by Bill Weinberg, Fifth Estate
In the 1930s, the American left could claim solidarity with those who stood up to the authors of the Guernica terror in Spain. Today, in vivid contrast, it overwhelmingly stands on the side of fascism and genocide in Syria.
The Bashar Assad regime is daily raining death down on Aleppo and other besieged cities and towns, with massive military support from Russia. Hospitals have been targeted again and again, civilian areas reduced to rubble. Poison gas has been used repeatedly. After Assad supposedly eliminated his chemical arsenal in a Russia-brokered deal after the 2013 Ghouta sarin-gas attack, the regime merely turned to "repurposed" chlorine, dropped from "barrel bombs."
Starvation has become a weapon of the war, with the regime blocking food aid to besieged areas.
In areas the regime controls, it is now accused by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights of a systematic "extermination" of the civil population—beginning with the prisoners. If only due to greater access to firepower and proximity to inhabited areas, the Assad regime has actually been responsible for far more civilian deaths than has ISIS.
This is the regime that the American "left" is, overwhelmingly, supporting. In response to this accusation, most "leftists" will retort that they are just against US intervention. The facts demonstrate otherwise.
ANSWER Coalition, a remaining pillar of the diminished "anti-war" movement whose ironic acronym stands for "Act Now to Stop War and End Racism," supports Assad openly. Their rallies have even featured placards with the dictator's portrait, and the flag of his regime (as opposed the "Free Syrian" flag adopted by the rebels).
But less openly pro-Assad elements than these still mouth the regime propaganda line that all the opposition in Syria consists of CIA-backed jihadists. This ignores the reality that the Syrian conflict began in 2011 as a spontaneous popular revolution—part of the general upswell throughout the Arab world—and only escalated to civil war after the regime's security forces serially massacred unarmed protesters. The civil resistance movement that began the revolution—secular, pro-democratic, and independent—continues to exist, even as it has been pushed from the world headlines by utterly ruthless armed actors.
Some anarchists in the US have started to mobilize in support of the Syrian Kurds, who have declared a left-libertarian autonomous zone in their region, known as Rojava. This solidarity effort is to be encouraged. But stateside anarchists have shown little awareness of the civil resistance movement among the Arab majority of Syria—which also has currents influenced by left-libertarian thinking.
To an extent, this failure of solidarity is due to the failures of the left media in the United States. Earlier this year, "Democracy Now!" producer Amy Goodman was petitioned by Syrian activists to actually invite some Syrians on to her show. Especially suggested were Leila al-Shami and Robin Yassin-Kassab, co-authors of the book Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, newly released from Pluto Press. The online petition noted that on April 25, "Democracy Now!" had devoted nearly a full program to yet another soft Goodman interview with stand-by Seymour Hersh—who can now only be considered an open propagandist for the Assad regime. In the interview, he applauded Russia's intervention in Syria as "effective." The petition noted that Russia had killed hundreds of Syrian civilians, and bombed multiple hospitals.
Hersh has actually said far worse in his many appearances on “Democracy Now!” In a Dec. 9, 2013 broadcast, he said that Assad is "the only game in town, whether you like it or don't like it… because…what we call the secular…opposition…were…overrun by jihadists. And so, the only solution, it seemed to me…for stability was Bashar. You have to just like it or don't like it."
The usual disgraceful propaganda: Either Bashar or the jihadists—ironically, the same jihadists that too many Western "leftists" portrayed as heroic freedom fighters in Iraq just a few short years ago! Not only do such heroes of the contemporary "left" as Seymour Hersh loan no solidarity to the secular resistance in Syria—they deny that it even exists. And hail the mass-murdering dictator as guarantor of "stability."
By the time al-Shami and Yassin-Kassab were finally contacted by Goodman, they had completed their US book tour and left the country. Giving credit where it is due, Goodman did, partially, make amends. On May 13, she featured a segment with this very refreshing title: "Amid Ongoing Conflict in Syria, Activists Work to Keep Alive Revolutionary Spirit of 2011 Uprising." Interviewed was Yasser Munif of the Global Campaign of Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution, who spoke about the resurgence of protest and civil activism in Syria since a recent lull in the fighting.
The petitioning of Amy Goodman paid off. But she has still featured Seymour Hersh (in typically non-adversarial interviews) far more often than she has featured Syrian activists. On the "DN!" webpage where the Munif interview was displayed, the numerous dictator-shilling comments from Goodman's followers were as disgusting as they were predictable: the fruit of years of pro-regime programming on America's foremost "leftist" TV news show.
Worse still is Counterpunch, one of the most widely read websites on the American left—despite its propensity for giving voice to paleocons and exponents of the far right if they take positions in support of the dictatorships in places like Syria, Iran and Belarus. But this Jan. 29, they really outdid themselves, running a piece with the predictable title of "The Rise of ISIS and Other Extremist Groups: the Role of the West and Regional Powers." The writer was none other than Bouthaina Shaaban, official public relations advisor for Bashar Assad. This time not just a "useful idiot" of the Anglo-American "progressive" talking-head set, nor another paleo-right dictator-enthusiast—but an actual paid flack of the dictatorship.
The piece took the usual line, portraying the Syrian Revolution as contrived by the West, and a jihadist initiative from the start. In other words, a perfect reversal of reality. The Syrian Revolution shamefully received no support from the outside world for years, which is what allowed the jihadists to gain a foothold… after the regime that Shaaban speaks for attempted to drown the peaceful protest movement in blood. Of course Shaaban offered not a word about these massacres, but painted the emergence of an armed resistance as an arbitrary and foreign-fomented response to the "conciliatory approach" of the regime!
In effect the Goebbels of Damascus, Shaaban is one of but a small handful of regime officials to face sanctions in the US in connection with human rights abuses. For this honor, she was rewarded with a typically gushing interview by Robert Fisk, another icon of the "left," in The Independent on Oct. 27, 2011. He did ask a couple of questions about the events that won her sanctions—the repeated massacre of protesters. But the headline trumpeted her disingenuous retort: "The army was told not to fire at protesters."
In her Counterpunch piece, Shaaban didn't even offer that much. Those who rely on Counterpunch and like sources for their Syria news would never know the massacres happened at all—straight down the Orwellian Memory Hole.
Then there's Jill Stein, presidential candidate of Green Party, whose popularity has soared among lefties since Bernie Sanders conceded the nomination to Hillary Clinton. Stein has engaged in deeply embarrassing parroting of Assad regime propaganda. After the Ghouta attack, when Obama briefly threatened air-strikes against Assad's military forces, Stein said: "President Obama's rush to war risks a repeat of 2003, when President Bush's order to invade Iraq prevented UN inspectors from discovering that Saddam Hussein's alleged WMDs, one of the stated reasons for war, did not exist."
Talk about fighting the last war! To say this days after a chemical massacre in which some 1,400 perished simply demolishes all the Green Party's empty talk about human rights. The chemical weapons in Syria assuredly existed—and still do, if we count the "repurposed" chlorine. And as for the "rush to war"—are we supposed to believe that Syria (with cities in ruins, some 12 million displaced and more than a quarter million dead) is at peace as long as the US isn't involved? This is imperial narcissism—the internalized arrogance that sees everything as about "us," and renders local contexts (even those as crushingly obvious as the Syrian war) completely invisible.
Far worse is Stein's running mate, Ajamu Baraka—an active enthusiast for Bashar Assad. As "Public Intervenor for Human Rights" (sic!) in Stein's "Shadow Cabinet," Baraka actually issued a statement in 2014 hailing Assad's thoroughly controlled pseudo-elections that year which confirmed his inherited dictatorial rule. It was entitled: "Elections in Syria: The People Say No to Foreign Intervention." It crowed about Assad's widespread "support" among the Syrian people, and how the opposition was "fomented" by the "gangster states of NATO."
Perhaps the saddest thing is that even those small sectors of the stateside left that have been serious about solidarity with opposition forces in Syria are themselves divided. On one hand are anarchists inspired by the experiment in Rojava. On the other are a handful of organizations—mostly led by Syrian and Arab immigrants and ex-pats—organizing to support the civil resistance movement among Syria’s Arab majority. These are loosely allied in a Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria (CISPOS).
These two currents have grown more suspicious of each other as the situation on the ground in Syria has deteriorated, with fighting breaking out between the Rojava Kurds and elements of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The situation has become much more urgent with the current Turkish intervention in Syria, with US acquiescence. The US has been backing the Rojava Kurds as the most effective anti-ISIS force on the ground, but it now appears they are being betrayed in a Great Power deal.
But the Rojava Kurds are also actually allied with other more secular and progressive elements of the FSA. Stateside activists can play a role in bridging this divide and supporting liberatory change in Syria. Anarchists can start extending solidarity not only to the Rojava Kurds but to the Syrian civil opposition generally—to groups such as the Local Coordination Committees, that are still building popular power at the grassroots level despite the war.
And we can start vocally repudiating the self-appointed leaders and mouthpieces of the American "left" that purport to speak in our name—and are flatly, dramatically on the wrong side in Syria.
A slightly different version of this story appears in the Winter 2017 edition of Fifth Estate.
Photo: Destruction of Aleppo. Credit: 7ee6an
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Reprinted by CounterVortex, Nov. 30, 2016