The ‘anti-imperialism’ of idiots


Cartoon criticizing selective outrage which only applies to chemical attacks, by Yaser Ahmad

Once more the western ‘anti-war’ movement has awoken to mobilise around Syria. This is the third time since 2011. The first was when Obama contemplated striking the Syrian regime’s military capability (but didn’t) following chemical attacks on the Ghouta in 2013, considered a ‘red line’. The second time was when Donald Trump ordered a strike which hit an empty regime military base in response to chemical attacks on Khan Sheikhoun in 2017. And today, as the US, UK and France take limited military action (targeted strikes on regime military assets and chemical weapons facilities) following a chemical weapons attack in Douma which killed at least 34 people, including many children who were sheltering in basements from bombing.

The first thing to note from the three major mobilisations of the western ‘anti-war’ left is that they have little to do with ending the war. More than half a million Syrians have been killed since 2011. The vast majority of civilian deaths have been through the use of conventional weapons and 94 per cent of these victims were killed by the Syrian-Russian-Iranian alliance. There is no outrage or concern feigned for this war, which followed the regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrators. There’s no outrage when barrel bombs, chemical weapons and napalm are dropped on democratically self-organized communities or target hospitals and rescue workers. Civilians are expendable; the military capabilities of a genocidal, fascist regime are not. In fact the slogan ‘Hands off Syria’ really means ‘Hands off Assad’ and support is often given for Russia’s military intervention. This was evident yesterday at a demonstration organized by Stop the War UK where a number of regime and Russian flags were shamefully on display.

This left exhibits deeply authoritarian tendencies, one that places states themselves at the centre of political analysis. Solidarity is therefore extended to states (seen as the main actor in a struggle for liberation) rather than oppressed or underprivileged groups in any given society, no matter that state’s tyranny. Blind to the social war occurring within Syria itself, the Syrian people (where they exist) are viewed as mere pawns in a geo-political chess game. They repeat the mantra ‘Assad is the legitimate ruler of a sovereign country’. Assad – who inherited a dictatorship from his father and has never held, let alone won, a free and fair election. Assad – whose ‘Syrian Arab Army’ can only regain the territory it lost with the backing of a hotchpotch of foreign mercenaries and supported by foreign bombs, and who are fighting, by and large, Syrian-born rebels and civilians. How many would consider their own elected government legitimate if it began carrying out mass rape campaigns against dissidents? It’s only the complete dehumanization of Syrians that makes such a position even possible. It’s a racism that sees Syrians as incapable of achieving, let alone deserving, anything better than one of the most brutal dictatorships of our time.

For this authoritarian left, support is extended to the Assad regime in the name of ‘anti-imperialism’. Assad is seen as part of the ‘axis of resistance’ against both US Empire and Zionism.  It matters little that the Assad regime itself supported the first Gulf war, or participated in the US illegal rendition programme where suspected terrorists were tortured in Syria on the CIA’s behalf. The fact that this regime probably holds the dubious distinction of slaughtering more Palestinians than the Israeli state is constantly overlooked, as is the fact that it’s more intent on using its armed forces to suppress internal dissent than to liberate the Israeli-occupied Golan.

This ‘anti-imperialism’ of idiots is one which equates imperialism with the actions of the US alone. They seem unaware that the US has been bombing Syria since 2014. In its campaign to liberate Raqqa from Daesh all international norms of war and considerations of proportionality were abandoned. Over 1,000 civilians were killed and the UN estimates that 80 per cent of the city is now uninhabitable. There were no protests organized by leading ‘anti-war’ organizations against this intervention, no calls to ensure that civilians and civilian infrastructure were protected. Instead they adopted the ‘War on Terror’ discourse, once the preserve of neo-cons, now promulgated by the regime, that all opposition to Assad are jihadi terrorists. They turned a blind eye to Assad filling his gulag with thousands of secular, peaceful, pro-democracy demonstrators for death by torture, whilst releasing militant-Islamists from prison. Similarly, the continuing protests held in liberated areas in opposition to extremist and authoritarian groups such as Daesh, Nusra and Ahrar Al Sham have been ignored. Syrians are not seen as possessing the sophistication to hold a diverse range of views. Civil society activists (including many amazing women), citizen journalists, humanitarian workers are irrelevant. The entire opposition is reduced to its most authoritarian elements or seen as mere conduits for foreign interests.

This pro-fascist left seems blind to any form of imperialism that is non-western in origin. It combines identity politics with egoism. Everything that happens is viewed through the prism of what it means for westerners – only white men have the power to make history. According to the Pentagon there are currently around 2000 American troops in Syria. The US has established a number of military bases in the Kurdish-controlled north for the first time in Syria’s history. This should concern anyone who supports Syrian self-determination yet pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of Iranian troops and Iranian backed Shia militias which are now occupying large parts of the country, or the murderous bombing raids carried out by the Russian air force in support of the fascist dictatorship. Russia has now established permanent military bases in the country, and has been handed exclusive rights over Syria’s oil and gas as a reward for its support. Noam Chomsky once argued that Russia’s intervention could not be considered imperialism because it was invited to bomb the country by the Syrian regime. By that analysis, the US’s intervention in Vietnam was not imperialism either, invited as it was by the South-Vietnamese government.

A number of anti-war organizations have justified their silence on Russian and Iranian interventions by arguing that ‘the main enemy is at home’. This excuses them from undertaking any serious power analysis to determine who the main actors driving the war actually are. For Syrians the main enemy is indeed at home – it’s Assad who is engaging in what the UN has termed ‘the crime of extermination’. Without being aware of their own contradictions many of the same voices have been vocally opposed (and rightly so) to Israel’s current assault on peaceful demonstrators in Gaza. Of course, one of the main ways imperialism works is to deny native voices. In this vein, leading western anti-war organizations hold conferences on Syria without inviting any Syrian speakers.

The other major political trend to have thrown its weight behind the Assad regime and organize against US, UK and French strikes on Syria is the far right. Today, the discourse of fascists and these ‘anti-imperialist leftists’ is virtually indistinguishable. In the US, white supremacist Richard Spencer, alt right podcaster Mike Enoch and anti-immigration activist Ann Coulter are all opposing US strikes. In the UK former BNP leader Nick Griffin and Islamophobe Katie Hopkins join the calls. The place where the alt-right and alt-left frequently converge is around promoting various conspiracy theories to absolve the regime of its crimes. They claim chemical massacres are false flags or that rescue workers are Al Qaeda and therefore legitimate targets for attack. Those spreading such reports are not on the ground in Syria and are unable to independently verify their claims. They are often dependent on Russian or Assad state propaganda outlets because they ‘don’t trust the MSM’ or Syrians directly affected. Sometimes the convergence of these two seemingly opposite strands of the political spectrum turns into outright collaboration. The ANSWER coalition, which is organizing many of the demonstrations against a strike on Assad in the US, has such a history. Both strands frequently promote Islamophobic and anti-Semitic narratives. Both share the same talking points and same memes.

There are many valid reasons for opposing external military intervention in Syria, whether it be by the US, Russia, Iran or Turkey. None of these states are acting in the interests of the Syrian people, democracy or human rights. They act solely in their own interests. The US, UK and French intervention today is less about protecting Syrians from mass-atrocity and more about enforcing an international norm that chemical weapons use is unacceptable, lest one day they be used on westerners themselves. More foreign bombs will not bring about peace and stability. There’s little appetite to force Assad from power which would contribute to ending the worst of the atrocities.  Yet in opposing foreign intervention, one needs to come up with an alternative to protect Syrians from slaughter. It’s morally objectionable to say the least to expect Syrians to just shut up and die to protect the higher principle of ‘anti-imperialism’. Many alternatives to foreign military intervention have been proposed by Syrians time and again and have been ignored. And so the question remains, when diplomatic options have failed, when a genocidal regime is protected from censure by powerful international backers, when no progress is made in stopping daily bombing, ending starvation sieges or releasing prisoners who are being tortured on an industrial scale, what can be done.

I no longer have an answer. I’ve consistently opposed all foreign military intervention in Syria, supported Syrian led process to rid their country of a tyrant and international processes grounded in efforts to protect civilians and human rights and ensure accountability for all actors responsible for war-crimes. A negotiated settlement is the only way to end this war – and still seems as distant as ever. Assad (and his backers) are determined to thwart any process, pursue a total military victory and crush any remaining democratic alternative. Hundreds of Syrians are being killed every week in the most barbaric ways imaginable. Extremist groups and ideologies are thriving in the chaos wrought by the state. Civilians continue to flee in their thousands as legal processes – such as Law No.10 – are implemented to ensure they will never return to their homes. The international system itself is collapsing under the weight of its own impotence. The words ‘Never Again’ ring hollow. There’s no major people’s movement which stands in solidarity with the victims. They are instead slandered, their suffering is mocked or denied, and their voices either absent from discussions or questioned by people far away, who know nothing of Syria, revolution or war, and who arrogantly believe they know what is best. It is this desperate situation which causes many Syrians to welcome the US, UK and France’s action and who now see foreign intervention as their only hope, despite the risks they know it entails.

One thing is for sure – I won’t lose any sleep over targeted strikes aimed at regime military bases and chemical weapons plants which may provide Syrians with a short respite from the daily killing. And I will never see people who place grand narratives over lived realities, who support brutal regimes in far off countries, or who peddle racism, conspiracy theories and atrocity denial, as allies.













124 thoughts on “The ‘anti-imperialism’ of idiots

    • I remember being told over and over about Assad’s alleged torture of tens of thousands. Supposedly, according to those supporting the head-chopping child-murderers, there was photographic evidence of the tortured victims. After finding out the sarin accusations against Assad were bullshit, I decided to check on the torture claims. Sure enough, those were an enormous, well-funded fraud.

      • The Caesar photos were independently verified and hundreds of Syrians personally identifies their loved ones in these photos. That’s how heartless and deluded you are right now. There’s nothing ‘dissident’ about your conspiracy theories. They’re very much in line with the imperialist Russian establishment.

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  3. I take factual objection to this inaccurate statement, “The US, UK and French intervention today is less about protecting Syrians from mass-atrocity and more about enforcing an international norm that chemical weapons use is unacceptable”

    No! Ignominiously wrong! The US & UK & french intervention has nothing to do with chemical weapons! As in Gulf War II (Iraq 2003), chemical weapons are just the excuse. The real reasons have more to do with the Russian naval facility in Tartus, with the strategic location Syria occupies, and with long-standing political allegiance. Your claim that Western Powers would mobilize their war machines and spend billions, just to clamp down on illicit chemical weapons, is absurd and completely unsupported by History.

  4. I am certainly not on the left, actually I generally despise them. But I fail to see where is the clear evidence of such an attack. I read contrary witnesses by some credible people in Syria, not on the left.
    We have to ascertain the facts themselves, not primarily if they are pro-left or pro-right.

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  6. You say:
    The vast majority of civilian deaths have been through the use of conventional weapons and 94 per cent of these victims were killed by the Syrian-Russian-Iranian alliance.

    and give as a source this report, by an organisation thta is not only against Assad’s regime, but against the Kurds also, an says that 207,000 Civilians Have Been Killed until March 2017

    On the other hand in Wikipedia it says that 106,390 civilians have died until March 2018

    And it also states that:

    At the start of the war, Al Jazeera journalist Nir Rosen stated that many of the deaths reported daily by activists were in fact armed insurgents falsely presented as civilian deaths, but confirmed that real civilian deaths do occur on a regular basis.[14] A number of Middle East political analysts, including those from the Lebanese Al Akhbar newspaper, also urged caution.[15][16][17]

    This was later confirmed when in late May 2012, Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is one of the opposition-affiliated groups counting the number of those killed in the uprising, stated that civilians who had taken up arms during the conflict were being counted under the category of “civilians”.[18][19][20]

    Where do you base your claim that 94 per cent of these victims were killed by the Syrian-Russian-Iranian alliance?

    • The Wikipedia article you linked contains a wide range of figures for deaths from different sources (reflecting the difficulty in collating & verifying the information). It states the UN & Arab League estimated 400,000 when it stopped counting in 2016. The 94% from SNHR relates to civilian deaths only. It makes sense given the fact that most deaths are from air bombardment and only one side of the conflict has an air -force and is systematically targeting civilians.

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  8. Dear Leila, for me, this is the most important article of the year! I’m a student of international relations, democracy, postcolonialism, conflicts… Internationally, and ethically speaking, you deal with the most important things of our time in this piece. I just commented before reading your article about the fetishism of state and state sovereignty, and indeed this a deep-rooted authoritarianism in people’s minds, from left and right…
    I’m a member of Global Voices, so I translated today to Portuguese, I hope they will publish soon 🙂

  9. This war is for other (((country))). What is the US interest in Syria ?
    Al Assad protect christian and fight against ISIS, islamic terrorist. You are pro islamic terrorist ?
    Guy from USA speak about ” brutal regime”
    USA destroyed European Yougoslavia to help muslim from Kosovo.
    USA destroyed Irak, Lybia, Syria… and all fucking middle est people are coming now to invade Europe.
    Mass Syrians are raping in Germanie, so stop to support your fucking war in order to help European people.

  10. And from what I see of your description and texts, you are very interested in anti-authoritarianism, there is a book chapter published in Brazil, in Portuguese, about anti-authoritarianism from a psychological/ psychoanalytic point of view, but I have an English version, it has the ideas of Otto Gross, a very marginal thinker, if you have interest, I can send you 🙂

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  12. warmonger fascist article.
    Britain has no right to bomb anything.

    centuries of colonialism and you are still the same.

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  16. The West does not do Democracy ! I think that you are very young and need to get out more !

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  19. Why would Assad use chemical weapons if he is already winning? I’ve asked a similar question for a long time: Why does the US maintain the blockade against Cuba? It makes no economic sense. Cuba doesn’t threaten the US in any way. Furthermore, the US gave up on regime change a long time ago. The answer I’ve come to is: to punish them and make an example of them. You don’t disobey the master. It is precisely because Assad is winning, and knows the west will not intervene in a significant way (thanks to Russia) that he can afford to be vindictive. He is “sending a message” to everyone watching about what could happen to you if you resist. It’s a sad conclusion, but it helps make sense of “senseless” cruelty.

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  21. Having the country which occupied Syria from 1920 to 1946 involved in the bombing can only be a propaganda aid for Assad. The fact is nobody who wants to get rid of Assad has any idea how this can be done. Theresa May is talking about getting around the table with the Russians, whom she blamed for the attack in Salisbury. Labour quite correctly says the Syrian people should decide, but does not know how this can be done. It’s not good to replace one dictator by another. We don’t know if Libya would have been better off with Gaddafi remaining in power rather than the chaos following his murder. After all the “intelligence” about Iraqi WMD’s was found to be false, people are sceptical about the “targeted” bombing.

  22. I’m very happy to have found your text which describes a form of argumentation I find deeply disturbing and which one can find in every political side and party! It is frustrating to keep discussing with people who have choosen to have no empathy out of sheer opportunity. Don’t let them change your mind and write on – it means much to me to find people who share this view!

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  24. Dear Leila, I just email you the Chinese translation of your article. I hope it’s useful. Thank you for your work and I hope everyone especially every Chinese can know better what’s happening in Syria.

  25. You are actually such a witch. It’s okay for brown people to have their lives bombed to smithereens for demon-crazy eh? You try to say people who oppose arming and training terrorists for demon-crazy are the ignorant idiots. It is you who are the jar head with half baked ideas on liberty and democracy. I bet you are so antiquated in you scope that you don’t consider teaching children religion is child abuse in one place but a struggle in an other. Assad is such a bad guy, living the Syrian way when anyone who thinks can’t any longer follow the fairy father figure. Who knows, you’re so far out to lunch on liberty we’d hate to hear your views on the fairy father figure.

  26. Im an idiot, and I ll remain … But I think you are a dreamer. Most of the oppsition you consider pacific and democratic, are extremist or terrorist. And most of them are related with foreign dark interests, not sure in the name of syrian people. This doesn t mean Im not glad for the willing of self-determinatin or democracy, but it s not enough to hide the fact that isis, al qaeda, and their affiliated groups, lead the opposition and not syrian.people. Sure foreign troups don t fight for syrian interests. Look around, and probably you will understand better what is going on in Syria.

  27. Were the Taliban better than Assad? More tolerant, more democratic, more protective of minorities? Since the answers are no, no, no and no…you must also support America’s “leftist” intervention in Afghanistan?

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