Rethinking Syria and the claptrap of anti-imperialism

Five years on, Syria’s tragic civil war has become the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. Roughly half of the country’s pre-war population (over 11 million people out of 20+ million), have been killed or uprooted from their homes, spawning a refugee crisis of unparalleled proportions in neighboring countries of Jordan, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and those desperately fleeing to Europe.

The ongoing tragedy cannot yet be quantified materially, not to mention the psychological trauma that will live for at least a generation. What can be detected, however, is an ongoing rehabilitation and implementation of a retrograde anti-imperialism. An analytical lens contaminated by a bygone Stalinism, its pernicious ideological scaffolding has been employed by many on the Left to various degrees in what essentially amounts to giving cover to war crimes carried out by Assad and Russia. Invariably, one only has to recall the similar ideological dilemmas confronted the Left during the epoch of the Cold War: Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, Afghanistan in 1979, Poland in 1981 and so on. No doubt, it is Syria today which has become a deep fault line; a true litmus test for the future of any progressive movement rooted in internationalism during a time of escalating barbarism.

“So, how do I avoid succumbing to anti-imperialist reductionism?” you ask. Fortunately, correctives exist, albeit in short supply. It goes without saying, but speaking to Syrians is a radical start. You’d be amazed at how much they have to say about their own country and the repressive regime they and their families deal(t) with.

If reading is up your alley, these books published in 2016 are well worth recommending:

Notable social media-inspired posts can also fill in as a remedy for those inflicted with the dissonance of Eastern-bloc fetishism, Cambridge professor Priyamvada Gopal’s “Anti-Imperialism: A Short Guide in 7 Steps”, succinctly dismantles simplistic binaries and unresolved eurocentrisms, while Electronic Intifada co-founder Laurie King’s litany of statements clearly demarcate the kind of positions anyone considered a ‘progressive’ should embrace:

1. Ideological purity is out of place when discussing this.
2. The primary imperialist actor on the scene at present is Russia.
3. The Assad regime is not pro-Palestinian or even Arab nationalist. They are human rights abusers of the first order.
4. Anyone who is not living/has not lived under the terror of the Syrian state should not tell those who have how wrong/stupid/coopted they are for resisting a murderous regime.”He who counts the blows of the tyrant’s stick is not the same as he who eats them.”
5. It’s a failure of vision to assert that there are only 2 choices: the regime or ISIS.
6. Syrians have agency. If you deny that, you are part of this problem.
7. Being against the regime does not mean one is ipso facto an American imperialist.
8. There is more under heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your (outdated, narrow political) philosophies.
9. Children’s deaths should upset you much more than political point scoring. If they don’t, your soul is in peril.
10. The left has embarrassed and nauseated me once again.
11. I remain a leftist, in search of a new discourse.

Cosigned.

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