Pepe Escobar’s inspiration
In his brilliant analysis of leftist hostility to the revolutions in Libya and Syria titled Blanket Thinkers, Robin Yassin-Kassab described the way that the Syrian rebels are viewed in those quarters:
They are also depicted as wild Muslims, bearded and hijabbed, who do not deserve democracy or rights because they are too backward to use them properly. Give them democracy and they’ll vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, and slaughter the Alawis and drive the Christians to Beirut.
This has been on my radar screen ever since the struggle against Qaddafi got off the ground, but Yassin-Kassab’s article persuaded me to investigate a bit further. Basically what seems to be taking place is a hatred for Islamism that is reminiscent of what we heard from Christopher Hitchens and Paul Berman during the heights of the war in Iraq, but deployed on behalf of an “anti-imperialist” narrative.
Perhaps the most prominent exponent of left Islamophobia is Asia Times’s Pepe Escobar. In an article on Libya titled How al-Qaeda got to rule in Tripoli, Abdelhakim Belhaj became an object of hate:
Abdelhakim Belhaj, aka Abu Abdallah al-Sadek, is a Libyan jihadi. Born in May 1966, he honed his skills with the mujahideen in the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan.
He’s the founder of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and its de facto emir – with Khaled Chrif and Sami Saadi as his deputies. After the Taliban took power in Kabul in 1996, the LIFG kept two training camps in Afghanistan; one of them, 30 kilometers north of Kabul – run by Abu Yahya – was strictly for al-Qaeda-linked jihadis.
After 9/11, Belhaj moved to Pakistan and also to Iraq, where he befriended none other than ultra-nasty Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – all this before al-Qaeda in Iraq pledged its allegiance to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and turbo-charged its gruesome practices.
(For what it is worth, Escobar’s article contains an ad for the Central Intelligence Agency. Talk about crowning ironies.)
Escobar adds that “In Iraq, Libyans happened to be the largest foreign Sunni jihadi contingent, only losing to the Saudis.” Well, how despicable, Libyans going to Iraq to fight against the American occupation. He also considers Belhaj a rather shifty sort, “not remotely interested in relinquishing control just to please NATO’s whims.” What an ingrate.
Not long after the overthrow of Qaddafi, left Islamophobes held up a magnifying glass to detect any evidence of Jihadist influence in the new Libya. Last November word went out that the al-Qaeda flag was flying over the Benghazi courthouse. Not surprisingly, this became a cause celebre for the rightwing but the vanguard of the “anti-imperialist” left got just as worked up. Voltairenet.org, a website devoted to 9/11 conspiracy-mongering and the defense of Qaddafi and al-Assad, alerted its readers through an article that included a graphic of the flag:
Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the former Justice Minister of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya who became chairman of the National Transitional Council, announced the rebels’ intention to turn Libya into an Islamic state and implement Sharia as the only law.
For some odd reason, the Libyan people were never clued in that they were about to willingly accept such a state of affairs. As it turned out, the vote for the Libyan branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was a paltry 130,000 nationally, just 21.3%. Today’s Australian explained the low total:
But another reason for the strong “liberal” turnout is the “blood” factor. “I am not giving my family’s votes to the MB. Two of my cousins died because of them,” Mohamed Abdul Hakim, a voter from Benghazi, told me. He agrees that Islam should be the source for legislation, and his wife wears a niqab. Nonetheless, he voted liberal: his cousins were killed in a confrontation in the 1990s, most likely between the Martyrs Movement (a small jihadist group operating in his neighborhood at the time) and Gaddafi’s forces.
But many average Libyans, including Hakim, do not distinguish between Islamist organisations and their histories. For them, all Islamists are “Ikhwan” (MB). The “stain” of direct involvement in armed action, coupled with fear of Taliban-like laws or a civil war like Algeria’s in the 1990’s harmed Islamists of all brands.
A third reason for the Islamists’ defeat had to do with their campaign rhetoric. “It is offensive to tell me that I have to vote for an Islamic party,” Jamila Marzouki, an Islamic studies graduate, told me. Marzouki voted liberal, despite believing that Islam should be the ultimate reference for Libyan laws. “In Libya, we are Muslims. They can’t take away my identity and claim that it’s only theirs.”
So much for Libya turning into a Taliban state.
Without skipping a beat, the dreadful Pepe Escobar now has Syria in his sights, using the same hackneyed analysis:
A Kalashnikov in Iraq, until recently, sold for US$100. Now it’s at least $1,000, and most probably $1,500 (those were the days when Sunnis joining the resistance in 2003 could buy a fake Kalashnikov made in Romenia [sic] for $20).
Destination of choice of the $1,500 Kalashnikov in 2012: Syria. Network: al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers, also known as AQI. Recipients: infiltrated jihadis operating side-by-side with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Also shuttling between Syria and Iraq is car bombing and suicide bombing, as in two recent bombings in the suburbs of Damascus and the suicide bombing last Friday in Aleppo.
Who would have thought that what the House of Saud wants in Syria – an Islamist regime – is exactly what al-Qaeda wants in Syria?
Christopher Hitchens couldn’t have put it better.
For left Islamophobes, the idea of a secular, nationalistic and populist Syria serves as a kind of rallying point in the same way that “existing socialism” in the USSR once was for a gullible left, whether or not either proposition was true.
Syria Freedom Forever, an antidote to the stupidity found in Escobar’s columns, Global Research, MRZine, Voltairenet.com et al (Counterpunch fortunately never bought into this junk for the most part), had an article titled Understand the Syrian regime and the dialectics of the Syrian revolutionary process that is most useful for separating the truth from bullshit.
It explains that al-Assad, just like Saddam Hussein, was not above catering to the needs of the Islamic clergy in the interests of wielding power Machiavelli-style:
The last important base of support for the Syrian regime is the high religious establishment of all sects, which has benefited the regime for the past twenty years and supported it since the beginning of the revolution. The Syrian regime and its security services established political and economic links with the religious establishment, especially from the Sunni community following the repression of the 1980s. The high religious establishments of all the sects have increasingly been presented by the regime as actors of the “Syrian civil society” in the past as soon as a foreign delegation would visit the country.
The State’s behavior these past years has been in total contradiction with the official picture of a secular country. A religious vocabulary appeared more often in political discourse, along with a massive increase in the building of religious sites from the eighties until now. These government measures were also accompanied by censorship of literary and artistic works, while promoting a religious literature filling more and more the shelves of libraries and Islamizing the field of higher education. This is true particularly in the humanities and expressed itself in the rather systematic referral to religious references of any scientific, social and cultural phenomenon. Around 10,000 mosques and hundreds of religious schools were built. More than 200 conferences headed by clerics were held in cultural centres of important towns during 2007.
Of course you wouldn’t know any of this if your reading material was limited to the Islamophobic left.
When you are dealing with a phobia, facts do little to change the mind of the stricken. No matter how many times you might have told Howard Hughes that washing one’s hands 2 or 3 times a day was sufficient, only 25 times would suffice. No matter how many times you tell the Islamophobic left that the purpose of the struggle in places like Libya and Syria is to get rid of an oppressive regime, it will not overcome the deep belief that the real purpose is to reestablish the Caliphate, sharia law and the cult of the suicide bomber.
Speaking for myself (and who else matters in the long run), this is what I think of when Islamic resistance to Bashar al-Assad is cited. I don’t find it threatening at all. In fact I am inspired by it: