In an article for the National, the wonderful Amal Hanano writes against the illusion that perpetuating the Assad regime can lead to anything other than continuing and expanding war.
In Ambiguities of Domination, political science professor Lisa Wedeen examined the Syrian regime’s rule of domination under then-president Hafez Al Assad.
She noted a dual role for Syrians: both propping up the regime’s propaganda and at the same time subverting its power via the symbols and rhetoric of everyday life and popular culture. This seminal work, published in 1999, a year before Al Assad junior took power, explained to outsiders the inner mechanisms of an authoritative regime. Its relevance is significant today under the shadow of Hafez’s son Bashar and with the fate of a blood-soaked Syria, now in ruins.
In a particularly powerful chapter entitled Acting As If, Wedeen writes: “Power manifests itself in the regime’s ability to impose its fictions upon the world.” The complicity of the people within this imposition enforces the regime’s power of domination. In other words, the regime’s power is mainly constructed by the people’s enacted participation in that very construction.
According to Wedeen: “The politics of acting ‘as if’ carries important political consequences: it enforces obedience, induces complicity, identifies and ferrets out some disobedient citizens …”
Indeed, one of the fundamental ways the Syrian people functioned in the police state was by “acting as if”. Acting as if nothing was going on as Hama was pummeled in 1982. Acting as if they loved the leader even though they were terrified of him.
The tragedy of Bashar Al Assad’s rule is that his father’s construct of complicity has, over the past 32 months, bled far beyond Syria’s borders to encompass the entire region and international community.
As world leaders discuss the merits of the Syrian opposition attending Geneva 2 peace talks without preconditions, they flip the narrative of the revolution. A narrative in which Mr Al Assad is upgraded from a brutal dictator that deserves no more than a cell at The Hague to a potential “partner” in the transitional peace process.
The latest demeaning analysis offered to Syrians is to act “as if” Mr Al Assad maintaining power would end the brutal war that was unleashed by Mr Al Assad himself. Governments act as if dragging the Syrian opposition to the negotiation table without any preconditions will result in a political solution to a raging war. World leaders act as if Mr Al Assad’s cooperation in dismantling his chemical weapon stockpiles is reducing the amount of bloodshed, even as the cluster bombs and scud missiles continue to fall onto civilian populations.
After provoking an armed uprising by his suppression of a non-violent protest movement (using rape, torture and murder on a mass scale), Syrian dictator Bashaar al-Assad lost control of large areas of the country. He then subjected those areas to a scorched earth policy, burning crops, killing livestock, shelling with artillery, dropping barrel bombs and cluster bombs from war planes, firing cruise missiles and sarin gas. Schools, hospitals and bakeries have been particularly targeted, alongside economic infrastructure. As a result a THIRD of Syrians, over seven million people, are now displaced. The Syrian winter is as cold as the Scottish winter, and this year millions of people will not be living in their homes but in half-demolished buildings, under trees, and in tents.
What’s the connection to the strange photograph of me? Well, I have shaved off my beard (the moustache and the central part of my monobrow will go on December 3rd). Such a traumatic assault on my facial hair, my very identity… Why? In the hope that you, dear readers, whatever your take on the conflict in Syria, will sponsor me, or in plainer terms, will donate some money. You can do so here. Every twenty dollars (or equivalent) buys blanket, coat and hat for a Syrian child. (If you remember, donate to Robin/ Wassim/ Team UK). I know the organisers of this charity and can vouch that they are absolutely honest, that every single penny will go to keeping a Syrian child warm this winter. Please do donate, and please share this page. We just have a few days to raise as much as we possibly can.
On his fine blog, Louis Proyect describes two very different conferences and two very different versions of the left – one statist, which finds itself backing “the neoliberal family dynasty that is bombing working-class tenements” in Syria; the other internationalist, supportive of popular revolution, concerned with the class struggle. The first is the ill-named Stop the War Coalition conference to be held in London on November 30th (it was planning to invite a nun who serves as one of Assad’s chief propagandists and genocide deniers); the second was a Syria solidarity conference held a few days ago in New York.
Louis makes this important point: In the New York conference, “it is important to note that six out of the nine featured speakers were Syrian and that of the three who weren’t, one was Lebanese (Achcar), one was Palestinian (Bodour Hassan), and the other was a graduate student whose dissertation is focused on Syrian politics and who reads and writes in Arabic. What a contrast to the London event where a number of people will essentially be giving the same speech (is there any real difference between Milne, Ali, and Steele? I couldn’t tell the difference between their columns.)” So another distinction: the statist (and orientalist) left isn’t actually interested in hearing from people from the country concerned, unless they are propagandists for fascism. Here’s Louis’s piece in full:
This is a tale of two conferences, one billed as a teach-in on Syria that occurred yesterday at New York University; the other to be held in London on November 30th on Syria as well. They could not be more unalike even though Trotskyists (loosely defined) were in the driver’s seat of both events. As is the case in my write-ups of many movies that I walk out of in disgust after 15 minutes, I will rake the London event over the coals though I will not be attending it, even if someone paid for the airfare.
The London event is organized by the Stop the War Coalition (STWC) that played a key role in opposing George W. Bush’s war on Iraq. To put it as succinctly as possible, they see Syria as a new Iraq war in the making and their mission revolves around the need to oppose Obama’s war plans—something that amounts to busting down an open door. It does not matter to them that Obama never had any intention of invading Syria and imposing “regime change”; nor does it matter that there has been a revolutionary struggle in Syria. Their analysis is based on the struggle between nations and not between classes. In the case of Syria, people like John Rees and Seamus Milne back the neoliberal family dynasty that is bombing working-class tenements simply because the USA opposes it even if that opposition is only verbal. As long as there is a single op-ed piece by Nicholas Kristof taking the Baathists to task or a single speech by Obama filled with crocodile tears about the “Syrian tragedy”, they will remain on Bashar al-Assad’s team.
With almost no interest in what is taking place inside Syria, the STWC conference naturally included only a single Syrian citizen, one Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross, a diehard supporter of the Baathist dictatorship. When a hue and cry arose over her participation, Owen Jones and Jeremy Scahill told the organizers that they were dropping out. To the great pleasure of those who were protesting her presence, she withdrew. But they are still raising hell over the initial invitation. What would compel “peace” activists like John Rees and Lindsay German to extend an invitation to someone whose reputation as a liar and a warmonger is so well known? I invite you to look at Not George Sabra’s post on Mother Agnes that I am sure helped Scahill make up his mind.
This is a positive and historic development. Not only will it relieve pressure on ordinary Iranian people, it will also empower the country’s reformists. It will also put the interests of the powerful merchant against the interests of the hardliners. It will erode the power of hawks not just in Iran, but also the US and Israel.
This also creates an opening for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Syria. Until now Iran’s hardliners have been running amuck in Syria, and the IRGC has been actively at war. Now Iran has something to lose. The US has gained leverage that until now it didn’t have. It is now in a position to pressure Iran to drop its support for Assad. Given the fragility of the entente, the last thing Iran would want is to jeopardise it by continuing a policy with an uncertain end.
As the world celebrates the deal between the West and Iran, it should be remembered that Western concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme – and the sanctions which have so damaged Iran’s economy – were provoked by Israeli concerns, and that these are not existential but strategic. Iran doesn’t need a nuclear weapon but only the ability to enrich uranium to a level where it could quickly make a nuclear weapon. At that stage, the bullying power given Israel by its own nuclear arsenal vanishes. A sensible approach to the problem would have reduced Tehran’s nuclear ambition while disarming Israel. The West, of course, did not press for this, and Iran, despite its stale ‘resistance’ rhetoric, did not hold out for it.
In general, it’s good to see tension reduced between Iran and the West. The great shame is that while a deal is done over the nuclear programme, something that was never much of a threat, Iran has not been called to account for its pernicious intervention in Syria, a far greater threat to regional and international security. Iran’s intervention is on a far greater scale than any Saudi or Qatari interference. The Islamic Republic’s ‘revolutionary’ legitimacy is of course destroyed by its siding with a tyrant against a revolutionary people, and its Shia legitimacy will also be destroyed in the eyes of any thinking human being, for it has joined Yazeed in a war against a struggling Hussain. After Assad’s employment of sectarian death squads, ‘Shia’ Iran’s deployment of racist occupation forces to direct the tyrant’s fightback has been the single biggest factor amplifying the sectarian nature of the conflict. It has already dragged Lebanon back to the brink of civil war. Some argue that peacable relations between the US and Iran will defang Iran’s hardliners. That may happen eventually, but it will be far too late for usurped and shattered Syria.
I used to argue that the West and the Arabs should work with Iran. I used to repeat the line about Iran not having attacked another country in three centuries. (I made allowances for its pernicious role in keeping Iraq divided and sectarian; Iraq had after all attacked Iran in the past.) Unfortunately this line is no longer true. The Arabs are now absolutely right to regard Iran as an aggressive, expansionist threat. This deal has by no means secured peace in the region.