On Syria and the failure of anti-Imperialist intellectuals

Maysaloon in a bitterly critical piece on attitudes to the Syrian uprising

Wednesday, 8 February, 2012 - 13:46
London, UK

I just read Massad's new post, "Imperialism, despotism, and democracy in Syria and my initial reaction is that it is out of touch with what is happening in the country.

There are good ways to overthrow a dictator and there are bad ways, he seems to say. The bad way is to ask for the West for help, the good way is, well, unclear.

Massad tells us that a good anti-imperialist would oppose the dictator AND the West, which is pretty straightforward, but he doesn't tell us how that is going to help the people of Syria, or how he proposes that they get rid of Assad.

Where he refers to the "hijacking" of the Syrian revolution, does that mean it is any less deserving of support in light of the repression that it faces? Or are we to chastise the Syrian people for not being good anti-imperialists and insisting that they be massacred without asking for help - from the devil if need be.

I do wonder how much of this hijacking of the Syrian revolution took place because of a moral vacuum that the anti-imperialists themselves have allowed to occur. That Massad himself says that the revolution was "hijacked" means that at the start the Syrian people were not calling for external or "imperialist" intervention, and were desperate for help wherever it could be found.

At many anti-regime protests that I have attended, I had argued with sectarian bigots that were keen on turning this into an anti-Shiite crusade, and were also eagerly calling for Western involvement. Where were the anti-imperialists then? At one demonstration in London, the only person who stood by me in such debates was a Marxist Syrian activist, Ghias al Jundi. Not one of my anti-imperialist "acquaintances" bothered showing up for the anti-regime protests. The space was left open for the SNC and its types to beg for help from the West or wherever else.

Furthermore, I don't recall one of the many vocal anti-imperialist voices online ever stating that they attended even the earliest of anti-regime Syrian protests to support the Syrian people. Not one that I know of bothered showing up, or even said that they did so from their hallowed online thrones - and this meant that the ground lay uncontested from the start.

But, according to Mr Massad, we must blame the Syrian people, and the Libyan people, and the Iraqi people, for being politically unsophisticated enough to recognise the nuances between imperialism and its opportunistic opposition groups, home-grown tyranny and the unfathomable third way that Massad supports.

Like some tragic Chekovian drama, the Syrian people are expected to bare their naked chests to bullets and die in the name of higher principles, rather than sully themselves with asking for help from wherever they can find it. Where was the intellectual support and leadership that the Syrian - or even Libyan - people needed in their time of need? Why were they abandoned to the West? Was that simply because of Assad's politics? These are all rhetorical questions that I pose to Mr Massad and to all self-professed anti-imperialists.

Finally, Massad wonders why the Yemeni and Bahraini oppositions did not ask for Western intervention. Is Mr Massad unaware that the death toll from Assad's security services lies somewhere in the thousands - or at least is far higher - compared to Yemen and Bahrain? The situation is so atrocious in Syria that Massad himself states Assad is trying hard to reach the same level of brutality with Saddam - for those who don't know, that is really bad considering Saddam's brutality. 

And what is this about the Palestinians never asking for help from the imperialists? This point specifically highlights my earlier case that a moral vacuum allowed by the anti-imperialists has allowed the West to step in and "hijack" the Syrian revolution. The Palestinian struggle has always had the support of anti-imperialist, or nominally anti-imperialist groups. It also has a long history of [nominal] support from various Arab countries. The Palestinian people were certainly not abandoned to the vagaries of brutal occupation and repression unlike the Syrian people.

The brutal dichotomy that Massad seems to want to avoid - that of imperialism or fascism - is forced on the Syrian people precisely because of the vacuum that was allowed by the anti-imperialists that he speaks of. If these were as vocal and enthusiastic in fighting for the moral and intellectual high ground in spite of the cynical attempts of oil potentates and princes to subvert the revolutions, then the miserable farce we are seeing today would never have happened.

If there ever was a true third way for the anti-imperialists to follow regarding Syria, this is what Massad should have called for in his piece.

See the original post on Maysaloon blog. For opposing views read the comments on the original blog.

For a compelling argument from the West against Western intervention, see the Guardian's Seumas Milne on Comment is Free today.  

news rss feed