Revolt in Syria: Eyewitness to the Uprising, 2nd ed.
by Stephen Starr
London: Hurst, 2015. 256 pp. $20.
Reviewed by Jonathan Spyer
Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs
Middle East Quarterly
The first year of the Syrian civil war gave rise to a number of books focusing on the uprising against the dictatorship of Bashar Assad, with many predicting the imminent fall of the regime. Revolt in Syria: Eyewitness to the Uprising is one such work, written by an Irish journalist who lived in Syria for a number of years before the uprising and who reported on its early stages for major Western newspapers.
Writings on the Syrian uprising covering only its first year have understandably become dated, so Revolt in Syria is best read as a period piece. In this way, Starr's contribution benefits from the journalist's several years of experience in Syria and his obvious acquaintance with both the geography of Damascus and the fabric of daily life under the Baathist regime. His account consists largely of a series of conversations with a variety of mostly younger Syrians, including activists in the uprising as well as sympathizers with the regime.
Despite some skepticism toward the regime, however, the author is not immune to illusions about Syria that were peddled before the country came apart at the seams. Some passages read like they were produced by the pre-2011 Ministry of Tourism, perhaps a reflection of Starr's work for The Syria Times, a government-owned English language publication. Thus, he notes in one passage that "Syria's Christians ... find far more in common with their Sunni and Shia countrymen than with the Christians of elsewhere around the world ...There is much to tie Syrians together."
Revolt in Syria displays some insights and knowledge regarding the daily workings of pre-civil war Syrian society. But these observations are all too often accompanied by statements reflecting a conventional wisdom on Syria and the Middle East which now seems restricted and dated. Calling the targeting of regime soldiers and policemen by rebels, for example, "acts of terrorism, however desperate, not acts of war" sounds in 2016 like regime propaganda. However, Starr is not an unequivocal Assad supporter. At the time he wrote these words, they would have sounded bland and within the conventional consensus that afforded the regime an untroubled essential legitimacy. The book is a message from a Middle East past, which, only five years gone, is already remote.
Related Topics: Syria | Jonathan Spyer | Fall 2016 MEQ
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