Alternative Left Perspectives on Syria

April 13, 2014 § 7 Comments

The responses of most leftists to the Syrian uprising and subsequent war (it’s often forgotten that it started as an uprising — indeed a nonviolent and nonsectarian one) have been deeply disappointing. Disappointing to many Syrian activists, and to many of us on the Left who support the Syrian struggle for dignity and justice, which is now a struggle against both Assad’s killing machine and the jihadi counter-revolutionary forces.

The Left’s responses fall into three main categories:

  1. explicit support for the Assad regime
  2. monochrome opposition to Western intervention, end of discussion (with either implicit or explicit neutrality on the conflict itself)
  3. general silence caused by deep confusion

The first camp, while relatively small, represents a truly hideous, morally obscene and, I would argue, deeply reactionary position – siding with a mass murderer and war criminal who presides over a quasi-fascist police state.

The second camp, which encompasses a majority of peace activists and soi-disant anti-imperialists in the West, represents an (ironically) Eurocentric/US-centric stance (it’s all about the West, not the Syrian people) – a total abandonment of internationalism.

The third camp is at least understandable, given the complexity of the Syrian conflict. The book I co-edited on the subject is titled The Syria Dilemma for a reason. Yet this stance remains disconcerting: silence in the face of what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls “the biggest humanitarian and peace and security crisis facing the world” is a cop-out. Complexity is not a gag order.

There is a fourth camp, however: a small but growing group of progressives who embrace the goals of the Syrian revolution. There are several shades within this camp – it includes Marxists, pacifists, feminists, Third Worldists and leftists of various sorts. Some support the armed struggle in Syria, others do not, standing instead with the nonviolence activists in Syria. But what unites this camp is its solidarity with the Syrian struggle for dignity, justice and self-determination.

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Capital in the Twenty-First Century

April 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Thomas Piketty speaking on his newly released book on inequality Capital in the Twenty-First Century. For a review of the book see Paul Krugman’s article in the NYRB.

In Response to Assad’s Bombs

April 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

The heroic citizens of Aleppo respond to the Assad regime’s latest barrel bomb attack, which killed over thirty civilians this morning. Over a hundred Syrians are still being killed every day. In Arabic – but it needs no translation.

The Muslims Are Coming!

April 3, 2014 § 1 Comment

the-muslims-are-comingAn edited version of this review was published at the Guardian. I like the Guardian’s books section and its G2 section, not least because they sometimes pay me to write. I also like some of their brave correspondents, such as Martin Chulov. What I don’t like at all is the idiotic, orientalist, conspiratorial, fact-free, and sometimes racist narrative against the revolutions in Syria and Libya which is so common in the Guardian’s comment sections. Blanket-thinking statist leftists like Seamus Milne and Jonathan Steele dominate, alongside ignorant polemicists like Tariq Ali. The last lines of my review target people like them, who are unfortunately influential in ‘liberal’ Britain. I am not at all surprised that the Guardian cut these lines from the review, although I name no names. These lines:  “….the new Islamophobia of sections of the left, the notion that US imperialism and ‘al-Qa’ida’ are in league to destabilise imagined ‘secular’, ‘resistance’ regimes. Those who defended Iraqi Islamists in the Blair years now point to the Allahu Akbar chant as evidence of an agenda far more benighted than that of the genocidal neo-liberal dictatorships.” (I just spoke to the good man who commissioned the piece. He says the issue was space in the print edition. Fair enough. But why cut the lines which apply to Guardianistas?)

Arun Kundnani’s “The Muslims Are Coming”, vastly more intelligent than the usual ‘war on terror’ verbiage, focusses on the war’s domestic edge in Britain and America.

Kundnani’s starting point is this: “Terrorism is not the product of radical politics but a symptom of political impotence.” The antidote therefore seems self-evident: “A strong, active, and confident Muslim community enjoying its civic rights to the full.” Yet policy on both sides of the Atlantic has ended by criminalising Muslim opinion, silencing speech, and increasing social division. These results may make political violence more, not less, likely.

The assumptions and silences of the counter-radicalisation industry end up telling us far more about particular ideological subsections of Anglo-American culture than they do about the Muslims targetted. The two dominant security approaches to Muslim citizens described by Kundnani – ‘culturalist’ and ‘reformist’ –focus on ideology rather than socio-political grievances.

Culturalism’s best-known proponent is Bernard Lewis, Dick Cheney’s favourite historian, who locates the problem as Islam itself, a totalitarian ideology-culture incompatible with democratic modernity. So Mitt Romney explains the vast divergence between Israeli and Palestinian economies thus: “Culture makes all the difference” – and decades of occupation, ethnic cleansing and war make none. Writer Christopher Caldwell believes residents of the Paris Banlieu rioted in 2005 because they were Muslims (although many weren’t), and not because of unemployment, poor housing, and police violence. Perhaps the silliest culturalist intervention was Martin Amis’s “The Second Plane”, where Amis breezily admitted he knew nothing of geopolitics but claimed authority nevertheless from his expertise in ‘masculinity’ – 9/11 was explained by Islamic sexual frustration. Such discourses are part of an influential tradition of silliness. In 1950s colonial Kenya, psychiatrist JC Carothers understood the Mau Mau uprising as “not political but psycho-pathological”.

More charitable than culturalism, reformism identifies the problem as a perversion of Islamic doctrine. With General Petraeus’s Iraqi ‘hearts and minds’ campaign, reformism came to dominate the post-Rumsfeld Pentagon; what started in counter-insurgency was soon considered as relevant to Bradford as Basra. It involved an accumulation of anthropological ‘knowledge’ through surveillance (David J Kilcullen describes counter-insurgency as “armed social science”), and it underlay the assumption of Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech that positive recognition of moderate Muslim culture could solve political conflict. Quran-reading Tony Blair shared the notion that terrorism’s “root cause… was not a decision on foreign policy, however contentious, but… a doctrine of fanaticism.” « Read the rest of this entry »

A Lecture by Walter LaFeber

April 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

The following is a lecture given by the great historian of US foreign policy Walter LaFeber.

Angelina Jolie meets Syria refugees

March 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie visits Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

Gar Alperovitz on his life, the atomic bomb, and socialism

March 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

Part One: “Understanding the Imperialist System Changed My Life”

Part Two: “Nuclear Attack on Japan was Opposed by American Military Leadership”

Part Three: “Capitalism in Long Term Stagnation and Decay”

Part Four: “The Promise and Limitations of Worker Cooperatives”

Part Five: “What Would You Do If You Had Political Power?”

If you don’t like capitalism or state socialism, what do you want?

 

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