On the hypocrisy of “anti-imperialists” blindly supporting Assad
Updated in April 15, 2018 with the latest events, added some new links also.
What does being an anti-imperialist mean nowadays? Traditionally anti-imperialism has been connected to the struggle against the destructive foreign policy of the US in a number of countries from Latin America to the Middle East and Philippines.
The reason behind this is clear: the US is the state that has orchestrated a number of “revolutions” and coup d’etat in other countries, has intervened militarily in the Philippines and many other countries and more recently — we all know what their involvement has been in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2001 and 2003.
Nowadays, convinced anti-imperialists talk of solidarity, struggle and resistance, often choosing the lesser evil as a counter-weight to Western expansionism.
Such logic often leads to justifying Russian intervention in Syria in late 2015 in what is deemed by Moscow as its sphere of influence as an illusionary balance to hyper-expansionist western neoliberalism. In their eyes the Russian attempts to create its circle of proxy-states is justified in order to prevent the “others” from controlling the entire globe. Would that mean we should be uncritical of Russian intervention in Central Asia or the Middle East, since “the others do the same”? What is the difference, if any, between the two models?
Modern “anti-imperialist” hypocrisy
One of the most shocking controversies in the views of a huge number of “anti-imperialists” is their position on Palestine when compared to the one in Syria. Historically, the left has sided with the oppressed Palestinians and such choice couldn’t be more logical.
However, just across the border the Syrian regime has murdered hundreds of thousands, razed cities to the ground, tortured, disappeared, erased entire populations in a manner sometime even harsher and more brutal than Israel and yet all this suffering has not resonated in the same way among those who claim to fight imperialism. The reason? Some perverted logic designates Assad as a positive figure since he is supported by Russia because of its own imperial economic, military and political interests in the region. The controversy is even greater when Putin has expressed his “support for the struggle of Israel” and such statements are met with profound silence.
The support for Assad coming from so-called anti-imperialists exists despite the fact that cities such as Homs and Aleppo, towns and villages are razed to the ground, more than 600, 000 are the murdered by indiscriminate shelling and carpet bombing of civilian areas by the regime’s airplanes and Russian aviation. The former — also a courtesy of Putin who has been fueling weapons in the hands of the Syrian government and sent mercenaries to serve Russian imperial interests. These facts are clearly unimportant since the images of bearded and wearing black lunatics is what sells the most and simultaneously serves as a justification of the mentioned total war by the regime against its own population with any kind of weapons, including numerous attacks using chemical weapons.
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Rarely if almost never are mentioned the roots of the rising militant Islamism — a one-dimensional and simplified image is presented to the spectators — these bad fanatics have always been there just waiting for their time to come and fight the secular government of Assad. Clearly, such understanding of the situation ignores the fact that the very same regime released hundreds of suspected jihadists from its prisons since 2011 that later joined the ranks of different militant groups including Al-Nusra Front (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham since July 2016) and ISIS.
Another favorite argument, used by the lefties anti-imperialists to justify their siding with Assad is how Syria supposedly used to be a social state.
Indeed, a very social state but for chosen circles, which did not include the majority of its population and marked a clear class divide. Those who were in one or another way loyal to the government, had the chance to make a career and gain certain privileges. The rampant clientelism did not cease with the uprising and a funded on a mafia-like principle network of contacts ensured the fierce support of the circles who could extract wealth and positions through their loyalty to the regime.
After the eruption of the protests in 2011 businessmen were given the opportunity to profit in exchange of financing militarized structures, including foreigner groups. In these militias, contrary to the common understanding, side by side were Alawites, Christians, Shia and Sunnis, which serves as an example of how the simplistic argument of the uprising in Syria being a sectarian conflict actually conceals a much more complex set of social issues and relations. Another good example is the so called shabiha. These local criminal circles were armed in 2011 in order to support the government against the uprising and nowadays they are the most powerful pro-Assad military structures in the provinces Hama, Homs, Tartus, Aleppo and Latakia. With help of shabiha and other criminals, the Syrian regime killed journalists like Marie Colvin in 2012.
The Syrian revolution was rejected from the very beginning by the so called anti-imperialists, who otherwise claim to support all peoples in their quest for justice. The withdrawal of support from the left opened a vacuum, which was later filled by the Islamists. The same anti-imperialists completely ignored the declaration of left-wing organisations from Tunis, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Iraq and Jordan that supported the uprising and condemned foreign intervention. Many did not like the fact that under foreign intervention this declaration meant the Russian one in Syria. I guess Russian imperialist intervention somehow doesn’t qualify as such in their minds.
However, even Syrian currency is now printed in Moscow. Isn’t this the pure definition of foreign intervention?
Same people who claim to stand against imperialism also claim to be against xenophobia and racism rising in Europe. Meanwhile, they tend to ignore the fact that Russia is one of the main donors of many European far-right parties and organisations. By the way, they ignored the fact that even neo-Nazi groups like Mavros Krinos (Black Lily) fight alongside Assad troops in Syria. Or what about these meetings between the Syrian government and far-right politicians?
For modern anti-imperialists racist attacks in Russia do not exist — even though the recent cases. Maybe they haven’t heard of journalist Stanislav Markelov and activist Anastasia Baburova, murdered in 2009 for their activities as antifascists. Or Natalia Estemirova, murdered in 2009 for her work on human rights abuses in Chechnya. These among many others. Modern anti-imperialists claim that Russia is necessary to keep the balance. What balance? Wars and intervention have risen drastically in the last 20 years.
Russia is currently replacing the traditionally stronger US on the weapon market in the Middle East. Is balance kept through the sale of more weapons and the support for degraded regimes? And at the end of the day, balance between who and who — the oligarchy of different superpowers who compete over financial and economic interests? Are we that naive to believe that the common people are somehow represented by such balance when it solely reflects the interests of dirty rich cliques on either side?
The same lefties tend to choose the lesser evil but how is this a choice at the end of the day? Do we really need to choose between the US and Russian imperial doctrines?
How is one better than the other? Is the difference in the scale, US have over 600 military bases abroad and Russia only a dozen, an argument good enough? Isn’t the repetition of the same thing with different names just another justification and reassertion of a world based on militarism, nationalism and statism? Aren’t such easy to digest labels and categories just the same old lazy analysis of the world that brought us world wars, genocides, mass slaughters and colonialism? Is anti-imperialism really reduced to this?
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Such “anti-imperialists” deserve their quotation marks for pointing a finger at anyone who dares to question what is happening in the left worldwide and reject a true discussion on what imperialism really is beyond the clichés, cold-war slogans and the easily-digestible categories. As long as this shallow approach to imperialism exists, they will continue being what they are — hypocrites and traitors of the oppressed.