Marching towards nowhere?

 

Ivan Krastev writes: What strikes any observer of the new wave of revolutionary politics is that it is a revolution without an ideology or a project. Protesting itself seems to be the strategic goal of many of the protests. Failing to offer political alternatives, they are an explosion of moral indignation. In most of the protests, citizens on the street treat politics not so much as a set of issues but as a public performance or a way of being in the world. Many protesters are openly anti-institutional and mistrustful toward both the market and the state. They preach participation without representation. The protest movements bypass established political parties, distrust the mainstream media, refuse to recognize any specific leadership, and reject all formal organizations, relying instead on the Internet and local assemblies for collective debate and decision making.

In a way the new protest movements are inspired by mistrust in the elites, empowered by mistrust in leadership, constrained by mistrust of organizations, and defeated by the protesters’ inability to trust even each other: “This is an obvious but unspoken cultural difference between modern youth protest movements and those of the past. […] Anybody who sounds like a career politician, anybody who attempts to use rhetoric, or espouses an ideology, is greeted with visceral distaste.”

Mistrusting institutions as a rule, the protesters are plainly uninterested in taking power. The government is simply “them,” regardless of who is in charge. The protesters combine a genuine longing for community with a relentless individualism. They describe their own political activism almost in religious terms, stressing how the experience of acting out on the street has inspired a revolution of the soul and a regime change of the mind. Perhaps for the first time since 1848 — the last of the pre-Marxist revolutions — the revolt is not against the government but against being governed. It is the spirit of libertarianism that brings together Egypt’s anti-authoritarian uprising and Occupy Wall Street’s anti-capitalist insurrection.

For the protesters, it is no longer important who wins elections or who runs the government, not simply because they do not want to be the government, but also because any time people perceive that their interests are endangered, they plan on returning to the streets. The “silent man” in Taksim Square, Istanbul, who stood without moving or speaking for eight hours, is a symbol of the new age of protests: He stands there to make sure that things will not stay as they are. His message to those in power is that he will never go home.

While it is popular for Europeans to compare the current global protest wave with the revolutions of 1848, today’s protests are the negation of the political agenda of 1848. Those revolutions fought for universal suffrage and political representation. They marked the rise of the citizen-voter. The current protests are a revolt against representative democracy. They mark the disillusionment of the citizen-voter. The current protests function as an alternative to elections, testifying that the people are furious; the angry citizen heads to the streets not with the hope of putting a better government in power but merely to establish the borders that no government should cross. [Continue reading…]

Anti-war, anti-capitalism, anti-globalization, anti-interventionism — the problem with centering any movement around opposition is that almost in obedience with the laws of physics, the end result will be inertia.

The logical conclusion of insistently saying no is that we end up going nowhere.

The successful movements of the last century have instead always been centered on positive goals — women’s rights; civil rights; marriage equality, and so forth.

Likewise, the most effective forms of resistance against the socially corrosive agenda of the Trump presidency are not simply anti-Trump; they are affirmations — for immigrants, for Muslims, and for women.

To build a better world, we have to unite around the things we support and not simply the things we oppose.

What Trump is counting on is that his opponents remain locked in an oppositional posture in which we will eventually tire and thereafter fall into torpor and silence.

Facebooktwittermail

Report drafted by the late Jo Cox urges UK not to shy away from overseas intervention

The Guardian reports: The rise of unthinking pacifism and kneejerk isolationism in Britain have dangerous consequences for the safety of people around the world, according to a report started by Labour MP Jo Cox, who was murdered in June 2016.

The report, which was finished by Cox’s colleague and fellow MP Alison McGovern and Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, makes the case that doing nothing can have a greater cost than intervention.

The findings are to be launched by the former prime minister Gordon Brown and former Tory foreign secretary William Hague on Thursday, at an event for the Policy Exchange thinktank in London.

The paper was intended to be jointly published by Cox, a former aid worker, and Tugendhat, a former soldier, before the Batley and Spen MP was shot and stabbed by far-right terrorist Thomas Mair.

It points to a number of global conflicts where intervention has been deemed successful, including a no-fly zone in Iraq in 1991 to protect Kurds from Saddam Hussein’s air attacks, the 1999 intervention in Kosovo to save civilians from ethnic cleansing and the British intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000 to help repel the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) advance. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The strange sympathy of the Far Left for Putin

Gershom Gorenberg writes: Jeremy Corbyn, the grim, controversial, and recently re-elected leader of Britain’s Labour Party, rejects the idea of protesting outside Russia’s embassy in London against that country’s brutal bombing of Syria. “The focus on Russian atrocities or Syrian army atrocities,” said a Corbyn aide this week, distracts attention from “very large scale civilian casualties as a result of the U.S.-led coalition bombing.”

In case this is a bit obtuse, let’s go over to Britain’s Stop the War coalition, which Corbyn chaired before he was elected Labour leader. In a radio interview, current vice-chairman Chris Nineham said that protesting Russian atrocities would increase “hysteria and jingoism.” The way to end the Syria conflict, he said, was to “oppose the West.”

In another words, when we say we’re against war, we don’t mean Vladimir Putin’s war. We mean war waged by Western imperialists.

To fill in some dots: The idea of protesting outside Russian embassies, not just in London but around the world, reportedly came from Labour MP Ann Clwyd. It’s true that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson endorsed the proposal. But ignoring Russian war crimes because Johnson opposes them is a bit like ignoring Donald Trump’s misogyny because some Republicans also object to it.

As for the equation of Russian and coalition actions, The Guardian did a fact-check with the monitoring group Airwars. The civilian death rate from Russian attacks, said the group’s director, “probably outpaces the coalition by a rate of eight to one.” The coalition tries to limit civilian deaths; the Russians deliberately target civilians, he said.

Predictably, lots of people in the riven Labour Party are outraged by Corbyn’s stance. It’s only the latest instance of Corbyn’s fossilized and one-dimensional anti-imperialism being an embarrassment for the left. In the United States, Putin’s most prominent fan is the embarrassment of the right.

Still, Corbyn has his American counterparts — starting with Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Until a few days ago, Stein had a statement on her website saying that the United States should end any military role in Syria, impose an arms embargo, and work “with Syria, Russia, and Iran to restore all of Syria to control by the government.” The “anti-war” candidate’s stance, in other words, was to let the war crimes continue until the Assad regime and its patrons massacre their way to victory. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

If they really wanted to Stop the War in Syria, they’d target Russia

Jonathan Freedland writes: Pity the luckless children of Aleppo. If only the bombs raining down on them, killing their parents, maiming their friends, destroying their hospitals – if only those bombs were British or, better still, American.

Then the streets of London would be jammed with protestors demanding an end to their agony. Trafalgar Square would ring loud with speeches from Tariq Ali, Ken Loach and Monsignor Bruce Kent. Whitehall would be a sea of placards, insisting that war crimes were being committed and that these crimes were Not in Our Name. Grosvenor Square would be packed with noisy protestors outside the US embassy, urging that Barack Obama be put on trial in The Hague. The protestors would wear Theresa May masks and paint their hands red. And they would be doing it all because, they’d say, they could not bear to see another child killed in Aleppo.

But that is not the good fortune of the luckless children of that benighted city. Their fate is to be terrorised by the wrong kind of bombs, the ones dropped by Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin. As such, they do not qualify for the activist sympathy of the movement that calls itself the Stop the War Coalition. Indeed, it’s deputy chair, Chris Nineham, told the Today programme that his organisation would not be organising or joining any protests outside the Russian embassy because that would merely fuel the “hysteria and the jingoism” currently being whipped up against Moscow. Stop the War would instead, explained Nineham in a moment of refreshing candour, be devoting its energies to its prime goal – “opposing the west”. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Peace and the politics of outrage

decay4

“Any religion worth talking about is essentially political and any politics worth talking about has some vision of transcendence and of the mystery of human life,” said the Jesuit priest, antiwar activist and poet, Daniel Berrigan, at the time of the trial of the Plowshares Eight in 1981. Berrigan died on Saturday at the age of 94.

In 2006, noting that the “short fuse of the American left is typical of the highs and lows of American emotional life,” Berrigan said: “It is very rare to sustain a movement in recognizable form without a spiritual base.”

This absence of a spiritual base, expressed through commonly held values, can be seen as one of the defining characteristics of the politics of dissent in the post 9/11 era.

The commonalities around which shifting forms of unity have emerged and dissolved have invariably come in the form of shared outrage and hatred.

We decide who we stand with by flagging what we stand against:

  • American Empire
  • Western Imperialism
  • Zionism
  • Capitalism
  • Neoliberalism
  • Militarism
  • Corporate power
  • Globalization
  • National security state
  • Mass surveillance
  • Mass incarceration
  • Police brutality
  • Racism
  • Xenophobia
  • Islamophobia
  • Homophobia
  • Sexism

But the affirmative common ground gets far less clearly defined if articulated at all.

Where humanitarianism and internationalism once prevailed, anti-interventionism has become one of the most frequently voiced principles.

Opposition to America imposing its values on the world, has come to mean the plight of people who lives and basic rights are in peril can often be ignored.

It seems we have less responsibility to make this a better world than to merely claim we have done it little harm.

It is as though the measure of a life well lived be that it is of no consequence as we each swear to a political Hippocratic oath.

Indeed there are those who now view the concept of human rights as so tainted that it functions as nothing more than a justification for war.

Out of this emerges for some a libertarian insularity where the least harm each of us might do is to mind our own business, and for others an isolationist social-justice realism which says, take care of the folks at home instead of trying to fix the world.

In a political context where it’s much safer to assume an adversarial posture and stand up against our nameable enemies, what’s much harder is to move beyond divisions and to focus instead on the greatest deficits in our world: a lack of love and kindness and the absence of a widely embraced vision of a better future.

It’s much easier to unify around what we stand against.

Bring love and kindness into the equation and most of the boundaries we use to define our political identities become less secure; our opponents cannot so easily be made other.

Consider, for instance, the issue of Palestine.

If viewed through a dispassionate political lens, we can talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in terms of self-determination, social justice, and anti-colonialism and yet as a human concern, empathizing with Palestinians being bombed in Gaza by Israelis is surely no different than responding with empathy to atrocities being carried out in Aleppo.

For those on the ground, the outcome of the bombing is no different and yet the fact that the former provokes global outcries while the later is met largely with global indifference speaks to something that few observers will dare state: their hatred for the perpetrators of the violence is more deeply rooted than they sympathy for the victims.

* * *

To recognize the political and social influence of Daniel Berrigan did not require that you shared his pacifism or his religious beliefs and yet his striking integrity derived from the fact that he was a living expression of religion and politics made indivisible.

In 2006, as Berrigan turned 85, he was interviewed by Chris Hedges for The Nation:

All empires, Berrigan cautions, rise and fall. It is the religious and moral values of compassion, simplicity and justice that endure and alone demand fealty. The current decline of American power is part of the cycle of human existence, although he says ruefully, “the tragedy across the globe is that we are pulling down so many others. We are not falling gracefully. Many, many people are paying with their lives for this.”

“The fall of the towers [on 9/11] was symbolic as well as actual,” he adds. “We are bringing ourselves down by a willful blindness that is astonishing.”

Berrigan argues that those who seek a just society, who seek to defy war and violence, who decry the assault of globalization and degradation of the environment, who care about the plight of the poor, should stop worrying about the practical, short-term effects of their resistance.

“The good is to be done because it is good, not because it goes somewhere,” he says. “I believe if it is done in that spirit it will go somewhere, but I don’t know where. I don’t think the Bible grants us to know where goodness goes, what direction, what force. I have never been seriously interested in the outcome. I was interested in trying to do it humanly and carefully and nonviolently and let it go.”

“We have not lost everything because we lost today,” he adds.

A resistance movement, Berrigan says, cannot survive without the spiritual core pounded into him by [Thomas] Merton. He is sustained, he said, by the Eucharist, his faith and his religious community.

“The reason we are celebrating forty years of Catonsville and we are still at it, those of us who are still living — the reason people went through all this and came out on their feet — was due to a spiritual discipline that went on for months before these actions took place,” he says. “We went into situations in court and in prison and in the underground that could easily have destroyed us and that did destroy others who did not have our preparation.”

During an interview in 1981, Berrigan was asked how he came to the “deep waters” — the spiritual perspective — that enabled his activism.

It’s a question of coming from somewhere, having some tradition available to you — some symbols, some worship, some common life… coming from somewhere better than America, because I don’t think America is anywhere to come from.

In a world where it has become so easy to denounce America and point to the extensive harm this nation has done as its imperial power ungracefully unwinds, the politics of outrage nevertheless evokes little sense of somewhere better than America.

The collapse of empire is nothing to celebrate if we lack a vision of something better to take its place.

Facebooktwittermail

Daniel J. Berrigan, defiant priest who practiced pacifism, dies at 94

The New York Times reports: The Rev. Daniel J. Berrigan, a Jesuit priest and poet whose defiant protests helped shape the tactics of opposition to the Vietnam War and landed him in prison, died on Saturday in New York City. He was 94.

His death was confirmed by the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large at America magazine, a national Catholic magazine published by Jesuits. Father Berrigan died at Murray-Weigel Hall, the Jesuit infirmary at Fordham University in the Bronx.

The United States was tearing itself apart over civil rights and the war in Southeast Asia when Father Berrigan emerged in the 1960s as an intellectual star of the Roman Catholic “new left,” articulating a view that racism and poverty, militarism and capitalist greed were interconnected pieces of the same big problem: an unjust society.

It was an essentially religious position, based on a stringent reading of the Scriptures that some called pure and others radical. But it would have explosive political consequences as Father Berrigan; his brother Philip, a Josephite priest; and their allies took their case to the streets with rising disregard for the law or their personal fortunes.

A defining point was the burning of Selective Service draft records in Catonsville, Md., and the subsequent trial of the so-called Catonsville Nine, a sequence of events that inspired an escalation of protests across the country; there were marches, sit-ins, the public burning of draft cards and other acts of civil disobedience. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Don’t bomb Syria and don’t listen to Syrians?

As I understand it, the foundational premise of any antiwar movement is that the only way of protecting people who are harmed by wars is to end those wars. In other words, although the named issue is war, the object of concern is the victims of war.

At least I thought that was the issue, but these days if often looks like the victims of war are getting marginalized in the name of standing up for a wider cause: global justice. Indeed, when it comes to the UK’s Stop the War Movement, they profess such a deep interest in righting the world, that they often treat Syrians as an irritant who might undermine the group’s larger objectives. Moreover, when those crying, “Don’t bomb Syria” also welcome in their ranks some who are also calling for support for Bashar al-Assad, it becomes clear that the issue at hand is not actually where the bombs are falling but who is dropping them. Stop the War held no demonstrations outside the Russian Embassy in London when Vladamir Putin launched his bombing campaign on Syria.

Jeremy Cliffe writes: “Do we have Syrians?” interjects a woman. A brief silence. The gathering in Manchester’s Central Library is pondering who might take the microphone at its upcoming protest against plans to bomb Islamic State in Syria. On the list so far: Labour Party MPs, MEPs, councillors, the Green Party, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, musicians, poets, trade unionists and “definitely a student of some sort”. Phone messages have been left, e-mails fired off and brains racked for names of old-time peaceniks. Only now has the idea of asking a Syrian arisen.

“There’s a big Syrian group,” murmurs one. “But they’re not anti,” continues another, disgusted: “They were lobbying for Britain to bomb Assad.” Those present sigh as one. On to the logistics of the event. It is decided that stewards should guard the mic, poised to fend off any “pro-war Syrians or imperialists”. After all, notes the chairman: “We know what we’re talking about here.” Would that BBC Manchester possessed such discernment. The station is interviewing pro-war Kurds tomorrow, to the group’s distain: “They dig ’em up.” “Amazing how they find them!”

Such is the eye-swivelling world of Stop the War, the organisation that, though not the same as the anti-war movement (dominated by decent, mild-mannered types), is its main organising force and has a record of sidelining the very peoples in whose interest it professes to act. Rethink Rebuild, the Syrian society in Manchester, requested a speaking slot at its Don’t Bomb Syria meeting there in October, but was ignored. It claims: “The Syrian voice was marginalised throughout the event.” Other Stop the War gatherings have followed that pattern. At one in Westminster Syrians criticising the unrepresentative panel were jeered at and the police called; in Birmingham a Syrian invited to speak was disinvited and branded a supporter of imperialism for backing a no-fly zone. This knack for alienating its notional beneficiaries goes all the way back to Stop the War’s foundation in 2001 by (among others) the Socialist Workers Party, an authoritarian far-left outfit. At one of its first conferences Iraqi and Iranian delegates quit when their motion condemning “Islamic terrorism” was defeated.

That is the thing with Stop the War. It is not anti-war so much as anti-West; a permanent howl of relativist anguish at NATO and its members. For example, the group could hardly be more indulgent of Vladimir Putin’s wars. It defended the invasion of Georgia as a reaction to “the ambition of the USA to exercise global hegemony”, called many of the Maidan protesters in Kiev neo-Nazis and excused Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea. Tellingly, at its “anti-war” demonstration in London on December 1st a poster emblazoned with Syrian flags and the slogan “Support For Bashar Al-Assad” was brandished above the crowd. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

The world’s failure to help Syria change for the better, means Syria is now changing the world for the worse

At yesterday’s Stop the War rally in London, Tariq Ali challenged the Cameron government by saying: “If the aim is to destroy ISIS, … then you should be fighting side by side with Assad and the Russians.”

The contradiction between this proposition and the rally’s slogan — “Don’t bomb Syria” — seemed to elude much of Ali’s audience.

Yesterday, on just one city — Darayya — the regime dropped 50 barrel bombs.

For the last four years, barrel bombs have been the principle tools of destruction used in a bloody campaign to crush opposition to Bashar al-Assad’s rule, the leading cause of death of a quarter of a million Syrians, and the driving force resulting in the exodus of half the population from their homes.

Since Russia started bombing Syria, an estimated 1,300 people have been killed, a third of them civilians.

Today, airstrikes, believed to have been carried out by Russian jets, killed 44 people and wounded scores of others in a marketplace in Idlib province.

There are legitimate reasons for doubting the efficacy or wisdom in Britain joining the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS in Syria, but those currently shouting “don’t bomb Syria” seem to be more concerned about who is dropping the bombs than who is being killed by them.

The Syria Solidarity Movement UK issued a statement yesterday explaining why they did not support the Stop the War demonstration.

Syria Solidarity UK and Stop the War have very different concerns regarding Syria: Syria Solidarity is concerned with ending the suffering of Syrians under the Assad dictatorship; Stop the War with opposing any UK military involvement regardless of consequences for Syrians.

We oppose the British government’s proposal to merely mimic the American ISIS-only counter-terrorism war; not only do we believe it is immoral to fly missions in Syria against ISIS while leaving the even greater killer, Assad, free to bomb civilians en masse, we also believe that any war against ISIS that doesn’t put the needs of the Syrian people first will be a failure that can only prolong their suffering.

The Syrian writer and leftwing political dissident, Yassin al-Haj Saleh, points out that our collective failure to act in the interests of the Syrian people has now turned Syria into a global issue.

“[B]ecause the world did not help Syria change for better, I think that Syria is changing the whole world for worse.”

Facebooktwittermail

ISIS is promoting its own form of imperialism

Sunny Hundal writes: It seems as though every atrocity committed against the West by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is followed by claims in the media that such attacks are the result of our military action against them. The former mayor of London Ken Livingstone told the BBC yesterday: “All these terrorist attacks, the statements they make on their websites and so on are all about foreign policy.” He added that the French-led military intervention against the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad was “coming back to haunt [it].”

This attitude isn’t isolated. Not long after the Paris attacks, Stop the War Coalition, which organized the million-plus march in London against the war in Iraq in 2003, tweeted an article claiming Paris “reaped the whirlwind of Western extremism.” It was hastily deleted. Writing for Salon, foreign-affairs columnist Patrick L. Smith opined, “We brought this on ourselves,” while in The Guardian yesterday, the Al Jazeera English presenter Mehdi Hasan suggested that the Paris attacks were the result of geopolitcal blowback.

Claiming that terror attacks such as those that shook Paris on Nov. 13, are a “blowback” isn’t just offensive to its (mainly Muslim) victims—it misreads the very nature of ISIL. It amounts to an excusal of the terrorist group’s intentions, as if to say that ISIL would not have done any of this if the US, UK, France, and company weren’t so meddlesome. This is a convenient tale, which is told to push a non-interventionist foreign policy, but it doesn’t reflect reality. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Spinning against imperialism: Jeremy Corbyn, Seumas Milne and the Middle East

By Brian Whitaker, al-bab, October 27, 2015

When Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the opposition Labour party in Britain last month I wrote a blog post looking at his public statements on international affairs and trying to draw some conclusions about how British policy in the Middle East might change under a Corbyn-led government.

While some of Corbyn’s ideas struck me as naive there were others that looked more promising. Along with his unwillingness to be drawn into military adventures his declared intention to place human rights “in the centre” of foreign policy seemed like a positive development.

Corbyn has since had some success in that area, embarrassing the government over its cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. The government has been struggling to justify its eagerness to do business with the Saudis in the face of their egregious human rights abuses and on this issue the British public, together with large sections of the media, appear to be on Corbyn’s side. This is clearly one of the government’s weak spots, ripe for Labour to exploit.

Last week brought a distraction from the business of opposing the government, however, with the appointment of Guardian columnist Seumas Milne as Executive Director of Strategy and Communications – in effect, as Corbyn’s chief spin doctor. It’s the post formerly held by Alastair Campbell in Tony Blair’s government, and it gives the holder a lot of influence if not actual power. At the very least we can expect Milne to be in daily contact with Corbyn, discussing how to present Labour’s policies and respond to events. [Read more…]

Facebooktwittermail

Leftists who think politics is more important than people

In response to Jeremy Corbyn’s appointment of Seumas Milne as the UK Labour Party’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communications, Oliver Bullough writes: For Milne, geopolitics is more important than people. Whatever crisis strikes the world, the West’s to blame. Why did a group of psychopaths attack a magazine and a supermarket in Paris? “Without the war waged by western powers, including France, to bring to heel and reoccupy the Arab and Muslim world, last week’s attacks clearly couldn’t have taken place”.

Why did Anders Breivik slaughter 77 people? “What is most striking is how closely he mirrors the ideas and fixations of transatlantic conservatives.”

Why did two maniacs in London decapitate an off-duty soldier? “They are the predicted consequence of an avalanche of violence unleashed by the US, Britain and others.”

Milne’s geopolitics spared us having to read how the children of Beslan or the theatregoers of Moscow only had themselves to blame, but office workers in New York had no such luck. “Recognition of why people might have been driven to carry out such atrocities, sacrificing their own lives in the process – or why the United States is hated with such bitterness, not only in Arab and Muslim countries, but across the developing world – seems almost entirely absent.”

And this rampant victim blaming is not an approach confined to current affairs. His geopolitical preferences extend into history too, where he fiercely opposes any suggestion that Stalin’s Soviet Union was as bad as Hitler’s Germany. He has been caricatured as a Stalinist as a result, something that appears to irritate some of his once-and-future Guardian colleagues (he is on leave from the paper). I got into a Twitter debate with Zoe Williams yesterday, in which she pointed out: “he’s written reams about the crimes of Stalin”.

He has indeed, but he has written about them in the manner of a Brit acknowledging the Amritsar massacre, before pointing out how much worse off India would be without trains. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Where are the anti-war protesters now?

Haid Haid writes: Russia’s recent military intervention in Syria doesn’t seem to have provoked the same reaction worldwide as the one the US faced against Assad in retaliation to the chemical gas attacks in Syria in August 2013. While the demonstration against the US airstrikes brought together the left and the right in major world cities, Russia’s intervention hasn’t prompted a strong reaction even from those who are considered ‘friends of Syria.’ This is not the first time that the reactions of anti-war coalitions and peace movements differ on the Syrian conflict, based on the actors calling for them. Iranian support to the Assad regime, for instance, with armed militias, weaponry, money, military experts, etc., has also gone unnoticed.

This selective approach by anti-war movements to foreign military interventions raises many questions about what they consider a war to be. Should we consider all military interventions bad? Does the actor’s identity matter more than the action itself? Can we be selective about acting upon our principles? When is it acceptable to favor someone’s interests over the miseries of others? [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

How the old left still struggles to face new realities in the Middle East

In an interview, Dr H.A. Hellyer says: Many of our assumptions have been challenged in the past 5 years, since the revolutionary uprisings took place in the Arab world. I can still remember a world where academics wrote about the ‘resistance axis’ in the region, and the likes of Hizbollah and Bashar al-Assad’s Damascus were a part of that, described as ‘counter-weights’ to the machinations of right-wing neoconservatism and imperialism. The frames are wholly different now, on both of those points, due to the Syrian revolutionary uprising – and that leads to an important question for the Arab anti-imperialist left, as well as the old left in the West. Is this what left-wing politics is about, where we sacrifice the Syrian revolutionary uprising on the altar of some kind of imagined ‘resistance’ – while another type of foreign interference, be it from Tehran, Moscow, or Hizbollah, is critical in propping up a regime that has overseen the killing of tens of thousands of Syrian civilians? That’s a question that ought to be asked. In so doing, I hope the answer is not for the left to decide that they ought to become akin to the right-wing, whether in the West or the Arab world, and lose their time-honoured commitments to social justice as leftists. But rather, that the left ought to become more nuanced, and really take seriously the autonomy of people as a motivating factor, even when it is politically inconvenient. [Continue reading…]

Last year, Germano Monti, a freelance journalist and pro-Palestinian activist, wrote that neo-Nazis, Stalinists, Catholic fundamentalists and pacifists have found common ground in a diffuse brand of anti-imperialism: Fear of Islam is playing an increasingly significant role in the politics of the right wing. In the run-up to this year’s European elections, the leaders of various European extreme right-wing groups have met on a number of occasions – in Spain last November, for example, and in Rome in February 2014. Jens Pühse of the German NPD attended the Spanish meeting, as did members of the Syrian National Socialist Party (SSNP).

The SSNP is a close ally of Assad’s ruling Baath party and has two members in the Syrian cabinet: the deputy prime minister and another minister. The party deploys its own units to fight side-by-side with the regime and the Lebanese Hezbollah militias against the Syrian rebels. The ideology of the SSNP, which was founded in 1932 in Beirut, as well as its symbolism are obviously modelled on that of German National Socialism: a raised right arm is used as a salute, and the emblem emblazoned on the flag closely resembles a swastika. The SSNP’s Italian representative is the aforementioned Ouday Ramadan, who is in charge of organising support for the Assad regime in Italy.

The rapprochement between neo-Nazis, Catholic fundamentalists, Stalinists and pacifists under the banner of anti-imperialism is a crucial factor in the lack of solidarity with the Syrian people, particularly in left-wing circles. This small “red-brown army” is extraordinarily active on the Internet, with websites and blogs that initially seem to be left wing. Over the past three years, this army has managed to paralyse the Italian solidarity and peace movement for Syria by relentlessly invoking the spectre of a supposed NATO attack on Syria and a Zionist-Salafist plot against the Assad clan’s “secular, anti-imperialist and socialist” regime. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

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 RT.com 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.

Facebooktwittermail

Anti-imperialism 2.0: Selective sympathies, dubious friends

Charles Davis writes: The new imperialism is caring a bit too much about the suffering of people who are being brutalized by a regime which is not currently an ally of the United States – and the new anti-imperialism is not giving a damn at all, solidarity that extends beyond the border permissible only if the drawing of attention to their plight could not possibly be used as ammunition by the “humanitarian” militarists of the American empire. The world, in this view, is divided into but two camps: those with America and those against it, with the good anti-imperialist’s outrage dialed up if the atrocity can be linked to the United States, as well it should be, but dialed down to total silence if it’s not.

This is, of course, the “anti-imperialism” of the reactionary, in more than one sense: How a person of the left responds to a pile of dead women and children is in effect dictated by how the U.S. government itself responds, the advocate of the poor and forgotten consigning foreigners to their fate – “not our problem, pal,” as one popular liberal congressman essentially put it on cable TV – if their interests have the misfortune of being perceived as aligned with America’s, the left’s commitment to internationalism abandoned for an inverted form of muddled nationalism that sees U.S. imperialism as not just one factor to consider in a complex world, but the only factor relevant in how we in the imperial core should view what happens on the rest of the globe. And if your cause is sullied by the perception it’s America’s cause too? The leftist sounds just like that liberal who sounds like Pat Buchanan: Sorry, pal, if you wanted our solidarity you should have been born somewhere that better lends itself to a black-and-white anti-imperial critique. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail

Anti-interventionist Donald Trump: Middle East would be more stable with Hussein and Gadhafi

NBC News reports: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, when asked if he believes the Middle East would be better today if Moammar Gadhafi of Libya and Saddam Hussein of Iraq were still in power, responded, “It’s not even a contest.”

He related the situations in both of those countries with what is currently happening in Syria and seemed to endorse a stronger President Bashar Assad, even while admitting that he is “probably a bad guy.”

“You can make the case, if you look at Libya, look at what we did there — it’s a mess — if you look at Saddam Hussein with Iraq, look what we did there — it’s a mess — it’s [Syria] going to be same thing,” the real estate mogul said. [Continue reading…]

This is a point of view that appeals to a lot of liberals and peace activists these days, but it begs at least two questions:

How sustainable is stability when it derives from political oppression?

And what is the long-term price of torture?

Without exception, authoritarian regimes across the Middle East have relied on the same techniques for suppressing political opposition: torture.

Torture has the virtue of silencing critics without turning them into martyrs.

The streets can remain quiet when the screams of those having their fingernails ripped out are muffled by heavy prison doors.

But torture doesn’t just scar bodies — it scars minds, feeding a desire for vengeance that has inspired many a terrorist.

Is this what peace and stability really looks like?

Maybe the real lesson of the last decade has not been that regime change is itself such a terrible idea, but rather that the methods employed to achieve that goal have been worse than useless.

The issue is not one of intervention vs non-intervention but rather a question of what might actually lead to the desired goal.

The insular perspective of those who posture as realist defenders of national interest, suggests that it’s none of our business what happens within the borders of other states, but the reality is that sooner or later the misery of every dysfunctional state will spill out across its borders.

Facebooktwittermail

Baathist truthers

Louis Proyect writes: In the course of responding to the amen corner for the past couple of weeks over the Syrian refugee crisis, it dawned on me that it is not only an ethical lapse that we are dealing with but a theoretical one as well. Largely as a function of its narrow focus on US foreign policy and the sort of revelations we associate with Seymour Hersh type investigative reporting, Wikileaks, etc., there is zero interest in how Marxism can relate to events taking place within Syria. The country becomes a kind of black box where reductionism is taken to such an extreme degree that everything is bracketed out except what the CIA or other Western imperialist agencies are up to. Tunnel vision is perfectly suited to Baathist state terrorism.

When the protests erupted in Syria in 2011, I tried to get as much information as possible about the social and economic conditions that spurred people into action. Although I disagreed with Jadaliyya’s Bassam Haddad on some questions, I found his analysis of the agrarian crisis most useful, especially “The Syrian Regime’s Business Backbone” that appeared in the Spring 2012 Middle East Report. It was a reminder that the Baathist state was socialist in name only:

By the late 1990s, the business community that the Asads had created in their own image had transformed Syria from a semi-socialist state into a crony capitalist state par excellence. The economic liberalization that started in 1991 had redounded heavily to the benefit of tycoons who had ties to the state or those who partnered with state officials. The private sector outgrew the public sector, but the most affluent members of the private sector were state officials, politicians and their relatives. The economic growth registered in the mid-1990s was mostly a short-lived bump in consumption, as evidenced by the slump at the end of the century. Growth rates that had been 5-7 percent fell to 1-2 percent from 1997 to 2000 and beyond.

But within the first month of the protests, others were searching for a CIA connection since Syria was perceived as an ally of Russia, Venezuela, Cuba and Iran — four countries that to varying degrees represented an “anti-imperialist” pole of attraction. When I kept urging one old friend to look at websites that took the side of the anti-Assad revolt, he told me that he did not have time for that. Meanwhile, he was obviously keeping track of what Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk and Tariq Ali were writing with no problem. In essence, what you had was a total refusal to examine all sides of a political question because “our obligations were to oppose imperialism”. Basically it was the same kind of intellectual laziness and lack of backbone that allowed most of the left to defend the Moscow Trials in the late 1930s.

As the years and bloodletting wore on, a “truther” mentality set in that was not that different from the “911” type. “False flags” were constantly being referred to as if the USA was planning to invade Syria and impose a sectarian Sunni state in the same way that George W. Bush imposed a sectarian Shiite state in Iraq. Blaming Assad for the Sarin gas attack in East Ghouta was like the WMD propaganda campaign in 2002. Or like 911 since Dubya supposedly needed that as a casus belli.

Even today, you have warnings about “regime change” in places like WSWS.org no matter what Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly I. Churkin stated: “This is something we share now with the U.S. Government: They don’t want the Assad Government to fail. They want to fight ISIL in a way that won’t harm the Syrian government.”

Instead of examining class relations, the left became amateur sleuths anxious to prove once and for all that the USA has been using Syrian rebels as puppets to bring down the Assad dictatorship. [Continue reading…]

Facebooktwittermail