Have Islamists Hijacked Syria’s Democratic Revolution?

by Pham Binh on April 1, 2013

As the Syrian revolution progresses, support for it abroad among Marxists recedes.

The Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) is not alone in trading its support for the revolution for “a plague on both your houses” neutrality. The Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) made an almost identical shift, albeit theirs seems to be based on smears and falsehoods about the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rather than an all-sided assessment of the contradictions of the Syrian opposition. Although neither group is terribly influential, the essentials of the narrative both have adopted about Syria is the predominant one among progressives in the West thanks to outlets like The Nation, Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, MRZine Online, MondoweissGlobal Research, Black Agenda Report, Jacobin, among many others.

From Self-Defense to Jihad?

The shift to the right among Marxists parallels the evolution of petty-bourgeois Arab intellectuals such as Jadiliya who supported Syria’s peaceful demonstrators but recoiled in fear when these same demonstrators grew tired of being cut down by machine gun fire and took up arms to defend themselves. If the revolution’s unavoidable militarization repelled these intellectuals, the militarized revolution’s “Islamization” repelled Marxists like AWL, CWI, and As’ad AbuKhalil, the Angry (but not intelligent) Arab.

Underlying these shifts is the question of method.

How do we determine when a struggle’s political and class content changes from being progressive and worth supporting into its opposite, into something unworthy of support? When does quantity (the number of reactionary forces like Islamist extremists or salafis) become quality (the predominance of these forces smothers the revolution’s democratic character)? What role do Islamist forces play in the Syrian revolution, how dominant are they, and how have they altered the revolution’s political physiogomy?

These are important questions that AWL raises explicitly and answers earnestly. Although AWL’s answers conflate worst-case possibilities with existing realities, they deserve credit for approaching the Syrian revolution in this manner instead of using each new development to vindicate a fixed party line. Historical materialism is not about having the right answers; rather, it is about asking the right questions and then vigorously interrogating the available facts and evidence to formulate provisional conclusions that can serve as a guide to action.

A four-point resolution passed by AWL’s National Committee states the following:

1. We oppose the brutal war being waged against the Syrian people by the Ba’thist state.

2. We are for freedom, democracy, women’s and workers’ rights, and democratic rights for Syria’s national minorities. We are for the right of Kurdish self-determination, including the right of Syria’s Kurdish areas to secede.

3. We oppose all manifestations of Islamism amongst the Syrian political opposition and rebel militias. Given the fragmented and often and [sic] increasingly religiously radical nature of the opposition, a victory for the opposition against the state is likely to lead to ethnic cleansing and warlordism as Syria descends into chaos and breaks apart.

We specifically back democratic and working-class elements.

We will avoid, in our slogans and propaganda, any idea that a victory for one or some of the currently powerful opposition militias against the Ba’thists will be a positive step forward.

4. As a consequence, while maintaining our right to criticise and our political independence, we will not necessarily denounce a political agreement between the Ba’thists and the rebels that avoids the collapse of Syrian society into warlordism.

AWL’s resolution appears beneath the text of an article entitled “Deadlock in Syria” that provides some flesh to the bare-bones reasoning contained in the resolution.

According to AWL, there was a qualitative change in the Syrian revolution’s political character during 2012 with the rise of Islamist forces:

“The rebellion began in March 2011 with street demonstrations mostly expressing a non-sectarian, secular, and democratic impulse. But initiative and power in the anti-Assad movement has increasingly passed into the hands of Sunni-Islamist militias funded by Saudi Arabia or Qatar, or led by jihadists from outside the country who have entered Syria to join the conflict.

“[W]hen the mass of opposition opinion was able to express itself, in the early demonstrations, it was mainly secular, non-sectarian, and democratic. There may be small groups within the opposition of a democratic and working-class character. They are the people with the key to the future. But Syria’s working class has been atomised and suppressed by the Ba’thist dictatorship for generations. If those democratic and working-class groups exist, we don’t know about them.”

The most serious problem with this characterization is that the peaceful, secular-democratic mass demonstrations AWL lauds never ceased. Every week for over two years Syrians have defied airstrikes, snipers, shelling, and snitches to peacefully demonstrate against the regime in war zones (Aleppo) and regime strongholds (Damascus) alike. Footage of daily demonstrations is uploaded to YouTube on channels such as SyrianDaysOfRage and Souria2011archives.

Have the slogans changed? Of course. Chants of “the people demand the downfall of the regime” and “get out Bashar” are now mixed with demands for arms, condemnations of the international community for fiddling while Syria burns, expressions of faith such as “God is great,” and, occasionally, Islamist chants like “the people want the declaration of Jihad” or “the Ummah wants an Islamic Caliphate.” Marchers often wave the black flag of Islam alongside the pre-Ba’athist flag of the revolution.

Revolutionary, Islamic, and Kurdish flags
are flown together in Aleppo on March 19, 2013.

This where AWL’s condemnation of “all manifestations of Islamism” leads them astray, as if proclaiming the greatness of Allah in and of itself is a demand for a Saudi-style Caliphate rather than “the sigh of the oppressed creature” and “the spirit of spiritless conditions.” Union soldiers marched to their deaths battling the Confederacy with God on their lips as they sang the “Battle Hymn of the Republic;” would we characterize these soldiers politically as Billy Graham-style Christian conservatives? Similarly, mosques and Friday prayers have been irreplaceable vehicles for mobilizing the masses to demonstrate for freedom in the Libyan, Egyptian, Yemeni, Syrian, and Bahraini revolutions – do these count as “manifestations of Islamism” to be condemned and combated rather than encouraged and developed?

AWL’s resolution is vague precisely where it needs to be explicit and sweeping where it needs to be nuanced.

Crying out “God is great” as the Assad regime bombs Aleppo University and attacks civilian neighborhoods with Scud missiles is akin to saying “oh my God” as the Twin Towers crumbled on September 11, 2001 – it is a universal, human reaction to wanton death and destruction. Assad loyalists scream “we give our lives for you, oh Bashar” as they fight in addition to psychologically torturing captured revolutionaries into saying blasphemous phrases such as “Assad is great” (the U.S. employed similar tactics at Guantanamo Bay). Shouting “God is great” in response is not simply an affirmation of faith, it is a statement of resistance, of defiance, of allegiance to a power higher and greater than a miserable bloodthirsty dictator who ruled Syria with God-like authority over morality, law, economics, politics, religious matters, the public sphere, the private sphere, and life and death.

khilafah

The “Islamization” of the Syrian uprising in 2012 was the result of two factors: the increasingly desperate and brutal nature of the armed struggle on the one hand and the historically unprecedented international isolation of the revolution on the other. While Western imperialists refused to arm the FSA, the Islamist Gulf states armed their ideological counterparts. While foreign leftists poured over rumors of imperialist intervention that never materialized, hundreds of foreign Islamists poured onto the battlefield to fight the regime. Given this, it should be no surprise that revolutionary Syrians prefer to sing songs honoring Allah and his devout followers at their demonstrations instead of the International.

The longer and more agonizing the overthrow of Assad, the more martyrs there will be; the more martyrs there are, the greater the revolution’s religious overtones; the greater the religious overtones, the greater the influence of Islamists. This tendency will hold true unless and until states and/or grassroots organizations abroad deliver aid to secular-democratic forces such as the FSA or the Local Coordinating Committees (LCCs), providing them with the resources to compete with the Islamists for mass influence. Only deeds can tilt the balance of forces in Syria away from the Islamists towards the “democratic and working-class elements” AWL “specifically back[s].”

Understanding how previously marginal Islamist forces – extremist salafis, conservatives, and moderates – became prominent players is the precondition for discerning how dominant they are today and assessing whether they have successfully hijacked the democratic revolution.

Sectarianism: What Is Possible versus What Is Real?

AWL correctly notes the “increasingly religiously radical nature of the opposition” and that “initiative and power in the anti-Assad movement has increasingly passed into the hands of Sunni-Islamist militias funded by Saudi Arabia or Qatar, or led by jihadists from outside the country.” However, the conclusion drawn from these accurate observations – that “a victory for the opposition against the state is likely to lead to ethnic cleansing and warlordism as Syria descends into chaos and breaks apart” – does not follow. To talk about Syria’s descent into warlordism, ethnic cleansing, and partition after the regime’s inevitable demise is to engage in nightmarish speculation. Lenin warned such an approach, arguing that “in assessing a given situation, a Marxist must proceed not from what is possible, but from what is real.”

civil

“There are only 2 sects in #Syria: Those who support freedom and those who support the regime. We want a civil and democratic country for all.”

In the past two years, there have been no sectarian massacres except those committed by the regime and its supporters against Syria’s (and the revolution’s) Sunni majority. Revolutionary Syria is not occupied Iraq. Despite the regime’s relentless propaganda campaign to demonize the opposition as sectarian and genocidal towards non-Sunnis and despite massacres by Assad’s forces of Sunnis at Houla, Aleppo, Al-Qubair, Zamlaka in Damascus, and Arbaeen in Hama, the opposition has not retaliated against Christian, Druze, Kurdish, Alawi, or Ismaili communities as Iraq’s Shia death squads retaliated against Sunni civilians after Al-Qaeda’s massive car bombings of Shia markets and squares. This is not to deny that sectarianism is an ongoing problem for and a constant danger to the revolution. However, the regime’s failure to spark a sectarian cycle of violence by repeatedly massacring of Sunni civilians shows that, although the opposition is disproportionately Sunni, its aspirations remain national rather than confessional in nature. If AWL was correct in claiming the opposite, would representatives of the Alawi community meet in Cairo to call for Assad’s downfall, assert that “this revolution is for all Syrians,” and appeal to Alawi military personnel to mutiny?

The Assad regime was built on a sectarian basis to withstand exactly the kind a popular uprising that is now underway. Given this starting point, what is remarkable about the Syrian revolution is not its sectarianism but its anti-sectarianism, its dogged refusal to play into Assad’s hands and allow the regime to pose as the last line of defense for minority faiths. The masses have become too conscious, too politically enlightened, have shed too much blood, and have struggled too hard for too long for the revolution’s lofty ideals to debase themselves by falling for the regime’s divide-and-rule schemes. That is why they voted by the thousands for “There Will Be No Sectarian State in Syria” to be the slogan of all the Friday protests held across the country on March 8, 2013 (a full list of the Friday protest slogans can be found in the Appendix).

How Dominant Are the Islamists?

AWL’s dire post-revolutionary forecasts do not appear to be based on a careful analysis of the 68 towns and cities that have been liberated from regime control. These areas are ruled by a (sometimes overlapping and competing) patchwork of civilian and military councils, only some of which have a pronounced Islamist character. In Idlib, Islamists were frozen out of the civilian leadership bodies. In Kafranbel, a town famous for its humorous and sharp slogans attacking Assad, the international community, and at times even the opposition’s exiled leadership, the local council is drafting a secular constitution to create an interim civilian legal authority. In Aleppo, a coalition of salafi, conservative, and moderate Islamists have formed a judiciary called Hayaa al-Sharia to combat criminality and arbitrate disputes among the population. Thus far, Hayaa al-Sharia has not acted in a sectarian manner by persecuting members of minority communities, and the same is true of the Islamist judiciary bodies that have sprung up elsewhere in the country. When self-appointed Islamists authorities have acted to repress women or political opponents, they have met resistance in the form of peaceful protests, a kind of revolution within the revolution. They have generally relented and released whomever they arrested instead of using deadly force against demonstrators.

Syria Map

Studying areas where opposition militias have been victorious over the regime reveals a picture that has nothing in common with the bleak predictions of AWL. Instead of a Taliban-style salafi dystopia rife with sectarian killings, persecution of minority religious and national groups, and apolitical warlordism, liberated areas are governed fairly effectively by a mix of secular and Islamist elements, the latter of which range from moderate to conservative. Even in areas such as Aleppo where conservative Islamists are strongest, their predominance is contested at best and contingent upon the extreme and unusual conditions created by the revolution.

Kafpece

Despite their vanguard role on the battlefield, Islamist chants and slogans at demonstrations calling for a Caliphate are not terribly popular. Proposed Islamist slogans for the weekly Friday protests such as “Armies of Islam: Rescue Syria” are regularly defeated by thousands-strong majority votes. Here, it is important to draw a distinction between religious terminology and Islamist politics (a distinction Islamists prefer to blur); “God Is Great” is not a political program whereas “Islam Is the Answer” strongly suggests one. As the Assad regime stepped up its murderous repression in 2012, the Friday slogans became increasingly religious (invoking the name of Allah and appealing to the ummah for help) but not Islamist (advocating Sharia law, a Caliphate, or jihad). Revolutionary Syrians respect the fearless heroism of the mujahadeen on the battlefield but do not look to them for leadership on the political field or for ideas about good governance.

To sum up: the hijackers may be on board the plane but they are not in the cockpit and do not have their hands on the controls.

Does the Revolution Still Have Progressive or Democratic Content Despite the Islamists?

AWL’s conclusion that it can support neither side in Syria’s civil war proceeds from the assumption that both sides are equally reactionary from the consistently democratic standpoint of the working class, that the choice between Assad’s tyranny and Islamist tyranny is no choice at all.

This equivalence is false and not only because liberated areas are far from being Islamist tyrannies. One side in the Syrian civil war tortures children, the other does not; one side murders and tortures peaceful demonstrators, the other does not; one side drops bombs on universities and fires Scud missiles at civilian neighborhoods, the other does not; one side massacres hundreds of civilians of a particular sect, the other does not; one side relies on fear and terror to keep its troops from defecting, the other does not.

Acknowledging that one side of this war is progressive does not mean that all the forces and people fighting on that side are candidates for sainthood or guaranteed to be free of reactionary agendas. It does not mean that the progressive side of this war is free of unjust executions, torture, beheadings, looting, banditry, and sectarian tendencies. It simply means that the interests of working people and democracy demands the victory of the Syrian opposition, however tainted and corrupted by Islamist extremists it may be. The choice today in Syria is not between the lesser of two evils but between good and evil, progress and reaction, revolution and counter-revolution, democratism and barbarism, and socialists have a duty to ensure by any and all means that the right side wins even if tomorrow’s enemy is temporarily on the same side as us today.

As the regime collapses, the struggle between fascism and democracy, between tyranny and freedom gives way to a new struggle over the democratic content and boundaries of that freedom. When the battle for democracy becomes superseded by the battle of democracy, this is the beginning of the second stage of the democratic revolution. Only during this second stage will the extent and depth of the democratic revolution’s corruption and distortion by anti-democratic forces like Jabhat al-Nusrah be revealed, and an armed struggle to crush and expunge them is inevitable if they try to replace Assad’s despotism with their own.

It is during this second stage that the real fight over the rights of women, minority faiths and nationalities, workers, and free expression will begin. This battle will split the Islamist camp, pitting salafis like Jabhat al-Nusrah who oppose free elections against moderates like Muslim Brotherhood who support them. There can be no question of neutrality in this second stage of the revolution just as there should no question of neutrality in its current, first stage. AWL’s failure to distinguish between semi-political Muslims, moderate and conservative Islamists, and extremist salafis is a failure to anticipate the central fault line that is already emerging in liberated areas and will become even more pronounced as the regime is uprooted and destroyed city by city, block by block, soldier by soldier.

Act Now, Save Syria

Only by doing all that we can now during the revolution’s first stage, no matter how small it might seem in the big scheme of things, can we hope to influence the outcome of the revolution’s second stage so that Syria’s workers, women, and minority groups are in the best position possible to organize and fight for their interests against bosses, patriarchs, national chauvinists, and reactionary clerics. Retreating into neutrality now because heavily armed bearded men are increasingly prominent on the battlefield today is to turn our backs on the revolution, and with it, the only chance the Syrian people have for free and better lives tomorrow.

 

Appendix

 

Protest No.

Slogan (“Friday of…”)

Date (d/m/yy)

126

The Champions of the Coast Are Coming

9/8/13

125

If Allah Gives You Victory Then No One Can Defeat You

2/8/13

124

The Sword of Allah

26/7/13

123

Ramadan: Month of Victory

19/7/13

122

Until We Change Ourselves

12/7/13

121

Be Aware and Wakeup Oh Brigades

5/7/13

120

Onfire Revolution and Debilitating Opposition

28/6/13

119

Friday of Victory In Deeds Not Words

21/6/13

118

Safavid [Persian] Project: a Threat to the Nation

14/6/13

117

Ghouta and Qusayr … A Will That Won’t Break

7/6/13

116

The Ideals of the Revolution Are Our Red Lines

31/5/13

115

Charlatan Resistance — Jerusalem Is Not in Homs

24/5/13

114

The Independence of the Syrian Decision

17/5/13

113

Banias: Ethnic Cleansing and International Complicity

10/5/13

112

Syrians Are Being Killed with Your “Red Lines”

3/5/13

111

Protection of the Majority

26/4/13

110

Iran and Hezbollah, You Will be Defeated Along With Assad

19/4/13

109

Syria is Stronger Than Those Who Would Divide It

12/4/13

108

Refugees With Honor and Dignity

5/4/13

107

Giving Glad Tidings to Those Who are Patient

29/3/13

106

Your Chemical Weapons Will Not Halt
Our Progress Towards Freedom

22/3/13

105

Two Years of Struggle and
Our Revolution’s Victory is Near

15/3/13

104

There will be No Sectarian State in Syria

8/3/13

103

One Nation. One Flag. One Fight.

22/2/13

102

Proud Al Raqqa on the Road to Freedom

22/2/13

101

Allah is Sufficient as a Supporter

15/2/13

100

Remain United

8/2/13

99

The International Community Are Partners in the Massacre

1/2/13

98

Our Leader Forever Prophet Mohammad

25/1/13

97

Revolution Aleppo University: Engineering Martyrdom

18/1/13

96

Refugee Camps of Death

11/1/13

95

Homs Calls on the Free to Stop the Siege

4/1/13

94

Bread and Blood

28/12/12

93

Victory is Written on the Gates of Aleppo

21/12/12

92

There Is No Terrorism in Syria Except that of Assad

14/12/12

91

No to Peacekeeping Forces in Syria

7/12/12

90

Damascus’s Suburbs’ Victory Sign Shall Be Over the Presidential Palace

30/11/12

89

The Time of Victory is Near

23/11/12

88

In Support of the National Coalition

16/11/12

87

It’s Time to March to Damascus

9/11/12

86

Daraya Brothers in Grapes and Blood, Towards International Justice

2/11/12

85

Allah is Greater, Revolution Till Victory

26/10/12

84

America, Your Suspicious Silence is Killing Us

19/10/12

83

The Free Allawites Produce Victory

12/10/12

82

We Want Weapons, not Statements

5/10/12

81

Unifying the Free Syrian Army

28/9/12

80

Those Who the Prophet Loves Are Being Massacred in Syria

21/9/12

79

Idlib Bringing Down Planes and Symbolizing Victory

14/9/12

78

Homs Under Siege Is Calling You

7/9/12

77

Loyalty to Tripoli and the Free Lebanese

31/8/12

76

Daraa Don’t Be Sad, Allah Is with Us

24/8/12

75

Victory With United Free Army

17/8/12

74

Arm Us With Anti-Aircraft Weapons

10/8/12

73

Deir Ezzor Victory Coming from the East

3/8/12

72

Uprising of the Two Capitals

27/7/12

71

Ramadan Victory in Damascus

20/7/12

70

Step Down Annan, Servant of Assad and Iran

13/7/12

69

The Peoples’ Freedom War

6/7/12

68

We Are Sure Allah will Grant Us Victory

29/6/12

67

Governments Let Us Down, Where Are the People?

22/6/12

66

Total Readiness for Full Revolution

15/6/12

65

Rebels and Merchants Hand in Hand Until Victory

8/6/12

64

Houla Children … Victory Flares

1/6/12

63

Damascus, Our Date is Near

25/5/12

62

The Heroes of Aleppo University

18/5/12

61

Victory from Allah and Near Breakthrough

11/5/12

60

Our Salvation Is in Our Sincerity

4/5/12

59

God’s Order Has Come so Don’t Hurry it

27/4/12

58

We Will Be Victorious and Al-Assad Will Be Defeated

20/4/12

57

Revolution for All Syrians

13/4/12

56

Who Has Prepared a Soldier has fought

6/4/12

55

The Arabs and Muslims have Let Us Down

30/3/12

54

Coming to Damascus

23/3/12

53

Immediate Military Intervention

16/3/12

52

Loyalty to the Kurdish Revolution

9/3/12

51

Providing Weapons for the Free Army

2/3/12

50

We Will Revolt for You Baba Amr

24/2/12

49

The People’s Resistance

17/2/12

48

Russia is Killing Our Children

10/2/12

47

Sorry Hama, Forgive Us

3/2/12

46

The Right of Self-Defense

27/1/12

45

Detainees of the Revolution

20/1/12

44

Support of the Free Syrian Army

13/1/12

43

If You Are with God, He Will Grant You Victory

6/1/12

42

Marching Towards Freedom Squares

30/12/11

41

the Protocol of Death

23/12/11

40

the Arab League is Killing Us

16/12/11

39

the Strike of Dignity

9/12/11

38

the Buffer Zone is Our Demand

2/12/11

37

the Free Army Protects Me

25/11/11

36

Expulsion of Ambassadors

18/11/11

35

Freezing Syrian Regime’s Membership [in the Arab League]

11/11/11

34

God is Greater than All Tyrants

4/11/11

33

The No-Fly Zone

28/10/11

32

The Martyr of Arab Grace Period

21/10/11

31

The Free Army

14/10/11

30

The National Council Represents Me

7/10/11

29

Victory to Syria and Yemen

30/9/11

28

The Unity of the Opposition

23/9/11

27

Continuing Until Victory

16/9/11

26

International Protection

9/9/11

25

Death Rather than Humiliation

2/9/11

24

Patience and Persistence

26/8/11

23

Signs of Victory

19/8/11

22

We Will Not Kneel Except to Allah

12/8/11

21

God Is with Us

5/8/11

20

Your Silence Is Killing Us

29/7/11

19

the Descendants of Khalid (ibn Alwalid)

22/7/11

18

Prisoners of Freedom

15/7/11

17

No to Dialogue

8/7/11

16

Leave [Bashar]

1/7/11

15

The Fall of Legitimacy

24/6/11

14

The Honorable

17/6/11

13

The Tribes

10/6/11

12

The Children of Freedom

3/6/11

11

Homeland Protectors [meaning Assad’s army]

27/5/11

10

Azadi [Freedom]

20/5/11

9

Friday for Women

13/5/11

8

Challenge

6/5/11

7

Rage

29/4/11

6

Greatness

22/4/11

5

Insistence

15/4/11

4

Withstand

8/4/11

3

Martyrs

1/4/11

2

Glory

25/3/11

1

Dignity

18/3/11

Sources: Syrian Revolution Martyr Database and Yalla Souriya.

  • Manuel Barrera

    Binh is too generous in alluding to “hijackers” on a plane, but not in the cockpit. While I understand the need to make analogies, doing so here, gives the conservative, psuedo, “anti-imperialists” a pretext to equate “Islamist elements” with more legitimacy as a hardened right wing–Ain’t nobody here know nothin’ ’bout what or what isn’t “islamist” and, more important, who those “elements” really are.

    Moreover, It Does Not Matter! The road to Syrian democracy lies in overthrowing the Despot and opening the way for additional class struggles. Anybody who has a difficulty with that is at best mind-numbingly ignorant; it goes down from there.

    All you so-called pretend anti-imperialists should acquaint yourselves with the easier anti-imperialist “sandbox” and start building the anti-imperialist campaign for Hands Off North Korea! Or, are y’all going to show your conservative backwardness yet again?

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      I thought my choice of words called attention to the kind of Islamophobic-laden crap that passes for intelligent commentary (see for example: http://jacobinmag.com/2012/11/bin-laden-in-syria/)

      However, I disagree with you. It does matter if the salafi and conservative Islamists win the revolutionary majority to their politics and world view, for a lot of reasons. It would 1) do a lot to boost sectarianism 2) play into Assad’s hands and 3) severely damage the content of the democratic revolution now underway. Even in that worst-case scenario, I think it would be possible to argue for supporting the opposition on a lesser evil basis provided that side is not torturing children, killing peaceful protestors, and levelling entire neighborhoods not under their control, but of course such an argument would have to proceed from facts on the ground and not a priori ideology/stance.

      • Manuel Barrera

        I’m sorry, but I cannot agree to speculate what might happen in the fight to end Assad’s despicable regime. THAT’s what does not matter. Sure, if the Arab Spring becomes some movement for a right-wing, political Islamic caliphate throughout the region, that would be bad. So, too, would it be bad if Apartheid takes hold in Arizona, so what? Should immigrant rights fighters learn to become “politic” in order to avoid a racist backlash? Should Arab revolutionaries find ways to imagine who is a rightwinger or not as they fight–often together–to end the despots of the region? Should anyone but the Palestinian people find the way to oppose Hamas even as they fight with them to overcome the Zionist Apartheid?

        Why is anyone with a shred of revolutionary blood in their veins even considering that ending Assad’s rein is anything but the next step? What is all this armchair quarter-backing? And, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to stopping the onslaught of political Islamist jihad if the entire people were armed and politically prepared by their struggle to end the regime of the Despot? Speculations go both ways, why are we acquiescing only to the rightist trends among pretend-revolutionaries?!

        • Manuel Barrera

          And, I would add, that indeed Islamists have hijacked the Syrian revolution, at least for leftists outside of Syria, if we are willing to cede to them the revolutionary spirit of the Syrian people; especially without giving the Syrian people the benefit our doubt and our unquestioning solidarity–regardless how they do it.

        • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

          There is a difference between navel-gazing speculation which leads to becoming paralyzed by “what ifs?” and the wretched neutrality that aids Assad and picking a side proudly, firmly, openly, and irreconcilably while keeping our eyes open as Marxists to a range of near-term possibilities. I hope I am doing #2 and not #1. The reason it is important in my view to raise and debate this issue is because Assad’s counter-revolutionary counter-narrative on the Islamism issue has taken hold throughout among Western progressive. We do ourselves and our Syrian brothers and sisters by ducking this question and the fight over this issue. The fog of Assad’s war has clouded many minds and support for the Syrian revolution is far from self-evident on the English-speaking left even though it is common sense on the streets of the Arab world (I read that attendees of the World Social Forum in Tunisia were chanting “freedom for Palestine and Syria!”), from Tripoli to Tehran and everywhere in between.

      • Manuel Barrera

        Finally, it is paradoxical–dialectical if you will–but sometimes revolutionaries have nothing else but to rely on their principles; in this instance “ideology/stance”. We are not “on the ground” and, especially in war, the “truth” simply doesn’t always come through all that clearly. In such cases, all we have is our revolutionary “compass” that tells us a) the people are in struggle b) they have arisen and thrown their lot with arms and the reckless abandon of warriors, c) the enemy is clear, but its tactics and forces are insidious in their way to overcome the struggle–sometimes directly with their despotic might, at times by proxy through the inevitable internecine warfare among other despots who try to usurp a revolution for their own designs. This cannot but be true in the theatre of the Middle East with its political and social histories. Revolutionaries must sometimes simply know whose side with whom they should stand. Absent our own personal engagement, we can either act like coaches or we can be intransigent in our loyalties. It’s really that simple, especially right now.

        Our leftist forces in the imperialist world–since we don’t really have anywhere near the level of political and/or social resistance in the societies we inhabit–are too prone to be influenced by the bourgeois media hype (rbole) and the antagonism generated among the conservatized and privileged populations of imperialist world. We have many forces to “convince” us about the dangers in supporting what amount to alien societies fighting against their version of the very oppressors we face in our own countries. It is not nonsensical “anti-imperialist” apologists for the so-called “progressive” character of regimes in some ersatz “context” where “good and bad” must be alternately supported or opposed for a “greater good”. No, it is our own revolutionary convictions that are threatened because we are willing to let “facts on the ground” guide us when the ground itself is too much in flux to know whether those “facts” are useful or not. The truth is concrete.
        Sometimes, we have to have “ideology/stance”. I have no trouble with people having an ideological stance; I oppose their stance when it doesn’t side exactly with the struggling people in their fight against their oppressor–on ideological, political, military, and social grounds, and here it comes, period.

      • http://rosswolfe.wordpress.com Ross Wolfe

        Binh, to what extent would you say it is incumbent upon Western leftist to both support bourgeois-democratic elements inside Syria in their struggle against Assad and support these elements in their struggle against Islamist elements that are also fighting Assad? Should these two struggles take place simultaneously, or should priority be granted to one over the other? In other words, is it a question of just finishing off Assad and then finishing off the right-wing Islamist elements afterwards? Or purging the right-wing Islamist elements and then taking on Assad as a more ideologically homogenous and united force?

        • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

          This is a pretty complicated question, or series of questions. One of the downsides of adhering to Lenin’s uninterrupted two-stage approach to democratic revolutions is that it can easily lead to stage-ism and give rise to a mechanical separation of the different stages of a struggle.

          The best short answer to your last question (I’ll go in reverse order) I think is what Marx’s said in his 1850 address to the Communist League: “The relationship of the revolutionary workers’ party to the petty-bourgeois democrats is this: it cooperates with them against the party which they aim to overthrow; it opposes them wherever they wish to secure their own position. ”

          Carrying this out in practice given the almost non-existent state of the organized left and working-class forces in Syria is of course exceedingly difficult. My understanding is that leftists (radicals, anarchists, Marxists), liberals, and secular activists have tended to cluster around the Local Coordinating Committees (LCCs) from the revolution’s earliest stages. This reflects their justified and understandable preference for a peaceful, civilian-led, mass-based populist movement against the regime. The LCCs in 2011 and 2012 issued statements along these lines opposing imperialist intervention in any/all forms (not sure why one would oppose U.S. sanctions or an arms blockade on the counter-revolution, but I digress) as well as against the revolution’s militarization, both of which had exactly zero effect on the incipient war between revolution and counter-revolution. I get the sense that these comrades still cling to their vision of a peaceful revolution even in the face of two+ years or uninterrupted barbarism on the part of the regime to stamp them out; they still don’t want to take up arms, but they no longer speak out against those who do. This created a problem whereby the Islamists tend to monopolize the armed struggle and what goes on on the battlefield, or to put it another way, the left basically has no influence in what goes on militarily and therefore politically. The bourgeois-democratic and secular elements of the FSA are the only other force participating in the armed struggle and they have been starved of arms, only being able to use whatever they happened to capture as they fight Assad’s airplanes, artillery, and tanks. It has been a brutal and slow-going campaign for this reason.

          The Saudis and Qatar have been arming the salafis and extremists — most of whom organize independently of the FSA — for 1-2 years. The FSA is getting more organized and the Saudis have begun arming parts of the FSA and moderate/conservative Islamists as part of a maneuver to cement an alliance to ice out Jabhat al-Nusrah and their ilk. Why exactly this is occurring is a bit unclear to me, although it could be because Jabhat al-Nusrah no longer needs/wants Saudi help because it can defeat Assad’s forces and pillage his arms depots on its own and therefore are less amenable to the Saudi agenda; it could also be the Saudis realize if Jabhat runs Syria after Assad that that will be a major cause of regional instability, might lead to jihad coming home; who knows.

          The bourgeois-democratic secularists are scrambling to become better organized because they know if they don’t, the Islamists will be in control, and they don’t want that. That is why the FSA is beginning to make alliances with moderate and conservative Islamists. They are pursuing the policy the left should pursue of ensuring that one divides into two (to use a Maoist expression), to split the Islamist camp before the real showdown begins when Assad is finally gone.

          The struggle against Assad and between the secular-democratic forces aligned with moderate and some conservative Islamists on one side and extremists like Jabhat on the other is already taking place simultaneously, but the form those struggles take is not identical (yet). The first is very much a military fight, the second is a battle for influence that is taking place politically, culturally, ideologically, but not so much militarily; no faction on the side of the revolution is waging an all-out war against its rivals the way Assad is waging a war to exterminate the revolution. It’s a bit like (forgive the tired analogy) the way the Bolsheviks fought alongside the Mensheviks and even the Provisional Government against the Kornilov coup in 1917; they won out because they were the more effective anti-Kornilovists. The Islamists up until recently were winning out against the secularists because of what they could do militarily.

          In closing, I think it should go without saying Western leftists ought to both “support bourgeois-democratic elements inside Syria in their struggle against Assad and support these elements in their struggle against Islamist elements that are also fighting Assad” because not only do we want to see a fascist tyrant defeated but because we want maximum democracy. The main problem is that said leftists continually invent all kinds of excuses not to support these elements: first the Syrian revolution was a conspiracy by the CIA to facilitate regime change in Damascus and not a popular uprising; when the uprising became too popular for Assad to crush, then it was “oh, this might be another Libya” with imperialist intervention; now that that hasn’t panned out, it’s “look at all those black flags and crazy Muslims with long beards blowing stuff up, we can’t support that!”

          The 1960s left often gave uncritical support to bourgeois nationalist forces or bourgeois-democratic struggles and then was surprised and/or disappointed when the victory of those forces led to the creation of new class societies and new class struggles instead of a classless society, but unlike them today’s left can’t even recognize the difference between revolution and counter-revolution, democracy and fascism, freedom and tyranny, oppressed and oppressed, much less comprehend or digest contradictions within contradictions or negations within negations. Hell, even the Islamists (as primitive/reactionary as their world view might be) can see the difference between right and wrong in Syria. Instead, our left pines for past successes like the Viet Nam anti-war movement and failures like the Iraq anti-war movement when the political questions were comparatively easy to figure out, when it was easy to see good guy from bad guy, when a simplistic black-and-white world view and some moralistic outrage were sufficient guides.

          Really we should be discussing what we can do to support the democratic revolution and the progressive elements within (or rather to show our support in practice) instead of letting Islamist individuals fill the void where an internationalist left should be. Support from a reinvigorated left abroad would do a lot to strengthen the left (such as it exists) in Syria and make the foreign fighters and guns pouring into the country from rightists and imperialists abroad look a lot less frightening.

          • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

            As always I’m in the realms of speculation here,or reading the runes of what data I can grub up from the English-language web, but my reading of the organisational situation is a bit different. I think the LCCs have long had a close relationship with the armed struggle, partly because many of their adherents signed up to the FSA after the Houla massacre. There is obviously a complex division of labour within Syrian oppositionist communities, with all sorts of support activities being provided by civilians (especially women). The techies from the LCCs are providing communication functions (and in some cases they aren’t much more than communications networks). At the same time there has been a shift in the political centre of gravity from the cities to thetowns and rural areas, which has given a different social character to the grassroots – more traditional in its authority structures and more Islamist in its philosophy.
            One recent development is the emergence ofa number of local communities who have a presence in the social media – with communication teams linked to local councils and to the military. The most advanced is probably Daraya:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZzTL1iFe2oo
            For a recent article which gives a flavour of the sorts of debates that are probably emerging in the liberated areas across Syria see: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2013/04/the-black-flag-of-raqqa.html
            Raqa will bear watching in the coming months – its a major Islamist-led victory and is likely to prefigure the sorts of debates and conflicts that will erupt nationally once the regime has fallen.

      • http://skepoet.wordpress.com/ C. Derick Varn

        It would also matter because it would play into the politic strategies of the Eurasianists in Putin’s new Russia.

      • andré

        I agree that one shouldn’t put too much emphasis on after-Assad, but rather focus on getting rid of the tyrant.
        That doesn’t meaning ignoring after-Assad, and certainly it is important that syrians express their views, but on the outside one should trust that the essentially non-sectarian and democratic attitudes of the rebellion will succeed as long as we support the moderate elements. By abstaining from supporting in a serious way the moderates, the governments of our democratic societies have become complices in the deaths of 100000 syrians and the displacement of close to half the population, caused by Assad’s war on the syrian population.
        BTW, Saudi Arabia (the government) is supporting essentially moderate elements, not the extremists, and for good reason. They have come to realise that the extremists present a danger to their own country, and although most in the democratic world see theirs as a repressive regime, they are gradually becoming more respective of human rights. (They are light years better than Assad.)

  • Pingback: Have Islamists Hijacked Syria’s Democratic Revolution? | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist()

  • matt

    I can agree with about 99% of this well-argued piece. Basically, if we characterize this as a predominantly *democratic* revolution, rather than one predominantly socialist – without excluding the inter-penetration of elements of both, so that there is no “stageist” conception being used here – then inevitably socialists will be temporarily rubbing shoulders with anti-regime elements of the Syrian bourgeoisie. The same goes for the genuinely sectarian Islamist jihadis, as much as I personally detest both. Then they turn around and assassinate leftist trade union leaders, as we saw in Tunisia.

    The only thing missing in the analysis is that the Persian Gulf-Saudi connection is itself connected to imperialism, especially the U.S. They are not simply “independent” nation-states with their own interests. They are clients of and protected by the full armed might of the U.S., who maintains its greatest concentration of such force precisely in that region. And the Gulf region is likely the world’s single greatest concentration of rentier capital in the world. So it is no small potatoes to leave this out of the analysis. That is why the U.S. fought its two biggest wars in that region in the last 25 years, and why they all backed Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980.

    My own view is that support for organized sectarian jihadism IS the main counterrevolutionary road being pursued by imperialism, indirectly through Qatar, etc. BTW, we are seeing a similar thing happening right now in Iraq, against the Shia supported regime there. They also promoted sectarianism in Bahrain, a line eagerly parroted by the BBC and other western media outfits. Because they, together with Israel, WANT to promote such sectarianism – it is their current default strategy. Same with Egypt and N.Africa. This indirection is required due to the post-911 and post-Iraq political weakness of the U.S., who can’t appear to be supporting jihadism directly. This weakness also finds expression in that actual interventions are carried out by the French and British.

    Perhaps it is because of a desire to distance oneself from the phony “anti-imperialists”. But why leave them to monopolize the analysis of imperialism? An analysis per se is not to be confused with a political practice – our opponents push a dogma of “anti-imperialism” as a *strategy*. A concrete analysis of the actual form imperialist intervention takes is the best antidote. For there IS an active imperialist intervention into Syria.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      The Saudis, Qatar, Turkey, and the U.S. ruling classes do not have identical interests and none of them is doing the bidding of the other, unless you want to argue that the State Department is arming Jabhat al-Nusrah through Saudi Arabia and at the same time declaring them to be terrorists while the CIA mulls drone strikes against them.

      The most recent and bizarre turn of events is that the Saudis bought the Croatian weapons that are being used to supply and cement an alliance of FSA secularists and moderate/conservative Islamists that is icing out the salafis:
      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/26/world/middleeast/in-shift-saudis-are-said-to-arm-rebels-in-syria.html?_r=0

      This made no sense to me until I discovered that they are competing with Qatar for influence over the revolution. In last place in the influence game will be the U.S. which has gone out of its way to block heavy weapons from reaching the FSA for over two years.

    • andré

      I disagree that the US or Isreal or Qatar want to support sectarism, although I would agree that these countries are not particularly in favour of socialism.
      Qatar is basically interested in having an impact in the world, and is throwing it’s money where-ever they think it will bring them influence. They support the salafists probably because they see no other country giving them support, so Qatar is noticed for their contribution against Assad. While it is true that they depend on outside military support (US and the Gulf State group), they probably see their money as buying them all the protection they need.
      The US has a big fear of sectarism, particularly enhanced by their intervention in Iraq (by a former adminstration, always opposed by the current president). This has given them feet of clay.
      Israël is in an entirely different mindset. They know that any direct intervention with the aim of changing the regime will bring instant condemnation by the arab and muslum states. They see that Assad will almost inevitably fall with moderate support from the outside, and would strongly favour a moderate non-tyranic government in Damas, which is not allied with the Hezbollah or Iran, the main serious threats to Israël. They have even openly called for Arab League military intervention in Syria.
      Although an influential internal political force is expansionist in parts of the palestinian areas (based on ancient history), the israëli society is profoundly democratic. The 20% of the population of non-jewish origin selects 20% of the seats in their parliament. Should a free, democratic Syria conclude a formal peace with Israël, that would likely change the internal political dynamic to favour a just settlement of the palestinian question.
      (This is assuming that Syria is no longer a conduit of iranian arms for the Hezbollah, leaving Israël with no menaces on its’ borders.)
      Maybe that is wishful thinking on my part, but few anticipated the peace treaties between Israël and its’ egyptian and jordanian neighbours.

  • Louis Proyect

    After Paul Buhle told me on FB that Islamist had hijacked the revolution, I asked him why there was so little (very possible none) evidence of Alawite mosques or Christian churches being bombed as happened on a nearly weekly basis in Iraq at one point or that happens with regularity in Pakistan. If Salafists want to destroy infidels, why are they not conducting sectarian slaughter? Their main target seems to be the Syrian army. Furthermore, they do not carry out very many suicide bombings which are one of the main tactics of extreme jihadism. I think the charge of Islamic fundamentalism is related to their preference for sharia law and their occasional acts of brutality directed against people who do not tow the line. How this justifies the Christopher Hitchens type verbal assaults on the Syrian rebels is a mystery to me.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      One thing that came through to me with terrific force as I’ve studied Jabhat al-Nusrah (JaN) and similar elements is how much they learned from being crushed and wiped out in Iraq after they went and declared a Caliphate in Iraq in 2005 or thereabouts. The survivors of that experience (natural selection ain’t just a biological phenomenon) learned not to jump the gun and force people at gunpoint to adopt Wahabbist laws without preparing the ground politically and ideologically. That is why JaN is putting such emphasis on good works — running bakeries, doing relief work, creating judiciaries, a state within a state just as the German SPD did back in the day and Hezbollah does now with its charities and hospitals. They are playing the long game and determined to win as much popular support as possible before they turn on their erstwhile allies and the democratic revolution as a whole.

    • Habib

      Shia Mosques HAVE been destroyed and churches HAVE been looted. You pampered western Leftists only get the filtered news, like all the other sheep in the west. There would be even more destruction,f not most Shia and Christian shrines were in western Syria, where the government is in control.

      There’s a reason why Midle Eastern Leftists despise the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists; because we know them, and because they have traditionally been supported by the west against more secular, Leftist forces.

      You claim sectarianism “plays into Assad’s hands”. That’s a great cover there already, now the Salafists can be as sectarian as they want, since folks you you will simply ignore it, in fear of “playing into Assad’s hands”. Ridiculous.

      • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

        Tell us, how many Shia (Alawi, or Ismaili?) mosques and Christian churches have been destroyed by the opposition, and how many by the regime? Let’s compare those figures to the overall number of churches and Shia mosques to see if this is widespread or an isolated phenomenon.

        Also, how many Sunni mosques has the regime destroyed? Us pampered uninformed Western leftists are dying to know.

      • Louis Proyect

        It is not that hard to follow up on this issue. Just google alawite+mosque+bombed. The only mosque bombing that turns up is the Sunni one whose imam was an Assad supporter and even in this case the rebels disavowed any responsibility. Btw, I also checked Nexis before posting my comment just to make sure that I was not misleading people.

  • Karl Friedrich

    Stats don’t lie over time. The fact that with all the 3 years of news of Syrian Civil War violence being largely devoid of Jihadi suicide bombers proves conclusively that this struggle has gone out of its way to combat muslim extremism and therefore Pham’s insights are arguably as valuable today as Trotsky’s analysis of the rise of fascism in Europe in the late 30’s.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      Thank you. :)

    • http://skepoet.wordpress.com/ C. Derick Varn

      The stats there are interesting and, honestly, it and a mixture of looking at American-Russian-Chinese geo-politics (which I do have a pox on all their houses attitude towards on their engagements in the middle east), from a soft neutrality to a “trust but verify” support for what is going on in Syria.

  • Arthur

    Excellent article!

    We need a consistent terminology when discussing muslims, sunnis, salafis (religious), islamists, jihadis, islamofascists, takfiris (political). Words like “moderate” and “extreme” are unhelpful in the same way that “hard left” and “anti-imperialist left” fail to accurately identify the pseudo-left.

    Salafis are a VERY conservative/reactionary religious outlook (dominant in Saudi Arabia) with a natural association to undemocratic politics. Many islamofascists and takfiris are Salafi but confusing the two broadens the enemy camp.

    Islamists include both the Muslim Brotherhood and various islamofascists and takfiris. There is inevitable conflict between revolutionary democrats and islamists. Nevertheless, islamists are central to the democratic revolution throughout the region and such conflict should currently be viewed as a struggle within the people’s camp. Treating “islamists” like the Muslim Brotherhood as the enemy rather than merely as rivals is roughly equivalent to treating the Puritans and Cromwell as the enemy in the English revolution.

    I like the term “islamofascists” for those forces currently fighting the Assad regime who are nevertheless virulent enemies of democratic revolution who must be fought as enemies. “Jihadis” was a suitable term used in Afghanistan but it can cause confusion as many non-islamofascist sunnis are rallying to the Syrian revolution as a “jihad” or “holy war”.

    A more popular term in the region itself is “takfiris” which explicitly highlights the most important characteristic of the islamofascists – their support for sectarian mass murder. I think we should adopt that term.

  • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

    An excellent piece by Binh and I am entirely in agreement with his conclusions. But I do think he lets the AWL off the hook too lightly: they may go through the motions of carrying out a “concrete analysis” but their engagement with the factual evidence is superficial. So we get a set of strange assessments like “Syria is moving towards a plight like that of Iraq in 2006-7″ (grounded in what exactly?), culminating in the barren conclusion that the best that can be hoped for is a “repressive bourgeois peace” arrived at by negotiations with (who exactly?)
    I accept that the Syrian revolution is not where socialists would like it to be; even that it is in a rather bad place at the moment. But the situation is still a very fluid one: there are things we know which confirm this (Binh has collated many of those) and there are things we don’t know that could turn out in various ways. If you want a nice example of the unpredictable nature of the real world note that in Binh’s Aleppo video the most prominent demonstrator appears to have sown the black flag of the salafists onto the secular opposition Syria flag so that he can wave both at the same time!
    And if you want some data to underpin an answer to Binh’s question “How Dominant Are the Islamists?” Try taking a look at these 54 videos of demonstrations that took place last Friday and do a tally of the number of black flags and the number of civil opposition flags: http://uruknet.com/?p=m96391&hd=&size=1&l=e
    My view late last year – for what its worth – was that the real test of the Syrian opposition was going to be this winter past, with its impact both upon their combat conditions and the population in the besieged opposition areas and the camps. If they could come through that, they could come through anything. Well, they’ve not only come through it, but have recorded some significant military advances. OK they’ve paid a price, but my expectation is for some significant developments as we move into spring (excuse my metereological determinism).
    I’d also just note that Moaz al-Khatib is turning out to be a much cannier political operator than I had expected.

  • AnonSy

    Number 86 is not Daraa, it’s Daraya (the massacre)
    Thank you for the list though

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      Duly noted. Thank you for the correction. I plan on keeping this list up to date.

  • Libyan Rebel

    I’m again delighted (and again pleasantly surprised) to see a piece on the Arab Spring that reflects a deep, mature understanding of the dynamics of the struggle without the author actually being on the ground. Myself being a former Libyan “rebel” and someone who’s heavily invested in the Syrian revolution, I’m always angered and disturbed by what’s published by both extremes; the interventionists and right-wingers on one side, and the paranoid, irrational anti-imperialists on the other. The truth is that the situation is much more complicated than to be fairly characterized by either extreme (no matter how noble their cause may be). That being said however, both extremes have legitimate concerns. The interventionists see the major changes in the political landscape of the Arab world as a great danger to Western interests and their allies (mainly the Zionist state) in the region. The democracies brought forth by the Arab Spring meant the potential for “extremists” to get hold of power which will undoubtedly inflict harm on the West. This concern is valid to a certain extent and along with other economic interests spearheads their reasons for intervention. The anti-imperialists on the other hand see any Western intervention as forwarding the agenda of imperialism and therefore is purely evil. Given the history and status quo of Western influence in the region, that concern is very legitimate. However, the revolutions of the Arab Spring have created a new reality and changed that status quo forever. The fact that the people have finally spoken meant that the world powers could no longer deal with the region in the same manner as before.

    To anyone even remotely familiar with the social and political reality of the Arab world for the past 50-100 years, the Arab Spring’s revolts were not a big surprise. The pressures of Tyranny, dehumanization and economic deterioration were eventually going to cause an explosion, and they most certainly did. These massive explosions in the form of popular revolts were inevitably going to lead to regime changes. This is where regional and international players come in and try to influence the situation to what best serves their interests. This is also where the despicable squabble between interventionists and anti-imperialists comes into play. The interventionists want to minimize damage, exploit the newly-emerging realities and project as much influence as possible. This intervention can be in the form of “cutting losses” such as in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen where the previous dictators were either straight up puppets (Ben Ali, Mubarak, Saleh) or recently-repented psychopaths such as Qaddafi (dismantling his nuclear program, compensations for terrorist acts against the West, large financial deals (on and under the table) and most disturbingly, full intelligence collaboration against Libyan dissidents). The “imperialist” powers, being guilty of backing all of these criminal, oppressive regimes knew that change had arrived and that they could no longer keep those loyal dictators in power. They could have either stood behind their allies and fought an inevitably lost battle against the people (and by doing so stand against the very values of freedom and democracy that they have preached for so long) or they could distance themselves from those regimes and stand behind the people. The latter option was obviously the safest (and correctly so) and that’s exactly what they did.

    The anti-imperialist camp could not possibly imagine any positive intervention from “imperialist” powers in the matters of the Arab world. This is a legitimate view as all the Arab world has seen from these powers is occupation, exploitation and forcefully-projected influence. That was the status quo while the dictators and puppets were in still in power, not any more. The intent to dominate and subjugate is of course always there, but the new political reality makes those goals very difficult to achieve. The new democratically-elected governments are held accountable by the people. They can no longer make free concessions to the West and no longer be free assets for the West in the region. The “imperialist” powers have realized this new reality and have accepted it. From day one, they worked hard to distance themselves from the shameful past and establish healthy relationships with the new, democratic governments (based on mutual interest not on subjugation as before).

    The anti-imperialists however failed to realize this new reality and still looked at things through pre-Arab Spring eyes. The revolutions of the Arab Spring were all ignited for the same reasons. The political and social nature of some of the states led to different reactions by the ruling regimes. This gave the West the time and opportunity to salvage its image in some cases but not others. The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions started and ended before the West could even comprehend the situation let alone intervene in any useful manner. Libya and Syria on the other hand were different. It was well-known to the Libyan and Syrian people that any kind of opposition movement in their countries would result in instant mass slaughter. The nature of those regimes was simply different than those of Tunisia and Egypt whom despite being totalitarian provided some breathing room for political opposition and some freedoms to the public. The Libyan and Syrian regimes have only known slaughter for dissidents and there was absolutely no chance for political reform without a full-fledged armed revolution. In the case of Libya, the imminent threat of genocide, the successful political campaign by the representatives of the revolution, the unprecedented positive response by the Arab summit and the safe political geography of the area all resulted in a relatively quick response by the international community. The response in the form of a no-fly zone and surgical strikes on the tyrant’s forces helped save hundreds of thousands of Libyan lives. Despite the fact that the West did not intend on regime change and the fact that they were comfortable with a country in the east of Libya and one in the West, this was seen as a rare, positive Western intervention. The thousands of Libyans who are still alive today and the waving flags of the aiding nations is best testament to that. The anti-imperialists failed to see this and eventually found themselves at odds with the people.

    Syria would have been an exact repeat of Libya except for a few important factors. I don’t want to go into details as to why these factors are important since it should be obvious (and since I’m tired of writing) but the first is the threat to the Zionist state a regime change may pose, the second is Iran, the large player in the region and the biggest ally of the Assad regime, the third is the sectarian aspect that can spill over and destabilize neighboring countries and fourth, the Syrian opposition having a growing anti-Western element to it. These reasons have been a curse for the Syrian people and it’s these same reasons that gave the regime free reign to mass murder large segments of Syria’s population. Though the regime did not succeed in igniting a full-fledged sectarian war, it most certainly used the sectarian aspect to its favor by scaring the Alawites/Christians/Shiites away from the revolution and garnering the support of neighboring Shiite regimes. The mass, indiscriminate murder campaign coupled with international immobility led thousands of Sunni men to join the fight and help turn the tide of battle. The sectarian aspect is there and is definitely a cause for worry for the future. Although the revolution is mostly secular in nature, an extremist faction does exist. The worry is not just as to how the extremists might deal with other sects but also how they will deal with other elements of the opposition that they are part of now. I have no doubt that we will see some manifestation of these fears but not all is grim because if the Arab Spring has taught us anything it’s that in the end, the people will prevail. The era of tyranny is over and no one will be able to subjugate the people again. The people have given these revolutions their blood and all that’s dear to them, they will not accept any form of tyrannical rule whether it’s headed by an extremist, a secularist, or a puppet.

    Binh’s portrayal of the Syrian revolution reflects a deep understanding of the situation leading him to not be swayed to either extreme. He’s simply stating the reality as it is and it is indeed complicated. In Syria, there is an element of everything. There is, has always been and there always will be an “imperialist” interest in the region. There is a sectarian aspect to the strife. There is also an extremist aspect. There are world powers seeking their interests. There are also regional powers competing for a foothold in the future Syria. Most importantly, there is a people’s revolution. A revolution against one of the most murderous and barbaric regimes the region has ever known. Keyboard activists on both extremes have no idea what oppression and tyranny means for the people whom they claim they understand and believe to be serving. They live in free lands while seeing the events only through the narrow slit of their ideologies. Their goals and intentions may be noble, but they lack the maturity to understand the true complexity and dynamicity of the struggle.

    -Libyan Rebel

    P.S. Believe it or not this was written by someone whom English is not his first language :)

    • http://gangboxnews.blogspot.com Gregory A. Butler

      Thank you for your input! It’s nice to hear somebody who’s actually on the ground and knows what they’re talking about discussing this issue. I’ve heard lots of American leftists who have never been to your country and know nothing about it pontificating on the subject at length.

    • andré

      Very well put.
      I would say however that Sadam’s regime in Iraq was a somewhat worse, particularly for the kurdish and shia populations.
      Also, although Israël has concerns about instability and heavy weapons in the hands of extremist elements, I’m sure that they would prefer a democratic Syria over Assad. Don’t forget that they had apprehensions about Eqypt as well.

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  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh
    • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

      Interesting to see if you get any feedback.

  • Reza Lustig

    A few points I’d like to make:

    While your perspective on the Syrian revolution is fresh and interesting (as opposed to kneejerk conspiracy theorists like the WSWS), it leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

    You mention that, thus far, Islamists are not officially “in control” of the revolution. Well enough. Then again, the same was said of the followers of Ayatollah Khomeini, during the Iranian Revolution. Up until Khomeini and the Islamic Republican Party became the de facto leaders of the revolution, Western powers were crapping themselves at possibility of a pro-Moscow/Beijing regime taking power.

    Conversely, Marxists (in and outside Iran) were beside themselves with enthusiasm. At the risk of sounding impertinent, your somewhat optimistic “assume the best will happen and it will probably happen” take on the Syrian revolution mirrors a part from Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis.” The author recalls her Marxist-Leninist uncle, fresh from ideological training in Moscow, issues responds to the growing influence of the Mullahs with a triumphalist prediction: they aren’t technically in control yet (and don’t possess the know-how to govern), and so the government after the revolution will undoubtedly take on a bourgeois-democratic character, due to whither away into proletarian dictatorship in good time.

    Not that such “Marxists” didn’t have SOME basis for their triumphalism: various “progressive” organizations, such as the Peoples Fedai Guerrillas, Mujahedin-e-Khalq, National Front and Tudeh Party were involved, and indeed workers shoras (Farsi for council) played a big role in organizing labor action.

    And, of course, we all know how that turned out: the apparent “victors” played around with bourgeois democracy for a little while, before giving way to Khomeini and his allies. And then all the Marxists and “secular progressives” were the first people to be purged.

    I fully understand, of course, that Syria is not necessarily Iran, but it in a way explains why the “anti-imperialist” left you criticize holds the attitude it does towards the Syrian revolution: at virtually all similar junctures in the past, the worst possible outcome came to pass once the “good guys” had won, and they showed themselves to be little better than the dictatorships they were meant to replace. The FSA and Mujahedin on the ground in Syria may display “bravery” in the face of their oppressors, but so did Khomeini’s followers, and it counted for little once the bearded overlords decided that the infidels had to go.

    In the end, saying that it is up to secular progressives to take action and support secular democratic elements in Syria is a non-starter: we have nothing of material value to offer them. What are we supposed to do, take up a collection or something? We’ll be passing them pennies to get their hands on crummy Eastern Bloc antique guns; meanwhile oligarchs in the Gulf States can drop hundreds of millions on secret training centers, modern arms and propaganda. Just as in Iran (and everywhere else), the most reactionary elements of the revolution will come out on top because they have capital to throw around (the mullahs were supported by the wealthy merchant class), and we do not. Unlike the Cold War, there is no Warsaw Pact to spend lavishly on training excursions to Cuba or Libya, or state-of-the-art weapons for the “secular” wing of the revolution.

    Honestly, the best outcome I could possibly predict is the Chinese and Russians suddenly deciding to match Gulf support for the Islamists with equal support (financial and military) for the FSA’s secular elements, at the very least assuring that the opposition to the future theocracy/authoritarian religious republic will be well-prepared and ready for the long haul.

    If I sound defeatist and pessimistic, it’s because modern history has given us so few real and lasting victories to look to for inspiration.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      I’m glad you liked the article enough to raise your differences with it. I beg to differ with you on several issues.

      – The crux of my analysis does not hinge on whether or not Islamists are “officially” in control. They are (mostly) in control of Aleppo and they just took over Raqqa, for example. In neither place have they established anything remotely approaching a police state or a Wahhabi/Talban type of tyranny. The democratic impulse is still too strong and fresh among the masses for that.

      – You take a dim view of Syria because of the ultimate outcome in Iran. Syria is not Iran. Not by a long shot. The Islamists in Syria are fractured and heterogenous whereas in Iran they followed Khomeini’s unitary leadership from the get-go. This gave them a big advantage as competed with the secular-democratic left for influence whereas in Syria they will (and are) already fighting and competing amongst themselves, sometimes fatally. The Iranian revolution was also not an armed struggle. Nor did it last 3+ years. Nor did secular-democratic organs of governance exist all over the country. Nor was it part of an international wave of democratic revolutions.

      – Your buyer’s remorse (once burned, twice shy) prevents you from recognizing that Islamist-led revolutions/states was something rather new in 1979-1981. This is no longer the case.

      – You discount what can be done because the rightists and imperialists have more money and guns to throw into the mix than we do. When has that ever been otherwise? Did the left in Spain 1936 get more money, guns, and men than Franco did from his backers in Berlin and Milan? Did the Vietnamese get more money, guns, and men from Beijing and Moscow than Saigon got from Paris and Washington, D.C.? Using our paltry resources and non-existent strength as an excuse to do nothing creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where the right always beats the left in the future because they have in the past. Yes, we should take up collections, we should send them weapons, we should organize eyewitness speaking tours with people like Matthew Van Dyke or Syrian activists or refugees, we should agitate for humanitarian and military aid from “our” governments to be sent to the right side in Syria. Quite a few people (Marxists) made the same predictions about bearded tyrants taking over Libya once the good guys won, and they were dead wrong. It’s 2013, not 1979.

      • Reza Lustig

        Thanks for the reply.

        -I see your point, and understand. However, remember that this is the revolutionary period, as opposed to the post-revolutionary period. The “democratic impulse” cannot last indefinitely, and eventually peace and stability will be the overriding desire of the people. In Afghanistan, for instance, the Taliban were cheered when they rolled into Kabul. Because they hadn’t revealed their true colors, and were the best armed and organized of the “Mujahedin” groups, the people initially accepted their rule as a stabilizing force, signifying an end to the decades of civil war. My sinking feeling is that the same will happen here. Of course the Islamists in Syria cannot afford, in this atmosphere of “democratic impulse” to be seen as authoritarian. But they are the best funded and armed of all the factions, just like the Taliban was, and once they have decided that they have the reins of government in their hands, they might not appear so respectful of democracy.

        – I concede to you on this point (although I maintain that democratic forms of resistance and opposition abounded during the Iranian Revolution, such as student groups and workers councils).

        – I am unsure of your point: are Islamic-led revolutions of a more “progressive” character now, for some reason?

        – Again, I have to re-iterate. In the Gulf States, there are tycoons and royals who drop millions on a whim for their own amusement; they spend hundreds of millions arming and training the Islamist factions and FSA elements in Syria. As to the historical record, I would point out that the Vietnamese NLF had backing from major superpowers (Russia and China, not to mention Hanoi), which matched NATO support for the Saigon government. This isn’t the case of a “self-fulfilling” legacy or winning because you believe really hard in yourself, it’s a matter of logistics and hardware. The Umkhonto we Sizwe survived the Cold War because of the South African Communist Party’s contact with Moscow, and they won because they could send footsoldiers to Mozambique to be trained by the FRELIMO and Cubans. FRELIMO and MPLA won in Mozambique and Angola because they had material backing from the Russians and Chinese respectively. The Cuban Revolution survived its initial years because Castro cut a long-term trade and arms deal with Moscow.

        What exactly are we supposed to do for the secular FSA faction? We’re activists, not arms dealers or smugglers or mercenaries. We collectively possess neither the money to outfit the secular democratic revolutionaries with modern arms, nor do we possess the means to get it to them; why should we, the Western secular left, invest all or most of our extremely limited bankroll into foreign adventurism (where we have no idea who will come out on top if the revolution “succeeds”), when we are already struggling with our own fragmentation and ideological survival at home? And don’t expect our governments to come running to the aid of the FSA until they’ve decided for themselves that it would be the most tactically beneficial course of action, no matter how much we “lobby” them; we tried it with Spain, and nothing came of it. They do what they want, and only if they decide that the risks of giving into our demands underweigh the risks of not doing so do they agree with us.

        Ultimately, going by Murphy’s Law, (that one should always expect and prepare for the worst possible outcome) whether the revolution succeeds or not (i.e. the Baathists are defeated or stay in power), I’d we should expect and prepare for the possibility that it will be followed with a humanitarian crisis in which those ideologically closest to us will get creamed beyond recognition. The only difference is whether our secular democratic comrades’ executioners call themselves the Mukhabarat or the Ministry for Vice & Virtue. If the Islamists win power, however, they will doubtless be backed economically by the GCC and its international allies. Thus, perhaps this will convince Tehran (who have in fact been preparing for and end to Baathist rule in Syria) and Beijing to throw full support behind whatever domestic opposition will doubtless spring up, in the hopes that they would provide better political/trading allies.

        • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

          - Afghanistan was a war-weary wreck (1979-1994) by the time the Taliban came along. Very different from a self-organized, self-led revolution that involved millions of people.

          The Taliban were also a homogenous, ideologically unified force. Syria’s Islamists are not even close and do not even have a dominant faction. You can’t underestimate how hard it is for political groups that base their politics on interpretations of scripture to unite as a governing force. The socialist left can’t even do it as an oppositional force.

          – Democratic forms of opposition is different than governance. Governance requires a much greater degree of organization and popularity.

          – The point I tried and failed to make is that clerical rule coming out of a democratic revolution was unexpected and a novelty, like a workers’ state in a peasant country. That historical experience is part of the mass consciousness of the Middle East, just as the Iraq occupation is (the jihadis and salafis in Syria now learned a lot from their defeat and destruction in Iraq).

          – The Cuban revolution survived not because of military hardware but because of popular support. Uncle Sam is not afraid of whatever hardware is in Cuba.

          – I gave other examples besides smuggling arms. The FSA also needs boots, blankets, uniforms, communications gear. And I explained why aiding stage 1 of the revolution will be critical to making sure the right side wins out in stage 2.

          – You can’t base your policy on what is possible (as Lenin said) or on what was in some other country. You have to start with what is. The precedents you harp on are 1-3 decades old in addition to being utterly different contexts where the Islamists were united organizationally and ideologically. In Libya, the Islamist extremists lost out after Ghadafi was smashed.

        • Arthur

          I remember the enthusiasm of “Marxists” concerning Iran. They were also very critical of Mao’s China for not sharing their enthusiasm. To me it marked a turning point with western leftists who had generally been instinctively hostile to the Soviet line actually backing an openly reactionary development.

          A big difference in Syria is that there is no Tudeh spreading poison in the name of communism (or at least those of that mindset are on the side of the regime rather than its overthrow).

          The actual social content of the Iranian revolution was hostile to modernity and progress with only the lies of Tudeh and the pseudoleft (and understandable hatred for the Shah’s regime) preventing people from understanding this. Although people on the left know as little about Syria as they did about Iran the pseudoleft has had many decades since Iran in which to comprehensively demonstrate its complete irrelevance.

          In Syria the social content of the revolution is for democracy and progress. The dangers you fear exist but it is a danger that can only be fought by helping to strengthen the democratic forces and not by leaving them reliant on support from the Gulf states.

          Although there is little we can do directly, the real interests of Western governments are not being served by their current failure to act. Stupidity can hold things up but there is clearly already a strong current for supporting the revolution. We could at least help prepare public opinion for that policy shift.

    • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

      I think Reza sounds a valid warning note with regard to both the dangers of a reactionary outcome to the Syrian situation, and our limited capacity to shape the course of events, and is right to remind us of the erroneous expectations of the Iranian left. But I think there a series of reasons why Syria is unlikely to mirror the Iranian experience. There is no figure even close to the stature of Khomeini or force the equivalent of the ayatollahs. And as Reza acknowledges, the creation of a post-revolution regime requires a set of social alliances – with “the wealthy merchant class” and with middle class technocratic strata who could staff a state apparatus. At the least that would imply something like a coalition between the Syrian Islamic Front and the Muslim Brotherhood (and a few others thrown in). A highly improbable combination.
      A greater danger is the slide of the country into sectarian civil war. The thing here is that we simply don’t have the knowledge to evaluate the probability of that or any other outcome, because they are shaped by a myriad of molecular processes: e.g have all the young fighters who have rallied to the salfist units because of their military efficacy bought in to salafist political values? ditto for the civilian population who currently benefit from the cohesive administration provided by the salafists in the liberated areas? how will the political balance shift once the cities, the refugees, and the civilian opposition emerge onto the political stage?
      The left is not very good at dealing with uncertainty. “Murphy’s law” is one solution. I prefer Gramsci’s dictum “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.”

      • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

        Murphy’s law is cynicism and cynicism during an uprising is counter-revolutionary. Can you imagine what Marx’s tactics would have been in 1848 if he had taken the victory of reaction in Germany as a given?

        • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

          Murphy’s law states that “Everything that can go wrong will go wrong” – a precautionary epigram that the left would have done well to pay attention to during several of its less successful moments – e.g. the Easter rising of 1916; Trotsky’s Polish offensive of 1920.

      • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

        Past performance is no guarantee of future failure would be a much better guide for AWL than Murphy’s law.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      “What are we supposed to do, take up a collection?”

      That is precisely what we are supposed to do.

      Mohamad Khairullah, mayor of a small town in New Jersey, raised $18,000 by himself in this manner, bought a plane ticket, and travelled to Aleppo to distribute bread for the people and O2 tanks for their hospitals. He is not a Romney, nor a bankster, nor a lobbyist — just a man with a cause who has tirelessly campaigned on his own for his people. You can read about him here: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=7963

      If the Western left had 10 Khairullahs, that’d be $180,000 we could direct towards forces we side with in Syria. Instead, we have George Galloway on the regime payroll spreading lies and Tariq Ali on Russia Today babbling like a doddering old man about NATO’s colonization of Syria absolutely free of charge to the regime.

      Eschewing tasks like delivering humanitarian aid, money, and other forms of aid means ceding that ground to liberals, neoliberals, and Islamists who have ended up dominating the politics post-revolution in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.

      If we get our act together, we can make a difference before the same happens in Syria.

      • Reza Lustig

        As I have stated before, the collective Western left essentially breaking bank to buy packed lunches and first aid kits for the Syrian revolutionaries will help them crush the government. THEY. NEED. MODERN. WEAPONS. AND. LOTS. AND. LOTS. OF. THEM.

        We could raise a whopping 180 grand?! Boy, oh boy! With that, why, we could outfit a whole HALF of them with shitty Khyber Pass factory knockoffs of Soviet pistols and SMGs. Then there would be no match for them!

        Seriously, though, your belief that enthusiasm and faith will win this armed revolution (and that not having enough is tantamount to support for Assad’s crimes) smacks of the adolescent Third-Worldism of the New Leftists of the 60s-70s. Raising a few warnings about how things could go wrong is not reactionary, wasn’t it Marx who said “History repeats itself, first as tragedy second as farce”? If history tells us that revolutionary movements engaged in armed struggle TEND (not definitely, but there is a definite trend) to lose badly if low on resources and funding, then shouldn’t we prepare for that eventuality? Can the left try to pick and choose its battles in the 21st Century with a more judicious and economical attitude?

        • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

          From each according to their ability.

          Nobody in Syria is upset that the Western left can’t afford to send them expensive weapons, they are upset at all the excuse-making and hand-wringing that passes for “serious” discussion.

          I’m glad and I’m sure the people of Aleppo are glad that Mr. Khairullah does not share your cynicism. They certainly didn’t get to pick and choose what Assad is doing to them, nor can they do much about our choice to sit back and do nothing to aid them screened by Marxist-sounding talk about strategery and r-r-revolutionary “realpolitik.”

        • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

          Sorry, I missed the bit where you told us what your solution is.

        • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

          @ Reza: my “Sorry” comment below was intended for your post: things don’t always go where I expect them.

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  • Manuel Barrera, PhD

    Oh, the sycophancy of the “Western” left; and it’s complementary cynicism; and it’s concurrent cowardice in the face of battle. What, Brian, or, for that matter, Reza, is to be gained by “understanding’ the dangers of Islamist reaction, or usurpation, or imperialist absorption, especially at this very moment when the Syrian people need every bit of aid and solidarity we can muster? Of course there are dangers. What, exactly is the purpose of this analysis of fear? Are you saying that perhaps revolutionaries should withhold their solidarity, withhold their calls for supporting the revolutionary forces seeking to topple Assad? All because we fear that the revolution will be overtaken by “Islamists” or by U.S./NATO ground troops? Or, are we just “bookies” determining on whom to bet will “win” or “lose”.

    Binh’s analysis is clearly a call to understand what is happening in Syria, not to oppose support for the Syrian revolution, but to understand how important it is for us to remove our blinders and bourgeois media-induced cynicism preventing revolutionaries from learning the lessons of revolution.

    And, yet, we still hear about “cautions” and “slides” into “sectarian civil war” and pessimism born of “intelligence”; yeah as if “knowing” what could go wrong is all that intelligence is for and “will” is only for those doomed to die. Apparently, Marxists are simply the guardians of intellect who in seeing all the forces arrayed against the toiling masses engaged in a war for their lives, we skulk off into some more “radical” corner of politics where we can be more “sure” about outcomes thereby preserving our “intelligence” and our “will”. I don’t really know what else to call such “Marxism” but cowardice. Tell me I am wrong. Tell me that worrying about Islamic reaction is the smart move, the more “intelligent” action we can take. Tell me that “sliding into sectarian civil war” is “bad” and not simply another manner of revolution born of an unclear relationship of forces and the intransigence of the oppressor on the one hand and the erratic nature of support, solidarity, and the political/social forces engaged against him on the other? Tell me why it is important at this moment to “analyze” ourselves into holding back our unquestioning support for the Syrian people’s gambit for freedom and the advancement of the people’s revolution?

    None of us has made a revolution, so, while the Syrian people are in process of doing so, perhaps we should follow and study how and what they are doing, give them every ounce of our optimism and support. It is entirely possible that a right wing reaction will overtake the Syrian revolution and it is entirely possible that the democratic revolution will spill into a socialist revolution; that’s the nature of revolutions; because they are revolutions and not just battles. When has it become the role of revolutionaries to decide when and how to support a people engaged in overthrowing their current oppressors? Is our solidarity contingent on our fears that they are not “doing it right?”

    • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

      @Manuel Barrera. The whole thrust of my initial comment in this thread was to affirm the need to continue to solidarise with the Syrian revolution, despite the uncertainties (in contradistinction to groups like the AWL) . And there’s nothing in my comment above that says otherwise. Indeed, I’ve offered a whole series of reasons in both posts why salafism may well not dominate in post-Assad Syria. You yourself concede that ” It is entirely possible that a right wing reaction will overtake the Syrian revolution”. Isn’t it worth spending some time trying to understand the nature and dynamic of such a threat, so that we are not caught on the back foot by history, as the Iranian left described by Reza were?

  • Manuel Barrera, PhD

    Indeed, Brian it is worth the time. Your comment just struck me wrong. I do recognize the overall thrust of your thoughts on this issue as in solidarity with the revolution. My only reply is to say that we are more likely to get on the “back foot” by history if we find ourselves paralyzed by the many and varied threats to victory for a revolution. Perhaps I am more prone to react to perceived complacency and cynicism than most. I don’t worry about being “smart” in a fight as much as I favor being willing to get into the fight; after all, I can only support if am not “on the ground”. I appreciate the analysis of how a revolution is progressing, but not our collective fears.

  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

    “Em Joseph is a 40-year-old Syrian female fighter with the Islamist Suqoor al-Sham Brigades. She is a rarity.”

    From: http://world.time.com/2013/02/27/portrait-of-a-lady-a-female-syrian-rebel-speaks-to-time/

    The Syrian revolution never ceases to amaze/surprise me.

  • Juliet

    A couple of questions for Comrade Binh:
    1) What do you make of the White House’s possible plans to “send the rebels body armor and armed vehicles and provide military training”, as reported back in February?
    http://news.yahoo.com/kerry-says-u-seeks-faster-syria-political-transition-133925072.html

    2) Are the elements of the FSA that are apparently striking deals with Turkey to help wipe out the PKK, and possibly other ostensibly left groups Turkey is at odds with, influential with the FSA as a whole? What is to be done about this?
    http://blogs.aljazeera.com/topic/syria/kurdish-syrian-rebels-promise-fight-pkk-return-turkish-military-support-against-assad

    • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

      Hi Juliet – Speaking purely for myself:
      1. I think this policy of the US administration is a reflection of domestic political needs, and has nothing to do with the needs of the Syrian people. What is needed – and could have an important effect in curtailing the current slaughter of civilians – is the supply of modern, effective anti-aircraft weaponry. Until that happens the US government is nothing more than a cynical bystander to this struggle.
      2. Your summary of the al-Jazeera story you reference is not accurate. It doesn’t say that there are elements of the FSA “striking deals with Turkey”- it quotes one fighter who says he thinks such a deal would be a good idea. The story is already six months old, and there are no reports of anything along these lines happening. And that’s not surprising: the original story from which this report was taken explains that “Ubed Muse” was the leader of a band of 45 men fighting in Aleppo – he had no offical status or political significance in the FSA.
      There has been serious conflict between rebel and Kurdish forces (especially salafist groups) on the northern, Turkish border. For a good, recent account of these and of an apparently sucessful attempt to mediate them, see: http://beta.syriadeeply.org/2013/03/michel-kilo-negotiated-tenuous-truce-ras-al-ayn/#.UWAcx1dXqKI.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      These are good questions.

      1. My line is probably best captured by Kafranbel’s reaction to all the hoopla about U.S. “nonlethal” aid:
      http://www.thenorthstar.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Kafranbel-3.1.13.jpg

      I’ve written previously:
      “My view is that U.S. policy has gone through two basic phases:

      “1) Early in 2011, the U.S. did not call for Assad to go, therefore the U.S. line was, in effect, he must stay. That was their preferred outcome, their first choice.

      “2) The bodies piled up and this became untenable, so in summer of 2011 Obama said he must go but Assad-ism (meaning the Syrian state machine) must stay. This was and is their fall back position.

      “The U.S. continues to angle for some type of reconciliation/settlement between the regime and the foreign-based wing of the opposition which is
      most subject to Washington’s pressure. This is consistent with their goal of preserving as much of the status quo in Syria as possible.”

      I would add to this the following:
      a) Because the U.S. is interested in saving Assad’s state machine, they have not and will not arm the FSA that is destroying that machine with the heavy weapons it has been asking for. They made that mistake in Libya where popular militias aided by the U.S. totally destroyed the regime’s apparatus; Obama learned his lesson.
      b) Washington’s policy in Libya was “lead from behind” and in Syria it is “lead from above,” which is a way of describing the U.S. focus on influencing the Syrian opposition’s exiled political bodies as a means of shaping post-Assad Syria. Since it not in their interest to help the FSA smash the state by suppling heavy weapons, that leaves Washington few options.

      Now, U.S. policy has shifted a bit by providing minimal aid by training FSA(?) fighters in Jordan and sending non-lethal aid. They recognize the failure of their previous policy to yield good results and are unhappy about the rise of Jabhat al-Nusrah that their heavy weapons blockade produced. As the Kafranbel photo I posted shows, these latest moves have earned the U.S. nothing but scorn and derision among the opposition, and it’s feeling I share. I say, MANPADs or GTFO.

      2. Brian has already picked apart the news story you linked. Kurdish politics are hella complicated and there is some decent info in this thread.

      The FSA in northern Syria is in no position to wipe out PKK or anyone else; they’ve been eclipsed by Jabhat al-Nusrah and other hardline Islamists who are not at all friendly to Kurdish militias left or right. The FSA as far as I know has support among many (not all) Kurds in their fight against Assad:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/23/world/middleeast/some-syrian-kurds-resist-assad-defying-conventional-views.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&

      There’s nothing to be done because as far as anyone can tell there’s no Turkish-FSA alliance directed against any of the Kurdish forces who generally have remained neutral and aloof from the revolution (although many Syrians wave Kurdish flags at demonstrations).

      • http://endallwar.wordpress.com/ Matt

        The problem I have with this analysis, Pham, is that you continue to separate the formal U.S. policy from that of the Gulf states / Saudis, as if they were inter-imperialist competitors “with their own interests” as you once put it in another comment. They are not – Gulf/Saudis are client dependencies of the same U.S. That is why the single largest concentration of U.S. military force sits in the Gulf. These states can’t survive without it and all the arms they buy from the US – they can’t even manufacture their own main armaments! And that is not to mention the deep economic ties via the USD-oil trade.

        What the Gulf/Saudis independently have, and have always had, is an armed paramilitary jihadi wing, one that the U.S. has a long history of actively working with until the embarrassment of 9/11. Now time has passed, direct U.S. military intervention has failed, and to the extent the U.S. does nothing to stop the flow of support to the jihadis from their Gulf clients – why can’t the U.S. stop this, as opposed to directly supplying the jihadis themselves – the U.S. objectively indirectly supports the jihadis via its Gulf/Saudi client proxies. US/UK applause for the “sectarianization” of Bahrain and their relief at its success so far says all. The same goes for Iraq, where the US fostered a bloody sectarian civil war that still goes on and is escalating again – with little concern from the power that bloody effing invaded and occupied that country.

        Since the U.S. has now abandoned the strategy of a reconciliation between an Assad-less regime and a US-favored opposition, why continue with the fiction of the “separateness” of the two, in order to paint the picture of “resolute” U.S. opposition to jihadism? I don’t buy it.

        And it wouldn’t be the first time the U.S. hid information about its real operations from its own people.

        • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

          So when the Saudis were arming Jabhat al-Nusrah and the State Department labelled them a terrorist organization, that was all part of Washington’s plot to… do what exactly?

          I can’t abide by your view of the Saudi government as little more than Washington’s sock puppets. No two ruling classes ever have identical interests. Heck, even the Iraqi quisling who literally rode into Baghdad on the back of American tanks in 2003 didn’t have identical interests with their benefactors.

  • lidia

    I wonder, what is position of the author regarding mujaheddin in 1979 in Afghanistan? Were they “revolutionaries” or tools of CIA/Saudis/Pakistan?

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      I wonder, what is the position of the commenter regarding the revolution that is underway today in 2013 in Syria? With the revolutionaries or with the regime?

      • lidia

        No answer, I see. I wonder, why? Maybe because the answer would be too close for simply presuming without questions that there is really a revolution in Syria now. I also wonder, when in the history such progressive forces as CIA and Saudis helped a revolution, not some coup for their own goals. Of course, if one counts so-called “colored” ones, there is a lot of such “revolutions” meaning the highway for the USA imperialism, NATO and their most reactionary local lackeys.

        At least in Iran the revolution was not CIA-made.

        • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

          No answer, I see. I wonder, why? Maybe because the honest answer would put you squarely on the side of a fascist tyrant who has killed almost 100,000 to remain in power. I also wonder why you think it impossible to co-opt and use reactionary forces for progressive goals — Ho Chi Minh had no problem befriending and taking arms from the CIA’s predecessor, the OSS. I suppose you’d prefer the Vietnamese remained unarmed in their fight against the Japanese just as you’d prefer Syrians remain unarmed in the face of the regime’s slaughter. Ho Chi Minh was nobody’s fool, which is more than I can say for you.

          As for your “color revolutions,” I have an entire piece dedicated to that claptrap scheduled for Monday. Stay tuned.

          • lidia

            Actually, I have answered. I do not see a revolution in Syria, so I am not going to pretend that CIA/Saudi supported forces are revolutionaries. No matter armed or not, they are tools of imperialism. It had been some people in Syria trying to make a real revolution, but they could not prevent the CIA and Saudis to use the movement for their own goals. Now, some of them are horrified of the results. See edward dark, for ex.
            Of course, you could cite Ho Chi Minh as if his anti-colonial struggle was not opposed by the same CIA that is now helping “revolution” in Syria. During the WWII even USSR got some help from USA. And it was USSR who made possible the victory of Vietnamese against the colonizers – USA simply wanted to save Vietnam as colony but not as Japan one. During the WWII USA wanted to help because it was in their interests. Now in interests of USA, not mentioning Saudis, is to topple Assad. NOT because he is “fascist” – it is meaningless curse regarding Syria, but because he is an ally of Iran, Russia and China. If USA gave a damn about revolutions, it would be NOT letting the same GCC to crash a real one in Bahrein. USA imperialism hated Chaves no less than Assad and called him Hitler too.

            Now, the “color revs” are NOT mine. They are, probably, “yours”, because you believe in revolutions being waged by CIA handbooks.

            And, by the way, what about Afghanistan mujaheddin? They are more or less the same as Syria “revos” and got a lot of support from the same CIA and Saudis. Are you seeing them as revios?

            • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

              No, you never declared your support for Assad. But really all of this is beside the point. Not one of your comments responded to any of the points raised in the text of this article. Instead, you are trolling by analogy.

              Until you address the arguments and evidence that has been presented in this piece or offer a critique consisting of substantive counter-arguments and well-sourced contrary evidence (something lengthy should be a submission rather than a comment), don’t expect your comments in this thread to be approved. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to rant about Libya and NATO when my review of PSL’s book “Two Opposing Trends” is published on Monday, provided you respond to the points raised.

    • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

      It takes two to make a revolution: you can’t judge the significance of particular forces simply by looking at their particular traits – you also have to look at what it is they are struggling AGAINST.

      • lidia

        It also takes two (or more) to make an imperialist coup, and Hitler was struggling AGAINST a very bad Stalin and /or imperialist forces.

        NO, to be sure about the nature of any political force one needs first to see WHO support them. I am sorry, but I could not see a revolutionary force supported by CIA and Saudis.

        Of course, it could be that CIA and Saudis are too stupid to see that they are supporting a progressive force…or that CIA and Saudis are progressive themselves. Or that there is no revolution in Syria, just like there was not one in Afghanistan in 1979, or in Nicaragua by contras, or in Libya by NATO rebels, or in Georgia by NATO’s lackeys and so on.

        One should ask – could it be that CIA and Saudis support a revolution? If yes, everything is possible. If not, no matter what do you think about the ruling regime, it is not a revolution. A lot of not so nice regimes were overthrown not by revolutions.

        • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

          @Lidia. Thank you for responding. Your historical analogies are off- base: Hitler did not impose a fascist order in Germany against Stalin, but against the German working class and left (using the jews as a scapegoat). Indeed, he was in alliance with Stalin for two years. Your method of trying to judge a political force by “who supports them” is hopeless : it means having your politics defined by the imperialists: if they decide its in their interests to support a particular force, you then dump them, even if 10 minutes before you thought they were worthy of support. No serious leftist can decide things this way – it has to be based on an analysis of the forces in struggle,and what it is they are struggling against, informed by an understanding of the history of the situation.
          States decide politics on the basis of realpolitik – what it is they think will be in their interests. Its entirely possible that they think supporting a revolution will benefit them at a particular moment in time. The German general staff thought it was in their interests to support the Bolsheviks. (And don’t make the mistake of assuming that the CIA is incapable of “stupidity” – they’ve been stupid more often than they’ve been wise)
          Your reference to “NATO rebels” in Libya suggests that you have been educated in a school which has a fondness for tyrants dressed up in left-wing costume. If your latest attachment to Asad, who has the blood of more than 50 000 civilians, including 6000 children, doesn’t prompt you to think again, then there’s nothing that I can say that is likely to influence you.

  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

    Josh Landis, who is intimately tied with the Alawi community, explains why he thinks the hardline/extremist Islamists will, in the long run, fail to create their dystopia in Syria (although not without a long, nasty fight):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHCLVuJovr0 (around 19:30; at 18:50 he discusses “class war”)

    • http://endallwar.wordpress.com/ Matt

      Yeah, but Yasam Abdullah basically has it closest to the likely truth – he also attacked Landis’ “over-sectarianizing” of the Syrian struggle:

      1) The fall of Damascus (and the Assad regime) is not imminent;
      2) The jihadis, including the now openly Al Qaeda linked Jabhat Al Nusra, are the best financed fighting force;
      3) The FSA is therefore basically a legal front (a “database”, etc) for the jihadis
      4) (And where is that financing coming from?) The financing for both the legal front and the jihadis comes principally from the usual suspects: The Gulf states / Saudi Arabia. (Nobody contradicted this in the Al Jazeera interview – this Qatar mouthpiece should know!) The legal front allows the above U.S. client states to give direct state support formally separate from the jihadi orgs, keeping the U.S. unembarrased; while the well developed informal network of Islamist support, centered as always in these same states (and Pakistan) supplies the jihadis. We’ve seen this script before since the Soviet-Afghan war, so nobody can feign ignorance or surprise here. Least of all the U.S.

      5) On that score S. Mubarak correctly notes that the deep unwillingness of U.S. imperialism to get involved is based on the lack of stomach for another Iraqi adventure by the people of the U.S. This is correct, and measures the real post-Iraq weakness of this imperialism, also registered in Libya and (now) Mali, where it has had to defer to the French cheese-eating surrender monkeys (Ah, American hubris and bravado, how far it has fallen! What a joyful sight!).

      6) All noted the traditional secularism of Syrian society, but so what? That didn’t stop the religious sectarians and Islamists of Iraq (here actively fostered by the U.S.) and Iran – or highly cosmopolitan Lebanon for that matter. The jihadis are an islamic equivalent of the Bolsheviks, but in the reverse political direction. Most Russians still followed the Tsar and Church in 1914, that didn’t stop many of them from supporting the Bolsheviks in 1917-18. You know, taking the initiative with disciplined political party leadership and all that.

      7) Jabhat Al Nusra are now directly linked to their comrades and their bombing campaign in Iraq.

      Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant Announced
      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/09/jabhat-al-nusra-merger-al-qaeda-iraq_n_3044020.html?utm_hp_ref=world

      This verifies the connection of the Iraqi bombing war with their Syrian involvement. I don’t think their current aim is to “take over Syria”, but to establish a relatively safe cross-border base there to wage war on the Maliki regime in Iraq and Assad or whoever succeeds Assad, if ever.

      8) Strategically it is a war against the Iranian regime, which is why Israel acts totally unconcerned about the jihadi activity, because they know that who backs it also is an enemy of the Iranian regime. This is another reason also for U.S. reluctance – the jihadi actions are congruent with its own strategy in the region.

      So I will repeat again: the main longer term counterrevolutionary force are the Gulf-backed jihadis; Assad is the short term counterrevolutionary force. In Al Queda jargon: Assad is the “near enemy”, the jihadis – effectively indirectly backed by U.S. imperialism via its Gulf proxy in the Levantine case – are the “far enemy”.

      Getting it correct about regimes like Assad, the Iranian mullah regime and so forth does not mean abandoning an objective analysis of imperialism.

      We should not flatter ourselves that secular forces can “use” or “work with” the jihadis. The historical record is not good. Underestimate them and their Gulf supporters at your risk!

      • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

        @ Matt. It nevers pays to jump too rapidly to conclusions where Syria is concerned. Yassam Abdallah is one of the new breed of regime catspaws who trot out for the media – I think AJZ (and the BBC) give his like a place because they want to appear “objective” and can’t find a regime spokesperson who looks sane. The only (slightly) unpredictable statement on his part was the suggestion that there might be room for negotiations.
        There is no “merger of the Islamic State in Iraq and Jabhat al-Nusra” – this is just another hysterical conclusion of the media (and probably the State department): http://www.enduringamerica.com/home/2013/4/12/ea-video-analysis-the-al-qaeda-myth-and-syria.html

        • Arthur

          The video provides absolutely nothing to refute the fact that both Jabhat Al-Nusra and Al Qaeda in Iraq have ackowledged that Jabhat Al-Nusra is indeed aligned with Al Qaeda as claimed by their various enemies.

          The video also misses the point that the media attention to this is being used in support of more Western assistance to the mainstream of the revolution in order to reduce Al Qaeda influence. Instead it just fantasizes about some sort of vague conspiracy which has apparantly both invented Al Qaeda as a myth to justify intervention and carries the danger of creating the the very threat it mythologizes. One might as well cite “the usual suspects” as a video like that.

  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh
    • Reza Lustig

      It is definitely refreshing to see that the FSA and LCCs aren’t as myopic on the danger of Islamist participation in the Revolution as I thought they were.

      Thing is, the Islamists still constitute the best organized and funded factions of the struggle. As well, as the FSA makes clear, the Syrian National Council (which has been accepted by the “International Community” as the legitimate governing body of Syria) is essentially a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus, if the SNC-MB fails to take power democratically (whether denied at the polls, or faced with armed opposition from the FSA and LCCs), they can always appeal to have the latter groups labeled “terrorist” or “insurgent,” and make the case for military aid.

      The best course of action for the FSA and LCCs, at this juncture, is to purge the revolution of all Islamist elements who fail to demonstrate opposition to the SNC and Al Qaeda. That way, when the SNC tries to declare itself the new government, their armed support will be limited.

      • Arthur

        Don’t confuse Muslim Brotherhood with Al Qaeda. That only helps Al Qaeda!

        BTW I think the FSA statement was referring to the former SNC rather than the more inclusive body (also including the former SNC) that has now obtained international recognition.

        It is rather absurd to imagine islamists obtaining international aid to fight FSA or LCC as “terrorists”. This stuff suggests paranoia.

        • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

          AWL does not seem to understand the importance of dividing one into two in order to defeat the nastiest, ugliest, most dangerous enemy first before moving against other less immediate and pressing threats. It seems like they just throw their hands up in frustration that Islamists have become prominent and give up the fight just because it is a complicated and protracted struggle.

        • Reza Lustig

          I’m NOT confusing the MB with Al Qaeda; I am fully aware that both seek the same aims, albeit one does so through “legal” methods. As well, both groups are largely financed by the same actors (Gulf monarchies).

          Yeah, apparently the SNC is now more “inclusive,” if we are to believe that they listened to the criticisms of dissenting members who pointed out that the group is pretty much a front for the MB, with more than half the members being politically Islamist. I don’t buy it for a second.

          As I mentioned before, the Islamists would have backing from numerous fronts: indirectly (via MB control of the SNC) from the US and other countries who recognize the SNC as the legitimate rulers of Syria, and directly from Gulf countries who bankroll/arm/train the more militant groups. This isn’t paranoia, it’s following the money. If they tell the world that the FSA have “turned on them,” after/if Assad falls, they will be believed.

          • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

            @Reza. Its nonsense to say that the MB and Al Qaeda “seek the same aims” “albeit” through different methods. Its a huge “albeit” that blurs the difference between elections and car bombs.
            The problem is you keep operating with this analytically vacuous concept of “Islamists” – there are many shades of “Islamist” and if you don’t differentiate them you won’t be able understand what’s going on or draw any coherent political conclusions. JN is “Islamist”; the Syrian Islamic Front is Islamist; the MB is Islamist; the people who attack the MB are Islamist; Moaz al-Khatib is Islamist.
            Where does that get you?

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      Even better news! The Syrian Islamic Front tells Al-Qaeda to shove it:
      http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2013/04/12/Fierce-clashes-as-FSA-enters-Qamishli-for-the-first-time-activists-.html

      All of these news items confirm the analysis of this piece that the Islamist camp will divide and create an opportunity for secular-democratic forces to defeat the extremist Islamists.

      • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

        Well spotted. This story is a bit muddled – the SIF doesn’t include Liwa al-Tawhid or the Farouq batallion and it isn’t “represented in the mainstream rebel army’s command council”. But it is the most important grouping of salafist fighting units and has been a major military ally of JN in its recent advances. So this is an important development.

  • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

    Here’s an interesting example of how that feared (at least by the US administration) , “al-Qaeda affiliate” Jabhat al-Nusra actually operates in its home areas:
    http://www.hhassan.com/2013/03/foreign-fighters-in-syria-targeted-by.html

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

      Looks like they are repeating their mistake in occupied Iraq:
      http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/al-qaida-and-jabhat-al-nusra-declare-islamic-state-in-syria/

      • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

        An ill-informed, confused and confusing post by Matthew Barber on Landis’s site. “Al-Qaida and Jabhat al-Nusra have each declared an Islamic State in Syria, in their own way.” Except JN hasn’t: as Barber subsequently acknowledges al-Goliani can at most be be viewed as talking of an”evolving emergence of an Islamic state in Syria” (sic)
        He then joins the gaggle of commentators who procalim great revelations in these statements, even when they are simply repeating things that have been well known for months.
        I commented on this issue (on EA Worldview) before this lengthier translation of al-Golani’s statement became available, but I see no reason to amend it now:
        “al-Golani is reported as saying ‘The sons of al-Nusra renew their pledge to the sheikh of jihad, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and declare obedience’ To me that looks like the opening ritual of a piece of diplomatic discourse: the content is in what follows. And what does follow?
        Al-Baghdadi proclaimed ‘It is time to declare to the Levant and to the world that the Al-Nusra Front is simply a branch of the Islamic State of Iraq’ al Golani responds, ‘Neither the al-Nusra command nor its consultative council, nor its general manager were aware of this announcement, and if the speech is authentic, we were not consulted.’ (Note the “if”) and ‘Al-Nusra Front will not change its flag, though we will continue to be
        proud of the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq, of those who carry it…’ I read that as a diplomatic ‘No’.”
        Clearer still is the summary of one of the few commentators who isn’t tone-deaf when it come to the nuances of language:” A power struggle between Jabhat al-Nusra and al Qaeda in Iraq? …Whatever AQI’s ambitions might be in terms of creating a joint Iraqi-Syrian Islamic state, al-Nusra seems more concerned about emphasizing its Syrian roots.” http://warincontext.org/

        • Arthur

          Brian your insistence that Jabhat al-Nusra is not an affiliate of Al Qaeda while actually quoting them swearing allegiance to its leader represents “such Herculean pillars of absurdity that one can only shrug one’s shoulders. It goes to confirm the truth that a little mistake can always be turned into a monstrous one if it is persisted in, if profound justifications are sought for it, and if it is carried to its “logical conclusion.””

          http://www.marx2mao.com/Lenin/LWC20.html

          • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

            Fine, Arthur, but I fear the world is more complicated that you seem to appreciate. If language always meant what it seems to say on the surface there would be many professions out of business. I also don’t know what an al-Qaeda “affiliate” means – this is not some sort of fast-food chain we are talking about.

            • Arthur

              Affiliation means pledged allegiance to its leader as just announced. Wake up!

              • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

                So “affiliation” in your world is purely symbolic, with no practical content?

                • Arthur

                  The practical content was identified long before the symbolic public announcement.

                  As you have insistently ignored or denied, and has now been publicly confirmed both by Al Qaeda in Iraq and Jabhat al Nusra they were establised by the same people who engaged in mass murder campaigns against the “Persian” majority of Iraqis under the banner of Al Qaeda in Iraq and were identified as such by Iraqi security when the moved to Syria and engaged in war crimes there.

                  Get a grip.

                  • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

                    And what is this practical content, exactly? Are you claiming that JN has been engaged in “mass murder campaigns” in Syria? (Your memory seems to be failing you Arthur – I sympathise – but you and I discussed this issue a very long time ago: which just goes to show that there is nothing new in these “revelations” despite all the media efforts to hype it)

                    • Arthur

                      You can find our earlier discussion here:

                      http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=4024#comment-24518

                      It ended with me drawing your attention to a video link posted on this site showing Jabhat Al Nusra opening fire on a mass protest against them and you not responding further.

                    • Arthur

                      PS Of course there is nothing new in the “relevations”.Their position was well known and well documented all along. That’s the point. Your denial was a mistake then and now that it has been publicly confirmed by both Al Qaeda in Iraq and Jabhat Al Nusra itself your persistence in denial represents ““such Herculean pillars of absurdity that one can only shrug one’s shoulders. It goes to confirm the truth that a little mistake can always be turned into a monstrous one if it is persisted in, if profound justifications are sought for it, and if it is carried to its “logical conclusion.””

                    • Manuel Barrera, PhD

                      What profound mistake has been perpetrated here, Arthur? That Ben or North Star just didn’t accept your thoughts on this and all things “Muslim” for the historic insight they represent? Because JN has “always” been a part of Al Qaeda or trained, or however joined at the hip formulation would be acceptable to his editorship doesn’t mean that the relationship of forces in Syria might have something to do with the statements traded among this “singular” camp, don’t you think? Or, perhaps you are of the opinion that the revolution has already become the right wing reaction toward an Islamist state that both JN and AQ as well as imperialism might desire (you know, so that they can justify bombing everybody in Syria)? Maybe the nuance of analysis that indicates the contradictory nature of the forces fighting Assad is a bit better way to show what is actually going on, reflected in the spat between JN and AQ, and provides revolutionaries with the need to redouble their efforts at strengthening, to the degree we can, the revolutionary-minded forces of the Syrian people?

                      You don’t have to agree with that analysis (after all, I didn’t run it by your editorship), but what exactly is really your point?

                    • Arthur

                      Manuel, I have no idea why you are referring to either Ben or Northstar and can only suggest that you carefully read both this discussion between Brian and me and the earlier one I linked to in order to understand the point.

                    • Manuel Barrera

                      Yeah, Arthur, I have been. Hence, my question. Sorry for the reference to Ben and NS, I did mean Brian, but it doesn’t really change what I asked. I’m not sure what you are arguing; that Islamists of JN and AQ have been connected all along? That this connection has in fact turned the Syrian revolution into some reaction? That one should “know” the allegiances of Islamists with Islamists and, what, it doesn’t matter what the conditions in Syria are on the ground, the Islamists are having their way with the struggle? That you know the true nature of all the Islamist forces? What?

                    • Arthur

                      “I’m not sure what you are arguing; that Islamists of JN and AQ have been connected all along?”

                      Yes, obviously.

                      The rest of your guesses have nothing in common with anything I said or think.

                    • Manuel Barrera

                      right, thanks for the amazing insight

  • http://magpie68.blogspot.co.uk Brian S.

    Two important sources for understanding the state of contemporary Syria:
    Peter Harling (of the ICG) on MERIP: http://www.merip.org/mero/mero041613
    Pessimistic, perceptive, hopeful, passionate, frustrated – contradictory feelings in a situation full of contradictions.
    Frontline documentary on a Syrian village under siege and the Syrian army force besieging them:
    In the UK can be viewed from http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/4od#3510024
    In the US its on http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/syria-behind-the-lines/ (wtih a lot of complementary info sources)
    Elsewhere these probably won’t work (copyright reasons) – but worth a try.
    Reasonable review here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/10001821/Syria-Across-the-Lines-Channel-4-review.html
    This is a powerful and graphic documentary (forced into a slightly artificial framework) that gives a real sense of what it is like to be living through the Syrian conflict.
    A note relevant to our preceding discussion: the protagonist Ahmad, a police defector to the FSA, starts by professing all the values of the “civil opposition” , but after living through several aerial bombings of his village and being badly wounded by shrapnel, indicates his desire to join Jabhat al-Nusra.

  • http://www.modelgovernment.org/ Nicholas

    Libya, Egypt, Syria… ? Are they “democratic revolutions” or are they just more “political coups” in favour of the old-new power elite and an old-new tyranny?

    The political revolution is not so much about kalashnikovs and passionate rhetoric. A democratic revolution should be seen as a new stage of humanity’s development, primarily a new way of thinking and innovation in a system of social relations and governance. If it fails to do that then it is merely yet another ‘palace coup’ bringing grist to someone else’s mill. In the absence of the revolutionary idea arab democratic revolutions (“Arab spring”) were doomed to failure even before they started. Replacing leaders doesn’t alters the system allowing arbitrariness. And the political systems and forms of government based on the principle of “the one is the winner, the rest are the losers” are unjust from the start and will never be able to bring freedom, peace and stable equilibrium to a society. Therefore protests and coups are repeated now and again …

    A new, MULTIPOLAR political system as a real Democratic Revolution.
    http://www.modelgovernment.org/ The President isn’t present more…

  • http://endallwar.wordpress.com/ Matt

    “The shift to the right among Marxists” ‘Whose side are they on?”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22739423

    Sounds like more Syria.

    How do YOU all relate to ISRAEL?

    I ask you AGAIN.

  • http://endallwar.wordpress.com/ Matt

    “I can’t abide by your view of the Saudi government as little more than Washington’s sock puppets. No two ruling classes ever have identical interests. Heck, even the Iraqi quisling who literally rode into Baghdad on the back of American tanks in 2003 didn’t have identical interests with their benefactors.”

    Really? “Can’t abide?” The effing Riyadh parasites? Compared to what exactly? GMAFB already!

    Git yer shit straight!

    See previous post, straight from the BBC, from Istambul.

  • http://endallwar.wordpress.com/ Matt

    You are all insane to think otherwise. You continue on this road you will completely alienate me. I know that Assad is a bastard that I’d love – yes love – to put a bullet in (how’s that for condemning “fascism”?), but it is the same crime that the the so-called “world system” and its “community” is doing to all of us . So stop praying to it.

    It is either live or die!

  • http://endallwar.wordpress.com/ Matt

    More: “Up to 200,000 Guatemalans were killed and missing during the conflict, making it one of Latin America’s most violent wars in modern history.”

    ” The civil war pitted Marxist rebels against the Guatemalan state”

    BTW, this is a fairly “even-handed” aka BS, Wikipedia on Guatemala:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Efra%C3%ADn_R%C3%ADos_Montt

    Of course, Rios Montt gets off scot free, just like Pinochet, but not like Saddam Hussein or Assad, should that time come (and hardly regretted, who gives a shit about Saddam or Assad), but the point concerning the constancy of imperialist “justice” is well and consistently made.

    Actually “200,000” is a post-historical BBC lie. More like half a million as I recall.

    And these are the forces some of you call on?

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  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

    An excellent report from Raqqa, ruled by Islamists, about the boundaries and nature of of new-found freedom:
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/20/us-syria-rebels-governance-specialreport-idUSBRE95J05R20130620

    • Brian S.

      Very impressive demo – and led by women.

  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

    Some really amazing signs here criticizing Islamist repression in liberated areas:
    http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/12556/the-growing-challeng

  • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh

    Bad news. It seems Jabhat al-Nusrah (JaN) has disintegrated and been replaced by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), who have recently assassinated a Free Syrian Army commander and picked fights in/near Aleppo over a rebel check point controlling food supplies for regime-held territory:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2013/07/13/syria-rebels.html
    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=555639814472910&set=pb.217139528322942.-2207520000.1373767542

    ISIL is also spearheading the offensive in Latakia and took over the town of Dana in Idlib. Most of JaN’s fighters in the Aleppo area have joined them.

    Meanwhile the regime is pummeling Homs and may move at some point in the near future to try to take it as they did Qusayr.

    • Arthur

      On the other hand, the good news is that FSA is now fighting them rather than letting the cancer grow.

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