The Realpolitik of armchair anti-imperialists

Posted: 02/29/2012 by editormary in Grassroots Activism, Internet and Communication, Iran, Middle East Issues, People's Movements / Struggles, Syria

A Syrian protester

WRITTEN BY ENRICO DE ANGELIS – translated by Mary Rizzo

The Syrian revolution is a conspiracy devised by the United States: thus goes the discourse of many leftists activists and their newspapers. But behind this vision is a distorted reading of reality and an increasing difficulty in interpreting the complexity of the contemporary world. Which risks making them lose credibility even in the future struggles. 

Since the revolt in Syria started, many have been convinced that it has been an American-Zionist conspiracy that has been behind the scenes, directing the uprising. They say that the majority of Syrians still support Bashar al-Assad.  They say that the living is still good in Syria and that the life conditions were better than in the other Arab states where the revolts broke out. They say that the activists of the opposition and the mainstream media that support them exaggerate the number of victims. They say that right from the start it was an insurrection armed by the United States and Gulf countries. They say that Syria is the last secular State and especially that it is the last bastion, together with Iran, against the policies of the United States and their allies in the region. Expressing this vision of what is happening in Syria since last March are persons who see themselves as belonging to the so-called Anti-imperialist camp. It is difficult to identify with precision those who belong to it: more than anything else, it is with a way of thinking, which emerges when one finds himself in discussion with human rights activists, those who sympathise with the Palestinian cause, anarchists, exponents of social centres (translator’s note, leftist student groups) and many others. In general, those who are against the world order that has the stamp of the United States. But it is a reading that at times also finds its expression in more official ways. In Italy, an example is il manifesto, which since the start had an attitude regarding Syria that can be called ambiguous at best. Any argument seems valid as long as it deviates the attention from the repression of the regime regarding the protests: the geo-political interests at play, the lack of precision in the count of the victims, the armed character of the revolt, the infiltration by al Qaeda and Iraqi Jihadists.

And, on the other hand, il manifesto is in good company – in a recent article entitles “The United States should stay out of Syria”, the American magazine The Nation  begins immediately with a geo-political analysis of the question, stressing who is against whom in the international panorama. Then it follows saying that “the Syrian opposition is, at least in its most external form, obscure” and concludes that the revolt could end in a massacre of the Alawites. Joseph Massad, the champion of the conspiracy theory writes in al-Jazeera English that the Syrian revolt has been “taken hostage” by the imperialist forces within (???) and outside Syria, and that certainly the outcome cannot be a true democracy. And in that vein still others. In these months I often found myself encountering persons who have these opinions. An example is an Italian activist I met in Tahrir Square in Cairo, on the occasion of 25 January, anniversay of the Egyptian revolt. He also came to celebrate with the victory against the Mubarak regime with the Egyptians. But when it comes to Syria, the position is striking, “the situation is completely different. The Egyptian regime was supported by the United States, the Syrian one is on the other hand against them.”

When Che Guevara talks like Kissinger – This is the first point that I’d like to discuss: the cold realpolitik that comprises this way of thinking. Suddenly the discourse of human rights, the defence of freedom at all costs, the opposition to State violence against citizens slip into the background. What counts now are only geo-political types of concerns. Though hidden behind other arguments, the discourse is essentially: the enemy of my enemy is my friend, no matter what he does. Syria and its regime is the enemy of the United States, thus it has to be protected. The Syrian people can be sacrificed on the altar of the global struggle of anti-imperialism, because, too bad for them, they happen to be fighting from the wrong side. What is important is to be against the United States, and anything that goes against the, is fine with me. This passage from a discourse based on ethics to a discourse based exclusively on political concerns seems to be experienced by those who use it without contradictions. Che Guevara all of a sudden starts to talk like Kissinger or Metternich, yet, everything seems normal. What happens on a local level counts for nothing, the struggle of a people for their freedom: the only thing that counts is geo-political equilibrium.

Protesters waving the revolutionary flag (pre-Assad era flag)

An erroneous reconstruction of reality – The second consideration goes under the name of ignorance. Because the contradiction referred to above is often overcome by claiming that it’s not truly a spontaneous revolt, but it is an armed insurrection orchestrated by the United States with the intention to intervene militarily. This is the same script that is used regarding the Iraq war of 2003 or, more recently, that in Libya. If the revolt is authentic, then the humanitarian case does not exist. There is no place here for challenging in detail all the pieces that make up this invented mosaic. And I don’t want to deny that there are foreign interests at play: there always are some. In fact, the longer the revolt lasts and the more that the clampdown of it is bloody, the more that an external intervention becomes pressing and influential, conditioning the future of the country. As a Syrian activist has said: when you don’t know who to turn to, you would even deal with the Devil.

But to think that the insurrection in Syria is fruit of a pre-ordained plan from outside is simply false. And for those who know the situation well, for those who have followed every single development since the beginning, there is no shadow of a doubt. No regional or international power wanted a revolt in Syria. It is sufficient to analyse the declarations of the American administration since last March. After less than a month Hillary Clinto declares that “Assad is a reformer”, dismissing the repression as “disproportionate use of force” and reassures Assad, excluding armed intervention in Syria. On 20 May Obama states that “Assad should lead the transition towards democracy”. On 20 May, Obama repeats that “Assad has to step down in the interest of the Syrian people”. And lastly, 6 February he excludes once more any military intervention. Clearly, it is not what one can call a defamation campaign as the one against Saddam Hussein prior to the invasion of 2003. On the contrary, the doors have always remained open for Bashar al-Assad, even when the brutality of the repression had become clear to all. The Syrian National Council, the main opposition organ abroad, has been recognised only one month ago and by very few countries. And the Free Syria Army, despite all the widespread rumours this year, judging by the rudimentary arms it possesses, has not yet received any help from foreign countries.

A revolution against the entire world – The Syrian revolution, as some activists have written, seems to be a revolution against the entire world. Not in the sense that there is any kind of conspiracy against it, but in the sense that the struggle for independence is evidently a solitary struggle. No external actor has the force to intervene, or the intention to place their bets on this revolution. Yet everyone follows it closely, anxious to understand how it will end and to know which horse to bet on so that they can cash in when all is over and done. There are many interests that must be safeguarded, except for the Syrian ones. The truth is that the Bashar al-Assad regime is convenient for everyone, the West and Israel included. Syria and the Assads have always barked tremendously and bitten very little, and they offered stability to the entire area. Fundamentally, Israel needs to have a threat to exhibit in order to continue reciting the role of victim under siege. And the Assad regime constitutes a threat only on paper. On the contrary, a truly independent Syria is a certain loss for someone and the terrible unknown for the others. It is precisely for this reason that the lack of solidarity in those movements and those persons who instead are always ready to participate in protests for Palestine or against the wars of NATO stands out even more as incomprehensible behaviour.

It is a world, that of the “anti-imperialists”, which shows that it not only has remained behind in its own incapacity to understand contemporary reality and its transformations, but also to be imprisoned within ideological prisons that impede them from reading the nature of local phenomena in their specificity. They say: one always must read events in a global key. But even if that were true, one first of all needs to read them well, and second, they need to do so without forgetting the persons who live in places where the events take place and who are undergoing more often than not local forces. As the Syrians know well, at times local powers can be more violent and ferocious than global ones. What does it matter to a Syrian if in the end the United States should make gains in geopolitical interests, if this of course is true, if the day before a follower of Assad has killed his brother? The Syrian regime perhaps is not a friend of the West, but it is an oppressive regime that has in recent years started a process of free market policies and policies of centralisation of economic power that resemble unrestrained capitalism, limited only to the need to ensure that the distribution of wealth is compatible with the interests of the authorities.

The loss of credibility of international solidarity movements – It is a paradox and disquieting that the insurrection brought forward in the first place in the name of freedom, democracy and social justice, and which is brought ahead by the less advantaged social classes of the country, is perceived as a revolt in favour of global imperialism. Why can’t one simply be on the side of the people and against the forces that limit their freedoms, wherever they may be? But this would already be an operation that is far too complex within the rigid framework of imperialism vs the free world. One is either against Iran or against the United States. These persons in general exhibit a presumptuous scepticism that often translates into a hasty conclusion: the mainstream media lies, therefore, reality is the opposite of what they affirm. In other words, if CNN affirms that there is a massacre in Syria, it means that the revolt has been organised by the Americans. They know how the world works, the others are poor lobotomised idiots who drink down anything that the mass media decides to force their way.

But unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the world (and also that of the media) is much more complex than that. If it is true that the mainstream media are often subordinated by the agendas of governments, it is also true that one cannot so easily dismiss them and thing that there is a permanent international conspiracy woven by the United States. But all of this, for those pseudo-intellectuals who are sitting comfortably in their own armchairs while people die, is if no importance at all. They should however remember one thing, and that is when they take to the streets again to march for a just cause, against the occupation of Palestine or against another NATO intervention, they will have very much less credibility from now on.

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  1. […] another NATO intervention, they will have very much less credibility from now on (29 Feb 2012, We Write What We Like). Condividi:FacebookTwitterLinkedInStampaEmail Tag: Anti-imperialists, Enrico De Angelis, Syria […]

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