Iraq’s Forgotten Uprising

iraq protestThis was published at al-Araby al-Jadeed/ the New Arab. The texts referred to are Ali Issa’s Against All Odds: Voices of Popular Struggle in Iraq, and Sam Charles Hamad’s essay ‘The Rise of Daesh in Syria’, found in Khiyana: Daesh, the Left, and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution.

A great deal has been written on the factors behind the rise of ISIS, or Daesh, in Iraq and Syria. Too much of the commentary focuses on abstracts – Islam in total, or Gulf-Wahhabi expansionism, or a vaguely stated American imperialism – according to whichever axe the author wishes to grind. And too much describes a simple split in these societies, and therefore a binary choice, between different forms of sectarian authoritarianism – in Iraq it’s either ISIS or the US and Iranian-backed government’s Shia militias; in Syria it’s either ISIS or the Russian and Iranian-backed Assad regime forces.

To take this representation seriously, we must force ourselves to ignore the very real third option – the non-sectarian struggle against the tyrannical authoritarianism of all states involved, whether Iraqi, Syrian or ‘Islamic’. Hundreds of democratic councils survive in Syria’s liberated areas, alongside a free media, women’s centres, and a host of civil society initiatives. In Iraq too, though it holds no land, there is a potential alternative, at least a gleam of light. The Iraqi state’s attempt to smother this gleam is an immediate and regularly overlooked cause of ISIS’s ascendance.

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A Response to Another Insult

from Nablus, Palestine, in solidarity with revolutionary Syria
from Nablus, Palestine, in solidarity with revolutionary Syria

Someone called Asa Winstanley has addressed (yet another) ignorant insult to the revolutionary Syrian people. In order to make his inane points, Winstanley has to ignore facts (like Russian and Iranian intervention, and the continuing activity of grass roots protestors and organisers) and invent others. Sam Charles Hamad makes the following astute comment:

When it comes to the Syrian revolution, Asa Winstanley is completely discrediting himself. It’s somewhat of a small tragedy to behold – witnessing some of these so-called ‘pro-Palestine’ activists reveal that they couldn’t actually care less about the lives of Arabs (including, most tellingly, Palestinians in Yarmouk, who have been the victim of constant bombardment by Assad’s air force and artillery, not to mention a regime-imposed blockade which pushed them to the brink of starvation). The Arab spring, and in particular the revolution in Syria, has revealed that much of those who consider themselves to be ‘pro-Palestinian’ are in actuality only ‘pro-Palestinian’ if it is Israel that is doing the killing, torturing, maiming, imprisoning and blockading – if the perpetrator is a regime such as Assad’s, which is bafflingly seen as being fundamentally antagonistic to Israel, or at least its continued existence is somehow imagined to be advantageous to the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation and domination, they either completely ignore it or are actively willing to apologise for it. This thoroughly inadequate and contradictory reaction of some on the left to the Syrian revolution, and, more generally, the reaction of some of those involved in causes associated with Arabs, fits almost perfectly into this latent orientalist perspective of the Arab as some sort of idealised figure of resistance against the west; or as a constant victim of the west; or, in the case of Syria, as a faceless, passive entity who has absolutely no right to resist or rise against this tyrannical regime that somehow falls into what is so inaccurately thought of as the camp of ‘anti-imperialism’.

And Nader Atassi, at his indispensable Darth Nader blog, takes on Winstanley’s assertions point by point. Nader’s piece is worth reading right to the end for its combined realism and optimism in regard to Syria.

Journalist Asa Winstanley has written an article titled “Syria: the revolution that never was,” for Middle East Monitor. The following is a critique to a few of the claims Winstanley makes in the article. I decided to respond to this article in particular because I believe it contains many erroneous assertions that are frequently used to disparage the Syrian uprising, and thus this is a response and critique of those assertions and the substance of the article in general.

“To say Syria is now a disaster is a massive understatement. This is a sectarian civil war which could continue for a decade if the regime’s enemies, led by the brutal Saudi tyranny, continue to wage their proxy war on the country.

What is being implied in this statement is that if the people engaging in armed struggle against the regime were to put down their weapons, the “sectarian civil war” would cease. I’m not sure how Winstanley concludes this, but it seems to be based on an optimistic view of the regime and to place the responsibility of the war almost totally on the “regime’s enemies.” I firmly believe that intervention by reactionary forces on the side of the opposition (Saudi Arabia, Qatar) has done great harm to Syria and the Syrian uprising in general, but nevertheless, to state that the onus is entirely on them to end this war is to imply that the regime is somewhat innocent, which I believe is ludicrous.

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