Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 5, 2015

Baathist secularism? In response to Gary Leupp

Filed under: Islamophobia,Syria — louisproyect @ 1:44 pm

Gary Leupp

Dr. Gary Leupp,

Ordinarily I don’t pay attention to Baathist propagandists but your CounterPunch article today was so over the top and so screaming out for a rebuttal that I decided to take a few minutes to respond. I can only say that as a tenured professor at Tufts University, you show a blatant disregard for serious and thoughtful analysis based on the facts–probably a function of a hangover from your youthful Maoist past.

Your article relies heavily on the word of one Brad Hoff, an ex-Marine who is the editor of something called LevantReport.org that tells its readers that the “Arab Spring” was a myth and that it was really a secret plot by Washington to foster al-Qaeda type groups in the Middle East. Well, well.

Hoff’s article is an unabashed defense of the “good old days” in Syria when he was able to see “mostly unveiled women wearing European fashions and sporting bright makeup — many of them wearing blue jeans and tight fitting clothes that would be commonplace in American shopping malls on a summer day.” He also was impressed with the “number of restaurant bars and alcohol kiosks clustered around the many city squares” and his ability to “get two varieties of Syrian-made beer, or a few international selections like Heineken or Amstel, with relative ease.” Frankly, this sounds like the sort of item one would read in the Sunday NY Times Travel section but let’s leave it at that.

Once you get past the babes and booze nostalgia, you offer up the Leupp history of the Middle East that is basically a sort of mish-mosh of Bill Maher and vulgar Marxism with repeated denunciations of Washington’s opposition to “secularist” governments in Iraq and Syria. It can all be reduced to your “what if” question: “What if a series of U.S. administrations (influenced to say the least by Israel and its powerful Lobby) hadn’t come to view Baathism as a greater enemy than Islamic fanaticism?”

What you don’t seem to grasp is that both Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad were not quite the secularists you make them out to be. In 1993 Iraq embarked on something called “The Return to Faith Campaign” that promoted Islamic fundamentalism–this was long before George W. Bush’s invasion. As wikipedia reports, “The selling and consumption of alcohol was curtailed by the state” and “Prostitution was deemed illegal and punishable by death.” The Fedayeen Saddam, Iraq’s morality police, were infamous for beheading prostitutes.

So much for the babes and booze in the good old days.

Syria was about the same. Statistically speaking, Hafez al-Assad and his homicidal ophthalmologist son built more mosques than cultural centers, cinemas, and theaters. This is not to speak of the homicidal son releasing the men from prison who would go on to form the backbone of the jihadist militias that are terrorizing Christians and anybody else with a fondness for babes and booze.

I hope that this helps clarify your understanding.

May 3, 2015

Negri, Graeber, Holloway, the cult of Abdullah Ocalan and the Rojava Revolution

Filed under: Kurd,Syria — louisproyect @ 1:29 pm

ocalan

Street scenes, ‘democratic’ assemblies, militia fighters and colleges in Rojava – all overshadowed by the leader of one party, the PKK’s Abdullah

(This article was send to me anonymously by “Anti War”. I am forwarding it to my readers not because I necessarily agree with it but because it seems worthy of crossposting. I have not made up my mind about the issues under analysis but expect that this article will provide food for thought.)

In April 2015, a conference was held in Hamburg ‘to introduce the thoughts of the Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to the international community.’ Silvia Federici was supposed to send a ‘message of greeting’ – just as Toni Negri and Immanuel Wallerstein had at a similar previous conference.† Federici then dropped out. However David Harvey, David Graeber and John Holloway did attend and all three spoke on a stage with a large portrait of Ocalan in the background.†

During the event, held on Ocalan’s birthday, Harvey claimed that Ocalan ‘is waging a struggle for the freedom of all women.’† While Graeber said: ‘He has written the sociology of freedom. … I have some questions and criticisms in the technical dimension, but I agree and appreciate his views.’†

This all raises several questions, such as who exactly is Ocalan and is his political project really as radical as these well-known intellectuals seem to believe?

OCALAN ON VIOLENCE, REVOLUTION AND DEMOCRACY

Abdullah Ocalan is the ideological leader of the Kurdish Workers Party, the PKK, whose offshoot, the PYD, is the main political force in the Kurdish areas of Syria known as Rojava. Many PYD activists in Rojava have what one eye-witness calls ‘total faith’ in Ocalan and consider him to be, to a certain extent, ‘sacred’.† Indeed, the leader of the PYD, Salih Muslim, has openly admitted that: ‘We apply [Ocalan’s] philosophy and ideology to Syria.’†

This semi-religious attitude to Ocalan goes back to the 1980s and 1990s, well before his imprisonment in Turkey. PKK fighters from these earlier decades say things like: ‘The PKK is in a certain sense identical with its founder, Abdullah Ocalan’ or ‘[Ocalan] doesn’t so much represent the party, as he is the party.’†

When ISIS began threatening Rojava in 2014, the PKK/PYD introduced compulsory military conscription. All PKK/PYD fighters are still ‘trained in political thought’† and, consequently, they still say things like: ‘our ideas are based on the philosophy of Abdullah Ocalan’† or ‘these are the ideas of Abdullah Ocalan, this is our ideology’†. This deeply Stalinist way of thinking would be a problem even if Ocalan’s ideas were genuinely revolutionary but, like most Stalinists, he has little enthusiasm for social revolution.

To his credit, Ocalan does acknowledge not only the appalling brutality of the Turkish military but also the brutality of the PKK during its war of national liberation against Turkey. For example, he admits that there was ‘unfeeling violence … escalating to the point where we killed the best of our own comrades’† and that ‘young fighters were summarily executed in the mountains.’ He even says that ‘the whole party is guilty; nobody can deny his responsibility.’†

But Ocalan’s admissions now just make it easier to believe long-standing claims that he authorised the execution of many hundreds of people including civilians and dissident PKK members.† To give just one example, an ex-PKK leader has said that ‘there were between 50 and 60 executions just after the 1986 PKK congress. In the end, there was no more room to bury them.’† Ocalan’s admissions are also seriously marred by his repeated attempts to shift the blame for any atrocities away from himself and onto what he describes as ‘gangs within our organisation’†.

This blame-shifting raises even more questions when one reads Ocalan’s claim that ‘young women fighters … [were] forced into the most primitive patriarchal relationships.’† This is a statement that begs to be compared with that of another PKK leader who claimed that it was Ocalan himself who ‘forced dozens of our female comrades to immoral relations’ and that he went so far as to ‘order the murder’ of women who refused to have ‘relations’ with him.† *

Ocalan had his accuser killed so we may never know if there was any truth to these allegations.† We may also never know how genuine Ocalan’s regrets are concerning wars of national liberation. This is especially the case if we consider his assertions that these wars ‘were valid at the time’, that the war against Turkey ‘could have been won’ and that when ‘nationalism [was] flourishing, it was almost treason not to agree with the principles of national liberation.’† But we do know that the failure of the PKK’s war – combined with the collapse of the Soviet Union – led Ocalan to reject not only any continuation of the war but also any sort of violent revolution.

In his Prison Writings he warns that ‘socialist society must not attempt to overcome old structures of state and society by means of violence and force.’ He goes on to say that: ‘It would be a gross contradiction of the nature of the new ideology if force were to be accepted as a means of overthrowing the state – even the most brutal one.’† He also claims that ‘revolutions and violence… cannot abolish [social phenomena]’ (vol.1 p224) and that ‘revolutionary overthrow … does not create sustainable change. In the long run, freedom and justice can only be accomplished within a democratic-confederate dynamic process.’†

These statements are more than just understandable criticisms of violence, they seem to be rejections of any need for social revolution once a Western-style democratic system has been instituted.

Ocalan does claim that such a system will eventually be superseded by ‘a more adaptable administration which will allow even more freedom’. But he also claims that ‘the Western democratic system contains everything needed for solving social problems.’ He even says that, eventually, ‘the right and the left … will come together in the system of democratic civilisation.’†

OCALAN ON MARXISM, ANARCHISM, FEMINISM AND CAPITALISM

Like so many other neo-Stalinists, from Gorbachev to the Eurocommunists, Ocalan combines his enthusiasm for Western-style democracy with a dismissal of Marxism.†

He also rejects anarchism, saying: ‘Anarchism is a capitalist tendency. It is an extreme form of individualism which rejects the state itself.’† He is quite clear that he ‘does not reject nor deny the state’.† Instead, he advocates ‘a lean state as a political institution, which only observes functions in the fields of internal and external security and in the provision of social security.’† **

Few liberals would have too much disagreement with this approach to the state or, indeed, with Ocalan’s approach to feminism. Just like any liberal, he is also quite clear that women’s liberation ‘should have priority over the liberation of … labour.’†

Ocalan does make bold, if somewhat hypocritical, statements about male domination in contemporary society such as: ‘To kill the dominant man is the fundamental principle of socialism.’† And women’s participation in the Rojava revolution is a striking example of how women will be central to any social change in the 21st Century. But a genuine women’s revolution would surely require a proletarian women’s movement outside the control of either middle-class activists or the PKK/PYD.

Such a revolution would also require the transcendence of the family. According to one Rojavan human rights worker: ‘Society here is very masculine and very feudal, … there still needs to be a change in the classic family structure if we are ever going to see [women’s role] expand.’† However, despite his criticism of the family, Ocalan still insists that the ‘family is not a social institution that should be overthrown’. Indeed, he even argues that a reformed family is both the ‘most important element’ and ‘the most robust assurance of democratic civilisation.’†

As regards capitalism, Ocalan does argue for a ‘progressive transition from a production based on profit to a production based on sharing.’† But he appears to believe that capitalists ‘never number more than one or two percent of society’† and he even claims that the class war ‘has come to an end’.† He also proposes that the new ‘social order … will allow for individual and collective property’ and that ‘work [will be] remunerated according to its contribution to the entire product.’†

In the programme for the Hamburg conference, John Holloway claims that the Kurdish movement in Rojava is one of ‘the most outstanding examples’ of anti-capitalism.† But these statements by Ocalan instead show a movement whose ideological leader has a very limited understanding of capitalism and no real desire to end the misery of private property and wage labour. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that one of the economics ministers in Rojava has openly stated that he wants any cooperatives to compete with private capital.† Meanwhile, the head of Internal Security even said that Rojava is ‘a new market, and everyone can play a role, including the Americans.’†

Ocalan’s solution to every social problem really does seem to be, not anti-capitalist revolution, but democracy. Democracy is certainly preferable to dictatorship. But it makes little sense to say that democracy, even a radical form of direct democracy, is itself a ‘corrective for extreme class divisions’.†

It is, of course, just such extreme class divisions and inequalities, exacerbated by capitalism’s chronic crises and wars, that have led to today’s situation in which so many people have turned to the seemingly revolutionary alternative of ISIS. But from Egypt to Turkey to Iraq, democracy has done little to empower proletarians to push for the radical sharing of wealth that is so urgently needed to end all class divisions and so end the appeal of ISIS.

The PKK say they want to transform the Middle East ‘without the utopian perspective of a world revolution’.† But it is surely only the prospect of an anti-capitalist world revolution that could ever inspire people both to overthrow ISIS and to spread the Rojava revolution across the Middle East.

Such a world revolution would require a political movement that was far more internationalist than the PKK/PYD could ever be, burdened as it is by its deep attachment to Kurdish identity. The PKK/PYD is also burdened by its initial decision to be relatively neutral in the Syrian civil war and by its later decision to ally with the US. No matter how understandable these decisions were, they have discredited the Rojava revolution across the Arab world and made it even more difficult for it to become a starting point for international revolution.

Any talk of international revolution may seem utopian. But the Arab Spring and Occupy movements showed that potentially revolutionary movements are now able to emerge and spread internationally like never before. And a global revolution is still a more realistic prospect than any hope that Rojava’s alliance with Western imperialism will somehow lead to the spread of socialism across the Middle East.

After the victory at Kobane, the PKK/PYD leader, Salih Muslim, visited government officials in London and spoke passionately in favour of an even stronger alliance with the West. He said:

‘We insist on establishing good relations with the US. … We had a martyr who was English. He died in the same trenches as us. … Our martyrs are the most glorious treasure we have. We see them as the crowns, they are crowns and they are light that show our way to peace and freedom. … We want to establish stronger relations with the English, Australians, Germans and Americans. That relation will be nourished by our martyrs’ sacrifice. … Rojava is taking the lead in giving an example of democracy in all of Syria. And our people are proud of that. And you know it is true when you see a British man next to you in the same trench and he becomes a martyr. … [Our] resistance is becoming an example to the world.’†

Despite obvious differences, this overblown rhetoric sounds very much like that of politicians a century ago who extolled ‘English, Australians, Germans and Americans’ to sacrifice themselves for ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ in the trenches of the 1914-18 war.

The revolutionaries of the last century made two great errors: one was to support the descent into the imperialist bloodbath of 1914, the other was to support Stalinism. Developing a 21st Century revolutionary politics that avoids any repetition of these disasters will not be easy. Radical intellectuals like Negri, Graeber and Holloway have made important theoretical contributions that can aid this development. But their apparent support for the PKK suggests serious limitations in their political outlook.

Fortunately, younger Kurdish activists are increasingly questioning the authoritarianism of the PKK. If radical intellectuals have any constructive role it is to encourage such attitudes and to avoid giving any credibility to the totalitarian cult around Ocalan.

Capitalism’s present crisis will, sooner or later, compel people to question the entire system more deeply than they are presently doing in Rojava – or, indeed, in other countries where various types of neo-Stalinist have taken power such as South Africa, Venezuela and Greece. Until then, we surely need to keep trying to find ways to support grassroots’ struggles without giving any support to neo-Stalinist politicians – or to imperialism.

All sources can be found by clicking on the † next to the quote or see the version at libcom.org

* Some critics of Ocalan have claimed that his response to such abuse accusations was to say: ‘These girls mentioned. I don’t know, I have relations with thousands of them. … [They] say ‘‘this was attempted to be done to me here’’ or ‘‘this was done to me there’’! These shameless women. … I try to turn every girl into a lover. … If you find me dangerous, don’t get close!’† However, unlike the other Ocalan quotes in this article, I have been unable to find a verifiable version of this quote. I have also been unable to find a second source to confirm claims that the Rojavan authorities ‘prohibit the display of flags and photos of political figures’ other than those of Ocalan and other PKK symbols.†

** The revolutionary hopes engendered by the Arab Spring coincided with a fall in support for Islamist terrorism. Once those hopes were dashed, such terrorism revived and, inevitably, the Rojavan police have now set up an elite anti-terrorist unit just like those of any other capitalist state. (See their Hollywood-style video here.) This development is in some contrast to Graeber’s hopes that the Rojavan police were on the way to, one day, abolishing themselves.†

http://www.ekurd.net/mismas/articles/misc2014/1/syriakurd1033.jpg
http://www.e-flux.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/The-Art-of-Creating-a-State-Rojava-4_smallWEB.jpg?b8c429
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http://thenewcontext.milanoschool.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/ypgkurdistan.jpg
https://www.aei.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/img-kurdistanworkerspartykurdishpolice110813_131142775210.jpg
http://www.davidmeseguer.com/wp-content/uploads/Asayis2.jpg
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http://i.radikal.com.tr/150×113/2014/10/03/fft16_mf2470874.Jpeg

 

May 1, 2015

Trial by Fire in Syria

Filed under: Counterpunch,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:39 pm
Returning to Homs

Trial-by-Fire in Syria

by LOUIS PROYECT

Recently published by Verso Press, Jonathan Littell’s “Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising” is welcome both as an important document of Syria’s trial by fire as well as an indication of this august publisher’s willingness to break with the pro-Assad consensus that prevails on the left. Although Littell’s chronicle is hardly the work of an FSA partisan, he at least puts a human face on a movement that so many were willing to reduce to one fighter’s shocking act–eating the heart of a fallen Baathist soldier.

Written between January 16 and February 2, 2012, Littell’s notebooks are literally that, a day by day diary of what he saw and what he did in Homs, a city that was a citadel of resistance to Bashar al-Assad, particularly in the working-class neighborhood of Baba ‘Amr, where Littell spent most of his time.

read full article

April 13, 2015

Patrick Cockburn’s alarming support for American air power

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 7:18 pm

Patrick Cockburn

Like most people on the left I relied heavily on Robert Fisk, Robert Parry, Seymour Hersh and Patrick Cockburn’s journalism during George W. Bush’s war in Iraq but became critical as they began covering the war in Syria.

To a large extant, their reporting suffered from a kind of mechanical application of Bush’s war to Syria as if every threat brandished by the Obama White House was on a par with what took place in 2003. This was especially true when Obama warned that a “red line” was being crossed in August 2013 when a sarin gas attack cost the lives of hundreds of people living in East Ghouta. Among such journalists, this became equivalent to Colin Powell or Dick Cheney’s apocalyptic warnings about WMD’s. Most of these journalists gave credence to the idea that the sarin gas was used by the Syrian rebels as a way of drawing the USA into the war in order to accomplish “regime change” even as talks were in progress at that very moment between Iran and the White House to move toward the rapprochement now in full blossom.

This is not to speak of the problems of drawing analogies between Iraq and Syria when the very purpose of Bush’s intervention was to destroy Sunni hegemony and install a sectarian Shiite regime that would obviously have close ties with Iran. As many analysts have correctly pointed out, the top ranks of ISIS are filled with former military commanders in Saddam Hussein’s army, men whose secular nationalist ideology did not get in the way of a partnership with Salafist zealots such as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

At its best, the position put forward by some of these journalists amounted to opposition to American intervention even if it stopped short of endorsing Bashar al-Assad. I include Patrick Cockburn in this category—at least up until yesterday when he wrote an article that made the case for American air power against “Al Qaeda” in terms that are disturbingly evocative of Christopher Hitchens.

There were already signs that Cockburn had relaxed his normally high standards in order to promote stepped up American intervention in the region in his recently published Verso book “The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the new Sunni Revolution”. In the chapter on Syria, he states on page 84 that the opposition had become “dominated by ISIS”.

Now, one might expect him to at least acknowledge what had been widely reported elsewhere, namely that a de facto non-aggression pact existed between the Baathists and ISIS but none was forthcoming. A senior ISIS operative told the Guardian on June 28, 2014 that the Syrian air force is not “going to bomb our key sites. Their main enemy is the so-called moderates”, the sort of thing that Cockburn overlooked in his efforts to make an amalgam between ISIS and everybody else opposed to the Baathist dictatorship.

One might have hoped that Patrick Cockburn would be far more direct in his support for American intervention instead of adopting circumlocutions that could conceivably be used in a hedging strategy along the lines of “I didn’t actually call for American bombing” but nevertheless that’s the only conclusion you can draw from “In the Middle East, our enemy’s enemy must be our friend”.

In calling attention to “America’s failure to develop an effective policy for destroying al-Qaeda in the years since 9/11”, he bemoans its advances in Yemen and in the Idlib province in Syria where apparently the al-Nusra Front had led 4,000 fighters in seizing the capital city. Unnamed Saudi sources supposedly revealed that Saudi Arabia and Turkey had been behind al-Nusra and other “extreme jihadis” in seizing Idlib.

It might be useful if Cockburn could show even the most glancing familiarity with what is taking in place in Idlib today, which bears little resemblance to the ghoulish “emirate” created by ISIS in Mosul or Raqqa. In an interview with Abu al-Yazid Taftenaz, one of these “extreme jihadis”, Syria Direct discovered that they had plans far removed from Cockburn’s dark forebodings. Speaking of the Christian minority, Taftenaz stated that “if they want to live among us that’s their right. We can’t impose the jizya (non-Muslim tax) on them. Subsequently, the Christian will live like any other civilian in Idlib city.” When asked about their ties to ISIS, he said, “They won’t have any luck in Idlib. Their presence is far away from the city, keeping in mind that they have some areas of control in the eastern Idlib countryside. The areas of Idlib, God willing, will not witness any IS presence.”

I certainly have no power over Patrick Cockburn and what he decides to report or not report but if you are going to reduce everything happening in Syria to a battle between Bashar al-Assad and “extreme jihadis”, you are seriously compromising your journalistic standards.

The article frets over ISIS and the al-Nusra front taking control of Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp that is supposedly going to turn into a living hell now at the hands of such “extreme jihadis”. In the past, the two groups opposed each other but now there are “worrying signs of cooperation”, the consequences of which would include beheading Palestinians for smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, adultery and the like. With such an awful future in store, who would not support the Syrian army stepping in like the US Marines did to save Haitians from the Ton-Ton Macoute?

A Palestinian who fled Yarmouk some time ago had a different take on the incursion of ISIS. Writing for Foreign Policy, Qusai Zakarya saw a connection with the Baathists that had been obvious in other places as was noted above.

The Islamic State tried to recruit in Yarmouk, but local residents did not take the bait. That is why the Islamic State used areas where it was already established to conquer Yarmouk by force. Assad’s siege of civilians helped the Islamic State even in Yarmouk because — after two and a half years of starvation and bombardment — the local battalions in the camp were too weak to push the group out.

But that is not the whole story. Local residents of Yarmouk were surprised to see a raid of hundreds of Islamic State fighters from southern Damascus successfully enter their area. When al-Hajar al-Aswad and Yalda were controlled by the Free Syrian Army, there were many attempts to break the siege on the camp with similar raids. Each one was a disaster; Assad’s forces have the area tightly monitored and controlled. Simply put, there is no way the attack by the Islamic State could have happened unless Assad wanted it to.

Then there is another question: How did the Islamic State get such large quantities of resources into besieged areas? The Free Syrian Army in besieged Yarmouk had only handmade light weapons, while the Islamic State in besieged al-Hajar al-Aswad had advanced missiles and high-tech rifles. Believe me, infants would not be starving in my hometown if regime sieges could be evaded through tunnels or bribes. Those resources got in because the regime allowed them to enter.

After several more paragraphs of gloomy warnings about the threat of al-Qaeda type movements (whatever that means) spreading to Britain, France and Germany like metastasizing tumors, we arrive at the article’s conclusion which has the takeaway point on the need for a united front with the Syrian army:

In Syria, similarly, “the enemy of our enemy” and the strongest military force is the Syrian army, though it shows signs of weakening after four years of war. But if we have decided that US air power is not to be used against Isis or Jabhat al-Nusra when they are fighting the Syrian army because we want to get rid of President Bashar al-Assad, then this is a decision that benefits Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra and extreme jihadis. In Iraq the situation is less dire because, although there is a pretence of not cooperating with the Shia militias, in practice the US had been launching air strikes on the same Isis positions these militia are attacking on the ground. The reality is that it is only by supporting “the enemy of my enemy” that the expansion of al-Qaeda and its lookalikes can be beaten back and the movement defeated.

To start with, it is a bit alarming to see him refer to “we have decided that US air power is not to be used”. This is the “we” of Sunday morning TV talk shows, NPR broadcasts, the NY Times op-ed page et al. For me, “we” means the working class, the poor, the colonized, the disenfranchised and especially those who have suffered from Syrian military scorched earth tactics for the past 4 years.

Furthermore, if you read this paragraph carefully, especially in light of earlier references to Idlib, you must conclude that Cockburn would have cheered American jets stepping in to protect the Christian minority in Idlib that apparently didn’t need any protecting.

Finally and most distressingly, we are told that the situation in Iraq is “less dire” because the A-10 Warthogs had bombed ISIS positions in collaboration with the Shiite militias. Is this what we have come to? What exactly is the difference between this and what the USA was doing in Iraq a decade ago?

If the war against “extreme jihadis” requires American imperialism to join forces with groups capable of the behavior described below, then those who defend such a policy must have surely lost their principles if not their minds. This is from a report from Human Rights Watch on the Shiite militias’ attack on Amerli. Although I have had problems with their coverage of Venezuela and Cuba, this strikes me as quite plausible, especially since they got testimony from Peshmerga officers who had fought alongside them against ISIS:

On the basis of field visits, interviews with more than 30 witnesses, and analysis of photographs and satellite imagery, Human Rights Watch found that an area that included 35 villages and towns showed extensive destruction caused by fire, explosives and heavy earth moving equipment. The evidence showed that most of the damage occurred between early September and mid-November 2014. Using satellite imagery, Human Rights Watch identified over 3,800 destroyed buildings in 30 towns and villages, including 2,600 buildings likely destroyed by fire and a further 1,200 buildings likely demolished with heavy machinery and the uncontrolled detonation of high explosives. This destruction was distinct from damages resulting from air strikes and heavy artillery and mortar fire prior to ISIS’s retreat from Amerli, which Human Rights Watch separately identified using the satellite imagery. Human Rights Watch’s field research together with the satellite imagery analysis indicates that militias engaged in deliberate and wanton destruction of civilian property after the retreat of ISIS and the end of fighting in the area.

Twenty-four witnesses, including Peshmerga officers and local tribal sheikhs, told Human Rights Watch they saw militias looting towns and villages around Amerli after the offensive against ISIS ended and immediately preceding militia destruction of homes in the town. They said they saw militiamen taking items of value—such as refrigerators, televisions, clothing and even electrical wiring—out of homes before setting the houses on fire.

Read full report: http://features.hrw.org/features/HRW_2015_reports/Iraq_Amerli/index.html

April 6, 2015

Syria, Chechnya, and the jihadist gambit

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 11:58 pm

For the longest time now I’ve been making the point that Bashar al-Assad seems to have adopted Putin’s scorched earth military/political strategy in Chechnya. After reading the introduction to Jonathan Littell’s “Syrian Notebooks: Inside the Homs Uprising”, a new Verso book (good for them), I’ve discovered that there’s more there than just the near-genocidal blitzkrieg aspect. Remember how Bashar al-Assad released the jihadists from prison who would go on to provide the shock troops for ISIS? Well, it turns out that this was a gambit used in Chechnya as well:

Jonathan Littell:

Playing the extremists against the moderates — the basic idea being that, having little or no social base, radical forces will be easy to eliminate once they have helped with the far harder job of crushing a main opponent deeply rooted in society — is a strategy that certainly has its lettres de noblesse. Practiced ineptly, as it usually is, it has an unfortunate tendency to turn against its initiators, as in the case of Israel when it quietly fostered the rise of Hamas in the hope of bringing down Arafat’s PLO, or the United States when it armed the more radical jihadists against the Soviets in Afghanistan, sealing the doom of the moderate mujahideen factions and unleashing forces still not contained to this day. But on occasions it can bring a measure of success, at least in the short term. Chechnya is a case in point. After Russia’s humiliating defeat there, in August 1996, at the hands of a few thousand rebels armed only with Kalashnikovs and RPGs, the Russian special services, FSB (the successor organization to the KGB) and GRU (military intelligence), immediately began preparing the grounds for the next conflict. The three years during which a de facto independent Chechnya managed its own affairs rapidly turned into a dis-aster: the systematic kidnappings of foreign journalists and aid workers, culminating in the spectacular decapitation of four British and New Zealander telecom engineers in December 1998 by the well-known Islamist commander Arbi Barayev, ruined any good will abroad for Chechnya and generated an effective media blockade as journalists ceased travelling there; rising political and even military pressure by rogue Islamist rebel groups on the freely elected nationalist president Asian Maskhadov forced him to radicalize his position, eventually declaring a “shari`a law” no one really wanted or even understood; further decapitations of Russian captives and other atrocities, conveniently filmed by their Islamist perpetrators, continued to feed Russian anti-Chechen propaganda, with compilations of these videos being distributed to all foreign embassies at the start of the 1999 reinvasion of Chechnya to help justify the inev-itable excesses of the “anti-terrorist operation.”

What followed is well known: the total destruction of Groznyi, the mass killings and disappearances, the waves of refugees. What is less so, though it has been extensively documented by a handful of courageous Russian journal-ists, is the sinister pas-de-deux played by the special services and the Islamists throughout the years. This is no place to go into details, but a few examples might serve. Documents leaked by frustrated GRU (military intelligence) officials to the Russian media revealed that the FSB (successor to the KGB)  paid Barayev 12 million dollars, out-bidding the four telecom engineers’ employers, to have them gruesomely killed in a manner maximizing the propaganda impact; in the spring of 2000, after the Federal Forces had occupied Chechnya, Chechen colleagues of mine saw Barayev — officially one of the most wanted men of Russia — freely driving through Russian checkpoints using an FSB accreditation; and it was only when his chief FSB protector, Rear-Admiral German Ugryumov, mysteriously died in May 2001 that the GRU was finally able to corner him, in an FSB base, and kill him. On a military level, when Groznyi finally fell in late January 2000, the Russian services manipulated or paid the Islamist rebel groups, which had been sent ahead to the mountains to prepare the withdrawal of the remaining forces from the city, to betray their comrades, leading to the nationalist forces being decimated during the retreat. The evidence is also strong for a form of direct complicity, or at least mutual manipulation, between the ser-v ices and the Chechen Islamist commando that occupied a Moscow theater in October 2002, resulting in the death of over a hundred hostages and further discrediting president Maskhadov and his remaining guerilla forces. In spite of a succession of disastrous incidents, the most notorious being the hideous school massacre in Beslan in September 2003, this insidious strategy would bear fruit: after Maskhadov was finally killed, during a Russian operation in 2005, his successor Doku Umarov renounced the drive for national independence in favor of the creation of a pan-Caucasian Islamic Caliphate — a move that drove virtually all the remaining nationalist commanders into the arms of Ramzan Kadyrov, Putin’s puppet in Chechnya, thus bringing to an effective and squalid end the long-held Chechen dream of independence. Chechen rebel activity has now been reduced to almost nothing, and Doku Umarov was killed in turn toward the end of 2013; the fact that the Islamist uprising continues unabated in neighboring regions, especially Daghestan, seems to be considered by Russia as a “manageable” problem, for now.

It would be tempting, given this history, to see the hand of Bashar al-Assad’s Russian advisors in the shop-worn idea of allowing radicalized Islamist factions totally to discredit the popular revolt, all the more so as the wave of kidnap-pings and murders of foreign observers that accompanied the rise of the Islamists closely resembles the Chechnya model. There are also some potentially direct links. The appearance in the Syrian theater of several Chechen brigades, aligned either with Jabhat al-Nusra or Da`esh, has gained quite a bit of media attention, as has the main “Chechen” commander `Umar al-Shishani, now a military emir of Da`esh, who is in fact a former Georgian special forces officer of mixed Christian-Muslim descent whose real name is Tarkhan Batirashvili. Less well known, how-ever, is the fact that behind Omar al-Shishani stands a certain Isa Umarov, who left Chechnya to join him in Da`esh territory and has given him his daughter in mar-riage. Umarov, one of the oldest and most influential (albeit highly discrete) Chechen Islamist leaders, whose links to the KGB go all the way back to the 1980s when he was one of the founders of the Islamic Rebirth Party, the first anti-Soviet Islamist organization, is a man who played a key role in the interaction between the Russian services and the Islamists he godfathered all through the two Chechen wars; and his role within Da`esh certainly raises interesting questions. But as a Syrian friend pointed out to me, the mukhabarat too are old hands at these games, and have no need of lessons from their Russian patrons. Their strategic philosophy is explicitly stated in graffiti now very common around Damascus: “Assad or we burn the country.”

 

April 2, 2015

Countering apologetics for the Baathist apocalypse: Once again, Assad regime responsible for sectarianism in Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 7:02 pm

Countering apologetics for the Baathist apocalypse: Once again, Assad regime responsible for sectarianism in Syria.

March 29, 2015

The Syrian Revolution struggles on

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 9:22 pm

The Syrian Revolution struggles on.

March 16, 2015

Dan Glazebrook slimes Hamid Dabashi

Filed under: journalism,Libya,mechanical anti-imperialism,Syria — louisproyect @ 7:22 pm

Hamid Dabashi

Dan Glazebrook

In his Middle East Eye review of Hamid Dabashi’s essay “Can non-Europeans Think?” that appeared on the Al Jazeera website, “anti-imperialist” hack-of-all trades Dan Glazebrook takes the Columbia University professor to task for being connected to the “vested interests” and “ideological priorities of the time” through work that serves to “keep the formal structure of power that privileges [him] intact”. These are words that Dabashi wrote somewhere against the European-dominated academy but that Glazebrook now intends to use against him. Although he tells his readers that they originated in some new book by Dabashi, he does not take the fucking trouble to identify it in his article. That’s some class-A journalism. (We can assume it is “Brown Skin, White Masks”.)

So why does Dabashi, an Iranian by birth and someone often pilloried by the Zionist lobby as an anti-Semite, get slimed as serving imperialism’s interests?

Glazebrook starts off by telling us that Dabashi is guilty of the same kind of sin Marx committed when he wrote for the pro-slavery and big business oriented NY Herald or when Alexander Cockburn wrote for the Wall Street Journal:

Dabashi is featured regularly on CNN and Al-Jazeera, who originally published the vast majority of the articles that make up this book. What is it about what Dabashi is saying that makes his work so attractive to the British imperial relics of the Qatari royal family or the US entertainment conglomerate Time Warner who own his two major publishers?

Anybody who reads this might wonder if we have run into the age-old pot…kettle…black syndrome since the provenance of Middle East Eye is subject to the same sort of “anti-imperialist” finger-pointing (be careful or else you will get poked in your own eye.) Just have a look at an article that appeared in the National titled “Al Jazeera executive helped to launch controversial UK website”. That’s right, conspiracy fans and X-Files devotees. It was an Al Jazeera boss who launched the website that Glazebook’s drivel appeared on:

A senior executive with Qatar’s TV network Al Jazeera was closely involved with setting up the London news website Middle East Eye, some of whose staff have links to organisations sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Jonathan Powell, an Al Jazeera employee since 2009, spent several months in the UK working on Middle East Eye, which promised “independently produced news, analysis and opinion” at its launch in April. MEE claims to have “no political master, movement or country”.

Mr Powell is understood to have spent up to six months in London between September last year and February 13 as a launch consultant for Middle East Eye.

The news organisation was created as a company in early December last year, registered to an address in North London.

Its website was registered by Adlin Adnan, a Middle East Eye employee, to a different address in Central London at the end of that month.

Mr Powell has since returned to Doha, assigned to special projects for Al Jazeera’s chairman’s office.

But Dabashi’s real sin is that he has no use for Glazebrook’s idol, the late Muammar Qaddafi:

For a start, whilst he is scathing about the Islamophobia of the Western media, and the warmongering of the US, his most passionate invective is reserved for leaders of third world countries targeted for destruction by imperialism. Thus, in an article written on the eve of the NATO bombardment of Libya, Gaddafi was depicted as the “bastard son of [European colonial] militarism, charlatanism and barefaced barbarity”, a “dying beast”, and – of course! – a “mad colonel”.

In my book, anybody who keeps a scrapbook of Condoleezza Rice photos is pretty off-the-wall but what do I know?

Screen shot 2015-03-16 at 2.58.52 PM

In a 2007 interview with al-Jazeera, Qaddafi practically drooled over Rice: “I support my darling black African woman. I admire and am very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders … Leezza, Leezza, Leezza. … I love her very much. I admire her and I’m proud of her because she’s a black woman of African origin.” I guess there’s some kernel of anti-imperialism buried deep within this bullshit that I will allow Glazebrook to reveal. But for me, it speaks for itself.

Showing his commitment to the “axis of resistance”, Glazebrook denounces Dabashi for showing disloyalty to the new nearly Communist International:

Elsewhere, Dabashi talks of the “murderous ruling regime in Syria” and the “ghastly opportunism of Russia and the Islamic Republic of Iran”. Third world leaderships are constantly equated with their imperial attackers – all the better to discourage any kind of solidarity or defence against such attacks. The BRICS countries – Russia and China in particular – are constantly disparaged throughout Dabashi’s writings, for example, and almost always referred to in the same breath as US imperialism.

Yeah, the nerve of Dabashi to refer to the murderous ruling regime in Syria. Everybody knows that those barrel bombs dropped on open-air markets and tenement buildings are just as necessary to destroy the terrorist threat as the bombs dropped over Gaza. Plus how can anybody in their right mind disparage Russia and China? Doesn’t Dabashi realize that Russia is acting in the interests of radicals everywhere by putting Pussy Riot in prison for acting against public decency? Not to speak of China that is ruled by Communists—no matter that its parliament includes 83 billionaires. These are obviously pro-communist billionaires unlike the filthy pro-capitalist billionaires in the USA.

The rest of the article is basically a rewrite of all the garbage that has been written on behalf of Qaddafi and al-Assad for the past four years. It never fails to amaze me how little new information is provided as a stable of horse’s asses basically plagiarize each other. Is there evidence that a low IQ and “anti-imperialist” journalism are organically linked? I am coming around to the conclusion that is probably the case.

 

February 26, 2015

The Syrian war, Israel, Hezbollah and the US-Iran romance: Is Israel changing its view on the war?

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 1:26 pm

The Syrian war, Israel, Hezbollah and the US-Iran romance: Is Israel changing its view on the war?.

February 3, 2015

Syria and the left

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 12:07 am

New Politics Winter 2015

Syria and the Left

by Yassin Al-Haq Saleh

Yassin Al Haj Saleh is one of Syria’s leading political dissidents. He spent from 1980-1996 in Syrian prisons and became one of the key intellectual voices of the 2011 Syrian uprising. He spent 21 months in hiding within Syria, eventually escaping to Istanbul. He was interviewed via email by New Politics co-editor Stephen R. Shalom in early November 2014.

 New Politics. You have written eloquently about the ongoing struggle for progressive values in Syria. In most Western nations, particularly in the United States, the left has relatively little power. What do you think the Western left could best do to express its solidarity with the Syrian revolution?

Yassin Al Haj Saleh. I am afraid that it is too late for the leftists in the West to express any solidarity with the Syrians in their extremely hard struggle. What I always found astonishing in this regard is that mainstream Western leftists know almost nothing about Syria, its society, its regime, its people, its political economy, its contemporary history. Rarely have I found a useful piece of information or a genuinely creative idea in their analyses. My impression about this curious situation is that they simply do not see us; it is not about us at all. Syria is only an additional occasion for their old anti-imperialist tirades, never the living subject of the debate. So they do not really need to know about us. For them the country is only a black box about which you do not have to learn its internal structure and dynamics; actually it has no internal structure and dynamics according to their approach, one that is at the same time Western-centered and high-politics centered.

The problem is that their narrow anti-imperialist worldview only sees Obama, Putin, Holland, Erdoğan, Khamenei, Qatari Emir Hamad, Saudi King Abdullah, Hassan Nasrallah, and Bashar al-Assad. Possibly they see also Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. We, rank-and-file Syrians, refugees, women, students, intellectuals, human rights activists, political prisoners … do not exist.

I think this high-politics, Western-centered worldview is better suited for the right and the ultra-right fascists. But honestly I’ve failed to discern who is right and who is left in the West from a leftist Syrian point of view. And I tend to think that these are the poisonous effects of the Soviet experience, fascist in its own way. Many Western leftists are the orphans of the late father, the USSR.

Besides, what prevents them from seeing the victims of Bashar, when they see perfectly well ordinary people in Kobanê? Why wasn’t there the slightest interest in the slaughter of 700 people at the hands of ISIS thugs themselves in Deir Ezzor last August? One is forced to ask: Do victims have different values based on who their murderers are? Why, as the regime is bombing many regions in the country every day, killing dozens of people every day, are the leftists in the West as silent as the rightists? Could the reason be that the public killer Bashar and his elegant wife are symbols of the First World inside Syria, a couple with whom those in the First World identify easily?

Before helping Syrians or showing solidarity with Syrians, the mainstream Western left needs to help themselves. Their views are totally misguided, and the Syrian cause was only a litmus test of their reactionary and decadent perspectives.

As a Syrian, I only need them if they are well-informed. Syria is a microcosm, and I do not think that the nature of their understanding and their policies in relation to the macrocosm is in any way better when their position on the Syrian cause is mistaken to this degree.

Of course, these remarks are not meant to deny the existence of a small number of courageous dissident Western leftists who saved the moral and political dignity of the left in the United States and the West at large.

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