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In 2011, many Syrians took to the streets of Damascus to demand the overthrow of the government of Bashar al-Assad. Today, much of Syria has become a warzone and many worry that the country is on the brink of collapse.   Burning Country explores the complicated reality of life in present-day Syria with unprecedented detail and sophistication, drawing on new first-hand testi In 2011, many Syrians took to the streets of Damascus to demand the overthrow of the government of Bashar al-Assad. Today, much of Syria has become a warzone and many worry that the country is on the brink of collapse.   Burning Country explores the complicated reality of life in present-day Syria with unprecedented detail and sophistication, drawing on new first-hand testimonies from opposition fighters, exiles lost in an archipelago of refugee camps, and courageous human rights activists. Yassin-Kassab and Al-Shami expertly interweave these stories with an incisive analysis of the militarization of the uprising, the rise of the Islamists and sectarian warfare, and the role of Syria’s government in exacerbating the brutalization of the conflict. Through these accounts and a broad range of secondary source material, the authors persuasively argue that the international community has failed in its stated commitments to support the Syrian opposition movements.   Covering ISIS and Islamism, regional geopolitics, new grassroots revolutionary organizations, and the worst refugee crisis since World War Two, Burning Country is a vivid and groundbreaking look at a modern-day political and humanitarian nightmare.


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In 2011, many Syrians took to the streets of Damascus to demand the overthrow of the government of Bashar al-Assad. Today, much of Syria has become a warzone and many worry that the country is on the brink of collapse.   Burning Country explores the complicated reality of life in present-day Syria with unprecedented detail and sophistication, drawing on new first-hand testi In 2011, many Syrians took to the streets of Damascus to demand the overthrow of the government of Bashar al-Assad. Today, much of Syria has become a warzone and many worry that the country is on the brink of collapse.   Burning Country explores the complicated reality of life in present-day Syria with unprecedented detail and sophistication, drawing on new first-hand testimonies from opposition fighters, exiles lost in an archipelago of refugee camps, and courageous human rights activists. Yassin-Kassab and Al-Shami expertly interweave these stories with an incisive analysis of the militarization of the uprising, the rise of the Islamists and sectarian warfare, and the role of Syria’s government in exacerbating the brutalization of the conflict. Through these accounts and a broad range of secondary source material, the authors persuasively argue that the international community has failed in its stated commitments to support the Syrian opposition movements.   Covering ISIS and Islamism, regional geopolitics, new grassroots revolutionary organizations, and the worst refugee crisis since World War Two, Burning Country is a vivid and groundbreaking look at a modern-day political and humanitarian nightmare.

30 review for Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War

  1. 5 out of 5

    Noor

    Think Syria is complicated? This is the book for you. I cannot describe how much I love this book. Having read much on Syria, books and otherwise, this is by FAR the greatest account on the Syrian conflict I have come across for a number of reasons. 1) First and foremost, it brings the conflict back to those who are suffering most: the Syrian people. We are told accounts of real civilians who have worked tirelessly on the ground to support their cause, including those who were/are engaged in civic Think Syria is complicated? This is the book for you. I cannot describe how much I love this book. Having read much on Syria, books and otherwise, this is by FAR the greatest account on the Syrian conflict I have come across for a number of reasons. 1) First and foremost, it brings the conflict back to those who are suffering most: the Syrian people. We are told accounts of real civilians who have worked tirelessly on the ground to support their cause, including those who were/are engaged in civic efforts and from all backgrounds. There is an entire chapter that focuses on the cultural impact, and the beautiful and creative pieces of work that have been created out of this – be it writings, poems, artwork or films. 2) As someone of a Syrian background and who has been closely following the conflict over the past five years, I could relate. So many of the accounts mentioned made me reminiscent of more optimistic days and reminded me of the beauty that came with freedom of expression. The authors Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami captured and articulated so perfectly what I believe so many Syrians have experienced and felt over the past few years. 3) The book is really well-structured and well-rounded. There are 10 chapters, and each focuses on a particular aspect of the conflict. There are chapters on the history of Syria, Bashar’s decade rule before 2011, the spark of the revolution, the grassroots’ efforts, the militarisation of conflict, the subsequent islamisation of some groups, as well as a chapter dedicated to the cultural side of things. The reader isn’t inundated with unnecessary facts and it’s extremely concise considering the breadth that it covers. 4) The book is very nuanced, lacking the sloppy mistakes and generalisations that other writers/journalists never fail to employ when talking about Syria. Sloppy mistakes that other commentators make include: -Describing that Syria is a proxy war with Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah on one side and the USA, Turkey and Gulf states on the other. But this is simply not the case. The United States, for example, is revealed to have blocked the FSA from gaining substantive weapons to combat Syrian warplanes, very sparingly allowing anti-tank weaponry from external donors. Later, it would supply light weapons to certain factions of the FSA, and as soon as gains were made against Assad, the influx of weapons would stop. In essence, the USA was playing a dirty game, prolonging the conflict and preventing the FSA from making any substantive gains. Meanwhile, on the face of it, it appeared supportive of those fighting Assad and criticised the Syrian regime with nothing but words. At least Russia openly professes its support to Assad. The Gulf states, on the other hand, selectively provide weapons (again, no anti-aircraft support) to factions that suit their own agendas. -Tarring all islamists as undemocratic, sharia-imposing nutters. The authors explain how there are many moderate islamists fighting against Assad, how they support democracy and how this is just reflective of the religiously conservative nature of Syrian society. This is no way means that they should be conflated with more extreme jihadists, and in fact most of Syrian society absolutely rejects the creed espoused by ISIS. -Claiming that Syria is now a war between Assad and ISIS, with many foreign commentators shifting the narrative to supporting Assad. This completely misses the fact that ISIS was a symptom of the main cause of the problems. As the writers so eloquently put it, Assad is the arsonist posing as the fireman, and the world sadly is believing him. -Describing Syria as a civil war. See the first point above. Assad’s great advantage in this conflict is aerial power. This is why ‘civil war’ is a very inaccurate description, and why the Syrian people have felt very isolated and abandoned by the world. The authors describe it more like a war against foreign occupation than a civil war (regarding Iran and Russia’s imperial role in Syria). -That the Gulf states purportedly fund ISIS. While it is true that certain donors within Gulf states have sent money to the organisation, it is not sanctioned by the governments and indeed ISIS seeks to destroy said states. There are MANY more. But this would be a much longer review if I digressed… Ultimately, it lacks the top-down, oversimplistic approach that Western and international media/journalists favour. 5) It does not romanticise the revolution, but instead includes genuine criticisms of the mistakes that have been made on the side of the opposition. At the same time, it does not include this without context, and explains how this neither detracts from the cause nor legitimises Assad. Essentially, this is a very holistic book. It is written by Syrians who are extremely qualified to give their commentary, and relates what is happening back to the people. Thank you, Robin and Leila, for your beautiful analysis.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Imran Ahmed

    Think your life is complicated? Try figuring out the Syrian war. Only then can one really know what complicated means. Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, coauthored by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami, tries to lucidly dissect the state of the nation as at 2016. Sure, it's hard for academic works to keep pace with the fast changing ground realities of the country. However, Burning Country does provide a summary of events which led to Syria becoming a playground for opposing fo Think your life is complicated? Try figuring out the Syrian war. Only then can one really know what complicated means. Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, coauthored by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami, tries to lucidly dissect the state of the nation as at 2016. Sure, it's hard for academic works to keep pace with the fast changing ground realities of the country. However, Burning Country does provide a summary of events which led to Syria becoming a playground for opposing forces, including Assad, Islamic State (ISIS) and Kurdish Leftist groups. Both authors suggest the present state of affairs is a byproduct of a home grown revolution designed only to overthrow the Assad patriarchal state. Due to the Assad regime's brutally violent counterrevolutionary response a power vacuum ensued. It's this power vacuum which has been filled by opposing domestic forces as well as the (none too invisible) hands of foreign influences. The Gulf monarchies, Iran, Russia, Turkey and the US exercise varying degrees of influence to protect their interests. The authors' are cynical of virtually all foreign countries indicating no nation recognizes the Revolution as indigenous and none does much to address the humanitarian crisis tearing Syria apart. Indeed, the book suggests foreigners play a dirty, selfish game by maintaining a balance of power between several domestic players – as long as ISIS is kept in check. Burning Country underscores the complexities of modern Middle Eastern politics. It's a sad book to read as the reader clearly sees the train wreck arising out of the many missteps and gradual militarization of an erstwhile civil disobedience movement. The slow destruction of a state with the consequent impact on millions of lives is apparent for all to see (refugee crisis anyone?). Undoubtedly, Syria has now gone the way of Afghanistan (Iraq?). It ceases to be a 'normal' nation state and will be difficult, if not impossible, to fix in the coming decades. Not least because of the substantial depopulation and sectarian hatred besetting today's Syria.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    This is less a book about political events than an account of how the Syrian revolution has transformed the country both politically and culturally. It offers a seldom-reported firsthand perspective on how and why Syrians sought to free themselves from the Assad dictatorship, as well as the effects of the global counterrevolution that has met their efforts. The authors takes an anti-imperialist perspective of events, convincingly describing the Assad government as a local satrap for regional and This is less a book about political events than an account of how the Syrian revolution has transformed the country both politically and culturally. It offers a seldom-reported firsthand perspective on how and why Syrians sought to free themselves from the Assad dictatorship, as well as the effects of the global counterrevolution that has met their efforts. The authors takes an anti-imperialist perspective of events, convincingly describing the Assad government as a local satrap for regional and international powers. Russia in this telling acts as America to Assad's Israel, protecting it from international censure. Iran meanwhile props up the unrepresentative minority government with brute force, similar to American efforts in Vietnam. The brutality of the regime towards its leftist and civil society opponents is little discussed in the narrative of the war - most accounts tend to wink approvingly at such tactics being used towards "Islamists" - but is documented in great detail here. The positive role played by Muslim volunteers in protecting the Syrian population from the Ba'ath is also described. While much demonized, Muslims who provided aid and volunteered with nationalist militias (as opposed to ISIS neocolonialists) represent one of the few segments of the world that showed any meaningful solidarity with the Syrian people during their struggle. Some of the best parts of the book also deal with the incredible cultural changes experienced by Syrian society since the revolution. While many Syrians have predictably become more conservative, old forms of social organization have also withered away in the face of increasing independence and freedom of thought afforded to Syrian men and women by the breakdown of the Assad order. The Syrian people experienced a genuine revolution after decades of repression and humiliation, but it was also a revolution that was inconvenient for the rest of the world. In contrast to the regime narrative, which was lazily picked up by many around the world, the uprising was initially cross-sectarian and enjoyed widespread popular support. The later sectarianization was both deliberate and inevitable after years of targeted provocation and violence by the Assad government and its allies, which has refined the colonial practice of exploiting religious divisions to an art form. Most damningly, the government would have likely fallen to a relatively representative Syrian uprising had it not been bailed out by its local and international allies. This is an unforgivable crime, a colonial action that effectively saw the Syrian people as a terrible threat that must be contained through suffocating dictatorship. This is both a very difficult and very necessary book to read. The Syrian catastrophe is not something that can just be ignored for ideological reasons things. The disastrous effects, worse than the Nakba in sheer scale, necessitate questioning of the existing order, including questioning how once-popular "resistance" organizations could have inflicted such a massive betrayal on a population that had always supported them. A must-read on the revolution, the future of the Syrian people, and the human experience of revolt against suffocating tyranny.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alex Linschoten

    I haven’t been following events in Syria that closely. ‘Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War’ (by Robin Yassin-Kassab, Leila Al-Shami) is only one among several books that have been written in the midst of the ongoing conflict, but I’d heard consistently good things about it since its release at the beginning of 2016. It doesn’t disappoint. I started it yesterday, lulled by the conclusion of a large project and a thousand pictures of Christmas dinner preparations on twitter. I woke up I haven’t been following events in Syria that closely. ‘Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War’ (by Robin Yassin-Kassab, Leila Al-Shami) is only one among several books that have been written in the midst of the ongoing conflict, but I’d heard consistently good things about it since its release at the beginning of 2016. It doesn’t disappoint. I started it yesterday, lulled by the conclusion of a large project and a thousand pictures of Christmas dinner preparations on twitter. I woke up this morning and finished the rest. Burning Country is compellingly written, not only on a structural level but also on account of its interspersed interview and other oral history-type testimony. This is the book’s primary strength, I felt. It’s hard enough to write accurate and compelling history after the fact. Doing so while events are still unfolding makes the job even harder. Thankfully, Burning Country delivers the goods. After introducing Syria and Syrians as if to set the stage, Yassin-Kassab and al-Shami launch into an account of the Syrian uprising’s early days, told through a diversity of sources from a variety of backgrounds. They make a strong case for the initial moments of the revolution as being less co-opted by one group or another, even as later chapters show how a variety of forces pushed and pulled that initial impulse in unintended directions. I learnt a lot from the accounts of initial organisational strategies, the way different groups responded to similar kinds of threats from the state and how the logic of violent escalation started to take on more prominence. The chapter on cultural shifts (or expressions) brought about by the revolution (chapter eight) was also excellent. The end of the book falls a little short, if only because the conflict is ongoing and you had the sense that it is an unfinished project. As a one-stop shop introduction and opening-out to some important parts of Syrian society, history and current affairs, Burning Country is well worth your time. The book ends with a note on thinking about and understanding Syria: > “In order to truly think globally – rather than to hide from thought behind clumsy globalising paradigms – it is necessary to act locally. We ask the reader, rather than applying the usual grand narratives, to attend to voices from the ground.” I hope we get to read other histories of Syria (and other countries) that employ the same logic.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Zira

    I have several complaints about this book. One is that it contains a lot of unsourced material. I'll provide a couple of examples. In Chapter 5 there is a description of the Syrian government's behavior below (pg. 106): "The regime pursued a scorched earth strategy. It was all very deliberate and self-declared. The shabeeha scrawled it on the walls: ‘Either Assad or We’ll Burn the Country’. In the countryside they killed livestock and burned crops." This passage is found between a footnoted inter I have several complaints about this book. One is that it contains a lot of unsourced material. I'll provide a couple of examples. In Chapter 5 there is a description of the Syrian government's behavior below (pg. 106): "The regime pursued a scorched earth strategy. It was all very deliberate and self-declared. The shabeeha scrawled it on the walls: ‘Either Assad or We’ll Burn the Country’. In the countryside they killed livestock and burned crops." This passage is found between a footnoted interview with Ziad Hamoud and claims about shelling and barrel bombs. The footnote after this passage links to a HRW article that doesn't say anything about what I've quoted. Where did the authors get this information? Another example is in Chapter 3, pg. 44: "Deraa’s central Balad district, meanwhile, was now under complete lock-down. Snipers positioned on rooftops and government buildings shot at anyone attempting to enter the neighbourhood. The 15,000 residents trapped inside were starting to run out of baby milk, food and even water as snipers shot holes in roof tanks. Electricity, telephone and the Internet were cut off." "At dawn on 25 April, tanks rolled into the city, firing indiscriminately, even into people’s homes as they slept." Immediately before this passage is a footnoted (29) interview with "Joly". Footnote 30 links to a video of young men trying to save someone who has been felled by gunfire. There is nothing to prove, however, that "regime" forces fired into people's homes and nothing to prove that the people posting on rooftops and killing anyone who tried to enter, cutting off utilities, etc., were government forces. When sourcing is clear, many times it is still dubious. I watched all of the accessible YouTube videos referenced purporting to document Syrian government shooting unarmed civilians. In all but one case what the video consisted of was a bunch of people running around with audible gunfire in the distance but with no indication of who was actually shooting. The exception to this is the water cannon video but this clip contains no context for what is happening. We are to believe, observing from quite a distance, that these were all peaceful protesters but it is incredibly hard to tell that that is the case. Other sources that the authors cite like EA Worldview, frequently rely on unnamed "activists" or "rebels" for information. The authors repeat in this book what these anonymous sources say as if they are verified facts, when the truth is much of the time the claims are not corroborated by named individuals who are in a position to know what is going on. Another person used as a source is Razan Zaitouneh, who was interviewed in RFERL, a known pro-US propaganda outlet that was notoriously used by the CIA during the Cold War. She is mentioned as a founding member of the "Local Coordinating Committees", which have been indirectly supported by the US through the Office for Syrian Opposition Support. OSOS is a partnership between the US State Dept. and the UK Foreign Office. The accuracy of Zaitouneh's Violations Documentation Center reporting has been questioned for listing militants killed in fighting with the SAA as "civilians". While what ultimately happened to Zaitouneh is undoubtedly awful, whether she was aware of it or not she was an implement of Western propaganda. Zaitouneh and the LCCs is just one example but many of the faces and institutions of this so-called "popular revolution" are backed in some way by foreign governments who have an interest in the destruction of the Syrian state. Much is left out of this book. Unmentioned is the fact that the "Syrian Revolution" Facebook page was started in late January 2011, roughly seven weeks before the alleged "crackdown on peaceful protesters" that we're led to believe drove people to call for revolution in the first place. On March 11, a week before the Deraa incident, Syrian security forces found that illegal weapons had been shipped into the country. Police were being killed in Syria from the very beginning of the uprising, not after several months. Ali Hashem even resigned from Al Jazeera over the channel's Syria coverage. The provocations in Banyas on March 18 from a reactionary cleric also go unmentioned, as does the murder of Nidal Janoud in mid-April at the hands of a sectarian mob. According to investigations by reporter Alaa Ebrahim, all of the witnesses he talked to about Deraa said they couldn't tell who was behind the shooting. This is not to say that there is no political opposition in Syria or that initially there were no protests or calls for reform. But the characterization of the political climate in Syria leaves much to be desired. Sharmine Narwani's reporting on the Syrian opposition reveals most of them hated the FSA and the SNC because these were foreign entities. They also told her they did not want to see the country or its sovereignty destroyed. Assad himself has also admitted there is political opposition to him and his party. The authors promote multiple conspiracy theories about the Syrian government, often with scant or nonexistent proof, and often by presuming to be able to read Assad's mind, which should make any critical thinker roll their eyes. The idea that Assad had an "undeclared non-aggression pact" with ISIS is untrue and not backed up by any source provided by the authors. The SAA actually took ISIS on directly in places like Deir Ezzor in 2014. While it's true Assad bought oil from ISIS, the reason is that ISIS had occupied Syria's oil fields, and Assad had no choice but to buy oil from them in order to keep his country functioning. Furthermore, there is evidence that the FSA was at one point allied with ISIS, as one of their early commanders Okaidi voiced his support for them. The authors cite the Maher Arar case to prove Assad's anti-imperialist reputation is undeserved. However, the Maher Arar story is suspect. You can read about the lack of clarity about what happened to Arar in this official report. It's hard to say what happened here since he was also paid for his ordeal. However, these are inconsistencies that shouldn't be ignored. What also shouldn't be ignored is the fact that soon after this alleged torture took place, the US government increased the sanctions on Syria, the country's "cooperation with Islamic militants" being one of the reasons. So the US sent Islamic militants to Syria to be tortured and then punished Syria for cooperating with Islamic militants? Something here doesn't make sense, and the authors don't seem the least bit interested in addressing this contradiction. The authors make the assertion that the Syrian government has been relying primarily on Iran and Hezbollah for its ground battles because the SAA is weakened and "not trusted" by Assad, based once again on anonymous sources. Anonymous sources are used again to "prove" Assad deliberately released Salafists from prison to crush the "revolution". One of these testimonies "could not be independently verified", according to Phil Sands, the author of the cited article. The testimony of former Jordanian military officer Major General Fayez Dwairi is also provided, but he speaks about the internal plans and communications of the Syrian security forces without explaining how he would have access to that information. The truth is that the release of political prisoners was demanded by the protesters themselves. And while the authors claim that the government kept secular peaceful pro-democracy activists in prison, they never provide evidence of this claim nor any of the names of these people. Anwar al-Bunni, for instance, was a human rights activist calling for a "free" and "democratic" Syria and he was one of the people released. The Haaretz editorial "Israel's Favorite Dictator of All is Assad" is cited to indicate that Israel prefers Assad to what may come after him and that his pro-Palestinian credentials are fake. However, this is not an in-depth study of Israel's relations with Syria under Assad, but is merely an opinion piece with nothing provided to substantiate its claims. Yarmouk is an issue of contention in this book as well, but it turns out there is more to the story. While Syria does not have a perfect record on Palestine, it has generally been on the side of liberation groups and there is evidence that the Syrian government has significant support among Palestinians because of this record. While admitting Assad is genuinely popular, the authors refer to people being "bussed in" to attend pro-government rallies. The relevant footnote cites an Irish journalist who says that 90% percent of the people he saw at the pro-government rallies in Damascus were children, state employees, or army conscripts. How does he know which individuals are army conscripts and state employees? View footage of these rallies and judge for yourself if these people are genuine. While I don't doubt that President Assad has made concessions to neoliberalism, in Chapter 2 the authors blame basically all of the country's economic woes on these reforms, using some vague language like "key industrial sectors" being affected by privatization (which ones, and how?) and the assertion that "international investment flooded in, primarily from the Gulf" with no information on how much came in and where it was invested. The authors say nothing about sanctions or the effects of the Iraqi refugees on the Syrian economy. Imad Moustapha pointed out in a 2006 interview in Counterpunch, for instance, that the refugees caused real estate prices to soar. For general debunking of the claims that Syria under Assad is some sort of sectarian neoliberal hellhole, this article is a useful source. Assad cannot be blamed for the far-right supporting him, as these people have their own ideological reasons for their views, one of which is fear of Middle Eastern refugees. In 1930s Europe some early fascists were also anti-capitalist, based on their own hatred of "Jewish bankers" and their irritation with a complacent anti-nationalist bourgeoisie that capitalism enabled. It had nothing to do with the communist/socialist understanding that capitalism is a murderous exploitative system. We should believe capitalism is good now because some fascists were against it? Similarly, we should scream for NATO intervention and the destruction of a sovereign nation because some fascists like Assad? This is an example of the ludicrous level of debate that has been reached on this matter. Assad has also been supported by committed leftists for years but this fact gets no mention in Burning Country. (The book also states as fact an unverified claim from Vice (via Leila al-Shami's blog) about the Black Lilly Group fighting on the ground with Syrian forces.) The authors deny the Syrian horror is a NATO regime change operation and dismiss the evidence of this reality. But it turns out the US wanted to invade Syria along with Iraq in the early 2000s but these plans were scrapped because the US had too much on its plate. The way in which terrorists were armed by the US to bring down the Syrian state was explained by Gareth Porter in Consortium News. The US began forging ties with the Syrian opposition in the mid-2000s. In Hillary Clinton's book "Hard Choices" readers can see (on page 464 in hardcover) that the US was involved in training Syrian "activists". During the Q and A session with the authors a State Department employee admitted that the US provides a lot of assistance to the "local councils" (out of the goodness of their hearts, one can only assume of course). After this book was published it also came out that John Kerry, in a meeting with anti-Assad Syrians, acknowledged the US armed the opposition and let ISIS grow to threaten Assad. (What people miss is that if Assad was willing to become a puppet of the US, then the US would have no problem with him, hence the "negotiation process" to force his hand.) Whatever "timidity" there was by the US when it came to Syria stemmed from the fact that Syria is an ally of nuclear-armed Russia, and the US was hesitant to get into a potentially nuclear conflict in the Middle East. It had nothing to do with the idea that the US was only pretending Assad was their enemy. Later on the US stepped up direct efforts like airstrikes because they realized they probably weren't going to get their regime change and decided to try destroying the country instead. "Revolution" propagandists like to cite US government officials' statements on this matter in 2016 as proof that the US never intended to get rid of Assad in 2011 or earlier, but they are not considering that these statements may simply reflect a change in strategy. In Chapter 6 the authors claim people who think Israel and Nusra could be working together have bought into "Assadist" "conspiracy theories". A few years after this book's publication, the possibility that Nusra and Israel are allies has only grown more likely. One can hear the reason why in this Al-Jazeera interview with former Mossad head Efraim Halevi who acknowledged Israel treats Nusra fighters because it wants to deal with its enemies humanely. However, they would not do this for Hezbollah because Hezbollah actually attacks Israel. One can't help but wonder, if Nusra doesn't attack Israel, and does go after those who do attack it, on what basis does Israel consider Nusra its enemy? (In this same chapter the authors mention a massacre of Druze civilians by Tunisian members of Nusra. This massacre is dismissed as a "dispute over property", rather than being religiously-based, but how exactly were 23 Druze killed in such a dispute? There is no explanation here of what actually took place, and there is no source to substantiate what the authors have said.) Finally, does the uprising actually have a truly revolutionary character? First, what global repercussions would result from the overthrow of Assad? Would the US empire be strengthened and emboldened or stymied and frustrated? (With more than 700 military bases worldwide and a post-WW2 death toll of at least tens of million on its hands as a result of proxy wars and interventions, the US empire should be of much greater concern than "Russian and Iranian imperialism".) Would the large Western oil and energy companies gain or lose? Would Israel, whose Chief of Military Intelligence Herzi Halevi admitted in July 2016 he'd prefer ISIS remaining influential in Syria rather than Assad's allies Hezbollah, benefit, or not? Second, what has happened to the people who have been affected by the "revolution"? Has there been an expansion or a limiting of rights as a result? As Jay Tharappel asked in his presentation on the imperial left in Syria, "What kind of society are the two sides fighting for?" You can see, for instance, in this report on the local councils, that it is clear the religious militants dominate and whatever secular beliefs some of the people in these areas have, they cannot make their voices heard. While acknowledging women's oppression in the "liberated" areas, the authors blame the inherited authoritarianism of "the regime" (interestingly enough, denying the "agency" of the people involved to think for themselves), and I can't help but point out that even if we take that ridiculous explanation as true, it is a sign that genuine revolutionary consciousness has not occurred, because if it had, the effects of "the regime" on people's thought would no longer be a factor. Except for the privileged classes, revolutions do not take away the rights of people that existed prior to the revolution. So if the Syrian state allowed women to own businesses, uncover their hair, serve in the armed forces and in high-ranking government positions, and under "liberation" they are now forced to don the hijab, are segregated from men, and in some areas are excluded from political life, it is a regression, not a revolution, that has taken place. In addition to these reasons, It does not follow that one can claim there is a revolution going on in Syria, because the movement has no leader, no cohesive philosophy or view, and does not enjoy mass support. Shamus Cooke elaborates on this matter. Overall, this book was a God-awful mess. Burning Country has contributed to people's utter ignorance about the conflict in Syria, and that's something I cannot forgive. If you are going to read this book, take note of its deficiencies (be wary of anonymous sourcing and consider whether the often vague or inconclusive "evidence" presented would hold up in court) and engage with a critical mind. Revisit some of the early reporting on the conflict for a refresher course on the facts. This presentation provides a perspective from the other side, worth acquainting yourself with.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Matt Brady

    Excellent overview of the Syrian revolution, tracing it's origins from a largely peaceful, entirely spontaneous cross-cultural uprising into it's militarization and then islamicisation (is that even a word), and arguing that the latter was actually openly encouraged by assad's regime in a clever move to secularise the conflict and prevent the rebels from receiving wholehearted foreign support. It's bleak and depressing, but also serves as a pretty important tribute to the many courageous Syrian Excellent overview of the Syrian revolution, tracing it's origins from a largely peaceful, entirely spontaneous cross-cultural uprising into it's militarization and then islamicisation (is that even a word), and arguing that the latter was actually openly encouraged by assad's regime in a clever move to secularise the conflict and prevent the rebels from receiving wholehearted foreign support. It's bleak and depressing, but also serves as a pretty important tribute to the many courageous Syrian activists who took a stand, fought, and in many cases died (and are still dying)

  7. 5 out of 5

    AC

    An activist's account of the revolution and of Assad's savage repression in Syria. A very disturbing look from within. In sum: Assad is a monster. An activist's account of the revolution and of Assad's savage repression in Syria. A very disturbing look from within. In sum: Assad is a monster.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mujda

    A perfectly composed encapsulation of the Syrian narrative – nothing comes close to reading the personal thoughts and words of the Syrian revolutionaries themselves. Anecdotes have been seriously undermined, and this book revives this issue. Split into ten chapters, the book explains and analyses all aspects of the revolution – what I liked most was the clear chronology. It took you through from the beginning right through to the present, and it was truly fascinating to see how the revolution ev A perfectly composed encapsulation of the Syrian narrative – nothing comes close to reading the personal thoughts and words of the Syrian revolutionaries themselves. Anecdotes have been seriously undermined, and this book revives this issue. Split into ten chapters, the book explains and analyses all aspects of the revolution – what I liked most was the clear chronology. It took you through from the beginning right through to the present, and it was truly fascinating to see how the revolution evolved over time. One aspect that I particularly commend is the inclusion of the Kurds in the Syrian narrative. I’ve read a number of books now on Syria that have frustratingly overlooked the Kurdish question, and it is only this that has integrated it. More so, the tone is (as is with the rest of the book) honest and objective. The details, figures and numbers used accentuate its analytical precision, and concise conclusions the authors make. It goes to say that narratives of any conflict should be written by those who have experienced it first hand – if you want to understand what is happening in Syria, take it from those who have lived through and experienced the conflict. This book gives you that.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Radiantflux

    75th book for 2018. A very interesting history of the Syrian revolution, written from a progressive/left point of view. This is similar to what George Orwell might have written, if he had been born Spanish and bothered to write a detailed history of an ongoing Spanish Civil War, as opposed to the quasi-gonzo-journalism of Homage to Catalonia. Yassin-Kassab makes a strong case for the essentially democratic, revolutionary and secular nature of the early revolution, which filled with hope for a bet 75th book for 2018. A very interesting history of the Syrian revolution, written from a progressive/left point of view. This is similar to what George Orwell might have written, if he had been born Spanish and bothered to write a detailed history of an ongoing Spanish Civil War, as opposed to the quasi-gonzo-journalism of Homage to Catalonia. Yassin-Kassab makes a strong case for the essentially democratic, revolutionary and secular nature of the early revolution, which filled with hope for a better society after years for brutal oppression by the Assad family, was ultimately let down by global power politics (in particular by Obama's desire not to anger the Iranians in the lead up to a nuclear deal). Reading this is to feel real shame as to the West failed to offer real aid to democratic forces in the Syria when they needed it, leading to the downward cycle of hell that this country has become. Necessary reading for all progressives. 4-stars.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joey Ayoub

    I started reading it this morning and I'm halfway through. I had already read the first edition so I was familiar with Robin and Leila's great and important work, but they've truly managed to turn an already-important book into one which must join the increasing numbers of books written by Syrians about Syria to counter the toxic environment that has engulfed the Right and the Left into competing conspiracy wormholes. I hope this book finds its way to classrooms. I started reading it this morning and I'm halfway through. I had already read the first edition so I was familiar with Robin and Leila's great and important work, but they've truly managed to turn an already-important book into one which must join the increasing numbers of books written by Syrians about Syria to counter the toxic environment that has engulfed the Right and the Left into competing conspiracy wormholes. I hope this book finds its way to classrooms.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Westward Woess

    This is a really hard-hitting and thorough book. The authors attempt to elucidate an extremely complex situation, sketching out the Syrian Revolution from the ground up. It is hard to summarize it, as there is so much information and it takes time to read and absorb. Regardless, I absolutely recommend this book. It pulls no punches when it comes to Assad and it completely humanizes the Syrians across the board. I don’t know you, but I think you should read this book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Simmons

    Hands-down the single best thing I have read about the Syrian revolution. The authors eschew, in their own words, "the usual grand narratives to attend to voices from the ground", and in so doing they shed light on and bring reason to an enormously complex and upsettingly misunderstood conflict. Superb. Hands-down the single best thing I have read about the Syrian revolution. The authors eschew, in their own words, "the usual grand narratives to attend to voices from the ground", and in so doing they shed light on and bring reason to an enormously complex and upsettingly misunderstood conflict. Superb.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Anand Gopal

    The best book on the Syrian revolution.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bronwen Griffiths

    This is an excellent book for anyone who wants to understand the terrible crisis that is Syria. The authors quote from Syrians on the ground, and shows how the revolution was brutally repressed by the regime, resulting in the disintegration of the country. It is not an impartial book but I fail to see how it could be, and for me it is all the better for this. It also made me think more deeply about my own society. As the book was written in 2015 there is however little discussion on the implicat This is an excellent book for anyone who wants to understand the terrible crisis that is Syria. The authors quote from Syrians on the ground, and shows how the revolution was brutally repressed by the regime, resulting in the disintegration of the country. It is not an impartial book but I fail to see how it could be, and for me it is all the better for this. It also made me think more deeply about my own society. As the book was written in 2015 there is however little discussion on the implications of Russia's involvement in the war (except for a short epilogue). Besides that, which is inevitable due to the way world events move quickly, in my opinion the book cannot be faulted. I can't recommend this book more highly. Read it! Buy it, beg, borrow or steal it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brian Bean

    "Videos of tens of thousands of people demonstrating against tyranny gave way to the images of deserted streets in derelict towns. Of tanks driving up main streets and planes bombing villages. The cynics who didn’t bat an eyelid for the thousands of innocents who were shot like dogs now nod their heads knowingly and speak of a revolution ‘hijacked’. They can go to hell. This revolution was not about an ideology or a religion, and it wasn’t about grand political scheming, it was about normal peop "Videos of tens of thousands of people demonstrating against tyranny gave way to the images of deserted streets in derelict towns. Of tanks driving up main streets and planes bombing villages. The cynics who didn’t bat an eyelid for the thousands of innocents who were shot like dogs now nod their heads knowingly and speak of a revolution ‘hijacked’. They can go to hell. This revolution was not about an ideology or a religion, and it wasn’t about grand political scheming, it was about normal people who stopped what they were doing to stand up for what they believed in, and what they did that even though they were afraid and, in many cases, would lose their lives. Injustice can only sustain itself through fear, and on that day we broke fear forever." Wasiim al-Adl.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    A seriously comprehensive/thorough study of the Syrian revolution, given the fairly short length. It covers everything really well: Syrian history (including the crucial colonizal era), cultural resistance, the Kurdish "side" of the conflict, the role of the myriad international actors, and so on, while remaining critical of "mainstream" narratives throughout. In other words, you'll learn what these mainstream narratives are but also what contradictory "facts on the ground" are important to look A seriously comprehensive/thorough study of the Syrian revolution, given the fairly short length. It covers everything really well: Syrian history (including the crucial colonizal era), cultural resistance, the Kurdish "side" of the conflict, the role of the myriad international actors, and so on, while remaining critical of "mainstream" narratives throughout. In other words, you'll learn what these mainstream narratives are but also what contradictory "facts on the ground" are important to look at, so that you can remain critical when new narratives are trotted out by Western media. I've now read a couple of books+articles about the revolution, and this one definitely seems to be the best one for people (like myself) with little prior knowledge.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Maxy.kai

    This is such a necessary book. Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in reading about Syria. It's an easy to read, well written and succinct account of the Syrian regime, the revolution and the current situation. In badiouian terms it's a heartbreaking plea to maintain fidelity to the event of the syrian revolution and for western leftists to understand the situation based on grassroots voices rather than through 'anti-imperialist' dogma. Really good. This is such a necessary book. Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in reading about Syria. It's an easy to read, well written and succinct account of the Syrian regime, the revolution and the current situation. In badiouian terms it's a heartbreaking plea to maintain fidelity to the event of the syrian revolution and for western leftists to understand the situation based on grassroots voices rather than through 'anti-imperialist' dogma. Really good.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Rocio

    I stopped & started this book over 2 years because it has such a wealth of information and very glad I finally finished it. The book armed me with so many facts to counter Islamophobic rhetoric about Syrians.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Max

    If you are searching for something like a 'people's history of the Syrian revolution', you don't have to look any further, this is it. If you are searching for something like a 'people's history of the Syrian revolution', you don't have to look any further, this is it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tess

    Outstanding book. I'm always hesitant of using the term 'must-read', but the Syrian revolution is so important to the world's politics today that I think everyone really should read this. Outstanding book. I'm always hesitant of using the term 'must-read', but the Syrian revolution is so important to the world's politics today that I think everyone really should read this.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Yonis Gure

    Burning Country is a vivid, first-hand account of Syria's revolution and counter-revolution, told explicitly from an activist perspective. This book is a necessary corrective to all of the "Assad is the lesser evil" and "all opposition to Assad are gulf backed jihadists" narratives that have so perverted popular discussion on Syria, particular among the Left. Not having lived during the Yugoslav crisis in the 90s, from what I gather that was a real litmus test among Leftists. Some (valiantly) Burning Country is a vivid, first-hand account of Syria's revolution and counter-revolution, told explicitly from an activist perspective. This book is a necessary corrective to all of the "Assad is the lesser evil" and "all opposition to Assad are gulf backed jihadists" narratives that have so perverted popular discussion on Syria, particular among the Left. Not having lived during the Yugoslav crisis in the 90s, from what I gather that was a real litmus test among Leftists. Some (valiantly) put their support and showed solidarity with the Bosnians and the Kosovars as they resisted their oppression from the genocidal regime of Slobodan Milosevic. The strategic majority of the Western Left, however, acting as propagandists for the regime and too blinded by their pathological anti-americanism, excused, denied, or in the case of Parenti, Pilger and Herman, justified and supported the war crimes committed by Milosevic. Syria has become much the same litmus test for my generation of Leftists, and, barring a few noble exceptions in the Democratic Socialists of America, they've largely failed.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    I realized recently that I had a very poor understanding of the Syrian Revolution. Not quite "What is Aleppo?", but not terribly far from that standard of ignorance, either. This book provides what feels like a very thorough and nuanced view of the many, many conflicting interests at stake and the Syrian people stuck in the middle of it all. All of the news coverage I've seen has been from a Western perspective, so I especially appreciated the many excerpts from Syrian activists on the ground an I realized recently that I had a very poor understanding of the Syrian Revolution. Not quite "What is Aleppo?", but not terribly far from that standard of ignorance, either. This book provides what feels like a very thorough and nuanced view of the many, many conflicting interests at stake and the Syrian people stuck in the middle of it all. All of the news coverage I've seen has been from a Western perspective, so I especially appreciated the many excerpts from Syrian activists on the ground and the thorough stories about their lives.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Muhammad Ahmad

    This book is more than just a people's history of the Syrian revolution, it is also a concise history of the country, a catalogue of the deliberate strategies and unwitting mistakes that brought on the counter-revolution, and an indictment of the international community and the western left for their abandonment of a people facing genocide. Above all, it is a necessary corrective to all the crypto-fascist apologia issuing from the Fisk, Cockburn, Glass quarters. This book is more than just a people's history of the Syrian revolution, it is also a concise history of the country, a catalogue of the deliberate strategies and unwitting mistakes that brought on the counter-revolution, and an indictment of the international community and the western left for their abandonment of a people facing genocide. Above all, it is a necessary corrective to all the crypto-fascist apologia issuing from the Fisk, Cockburn, Glass quarters.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stella

    What a load of rubbish. Looking at al-Qaeda through rose coloured glasses! You should state which Syrian people are represented. A tiny slice of the pie that suits your agenda, obviously!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Adel Jalabi

    Good book if you want to understand the history and reality of Syria, and the tragic start of the demise of this incredible country

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Brown

    Tough to know exactly what to make of this timely 2016 book by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami. After a brief overview of Syrian history focusing mainly on post-Ottoman developments, the authors focus in great detail on the rule of Bashaar al-Assad, who cultivated his image as a reformer initially but whose "regime's tolerance was short-lived." The book ably traces, at times in mind-obliterating detail, the beginnings and progress of the Syrian Revolution, with whose cause they strongly s Tough to know exactly what to make of this timely 2016 book by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami. After a brief overview of Syrian history focusing mainly on post-Ottoman developments, the authors focus in great detail on the rule of Bashaar al-Assad, who cultivated his image as a reformer initially but whose "regime's tolerance was short-lived." The book ably traces, at times in mind-obliterating detail, the beginnings and progress of the Syrian Revolution, with whose cause they strongly sympathize. And, given what they chronicle of human-rights abuses authorized by the Assad regime, it's hard to fault them! Yassin-Kassab and al-Shami argue that the revolution began as a peaceful movement that was somewhat hijacked by militant Islamist movements. The finger of blame points at them; at the Assad regime for releasing a lot of Islamists from prison alongside democratic activists and for cultivating the Islamist wing of the revolution for political reasons; at the Assad regime for utilizing sexual violence in its repression of the Syrian people; at the disorganized grassroots character of the revolution in its earliest phases; and at the West's failure to come to the revolutionaries' aid. While the book has a lot to its credit, it does have some weaknesses. Myriad acronyms swirl beyond comprehension, and a lot of the names are no better. The authors are at times willing to (wrongly) excuse atrocities by revolutionary factions for the sake of (rightly) further condemning the Assad regime. They write on the assumption that the revolution will eventually succeed in removing Assad, which now seems spectacularly unlikely. They parrot an assortment of anti-American and anti-Israeli tropes, which can be grating (though they also expose how Assad exploited anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment to his own ends). And for some reason, they are attached to the notion that it's specifically the "international left" who should be likeliest to help. But, all that aside, this is an excellent Syrian perspective on Syrian events.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mark Ballinger

    "A people who dared to demand freedom received annihilation instead." This was a tough read. First, literally. It's dense with places, events, and people, like reading back-to-back-to-back news reports. But, more so, it's full of the agony people are facing in Syria. This is amplified by continuing to read the news, which now seems to show the last gasp of a free Syrian resistance that will descend into "we're okay with Assad as long as he's fighting ISIS." One big point here is the way we make as "A people who dared to demand freedom received annihilation instead." This was a tough read. First, literally. It's dense with places, events, and people, like reading back-to-back-to-back news reports. But, more so, it's full of the agony people are facing in Syria. This is amplified by continuing to read the news, which now seems to show the last gasp of a free Syrian resistance that will descend into "we're okay with Assad as long as he's fighting ISIS." One big point here is the way we make assumptions about Muslims. "Little distinction was made between moderate Islamists and extreme jihadists, between those willing to accommodate democratic forms and those not, and ISIS was casually and routinely conflated with 'the Syrian opposition' - even when they were at war with each other." Further, ISIS gets the headlines for spectacularly gruesome atrocities of a few, while the Assad governments massacres hundreds. "Would the Daesh problem be solved if they hand over the knife with which they killed James Foley? Of course not. But Assad gives them back some chemicals, and they're pleased to watch him continue killing." One scary point for me was in discussing state propaganda. The authors point out that Assad's messaging was absurd, but it was all built around making the journalistic sphere as a whole ridiculous. The cheapening of "news" by Presidents allows them to hide true crimes. In all, this was a terrific primer on modern Syrian history, up to date through October 2015.

  28. 5 out of 5

    baby

    for radicals who were excited by events in rojava but have little understanding of the context in syria this book seems like a really good place to start. al-shami and kassab tell individual stories of lived revolt and brutal counter revolution in beautiful, tragic, nuanced ways, and situate them well in the larger warring parties. i generally get confused and bored by texts dealing with history, unable to keep track of names, dates, and groups, but this book was an engaging read that i was able for radicals who were excited by events in rojava but have little understanding of the context in syria this book seems like a really good place to start. al-shami and kassab tell individual stories of lived revolt and brutal counter revolution in beautiful, tragic, nuanced ways, and situate them well in the larger warring parties. i generally get confused and bored by texts dealing with history, unable to keep track of names, dates, and groups, but this book was an engaging read that i was able to focus on even when there were other things going on around me. sometimes the authors liberalism creeps in when they speak of people desiring "democracy" often failing to examine the many, many desirable, undesirable, and conflicting goals that could be expressed with the same buzzwords, and the way they write of continuation of governance (specifically the creation of police forces) in 'liberated' areas as obviously Good, am example of success. however, they clearly have a strong complex understanding of the conflict in syria and do a good job of letting it be complicated. they mostly resist ascribing ideologies to people acting in this conflict for myriads of particular reasons and do not simplify organizations and alliances under a false united vision. i definitely feel like i have a good foundational understanding to be able to critically read and understand more about syria.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nolan Butler

    Amazing for learning about the Syrian war from the position of the people most-affected by it: Syrians. Coming into this book I knew nothing, and this really opened my eyes to what's actually going on. The chapters on Islamic extremism and refugees were the two that taught me the most. This book also challenges you to not just think about the Syrian war, but to do something about it. Definitely recommend for people who want to understand what's happening in Syria right now from a pro-revolution Amazing for learning about the Syrian war from the position of the people most-affected by it: Syrians. Coming into this book I knew nothing, and this really opened my eyes to what's actually going on. The chapters on Islamic extremism and refugees were the two that taught me the most. This book also challenges you to not just think about the Syrian war, but to do something about it. Definitely recommend for people who want to understand what's happening in Syria right now from a pro-revolution perspective. Hopefully it also inspires people to help refugees. The writing is kinda technical sometimes but that's what Google's for. Some quotes that made me think: "We could ask then: were they wrong to revolt? Did they make a mistake? But if we ask that, we're missing the original point - that people revolt when they cannot breathe. Systems fall when they finally smother the people... a system collapsed, unable to contain its contradictions." "...Assadist policy under father and son, at home and abroad, is to present itself as the essential solution to problems it has itself manufactured - a case of the arsonist dressing up as a fireman." "'Freedom is like a magnet; it attracts the people that have been silenced for too long.'"

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kaveh

    In the aftermath of the assassination of the Iranian military General in Iraq (2020) and while the hashtag #WorldWarIII was trending, a friend told me that WWIII has already started in Syria and it's been going on for nine years. A few chapters into this book, you would see how this is; some eleven countries and their proxies have chosen a convenient battleground, where they can wrestle as much as they want, without taking the war to their homes. This book is complicated, and so is the situation In the aftermath of the assassination of the Iranian military General in Iraq (2020) and while the hashtag #WorldWarIII was trending, a friend told me that WWIII has already started in Syria and it's been going on for nine years. A few chapters into this book, you would see how this is; some eleven countries and their proxies have chosen a convenient battleground, where they can wrestle as much as they want, without taking the war to their homes. This book is complicated, and so is the situation in Syria. The first half of the book has a quick pace and it inundates the reader with too many names of regional proxies, militia, political parties, religious minorities, etc. The second half was focused on the international indifference toward Syrians and the distorted vision of peacemaking. A very heartbreaking read, but that should be read by anyone who sides too heavily with one part/religion/country/side.

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