Syria and the Euro-Leftist Double Impotency
by Leil-Zahra Mortada for their blog
2013 (original post no longer available)
Since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, many radical leftist groups and networks, both on the international and local levels in Europe and around the world, have engaged in a heated debate on whether to support the revolution or not, and whether it was a revolution or an imperialist conspiracy.
The European counterargument against the revolution had a quite telling approach that was different from many in the rest of the world. It wasn’t just the usual claim that the Assad regime is one of the last standing anti-imperialist forces. That claim became weaker in Europe after the aggravation of the regime crimes accompanied with hard-to-deny evidence of its brutality continuously coming out from Syria. But many within the European left over and over affirmed that they will not support what is happening in Syria until they find revolutionary forces worthy of their support. The difference in approach was in the claim that there was no third option that is “revolutionary” and that poses a substitute to both the Assad regime and the Islamist militias.
This approach wasn’t only problematic in its privileged laziness in not doing the needed effort to find these networks in Syria, but also in its White-tailored presets for what is a “better future” for the Syrians. This is the cliché and banal dichotomy of Secular vs. Islamist, something very reminiscent of Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations.” It also bears a certain condescending patronization of who is worthy of demanding an end to a certain terrorist regime and who is not. This is a very dangerous approach. It is a clear double-standard in the alleged radical leftist agenda, and a quite repugnant one.
Any people, whether we agree with them or not, who are living under such an oppressive and violent regime, have the right to overthrow it. Whether they have a plan that meets our aspirations on what is to come next or not, it is their full right and own choice to rebel. We can be critical and actively disagree with their agenda, but we should never justify or whitewash the crimes of the regime against them. Refusing to support certain anti-regime actions or groups that do not meet our politics is needed and important, but this should not be mistaken for support to the regime forces or as undermining rebellious efforts of other groups and individuals.
This is not problematic on the Syrian question only. It is a clear call for reflection on the mentality and approach of a big section of the European left. This is where the debate is urgently needed: around the strictly Eurocentric definition of the world, of politics, and even of revolution itself. The European left has made a brand out of Revolution. It was taken under a European copyright and it gets bestowed on some and denied to others. It is given and could be taken away. Alas!
With over 170 days of siege on the El-Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, and over thirty people there murdered by regime forces with the weapon of starvation, Assad’s credibility as a pro-Palestine leader crumbled. It is no longer easy to justify his crimes against El-Yarmouk, nor paint him as the Palestine-loving fairy. It became harder and harder for people to look the other way.
The humanitarian approach was gaining ground before the revolutionary agenda. While El-Yarmouk suffered for a pretty long time, and its rebellious residents joined the revolution very early on, it took starvation and the usual postcard of dying children to get the world’s attention; especially the world of Palestine-solidarity networks in Europe and beyond. Starvation can’t be justified as a bomb that allegedly took a wrong turn, nor could it be blamed on certain anti-regime militias. It was no longer easy to keep the eyes closed!
Though this only undermined one of Assad’s PR points, it still didn’t provoke the needed reaction. The Palestinian refugees in the El-Yarmouk camp, like many Syrians, are dying of hunger. The regime is using starvation as a weapon. Clear? Now action is needed!
The denial of life-saving medicines and vaccines is also being used as a weapon. For example, Polio vaccines are denied or given in amounts much less than the needed ones to zones out of the regime control. This is not a matter of UNICEF-style activism of sick children on a postcard, as some claim. And it is not a matter of the World Health Organization taking its responsibilities and duties seriously, then putting the funds it has into action. It is further evidence, just like the refugee question, of the corruption of the international relief agencies. On the amount of money wasted on diplomatic and bureaucratic protocols that are respected more than life itself.
Health is being used as a weapon, as a repressive measure that is destroying the lives of many and will most probably leave life-long devastating impacts. There is a revolutionary obligation to actively put an end to this, and as soon as possible. This is in no way different than fighting against a nuclear-power facility or a multinational that endangers the lives of many and those of future generations (except maybe in its especially pressing urgency).
Much of the European left’s counterargument against the revolution was demanding proof from the Syrians on their worthiness of support, asking them to demonstrate that they are “revolutionary enough.” Maybe it was never put so bluntly, but that is the essence of it. It was never enough that there are people dying, and that there are thousands in detention camps; it was never enough that the population is being forced into murderous exodus or being deprived of basic needs. The European left wanted its “revolutionaries.” They continuously negated the presence of any substantial forces fighting the regime and posing an option other than religious fundamentalism.
Now news is hitting international fronts on Syrian activists kidnapped by Islamist forces. There is no more hiding the division between the Islamist militias and the revolutionary groups in the anti-Assad camp. This division made it crystal clear that there are voices who are fighting both, that there are people who are a threat to Assad and to the Islamists. The threats-turned-attacks of the Islamists against many activists within the anti-Assad camp undermines the oversimplified binary of Assad vs. Islamists.
The “third option” paid for the spotlight dearly, with threats to their lives. The voices from local committees and grassroots networks denouncing both the Assad regime and the Islamists trying to hijack the revolution intensified in the recent period. It is now much harder to ignore and marginalize them, let alone claim they don’t exist and that it is only Al-Qaeda militias on the horizon.
They have names and their photos are circulating on the Internet: activists who are either detained/kidnapped by the regime or by the Islamists. The press releases and communiques of grassroots organizations concerning these detentions/kidnappings, and the violations of both the regime and the Islamists are available, and are either translated or awaiting translation (hint hint). The European left is as always invited to email these networks and communicate with them. It is a chance to get to know them, to hear their stories, and to listen to what they have to say… then decide!
Once again, it is not the duty nor the obligation of the Syrians to explain themselves to the world. They have enough on their hands to deal with, they are leading a double-revolution. A revolution against the Assad regime, and a revolution against the Islamists attempting to take over. A revolution to overthrow a regime, and a revolution to fight another repressive regime in the making. A double revolution with all what it entails of fighting sieges, lack of basic needs; its injured, its refugees, bombs, armed militias, detentions, torture, kidnappings, lack of freedom of movement, crackdown on freedoms in both the regime areas and the Islamist-controlled ones, desperation…etcetera.
These individuals don’t only have to worry about what is happening in Syria and their own lives but carry the weight of what is happening to Syrian refugees all over. The Syrian people are not only being killed in Syria! They are being devastated, sometimes to death, in Jordan and in Egypt, hunted down in Lebanon, drowning on the shores of Italy and Greece, and suffering at the Moroccan borders with the Spanish State.
Here is your proof, signed with detention reports and kidnapping news. Here is the list of names for your revolutionary talent show. Here are your revolutionaries denouncing and criticizing both Assad and the religious fundamentalists. Here are the people who you claimed over and over do not exist, the attacks they are now suffering took them into a whole new level of attention. You can no longer hide in your weakness claiming there is no one to talk to and no one to work with. Not that this lame excuse ever stood ground!
Even if this was not a revolution, even if this was “just a civil war,” there is still much to do. Even if this was “just a Syrian issue,” something “for them to work out,” there is still much to do. Syrians are at the borders of Europe. Syrians are dragging their injured and waiting with bleeding bodies at the borders of Europe. The last phrase is not an attempt at a poetic sentence. It is the crude and graphic reality! Syrian families are with their injured awaiting access into Europe with literally open and bleeding wounds that require urgent medical attention. Syrians are freezing to death in refugee camps, while international relief agencies organize endless conferences, and while governments make one useless PR maneuver after the other. This is not a “Syrian issue,” this is Fortress Europe and the dominant North at its best. This is no longer about Syria only, this is about the system we repeatedly claim to fight.
There is so much to be done. And it is not charity we are talking about, nor the corrupting relief mentality. It is radical and revolutionary work that is needed. It is stepping out of the narrow Eurocentric vision of semantics into political action. It is not only Assad and the Islamists who are killing the Syrian people, it is international systems like the EU border regime and the international relief mafias to name but a few. This is not about Syria, and this is not “just a faraway civil war.” They are dying right here, on EU borders, and they are in EU immigrant detention camps.
If it is not for Syria, and out of belief in the Syrian revolution, or even in the right for every people, whether they meet our shades of color or not, to rebel, it should be out of coherence with our political beliefs. Our fight on the EU front is needed. This is a people who has risen against a brutal dictatorship, only to see that they have a whole world to overcome. A world of international meddling, whether in the form of Islamist militias, or international relief, or leftist patronization. A world of closed borders and complicit governments that once again put their profit over life. A world of apathy. This is what the Syrians and the Palestinians in Syria are facing. Questions that are not only related to Syria, but related to international and intertwined local struggles.
Today it is harder than ever for the European left to claim that the anti-Assad camp is void of people who fit the Eurocentric and classist definition of people worthy of solidarity. They are there, and their names and faces are all over the place. It is also hard to deny that there is a force seen as a threat by both Assad and the Islamists. It also became hard to push Syria into faraway geographic oblivion since Syria is now right here drowning at EU borders.
What remains to be seen is how the European left will react now that it has fewer and fewer excuses to justify its revolutionary impotence not just on Syria, but on its own fronts that are also implicated in the Syrian question.