Its good we’ve woken up, but what about all the other Kobanes?

Those such as Galloway and StW are a breed, a breed which belongs to what I like to call (hold your breath) ‘identity-politics-driven, faux-anti-imperialist orientalism’ – yes they are ‘orientalists’, because if you think that everything revolves around the West (even in a pejorative sense), and that the people on the ground have no agency to determine changes of their own, or that when people act to change a status quo theoretically tutted at by the West (and theory/rhetoric and underlying practice are two very separate things, and of course even the theory is no longer pretending), or that when you seek to determine your positions not by what those on the ground are saying, but by what your ideological foes in Westminster are claiming, then try as you might to distance yourself as far away from that as possible, but you’re still an orientalist.

So David Graber (not to mention many other people), have written an article criticising the lack of outrage over Kobane (and he is right to point attention to it).

I will not seek to specifically focus on the (slightly-ironic) omission of Syria within Graber’s article, as that’s been done adequately elsewhere. But I do want to comment on the larger trend within the Left that his thoughts represent.

On Sunday, I was at the Kurdish demo in London. I had some conversations with some of the ‘solidarity’ speakers and activists, including a speaker from the RMT union and one from the Socialist Party. Neither had mentioned Assad once in their speeches, and so I confronted them about that absence, not least because the biggest contributor to ISIS’s rise was, contrary to the prevailing sentiment in Parliament Square (an understandable one considering the historical context, and the stopping of Turkish Kurds crossing the border to fight in Kobane), not Turkey but the Assad regime. It was the Assad regime that never targeted ISIS for an entire year, despite having the warplanes to do so. It was the Assad regime that brought oil from its oilfields, knowing that it would strengthen it. It was the Assad regime that released score of prisoners from Saydana prison to make his prophecy (that his opposition were all terrorirsts, which he said from day one of peaceful protests) a reality.

Both were sympathetic with what I said, but nonetheless the former said that ‘his branch has a policy of non-intervention on Syria (but not regarding the Kurdish parts) and that a resolution was already passed on that (so ‘its already done’).

The latter meanwhile, was asking me ‘I mean what “progressive” (in other words, ‘Leftist’) elements would you say are in the rebellion that we should support?’

I replied ‘Do they have to be socialist to be supported? Do they have to be socialist to be fighting for freedom?’

A bit sheepishly, he replied ‘no, of course not’

Yet that’s the line of thinking he had, and most people on the left in general seem to have, including those by the way who are nominally anti-Assad (i.e. not idiots like Galloway and Stop the War, those whom have been labelled ‘pseudoleft’ by some).

With everything happening in Kobane, what I notice generally – not only from my encounters yesterday but my newsfeeds in general – are two things: the Left (including the nominally anti-Assad left) has only woken up to Syria and the resistance once it had a socialist faction involved fighting for their freedom, simple, typically accusatory, and true. They suddenly rediscovered their abilities to wax lyrical about freedom fighters (these ones), for in this case they were something to be related with: secular, a star in their flag and imbibing a type of ‘revolution’ which they can easily relate with. Suddenly, women fighters existed for the first time, as if those women who had fought in the ranks of the FSA before them never existed. It suddenly became their struggle, when it had liberal-nationalist or Islamist undertones it wasn’t.

When other non-socialist rebels had been fighting ISIS for an entire year and had countless ‘Kobanes’, they were never mentioned. And indeed today, despite the fact that the PYD (Kurdish Democratic Union), the dominant (but not sole) Kurdish political body in Rojava, had largely for an extended period of time sought a truce of convenience with Assad since 2012 (with some clashes every now and then) alienating many Kurds within its areas as well (who felt this compromised relations with their Arab brethren). And while of course many Kurds also have their own grievances against the FSA and other rebels, not least from strong battles between them, it is the FSA that has come to the YPG’s (the military arm of the PYD) aid in Kobane in its moment of need.

Yet that of course, wasn’t mentioned in any of the speeches. Unlike everything else, of course. Muslims going to fight for ISIS? Yup. Anarchists going to help against them, sure. Other Kurds, of course. Syrians? (maybe even with beards?) Nope. (Islamists? Now I’m out of coverage.)

For the Free Syrian Army of course ‘don’t exist’, a claim so idiotic, so insolently fabricated by the likes of Galloway and ‘Stop the War’, that it just shows how those on the left can be as vastly disconnected and detached from realities on the ground as the ‘mainstream’ they ostensibly oppose. In this specific case, thought it warrants not much addressing, evidence of the FSA’s existence tends to be a massive jedi mind-trick, one which has confused every single person in those areas where it ‘allegedly’ resides or fights in, distorting the perceptions of all the local population, grassroots activists, local journalists and of course enemy soldiers, not to mention Kurdish fighters themselves making alliances with thin air. Indeed, it is amusing to consider the absence in coverage and squirming discomfort of those who have for three years defamed the FSA as extremist, Western-puppet mercernaries, being unable to explain why their new-found Kurdish heroes (whose bandwagon they have suddenly jumped on to feel relevant) have made alliances with the FSA, whom they now fight with in the same ditch. Nor of course can Galloway and co explain how it is that the Syrian regime, that which has been standing heroically to the West’s conspiracy for three years, not only praised the Western airstrikes on its sovereign territory which have claimed the lives of many Syrian civilians, but also claimed that it coordinated them with it in advance. ِAfter this was  denied by the Americans, the heroic ‘sovereign’ Syrian regime which had  claimed that any airstrikes without its permission would be considered an external attack, was forced to deny it but said ‘But its okay‘. Nor can they explain how it is that Western puppets in the FSA and other rebel groups, have criticised the Western intervention claiming that they serve the Syrian regime and are meant to weaken the revolution, or that they are an attack on their national sovereignty. Youtube footage of their gatherings, or of them fighting in Kobane along with Kurdish forces for that matter, are of course photoshopped.

(The structure of the Free Syrian Army, although it does have a certain chain of command that certain battalions/brigades adhere to, has traditionally resembled more of a wide guerilla Front than a ‘regular army’ in the orthodox sense. Local batallions place themselves under the FSA umbrella (but not necessarily the direct chain of command), believing in the FSA’s values, general vision for a post-Assad Syria (although with ideological variations, some are secular-nationalists whilst others are more ‘Islamist’), what it stands for and its general moderatism – while often retaining operational independence from regular chains of command. Yet this does not mean that the ‘FSA doesn’t exist’, this is a ridiculous (and political) claim and shows a complete lack of understanding of its nature; for while these batallions might often give themselves descriptive, ideological names (for example ‘Sons of Khalid Ibn Al Walid’, ‘Storm of the North’ brigades, as opposed to a more ‘regular’ ’55th division’; although both types exist) they still refer to themselves as ‘the Free Army’ and coordinate regularly with each other (although they might have disagreements with the political-military ‘leadership’). That being said, in recent months there has been a large increase in battalions and brigades getting unified into larger divisions, amidst demands for a ‘unified army to restore the revolution’).

There’s a difference between ‘conspiracy theory’, a term I incidentally believe is often disparagingly used to discount many theories with merit, and plain and unadulterated ‘make things up’; for anyone with any understanding, reading or just generally the most basic regular following of events on the ground (rather than speculated guesses according to identity-revolving ideological manuscripts) would never be silly enough to utter such a statement. The fact that such a claim can even be made shows the mammoth distance that separates the completely disconnected and uninformed guesswork of ‘authorised’ voices like Galloway and Stop the War (provided we give the likes of the former the benefit of the doubt and pretend they’re not merely respouting propaganda from their employers) from any semblance of the reality they seek to pontificate about (not least with such confidence).

Those such as Galloway and StW are a breed, a breed which belongs to what I like to call (hold your breath) ‘identity-politics-driven, faux-anti-imperialist orientalism’ – yes they are ‘orientalists’, because if you think that everything revolves around the West (even in a pejorative sense), and that the people on the ground have no agency to determine changes of their own, or that when people act to change a status quo theoretically tutted at by the West (and theory/rhetoric and underlying practice are two very separate things, and of course even the theory is no longer pretending), or that when you seek to determine your positions not by what those on the ground are saying, but by what your ideological foes in Westminster are claiming, then try as you might to distance yourself as far away from that as possible, but you’re still an orientalist.

The FSA (and other moderate rebels) must be the most maligned, wronged and abandoned resistance fighters in modern times. Wronged due to simplicism, tainted by those brave Western self-labelled anti-imperialists judging them from thousands of miles away, for requesting Western weapons to supplement the AK-47s they use against tanks and airplanes (as if they were expected to request Russian ones), wronged for having religious elements, wronged for having an inefficient exiled political leadership that no one really listens to, and wronged for being constantly compared to the experience with the ‘Afghani mujahideen’, rather than say a similarity with the Spanish Civil War (ironically Graeber makes this comparison regarding the Kurds, yet others have made it – including this blog – long before).

We have a type of saying in Arabic (Egyptian Arabic to be more accurate), which is used when one seeks to sarcastically make fun of someone’s self-proclaimed credentials: so for example, when a student who just failed an exam angrily asks their teacher why he has failed them, saying they studied a lot for it (when its clear that he/she hadn’t), the teacher responds ‘Study? Leave studying to its owners (i.e. those who do it)’ (it’s admittedly probably a bit more catchy in Arabic).

Leave the resistance to its owners.

Solidarity with Kobane and all those fighting fascism.

More articles on the relationship between Assad and ISIS

[From facebook] Hezbollah Supporters : We are waiting.

(Note: this is from a facebook post, so it might be raw, drafty and ranty. For my more sophisticated posts, keep tuned to my blog)

A video from ‘Sawt Beirut’ (‘Voice of Beirut’) has been doing the rounds. In it Shia militias (judging from their accent, likely Lebanese, although that’s not certain) in Syria launching scud missiles (a scud missile) at the enemy (not Israel), repeating the phrase ‘Oh Ali’ whilst they get fired.

Again, that’s scud missiles, in possession not even of the regime but of militias, that’s how asymmetrical this conflict is.

Time for a rant about Hezbollah.

So while we hated Hezbollah’s political support for Assad, although some attempted to dilute it by asking for ‘understanding’, because ‘Hezbollah would find it difficult to break with their traditional ally’, or that ‘it has to follow Iran’ (in the former this was inexcusable of course, in the latter it was unlikely that Iran would forego its most effective ally in the region and a major enabler of its ‘resistance’ legitimacy for someone it felt less sure about), Hezbollah really burnt its bridges and annihilated any goodwill it had left which it had built over years in the Sunni world, when it started sending fighters into Syria, and then formally invaded. ISIS would never have been as strong had the Syrian rebels not been facing an overwhelmingly sectarian enemy, from Iranian revolutionary Guards to Iraqi militias, culminating with Hezbollah’s invasion in 2013 of Syria to prop up the regime.

While the US might currently appear to be on the side of the Shia powers in Syria (as well as a detente with Iran) – I for one do not subscribe to the view that this ‘alliance’ is a permanent or conspiratorial one (although many do), or that there is a plan to make Iran the ‘new gatekeeper’ of the Middle East. I believe that Iran and Hezbollah are – unlike the ‘reforming’ (read compromising) regime of Assad, and despite my hatred of their policies in Syria – ‘genuine’, in the sense that they do seek anti-imperialist independence and resistance. As do the majority of rising Sunni-dominated political actors, for that matter (and believe me, I have criticisms for sectarianism on that side as well, which I address in other posts). I would be very wary of falling into a false sense of security in this supposed rapprochement between the US and such Shia actors, although that is merely a guess and is dependent on a variety of factors (including whether the Iranian regime and Hezbollah would compromise, i.e. in other words, increasingly ‘sell out’, in any such arrangement), and it could very easily return to a state of the US trying to screw them over again.

Humble advice to our Lebanese brothers and sisters, don’t put sectarian loyalties above all else. I (a Sunni) am against Saudi, ISIS and all the decadent governments, regardless of whether they’re Sunni or Shia. I was and am with the oppressed in Bahrain. The Shia have a history of being persecuted, and so often this now comes with a mentality of dismissing accusations of aggression from ‘their side’ (generically speaking about Shia political actors). Yet this is not a fantasy and the sectarian aggression in Syria by and large did begin from the political actors on that side. So don’t come and talk to me about ‘Saudi, Qatar and ISIS’, the reality is Hezbollah made a conscious sectarian decision to back Assad from the start and proved to be as sectarian as their supposed enemies, who they self-righteously and hypocritically attacked in Bahrain. And in the end they let the words of bigots have value.

The reality is, brethren, as a whole the US doesn’t favour the anti-status quo new Sunni actors, the US doesn’t favour the anti-status quo Shia actors. It might seem to favour one side in a certain situation, but overall its quite happy to take turns oppressing each. And this is the amazing thing, us Muslims know this, we always say ‘oh the West always wants to divide and conquer us Muslims’, and then are seemingly completely blind when they *are* doing it, putting the blame on the ‘oh its the Sunnis, oh its the Shias, they sell out to the West to oppress the other’, no its the *status-quo regimes* which could be Sunni and could be Shia.

And while Hezbollah was seen as trying to transcend that status quo, the initial slightly surprising relative underwhelming-ness (if that’s a word) which you could sense in their reaction towards the Arab Spring, followed by their position in the Syrian crisis has moved them clearly into the status quo camp, for just like Saudi and all the other reactionary states, they sought to repress another one of the revolutions. In other words, these actors have undergone a transformation from radical to conservative, from seeking to change the existing order to trying to preserve it (the only alternative explanation for their actions is that they are seeking to expand their power in the region, which I do not think they have the capacity to do outside Shia-populated areas), and such a transformation can have serious knock-on effects on their wider mentality. For it is possible that along with this will come a downward trajectory, with these actors becoming more and more ‘compromising’ and blunted, and possibly eventually transform into sell-outs as well – maybe not to the same degree, but nonetheless no longer opposed in existential nature to those regimes, which they once placed themselves as alternatives to.

There is also a dangerous arrogance that has become increasingly apparent with the rise of such political-Shia movements, because after years and years of oppression and lack of representation, in the last decade or so these actors have finally been able to come out and posses increasing power and influence, notably Hezbollah in the last 10 years (including of course its resistance against Israel in 2006), Shia-domination of post-invasion Iraq, and also Iran since recovering increasingly from the 80s war. (It reminds me in a sense of the arrogance of the Muslim Brotherhood on finally getting a taste of power in Egypt, once they got elected to parliament after being oppressed for so long. Needless to say, that didn’t end well.)

Yet while there has been a considerable rise in Shia power in *relative* terms this should not be deceptive, for the reality is that such an increase will never go beyond a certain point and will inevitably be confronted, simply because the people in the region are overwhelmingly Sunni and will reject attempts at subjugation (and will have geopolitical backers to do so). To that effect at least half of the territories of countries which were under Shia rule (Iraq and Syria), are no longer under government control. ISIS’s successes are merely a reaction against the sectarian form which this rise in power has taken in Iraq. It’s also worthwhile to remember that Sunni tribes had defeated ISIS in these same areas just a few years ago (the so-called ‘Sunni Awakening’), yet many now see ISIS as preferable to the sectarian alienation they experienced under the Maliki regime.

In short, Shia sect-based intervention to oppress popular movements will be strongly challenged and give rise to radicalisation, and the longer Hezbollah stays in Syria, the worse it will get. Yet to be clear, I do not like using these Sunni-Shia binaries but I do so because they are a reality; that is not say that it is only Shia intervention which has oppressed popular movements, of course it has been Sunni as well (against other Sunnis, such as Gulf opposition to the revolutions in Sunni majority countries, such as in Egypt, as well as against Shias, such as in Bahrain). Now the question is whether this escalates even more into a deeper regional sectarian war. Does anybody want that?

Hezbollah must leave Syria and abandon the Assad ship, and hope that any backlash can be moderated, because they’ve implicated Shias in the region even more by their actions, as ISIS have also done with Sunnis. Of course, them abandoning Assad at this point sounds extremely far-fetched, but otherwise you can be sure that this will only get worse. If anyone think that Hezbollah now has to remain in Syria to militarily ‘destroy’ the problem it created is naive and creates even bigger ones, as can be seen by the ISIS backlash which grew massively after its 2013 invasion.

So to our Lebanese brethren, Hezbollah has a popular base without which it is much weakened, so why is that influence not exerted? Indeed I have been impressed by the positions of certain Shia clerics in Iraq in their opposition to Maliki and pressure for him to resign. So when are we going to see pressure from Hezbollah’s base to leave Syria? (indeed I think I read somewhere that the majority of Hezbollah supporters were against invading it in the first place, although that might have since changed). When are we going to see outrage about the treatment of Syrian refugees there? We are waiting.

‪#‎No_to_Sectarianism‬ ‪#‎Hezbollah_out_of_Syria‬