Syrian political dissident: The Western left ‘simply do not see us’

In an interview* late last year, Yassin Al Haj Saleh, one of Syria’s leading political dissidents, was asked: What do you think the Western left could best do to express its solidarity with the Syrian revolution?

He responded:

I am afraid that it is too late for the leftists in the West to express any solidarity with the Syrians in their extremely hard struggle. What I always found astonishing in this regard is that mainstream Western leftists know almost nothing about Syria, its society, its regime, its people, its political economy, its contemporary history. Rarely have I found a useful piece of information or a genuinely creative idea in their analyses. My impression about this curious situation is that they simply do not see us; it is not about us at all. Syria is only an additional occasion for their old anti-imperialist tirades, never the living subject of the debate. So they do not really need to know about us.

David Bromwich, a professor of English Literature at Yale and stalwart of the American antiwar left, exemplifies the trend which Saleh describes.

For him, Syria is a nest of bloodthirsty Islamists fighting a religious war at the behest of foreign powers. The opponents of Assad that Western governments hoped would be the instruments of regime change are a ragtag mob entrusted with a fantasy. The only thing we really need to know about Syria, apparently, is that we should stay out.

Perhaps like Patrick Cockburn, Bromwich welcomes Russia’s direct intervention in the war. He seems to believe that Russia, by virtue of its closer proximity, has a genuine interest in the fate of Syria, yet the fate of Syrians is another question.

In an exercise in textual criticism, Bromwich’s current concern is Washington and the media’s resuscitation of the term moderate — a term around which, he says, the West has long contrived its fantasies.

The fact that the professor makes a living from analyzing language might explain why he has more interest in the words used by New York Times reporters than he has in the lives of Syrians.

But as a leftist, how did he forget what it means to be a humanitarian? How can he show so little interest in the lives of the Syrian people?

In his latest commentary, the refugee crisis doesn’t get a single mention.

Turkey is now warning that Russia and Iran’s escalating intervention in the war may lead to millions more refugees fleeing the country.

In that event, don’t expect Russia to assume any responsibility.

On September 9, while the refugee crisis in Europe dominated the Western media, Russia’s state-funded reported:

The head of the Federal Migration Service, Konstantin Romodanovsky, told TASS on Wednesday that Russia is ready to accept refugees from Syria on condition that they violate no laws.

He added that Russian authorities were studying asylum applications from Syrian citizens and rendered help to these people, but noted that “historically European countries are more appropriate as refuge for Syrians than the Russian Federation.”

The report offered no explanation of what makes European countries more appropriate. Maybe it’s simply the fact that they have more liberal immigration policies than Russia.

After Samar Kriker sought refuge in Russia, having been rescued in the Mediterranean by a Russia-bound tanker, he was then confined in a detention center cell for 23 hours a day. After his asylum application was rejected, he was expected to be deported back to Damascus.

For those whose cause is resistance to American imperialism, stories such as that might look like mere distractions, promulgated to stir unreasoned sentiment. If we keep our gaze high enough, there will be no risk of seeing the people below.

*Charles Davis’ article, “Anti-imperialism 2.0: Selective sympathies, dubious friends,” drew my attention to this interview.

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  1. Steve Peebles says

    I wonder why no one ever comments here. Perhaps the leftwing neocon agenda of the blog confuses people.

  2. Paul Woodward says

    Or maybe this has less to do with an alleged “leftwing neocon agenda” than the fact that the complex issues this site deals with don’t lend themselves to the kinds of simplistic analysis that fill comment threads on most ideological political sites.

    I don’t cater to an audience which simply wants to have its prejudices reinforced.

    Most people who are passionate about politics and who feel the need to make their opinions known to others, don’t have particularly open minds. They’ve already reached their conclusions about the way the world works and needs to change (or be kept the same). This stultifies political discourse, because everyone tends to anchor themselves in fixed positions.

    Politics in general lacks the spirit of science and art in as much as it constrains exploration of the unknown and inhibits the promotion of creative thought.

    Aside from this, there are mechanical issues at play when it comes to leaving comments. I post so much content that comments will get buried in the archives within a few hours.

    There is also the effect of touchscreen devises. My impression (nothing more than that) is that the shift away from keyboard-based devices to mobile touchscreen, has been to pacify internet users. It’s easier to express oneself in 140 characters or not at all, than to make the effort of developing paragraph-length ideas.