Collective Memory

Dimension 14 of 17


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ABOUT INCA DIMENSION #14: COLLECTIVE MEMORY

Collective Memory in Syria is the 14th of 17 dimensions in Syrian society that influential local, regional, and international actors assessed and discussed through 3 rounds of interviews and feedback, beginning in January, 2016. Taken together, the 17 dimensions of the x-axis offer a comprehensive, holistic view of Syria and its people. Interview participants assessed the capacity of each dimension, represented by the y-axis; higher levels indicate greater capacity within that dimension for Syrians to respond effectively to existential global threats.

Collective memory is important to assess because it reveals much about the group psychology of Syrians at this moment in time. To the extent a society sees a conflict in absolute, black-and-white, terms, the more difficult it will be to negotiate an end to the conflict, to reconcile all stakeholders to agreements, and to work together to rebuild and develop the country. Based on the 8-level hierarchy described in the question below, participants from 27 influential organizations assessed Syria's collective memories, on average, as a 5.7. This means that prime actors, on average, see Syrians as able to see themselves as heroic, and as victims, but they are only learning to see themselves as bystanders to the destruction of the country. (At the bottom of this page, you can read examples interview participants gave of each of these roles Syria has played in his historical memory.)


The Question

Every country has national stories or myths. Some of the most powerful are “chosen glories” or “chosen traumas.” These are myths about national crises and the meanings the population attaches to them. Countries remember some events and ignore others (we remember one war, one assassination, one great humanitarian effort, and forget others). Because these myths are selectively distorted, they create blind spots and fixed attitudes that can create new national crises.

The following questions ask about four aspects of national collective memory: those in which the country is remembered as the hero, the victim, the bystander, and the perpetrator.

Collective Memory: Heroic memories.

On a scale of 1-5, how strong is the national memory of playing the role of hero?

Can you give an example of one or more widely shared memories of a national trauma involving this country in which the country played the role of hero toward the residents of the country, refugees, or the residents of another country? What are the events and how are they remembered?

Collective Memory: Victim memories.

On a scale of 1-5, how strong is the national memory of playing the role of victim?

Can you give an example of one or more widely shared memories of a national trauma involving this country in which the country played the role of victim to other residents of the country, refugees, or the residents of another country? What are the events and how are they remembered?

Collective Memory: Bystander memories.

On a scale of 1-5, how strong is the national memory of playing the role of the bystander?

Can you give an example of one or more widely shared memories of a national trauma involving this country in which the country played the role of bystander while other residents of the country, refugees, or the residents of another country, were killed or otherwise died? What are the events and how are they remembered?

Collective Memory: Perpetrator memories.

On a scale of 1-5, how strong is the national memory of playing the role of the perpetrator?

Can you give an example of one or more widely shared memories of a national trauma involving this country in which the country played the role of perpetrator against other residents of the country, refugees, or the residents of another country? What are the events and how are they remembered?


WORK WITHIN SYRIA'S COLLECTIVE MEMORY

The thick brown line represents the role of the bystander

The thick brown line represents the combined contribution of participants to Syria's collective memory, which includes the roles of hero and victim, and is integrating the role of the bystander. Any investment or venture in Syria would be served by assuming that Syrians are capable of playing the role of the hero, and the role of the victim, but will struggle to take responsibility for bad things that have happened due to their inaction (a bystander) or action (a perpetrator). 


DEVELOPMENT IN SYRIA


STRENGTHENING SYRIAN COLLECTIVE MEMORY

Aim just right: encourage bystander memories

The green area of the chart, from levels 5.7-6.0, indicates which projects to strengthen Syrian collective memory will be most likely to succeed, those that attempt to integrate bystander memories. Projects that help Syrians to craft and record a national history that includes Syria and Syrians playing the bystander role, as well as the hero and victim roles, would be helpful. Projects that help Syrian refugees to become active and assume more responsibilities would also be helpful. An example of a project whose aim is stronger psychological integration and health with Syrian child refugees is Project Amal ou Salam.  

If you aim low: you reinforce the hero or victim

The gray space represents problems that have already been solved by Syrians, for which aid or development initiatives will be reinforcing or redundant.

  • Heroes: Combatants—whether government, opposition, or Syrian members of ISIL—likely see themselves as heroes. Programs that support these actors, whether beneficial for other reasons, will likely deepen the combatants' sense of their own righteousness. They will not build new psychological and emotional capacity. 
  • Victims: There are hundreds of projects that treat Syrians as victims to be rescued. Programs that support these actors, whether beneficial for other reasons, will likely deepen these aid recipients' sense of their own victimhood. They will not build new psychological and emotional capacity. 

If you aim too high: destructive overreach

Projects and agreements in the red area of the chart are overly ambitious and, at best, will be a waste of time. More likely, they will drive confusion and corruption into the country. An example would be a national memorial intended to force disparate elements of Syrian society to recognize their roles as perpetrators in the current conflict (level 7). If implemented in Syria, this attempted leap from a society still uncomfortable with its role as a bystander to the country’s recent history of violence and destruction (level 5.7) to one that recognizes and seeks atonement for the past (level 7) would be too much to do at once! Without first firmly identifying its role as a bystander to the conflict, and integrating this role with those of the hero and the victim (level 6), attempts to heal wound of having committed acts of perpetrators will be psychologically overwhelming and doomed to failure.

Collective memory in post-invasion Iraqi society was significantly less nuanced in the spring of 2003 than it is currently in Syria. The United States, however, failed to recognize this fact and instead conducted its occupation of the country based on the faulty assumption that it could publicly label Ba'ath Party members as perpetrators against their neighbors and the country, without regard to their concurrent roles in the collective memory as heroes, victims, and bystanders in Iraqi society. 

The lack of sensitivity to the multifaceted nature of collective memory on the part of the occupying forces was most clearly demonstrated by their black-and-white categorization of Iraqis into perpetrators, who should be imprisoned or killed, and non-perpetrators, who were assumed to be inherently supportive of the occupation. As our INCA platform reveals, however, this assumption was misguided and led to programmatic overreach. In the aftermath of a violent attack, US military units conducted large sweeps resulting in the arrest of military-age males. Former Ba’ath Party members and other "suspicious bystanders” were similarly arrested, branded as perpetrators, and thrown into prison alongside criminals and known insurgent leaders. Ultimately, this push to identify and label perpetrators without regard to other elements of collective memory generated strong animosity toward occupying forces, which were punishing many citizens, especially former Ba’ath party members and ex-military officials, as if their only identity was that of perpetrators. Rather than uniting Iraqis in recognizing and condemning only the most extreme of those who perpetrated violence and fought against inclusive nationalism in Iraq, the glutting of the prisons with anyone suspected of association with the insurgency greatly strengthened anti-occupation sentiment and led to many prisons becoming hotbeds of radicalism, where Iraqis branded solely as perpetrators developed relationships based on their mutual mistreatment. Many eventually embraced the perpetrator role assigned to them by the occupying forces.

Background Reading



For more information on INCA for Iraq, read our retroactive case study here: http://sovereigntyfirst.com/iraq/report


INTEGRATION

A fully integrated memory of the conflict will enable cooperation

If different groups of Syrians identify with only of the four roles, or if other Syrians or international actors only recognize them in one role—as only a hero, a victim, a bystander, or a perpetrator—their ability to cooperate with other Syrians will be very limited. Heroes tend to exaggerate their own goodness and abilities. Victims plead for help. Bystanders are passive. Perpetrators keep hurting others and themselves. 

Identifying with two of the roles is better than only one. Identifying with three of the roles is better yet. Identifying will all four roles is best of all. Individuals, organizations, or subgroups who believe in their ability to help themselves and others (as heroes) will feel confident enough to negotiate agreements and rebuild their country. If they allow themselves to feel and remember their own suffering (as victims), they will more easily sympathize will and try to help those in need. If they allow themselves to remember the many times they fled or turned away as their fellow Syrians were killed or hurt (as bystanders), they will understand the fear, weakness, and selfishness that is a part of human nature, and will know how to motivate those people to step forward, risk, and join with their fellow Syrians in rebuilding their society. If they remember how they have damaged others (as perpetrators), they will empathize with those they hate, and be willing to forge a future together with their enemies. The integration of these four roles is the foundation for post-conflict cooperation. 
    


COLLECTIVE MEMORY: HEROIC MEMORIES

Can you give an example of one or more widely shared memories of a national trauma involving this country in which the country played the role of hero toward the residents of the country, refugees, or the residents of another country? What are the events and how are they remembered?

Round 3 Statements (Nov 2016 - Jul 2017)

"Now Syria needs help. It can't help. No examples in the past 20 years, not since the last war with Israel." (230784)
"War of 1973 (Israel) Beginning of Hafez Al Assad regime" (230713)
"There was never a country to be proud of, only slaves." (231641)
"Syria was paid to liberate Kuwait. Syria was not a part of the liberation of the Armenians. The French were ousted by the Brits in 1946. Brits never occupied Syria. Syria occupied Lebanon for 30 years. It is still using chlorine bombs. No one is dying for their country. They die for their sect, ethnicity or tribe." (233911)
"The invasion of Lebanon to stop the civil war there." (233881)
"Lebanese civil conflict with Syrian intervention 1990 - 2006; they stopped the civil war. Palestinian conflict - Syria was a defender of the Palestinians. 1948 War of Liberation (Palestinians). 1967 War with Israel - It gave the Syrian Army legitimacy." (238631)
"Each side has their own heroes, but it's not a national story. It just glorifies the groups." (232272)
"Many groups see themselves as 5, but those without control see themselves at 1 or 2. The White Helmets" (233121)
"There are a lot of stories of Syria as heroic, but we see it totally different now. This was all brainwashing. Syria as a government is not playing a heroic role, only the resistors, sacrificing their lives." (235781)
"Syria is the Arab country who helped others the most. Egypt never did, Saudi Arabia didn't. The Armenians were against the Turks. Syria accepted them even though they had no problem with the Turks." (231211)
"Sheikh Trad 1932 - Gave a speech addressing the French occupation dividing Syria. Demanded The French leave. The French threatened to imprison him, but he refused because he was interested in the greater Syria." (236371)
"The Syrian is an active member in every state where they exist, as in start businesses, launch careers, join the fight." (238341)
"The participant grew up thinking Hafez Assad was the savior. He provided their daily bread. He was divine. Now they see his weakness." (236592)
"1973 October War, the refugees from Iraq and Palestine." (235931)
"The Assad regime has a degree of a savior complex by protecting the minority groups. They see him as a fundamental source of their survival. There are no historic characters like Hammurabi." (239311)
"Liberation from the French, and standing up for Egypt, but those things fell away pretty fast. Not long ago Syria and Iraq would have tried to play up their Mesopotamian history. The Islamic State is going out of their way to destroy any reference to it." (239312)

Round 2 Statements (Aug 2016 - Oct 2016)

"Because they are dying for their country." (229051)
"Israel/Lebanon should not be included in the savior status. Syria was detrimental to its settlement." (223911)
"Syria signed the treaty banning chemical weapons." (223881)

Round 1 Statements (Jan 2016 - May 2016)

"Helped liberate Kuwait." (215261)
"Israel-Lebanon War." (218751)
"Palestinians." (218751)
"Armenians saved from Ottoman massacre." (213881)
"Iraqi War." (218751) 
"Forced French to leave 1950." (211211)


Collective Memory: Victim memories.

Can you give an example of one or more widely shared memories of a national trauma involving this country in which the country played the role of victim from other residents of the country, refugees, or the residents of another country? What are the events and how are they remembered?

Round 3 Statements (Nov 2016 - Jul 2017)

"The mafia of the Assad regime is its only enemy. Syria itself victimizes it. He brought in IS and Al Qaida." (230784)
"Current war, conspiracy of all the world against Syria." (230713)
"Syria was not occupied by the British. It was the French. The participant wishes Syria were still a French colony. The French tried to give us sovereignty. We ended up with none. The Hama massacre was in 1980, not 1982. The civil war, that's an example." (231641)
"We always play the role of victim to Israeli invasion, the west. We love this role. The first coup d'etat, 1949, was 3 years after independence. When we explore national memory it will not be about external threats. It will be the massacres by various internal regimes. 1982 Hama massacres. 1979 - 82 Muslim Brotherhood massacres." (233911)
"Current conflict. Radical groups have made Syria their homeland. Infrastructure is gone." (233881)
"Hama Massacre 1982 (Palmyra Prison). 1967 and 1973 wars. The majority would be sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood." (238631)
"On the news it said the United States and Russia was bombing them. It later became apparent it was Assad and Russia." (233531)
"In opposition areas there is a sense the world has abandoned them. The government will complain of outside meddling." (232272)
"Some would say the civil war was caused by outside groups, therefore we are all victims. The Assad regime claiming the Alawi and other minorities will be persecuted if they don't control the government or support Assad." (233121)
"We are all to be blamed for being victims and, of course, we don't like being victims." (235781)
"Regarding the Kurds, World War I when borders were shaped and the people divided. It matters less to Syrians." (231642)
"The current war is the greatest trauma Syria has ever experienced. The Syria they knew doesn't exist anymore. It will have lasting impact for generations." (234281)
" The regime displaced over 5 million, killed over 1 million." (236371)
"All the world is preying on the Syrian people." (238341)
"A victim mentality is present, but not strong. The major story is the west's support of Israel and their victimization of Syria." (236592)
"They were always the heroes. Syria and Israel war." (235931)
"Homs. Assad's father did that on purpose then bused people in to look at the aftermath to show his power." (239311)
"Colonial history. The Sunni feel like victims on multiple levels. "Why is God punishing us?" Arabs suffered colonialism, rejected it, and still suffer a lack of sovereignty. The government sees itself as a victim, 'We were only trying to fight terrorism.'"(239312)

Round 2 Statements (Aug 2016 - Oct 2016)

“They blame their neighbors for what is happening.” (229051)
“Syria was a victim in 1973 and 1982.” (223911)
“The south of Syria is occupied by Israel.” (221211)
“Syria did not start the conflict. In general people came up against the regime peacefully. The government countered with bullets. It transformed from peaceful to armed. The whole country became a victim. Even the regime has no say. Outside forces, Russia and Iran, are in control of all the killing. The opposition leaders are ready to put down their arms and return to civilian life. The government brought in ISIL. ‘Syria’ means the people, not the government. The government is standing by watching.” (222172)
"Syria was never occupied by the British. The Muslim Brotherhood event was in 1982, the Massacre of Hama." (223881)
"England never occupied Syria." (221641)

Round 1 Statements (Jan 2016 - May 2016)

"Israeli Wars 1948 and 1967." (218751); (211211); (215261)
"British occupation." (218751)
"Ottoman occupation." (218751)
"Early 1980s rebellion against the state by the Muslim Brotherhood." (218751); (215261)
"Current civil war." (218751); (211211)


Collective Memory: Bystander memories.

Can you give an example of one or more widely shared memories of a national trauma involving this country in which the country played the role of bystander while other residents of the country, refugees, or the residents of another country, were killed or died? What are the events and how are they remembered?

Round 3 Statements (Nov 2016 - Jul 2017)

It can't help anymore. (230784)
None (230713)
Syria never played the bystander. They always interfered based on national interests. (231641)
Invasion of Lebanon 1976, Pushed citizens out of Beirut 1982, Government crushed Kurds 2004, Government execution in Hama 1982, Lebanese Civil War at large, Chemical attacks on Kurds by Hussein, Green Revolution in Iran. (233911)
US Invasion of Iraq. Gaza wars. Israeli invasion of Lebanon 2006. (238631)
People have been pretty active in standing up for each other. Early on though, many stood by as people were being arrested. (233121)
The government knows the refugee situation and isn't doing anything about it, even allowing humanitarian assistance. The rebel groups were selfish too by not sacrificing more for the sake of civilian lives that would be lost. (235781)
Many Syrian feel they are bystanders to the conflict in their own country, while outsiders are the players in the conflict. (231642)
Regarding American War in Iraq - Should not oppose. Re: Lebanese Civil War Syria attacked Lebanon. Re: Palestinian displacement - Syria tried to help. Re: Chemical attack on the Kurds - What could Syria do? Re: Palestine - Syria tried to help. Re: the Green Revolution - never heard of a Green Revolution. Re: the Druze almost having an internal war - It didn't happen. Re: Kurdish prison uprising - Syria welcomed the Kurds.; Re: Syria as bystanders in Lebanese Civil War - Syria attacked Lebanon. (231211)
The attacks on the Kurds and other opposition, ex. Hama Massacre, are sources of regret for not intervening. (234281)
The Syrian people are very compassionate and support other people. The regime is not. The people try to avoid supporting the regime's acts of harm. Once Assad is gone you will see them return to their nature. They can't engage now because of the regime. (236371)
The Syrian people love to do good things and help each other. (238341)
The Massacre of Hama - Syrians feel the scar of standing aside as the state killed the people of Hama. It's part of why they stood up in 2011. (236592)
Relative to animus to others, the Sunni see the others as either perpetrators or bystanders, which is why the Islamic State has a fertile ground to work in. (239311)

Round 2 Statements (Aug 2016 - Oct 2016)

They suffer for what they cannot do. (229051)
Kurdish prison uprising of 2004 (223911)
The Syrian population were bystanders in the Lebanese Civil War. (223911)

Round 1 Statements (Jan 2016 - May 2016)

American War on Iraq 1 and 2 (218751)
Lebanese Civil War (218751)
Palestinian displacement after the 1967 War (218751)
Chemical attack on the Kurds by Hussein (215261)
Palestine (215261)
Green Revolution (215261); 2003-2006 Arabs in the south (21526);
The Druze almost had an internal war (21526)


Collective Memory: Perpetrator memories.

Can you give an example of one or more widely shared memories of a national trauma involving this country in which the country played the role of perpetrator against other residents of the country, refugees, or the residents of another country? What are the events and how are they remembered?

Round 3 Statements (Nov 2016 - Jul 2017)

The regime instigated the problems between the PKK and Turkey. The people are good, but the regime is a perpetrator. (230784)
Massacre at Hama 1980 (regime was perpetrator), massacres at Derazor and Jesser Al Shergor, Tadmoor Prison, Lebanon, Helped Iran against Iraq (230713)
Syria always was and is a police state. The Kurds was in 2004. (231641)
Current civil war - all Syrians participate, consciously or not. (233911)
The very few Syrians who believe the Syrian intervention into the Lebanese Civil War was wrong. (238631)
Assad bombing of Syria (233531)
There are some who wouldn't admit to being perpetrators but are, while others are victims. (233121)
There is one clear perpetrator, and many lesser ones. The killing, displacement, arrests, Sednaya prison, Russian invasion, refusal of humanitarian assistance, ISIL, other extremist groups. 5 for the government and 3 - 4 for the extremists. The level of brutality between ISIL and the government is the same, but the scale is greater for the government. (235781)
The Kurds has no perpetrator memories. They see themselves as victims. (231642)
Those who took part in letting foreign influences create the death machine that ISIL will remember this role for years. (234281)
When the regime was in Lebanon it contributed to the Lebanese problem. The people are not perpetrators. It is the regime. (236371)
The Syrian military committed horrific crimes in Lebanon, in Hama, and to citizens in this crisis. (236592)
Current situation (235931)
Relative to animus to others, the Sunni see the others as either perpetrators or bystanders, which is why the Islamic State has a fertile ground to work in. (239311)
There may be some Sunnis who disliked Assad's behavior in Lebanon, but mostly they see themselves as victims of Israel in that. The Sunnis do see Assad as a perpetrator. Lebanon would see Syria as a perpetrator for assassinating their prime minister, but most of Syria probably doesn't think about it. The regime hypes up the threat of terrorism, but projects itself as winning. (239312) 

Round 2 Statements (Aug 2016 - Oct 2016)

The regime (225662)
Syria was a perpetrator in the Iraq War by facilitating entry of jihadist. (223911)
The Syrian government was a perpetrator in the Lebanese Civil War. (223911)
Syria was a perpetrator to Iraq after the United States invasion. (223911)
1960 The Amooda Theater was burned. 300 children were burned alive. (221641)
The Kurd event was in 2005. (221641)

Round 1 Statements (Jan 2016 - May 2016)

Systemic interference with Lebanon (218751) (211211)
Muslim Brotherhood (215261)
Kurds 2004 or 2005 (215261)
Hama in the 1980s (215261)
Current civil war (218751) (215261)
1980s state aggression against the Muslim Brotherhood (218751)
Druze (215261)
Arabs (215261)