protests were a "YouTube revolution", as the video-sharing site provided a less risky way for activists to document what was happening in the country than Facebook and Twitter. Barada TV is now running shows based around uploaded YouTube clips. "Most people in the Arab world get their information from TV, not the internet, so we're putting the internet on TV," he said.

There was also a heated exchange between Al-Abdeh and Achcar about the use of a no-fly zone ("it doesn't make sense," said the latter), and a broader discussion about whether the rank-and-file of the Army were deserting in the large numbers which have been reported. Questions were asked from the floor about the state of civil society in Syria, and the role of women in the uprising.

Look out for future events at Newstatesman.com and MosaicRooms.org; for Olivier Roy's take on Syria in the New Statesman magazine, click here.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Must I unremember the day I wept over the long, slow suicide of a 27-year-old man?

At that time we did talk about the occupation of Ireland. Now we have to pretend we didn’t and it’s all the jolly UK and thank you, England for the peace process.

The misremembering of history interrupts these tales of my own squalid past. Very often I find myself wishing my memories were wrong, or that I’d forgotten more than I have. This would certainly be the case were I to be a politician, albeit a small-time one in big-time government. In the era of renunciations and sincere apologies, I would have to say sorry most of the time.

But I can’t. I can’t get past that clear day in May 1981, when the tangy cold spring air of a New York day got right inside me. Ambling home from another long, messy night in the Village, I was near 52nd when I saw people carrying a coffin.

“It’s not him, of course. It’s a fake coffin,” said a woman who saw the shock on my face. Maybe I was already crying. I knew and didn’t know but asked anyway.

“Yes. Bobby.”

Bobby Sands had died. Crowds were gathering with banners about Smashing Long Kesh and Smashing Thatcher.

The shock of it has never left me and God knows “martyrs” come two a penny now. Yet the idea that someone can starve themselves slowly to death for an idea is shocking. The idea that someone can let them do it, either “for” a United Ireland or “for” a United Kingdom, remains profoundly disturbing to me.

I need no lectures about what vile and murderous bastards the IRA were, or the numbers of innocents they killed. Nor about the smeary sentimentality of martyrdom itself. All I can say is that I had little idea of what “we” did in Ireland as long as I lived in England. A boy at school had run off to join the IRA. My mum said, “Well, he’s always been tapped, that one.”

We were kept ignorant. For some stupid reason, I did not think that Thatcher would let the hunger strikers die.

Their demands, remember, were the right not to wear prison uniform or to do prison work, rights to free association and education within the prison, one visit, one parcel, one letter a week. They wanted to be treated as political prisoners. Thatcher said Sands had no mandate. He was actually an MP, with more votes than she ever won in Finchley.

In New York that day, when we got to Third Avenue, there was anger and then solemnity. There were mumblings about what a death like that entailed . . . Mandela then instigated a hunger strike on Robben Island. There were protests in Milan and Ghent. French towns would name streets after Sands.

At that time, though, yes, we did talk about the occupation of Ireland. Now we have to pretend we didn’t and it’s all the jolly UK and thank you, England for the peace process.

So, must I unremember that day when I sat down on the pavement and wept over the long, slow suicide of a 27-year-old man? Let me know how to uncry all those tears shed for that terrible, terrible waste.

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide