In the last week of its Syrian rampage, ISIS bulldozed the 1500-year-old monastery of Mar Elian in al-Qaryatain and blew up the 2000-year-old temples of Baalshamin and Bel in Palmyra.
Syria’s heritage illustrates civilisational history from the Sumerians to the Ottomans. Its universal significance provoked French archeologist Andre Parrot’s comment, “Every person has two homelands… His own and Syria.” For Syrians themselves, these sites provided a palpable link to the past and, it seemed, to the future too, for they once assumed their distant descendants would also marvel at them. Such monuments were references held in common regardless of sect or politics. Like Stonehenge or Westminster Abbey, they provided a focus for nationalist pride and belonging. Naturally, they would have been central to any future tourism industry. Now they are vanishing.
Very recently the potential future looked very different. The popular revolution of 2011 announced a new age of civic activism and fearless creativity, but the regime’s savage repression led inevitably to the revolution’s militarisation, and then war.
Perhaps the most humorous aspect of the latest drivel published by Jacobin in defense of the Syrian regime headed by Bashar al-Assad is the way the “anti-imperialist” author is forced by their own tautological premise to downplay the decisive role that U.S. imperialism has played in defending what appears to be a leftist revolution (with, as always, flaws) currently taking place in Syrian Kurdistan.
It’s understandable, to a degree: as one who also sympathizes with this seemingly left-libertarian project, which the author describes as a “spark of hope to many leftists in the West” – hope that is “not misplaced” – I too have been challenged by the fact that were it not for an extensive air campaign that the United States reluctantly carried out in Kobane, it might very well not exist. But while one can have doubts as to the ultimate wisdom of allying with a nation-state not known for its long-term friendships with left-wing radicals, one can’t deny that thus far that alliance has proved beneficial to the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its militias, the all-men YPG and all-women YPJ. One can also acknowledge that while it might sully the beneficiaries’ anti-imperialist credentials to accept U.S. aid, those beneficiaries would say that in a world full of bad options they chose the least-bad one available, preferring it to genocide.