Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 31, 2013

The “anti-imperialist” backhanded support for the war against “Al Qaeda”

Filed under: Iraq,Islam,Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:04 pm

Today a Debkafiles item titled “US and Iran’s First Joint Military Venture: Fighting al Qaeda in Iraq” turned up on Facebook. As you might know, Debkafiles is an Israeli intelligence website committed to the “war on terror” so you can assume that they are pleased with Obama’s turn against a common enemy. They report:

With the Geneva Nuclear Accord still far from implementation a month after it was signed in Geneva, the United States and Iran are moving into stage two of their rapprochement: They are now fighting together to crush Al Qaeda terror in Iraq, debkafile’s exclusive military sources report.

Iraq is two weeks into a major offensive for cutting al Qaeda down – the first major military challenge the jihadists have faced in the past six years. Three armies are fighting alongside Iraq: the United States, Iran’s Al Qods Brigades officers and Syria.

Their mission is to foil Al Qaeda’s drive to spread its first independent state in the Middle East across the Iraqi-Syrian frontier. Its Iraqi and Syrian branches – ISIS and the Nusra Front – have declared a holy war to this end under their commanders Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and Abu Mohammed al-Golani.

The Anbar province of Western Iraq is the scene of he fiercest combat close to Iraq’s borders with Syria and Jordan.

“Al Qaeda”, as the scare quotes around it in the title of this article would indicate, is—to borrow a word from semiotics—a floating signifier for any Sunni tribal-based guerrilla now the target of American drones around the world: Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Iraq, Somalia and probably Syria before long as this March 15, 2013 Los Angeles Times article indicates:

The CIA has stepped up secret contingency planning to protect the United States and its allies as the turmoil expands in Syria, including collecting intelligence on Islamic extremists for the first time for possible lethal drone strikes, according to current and former U.S. officials.

There’s nothing in the Debkafiles article that gives you the faintest idea of the background to the escalating violence in this mostly Sunni province. For that, you need to take a look at the article that appeared in the December 29th N.Y. Times. It turns out that the sectarian Shiite government is largely responsible:

A raid by Iraqi security forces on the home of a prominent Sunni member of Parliament on Saturday morning in Anbar Province set off a two-hour gun battle that left the lawmaker’s brother and five guards dead, along with a soldier, Iraqi security and medical officials said.

Hours later, angry protests erupted over what Sunnis viewed as another crackdown by the Shiite-led government that alienates them from the political process by equating all expressions of Sunni grievance as terrorism.

The lawmaker, Ahmed al-Alwani, was taken into custody on terrorism charges after the raid at his home in Ramadi, in Sunni-dominated Anbar Province, which has been the scene of antigovernment protests for more than a year. Mr. Alwani has been an important supporter of the demonstrators.

The gunfight erupted when Mr. Alwani; his brother, Ali al-Alwani; and the guards opened fire on soldiers as they entered the home, according to Iraq’s Ministry of Defense. In addition to those killed, about 10 others in the house were injured in the return fire, including the lawmaker’s wife and a 12-year-old boy.

The raid inflamed Sunni anger toward the government and is likely to increase sectarian tensions further in a country that is teetering on the edge of a new civil war.

At a gathering of demonstrators in Falluja in Anbar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tamimi, one of the protest leaders, said: “The war has begun. I call on young people to carry their weapons and prepare. We will no longer allow any army presence in Falluja.” Armed demonstrators later carried Ali al-Alwani’s coffin through the streets of Ramadi.

Just a reminder. The Anbar province was key to the American counter-insurgency effort in Iraq. General Petraeus calculated that tribal Sunni leaders could be convinced (and bribed) to resist anti-regime jihadists in the “surge”, also called “The Awakening”. Gabriel Ledeen, the Marine captain whose father is the notorious imperialist plotter Michael Ledeen, explained how the surge worked to Huffington Post readers:

The Anbar Awakening was not a spontaneous uprising against the horrible brutality of the insurgents. Rather, it occurred and succeeded due to the conditions created by U.S. forces who steadily built the foundation for Anbar’s stability. Through dynamic security operations, complex relationships with tribal leaders, and consistent moral authority, we successfully separated the population from the insurgency, demonstrated our potential for victory, and earned the support of Iraqis yearning for peace. It was only after we established these conditions that the Sunni sheiks could urge their tribes to awaken and stand together with U.S. forces against the AQI terrorists.

Ironically, it is the same scorched earth policy directed against Sunnis—a minority in Iraq and a majority in Syria—by these respective regimes that have in fact fostered the growth of jihadism. Maliki in Iraq and al-Assad in Syria will not be satisfied until every sign of Sunni resistance is crushed.

The jihadists, who were often foreign fighters, were once viewed more favorably about 10 years ago when their guns were aimed at American allies rather than foes (of course, Bashar al-Assad was never really a candidate for “regime change”). This 11/9/2004 Washington Post article describes some typical Fallujah fighters, who are basically the same sorts of people aligned with the al-Nusra Front, a group demonized by the “anti-imperialist” left:

Dressed alike, the men were as different as their accents, a new generation of the jihad diaspora, arriving in Fallujah from all over the Arab world: five Saudis, three Tunisians, a Yemeni. Only three were Iraqis.

“I had a vision yesterday that tomorrow I would finally be granted the martyrdom,” said the latest arrival, a thin man in his early twenties. He had come from his home in Saudi Arabia just a week ago.

“This is not fair,” replied the Yemeni, making a joke. “I have been here for months now.”

“Don’t worry, Abu Hafsa,” said one of the Tunisians, heavyset and talkative. “It is either victory or martyrdom, and both are great honors.”

Today these are the sorts of people who Robert Fisk, Pepe Escobar, and Patrick Cockburn regard as a threat to civilized Western values–those “foreign fighters”, jihadists, Salafists, Wahhabists, etc. who thank god Obama and Putin have finally decided to make common cause against.

The tendency to label all such fighters as “al Qaeda” can be found in the case of Benghazi as well. Three days ago the N.Y. Times published an exhaustive investigative reporting piece that reveals that the killing of an American diplomat was explained by local grievances and not by al-Qaeda plotting. In other words, the same discontent that is wracking Iraq and Syria is also at work in Libya, a nation that supposedly is the crowning glory of U.S. foreign policy. The Times reports:

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

Naturally the Republican Party denounced this article as Democratic Party propaganda designed to further Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign bid. What’s surprising is the eagerness of Moon of Alabama, a fountainhead of Baathist propaganda, to embrace the Republican Party talking points:

A big story at the NYT whitewashes the Benghazi attack that killed the U.S. ambassador. It is missing a whole lot of points: the diplomatic outpost was the cover for a CIA operation

    the CIA bought weapons there to ship them to Turkey and to their proxies in Syria

    the ambassador was involved in the weapon transfer

    “AlQaeda” groups had an interest to acquire those weapons for their own groups in Syria

    some AQ-affiliates (the brother of AQ leader al-Zawahiri in Egypt) started an international protest over some anti-Muslim video as an operational diversion and cover for taking over the CIA arms depots in Libya

Without some deeper digging into the above points, missing in the NYT, the whole Benghazi story is just a fairy tale.

Well, who knows where Moon of Alabama learned about “an operational diversion and cover for taking over the CIA arms depots in Libya”. Mint Press? Ray McGovern? Seymour Hersh? Until those “anti-imperialists” begin backing up their claims with citations, I’ll stick with the newspaper of record that actually sent its reporters to Benghazi to interview the principals, including the man who likely orchestrated the attack.

The willingness of the “anti-imperialist” left to back a war on “al Qaeda” has been one of the more startling developments in recent years. Their websites and print publications were primed to support Putin’s crackdown in Chechnya and the Syrian Baathists carrying out essentially the same strategy because they saw the world broken down into two spheres: the imperialist and the anti-imperialist. If your unit of analysis is the nation-state rather than the social class, this is logically the way to proceed. For moldy old Marxist figs like me, I prefer to analyze social classes.

Not long ago I wrote a review of Akbar Ahmed’s “The Thistle and the Drone” for Critical Muslim, a magazine co-edited by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Ziauddin Sardar, the author of 34 books on Islam, imperialism, and related topics. I read his “Postmodernism and the Other: New Imperialism of Western Culture” about 10 years ago and recommend it strongly. I don’t think that they would mind me concluding this article with an excerpt from my review since it gets to the heart of categorizing every form of armed resistance mounted by oppressed Sunnis as a jihadist dagger aimed at the heart of civilization:

We live in a period of such mounting Islamophobia that it became possible for Rush Limbaugh, one of the most venomous rightwingers in the U.S., to make common cause with Global Research, a website that describes itself as a “major news source on the New World Order and Washington’s ‘war on terrorism’”. Not long after the Sarin gas attack on the people of East Ghouta, Global Research became a hub of pro-Baathist propaganda blaming “jihadists” for a “false flag” operation. Limbaugh, who claims that there is no such thing as a “moderate Muslim”, touted a Global Research “false flag” article on his radio show demonstrating that when it comes to Islamophobia the left and right can easily join hands.

Therefore the arrival of Akbar Ahmed’s “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam” is most auspicious. It puts a human face on the most vilified segment of the world’s population, the “extremist” with his sharia courts, his “backwardness”, his violence, and his resistance to modernization. The central goal of Ahmed’s study is to subject the accepted wisdom of the punditry on both the left and right, which often descends into Limbaugh-style stereotyping, to a critique based on his long experience as an administrator in Waziristan, a hotbed of Islamic tribal “extremism”, and as a trained anthropologist. Reading “The Thistle and the Drone” can only be described as opening a window and letting fresh air and sunlight into a dank and fetid sickroom.

 The drone in the title needs no explanation except for Ahmed’s pointed reference to Obama wisecracking at a press conference. If the Jonas Brothers, a pop music sensation, got too close to his daughters at a White House visit, he had two words for them: “predator drone”.

The thistle required more explanation. We learn that this is a reference to a passage in Tolstoy’s neglected novel “Hadji Murad” that takes the side of a Muslim tribal leader against the Czarist military campaign to stamp out resistance to Great Russian domination. Considering Putin’s genocidal war on the Chechens and his support for Bashar al-Assad’s onslaught against his own countrymen, not much has changed since the 19th century. The narrator in Tolstoy’s novel attempted to pluck a thistle for its beauty but was ultimately thwarted by its prickly stalk, a perfect metaphor for the experience of trying to subdue proud and independent peoples living in inhospitable desert or mountainous regions.

Although some anthropologists consider the word “tribal” retrograde and/or imprecise, one would never confuse Ahmed with the colonial-minded social scientist that used it as a way of denigrating “backward” peoples. For Ahmed, the qualities of tribal peoples are to be admired even if some of their behavior is negative. Most of all, they are paragons of true democracy resting on the “consent of the governed”. Their love of freedom inevitably leads them to conflict with state-based powers anxious to assimilate everybody living within their borders to a model of obedience to approved social norms.

While tribal peoples everywhere come into conflict with those trying to impose their will on them, it is only with Islamic tribal peoples that global geopolitics gets drawn into the equation. “The Thistle in the Drone” consists of case studies in which the goal is to disaggregate Islam from tribal norms. For example, despite the fact that the Quran has strict rules against suicide and the murder of noncombatants, tribal peoples fighting under the banner of Islam have often resorted to such measures, especially on the key date of September 11, 2001. In an eye-opening examination of those events, Ahmed proves that a Yemeni tribe acting on the imperative to extract revenge was much more relevant than Wahabi beliefs. While most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi, their origins were in a Yemeni tribe that traced its bloodlines back to the prophet Mohammad. And more to the point, they were determined to wreak vengeance against the superpower that had been complicit in the murderous attack on their tribesmen in Yemen, an element of the 9/11 attacks that has finally been given the attention it deserves.

September 7, 2013

With the Libyan Rebel

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 5:39 pm

The video above is in two parts. The first part is footage made by The Libyan Rebel just about two years ago when the revolutionaries were advancing on Tripoli. The second part is an interview I conducted with him over Skype on the current state of Libya, addressing questions of whether it is a “failed state”, a symbol of the Arab Winter, etc.

When the revolution broke out in Libya, the left had two choices. It could back Qaddafi, who Fidel Castro had dubbed “the lion of the desert”—a sobriquet made obsolete when the dictator had begun keeping a scrapbook of Condoleezza Rice snapshots or it could back the revolution. For the pro-Qaddafi camp, there were many experts to rely on, Maximilian Forte one of the most prominent. When Forte explained imperialism’s assault on Libya as a response to Qaddafi’s resistance to AFRICOM, a bid to increase Western military assets on the ground, my first reaction was to check the story. No matter how many times I pointed out that Qaddafi looked forward to working together with AFRICOM “in ways that help us achieve those common objectives for peace and stability”, it never registered on the Qaddafi fan club. Faith is difficult to shake.

After Qaddafi got the boot, I came into contact with a young Libyan identifying himself as The Libyan Rebel who had shown up on the North Star website that tended to feature articles backing the revolution. The rebel wrote comments every so often that grounded the debate in a lived experience:

Binh’s portrayal of the Syrian revolution reflects a deep understanding of the situation leading him to not be swayed to either extreme. He’s simply stating the reality as it is and it is indeed complicated. In Syria, there is an element of everything. There is, has always been and there always will be an “imperialist” interest in the region. There is a sectarian aspect to the strife. There is also an extremist aspect. There are world powers seeking their interests. There are also regional powers competing for a foothold in the future Syria. Most importantly, there is a people’s revolution. A revolution against one of the most murderous and barbaric regimes the region has ever known. Keyboard activists on both extremes have no idea what oppression and tyranny means for the people whom they claim they understand and believe to be serving. They live in free lands while seeing the events only through the narrow slit of their ideologies. Their goals and intentions may be noble, but they lack the maturity to understand the true complexity and dynamicity of the struggle.

With a refreshingly honest assessment of his nation’s complexities, I looked forward to conducting  an interview with him. There is one thing in our recorded conversation over Skype that sticks with me that I want to dwell upon a bit as a preface. The rebel told me that his cousin was one of the students hung for peacefully protesting Qaddafi and that he had to flee Libya in order to avoid the same fate.

When you check the NY Times archives for articles dealing with Qaddafi’s repression of the student movement in the 1970s, nothing turns up. This was at a time when the dictator’s reputation was at an all-time high with the left. Most of the publicity around Qaddafi dwelt on his “anti-imperialism”, mostly verbal in nature or when not verbal manifested itself in support for Carlos the Jackal’s spectacular but misguided adventures.

Today when the bourgeois press has total freedom to operate in Libya, every “excess” is viewed under a microscope to the glee of people like Maximilian Forte who obviously longs for the days when the country was as peaceful as a graveyard. It is too bad that Libyans prefer the loud and boisterous freedoms of a new society trying to find itself.

July 23, 2013

The PSL School of Falsification: A Libyan Rebel Sets the Record Straight

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 10:18 pm

The PSL School of Falsification: A Libyan Rebel Sets the Record Straight

 

Pham Binh’s “Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong,” published on The North Star sparked acrimonious debate on the question of imperialist intervention in the Arab Spring. Mazda Majidi’s response to Binh in the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s newspaper, Liberation News, contained a number of false claims about events on the ground in Libya during 2011. What follows is Tripoli Brigade member’s response to those falsehoods.

 

“Immediately after the rebels took control in Benghazi, numerous dark-skinned Libyans and migrant sub-Saharan African workers were lynched in city streets in a wide-scale campaign of terror.”

The “dark-skinned” Libyans who were lynched in Benghazi were two or three Ghadafi mercenaries caught in their full military fatigue while committing atrocities in the city. Migrant workers? That’s a lie. It is true that many were treated badly but no one was killed simply for being dark skinned. Many were indeed paid by the regime to commit certain acts, and I have no doubt that some may have been mistaken. But saying that they were killed simply for being black is a sick, disgusting propaganda attempt. We had several black Libyan rebels in our brigade, some even martyrs.

“The NTC was a right-wing force even before it served as the ground forces of the NATO invaders…”

Don’t make me laugh. I wonder how NATO benefited from “its” NTC forces on the ground. Where’s NATO in Libya now?

“…to reverse the remaining elements of the nationalist process initiated by the 1969 progressive coup, also called the Al-Fateh Revolution, led by Gaddafi.”

Progressive? Has Majidi seen Libya before the February 17 revolution? It was in a state of constant, systematic deterioration for 42 years despite trillions of dollars in oil revenues. The destruction was social and economic, and we are suffering its consequences even now.

“The NTC did not enjoy the support of the entire Libyan population…”

Of course it didn’t; nor did Jesus nor Mohammad. There’s no doubt that many people supported Qaddafi but the majority was undoubtedly for the revolution. Otherwise how do you explain the victory? NATO? Where is NATO in Libya now? If the majority didn’t want imperialism and its resulting government, where are the anti-NATO protests after two years??! Qaddafi loyalists now live with dignity with full freedom of speech and no one bothers them.

“On July 1, 2011, in the midst of the massive NATO bombing, hundreds of thousands—perhaps as many as a million people—rallied in Tripoli against NATO. The corporate media gave the protest scant coverage.”

“Massive NATO bombing”? Again, I have to laugh. Only a few empty buildings were hit in Tripoli. Big explosions true, but they were pinpoint accurate. That the tyrant organized such an event was testament to the fact that NATO never targeted civilians in Libya (contrary to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places) and that was proven by numbers.

Ask anyone in Tripoli what was the response of Tripolitanians when the NATO bombs struck the tyrant’s compounds and they’ll tell you it was loud cheers, whistles, and “Allahu Akbar” (God is great). Most of the people in that rally were bussed in from other parts of the country, many not even knowing where they were going, some were forced to attend, and others were from tribes loyal to the tyrant. It was not a popular move in any way. And no, Libya’s population is not 6 million, that figure is 40 years old. Although unofficial, the number is closer 12 million today (thanks for the great census system setup by the “great” Al-Fateh Revolution).

“After the NATO bombing started, the Libyan leadership opened up arms depots in Tripoli to the population, urging everyone to defend the country against foreign attackers.”

This is a lie. The tyrant opened up arms depots as a media stunt. A few dozen AK-47s were handed out to people tied to the regime and their relatives and even those guns were closely monitored and controlled. That campaign lasted for just hours and the funny part is that many of those guns ended up being used against him in Tripoli. My cousin and many others were given those rifles by people who received them and used them to attack the tyrant’s forces. Many others were sold by the tyrant’s cronies to the rebels. That was a 100% media show and subsequent fail.

“…at least in Tripoli, the government enjoyed considerable popularity…“

Amusing. That’s why Tripoli was liberated by its people in one night on August 20 before any of us came in from outside. We found the city liberated and the tyrant’s thugs in shambles (devastated by IEDs, “galatina,” and snipers). His thugs were defeated and fled every part of Tripoli except for his compound and the loyalist (poorest, trashiest) neighborhood of Abu-Salim (those two places were where we [the rebels who came from outside] played an important role).

“Forces loyal to Gaddafi had been gaining control and rapidly moving towards Benghazi, having already made it past Brega.”

That’s true, but our respected author has forgotten that most of the ground they took in early 2011 was empty desert. The only significant populated region in the east is Benghazi and there was no way he would have taken it without flattening the whole city (which he was getting ready to do).

“Libyan rebels did not just receive military training and advice, but functioned under the operational command of NATO…”

Another blatant lie. The truth is that we were upset NATO was doing nothing to the dozens of rocket launchers that were wreaking havoc on civilians (mostly in Misurata and the Wwestern mountains). NATO only acted when we advanced, not the other way around. And the only coordination that went on was us giving NATO coordinates of regime command and control centers, mostly in Tripoli. There was no direct collaboration in battles; we drew up our own battle plans and acted upon them as we saw fit. NATO did its own thing much of the time, mostly bombing ammo dumps and heavy machinery (which was mostly old, rusty equipment that was of no use to the regime in the first place).

“NATO provided aerial support – that is, murdering pro-Gaddafi forces by bombing…”

Another big lie. The great majority of the tyrant’s convoys, compounds, and military formations were repeatedly warned by NATO to clear their positions, leave their convoys, and disengage. They were constantly informed of exactly when the strikes were going to take place and they always fled before that. We picked up the same warnings over our radios and knew exactly where and when NATO was going to strike. Very few of the tyrant’s forces were killed by NATO; I’d even venture to say that more rebels were killed by NATO than regime cronies.

“The pictures of the destroyed city of Sirte are worth a thousand more words than Binh’s reassurances.”

This stooge was obviously not following the battle of Sirte when it happened. Those buildings were destroyed one by one by the rebels themselves due to the presence of regime snipers in every corner.  Those holes are all from rocket-propelled grenade holes and 14.5mm AA fire, not NATO munitions. NATO’s role was extremely limited in Sirte. I visited the city and all the battle spots in July 2012 and saw one large building hit from the air which was was to take out a sniper (I have pictures of it actually).

“The Binhs of the future will undoubtedly look back and condemn the Libya intervention as a historic crime…”

The Mazdas of the future will look at how great of a nation Libya had become and regret their ignorant, paranoid, simplistic approach to analyzing the events and outcomes of the February 17 revolution.

In short, we never wanted NATO and we wanted no foreign intervention. We simply asked for our long-confiscated freedom and were met with savage slaughter. We could not sit and wait as the regime wiped out whole cities (as it threatened to do) and kill one-half of the population. We sought the aid of neighbors and of the Arab and Muslim world. They couldn’t help themselves let alone help us. We turned to the United Nations with a final plea and got the support we needed. Despite the imminent slaughter, we accepted only an air campaign and refused ground intervention from the first day. In a show of appreciation, we waved the flags of all the nations who stood with us, some of whom were undoubtedly imperialist powers. But in this case, and contrary to what they do best, the imperialist powers helped save hundreds of thousands of Libyan lives and we are ever-grateful for that. What did the imperialists get in return? Oil? They were already getting that and for very cheap. Military bases? Over our dead bodies. A puppet regime? This government is barely able to work due to the people protesting anything they believe does not represent the core values of the revolution. Plus we, the “rebels,” can take this government down at any moment, and there’s no imperialists in Libya to help it.

These anti-imperialists, although their cause is noble, have allowed their paranoia to blind them and wage an ignorant campaign that is exploited by tyrants to this hour. It is a sad reality but I hope my experience sheds some light on these issues.

 

August 17, 2012

The American Left and the Arab Spring

Filed under: Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 2:28 pm

Clay Claiborne

http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=1965

The American Left and the Arab Spring

by Clay Claiborne on August 17, 2012

For someone sitting on the very edge of survival, hope is extremely important. Often it is only hope, sometimes even false hope, that allows him to make it to the next day. That is one of the reasons that religion has always found such a resonance among the lower classes, especially in times of great hardship or struggle. Cynicism is deadly for someone on the edge of survival. Even in the darkest night, he cannot afford to be cynical. That cynicism just might push him over the edge.

Cynicism is a privilege. When practiced by those in a position to do it well, cynicism allows them to criticize the oppressor and sympathize with the oppressed without ever having to move out of their comfort zone. In fact, one of the main objects of this practice of cynicism is to make the cynic more comfortable. He may not, as yet, be wanting for much personally, but he can see the growing misery all around him so he has to think or do something. The cynic solves this dilemma by thinking that nothing can be done!

Hope is entirely a question of subjective attitude. So is cynicism, but cynicism pulls off its master trick by masquerading as objective reality. The cynic always tends to think things really are the way he thinks they are. Time and again you will see him substitute his subjective understanding, even when he knows it is limited(!) for objective reality.

Read full article

August 13, 2012

Sending Lenin to Russia

Filed under: Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:23 pm

(posted to Marxmail and PEN-L by Michael Perelman)

Sending Lenin to Russia

I had not known about where the idea arose in Germany:

page 93: “German officials did their best to cook up plots among the German
barons in the Baltic provinces and among the Finns, Poles, and
Ukrainians. They brought to Berlin a Constantinople arms merchant,
Alexander Helphand, who had formerly been involved, sincerely, in the
Russian revolutionary socialist underground, under the name Parvus.
He sold them on the idea of a social revolution in Russia. He charted
the future mutiny in the Russian armies according to the model of
1904-5, citing the possibility of a mass strike that would engulf the
capitals according to the theory of Rosa Luxemburg. One week after the
revolution that overthrew the tsar in February 1917, Helphand got
permission from the general staff to provide a train that would send
Lenin and his coterie of exiled Bolshevik leaders to Russia.”

D’Agostino, Anthony. The Rise of Global Powers: International Politics
in the Era of the World Wars(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

August 5, 2012

Our Responsibility to the Arab Spring

Filed under: Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 10:20 pm

Our Responsibility to the Arab Spring

by Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp on August 5, 2012

in analysis, debate

A Reply to Comrade Ely

Mike Ely’s response to my argument that it is a mistake for Western leftists to try to stop U.S. imperialist airstrikes on counter-revolutionary military forces when revolutionaries abroad demand them out of desperation is in many ways typical of the Western anti-imperialist left’s reaction to this heresy.

Before I respond to Ely’s critique, I must commend him for republishing my piece on the Kasama Project Web site when he so vehemently disagrees with its content (not to mention tone).

If there is one thing he and I agree on (and that Kasama and The North Star have in common), it is that party-line echo chambers have not served the American left well; they lead to flat one-way “conversationsat best and, when political differences arise, personal sniping and “gotcha” polemics at worst.

Ely writes as if I argued for supporting or allying with the U.S. government or U.S. imperialism:

“Here is one of the most basic and important questions of any revolutionary movement: Do you support the government and this system or don’t you? Do you see what their interests are, and the criminal nature of their actions, or don’t you?”

“First, supporting the U.S. government (from here within the U.S.) is counterrevolutionary, because we intend to make a revolution against them.”

“But again no decision by anyone anywhere should lead revolutionaries in the U.S. to ally with U.S. imperialism.”

I’m not sure where or how he got such a mistaken idea since there was nothing along those lines either in my original piece or in my response to Socialist Worker‘s Paul D’amato.

U.S. imperialism is counter-revolutionary. No one is debating that.

But here is the rub: the Ghadafi government in Libya was also counter-revolutionary in the spring of 2011 when it mowed down peaceful demonstrators with machine gun fire. Given this, the question is: why would we in the U.S. try to stop a conflict between these two counter-revolutionary forces, a conflict that would help Libyan revolutionaries win? (Especially when they asked for that conflict?) Why should we oppose U.S. imperialism’s actions when such opposition would help counter-revolutionary governments smash and destroy revolutions in first Libya and now Syria?

read full article

July 23, 2012

Libya, Syria, and left Islamophobia

Filed under: Islamophobia,Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:38 pm

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.

Exactly.

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:

Syria, the new Libya

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:

July 18, 2012

Pham Binh responds to ISO attack

Filed under: Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:53 pm

The Anti-Imperialism of Fools and the Syrian Spring

by Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp on July 18, 2012

in analysis, debate

Leave no tyrant behind, from Tripoli to Tehran.

Fresh off of arguing that North Korea is a live issue for American socialist organizing in the context of Occupy, Paul D’amato takes issue with my argument that the Western left puts itself at odds with revolutionary Syrians by opposing U.S. intervention full stop – no ifs, ands, or buts. Siding with revolutionary Syrians and Libyans regardless of their calls for foreign airstrikes since they do not have an air forces of their own to protect themselves hardly adds up to cheering the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” the United States military.

I side with the Arab Spring, no matter what country it spreads to, no matter what dictatorship comes under threat, and no matter what side the U.S. government eventually decides to back. As Clay Claiborne said elsewhere, I did not side with U.S. imperialism on the Libyan revolution, U.S. imperialism sided with me.

The International Socialist Organization (ISO), by contrast, quietly abandoned its support for the Libyan revolution once the going got tough and NATO’s F-16s got going and even went so far to argue that Ghadafi’s overthrow was a “blow to the Arab Spring.” Yes, you read that right! National elections, workers organizing and going on strike (in the oil industry, no less), people launching political parties and organizing protests in Libya are a huge, tremendous, staggering blow to the Arab Spring. Why? Because NATO did not follow the Western left’s example by standing meekly on the sidelines, twiddling its thumbs, while the conflict between revolution and counter-revolution raged.

continue reading

July 3, 2012

Libya: Better Off Than It Was!

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 12:34 am

Libya: Better Off Than It Was!

by admin on July 2, 2012

in debate

By Clay Claiborne

Ultimately this is the question by which the revolution will be judged. After all is said and done, did it actually result in an improvement in the quality of life for the Libyan people?

And today is a very good day to have that discussion because it is the 16th anniversary of the Abu Salim prison massacre. On June 29, 1996 the murder of 1270 prisoners was carried out by the Ghadafi regime. It was seven years before people found out, as family members continued to bring money and food for the dead prisoners, and the prison continued to accept them. This is the first year they will be able to openly commemorate that tragedy without fear of government repression. So it is a very good day to take on the views of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), Workers World Party (WWP) and others, as expressed by Diana Barahona, that thinks “Libya Worse Off After NATO Takeover”.

That is the title of a critique she has written of my “On the Left, Ghadafi’s Lies Live On.” Frankly, it reads less like a good critique of my work and more like an example of exactly what I was talking about. As a matter of fact, I might even say On the Left, Ghadafi’s Lies Live On,” for example we have Libya Worse Off After NATO Takeover from a comrade who has been writing about Libya for the PSL, because she takes on my paper with the same old, now well-debunked, pro-Ghadafi misinformation peddled by Cynthia McKinney and other supporters of Brother Leader during his reign.

She gets so involved in taking on my paper and me that she never really gets around to addressing the very important question raised in her title, so before we can delve into the minutia of her critique we must spend a little time addressing this question that she raised and then neglected.

full: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=1113

July 2, 2012

Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong

Filed under: Libya,Syria — louisproyect @ 3:27 pm

Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong

By Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp

Reflexive opposition to Uncle Sam’s machinations abroad is generally a good thing. It is a progressive instinct that progressively declined in the 1990s, as presidents Bush Sr. and Clinton deftly deployed the U.S. military to execute “humanitarian” missions in Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans and progressively increased in the 2000s, as Bush Jr. lurched from quagmire to disaster in transparent empire-building exercises in Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, what is generally good is not good in every case. The progressive instinct to oppose anything the U.S. government does abroad became anything but progressive once the Arab Spring sprang up in Libya and Syria, countries ruled by dictatorships on Uncle Sam’s hit list. When American imperialism’s hostility to the Arab Spring took a back seat to its hostility to the Ghadafi and Assad regimes (their collaboration with Bush Jr.’s international torture ring notwithstanding), the Western left’s support for the Arab Spring took a back seat to its hostility to American imperialism.

full: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=1097

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