Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with the Lebanese scholar Gilbert Achcar for a conversation about the complex situation in the Middle East and various myths about the region that permeate the global leftosphere. The conversation was recorded for the podcast of Chicago DSA, the Chicago chapter of Democratic Socialists of America.
As a Syrian who has always identified politically with the left, I am particularly appalled by those men and women who call themselves left-wingers — and are therefore supposed to stand in solidarity with struggles for justice worldwide — and yet openly support the regime of the Assads, father and son, who are chiefly responsible for the Syrian disaster.
Following four months of intense bombardment by the Russian air force, Bashar Al-Assad’s army, along with Shiite militias hailing from everywhere and mobilized by the Iranian mullahs, have now finished ‘liberating’ Eastern Aleppo. Liberated from whom? From its inhabitants. More than 250,000 inhabitants were forced to flee their own city to escape massacres, as had the people of Zabadani and Daraya before them, and as will many more Syrians if systematic social and sectarian ‘cleansing’ continues in their country under the cover of a massive media disinformation campaign.
That in Syria itself wealthy residents of Aleppo, belonging to all religious sects, rejoice over having been rid of the “scum” — meaning the poor classes who populated Eastern Aleppo — is not surprising at all. We are accustomed to it: the arrogance of dominant classes is universal.
This panel discussion on Syria’s future was held on 23 November in Denver at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). It featured Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch, James Gelvin of UCLA, Joshua Landis of the University of Oklahoma, and Najib Ghadbian of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces. I chaired and moderated. As I say in my introductory remarks, the questions explored in the discussion include:
How does Russia’s intervention in Syria change the equation?
How might the Paris attacks impact the geopolitical calculus—with France and Russia upgrading their assault on ISIS and the gap between Washington and Moscow regarding Syria’s future seemingly shrinking?
What might come of the Vienna peace talks set to begin in January?
Is Syria as a nation-state over? If so, what will emerge in its aftermath?
How can the carnage in Syria be brought to an end?
Among many other endeavours, Ahmad directed the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, collaborated with Algerian revolutionaries, edited the journal Race & Class, wrote a column for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, and sat trial for conspiring to kidnap Henry Kissinger. He was a Third Worldist, an internationalist, and a humanist in the very best sense of those terms.
Eqbal Ahmad was a remarkable human being as well as a seminal progressive political thinker. In this illuminating intellectual biography, Stuart Schaar brings his subject to life, drawing on their long, intimate friendship and shared scholarly engagement with the politics of the Middle East and the Islamic world. Above all, Ahmad grasped the toxic interplay between the maladies of postcolonialism and the persistent imperial ambitions of the West better than any of his contemporaries.
In November I had the pleasure of interviewing Schaar about his book for Middle East Dialogues, a video series produced by the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver. Here it is.
As people and groups from many countries, united by a common commitment to peace, justice and human rights, we condemn the military offensive that began with air strikes launched by Russia in Syria on 30 September 2015 and accelerating subsequently.
While the Russian government has said that these operations were directed against the Islamic State (ISIS), most were on areas with no ISIS presence. The focus of the Russian military offensive appears to have been on opposition communities in the northern Homs region, a continuing center of resistance to the Assad Regime.
A sharply combative polemic that hits the nail on the head and which must, for that reason, be hailed. However, I doubt that Chatterjee’s response, if at all he deigns to come up with one, will throw any new light on the matter, much less open new horizons. His intellectual orientation and theoretical presuppositions — which stem from his political complicity only to reinforce it – are simply incapable of that. Subalternity is a constitutive crisis of the horizon or structure of valourisation, measure, distribution and/or representation. (The operative word here is constitutive.) In such circumstances, to envisage politics in terms of affirmation of subalternity – which is precisely the theoretical and historiographical project of the Subaltern Studies collective – is to reproduce that structure and its constitutive lack or crisis. For, subalternity is the crisis of the structure of representation that is nevertheless sutured on to it. In other words, to envisage politics in terms of affirming subalternity is to reproduce the constitutive duality of the élite and the subaltern, and thus enable its continued extension through intensification. This is pretty much a continuation through intensification of the politics of passive revolution. Something the Subaltern Studies, and Chatterjee in particular, claimed to have critiqued — albeit only as one of its concrete historical moments or appearances — by precisely perpetuating its general political mode.