[Marxism] Navigating Syria » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu May 8 07:17:32 MDT 2014


The Impossible, Indispensable Mission
Navigating Syria

I unfriended another Facebook friend this week. It may seem to be a 
trivial matter, but for me, it is not. The reason behind my action was 
Syria. As in Egypt, Syria has instigated many social media breakups with 
people whom, until then, were regarded with a degree of respect and 

But this is not a social media affair. The problems lie at the core of 
the Syrian conflict, with all of its manifestations, be they political, 
sectarian, ideological, cultural, and intellectual. While on the left 
(not the establishment left of course) Palestine has brought many 
likeminded people together, Egypt has fragmented that unity, and Syria 
has crushed and pulverized it to bits.

Those who cried over the victims of Israeli wars on Gaza, did not seem 
very concerned about Palestinians starving to death in the Yarmouk 
refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus. Some squarely blamed the 
Syrian government for the siege that killed hundreds, while others 
blamed the rebels. Some writers even went further, blaming the residents 
of the camp. Somehow, the refugees were implicated in their own misery 
and needed to be collectively punished for showing sympathy to the 
Syrian opposition.

The only line of logic that exists in the Yarmouk narrative, as in the 
Syrian story as a whole, is that there is no logic. It has turned out 
that solidarity with Palestinians has limits. If forces loyal to 
President Bashar al-Assad do the shooting – and the shelling and the 
starving – then the plight of the refugees is open for discussion.

It also has turned out that some of those who pose as human rights 
activists are rarely compelled by ethical priorities, but rather 
dogmatic ideology that is so rigid it has no space for a sensible 
argument based on a serious investigation of facts.

Some self-proclaimed ‘progressives’ have decided to elevate the status 
of Bashar al-Assad to that of being the last line of defence against 
American imperialism. They have done so with Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi as 
well. Their line of reasoning doesn’t stem from a serious understanding 
of the legacies of both men, but an entirely different set of 
representations, as in the West’s own attitude towards Libya and Syria. 
Syria supported Hezbollah and Hamas in their resistance to Israel. True. 
Leading US neoconservatives have plotted for years to ‘roll back’ 
Damascus, and to subdue any resistance to Israeli hegemony. Also true. 
But between delineating these truths and others, in all that the Syrian 
government has done – the horrendous war crimes, the perpetual sieges, 
the unhindered violations of human rights – everything is somehow 
forgiven. They are not to be discussed, or even acknowledged. In fact, 
for some, they never happened.

The other side is just as culpable. Crimes committed by opposition 
forces and al-Qaeda affiliated groups are heinous and barbaric. A simple 
news search produces volumes of crimes, massacres of entire villages, 
and whole families or individuals who belonged to the wrong sect, or 

The intellectual crowd that opposes Assad is also unmoved by all of 
this. They often pin the blame on Assad or the thugs (shabiha) for any 
reported crime anywhere in Syria. And when news emerges that the victims 
were loyalists to Assad, they find ways to twist the story in order to 
place the blame on Assad forces anyway. But when more is revealed to 
prove the responsibility of an opposition-affiliated militia, or a gang, 
they simply shift gears to another massacre elsewhere, which is real or 

How is one to navigate a Syria where there are no ‘good guys’, where a 
return to the status quo of an inherently corrupt, oppressive and an 
undemocratic, clan-based government is unthinkable? And where neither 
al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant nor any other warning 
faction offers the antidotes to Syria’s many ills – even worse, they 
offer an archaic and essentially violent interpretation of Islam?

How is one to navigate the Syrian intellectual realm when both 
narratives are riddled with half-truths or outright lies, where each 
discourse is predicated on the complete dismissal of the other? How is 
one to navigate this territory when many intellectuals who also 
masquerade as ‘human rights activists’ turn out to be narrow-minded 
ideologues devoid of any humanism?

Bashar is not a deity. He is no Che Guevara either. The crimes his 
forces committed, would be enough to send thousands of his backers to a 
never ending imprisonment. His opponents are no liberators. Few amongst 
them have any potential of being a harbinger of democracy or justice. 
Their crime record is vile and frightening.

The Syrian narrative is very complex because a ‘just solution’ is not a 
matter of a clever articulation of words. Aside from the Syrian camps, 
parties involved include Western powers, Arab governments, Israel, 
Russia, Iran, and a cluster of intelligence agencies and legions of 
foreigners, on all sides. The agendas are mostly sinister. The media 
campaigns are driven by lies. The story of the Ghouta chemical attack of 
last year is particularly poignant. A war was about to break out, led by 
the US and cheered on by Arabs. A recent investigation by Pulitzer 
Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh suggests that the whole thing 
might’ve been a plot, involving Turkey, to indict the regime. He argues 
that the Americans knew it, yet still were ready to go to war.

If the Nusra group was indeed behind the Ghouta killings of hundreds of 
innocent Syrians, the Syrian army is not innocent; far from it; as it 
has killed thousands. The barrel bombs continue to level entire 
neighborhoods. Those who survived the chemical attacks, manage to die in 
numerous other ways.

New killing methods are now reportedly include crucifying victims. All 
of Syria is in fact being crucified. In fact, despite their differences, 
Syria’s warring parties are united in the blood of Syrians – and 
Palestinians – which they shed on a daily basis. When over 150,000 
Syrians, including 10,000 children are dead, and 6.5 million are 
internally displaced, and 2.5 million have fled beyond the country’s 
borders, no one is innocent. As for the pseudo-intellectuals who are 
keeping track of one body count, and ignoring the other, they must wake 
up to the fact that there is only one pool of victims, the Syrian people.

Bishop Desmond Tutu is famous for his quote “If you are neutral in 
situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” 
Some of those who applied the quote abundantly in the case of Palestine, 
are now ignoring it in the case of Syria, for it doesn’t fit perfectly 
with their ideas, where there can only be space for one single 
unadulterated and simplified narrative. All ‘facts’ are carefully 
selected and stacked in so carefully away to glorify one party and 
demonize the other. In their world, the story is convincingly clear, and 
those who don’t agree to its every component must be either a Jihadist, 
a Zionist, an Assad-sympathizer, a fan of Hezbollah or on the payroll of 
one intelligence service or the other.

But how do you navigate an impossible story? The answer: You side with 
the victim, no matter her colour, sect or creed. You remain committed to 
the truth, no matter how elusive. You drop every presupposition, abandon 
ideology, permanently discard dogma, and approach Syria with abundance 
of humanity and humility. We need to understand the roots of this 
heinous war, but we also need it to end for the good of the Syrian 
people. The Syrian conflict should not be a stage of bloody political 
intrigues for the West and Russia, Israel, Iran and the Arabs. Syria is 
not a God-given inheritance of the Assad-clan and their friends, or a 
space for another extremist experiment, as was the case in Afghanistan 
and Somalia, or another imaginary battlefield for social media leftists, 
whose claim to socialism is an occasional Facebook profile photo of a 
clasped fist, or an earth shattering quote about defeating capitalism.

Syria belongs to its people. You either stand on their side, or the side 
of the oppressor.

Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media 
consultant and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is 
“My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, 

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