Palestinian intellectual Iyad el-Baghdadi spoke at the first Oslo Freedom Forum in Johannesburg on why the Arab Spring failed to produce tangible results, but also how Arab youth are the most educated and informed age group in the history of the Middle East, and his hope for future democratic movements in the region.
A version of this article first appeared in The New Arab.
Following the Syrian regime’s recent chemical attack on Douma, US, Britain and France took swift but symbolic action to destroy three chemical weapons facilities. The action was not universally lauded. For Syrians it was too little too late; for isolationists and “anti-imperialists”, the 15,201st US airstrike on Syria since September 2014 was a “dangerous escalation” in a war where there were “no good guys”.
“There are no good guys”—or “everyone is equally bad”—has become a trope used by many otherwise decent people to absolve themselves of moral guilt for being bystanders to injustice. (The indecent on the other hand pronounce Assad the “lesser evil”, if not outright supporting him). The trope relies on a disciplined will to ignorance, unreasonable doubt, and manufactured uncertainty. It has been aided by a post-truth paranoia where cynicism passes for scepticism and all inconvenient facts expire into a haze of competing claims. “We can’t really know”!
But are facts really that elusive? And is it really impossible to tell good from bad?
Syria in fact is the most closely observed conflict in history, every aspect of which has been investigated, researched, filmed, documented, and reported on. The picture that emerges is not equivocal. In the judgment of the UN Commission of Inquiry on the war in Syria the regime is responsible for “the crimes against humanity of extermination; murder; rape or other forms of sexual violence; torture; imprisonment; enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts”.
Let us now look at the balance of atrocities.
Originally published at Muftah on December 19, 2016.
What if the United States carried out daily bombing raids in a foreign country for over two years, killing hundreds of innocent men, women, and children as part of its ever expanding, never ending War on Terror? And what if those most performatively opposed to U.S. intervention had little or nothing to say about it?
These questions, alas, are not hypothetical: they accurately describe the position of much of the ostensibly anti-imperialist left on Syria today. These leftists present themselves as the most righteously anti-war—their critics are all described as warmongers—while they foolishly run cover for actual imperialism, as typified by writer Fredrik deBoer in his November 2016 piece for Current Affairs.
DeBoer’s article, entitled “1953—2002—2016: Syria and the Reemergence of McCarthyism,” would have us believe that the new new McCarthyism is defined by social media attacks from an irrationally interventionist left (“do they not remember Iraq?”) on dissident journalists like AlterNet’s Max Blumenthal and Twitter’s Rania Khalek. Their sin, according to deBoer, is not apologism for President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions of others, but simply opposing “a coming conflict in Syria.”
by Anton Mukhamedov
Following the joint US-UK-French strikes at the facilities associated with Syrian government’s chemical weapons programme on April 16, 2018, the international left needs to be in a position to ask tough questions about the steps the global powers are ready to take in order to prevent further civilian suffering in a country devastated by a brutal war, which the West has done nearly nothing to stop.
Unfortunately, deaf to the calls for transnational solidarity with the Syrian civil society, even as Syrian civilians have been fighting against both Assad and Islamist extremists, many figures associated with the anti-war movement have instead been preaching a kind of isolationism reminiscent of the times of the America First Committee.
Against a red-brown alliance
A month ago, a piece published by the Southern Poverty Law Center depicted a political scene ripe for barely hidden collaborations between the far right and a fraction of the Western left, such as the American ANSWER coalition or Party for Socialism and Liberation embracing similar foreign policy talking points as white nationalists. The author described a surprising connection over Syria, mediated by movements such as the Hands Off Syria coalition and think-tanks (inspired by a Russian fascist ideology going by the name of “Eurasianism”), all sharing the same affinity for Russian military intervention in Syria. Soon enough, the piece—written by Portland State University lecturer and fascism expert Alexander Reid Ross—was retracted due to a litigation threat issued by one of the actors mentioned in the article.
Syrian playwright Mohammad Al Attar moderates a panel on seven years of the Syrian revolution featuring the great Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Thomas Pierret and Kristin Helberg.
The 18th of March 2011, marked the first sparkle of the Syrian Revolution against one of the most brutal totalitarian regimes in the region. But few months after the country entered dark phases of civil and proxy wars. The writer and political dissident Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Syrian playwright Mohammad Al Attar, and Syrian writer and journalist Yasmine Merei, hosted group of Syrian and European experts and writers to discuss Syria’s complicated present and ambiguous future.
by Fadi Dayoub
Today we are at the end of a story that is more than five-year-old.
A bittersweet story for sure, but one that saw people reach and touch the dream, even if they did not get to experience its full potential.
Only six months ago, we were debating what’s next for Harasta. We had just concluded the direct elections of a local council, a process that upheld electoral standards within our means–we even had debates among the candidates.
Harasta, to be fair, was not the first to lead the way with direct elections of a local council; Saqba did it only a month before.
And so, we were discussing what our next step should be. How to work with the council to increase the participation rate in the next elections, particularly that of women. We decided that the ‘Center for Social Engagement”–which was established a few months prior and had taken part in overseeing the elections in Harasta producing a detailed report–should focus on encouraging higher electoral turnout.
We did not know at the time those would be the last elections in Harasta…
Harasta today, as those who remain there tell us, is almost completely destroyed. Part of its people has been made, under fire, to leave and go north. They wanted to still be able to smell free air, even if away from home. Another part decided to stay back, even deprived of their basic freedoms.
A few days ago, several hundred people in Kafr Batna were filmed demonstrating, chanting “We do not want Freedom anymore!” They, thus, agreed to the trade the regime had asked of them: Their Liberty for their Life.
And so, as some Harastans choose to let go of their freedom, while others choose to let go of their homes, remember that none of this was actually their choice. They made their decision at gunpoint.
Today, as we turn the page on the five-year story of Free Harasta, I only hope for the safety and well-being of its people, wherever they are, and wherever they are made to be. We bow our heads to you in humility and we raise them with pride.
Precedents of cruelty can rarely, if ever, be left in the past. This psychodynamic is a rule in any relationship that’s presumably based on mutual trust. “The past never dies,” as Faulkner would remind us. Humans are hardwired to believe that if something has occurred once, it likely will happen again.
But how does this rule apply to large subsets of individuals? Particularly for a group of organized individuals who define their existence as one of a Promethean toiling for definite egalitarianism in every social and economic domain, i.e. the historic project of the Left. What happens when large segments of this group engage in widespread apologia for terror and murder? That is in fact what has happened over the past decade. Yet this transgression of values and principles for which the Left stands receives virtually no comment from its own intelligentsia.
After all, the spectacle of seeing comrades come to barbarize themselves in apologia for terror is a perturbing one. We marched with those people, organized with them and thought with them, only to see them go down in the flames of self-inflicted indignity. How does one deal with this fact? Some have dealt with it by unambiguous condemnation yet most have simply decided to look away from this unseemly sight. Why is that?
Analogizing this with another nation of strangers, France, is instrumental. As Eugene Weber argued, France had to stand for Patrie, as well as Progress, to transform its peasants into Frenchmen. Likewise, the Left had to stand for the universal emancipation of mankind and internationalism in order to transform an army of thick-skulled syndicalists, merely utopian pamphleteers and chauvinistic union organizers into socialists and communists. This is where both the Left and France draw most of their historic larger-than-life quality in the public’s imagination.
What happens when those values for which those groups stand for comes to clash with reality? A decade after the French State had ruthlessly massacred thousands of its own citizens in the streets of Paris during an uprising, Ernst Renan noted that, “Forgetting . . . is an essential factor in the creation of a nation.”
That, I believe, accounts for the conspicuous lack of engagement with the question of Left-wing apologia for terror on the part of leftist public intellectuals. The Left, after all, isn’t above history. Like every other nation or group, there’s a degree of trust and loyalty that must be safeguarded among its members. The more Left public intellectuals engage with this question, and the more leftists acknowledge the great crime of betrayal committed against Syrian leftists and democrats, the more difficult it will be to imagine a Left at all. If your comrades have betrayed leftists on the other side of the globe, what makes one think they won’t betray you? This must be brushed aside. In a strange reversal of Robespierre’s maxim, “The King must die so that the country can live,” Syrians and what has been said about them in the name of the Left must be forgotten in order for the Left to live. Without perceived loyalty and trust in the cadres, so to speak, the historic project of the Left and its raison d’etre is no more.
A reckoning may not bring redemption, but destruction, so the logic goes. And that may well all be correct. Yet that one too many Left public intellectuals think this actually will work should give us all pause on the question of whether the Left will continue exist.