The dangers of standing up to Bashar Assad …in New York City

A vivid illustration of just how out of wack things have become on the American “anti-war” (sic) “left” (sic—neither of these terms are accurate). As every Friday since March, on the evening of Sept. 28, I was standing with the Syria Peace Vigil in New York’s Union Square. As usual, I was on leafleting duty. As my comrades (including some local Syrian-Americans) stood with signs reading “FREE SYRIA” and “PROTECT IDLIB,” I was giving out our statement to passing commuters and strollers. Usually, amid the massive indifference from passers-by, we inevitably get some heartfelt expressions of support (generally from Syrians or other folk of Middle Eastern background)—and lots of hostility from those who have swallowed the pro-Assad line that is purveyed by left, right and center in this country. But that night, the hostility was particularly egregious…

First, one guy looks at my leaflet and says, “I’m really glad Bashar Assad is coming out on top now.” (Do I really have to elaborate on how monstrous this statement is? I hope not.) Then I note that he is wearing a Party for Socialism and Liberation pin. This entity (better termed the “Party for Fascism and Dictatorship”) is the central pillar of the ANSWER Coalition. The same ones that actually march with portraits of the war criminal Assad at their hypocritical “anti-war” rallies.

A few minutes later, two young folks come along, take my leaflet and start to argue with me. They see our “PROTECT IDLIB” sign and immediately start with the imperialism-baiting: “Who do you think should protect Idlib? Do you support US intervention?”

I reply that with massive Russian intervention having already cost countless thousands of lives, and 3 million people in Idlib preparing for a massacre with the threatened Assad-Putin invasion of the province, this priority is somewhat mis-placed.

“But US intervention always makes everything worse,” comes the retort (despite the fact that I’d said nothing in defense of US intervention).

I start to explain that with a half million dead and 12 million displaced and cities in ruins, making your central concern a mere hypothetical is again an extremely mis-placed priority. Then comes the inevitable line about how Idlib is controlled by al-Qaeda (which it is not). Before I can respond, I notice one of them is wearing a pin with the North Korean flag. I say, “OK, that explains things. Never mind.” And I start to walk away.

The guy with the pin follows me, tries to keep arguing, baiting me for finding a “childish” excuse to avoid him. I say, “That’s OK, we have nothing to talk about. I have no responsibility to engage you. Move on.” Then he gets threatening. He gets right in my face—and I do mean right in my damn face, nose-to-nose, giving me a classic glower. “Wouldn’t you love to take a swing at me?” he says. “Not my style,” I respond. “Move on.”

Then he ups the ante: “I’d love to take swing at you.” Being my bad-ass self, I don’t flinch (despite the fact that the guy was a head taller than me and half my age), and we stood there eyeballing each other for a few tense seconds. Then his friend says “C’mon, man,” and starts pulling him away. Before he goes, he actually does take a swing at me—but intentionally misses, and just knocks my hat off.

As his friend drags him off, I call after them, “Now we know what you stand for—bullying and thuggery.”

He responds as he walks off, “You called me a thug!” (Which I actually didn’t.) “What are you gonna do, call the cops? White piece of shit!” (He was himself of indeterminate ethnicity, presumably not white.)

OK, it was a tactical error for me to use the word “thuggery” given how the word “thug” has become loaded in American discourse. But the thuggery I was thinking of (as should have been clear from context) was that of the mass-murdering regimes this fool supports. Does he even grasp how ironic his cop-baiting was?

And sure enough this goon turns out to be a fellow traveller (at the very least) of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Some online digging revealed a video of him speaking at a PSL event extolling the Cuban regime (better that than North Korea!). At one point in the video, he is identified as “Ron.”

Just as our vigil was ending, folks were starting to gather in the square for the Black Lives Matter rally that had been called over the case of Botham Jean, the Black man killed by a police officer while sitting in his own apartment in Dallas. I stuck around for that—and was demoralized to see that both PSL and the People’s Power Assemblies (front for Workers World, the ultra-reactionary sect that PSL broke off from a few years back) had flooded the event with their mass-produced placards. As usual, plenty of people who didn’t know any better took them and held them. They read “ABOLISH THE POLICE” and “JAIL KILLER COPS.”

These slogans from factions that openly support a regime whose security forces have literally killed hundreds of thousands.

And nobody will recognize that we have a real, serious problem here.

This is what we get for taking a stand against the bombing of civilians. Not only baseless baiting that we are pro-war (a perverse enough irony). Not only threats. But that evening, actual violence.

Please share this widely. I want the bully who knocked my hat off to see this. And I have a special message for the Party for Socialism and Liberation: Call off your goon. We will not be intimidated.

And I also have a message to my (former?) comrades in War Resisters League, with whom I have intermittently worked for going on 30 years, to support nonviolent resistance forces in Colombia, in ex-Yugoslavia, in Iraq. They have never once sent a representative to stand with us in Union Square for the civil resistance forces in Syria, despite numerous invitations. And they are now blocking me on Facebook over my protests of their signing on to demonstrations with ANSWER and their ilk—again, and again, and again, and again.  I want my “pacifist” (former?) comrades to know exactly who they are dealing with when they (shamefully) continue to sign on to events with ANSWER and related factions.

What do you have to say for yourselves, PSL? WRL? I’m waiting to hear from you.

Photo: Syria Solidarity NYC via Facebook