Formation of the Al Hasan bin Ali Battalion in Hama last week
For decades, the dictatorship in Syria worked to stamp the people into submission: every pulpit, every media outlet, every schoolbook sent out the same message, that people should be subservient to the ruler. In Syria (as in a different way in Iraq, Egypt and the rest), those in authority – from the president to the policeman, from the top party apparatchik to the lowliest government functionary – exercised power over every aspect of people’s lives. You spent your life trying to avoid being humiliated --- let alone detained and tortured or disappeared – by those in authority while somehow also sucking up to them, bribing them, begging them to give you what you needed: a telephone line, a passport, a university place for your son. So when these systems of control collapsed, something exploded inside people, a sense of individualism long suppressed. Why would I succumb to your authority as a commander when I can be my own commander and fight my own insurgency? Many of the battalions dotted across the Syrian countryside consist only of a man with a connection to a financier, along with a few of his cousins and clansmen. They become itinerant fighting groups, moving from one battle to another, desperate for more funds and a fight and all the spoils that follow.