Aleppo, barbarism, and the anti-imperialism of fools

Aleppo has fallen, and with it, all semblance of humanity.

Foreign sectarian militias (including Iranian proxy ultra-sectarian death squads) in the service of the Assad regime, backed by relentless Russian aerial bombardment, have reduced much of the city to rubble. All hospitals have been destroyed, along with most of the everyday necessities to sustain life in the city.

The war will continue. On the heels of the wreckage wrought upon Aleppo, the city of Idlib will brace itself to be next in line.

Aleppo was the beating heart of Syria’s democratic revolution and a beacon for what a liberated Syria might have looked like. But as Sam Charles Hamad points out, there were ideological reasons as to why Assad could not allow for Free Aleppo to exist:

The social relations of liberation in Aleppo, the freedom of speech, the freedom of organising and the growing forms of self-determination through democracy and free expression, were the antithesis of life under Assad’s brutal, authoritarian dynasty. Aleppo was a thorn in Assad’s side because it proved to the rest of Syria that Syrians didn’t need him and his regime.

While “liberating” Aleppo might serve as a propagandistic reprieve for the regime,the reality on the ground paints a much more desperate picture. The Syrian army does not exist in any meaningful sense anymore, which has led to the rise of sectarian militias. The country has been reduced to skeletal fixture: a rump state that is bankrupt and wholly reliant on the black market and cronyism. The Russians will not fully commit to a drawn-out intervention campaign lest they can afford an Afghanistan 2.0, meaning Assadist-backed foreign (particularly Shia) militias have free reign over large swathes of the country, which will only embolden a bloodthirsty sectarianism over time.

Assad’s useful idiots

With reports of atrocities being committed in Aleppo, the chorus of Assadist propaganda and venal war crime apologia has reached fever pitch with calls to heed biased ‘mainstream media’ reporting on Syria (while post-truth alt-media sources remain en vogue), along with the numerous human rights organisations & international agencies all pointing out overt and undeniable war crimes. Disingenuous mental gymnastics are employed in order to brand the massacred as “terrorists” or “zio-wahhabi proxies”, to shameful expressions of schadenfreude in witnessing the final tweets that besieged Aleppans shared with a world that had forsaken them.

There is a more veiled Assadist current that loiters around the Syria debate by going agnostic in reserving judgement by feigning a wilful ignorance. Their pleas to impartiality go something like this: “Its too complex for anyone to concretely understand whats going on or legitimately know the truth. All I know is that there exists no benevolent actors on either side.”

Such malicious evasion has run its course. Once you scratch the surface, you encounter a political beast known as the reluctant AssadistThe reluctant Assadist won’t explicitly admit their support for the regime, nor will they accept the carpet bombing of civilians, or the Ghouta chemical attack. As their cognitive derangement plumbs the vapid depths of conspiratorial misinformation and a perfunctory anti-Western posturing, millions of Syrians are duly evaporated from their purview. Solidarity with the revolt against Assad is denied, if not whitewashed completely. A discourse that principally stands against the regime’s barbarism inflicted upon a popular revolution is usurped for a narrative that chooses to tar the rebels as a monolithic amalgam of Western/GCC-sponsored and trained jihadi terrorist outfits.

A woeful ‘lesser of two evils’ binary is used as cover for what amounts to justification for unparalleled slaughter. The underlying argument becomes one that, if forced to choose between a murderous dictator and malign Western imperialism, acquiescence to dictatorship is the order of the day. Such an ideology essentially functions as: sure, each side is culpable for untold bloodshed, but our side has the license to carryout murder in service of this poisonous binary because western hegemony must be opposed at all costs. In doing so, a latent islamophobia, eurocentrism, and orientalism become fully operationalised into a narrative that ultimately denies Syrian (and non-western bodies in general) agency over their own affairs, let alone the right to resist their oppressors.

Unfortunately, this schtick is not an innovative tool in politics. The history of holocausts and genocides are littered with such ghastly reproaches for those who pretended they did not – and could not – see what transpired in the broadest of daylights. As the number of skulls pile up ever higher into the Levantine sky, Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase “the banality of evil”, rings ever more true. While Arendt invoked it in the context of the Nazi holocaust, one can just as well describe Assad’s brutal practices in a similar vein. A Spiegel article describing the slaughter that takes place in the regime’s prisons sheds light on an unfathomable institutional depravity:

Why would a regime, which kills thousands of its own citizens, collects them in a discrete location and buries them in hidden mass graves, photograph and number the dead?

Caesar says that one reason is so that death certificates could be issued. But why document bullet holes and signs of strangulation given the interest in concealing the true cause of death? The second reason mentioned by Caesar seems more important. The regime wanted to make a record of which security service was responsible for what death, he said according to the report. A kind of performance report for brutality.

Until deep into 2012, the military security agency, the air force secret service, the state security apparatus and other agencies often worked at cross purposes. Some of those wanted by the authorities could escape as a result — because, for example, he was on one agency’s list but not on that of another. Given the confusion, documenting who killed whom perhaps became more important than covering up the whole operation.

Anti-Imperialism of fools

A decrepit political nihilism has emerged from the throes of a desiccated anti-war movement, buttressed by reactionary offensives at home and interventionism fatigue abroad. No doubt, it is Syria today that has become a deep fault line for the Left; a true litmus test for the future of any progressive movement rooted in internationalism, during a time of xenophobia, autarky, and sadism on the ascent. How did we arrive at such a deplorable stage? A primary suspect is the information echo chamber that feeds off ideas circulated by prominent figures who are lauded for their ‘anti-imperialist’ credentials. One of the greatest collateral damages the Syrian catastrophe has wrought is their moral and intellectual decay.

The list of luminaries packs quite a punch: from Noam Chomsky (although to his credit, he has changed his tune recently), to a host of journalists and writers such as Glenn Greenwald, Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Seymour Hersh, Max Blumenthal, Ben Norton et al. Much of their reporting and analysis have been absorbed and referenced in numerous articles run by left-liberal publications such as CounterPunch, Jacobin, Salon, Alternet, TruthDig, and Mondoweiss, which have editorially, to one degree or another, tilted towards a pro-Assad line. Much of it has been justified with the window dressing of anti-western intervention, if not all out Baathist mythologizing and apologia, and appeals to a retrograde islamophobia. Many of the Western Left’s institutional organs (exceptions notwithstanding), such as the Stop the War Coalition in the UK – and by extension Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – have been pitifully rank and opposed taking a firm stand in solidarity with the Syrian revolution.

Correlated with this, is a media disinformation campaign, where Assadist propaganda is sustained by self-referential feedback loops emanating from ‘alternative media’ outlets such as RT, Press TV, and TeleSUR. Not to forget the Third Worldist crusaders whose unresolved Stalinism and Maoism leads them to ipso facto defend atrocities committed by non-Western tyrants, and to undermine genuine revolutionary uprisings like those across the Middle East by adopting conspiratorial verbiage such as the “Arab Sting”; whereby the US-Euro-Zionist nexus is the overriding analytical unit in every instance on the crude, reductionist chessboard of geopolitick. So much for letting “a hundred flowers bloom”. What blooms instead is an unrepentant red-brownism: a radicalism comfortable marinading in the putrid politics of reaction. Forget that the Assad regime has always been a faithful servant of imperialism and Zionism. Economist John Maynard Keynes’ oft-quoted dictum to change your mind when new information emerges is lost on this lot.

It eventually becomes clear is that this particular heuristic of anti-imperialism is epistemologically rooted in eurocentrism; hollowing out the term to the lowest bidder of dissension posturing against their Western government’s imperialist policies, without any concern for those dissenting against their non-Western tyrannical governments (whom in many instances collaborated with the same dastardly imperialists). Forget that anti-colonialism was ever a multi-faceted project whereby opposition to both the internal and external oppressor had to be waged. Frantz Fanon must be rolling in his grave.

By eliminating the dimension of the international from the scope of anti-imperialism, you are left with a relativism that becomes strikingly non-radical, and inevitably, reactionary. The implicit idea behind such posturing goes something like this: you see, non-white bodies are devoid of true agency and thus, cannot be trusted with deciding what is in their interests – since they have none worth considering. This is an anti-imperialism shorn of all that is substantive; for when you peel back the optics, you come to understand that the logic it operates under remains one that is deeply imbued with a colonial unconscious: We (the West) are the prime movers of History.

That the Left’s moral hypocrisy and betrayal of the Syrian revolution is egregious is to put it lightly. The protracted slaughter of Syrians over the past six years has engendered a deafening silence from those same groups that have no problem mobilising when Bush and Blair illegally invaded Iraq, and when Israel bombs Palestine, yet they cannot issue a strong statement of condemnation when it comes to Russian-Iranian imperialism. The reality of global capitalism is that all states are equally capable of barbarism in service of their interests, equally capable of imperialistic belligerence. And those populations who are ruthlessly repressed and exploited are equally capable of revolutionary upheaval – and all the messy contradictions that revolutions entail. What we have seen across the Middle East following the promise of the Arab Spring has been counter revolution from Egypt to Bahrain to Syria.

What Syria has made abundantly clear, is that much of the Left has converged with the Right in adopting a discourse that is indistinguishable from what populist forces of reaction strewn across the Occident are peddling. In a detached analysis obsessed with high politics and grand narratives, Syrians are mere abstractions in the unforgiving machinations of geopolitics whilst the fascistic brutality perpetrated upon them are condoned – and in many cases even denied. Any cursory glance in hindsight at this juncture will paint an unforgiving picture of “progressives” allowing themselves to be morally complicit with a genocidal regime, coupled with silent endorsement of a murderous Russian and Iranian intervention. The longer their intransigence remains, it becomes obvious that pro-Assad campistswhether crypto or zealous in hue, shall not be redeemed by history.

The global consequences of betrayal 

As the philosopher Walter Benjamin famously remarked, “behind every fascism, there is a failed revolution”. In the case of Syria, it is the failure to concretely support the revolution that has led to the rehabilitation of fascism in the 21st century. You only have to look to Syria’s ongoing counter revolution to understand the ascendancy of the far-right in the context of a seismic shift towards an international system dominated by blocs of multipolar, illiberal, despotic ethno-states. Putinism has led the charge, turning Russia deeply authoritarian, hyper nationalistic and religious chauvinistic over the past decade, with many other states joining the club in recent years (see India, Turkey, China). It is no surprise that much of the insurgent proto-fascist movements across the European continent and with Trump across the Atlantic have links or are supportive of Putin.

It is apparent that Assad and Far-right/fascist groups in the West have entered into an unholy alliance, nihilistically feeding off one another, in a sadistic cycle of supply and demand. The chaos spread by the regime, along with the disastrous sectarian vacuum left in Iraq, led to conditions of repression and civil war which groups such as ISIS took advantage of by overrunning under-resourced rebels. This was a gift to the regime (which was complicit during the early days of the revolution in releasing Islamists from their dungeons in order to hijack the opposition) who could now invoke the “war on terror” canard to reclaim dwindling legitimacy and control the oppositional narrative. Never mind that ISIS are a bigger threat to other Muslims and religious minorities in the Middle East, or that they’ve attacked the Syrian opposition more than they have Assad’s forces.

The tragic circumstance is that Assad and ISIS are handmaidens, using each other to thrust their dystopian nightmares upon the Syrian people. Assad’s barrel bombs and ISIS’s gruesome caliphate inevitably caused a massive refugee crisis which flowed into Europe, handing the ugly forces of nativist bigotry an opportunity to capitalise by politicising immigration. A vicious loop was evident when ISIS fanned the flame by carrying out attacks which provoked the West and legitimised the far-right’s anti-immigration platform, while demonising refugees and encouraging anti-Muslim racism. A cynical cross-fertilisation has taken place, whereby the Syrian regime and Western Far-right narratives echo each other in positioning themselves as the respective bastions against “Islamic” barbarity. Out of the ashes of Syria arose the offspring of the 21st century’s burgeoning authoritarianism: Sisi, Orban, Trump, La Pen, Wildeers, Hofer.

We said “never again” to Bosnia, to Rwanda, to Darfur. With Aleppo, Rime Allaf painfully corrects us: instead, we should say “never before”. She explains:

Never before has the world been able to observe – in real time – the destruction of a nation and the extermination of a people who dared to demand freedom. Never before has a civilian population been filmed under attack with Scud missiles, barrel bombs and chemical weapons by its “own” illegitimate authorities. Never before have starvation sieges and old-fashioned barbaric massacres been so documented as they happened. Never before has mass torture been so evidenced. And never before has the world’s indifferent silence been so loud, save for perfunctory condemnations and erasable red lines.

Indeed, never before has the mightiest superpower the world has ever known shamelessly pretended to be impotent, and never before has it had the temerity of falsely pleading with the Syrian people’s executioners for grace and mercy, the same grace and mercy it denied Syrians by rejecting their desperate appeals for protection.

Alas, in the interregnum, as Kurt Vonnegut once opined, it seems that things will “go on, as they must go on…until nothing does.”

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