Alternative Left Perspectives on Syria

Syrian flag

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.

The body of writings and arguments this camp has produced directly challenge the dominant narratives on the Left about Syria and offer a critical alternative to it. Here, collected in one place, are some of the key texts of this dissident left camp. Emphasis on some of the key texts – this list is by no means exhaustive. It’s limited to English-language sources. We offer it here as a living resource, one that is expanding on a daily basis. (If you have suggestions for other texts, please post them here.) Here ’tis (in no particular order):

Molly Crabapple
How the Western left ignored Syria’s activists as inconvenient glitches in a story about ourselves

Firas Massouh
Left Out? The Syrian Revolution and the Crisis of the Left

Mohammed Al Attar
What Kind of Support Do Syrians Want?

Solidarity With the Syrian Struggle for Dignity and Freedom

The Campaign for Peace and Democracy Salutes Syria’s Courageous Democratic Movement

A Personal Statement from Campaign for Peace and Democracy Co-Directors Thomas Harrison and Joanne Landy

Louis Proyect
A tale of two Syria conferences

Robin Yassin-Kassab
Reporting Syria: How Robert Fisk, Nir Rosen & Joseph Massad have framed Syria all wrong
Blanket Thinkers

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad
On Monsterphilia and Assad: The problems with the “anti-imperialist” position on Syria
Why Bosnia is a better analogy than Iraq in the Syria debate
Syria and Surrealism
What is to be done about Syria?

Gilbert Achcar
Syria in the Context of the Arab Uprisings
Welcoming the vote of the British Parliament while supporting the Syrian uprising
Interview with Gilbert Achcar

Afra Jalabi
Streams of Light: The Heroic Struggle of the Syrian People
Anxiously Anticipating a New Dawn: Voices of Syrian Activists, in The Syria Dilemma (not available online, alas — but get the book)

Mariam Barghouti

Palestine Must Stand in Solidarity with the Syrian People

Mohja Kahf
Then and Now: The Syrian Revolution to Date — A young nonviolent resistance and the ensuing armed struggle
Syria: It’s Still a Revolution, My Friends
Lack of U.S. Peace Movement Solidarity with Syrian Uprising and the “No Good Guys” Excuse

Danny Postel
Mission Accomplished? Syria, the Antiwar Movement, and the Spirit of Internationalism

Nader Hashemi
Syria, savagery, and self-determination

International Appeal to Stop the Starvation Sieges/End the Blockades in Syria

Danny Postel & Nader Hashemi
Break Syria’s Starvation Sieges—By Any Means Necessary

Max Blumenthal
The right to resist is universal: A farewell to Al Akhbar and Assad’s apologists
‘We Just Wish for the Hit to Put an End to the Massacres’: a report from the Zaatari refugee camp

Syria and the Left–a conversation between Max Blumenthal & Danny Postel

Talal Alyan
Shell Shocked and Rouged: Syria Is Not a Disposable Bride
While you were neutral about Yarmouk
Yarmouk: an unnerving silence about the ongoing siege of a Palestinian camp in Damascus

An Interview with Syrian Writer and Former Political Prisoner Yassin al-Haj Saleh

Yassin Al Haj Saleh
The Syrian Shabiha and Their State
From the Kingdom of Assad to the Third Republic

Yassin Al Haj Saleh & Rime Allaf
Syria dispatches: Robert Fisk’s independence

Rana Issa
The Destruction of Syria: In Memory of Edward Said

Thomas Pierret
No Stability in Syria Without Political Change

Wendy Pearlman
On the Third Anniversary of the Syrian Uprising
Intervening Against Assad: Reflections From Syrian Refugees
Love in the Syrian Revolution

Ian Williams
From the Spanish Civil War to Syria: Parceling Out Truth Subverts Justice

Bill Weinberg
Syria: civil wars in the civil war
Syria: denialism delegitimizes ‘anti-war’ position
‘Anti-war’ movement still betraying Syrian people
Why I am renouncing my Project Censored award

Mary Kaldor
Bordering on a new World War 1
What to do in Syria?

Richard Falk
What Can Be Done About Syria? Tragedy and Impotence
On Syria: What is to be done?

Syrian leftist sends devastating reply to Assad apologist Tariq Ali and ‘Stop The War’

Syrian Anarchist Challenges the Rebel/Regime Binary View of Resistance–an interview with Nader Atassi

Virtually everything Scott Lucas has written for EA WorldView’s outstanding Syria section

Clay Claiborne’s Syria diaries on his Linux Beach blog

* Above image: Syrian flag flutters during an anti-regime protest, by Freedom House (CC-by-2.0)

Author: Danny Postel

I'm a writer, editor, and researcher. I'm currently Politics Editor of New Lines Magazine. Previously I was Assistant Director of the Center for International & Area Studies at Northwestern University and Associate Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver. I'm the author of Reading Legitimation Crisis in Tehran (Prickly Paradigm Press, 2006) and co-editor (with Nader Hashemi) of three books: The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future (Melville House, 2010), The Syria Dilemma (MIT Press, 2013), and Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East (Hurst/OUP, 2017). My writing has appeared in The American Prospect, Boston Review, The Cairo Review of Global Affairs, Constellations: An International Journal of Critical and Democratic Theory, Critical Inquiry, Dædalus (the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences), Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, the Deusto Journal of Human Rights, Dissent, Global Discourse: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Current Affairs, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, In These Times, Middle East Policy, Middle East Report (MERIP), The Nation, New Politics, the New York Times, The Progressive, Salmagundi, and the Washington Post, among other publications. My work has been translated into Arabic, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, and Spanish. I taught English as a Foreign Language at St. Augustine College, the Latino Outreach Program of National Louis University, and the Howard Area Community Center (1993-1998), taught Spanish at St. Tarcissus Elementary School, now part of Pope Francis Global Academy (1995-1999), was an editor at Encyclopædia Britannica (1999-2001), a staff writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education (2001-2003), a visiting instructor in the journalism program at Columbia College Chicago (2004), Senior Editor of openDemocracy magazine (2004-2007), Communications Coordinator for the organization Interfaith Worker Justice (2007-2011), Editor of The Common Review, the magazine of the Great Books Foundation (2010-2011), and Communications Specialist for Stand Up! Chicago, a coalition of grassroots groups and labor unions in Chicago (2011-2012).

16 thoughts on “Alternative Left Perspectives on Syria”

  1. Regarding the “Eurocentric/US-centric” stance of the second camp – a camp which includes many soi-disant anti-imperialists – one might note that such a stance, in effectively denying a voice to the Syrian revolution, functions as a form of imperialist discourse.

    It is a stance which completely refuses to engage with the demands of the Syrian opposition. The demands of the revolution are not criticized or argued against, rather they are sidelined, pushed aside. In effect they are treated as unworthy of serious engagement or concern, whether, positive or critical.

    The important thing to note is precisely that the revolution is not confronted or criticized, it is ignored. The Left criticizes capitalism at great length, it engages with capitalist thought and ideology, but in the case of Syria there is (at least as far as this second group is concerned) no such engagement.

    What this indicates is that the demands of the Syrian revolution are being regarded as unworthy to enter into the space of serious political discourse. a discourse which originated in and centres on the West. There are the privileged who belong to this discursive community and there are the outsiders, such as the Syrian opposition, who do not, and whose demands are not to be taken, and indeed, cannot be taken seriously.

    But what is this other than the stance of the colonialist towards the demands made by the colonized? The ‘natives’ are not treated as serious interlocutors, their demands are waved aside as little better than wild noises, whatever success they might have at rebelling is largely attributed either to savage and irrational fanaticism, or to foreign interference by a superior power.

    These anti-imperialists therefore manifest attitude of a discursive community that views itself as superior, as having the right to impose its (in this case Western Leftist) values everywhere, regardless of the violence entailed.

    Should we be surprised by this? Not in the least. Left-wing political thought was born in the era of imperialism, and while it has denounced and rejected the explicit content of imperialist discourse, it is not surprising that it has retained some of the discursive habits and structures of that discourse. And, of course, because it is sure in its own anti-imperialism, it would be the least likely of discourses to examine itself for the retention of patterns of imperialist thought.

    So, it may well be that Syria has revealed that it is precisely in the discourse of anti-imperialism that imperialist habits of thought have retained the strongest hold.

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