We don’t want your solidarity – How Western ‘progressives’ scabbed on Syria: A comment on ‘Progressive Orientalism’ or “On Passive Interventionism”

Those self-denominated ‘anti-imperialists’ – George Galloway, Stop the War and the like – have proven that they are completely shaped by orientalism in their thought, by letting their reaction get framed completely by the precepts set out by that of which they’re reacting against.. The only problem therefore is that they do not understand that the status quo IS Western Intervention (and to rectify it you must fight against it), so their understanding of ‘non-intervention’ is a fallacy… the idea that only ‘active’ and not ‘passive’ processes are the ones that qualify as ‘intervention’ is a fallacy. If the West saw an uprising occur and did not intervene any more than ‘established’ forms of involvement (for e.g. selling a regime arms), that is not ‘non-intervention’ that is passive action to maintain an intervention-based structure. ‘Passive intervention’, so to speak..

The genie is well and truly out of the bottle now. In an interview with the New York Times, President Obama has stated that the notion that arming the rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy”:

“This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.”
    Meanwhile, rebels in Aleppo are under simultaneous attack from both the North and the South, by ISIS and the Assad regime, in a critical battle for survival:

“As such, the principal defenders of areas of Aleppo still under opposition control today are a wide array of moderate FSA factions, some of whom still receive limited military support from the West, and members of the fading Islamic Front, most of whom are from the Aleppo area. These groups have borne the brunt of fighting ISIS while also facing a sustained Syrian military assault. Both of these offensives have combined to leave Aleppo critically vulnerable.”

    Way to go for those who betrayed in word and deed, and scabbed in solidarity those who for once actually took action to change the reality of the world they live in (which the former complain about all the time and spend their hours pontificating on how to change according to ideological manuscripts). Those who would like to think of themselves as anti-orientalist (I refer here to the self-denominated ‘anti-imperialists’ – George Galloway, Stop the War and the like) have proven that they are completely shaped by orientalism in their thought, by letting their reaction get framed completely by the precepts of what they’re reacting against, for e.g. those who bragged about being able to ‘stop the war on Syria’ have got their heads so far up their (still) orientalist asses that they think it was all about them and getting their country involved, instead of studying what was actually going on there (even if it required a translator to read first-hand reports and accounts), whether their countries actually wanted to intervene or whether there was much more to it (did you see Obama engage in endless debate and hearings on whether to intervene today in Iraq?). But of course not, since for many of these it comes down to identity politics, ‘we’ with all our history and baggage should not be going in there to fix a problem, ‘we’ are the epitome of evil, ‘we’ cannot do any good.

Yet what if I hypothetically posit that active intervention (more on why its in italics in a bit) in this particular case would do good, would save lives that would not be saved otherwise, would actually be better for the people in the region? ‘I’m sorry, its a terrible situation but I just can’t support a ‘return’ to Western adventures [even if they will save thousands of lives]’, those lives will have to be unfortunately expendable because it would save future suffering (without putting it so bluntly). For some undoubtedly meanwhile, it is ‘I’ am so radical I can never support Western intervention (regardless of whether an active intervention can actually be the better option for the people I’m purporting to support). Incidentally, according to one poll (which barely showed the Syrian opposition in a bask of glory), the majority of Syrian people support foreign intervention to break the horrible cycle they are currently trapped in. But what would they know, they’re only ‘reactively’ thinking like that aren’t they?

(I should note, my entire critique here does not necessarily mean that I am ‘pro-intervention‘, but it seeks to dispute the tenets that are often associated with the opposite position and which are simplistic, and I argue, often perversely orientalist. My positions regarding such questions on intervention I prefer to take from what those revolutionaries are asking for and saying from the ground.)

Incidentally, I have always held that the West did not want to intervene in Syria even after the chemical attacks, because although it appeared to have certain advantages as a whole there was a high risk it was not in its logical interests, and until now I’ve been right. Nor should I be expecting them to or be overly disappointed of them not doing so. Rather what irks me is how those here did not understand the political game at all and did not seek to scratch beneath the surface. What irks me is the attitude of simplification, lack of engagement and arrogance, amounting very much to subtle, un-conscious orientalism in operation, on the side of those ‘supporting us’. ‘Oh you don’t want us getting involved, we know better than you’. The arrogance, do you think we on the other end of Western imperial might know ‘less’ than you of what that might can entail? Do you think Islamists fighting Assad (and now ISIS) and asking for Western arms are ‘enamoured’ about seeking Western support? Do you not understand that we are trying to resist those very structures put in place by colonialists? Do you think its a coincidence that people in Kosovo used to name their children after Clinton and Blair, warmongers as they were? Do you think its a coincidence that you have Yazidis today raising placards saying ‘Thank you USA’? Of course those Western imperialists were war mongers who acted in their interests, but in certain specific contexts their interests for a variety of factors happened to be the lesser evil at that moment in time and coincided to some degree with the people’s ones; when in a certain situation there are worse warmongers, a warmonger whose military rapes as a matter of routine, tortures and destroys entire cities. Instead you think of it as a zero-sum game.

Even the idea that a tyrannical Syrian power-seeker cannot be as bad as a tyrannical Western power-seeker is both a) mistaken and b) also again in a sense orientalist; a) mistaken because contrary to the idea that because he is not ‘white’ he cannot reach anything as bad as ‘us’, not least the fact that his actions can and have, he is also the vestige of a colonial and post-colonial legacy; b) orientalist because it offers the assumption that, in the hypothetical of his removal with the people now facing obstacles the West will put in front of them to prevent proper democracy (which I believe would be the case), at this point we do not have any autonomy to fight such further challenges and will undoubtedly be defeated by the West’s machinations. Yet indeed the fact that this is NOT a foregone conclusion and is very much a risk variable is *precisely* the reason the West has not from the start intervened in Syria or decisively backed the homegrown rebels, because it recognises the risk that supporting the revolution, even if putting obstacles after, might make the revolution succeed! The West is powerful, but it is not all-powerful. This is why today it prefers the survival of the Assad regime and a detente between them, so that they are able to focus together on ISIS.

So Re the commonly cited example, that the West had previously supported the Mujahedin in Afghanistan against the Soviets, since there was a large strategic advantage in doing so, but the Taliban were able to take over later ostensibly against their will (although incidentally I believe that have they the option to do so again, they would without a shadow of a doubt, but that’s a different matter). Rather what I find to be a remarkably more similar parallel to my mind in terms of the nature of the conflict (if with different colours) to Syria today is undoubtedly  the 1930s civil war in Spain. During that time the West too appeared to dislike the the fascists, as they formed a tangible threat to the West with the rise of Hitler, etc. Yet the Western imperialists were not too enamoured by the Republican, Leftist and anarchists on the other side either. They left them abandoned and often tacitly supported the fascists, not least by stopping resources going through to them, firstly through an arms embargo and then extending to eventually encompass a volunteers ban. Meanwhile, in Syria of course too, after a period of relative ‘flexibility’ to try and back the rhetoric with some form of ‘action’, there has been a ban on volunteers going to Syria to fight, while there have been also blockades attempting to the flow of weapons to the Syrian opposition.

Of course there are differences, a) that the opposition in this case has a very heavy religious component, rather than a socialist/leftist one (something which has abandoned it much support, ‘selective internationalism’), b) that the threat of communism taking hold in Western Europe was by far a much greater danger than that of Islamists doing so in the Near-East, meaning that British antipathy and tacit complicity against the Republican cause might have exceeded that of the Rebel cause in Syria, yet also c) that the threat of strengthening the Spanish fascists, and by extension their Italian and German backers far outweighed that of strengthening Assad (and his Iranian and Russian backers). Indeed, transversing through decades and generations, Neo-Nazi and fascist support for the Assad regime is an ignored phenomena, with many fascists even having gone to fight for him (not that that gets any coverage – its only the bearded ones). Indeed this is one of those ‘rare’ occasions which has brought the idiotic self-denominated-anti-imperialist ‘left’ (supposedly) and right together, and shows the overlap of their views with regards to the Syrian conflict.

The difference between ‘Non-Intervention’ and ‘Passive intervention’

How often do you hear this quote: ‘No good can come out of Western intervention, unfortunately they have to fight the battles no matter how costly themselves’. The foolishness! We are already fighting Western intervention in terms of the existent structures left to us by the West! Indeed even if we were to treat the merits of this statement hypothetically, you speak as if not intervening now would somehow establish a pattern of not intervening in the future (in the West’s interests) and the people’s battle for self-determination can eventually be fought unimpeded – yet what silly guarantee can you even offer that your governments will not intervene again in the future?? That we will be left to our own ‘self-determination’? That you have such control over your government’s policies! Illusions, much as we would like them not to be! And yet you formulate yourselves and your positions regarding actual current, real life struggles for emancipation happening now according to these illusions and hopes for a reality that doesn’t exist! And this is what you do not understand, that we live in a world of reality and not what *should* be the case, and we cannot act according to a reality which we might all want but does not exist! In our ideal ‘should-be’ world we would not have had colonialism occur in the first place! Yet to pretend it hadn’t, or that we aren’t fighting its remains today, is that being ‘progressive’? The battle to liberate ourselves was NOW and you failed to support us!

Instead of truly caring about the ends and not the means, the ends of helping people to liberate themselves and fight oppression, you would have been pushing your governments which at least have some form of representation to *help* those trying to liberate themselves (even if that involves making it attractive for them to intervene, if you were truly selfless yes!) as you inevitably push your governments to do other things (*not* intervene in military conflicts, pressing for various types of social reforms, etc.). Instead you leave them to their fates. After all, anti-establishment tactics do not consist of a 24/7 demand for the ‘collapse of the state’, a unilateral boycott/refusal to engage with it, and indeed inevitably always encompass engagement of some sort with the state, whether that’s consciously admitted or not. A campaign which tries to change government policy regarding say the introduction of a higher minimum wage, or to stop the privatisation of a certain facility does not do so raising slogans demanding the collapse of the state, but by putting pressure on it through different means. Even if those individuals engaged in such campaigns would like to see the ‘collapse of the state’, this does not mean that that is their policy and mechanism for every campaign when conditions for that goal are not ripe, for if that were the case very little progress could arguably be made while we wait for the ‘revolution’ (and while one could argue that such processes are in themselves part of the revolutionary process, one could equally argue that they are part of a reformist one which inevitably keep and legitimise the current system of government).

The only problem therefore is that you do not understand that the status quo IS Western Intervention (and to rectify it you must fight against it), so your understanding of ‘non-intervention’ is a fallacy. The idea that only ‘active’ and not ‘passive’ processes are the ones that count as ‘intervention’ is a fallacy you do not seem to comprehend. If the West saw an uprising occur and did not intervene any more than established involvement (for e..g selling a regime arms) that is not ‘non-intervention’ that is passive action to maintain an intervention-based structure. ‘Passive intervention’, so to speak.

This is why the West generally intervenes where it can make it worse, not better. Even after a vote in the House of Commons do you think the UK could not covertly help the opposition if they wanted to, regardless of what their ‘people’ think? Do you think that history does not exist?

But when the people rise up and it happened to be that that government they rose up against cannot be defended even by your governments than if you want to help you must push them to act! Organisations like Stop the War’s accomplishment was not to stop the war and massacre in Iraq but to stop any support for the Syrian revolution, and today we see what the result is with two forms of fascists taking back control (ISIS and Assad). Its amazing how the ‘resistance’ (to imperialism, neo-liberalism, the whole global order in general) in the Middle East knew what the problems were and took actions to fight it (even if against massive odds), despite their supposed ‘backwardness’ and ‘lack of advanced knowledge’ they knew the way to resistance and acted on it with little support, while the more developed, knowledgeable and ‘experienced’ elites of the advanced countries here knew nothing. What hope is there when even the fucking people on ‘our side’ have got it so wrong? We don’t want your solidarity. You’re just as blind (and think it ‘ideologically astute’) as your governments.

   For in its depths it comes down to identity politics (with varying degrees on ‘how deep’), identity politics that ‘you cannot ever support the West intervening’ even if it were to be in the hypothetical in the interest of the people living there, naturally rationalised by different means.

Not Real Revolutions? Achcar and Co. on the Arab Spring

الثورة الديمقراطية، الطراز السوري DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION, SYRIAN STYLE

wantIn reviewing Trotskyist academic Gilbert Achcar’s book on the Arab Spring The People Want, Louis Proyect asserts that “classical Marxism” retains both its analytical and strategic validity and yet what is offered up seems to indicate the opposite. Proyect contrasts Achcar’s method in evaluating the Arab Spring’s revolutions with the method of renegade Tariq Ali who baldly claimed that there were no revolutions, not in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, nor Yemen in the 2010-2014 period.

But just because Ali was wrong does not make Achcar right.

The Proyect-Achcar response to Ali’s lie that political power in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria never changed hands in class terms was not to examine the class shifts in these countries but to concede that none of these revolutions was “real” because they were not socialist revolutions. In surrendering to rather than challenging Ali’s glib idiocy, Proyect declares that Vietnam never…

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Would it be better if Hamas had a ‘conventional’ army?

There is an intuitive image of Hamas that many people share as much more worse than a ‘conventional’ army would be in their place because of their tactics (i.e. throwing unguided rockets), when in reality its tactics (regardless of normative judgments) are not worse than their alternatives. Ironically, if Hamas had a conventional army and pretended to talk like Israel about wanting to avoid civilians and dropping them leaflets, would one assume that people would be more relaxed about this ‘new look’ of theirs, rather than the more visually disconcerting image of them throwing unguided rockets, even if it meant they killed more Israelis?

A friend of mine (incidentally one of the most people I respect, a member of the Jewish community who has incurred many problems for his anti-Israel views – but he also felt I did not talk about Hamas enough) recently came to me with ‘evidence’ of Hamas firing a rocket from a residential Gaza area, telling me that ‘civilian embedding’ is a real thing. But of course its a real thing, for as many have undoubtedly already heard by now ‘Gaza is an extremely densely populated area’ and hardly has any open space (a fact incidentally emphasised by the footage, a very cramped area with hardly any open space in view). Neither have I ever claimed that Hamas fires only from military/government installments or military areas – nor do I think many else do for that matter; there is hardly any space for ‘military areas’ in Gaza while ‘military installments’ and government facilities are the first targets and generally get destroyed straight away, meaning that they do not have the capacity to use them. What some have claimed rather, including the notoriously pro-Palestinian New York Times (heavy dose of sarcasm), is that there has been no evidence that Hamas has used ‘human shields’ in the legal meaning of the word; i.e. to hold civilians hostage by forcing them to stay in an area under attack to allow them to fight from ‘behind’ them. So the video didn’t show me anything particularly new or surprising. As a Palestinian friend recently put it to me, ‘In Gaza if you stretch out both your arms one of them will probably hit something’ (an exaggeration, but you get the jist).

Meanwhile, in Israel’s unique and customary fashion of (projected) morose irony, it has recently surfaced that it is in fact the Zionist state which has again explicitly used human shields in its current massacre in Gaza. Nor is this novel for Israel; in 2005 it emerged in an Israeli court that Israel had made use of Human shields an astonishing number of 1,200 times between the years 2000-2005, and this has continued ever since (see here, here, here, and here; and there’s quite a bit of footage on Youtube as well). But let us move on.

Let us talk now in purely military-strategic terms regardless of normative considerations of the military reality Hamas faces today and how it differs from that it encountered in the past. Israeli attacks today tend to overwhelmingly take the form of airstrikes, blockades of the borders, etc. rather than actual ground occupation by Israeli troops of the territory as was the case in the past (which would make troops an obvious target, the reason I believe they ultimately decided to withdraw to effect a less costly yet arguably just as effective occupation). Now in strategic terms the fact that Hamas are generally unable to respond directly to an Israeli attack or strike – for example by targeting an airplane with a anti-aircraft missile or reciprocating by flying its own over Israel – along with the fact that Hamas cannot operate a conventional war (i.e. have its own facilities/military installments or centres which it can protect and use, as mentioned above, as well as obviously the lack of an army or military equipment) leaves them with three main options, a) that they try to infilitrate Israel to attack troops/military installations on the other side (and they get equally blamed and termed ‘terror tunnels’ when they do so), b) that they try to infiltrate to carry out suicide bombings etc. inside Israel, and c) that they fire rockets. The first option has been used but is obviously very difficult to carry out, due to strong Israeli military capabilities, intelligence, border controls, etc.. The second option has stopped being used due to international condemnation, leaving the third option as generically the only viable way of issuing some form of military response. Incidentally there is a myth (an ironic one at that) that having a conventional army/airforce is in a way a good thing, and that Hamas’s unconventional missiles is much worse. The fact is that had Hamas had a conventional military the civilian casualties on Israel’s side would be multiple-folds what they are now!

Some will say ‘Oh but at least they wouldn’t be trying to target civilians as opposed to their indiscriminate rocket fire’, yet the idea that conventional armies do not target civilians is a myth! But lets leave that aside for a second; even going along with the argument that its less morally ‘wrong’ to target another country’s populated areas with conventional militaries rather than unconventional guerrillas because of the different ‘intent’ (i.e. lets accept the premise that with the former ‘civilian casualties are not intentional targets’) – the fact is that the overwhelming evidence of a century that ‘conventional’ bombings of populated areas are incredibly more costly in terms of civilian lives than ‘unconventional’ ones means that regardless of ‘intent’ the sheer consistent *outcome* of so many more innocent deaths means that it is actually much more morally *worse* to continue doing so! In other words, if you’re targeting an area with an F-16 airstrike, even presumably with nebulous intentions of trying to avoid civilian casualties, against targeting an area with a rocket intending civilian casualties; the overwhelming historical (and contemporary) evidence that the former will still ultimately result in much more innocent casualties than the latter means that the consistently means-tested end-result of greater innocent deaths if ignored renders it *morally worse*.

This is of course merely a hypothetical for those who hold that view, it is a myth that ‘generically’ conventional militaries do not ‘intend’ civilian casualties any more than non-state actors (or at least try to apply more caution); it it not true that with a conventional army ‘at least you’re not trying to intentionally target civilians’; when has this been the case? This is an absolute fiction, the historical evidence from the last century of offensive wars show that practically every single army that launches airstrikes on cities know – and moreover *intends* for there to be civilian casualties, because they see that as a necessary part of what war entails (killing civilians is a massive damage to the government which is unable to protect them, hence it is ’emasculated’ in comparative terms and much weakens its authority) and *just as relevant* to it as targeting military forces.

What’s the point of me saying all this? Well because there is an intuitive image of Hamas that many people share as infinitely much more worse than a ‘conventional’ army would be in their place, because of their tactics (i.e. throwing rockets), when its tactics (regardless of normative judgments) are not worse than their alternatives. Ironically, if Hamas had a conventional army and pretended to talk like Israel about wanting to avoid civilians and dropping them leaflets, would people be more relaxed about them, rather than the more visually disconcerting image of them throwing unguided rockets, even if it meant they killed more Israelis?

Ultimately regardless of one’s own views on Hamas, they are not exceptional in terms of guerilla tactics nor are they that different from other guerrilla groups which have historically operated within civilian areas (that’s not to say that they are necessarily right in everything they did either); look at the Algerian resistance to the French, they operated in populated areas as well and hid amongst civilians (and targeted French settlers). With guerrilla movements generally there is often no clear ‘military-civilian’ dichotomy as the (civilian) community tends to support the resistance (of whichever form). The Fourth Geneva Convention gives an occupied people the right to resistance – with force of arms if necessary – against an occupied power to achieve self-determination. While this does not entail the wording of ‘targeting of civilians’, it does entail the wording of ‘war’; ultimately therefore it comes down to whether it is preferable for Hamas (or any other Palestinian armed group) to carry out this resistance through locally-made rockets or a conventional army with modern-day bombs, missiles and tank-shells. Would that be more comforting for those who cite Hamas’s ‘indiscriminate’ rocket attacks as an incomparably exceptional evil? Presuming that the answer to this would be the obvious ‘no’, and presuming that the option for violent resistance is say still chosen (as it is entitled to be under international law), the legitimacy of Hamas’s military tactic of throwing rockets in the complex setting of Gaza thus comes down to whether doing so is something the civilians of that area accept and are behind, as opposed to them doing so when the civilians are against it.

Again, this is separate from any normative judgement entailing me ‘relishing’ that Hamas should throw rockets, what I am saying is that this is the objective reality regardless of what I think of Hamas. Is it a pleasant situation? No, it is not. And this is why we must put the onus on Israel, because in human terms they have left the blockaded, hungered, imprisoned and massacred people in Gaza, who have nonetheless still not lost their natural human sensibilities (anger, justice, etc.), with two choices; either they do not respond at all to Israel (which would require on their part either immense self-restraint or that their will has finally been broken – with God’s will this will not happen) and continue with their slow-death, or they do so in the form they are doing now (unless it can find a more efficient military strategy to attack Israeli forces inside Israel, a difficult task considering the restrictions. again, would people prefer if they had an airforce?) Considering the amount of hell they’re living in and considering the amount of anger and feeling of nothing to lose, is the first option realistic (yet alone just) for everyone to accept these constant massacres with no hope of justice, with the best they can hope for being a (routinely-violated) ceasefire and the continuation of a slower death? This is why we put the onus on Israel, because as opposed to most guerilla liberation movements which have their faults and are often engaged in controversial things (look at the ANC during the 1980s), the ultimate source of the problem, as always, remains the colonising occupier who is attempting to wipe a people off the face of their map, and has forced them along with everyone else into this situation. And until the oppressed are liberated from their oppression, we are tied to them by our humanitarian bonds for justice.

Understanding the West’s position on Syria

Unlike Hezbollah or Iran under Ahmedinejad, Syria was not seen as possessing a dogged ideological understanding of the resistance for it had long departed from the Ba’ath party’s original Arab nationalism, and indeed while its leadership belonged to the Alawite ethno-religious group they were in fact very different from Iran and Hezbollah in terms of ideological outlook… Thus Syria rather saw sponsoring groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas as a means to both exercise continued pressure on Israel as well as maintain local legitimacy in the absence of military action in the Golan, rather than an Islamic liberation of Jerusalem.

It is a myth to say that the West did not arm the Syrian resistance because of the presence of extremist units (Nusra and ISIS) within it posing a threat that weapons fall in their hands, they did not do so long before these groups ever became a significant presence within the opposition ranks.

The reason the West did not back the mainstream Syrian resistance is because from the very beginning of the conflict when the resistance picked up arms, you would see clearly in every footage of them what their slant and their nature clearly was, always shouting religious slogans like ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great) and often using religious speech in their defiance to Assad; the reason they did not back them is because contrary to the secularist (in the sense of ‘non-religious’, i.e. not speaking of religion as informing their politics) rhetoric of the SNC leadership the brigades actually on the ground (that is even when they were overwhelmingly FSA) are overwhelmingly religious moderates, that is they use basic religious slogans as the majority of the society does (that is even if they believe in a pluralist democratic society as the FSA do, they are still informed by a religious ideological leaning; so for example if they would vote they would likely favour a democracy with an Islamic flavour) and are not ‘non-religious’ (in the secularist sense) as for example Assad’s forces tend to clearly be. This is the reason they have not been backed because simply they reflect the majority of the society’s moderate religious nature which if translated in any form of self-determination the West will eventually pose a threat. Similiarly to all the other revolutions, which would likely in time choose to create ‘pan’ governments (transcendental notions strongly outweigh in popularity narrowly nationalistic ones) if they could democratically decide, this is why the West does not trust the Syrian resistance.

So how can the West’s position on Syria be explained? In an ideal world the West would probably prefer an allied government in Syria over Assad, although not to the extent we are led to believe. As late as 2011 the West was involved in negotiations with Syria over the return of the Golan and the lifting of sanctions in exchange with breaking with the ‘traditional’ resistance axis, of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas; while Syria was initially more reluctant to break with the former two by 2011 it eventually became more clear that such an arrangement could be possible.

Unlike Hezbollah or Iran under Ahmedinejad Syria was not seen as possessing a dogged ideological understanding of the resistance for it had long departed from the Ba’ath party’s original Arab nationalism, and indeed while its leadership belonged to the Alawite ethno-religious group they were in fact very different from Iran and Hezbollah in terms of ideological outlook, for while the latter were explicit Shia Islamists the latter was strongly and irrovocably Arab secularist, with even mainstream Shia Iranians often viewing the Alawites as ‘heathens’ or misguided brethren. This secularism often took the explicit form of ‘anti-religion’ rather than ‘non-religious’ (much more so than say Egypt for example, perhaps seen as necessary in a religious background as Syria); this was evident as a routine reality in dealings with state bureaucracy and civil service which disparaged any religious notions and rhetoric and was constantly ‘blasphemous’ in the sense of insulting God and religion (for e.g. when a civilian tries to get some paperwork done and pleads with a state official to help him ‘for God’s sake’ he responds with ‘Don’t mention God to me, here I am your God’). Thus Syria rather saw sponsoring groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas as a means to both exercise continued pressure on Israel as well as maintain local legitimacy in the absence of military action in the Golan, rather than an Islamic liberation of Jerusalem.

Syria under Assad thus perhaps resembled more closely Egypt under Sadat; a possible shift from ‘resistance’ in exchange for land, neo-liberal reforms of the economy (even before a formal shift to the Western sphere of influence), and eventual breaking with Russian loyalty to American stewardship in the offing (Assad’s regime had collaborated with the CIA during the early 2000s in the rendition and torture of prisoners). Ironically both regimes had also come under the auspices and hopes of a ‘corrective revolution’. The West had however been unable to accomplish the shift with Assad (which required the Golan’s return from Israel, a very difficult task) in time when the revolution broke out (which necessitated Assad’s firm interruption of any process of possible reconciliation with Israel to enable his re-emergence as a ‘resistance’ leader), leaving them returning to their prior (rhetorical) hostility. The US was essentially caught in two minds; on one hand wanting to overthrow a ‘tyrannical’ regime to strike a decisive blow to Iranian power in the region (and to Israel’s threat Hezbollah),eliminate the final Russian base in the Middle East, and finally to establish a loyal ally along Israel’s borders, with the added ‘sweeteners’ of being able to re-establish its global credentials as a ‘freedom supporting’ power (which had taken a big hit in recent years) and repairing its standing in the Muslim World. However this simply clashed with the reality of having a dependable ally in a hostile region, a situation without which was likely to prove costly to maintain, and with no advantages of oil to make this worthwhile (as in Libya) there was a prohibitive (strategic) cost in supporting this particular revolution beyond the rhetoric expected, and not due to ‘extremist elements’ as it claimed. The matter of strong Russian and Chinese opposition (as well as the absence of a local appetite for intervention) were not in themselves prohibitive had the conditions been available but added to the effort and cost needed. Simply, the lack of a dependable ally in Syria (i.e. a pliant unpopular guerilla army a la contras which would be willing to rule with terror in American favour, rather than a popularly-backed religiously-moderate one like the FSA brigades) was the main reason why this was not worthwhile. The US Defence Industry does not mind the complexities (for e.g. in terms of conflict with Russia) or economic costs of military interventions nor popular feeling towards it, for it relishes these ‘adventures’ for they are arguably its raison d’etre and economic funding does not come into it (the money is always abundantly there for the military), but it did mind a possible geo-strategic cost which was not in its interest and could potentially cause a threat to it.

While there are shades to the forms of resistance which derive from an Islamic background there are in essence two roads to this current ‘Islamicate’ resistance; there is essentially that of immediate unity, unfortunately emphasised in the likes of ISIS, this does not generally regard the people’s will as relevant (and hence will always be tyrannical by nature), and there is the more ‘nationalistically’ defined type (with shades on how temporary it sees these borders or how much affinity it associates with the ‘nation’, i.e. religious nationalists such as large parts of the FSA as opposed to clear Islamists, the Islamic Front (although the FSA has Islamists as well) – ‘nationalistic’ thus not necessarily in terms of conviction but in terms of pragmatism and priority), which seeks Islamic-flavoured government (again with shades) with the ultimate goal of unity but in a more organic and long-term process; defined ultimately by popular vote or ‘shura’ (consultation) and the people in Syria gradually deciding that process.

(Update 8th of August) Incidentally, Obama’s no-fuss, quick and quietly prepared intervention in Iraq today proves that it was never the case that he was ‘itching’ to intervene in Syria but couldn’t due to ‘Russian opposition’ or ‘internal opposition’ (would those who have opposed his intervention in Syria been now ‘for’ his intervention in Iraq?), but that the US always acts without second thought or debate where Islamists, oil and religious extremists – i.e. where its interests are concerned. Its interests were not in the intervention in Syria.

Meanwhile in ‘surprise’ revelations made in an interview on the 2nd of August, a former spokesman for the Syrian National Council (SNC) frankly stated, disregarding any risk of upsetting his supposed American ‘allies’: “When the Syrian opposition was almost going to penetrate into Damascus one and a half years ago, the White House withdrew all ammunition, because the strategy of the White House is to try to reconcile the Assad regime and the opposition, they hope for some form of reconciliation. Their strategy was always to try and maintain ‘balance’ – everytime they saw the opposition forces winning [the war]… the ammunition would dry completely, and the fighters are forced to withdraw back”. Today of course, there is talk of the US considering working with Assad against ISIS.

On attitudes to Syria

‘Are you happy?’ the soldier in this video shouts. ‘Are you happy that we’re killing each other? Is this the Syrian people? Who is this person that makes you do this? Why are you doing this for a human being? Who is this “Bashar?” He is a person like you, he eats, drinks and sleeps..

‘My soldiers we are brothers! Talk to me soldiers! My soldiers I give you my oath to God that if you come over here no one will lay a hand on you [met with refusal]. What if I drop my weapon and come to you? Give me your oath! [Drops weapon and goes empty handed]’

Just so emotional and beautiful, how in the middle of such destruction and misery you find such beauty.The number of times they have done things like this, trying to talk to the enemy by appealing to their hearts and to their moral sensitbilities and to the responsibility to their people. They are from the grassroots and are surely one of the most moral group of fighters in the world (probably because they are from the grassroots), yet you never see things like this and they have such little support, even from those who claimed to be supporting the Syrian people’s uprising against Assad..

Indeed, people seem to think the Syrian people, those massive crowds you saw in protests 3 years ago just completely disappeared (or maybe that they were all made refugees). And while there indeed are a massive number of refugees they are only a proportion of the entire population; these fighters are the Syrian people, where do you think all those men who used to protest and chant things like ‘we will be martyrs by the millions’ after the regime attacked their protests 3 years ago, went?

They are often blamed for taking up arms against a regime that was committing massacres against unarmed protests for a year on end without anyone helping them, and their taking up arms helped to give rise to this connotation that ‘they’re just as bad’ because they resorted to violence, as well as the abuses unfortunately committed by some (which unfortunately should not be unexpected in a civil war) under their banner which have added to that, and been used to smear them all recklessly with the same brush (as well as conflate them with other groups).

But what I find disappointing is that those who should be supporting and sympathising with those who were protesting and then took up arms to defend themselves in Syria instead dismiss them seemingly easily, and ironically take mainstream news about ‘the rebels’, and more importantly the implications of such news, almost as a given. To be clear my point here is not that that the news outlets are ‘biased’ against them. But rather, that the problem with such outlets and headlines is one that is generally endemic of mainstream news (superficiality & lack of depth in coverage), but unlike on other topics where there they are very often opposed and very critically scrutinised, this seems to be absent here.

So if I talk about a few examples of this ‘critical deficit’ I refer to, we can take for example an article headline about ‘rebel abuses’, now it is often the case that rather than critically analyse the context, specificities and overall conduct of those forces in large, they do not seek to challenge their implications as they perhaps would in another topic. So they do not devote time to carefully study the situation (as they would if it were a different scenario perhaps), and devote time to study the amount of abuses (for example rape) committed overall by these groups, which would make it clear that they are not (anything) ‘as bad as the regime’. They do not exercise care as they would in other debates and differentiate between some of the ‘proclaimed’ rebels, such as ISIS/Nusra Front, and the majority who are moderate, often grouping them all together into one basket. Now you expect that from the mainstream, who can put out an article out about ‘rebels abuses’ without examining things in depth or talking about the complexity of the situation (the article will intentionally or unintentionally connote that such abuses are quasi-symbolic of the opposition movement as a whole). Such a headline is problematic because the ‘rebels’ are not a homogenous unit but are made up of guerilla factions, nor are they an organised army but essentially ordinary people with AK-47s. You expect that level from the mainstream, because mainstream news does not go into depth and is generally problematically superficial, but not from these people, who seem content in this scenario to accept such generalisations.

Example 3, they accept (because they read in the mainstream news of the ‘influx of foreign fighters’) that now a large part of the opposition fighters are not from Syria and that it has ceased to be the ‘Syrian uprising’ that it once was (when most reports by non-partisan organisations show that the vast majority of fighters are Syrian) with a lot of the rhetoric that the opposition is ‘majority’ extremist now. Here there often becomes a denial that those revolutionaries who they used to cheer on before they became soldiers with often-religious rhetoric were the ‘original revolutionaries’, and when you ask ‘where did those original revolutionaries go’ they reply that they ‘continue to be non-violent ‘activists’ who are invisible now because of the war, and are opposed to both sides of the fighting (simplification to the extreme).

Example 4, they have a negative view of the ‘leadership’ of the opposition as being pro-Western puppets (as well as being divided), but again there is a serious lack of scrutiny here because it is generally well known that rebels on the ground are quite far away from their proclaimed ‘leaders’ and often do not acknowledge their authority. This lack of scrutiny contrasts with (for example) undermining the Palestinian resistance as a whole because the leadership is shit and divided (as it is).

Example 5, accepting the notion that the FSA is ‘Western-backed’, a claim again strongly associated with the mainstream news (even Al-Jazeera) who overwhelmingly use these terms (with very deceptive implications) [‘the secular, Western-backed FSA’, and for that matter I don’t think they’re that secular either]. The consequence of this of course is to deligitimise in ways the movement as a whole because of its links with imperialist powers. But this ‘accepted’ mainstream-originated claim is again simplistic because it creates an image in people’s minds that the FSA is strongly backed with Western weapons against the Syrian regime, when at least until now 3 years on it has not, not, not, and generally this ‘backing’ has been in the form of ‘non-lethal aid’ and ‘diplomatic support’. A serious study of the Syrian situation will find that the FSA is, very contrary to assumptions of being ‘Western-backed’, overwhelmingly underarmed and generally rely on AK-47 and home-made mortars in the face of tanks and airplanes, and that it is the extremist groups, who are not referred to as ‘Western-backed’, which have the much better funding (in turn swelling their ranks).

Now finally, what do I think the reason for all this is? Well my answer will be a bit of an anti-climax, because it is not a psychological phenomenon or particularly ground-breaking, but rather quite simplistic. And that is that it would seem unfortunately to me, because of this absence of critical scrutiny which I would see generally exercised regarding so many other topics, that because the revolutionaries in Syria (the moderates) are ideologically different from what some ‘revolutionaries’ here want in the West, it simply becomes much more easy for them not to genuinely exercise that critical scrutiny and put things in the context of a bigger picture, which they would probably apply if such revolutionaries were of a different shade to the ones in existence. The result in the end therefore becomes, that rather than go through the rigours (and complexity) of trying to argue about things which are not exactly black and white (which we all to various degrees have to do regarding different issues, for example a supporter of Palestine/Ireland/Venezuela must know how to argue and debate some of those problems associated with their causes in the bigger context), it is easier for them to take abuses by some and talk the words about an opposition that they’re not so (ideologically) dreamy about: ‘they’re not that much better than the regime’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_g6HcVsPpZs
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAVqqvQ2a8E
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mbyoyj0vXO8