Written by Mary Rizzo
For well over two and a half years, there has been a war in Syria. Some will call it a Civil War, and yet… these same people who call it a civil war (despite having been repeatedly corrected by fighters on the ground that it is an Intifada, an uprising and a revolution) are now finally taking to the streets to chant, “No War – Hands off Syria” as if it is currently waiting for a war to start and are simply being targeted by the West for imperial expansionism. A variant on the theme, they shout, “Stop the War” and again, they don’t mean to in any way address the bombing that has destroyed most of Syria, they mean the air strikes that a very few Western leaders are threatening to do to a very limited amount of targets inside Syria. Why on earth would the Western leaders do something like this when for two and a half years they have not done anything more severe than “deplore” the use of barrel bombs and carpet bombing of residential areas? Because they had to in some way establish a point of no return and it randomly fell on the use of Chemical Weapons.
It is beyond all reasonable doubt that the Syrian regime (which had admitted they possessed these weapons and have the only means to have implemented their use on a massive scale this August, exposing 15,000 people, including the elderly, women and children, to lethal nerve gas while in their beds) used Sarin Gas against its own people. Many more details about its acquisition will come out in the future, but at the current moment, over 1,500 have succumbed to it immediately (including hundreds of infants and children) and thousands more who have been exposed have had to deal with its very dangerous effects. So, I would think that any human being would be against the use of this weapon, considering it to be an atrocity that should not be ignored or even in the slightest way defended.
But what has instead happened? After the international news agencies, refusing to support the revolution also due to the fear that the western public has of any change of regime in the Arab world and an allergy to revolutions in general, finally displayed a fragment of the visual evidence of people suffocating to their deaths, their bodies writhing in pain or struck by uncontrollable spasms, the solidarity world started to move. But how did it happen that instead of condemning the atrocity, they are rallying around the Syrian regime and demanding the contradictory “no war” and “stop the war”. It seems that the western solidarity industry (yes, that part where people make a living as “activists”) again has been working overtime to keep its overwhelmingly white, male, western and older pundits on their pedestals. From these pedestals, they lament of the terrible hypocrisy of the very West (where most of them thrive and are “alternative media stars”. (Hint: the Syrian people sure have very little use for them, if they even know who they are).
The Western activists who have not opened their mouths in support of the popular revolution that they have pretended to have supported for the Palestinians but when push comes to shove, even over 1,600 Palestinians murdered by the Assad regime and tens of thousands sent into further exile, have been silent and uncaring, are disgusted by the hypocrisy of their own leaders. This is the argument they use: The West didn’t come in and in any way strike those who were using chemical weapons against the Palestinians, so the West is comprised of freedom hating hypocrites. And this position begs the question: does this mean that if the US and the West had acted in this way for Palestine, it would not have been intervention, but something else instead? And if it is something else, what would they classify it as? Could it be exactly what the Syrians who are besieged in many parts of Syria and subject to ethnic cleansing and massacres have been begging for? This seemingly contradictory stance (intervention for Palestine is considered as “good”, intervention for Syria is considered as “evil”) is at the core of what I will call “the Waffle Syndrome”. Waffling on a position and changing it according to a specific point of view fuelled not by a revolutionary vision of liberation and freedom, but by an ideological position of “anti-west” activism and money to be made in a cause that has long ago entered into the discourse thanks to the hard work of many activists (in primis Palestinians and Arabs, with the support of some Westerners who run the gamut from pan-arabists to anarchists, Marxists and anti-imperialists).
If the sudden interest in the death of Syrians (which of course, if you follow the discourse of these pundits, will only start when NATO bombs the living daylights out of Syria, so the “humanitarian” thing to do is to wash “our dirty hands that have always been evil” of it and stay out now… in stark contrast with the calls to support the Intifada and Arabs that were part of the discourse until the Arab Spring actually happened!) is going to do anything for Arab-Western relations, it is going to heighten the distrust not only of the West, which never does what it says it will, or which uses the pain of other people as a means to get involved in international disputes, but it is going to bring the level of hatred for western ACTIVISTS who are showing now, like never before, that they have not got a grasp on even the very basic and core ideals of revolution or struggles to liberate oneself from an oppressor.
When push comes to shove, when the most widely condemned atrocities are added to atrocities that started from shooting peaceful protesters and arbitrary arrest and torture of civilian political opposition and even of children, leading up to the absolute destruction of most of Syria where the majority live (leaving the minority who sustain the bombing of their own country by their own leader unscathed because it maintains their privilege- similar to the theory of “if you want an omelette, you have to break a few eggs” of imperialist memory) it is clear that the bulk of the activists stand by the perpetrator of the crimes and against the common people, the refugees and the unarmed. They are following the hasbara (Israeli propaganda that knows it is propaganda and a narrative) tricks used against the Palestinians, accusing them of using their homes and people as human shields for terrorists. It is a new version of hasbara, but applied to the Syrian people: claiming to be with the Syrian people but selectively ignoring any crimes against them except for the few that the Syrian regime and propaganda machine want them to be scandalised by, specifically if they are backed by flags with Islamic or Islamist slogans. The problem is not that Assad is bombing the Syrian country into oblivion and driving one quarter of its population into refugee status. The problem is that there are evil foreign agents who will impose their will on Syria. They are imperialists and Islamists, and in a three-card-shuffle, these two diametrically opposed entities are scratching one another’s back, as if they have the same goal and interests. As far as the Wafflers are concerned, they are the same, and they use the same reactionary rhetoric that the hasbarists use against the Palestinian struggle for liberation.
But what is worse than the lack of interest of the “activists” and their support of the regime “because the alternative is worse FOR THE SYRIANS”, if you follow their rhetoric? It is the hypocrisy they have regarding the very issue of intervention and the role of the international community.
They have not seemed to have ever taken the streets or set the internet on fire with their calls against intervention in Syria before. They seem to ignore that for years there has been foreign intervention in Syria, that Russian weapons and experts, troops from Iran and Hezbollah, have been waging the war already, fuelling it and at times even bringing their own soldiers home in flag draped boxes. Are they unaware that Russian intervention has also used the tool to advance their personal agenda and interests, the tool that every single one of us for years had believed was the “original sin”: the UN Veto of a resolution condemning an act of war or imposing a restriction on intervention. It seems that the arms embargo against the revolutionary Free Syrian Army has been in force while there has been no such restriction in arming the regime. If it is a civil war, it is indeed alimented with great gusto by the Russians by means of the unethical tool of their power to impose their will by means of a veto. It is this waffling and hypocrisy that will deepen the gulf of “misunderstanding” between the people of the Arab world and the “caring” West, which is represented by impotent leaders or reactionary, counter-revolutionary activists who are expert navel-gazers.
Because, when it comes down to it, the counter-revolutionaries are going to scream bloody murder when a protester in Berkeley gets pepper spray in her eyes by the cops and at the same time defend the ruler in a regime where rule of law and democracy has never been in force, there is some heavy-duty orientalism/superior thinking going on. Evidently, a single protester in the USA is worth more, or the belief that Americans deserve full rule of law and justice but Syrians just must persevere because they have to resist “Western Imperialism” is rife. And why is this idea so common? Because (as usual) the Western activists have a great deal of trouble accepting that maybe they don’t know better than “the other” what’s better for them. They impose their fears on them, their ideology is naturally “revolutionary” but it does nothing in the slightest to back the revolution, and in fact, uses the terminology that the reactionary right/hasbarists have been using against the Palestinians for decades. They say that they would really support the Syrians, but they “know” that the Islamists are worse than Assad. How do they know this? Because they watch Press TV (run by an Islamic Theocratic state that incidentally finances Assad’s regime because it is holding back the majority rule in Syria, which would likely be democratic or in the lack of that, Sunni dominated) and they read who I have been referring to for years as the “fat white male western pundits”.
For years, I have managed and run various sites for Arab freedom causes, and for years, I have placed at the top of those sites articles and commentary written by Arabs. I believe that if you are able to serve a cause, the first task is to listen, then if you can, amplify the voice of the oppressed. But, while the names I published and translated on my site were overwhelmingly Arab, the names getting the big circulation on the web and doing the well-paid speaking tours were non-Arab, many times they were actually Israelis (ostensibly speaking “for” the Palestinians), almost all the time they were male, the educated élite of punditry and most of them were at least a generation older than those who were marching in the streets for their own rights. It was a rare thing to see the actual protagonists saying, “this is what I think, this is what I want, this is what I want from you”.
All of that has changed so much recently. There is a vast range of articles written by Syrians about their situation, by Palestinians about their situation as “double refugees” and by Arabs around the world who want to express solidarity with those of their language/culture and often religious affiliation. More than that, any week of the year, you can see the posters from the marches INSIDE Syria. Yes. After two and a half years, they are still marching in their streets and expressing what they want. They are not props set up by anyone, they are not the pawns of someone else’s interests, they are THOSE WE ARE SUPPOSED TO LISTEN TO AND EXPRESS SOLIDARITY WITH. What are they saying? Are they begging for the world to ignore them and let them sort it out on their own? No. In fact they are saying what they have been saying since the beginning, “if you don’t help us, we will be killed”.
Are you prepared to understand what kind of help they have been begging for from the start? They have been first of all asking for protection from the bombs. That means that those who are in the streets in the West have ignored for two and a half years that an entire population has been bombed night and day and that hundreds of thousands of them have lost everything they had. How could the “No War” people have missed this? Oh, that’s right, they have been listening only to the well-paid, popular, fat, white, western guys who get money from Press TV or Al Manar to tell them what is happening in Syria. They don’t actually have to LISTEN to Syrians or watch their videos that they load with constancy despite the difficulties, because they WANT us to know and to do something. They have been asking for the lifting of the arms embargo against the Free Syrian Army, which they recognise as their liberation force. The first commander of the FSA said (two years ago) that if the FSA were armed adequately, they would finish the revolution in a matter of weeks with no direct foreign intervention. He also said that if this did not happen, there would be other forces around who would not wait to form militias and enter into Syria, without the same revolutionary goals, and definitely not with an interest in a Syria for all of its people, even those who currently support Assad.
I suppose the most ironic part of the waffling hypocritical “activism” world that woke up now to “stop a war” that they aren’t even sure exists or not, and if it does, what kind of war it is, is that they claim to be anti-Zionist, but when for the first time a true threat to the Zionist state has been uttered by the regime and some of its supporters (Iran and Hezbollah) as the Syrian regime Army Generals warned “in case of attacks on Syria, ‘Israel will burn’ and that if Syria weakens, ‘certain irresponsible groups’ will be formed that would endanger Israel,” they don’t seem to understand the actual regional dynamics – or else they really don’t want anything to threaten Israel, whose own “security” has always trumped Arab rights and Arab lives.
Now, here is the core of the hypocrisy. Evidently, a Syria that accepts the provocations of Israel without responding, that accepts for decades the occupation of Syrian soil and helps to actually displace once again more Palestinians and to engage in a “scorched earth” policy with regard to what is supposed to be a threat to Israel (Syria itself), is considered as “resistant”. It is considered as an idea that is beyond the pale to bring Israel into any kind of conflict, and if there is such a thing, it can only be considered “irresponsible”. Israel has got to be left alone, not even a slap on the wrist, the Syrian regime is the one that sees to their protection, they are their border guardian not only throughout the decades, but more than ever now that Syria might actually lose Assad as its leader.
The expansion of the conflict is not what anyone wants, and in fact, Assad has seen to it to be the exact party not only to maintain the Israeli status quo, but to also keep any kind of anti-west or anti-pluralism elements at arm’s reach. If nothing else, this statement alone shows the fundamental flaw of the reasoning of at least a portion of the “solidarity activists against the war”. Now, not only will they be used to enhance the totalitarian, Arab-hating and Islamophobic forces in the area, but they will be given the legitimacy that they don’t get from their own people. Once again, Imperialism Wins! The Westerners know BETTER! And there is an important lesson to be learned, and repeated by any kind of “oriental despot”: massacre your own people in their sleep and the “solidarity” champions will make a hero of you.