Syria, European Pseudo-Leftists, and Žižek
by Leil-Zahra Mortada for their blog
12 November 2013 (original post no longer available)
It is important for social movements and revolutionaries to communicate, debate, and discuss what is happening in the world and in their respective movements. This is what true solidarity is all about. But communication shouldn’t be a simplex circuit, it shouldn’t be one-directional, or else it will be another form of political colonialism and cultural superiority! Communication should be interactive and opinions should be informed.
I was a bit disappointed when I read Žižek’s article on Syria. It is true that the people in Syria have no excuse for not making a revolution, but compassion is a virtue. Maybe if “comrade” Žižek could’ve taken the time to scribble them a manual of “Revolution 101″ they could’ve been brought to their senses. Possibly a syllabus of recommended readings? Žižek has a lot to teach the people in Syria and Egypt! The European left as a whole has much to share. I mean, Europe has been revolting for decades and the victories of the European left are a source of global envy. Žižek himself has stood atop the barricades and put a stake in the heart of neoliberalism in his own country.
If only the people in Syria could read Žižek! Only then they’d see how mistaken they have been. They’d see that revolution is not about survival. It is not about teaching your kids that their life does matter despite the international silence that hollowly echoes the atrocities they have been witnessing for over three years – let alone the terror of the decades before. Revolution is not about reminding yourself and those around you that it is okay to continue living though your friends are either killed or are being tortured in detention camps as we speak. Revolution is not about carving the walls of your city with “Down with the Regime” knowing that you are not only risking your life, but also the lives of your family members. Revolution is not about making a song that resonates in the voices of hundreds of thousands across the country, then have the regime forces slit your throat open and distribute a celebratory video of your dead body.
Revolution is not about women taking to the streets after hearing the constant stories of gang rapes of both men and women by Assad’s thugs. Revolution is not about thinking how to get food to besieged towns and villages. Revolution is not a small activist group working to deliver/smuggle vaccines to counter the outbreak of polio in northern Syria. Revolution is not about all the creative direct actions in Damascus.
Revolution is not about the Local Coordination Committees (LCCs) organizing and working under bombardments, detentions, shortage of basic needs, the Assad regime, Islamic fundamentalism, and constant pressure to prove that they are “revolutionary enough.” Revolution is not about not-writing leftist communiques because your people are refugees jumping on the first ship to sink, and you don’t have the time nor the energy to prove to Europe that you are “revolutionary enough.”
Revolution is not about dreaming and plotting about the future while all you see around is hunger, pain and death. Revolution is not about still believing that another Syria is possible despite Assad, the Islamic fundamentalists, international meddling, and international hypocrisy; plus the constant reproach of the European/international left. Revolution is not what Syria is doing. This is what Žižek wants us to know.
I wonder if Žižek made the effort to google for an hour or two before he wrote his opinion. If he bothered to check the hashtag #Syria on Twitter while he is waiting for his turn to speak on some academic conference. I wonder if he tried to get the contacts of Syrian activists and rebels for some firsthand accounts on what is happening while he is on his way from his hotel to his BBC interview. Or maybe he acted like a revolutionary would and headed there on a solidarity field trip, or maybe volunteered for a week or two at a refugee camp in Turkey and recorded all the “social theories” he’d witnessed there! Maybe then he could’ve read Kafr Nabl’s banners that would put him to the shame he deserves. Maybe then he could’ve relayed to the European left the communiques of some LCCs; or maybe the photos of the courageous media collective “Lens of a Young Homsi,” or those of “Lens of a Young Woman on a Summer Vacation.” He could’ve heard of the Spray Guy, or the smuggling of tape-recorders into governmental buildings in Damascus which then blasted revolutionary chants from within. People would’ve told him about Damascus waking up to find the fountains in its squares spilling red water in protest against massacres committed by the regime. If Žižek took the time to use Google he could’ve heard about the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression and its detainees; he could’ve read about the Violations Documentation Center in Syria and the inspiring work of Razan Zaitouneh.
There are so many names and groups and organizations to come across. It is easy to see how much revolutionary work is being done. If only he could’ve just gone through the names of the detainees and what they were doing before getting arrested! I wonder if he ever heard the name Bassel Shehadeh. I wonder if he spoke to some of the activists or refugees which can be found all over European streets, before he decided that Christians (such an ignorant generalization) are siding with the regime. Yet Žižek decided, without the slightest respect for the lives of those killed, to flamboyantly diss a whole uprising! He had the “leftist” audacity to sit on his European academic pedestal and wipe these people off the revolutionary map.
It is quite impressive how many Europeans feel entitled to dictate to other people what they should or should not do. I don’t remember Tunisian leftists telling the Occupy movement what to do. I don’t remember texts from Bahrain telling Acampada Barcelona that what they are doing is not changing a thing. It is only Europeans and North Americans that feel that it is perfectly normal for them to judge and intervene in the smallest details of other political movements, to tell the world how to talk and where to walk, without doing the research necessary to develop an informed perspective.
Žižek laid out misinformed and misrepresented “facts” about Syria; he did the same with Egypt. To consider that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt were ever “surprised impassive observers” shows great ignorance. When were they “surprised impassive observers”? When they met with Omar Suleiman even before Mubarak stepped down? Or when they were playing on various fronts sending their youth to Tahrir Square while they were striking deals with SCAF? Or when they were actively supporting and defending the same military regime that is killing them now? To consider that the “agents of Tahrir Square” are passively supporting the crimes of the military is another blatant sign of being out of touch with revolutionary reality. Or maybe it is all built on what is coming out in the European mainstream media?
Activist groups and revolutionaries in Egypt, despite having suffered the brutality of Morsi’s regime, have been actively and loudly denouncing Sisi’s massacres. They too are worn out from the immense revolutionary weight, yet are still carrying out the not-so-glamorous tasks of dealing with detainees, military trials, the injured, housing problems, families of martyrs, sectarian violence, attacks on civil liberties, the writing of the constitution, attacks on women’s bodies and rights…the list could go on longer than Žižek’s scheduled appearances and magazine covers. They are working day and night to stop the further division of their society, to fight against the stigmatization of even their enemies (Muslim Brotherhood) so that they can build a country where a woman can’t be arrested and tortured for wearing a veil and protesting for someone she believes was the democratically elected president. Even if this ex-president has blood on his hands and favored neoliberal economical policies.
The same way Europe is obsessed with secularism, it is obsessed with “democracy.” But did anyone stop and ask the European illuminatis what democracy they are talking about? Votes bought with sugar and flour “donations”? Or the political affiliation paid for with medicines for those who can’t afford a loaf of bread? Or the democracy that is built on fueling sectarian violence and telling people that voting for one party would make you a better Muslim? The democracy that made the votes for Morsi modern-day indulgences!
Žižek then moves to reduce popular dissent and rebellion against Mubarak to “predominantly the revolt of the educated middle class, with the poor workers and farmers reduced to the role of (sympathetic) observers.” Does anyone truly believe that the middle class (to which I belong) is capable of holding up nonstop on the barricades for days and nights? Does anyone really believe that if it wasn’t for the youngsters from Egypt’s slums and their bravery on the front lines, the middle class could’ve ousted Mubarak? Does anyone really believe that without the Bedouins in Sinai, the workers in various factories, the strikes and the workers descending on the square, any of this would’ve been possible? Do people truly still believe that this all happened thanks to Twitter and Facebook? Of course activists from the middle class played an important role in this, but it was in no way more important than those from the crushed classes of society. Go over the names of the martyrs, the names of the injured and the names of the detainees, and scan their economic backgrounds, then come talk about the poor being “sympathetic observers.”
Žižek’s article is the perfect example of every European leftist (prick) sitting in some bar drinking beer and talking about entire populations fighting in ways he only saw in books and movies. The story of our lives, immigrants in Europe. His/their portrayal of the options we have as A) supporting Assad or B) supporting the Islamists is the typical and historical mistake of large swathes of the European left. With all his/their “social theory” expertise they didn’t come across options C), D), E), F), and the numerous combinations thereof. It is like talking about the USA and saying that the only two options we have, as radical leftists, are between the Republicans and the Democrats, completely dropping the extensive network of activist groups who are doing inspiring work. Since when did we measure European activism according to the major political forces on the scene? Yes, superficially these are two options we have, but not if we did our revolutionary homework and looked for people who are too busy getting up every morning to face both A) and B) instead of sitting at their computers and writing letters of self-validation to the European left.
But of course, it is the duty of Syrian leftists to clarify these issues for the European Left. I mean, “comrade” Žižek and other “comrades” are busy setting the EU on fire, attacking US military bases! World Bank headquarters are under siege, and immigrants are welcomed into the fortress by revolutionary committees! Makes sense that they are too busy to google Syria.
It is important for social movements and revolutionaries to communicate, debate, and discuss what is happening in the world and in their respective movements. This is what true solidarity is all about. But communication shouldn’t be a simplex circuit, it shouldn’t be one-directional, or else it will be another form of political colonialism and cultural superiority! Communication should be interactive and opinions should be informed. It should be based on equality, on built and informed trust, and on respect. Unfortunately this is not what is happening. All the effort is being put into condescending patriarchal lecturing and continuous discrediting, ignorant yet firm. What is happening in the majority of the European (& academic) Left these days? Nothing really special, except that Lady Gaga is one step closer to becoming the world’s new superpower while its competitors are eagerly weakening each other.