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A left-wing response to left-wing delusions on Syria

May 28th, 2013 · 26 Comments · Commentary

I can’t say I agree with everything in this, but it’s certainly an interesting read. It’s a response to a comment piece by Lindsey German. By Shiar:

A left-wing response to left-wing delusions on Syria

I have no idea where you get your news about Syria from, but it strikes me
that it’s probably mostly from the Guardian, BBC and other establishment
mouthpieces (when it comes to foreign policy anyway). For how else can one
explain your sudden realisation that Syria is only now “descending into
hell”? Really?! All this death and destruction over the past 26 months has
not been hellish enough for you? Only now, when your beloved mainstream
media start to recycle some state propaganda nonsense about the conflict
in Syria taking (yet another) dangerous turn or crossing some ‘red line’,
do your alarm bells start to ring?

You see, information sources are not just about information; they also
shape your perspective. As a Leftist activist, one would have thought you
would mention – at least once, in passing – the popular uprising or the
revolution, what Syrians think and want, or anything remotely related to
people. Instead, all you obsess about is big politics from a statist
perspective: regime change, foreign intervention, regional war, Israel,
Iran, bla bla bla.

If you’d argued that, after Tunisia, the prospect of mass, popular
uprisings bringing regimes down seemed too frightening for Western and
regional powers, so they opted for pushing the revolutions into prolonged
armed conflicts or wars (mainly by not intervening when they could), I
might have paused and thought a bit about your argument. If you’d said
that the prospects of progressive governments emerging from mass uprisings
demanding freedom and social justice seemed too frightening for the
conservative, neoliberal forces, both regionally and internationally, so
they converged to divert the revolutions and paint them as something else,
I might have listened to you. But dismissing everything people have been
fighting for because of some archaic geo-strategic equations… that’s
just too much to swallow.

The only time you seem to remotely allude to people’s agency is when you
fall into the trap of Western media’s obsession with Middle Eastern
sectarianism, reducing complex political dynamics to a savage ‘civil war’
between religious sects: “Syria, locked into a bitter civil war between
the government of Bashir Assad and the various opposition forces…” Here
is what a friend posted on Facebook a while ago:

“Dear friends everywhere,
We, Syrians, or a vast majority of us, do not accept using the term ‘civil
war’ when talking about our revolution. We hope that you can take serious
note of that. It is a popular revolution against a mass-murdering
dictatorship. Calling it a civil war is unacceptable to us. Thanks.”

Your misinformed, or disinformed, sources of information may also explain
your simplistic analysis of the political games unravelling in Syria, such
as your talk about the imaginary “alliance of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel,
Jordan and the Western powers.” Had you bothered to look a bit closer,
check some more informed and reliable sources, or even talk to some
Syrians, you would have realised that this ‘alliance’ is riddled with
power struggles, with different regional and international powers
supporting different factions fighting in Syria, with very different
agendas and strategies. The only thing that seems to unite them is their
opposition to the regime.

But even this does not mean that ‘the Syrian people’ are united in their
position regarding these factions. Had you bothered to look or ask, you
would have discovered that many Syrian Leftists are fighting alongside
members of the Muslim Brothers, that there have been numerous protests
inside Syria against Jabhat al-Nusra when its members have gone too far in
their authoritarian or sectarian practices, and so on and so forth.
Instead, you chose to quote Robert Fisk – who has long lost it, as far as
I’m concerned – saying: “The rebels so beloved of NATO nations are losing
their hold of Damascus… This war – beware – may last another two, three
or more years. Nobody will win.”

The same can be said of your eye-opening revelation that the sole aim of
the Syrian revolution, as a Western conspiracy, is “a transformation of
the Middle East aimed at permanently weakening Iran and its allies.” I do
not want to comment on this any further but you might want to commission
one of your coalition members to investigate the complex and changing
attitudes of Syrians towards Hizbullah and Iran. A cursory look at recent
images posted on Facebook of Syrian banners and placards ridiculing Hasan
Nasrallah and Hizbullah might be a good start.

My point is that your objections to a military intervention in Syria seem
to stem from the same place as the intervention: that ‘we’ (Europeans,
Westerners, whatever) know better than Syrians what should be done about
Syria. Had you bothered to talk to some Syrians, they might have told you
how complex and nuanced the issue of foreign intervention is for most
Syrians (I’m obviously not talking about a few sell-outs or parasites who
are capitalising on the events for their own advantage). Their angry
responses to the Israeli air strike on Damascus last week are just one

Did it not cross your mind, for instance, that ‘those people’ have already
experienced Western colonialism and have grown up with strong
anti-imperialist discourses (Leftist, pan-Arab nationalist and Islamist)?
That they too might have learnt something from the Iraq war like you?
(even though I would object to equating the invasion of Iraq with the
recent popular revolutions in the region, but that’s another discussion.)

I doubt any of this has ever crossed your mind. Because had it done so,
you might have paused for a moment and thought: what is that pushes these
people to resort to the support of antagonistic regional and Western
powers, knowing full well that the conditions of this support or the price
they would have to pay is very high? I can tell you what I think the main
reason is.

If you and your comrades had shown the Syrians who started the revolution
any sort of support from the beginning – I mean serious, material support,
not conditional solidarity and empty, confused slogans – they might not
have had to resort to the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other powers, and
to form coalitions with ‘backward’ forces. Instead, all you and your
comrades have been obsessing about is an imaginary peaceful or civil
society movement that would mysteriously succeed in bringing down a
blood-thirsty regime just like that. Then you turn to slag off those who
join the Islamists or whoever is actually fighting the regime. This is not
only delusional, allow me to say, it also does not exactly strike a chord
with the majority of Syrians at the moment, given the context of extreme

Every time I hear people here talking about a peaceful uprising being
hijacked by militant Islamists or great Western powers or whatever, I
cannot help thinking that it is not just their ignorant arrogance that is
making them so blind to what is actually happening on the ground; it is,
rather, an ideologically driven habit of twisting facts so that they
conveniently fit into a pre-constructed narrative about ‘those people’ and
how they do things. It is, in other words, Orientalism.

Here is another example from your article: “The impact of Western
intervention in Syria is becoming more destructive as time goes on. […]
Syria… is continuing its descent into hell, aided and abetted by outside
powers whose concern is not humanitarian nor democratic, but is about
reshaping the region and especially destroying Syria’s ally in Iran.”

To me, the position of Western anti-war activists and politicians
vis-a-vis the Arab revolutions can be best descried as ‘schizophrenic
delusion’. On the one hand, they stand against ‘the war’; on the other,
they find themselves not only supporting repressive regimes but also
supporting the wars waged by these regimes against their peoples because
they are stuck in an archaic anti-imperialist discourse.

Being anti-imperialist yet West-centric just does not work: it is still
Orientalism. This Orientalist (and statist) world view is so dominant
within the Western Left that even a mass, popular uprising is reduced to a
Western-manufactured conspiracy (which is, incidentally, the same line as
that the Syrian regime has been repeating). It not only ignores facts on
the ground and the complex political dynamics at play in those countries,
but also overlooks those people’s agency and reduces them to either some
inferior and stupid stereotype (Islamist terrorists) or some romanticised
mythical version that is compatible with the dominant Western values
(pro-democracy, peaceful, etc.).

Regional and Western powers will, of course, try to capitalise on the
Syrian revolution and attempt to hijack or utilise it for their own ends
(they’ve always done so; that’s politics.). But by imposing your own
values and political agendas on the revolution, instead of showing real,
unconditional solidarity with the people living it, you do exactly the
same, dear comrade: you use it to feel better about yourself; to feel
you’re still relevant, superior and intelligent.


26 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Roy Ratcliffe // May 30, 2013 at 1.15 pm

    Hi There!

    I would like to re-blog your article ‘Left Wing Response to Left wing delusions on Syria[, on my blog at

    I think it is an important contribution in confronting the left with its often dualistic way of thinking. I do this a lot myself – but not on Syria. I like to have my facts sorted and double checked first. You might like to visit my blog first to see if you feel it is appropriate.



  • 2 randyjet // Jun 8, 2013 at 4.26 pm

    Thank you for that perspective which is a good one. Unfortunately, I do not have enough information on the various factions to make up my mind on which side we should support. My first inclination is to support the revolution, but then I can recall the sad outcomes of such revolutions against dictators which turned out worse than the original one. These resulted in the outright liquidation of most progressive forces by execution or forced compliance in laws that banned them.

    If for example the Islamists fanatics have the main force and power in those who are fighting against the Assad regime, then I would consider supporting that regime since its defeat would lead to the oppression of women, and the elimination of a secular society and even less opportunity for leftist to exist. The Assad regime has a massive social base which is obvious by its ability to hang on. So it looks like this base is not completely, but mainly a religious base of Shia Muslims and other smaller sects. Given the uncertain nature of the relation of forces, my preference would be for a negotiated settlement which would allow for far more diversity than currently exists on either side. So therefore, I would oppose any Western intervention other than humanitarian aid.

  • 3 Pauly Lin // Jun 9, 2013 at 6.38 am

    Great article. This is not just about Syria, it also reveals the serious level of racism of many white Western progressives. They are racist at so many levels: 1. West-centric – to them, overthrowing dictatorships in non-Western countries are nowhere as important as the anti-West agenda of themselves; 2. arrogance – arriving at conclusions without paying any attention to the experience and opinions of people on the ground in non-Western countries; 3. cultural relativism – somehow non-Western people either don’t need or can wait a bit for human rights or democratic freedom; 4. racism against immigrants in Western countries – they think immigrants should just behave like white people, focus on “the enemies at home” and stop being passionate about struggles in their countries of origin.

  • 4 A Leftist Response to Leftist Delusions on Syria | band annie's Weblog // Jun 9, 2013 at 9.34 am

    […] This excellent piece was written by Shiar in response to Stop the War’s Lindsey German (who can’t even get the Syrian president’s first name right) and was first published at the Syria News Wire. […]

  • 5 TheRedPill // Jun 9, 2013 at 4.02 pm

    Articulating, pontificating and yet you are still just speculating.

    You are an author of a piece in a blog pronouncing your unfettered view on the crisis ..and that is all this is.

    One could argue that you yourself are obfuscating the insidious machinations behind the curtain for what really is this “arab spring”? What is / has been the product of it? Tunisia? Egypt? what really is the product?

    Sure its perfectly acceptable to suggest there is/was a movement of the populace protesting/demonstrating for greater freedoms. But then comes the all too common diatribe and not uncommon amnesiac expressionism or is it just ‘doublethink’ when it comes to recounting the actual history of events.

    March 2011. Remember Daraa? 4 protestors died and 7 policemen killed by the ‘unarmed’ protestors. The protagonist not being a lone gunman but more than one sniper. What would happen in a western country? What would be the reaction to an event such as this particularly if that region simmered with govt subdued sectarianism? I am not suggesting that the course of action taken was wholly correct but it is to a certain degree understandable given that fear permeates ‘both’ sides.

    After the first week of violence perpetrated by both sides during the protests in Daraa, Assad took a politically momentous step and ended the 48yr emergency law in recognition of what was viewed as legitimate national grievances. But the train of opportunity had started to roll. And what better camouflage could there be but a new middle eastern optimism called the arab spring.

    If you have any real world view, knowledge or understanding, you would be mindful of the ‘documented’ practices of those powers that incept, coerce and piggyback so called ‘popular uprisings’. From the sha of iran, south america, north africa. Its been ongoing everyday since the second world war. Every. Day.

    Your emotional longiloquence is to be expected of the opinions that make reference to the non-context, unverified, unsubstantiated, subjective narrative of ‘facebook’ and ‘youtube’ produced from ‘witnesses’ behind the line of engagement in a conflict. The terrible images of dead children and burned babies is the currency that motivates self-righteous nations who themselves conveniently forget their own historical crimes.

    When Assad’s forces attack a town identified as harbouring insurgents it becomes a line of engagement. This is the cold construct of war. Just what are we to expect? Do we really think an armed collective will be allowed to engage with a greater military force and then be able to escape return of fire because it doesn’t ‘run for the hills’ but seeks to hide in civilian populated areas? It is calculated. Its a media win win for the insurgents. A religiously charged opposition can erase the calculating strategy of mass civilian collateral as ‘martyrs’ and use it to paint the picture of fighting something evil.

    Speaking of ‘lines of engagement’ how about a super power creating a line of engagement by nonchalantly blanket bombing a civilian city as did the brave USA upon Baghdad and if that wasn’t enough, using depleted uranium that has since caused the deformation of thousands of innocent children and babies? Where were our intrepid reporters decrying the unforgivable slaughter then?

    You are right that Syria is not engaged in an all out civil war. Syria is a nation of 22 million, upwards of 1.5 million reportedly now in refugee camps. What does that tell you? 7% of the population is affected by the conflict, maybe at worst 10%. The Syrians are an amazing pluralist secular people. Recent NATO reports that the majority of Syrians (whom are sunnis), don’t want and never wanted armed conflict. So why are we here? We are here because it is being driven. When pride picks up a gun. women and children run.

    The media as always paint a struggle between good and evil for its dumbed down uninformed and managed consumers. Your function is to absorb what they tell you is the truth and not to question. Thereby manufacturing the consent of the self-righteous. Innocence, self-determination, pride and religion are all factors.

    But do not be so naive as to discount other forces behind the curtain.

  • 6 phicollins // Jul 24, 2013 at 3.57 am

    saying the west should have jumped into this war in syria earlier, in order to prevent the damage that has occurred as a result, is ridiculous. the west has shown many times in very recent years its involvement in mid east conflicts is inept at best. if syrians started this uprising they should finish it. if western powers helped start, well, then you are all screwed for letting us in


  • 7 Pal00ka // Aug 28, 2013 at 9.18 pm

    “It’ll be different this time”. “The US’ hijacking revolutions for it’s own gains is a fallacy”. “A minority of people are fighting with violence, backed by foreign fighters so this is a popular uprising”.

    Less a Left Wing response to Left Wing and just Liberal response to other Liberals.

  • 8 Semi // Aug 28, 2013 at 9.30 pm

    The author posts a much about the dangers of reducing the complexities of the Civil War to a elementary sectarian tit for tat but Author’s response is to a shallow and stereotypical caricature of Leftist POV. It ignores the decades worth of Leftist analysis of the war in Afghanistan, the criticism of the People’s Republic’s support of the Mujihadeen, and analysis of the contradictions between the powers of a National Bourgeoisie and a Secular uprising. The author highlights the sectarian and divided nature and motives of the insurgency, points out the insurgencies foreign support, backers, and fighters and yet calls it a “popular uprising”, in spite of the major (and most effective) force for the rebels being foreign Islamic fighters. Author ignores the various motives behind the Assad regime, it’s Syrian supporters, and it’s foreign supporters and distills the regime forces down to “Murderous Dictator gonna Murder”. Leftist don’t “oppose” the Rebels simply because they support Assad, it’s because the Rebels have no clear method of how they’re going to materially improve the lives of Syrians if they win the war. What are they going to do? Take loans from the IMF? So much for keeping Western interests out of the country.

    The idea that Western tampering with local uprisings being a fallacy is completely contradictory to reality and history. Article ultimately sums up with “it’ll be different this time”.

  • 9 Joey // Aug 29, 2013 at 2.00 am

    I understand your point but I think that you’re being too general and unfair. You’re raising very valid point but they’re kind of portraying the world a somehow polarized between two radically opposed sides which is simply not reality.

    I’m a Lebanese leftist with no political affiliation whatsoever. I am as anti-Assad as one can get but cannot get myself to support the rebels unequivocally. The fact is that the situation is very confusing.

    Why is it confusing? Because neither side cares much about making its positions clear. They’re both fighting to the death with rarely any long-term planning. Am I crazy for being worried about what a ‘rebel’ victory might look like? Am I crazy for being worried about what Western interference might do?

    The fact is that the official narrative is simply not convincing. The US and UK are not bothering themselves with providing concrete evidence and have basically already declared war without a UN approval (which it will not get). This in itself is quite scary to contemplate and it seems as though it’s going to happen anyway regardless of our disputes, debates or condemnation.

    We’re getting pretty scared here in Lebanon. And I can’t imagine what it feels like being in Syria.

  • 10 Cameron // Sep 6, 2013 at 5.21 pm

    “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be” ~ James Baldwin.

    I can’t seem to find the purpose in this article. It seems to just be a critique of what the author perceives to be the dominant strain of thinking among the western left. Which is odd. The whole ‘I, the state, am the people’ thinking seems to be dominant throughout western culture today.

    But if this article did anything it made me more firm in my belief that the US government should not get involved and for one because the situation is too complex to think we can creates facts on the ground and orchestrate a regime change ‘favorable’ to our interests. Assad’s and the fate of Syria must be in the hands of Syrians and only Syrians that is the only way a legitimate new government will come to be.

  • 11 ella // Sep 9, 2013 at 12.27 pm

    This is a confused piece on several levels. First, the author is unclear whether the revolution has or hasn’t been co-opted; on the one hand “please don’t call this a civil war” and on the other, it’s understandable why sections of the left in Syria are arguing for Western intervention. There is no detail in the piece that would be useful for the Western and non-Western left, given that the author is writing in English. How about, for a start, providing information on how long the West has been arming the opposition? Or the balance of forces within the Syrian opposition? This would be constructive.

    Second, so it’s our fault now?! (Yes, I’m a member of the European left – forgive me, it was an accident of birth that I happened to be born here). It’s our fault that because the Syrians weren’t funded and armed by the European left that the revolution has turned into a civil war? Well, yes, it has actually – where is the evidence that this continues to be a popular uprising? There is no doubt that it once was a popular uprising similar to the other Arab revolutions, but it seems that whatever the arguments within the Syrian opposition – which it would have been constructive for the author to provide – the argument in favour of Western intervention has won out. There are no doubt those Syrians within the opposition who know what such intervention will bring, and oppose it, but they have clearly lost this argument.

    Third, the author misses entirely the purpose of Stop the War Coalition. STW is not a party nor a revolutionary group. STW’s position is very much about Syrian people – it simply has the perspective that Western intervention will make things worse for the people of Syria. It looks at the historical record and takes this position with all wars that the British government is specifically involved in – nothing more, nothing less. It’s a very simple mandate. The author, however, seems to think that STW was established specifically for Syria and should take a position on the war in Syria. The fact that it does not do this – and should not do this – does not amount to support for Assad. Here the author needs to get facts straight. Since when has STW put out a statement in support of Assad?

    This position is not overlooking people’s agency, it puts people’s agency at the centre of the analysis i.e. people don’t need intervention from the West – they must fight Assad themselves. Again, it’s unclear what the author is arguing. And the author speaks of imposing political agendas. Does the author mean the agenda of not wanting a Western government to arm the opposition and then dictate the outcomes of that support? Or does the author think the West would arm the opposition out of altruism? What is “real, unconditional” solidarity? Money? Arms? The European left is incapable of providing either. And finally the author speaks of “what Syrians think and want”. In what country are all the people united in one position? Here the author is being simplistic.

    STW has recently succeeded in preventing the British government from going to war in Syria. They have done this by uniting opposition in Britain to imperialist wars, and this has been a service to the Syrian people. Yes, the old adage is true – the main enemy is at home. That’s what I call real solidarity.

  • 12 Frank // Sep 10, 2013 at 12.11 pm

    Thanks for putting me on your mailing list.

  • 13 johng // Sep 18, 2013 at 6.47 pm

    “STW has recently succeeded in preventing the British government from going to war in Syria”

    what incredible self delusion!

  • 14 binny stuart11 // May 2, 2014 at 1.13 pm

    Thank you for that perspective which is a good one. Unfortunately, I do not have enough information on the various factions to make up my mind on which side we should support. My first inclination is to support the revolution, but then I can recall the sad outcomes of such revolutions against dictators which turned out worse than the original one. These resulted in the outright liquidation of most progressive forces by execution or forced compliance in laws that banned them.

    If for example the Islamic fanatics have the main force and power in those who are fighting against the Assad regime, then I would consider supporting that regime since its defeat would lead to the oppression of women, and the elimination of a secular society and even less opportunity for leftist to exist. The Assad regime has a massive social base which is obvious by its ability to hang on. So it looks like this base is not completely, but mainly a religious base of Shiva Muslims and other smaller sects. Given the uncertain nature of the relation of forces, my preference would be for a negotiated settlement which would allow for far more diversity than currently exists on either side. So therefore, I would oppose any Western intervention other than humanitarian aid.

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