Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 16, 2015

Understanding the rise of ISIS

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:16 pm

Jihadists in Fallujah, 2004, when they were good guys

After George W. Bush invaded Iraq, the left followed the war with keen interest hoping against hope that the American military would be sent packing in the same fashion as Vietnam thirty years earlier. Even though there was little evidence of socialist ideology among the Sunni or the Shiite militias who fought the Americans more sporadically, the consensus was that they deserved our support.

Like some of the key battles in Vietnam such as the Tet Offensive of 1968, the battle for Fallujah became a turning point in the war. Writing for CounterPunch on November 13, 2004 Mike Whitney professed his admiration for the “mujahideen” quoting a Pepe Escobar article to the same effect. Both men were ready to hoist the fighters on their shoulders and Whitney went so far as to regard them as students of Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara:

Former or retired Iraqi army officials have always been serious students of Viet Minh tactics and Che Guevara’s theory of the guerrilla foco (center of guerrilla operations). Now they are applying this to urban warfare.

Now, 11 years later, very few people would take up the cause of mujahideen, which is the Arabic word for “people performing Jihad”. Even less so if the men carrying it out were retired Iraqi army officers who appear to be exactly those who are running ISIS’s military operations today. Apparently, when an armed struggle is being waged against Washington, it makes little difference if the ideology is Salafist or Marxist but when Bashar al-Assad is targeted, all bets are off. Ipso facto, shooting at Baathist soldiers makes you a fascist.

There was very little interest on the left in exactly what life was like in Fallujah back in 2004 except that we admired the courage of the citizens. But as “liberated territory”, it doesn’t sound that much different from places under ISIS control today as Nir Rosen reported in an article titled “Resistance: Meet the People of Fallujah” that appeared in the October 2004 Socialist Review, the monthly magazine of the British SWP:

They had banned alcohol, western films, make-up, hairdressers, ‘behaving like women’ (ie homosexuality), and even dominoes in the coffee houses. Men found publicly drunk had been flogged, and I was told of a dozen men beaten and imprisoned for selling drugs. Islamic courts were being established in association with mujahideen units and mosque leaders, meting out punishment consistent with the Koran. Erstwhile Ba’ath Party members told me they were expiating the sins of their former secularism, and Ba’ath ideology had now become Islamist. An assistant to the mayor confirmed that there were Islamic courts with their own qadis, or judges, who acted independently of the police.

One of the men most responsible for imposing Wahhabist norms in Fallujah was one Abu al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian leader of a militia called Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (Organization of Monotheism and Jihad), a group that would reconstitute itself as Al-Qaeda in Iraq in October 2004. Zarqawi was so extreme that he alienated Osama bin-Laden. This was a guy heavy into suicide bombings against Shi’ite mosques, beheadings and other gruesome tactics we associate with ISIS. The left had a tendency to discount such behavior since after all it was the broader anti-imperialist goal that mattered. The spin-doctoring talent that some people developed in this period prepared them for yeoman work in the Baathist amen corner years later. John Wight excuses barrel-bombing open-air markets in Syria in the same way some excuse Dresden or Hiroshima. When excesses are committed in a war on fascism, they can be forgiven unless of course you are Joseph Heller or Howard Zinn.

Between al-Zarqawi and bin-Laden there were also differences on orientation with al-Zarqawi favoring the building of an Islamic state and bin-Laden more inclined to fund and organize likeminded movements around the globe. Furthermore, bin-Laden frowned on the idea of sectarian violence—believe it or not. When al-Zarqawi, a crude and violent man by temperament, told bin-Laden that he was into killing Shi’ites, bin-Laden was appalled.

Another thing to keep in mind is that bin-Laden’s prestige, such as it was, originated in the battles against Russian troops in Afghanistan while al-Zarqawi’s “cred” rested on his feats in Iraq. Henceforth, this would favor the emergence of ISIS that had a base of younger fighters who had taken part in battles such as Fallujah.

Despite the sharp differences, it served al-Zarqawi’s practical interests to form Al-Qaeda in Iraq since it could benefit from both funding and staffing from the parent organization’s worldwide network.

On October 15, 2006 al-Qaeda in Iraq spawned a new group called the Islamic State in Iraq that was known by its initials: ISI. For the next two years it would build up its power in Anbar province, where ISIL would seize control a few years later—including Mosul the second largest city in Iraq. So in a very real sense, there was a dotted line between Fallujah in 2004, the city that raised the spirits of the left to new heights, and the targets of Russian bombing today. Nothing has changed socially or politically in Anbar province except where it fits into the geopolitical chess game. Orwell put it this way:

Officially the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.

The cruelty of ISI had so alienated the Sunnis of Anbar province in whose name it was supposedly acting that it gave the Americans the opening it needed to create the “Awakening” movement in 2006 that pitted powerful tribal elements against the jihadists.

Once the jihadists had been sent packing from Anbar Province, Baghdad had the possibility of ruling over a united Iraq but Shi’ite sectarianism would eventually alienate Sunnis to such an extent that a new opening was provided to the followers of one Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who had taken over for al-Zarqawi and would become the public face of ISIS.

In 2012 and 2013, there was a protest movement in Fallujah, Mosul and other Sunni-dominated cities that was similar in spirit to the Arab Spring of 2011. In December 2012, the Iraqi police arrested Rafi al-Issawi in Fallujah who was one of the top Sunni politicians in Iraq, had served as Minister of Finance under al-Maliki and had been a thorn in the side of the Shi’ite establishment. Al-Maliki accused him falsely of being an al-Qaeda operative but his main offense was pressing for Sunni rights.

Writing for CounterPunch, Iraqi journalist Eman Ahmed Khamas described al-Maliki as a sectarian bully cut from the same cloth as Bashar al-Assad:

Maliki claims that he leads a vibrant democracy, but he heads an authoritarian regime and monopolizes six high governmental posts: chief of staff, minister of defense, minister of interior, chief of intelligence, and head of national security. Even his partners in the Shiite alliance have been excluded, let alone his Sunni opponents. He is supported by the theocracts in Iran and he has supported the Syrian regime, one of the most notorious autocracies in the region. In a televised interview, Maliki threatened to liquidate those who demonstrate for justice and better services, and described them as a ‘stinking bubble’. Indeed, his SWAT forces used lethal weapons against peaceful protestors several times. In the town of Hawija, for example, at least 50 unarmed men were slaughtered last April. In other cities, such as Basra, Nassyria, Fallujah, and Mosul, protestors have been beaten, arrested and killed.

When the USA began to call for al-Maliki to step down in order to prevent the growth of ISIS in Iraq (the group had changed its name to reflect its new caliphate ambitions), some interpreted this as a move to destabilize Iraq. Apparently the slaughter of peaceful protesters was necessary to keep a leader of the axis of resistance in place. Never one to mince words, Mike Whitney described the Sunni protests as being “nurtured by US Intel agencies that armed, trained and funded the respective wahhabi crackpots who then moved into Iraq”—in other words the same kinds of people he compared to Che Guevara in 2004 were now “wahhabi crackpots”.

When ISIS overran Mosul and other cities in Anbar Province, it inherited a vast supply of armaments abandoned by the Iraqi army including 2,300 armored Humvees worth a cool billion dollars. These Humvees came in handy in suicide attacks on government strongholds. Besides the Humvees, ISIS got its hands on Russian T-72 tanks, heavy artillery, American Stinger MANPADs, anti-tank TOW missiles, and anti-aircraft cannons. So for all the talk of USA arming ISIS, you can say that this is true but only in the sense that American banks supplied cash to John Dillinger in the 1930s.

For the Baathist amen corner, this historical background is best swept under the rug. What they are far more interested in is evidence of a conspiracy by Washington to create ISIS. A document posted to Judicial Watch has gotten heavy rotation as they say about Beyonce albums on FM pop music stations. Writing in the Guardian on June 9, 2015, Seumas Milne claims that a Pentagon report written in August 2012 “welcomed” a Salafist principality of the kind that ISIS now refers to as a caliphate—this despite the fact that the report views such an outcome as having “dire consequences on the Iraqi situation”. How Milne can extrapolate “welcome” out of “dire consequences” is rather a mystery but over the past four years I have become accustomed to such journalists playing fast and loose with the facts.

Flush with a massive armory, ISIS expanded into Syria in order to impose a caliphate on its people and the rebel groups that had been fighting to overthrow Assad, including al-Nusra—the al-Qaeda affiliate. Since people like Milne are committed to making an amalgam between ISIS and the Syrian rebels, you can expect very few references to the facts on the ground. In June of this year, al-Nusra launched an assault against ISIS in West Qalamoun vowing to fight “until its last breath to push them to take back their takfiri trend and bloodshed against Muslims.” Needless to say, the FSA has repelled ISIS as well on countless occasions sometimes in collaboration with the Kurds. Seumas Milne, Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn have never mentioned these confrontations for obvious reasons.

ISIS now controls a vast swath of territory in Syria despite all attempts by rebel groups to oust it. One would think that given Bashar al-Assad’s insistence that his fight is one against “terrorism” he would be anxious to bring the fight to ISIS as well.

Not exactly.

In June 2011, Bashar al-Assad declared a general amnesty that was intended to achieve two goals: the first to burnish his image in the West as a “reformer” as Hillary Clinton put it; the second to allow die-hard jihadists to constitute a counterforce to the democratic opposition (a term I prefer to “moderates”.)

Among the men released from prison were two brothers, Amr and Firas al-Absi. Amru became a member of ISIS’s ruling Shura Council and is reported to be in charge of ISIS’s media arm. Firas, who was killed by a rival jihadist, was involved with helping ISIS get a foothold in Syria. This was no accident. A former member of Syria’s Military Intelligence Directorate told the National on January 21, 2014: “The regime did not just open the door to the prisons and let these extremists out, it facilitated them in their work, in their creation of armed brigades.”

Until fairly recently, there have been few battles between ISIS and the Syrian government, which pursued a policy of benign neglect. In 2014 two out of three ISIS attacks were against rebel groups opposed to Assad, according to data gathered by Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center’s (JTIC). For the most part, ISIS’s focus has been on the relatively sparsely populated territory of eastern Syria that abuts Iraq and that is part of its “caliphate”. Most Syrians live in Damascus and other heavily populated cities in western Syria on the Mediterranean coastline. One reason that ISIS was able to seize control of the east was Baathist abandonment dictated by the need to concentrate its forces around Damascus, Homs and other cities seen necessary for the creation of an eventual creation of an Alawite dominated mini-state.

The Baathists and ISIS also had worked out mutually beneficial commercial ties. After seizing Syria’s oil and gas fields. ISIS began selling fuel to the government, a necessary element of the war machine. The Syrian air force made the wise decision not to bomb ISIS controlled territory. Why jeopardize the flow of fuel needed to keep helicopters aloft so they can carry out mission-critical barrel bomb attacks on open-air markets?

Turning to Patrick Cockburn’s recently published “The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the new Sunni Revolution”, you get a rather skewed account of what has transpired especially in chapter six titled “Jihadis Hijack the Syrian Revolution”. Oddly enough for a book purportedly about the rise of ISIS, there is very little discussion of ISIS per se in this chapter. Mostly Cockburn is content to dismiss all rebel groups as “jihadists” at odds with the original peaceful and democratic mission of the Arab Spring in Syria.

And when he does refer to ISIS, it is erroneously: “By 2014 the war had reached a stalemate and the armed opposition was dominated by ISIS.” He makes such an assertion without once engaging with the findings of the JTIC report or the commercial ties between ISIS and the regime. ISIS certainly is armed to the teeth but “opposition”? Really?

He tells his readers that the jihadists were welcomed by local people for restoring order after the “looting and banditry” of the FSA. One might expect an august member of the journalistic profession to provide some references to back up this characterization but there is none. Since Cockburn’s experience in Syria has been as a reporter embedded with the army for the most part, direct experience with the FSA is minimal at best.

As a kind of proof that jihadism was Syria’s destiny, Cockburn tells the story of Saddam al-Jamal, a FSA commander who defected to ISIS. He was reported to have said that FSA commanders “used to meet with the apostates of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and with the infidels of Western nations such as America and France in order to receive arms and ammo or cash”. Al-Jamal supposedly symbolized the susceptibility of all rebels, including “moderates”, to the siren song of jihad. Cockburn credits Brown Moses for coming up with the goods on Saddam al-Jamal but neglects to tell his readers the circumstances in which this “conversion” took place as indicated in an update to the original post on the Brown Moses blog:

The supposed defection of the Saddam al-Jamal, commander of the Allahu Akbar brigade, to ISIS was not a wholly voluntary act. ISIS has been in constant combat with over 15 FSA units in northern Syria throughout the past few months in an effort to expand their zones of total control. The Ahfad Al-Rasoul brigade, of which the Allahu Akbar Brigade was an affiliate, is one of these units. Because of the existing tensions with Allahu Akbar’s parent unit, ISIS stormed an Allahu Akbar command post in Deir Ezzour, taking the brigade’s weapons cache and killing several fighters, including the brother of Saddam Al-Jamal. Having lost his brigade, his weapons, and his brother, Mr. Al-Jamal pledged allegiance to ISIS to protect himself. Ideological factors were not at play.

Finally, there is Cockburn’s report that he witnessed al-Nusra fighters storming an apartment complex in Adra in early 2014, where they proceeded to kill Alawites and Christians.

In Adra on the northern outskirts of Damascus in early 2014, I witnessed JAN [al-Nusra] forces storm a housing complex by advancing through a drainage pipe which came out behind government lines, where they proceeded to kill Alawites and Christians.

In his Independent article where this atrocity was first mentioned, you discover where his information came from in the very first paragraph:

“They came through the main sewer at 4.30am and caught us by surprise,” says a Syrian soldier, who gave his name as Abu Ali, describing the rebel capture of part of the industrial town of Adra, just north of Damascus.

This is par for the course. Patrick Cockburn writes a book making the case that jihadists have hijacked the Syrian revolution and the key eyewitness backing this is a Syrian soldier. This reminds me of the coverage of the war in Vietnam when the NY Times routinely cited a South Vietnamese officer on how the NLF had committed one atrocity or another. As they say, the first casualty of war is the Truth. One tends to think of Judith Miller or Wolf Blitzer when these words are brought up. How sad it is to think of Patrick Cockburn in the same terms.

 

 

62 Comments »

  1. Seems to me that last point is overstretched. Cockburn claims to have witnessed the event, and a Syrian soldier adds to Cockburn’s information. On the face of this I see no indictment of Cockburn’s reporting.

    Comment by jeffreymarlin — November 16, 2015 @ 8:44 pm

  2. Cockburn claims that there were two massacres in Adra that were perpetrated by al-Nusra fighters coming through a sewer pipe, one in Dec. 2013 and one in Jan. 2014–both of which resulted in Christians et al being murdered. He saw the first one with his own two eyes, the second a month later was reported to him by a soldier. If you believe this, there’s this bridge on the East River I can get for you wholesale.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 16, 2015 @ 8:55 pm

  3. Fucking brilliant how you’ve connected the dots between ISIS today and the combatants in the siege of Fallujah — all former men in the Iraqi army that Uncle Sam so wisely disbanded after the illegal invasion predicated on the lies of WMD.

    Orwell spins (like a Kuwaiti slant drill) in his grave.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 16, 2015 @ 9:34 pm

  4. Yep. What Karl said.

    Comment by jschulman — November 16, 2015 @ 11:46 pm

  5. Patrick Cockburn’s knowledge of the region is second to none, esp as it is informed by the lived experience of having spent a lot of time there on the ground. Your attempt to discredit both him and Seumas Milne, another preeminent writer on the region, is risible. Though I disagree with Seumas on the rendering of the DIA document, it certainly identifies that by 2012 Salafists were the dominant faction within and among the opposition in Syria.

    Your continuing attempts to find and cultivate a revolution that does not exist is redolent of the dream world you have created when it comes to this conflict and its why’s and wherefores. As HL Mencken writes: “An idealist is one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it makes a better soup.”

    Comment by John Wight — November 16, 2015 @ 11:47 pm

  6. Patrick Cockburn’s knowledge of the region is second to none, esp as it is informed by the lived experience of having spent a lot of time there on the ground.

    What in the world are you talking about? He tells his readers that he was an eyewitness to a massacre in Adla but the Independent article that the Verso book draws from states that he was reporting on what a Syrian soldier told him. This is the kind of thing that got Brian Wiliams fired from NBC. All these people were tip-top once upon a time–Cockburn, Hersh and Fisk. But now they are bullshit artists like you, making stuff up in order to burnish the reputation of a monster. And shame on you for defending barrel-bombing. This is a sign of how low you have sunk.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 17, 2015 @ 12:06 am

  7. Apparently Cockburn’s publisher, Colin Robinson, has said it was he who wrote ‘I witnessed…’ . It all seems a bit shoddy really. Cockburn said he just wrote he was in Adra, (sometime), and didn’t say he had seen anything himself personally. [http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/05/27/who-s-lying-about-syria-s-christian-massacre.html]. Cockburn, Fisk, Milne – they are all worthless a they are advocates for the Assad regime when all is said and done , and elide what they want, and ignore what they want.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — November 17, 2015 @ 3:42 am

  8. Frankly, I don’t believe Colin. Cockburrn’s standards have decreased drastically over the past 3 years. That is what happens when you join the Baathist amen corner. It rots your brain out and damages you morally.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 17, 2015 @ 3:46 am

  9. Actually re-reading the Daily Beast article again it seems Cockburn stood by the text that maintained he witnessed killings of Alawites and Christians in early 2014. And then Colin Robinson said he wrote the ‘I witnessed’ bit and the original text delivered by Cockburn made no such claim. Or am I misunderstanding? It seems odd to me – what a tangled web. I don’t trust anything Cockburn says myself.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — November 17, 2015 @ 4:01 am

  10. Cockburn’s knowledge of the region is obviously as suspect as Wight’s notion of a “dream world” when it comes to the Syrian Revolution which history proves had, clearly in its initial stages, hundreds of thousands of long suffering toilers united in non-sectarian peaceful demos against one of the most hideous & brutal family run dynasty dictatorships the Near East has ever known outside the Gulf States.

    Irrefraggable facts show the Revolution was not just primarily “moderate” (a bogus State Department word) but a legitimate “democratic opposition” which organized itself into neighborhood councils which instituted universal suffrage on all matters large & small with a class composition distinctly proletarian, that is to say, the democratic majority of the masses in the streets during the outset of the protests in Syria were working class people — which nobody can deny.

    That’s precisely why today those same neighborhoods lie in ruins, barrel bombed by Assad with Putin’s choppers into oblivion. It’s not the Syrian bourgeoisie living in those bombed out apartment buildings or shopping in those bombed out open air markets.

    Sure the situation has degenerated into the sectarian geo-political proxy war quagmire today because that’s what unfettered barrel bombing does to a movement — it fragments & splinters it, just like a human leg bone that steps onto a land mine. But how dare ignorant motherfuckers besmirch the beauty of the human leg because of the nefarious activities of degenerate mine layers.

    So please explain how the Syrian Revolution was crippled?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 17, 2015 @ 4:11 am

  11. Wight should speak to the issues, not the tired refrain of daring to question somene’s reputation. The ego is so pathetic, when humility is in order. And it is down right betrayal when they hold such an influential position.

    Comment by seaspan — November 17, 2015 @ 5:17 am

  12. Yes seaspan @ #11 — but rest assured in the annals of Marxism, a philosophy that ultimately aims to document the history of the exploited and oppressed, neither Cockburn’s nor Wight’s positions are nearly as influential as previously after these shameless public displays of willful dishonesty & political turpitude.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 17, 2015 @ 5:57 am

  13. @John Wight Cockburn’s “experience” is asking Syrian soldiers about what Nusra did, I’m sure I someone can find plenty of “lived expierence” asking ISIS fighters what they think as well.

    Comment by cartoondiablo — November 17, 2015 @ 7:02 am

  14. ‘but rest assured in the annals of Marxism, a philosophy that ultimately aims to document the history of the exploited and oppressed, neither Cockburn’s nor Wight’s positions are nearly as influential as previously after these shameless public displays of willful dishonesty & political turpitude.’

    In the hands of ultra left fantasists, Marxism is found on the left wing of imperialism. Your dismissal of millions of Syrians – workers, soldiers (workers in uniform, remember?), minorities of every stripe – is a badge of shame.

    We’ve been here before, haven’t we, when the wolves were closing in on Iraq and reducing an entire society with all its complexity into the personage of one man, Saddam Hussein?

    Is there to be no end to your perfidy and rancid collusion with regime change? You are giving left cover to the most reactionary and brutal ideology the region has seen. Whatever next – three cheers for the Khmer Rouge?

    Comment by John Wight — November 17, 2015 @ 11:33 am

  15. As if some schmuck who writes for RT understands “perfidy and rancid collusion with [a] regime”?

    Keep cheerleading Putin & Assad in the Huffington Post and maybe Russia will give you an all expense paid trip to Chechnya where you can lecture the people on why their “extremism” got Grozny flattened?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 17, 2015 @ 2:36 pm

  16. Who does little John Wight think he is? There isn’t a scintilla of fact in any of his posts here, merely hysterical ad hominem ranting. Louis’s responses to these infantile provocations has been astonishingly measured, even by non-Louis standards.

    “[G]iving left cover to the most reactionary and brutal ideology the region has seen”–and Wight’s bootlicking for Assad and the fascist Putin is what exactly, pray tell? This is a lie big enough to register on the Goebbels scale.

    Comment by pglosser@earthlink.net — November 17, 2015 @ 3:28 pm

  17. The collusion has been more between IS and the regime. Putin and Assad have overwhelmingly targeted non-IS opposition. As GEo@ArtWendeley tweeted ‘Impossible to understand the Syrian conflict without acknowledging the crucial role of IS for regime’s survival.’ Nicolas Henin the French journalist has written an article saying no-fly zones and some security for citizens would be the best response to the anti-democratic forces of the regime and IS.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — November 17, 2015 @ 4:12 pm

  18. Here is a choice snippet from a John Wight piece in the current online Counterpunch (Nov. 17):

    Barrel bombs are an atrociously indiscriminate weapon, for sure, and their use rightly comes under the category of war crime. However just as the war crime of the allied firebombing of Dresden in 1945 did not invalidate the war against European fascism then, neither does the atrocity of Syrian barrel bombs invalidate the war against its Middle East equivalent today. When the survival of a country and its culture and history is at stake, war can never be anything else but ugly,

    The mind that can acknowledge the atrocity of barrel bombing by a head of state against his own people in a civil war, and then wish it away with a disingenuous “however” and a crackpot analogy to the Dresden firebombings is not one with it can ever be very profitable to engage. These are the distortions of a conceited fool who despises history. The war would have been won without Dresden. How was this horrifying crime at the very end justified by the cause of anti-fascism, to the victory of which it contributed nothing? And how absurd is it in any case to make an analogy between a great allied war effort and the ruthless attempts of an immoral gangster to sustain his power at all costs in one country?

    In any case, of course, Marxists know that WWII, from the Western perspective, was indeed in large part “invalid,” and that the world order it brought about has led quasi inexorably to the present goetterdaemerrung of advanced capitalism and imperialism. Among the very general consequences of this, naturally, is the logjam of nightmare political, social, and economic impasses in the Middle East.

    Wight is simply too stupid and self-intoxicated to grasp the contradictions at work here. He is pro-Assad and pro-Putin full stop and without significant reservations because he lacks the intelligence to grasp the real contradictions at work in Syria and probably does not really find Syria or the Syrians very interesting or worthwhile. In fact, one suspects that he simply does not wish to be bothered. Like Donald Trump, Wight has a party going on that the little wogs have been disturbing and he wants it to continue. Nothing could express the imperialism of the Western petty bourgeoisie more exactly than Wight’s fraudulent diatribes. The Syrians may be Wight’s stock in trade, but they are not his people.

    Assad is willing to slaughter his own people wholesale and indiscriminately for no higher reason than to maintain his repulsive family in illegitimate power. The fascist and imperialist Putin supports this because he has no objection to dictatorship if it advances his own geopolitical agenda. Putin believes that there can be a kind of political stability under Assad’s dictatorship that, as a consequence, will neutralize not only ISIL but any tendency toward genuine independence on the part of the Syrians and the rest of the lesser breeds. A true racist in the Great Russian tradition, Putin simply wishes to put the Arabs what he believes to be their place, just as the Great Russians in general wish to suppress and finally eradicate the Muslim minorities within their own empire, which we think of wrongly as just a country, if a big one. There is little more to it than that.

    To pretend that this is some great cause analogous to the war against fascism is despicable nonsense.

    The ultimate cause of ISIL and all the other evils in the Arab world is advanced capitalism and imperialism. John Wight is neither morally nor intellectually qualified to discuss this. The dishonest figleaf notion that Putin is somehow anti-imperialist is not worth considering unless, like Wight, you are in the pay of the Russians.

    Comment by Pete Glosser — November 17, 2015 @ 5:01 pm

  19. ‘The ultimate cause of ISIL and all the other evils in the Arab world is advanced capitalism and imperialism.’

    So now we have sawing off the heads of human beings with bread knives, burning them alive in cages, throwing gay men from the top of tall buildings, enslaving women, and turning Syria into a mass grave of minorities being described as ‘advanced’.

    What a sick indictment and paucity of analysis. There is nothing advanced about a reflex against modernity. What is advanced is the apologetics for barbarism being peddled by this blog on a daily basis and depicted as a latter day Paris Commune.

    For you one Arab country and society – the ‘evils of the Arab world’ as you put it – is as disposable as the next. Iraq destroyed – oops, sorry about that, will try to do better next time. Libya – oops, sorry, another one, must do better…and so on.

    It is the inevitable consequence and symptom of devotion to the bankrupt theory of Permanent Revolution as a holy text. In truth it is a manifesto for permanent crises and chaos, trumpeted by people whose relationship to reality is as tenuous as your average creationist.

    Comment by John Wight — November 17, 2015 @ 6:07 pm

  20. So now we have sawing off the heads of human beings with bread knives, burning them alive in cages, throwing gay men from the top of tall buildings, enslaving women, and turning Syria into a mass grave of minorities being described as ‘advanced’.

    What are you talking about? Assad has much more blood on his hands, including a 13 year old peaceful protester whose castrated body turned up on his parents’ doorstep:

    A video posted on YouTube purports to show the body of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib who was reportedly tortured to death in Syrian police custody.

    The boy disappeared on April 29 after a demonstration in Daraa – where he was delivering supplies like food, blankets and medicine to residents who were being blockaded in their homes by Syrian military, according to the Law Enforcement Examiner. According to AFP, activists said the teen decided after police had killed his cousin to take part in the anti-regime protests sweeping the country.

    Khatib’s body, wrapped in plastic, was left in front of his family’s home on Wednesday. There were obvious signs of torture on his body, including his genitalia cut off.

    The following video details the wounds inflicted on the boy. It is EXTREMELY GRAPHIC. You’ve been warned.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 17, 2015 @ 6:14 pm

  21. Not so much a history as a master class in selectivity. So let me try to go one better!

    There is a liberal theory, notable in France, which claims the last act in a ‘terror’ attack is the response of the ‘victims’ of the ‘terror’. The argument goes that if France bombs ISIS the victory goes to the ISIS terrorists. The problem with this idea is that it naturally assumes the West are the ‘victims’ and the groups in the Middle East are the ‘terrorists’.

    But if we turn the story on its head and assume the US are the terrorists and the people of the Middle East its victims then we can start to ask the question, is US policy in the Middle East not about creating viable governments but just about creating utter chaos. This article, I think, makes the assumption that US policy has gone awry but who knows maybe this was the plan all along. Maybe creating this sectarian hell was part of the plan. Why would they do this? Well chaos creates opportunity; division allows the strongest to gain power. And the US are the strongest. So from this perspective we could say the US plan was to create ISIS like groups, or at least sectarianism. After all, the left were warning that one of the outcomes of the invasion of Iraq would be to unleash sectarianism and light the region in flames. You have to hand it to the anti imperialists, their analysis has proved to be the most accurate. That may be more by accident than design but who knows.

    The other thing we should mention is that most of the weaponry being used in these conflicts is US weaponry, so from a business point of view the Middle East is providing excellent growth potential, testing and development. After all, if we ever had a peaceful world the US would be in serious economic trouble. So another reason why we can argue that US imperialist policy is directly the main cause of the rise of Islamism and particularly ISIS.

    The other dimension is the economic crisis brought about by capitalism and the affect on places like Syria. Rising commodity prices was a huge influence on the Arab spring.

    To understand the history I think you need to go back to Arab nationalism, Nasser and all that. The main imperialist powers have done everything in their power to ensure that any progressive developments in that region have been trampled down with maximum force, US imperialist policy has been directed to sowing division. The only available route for many was Islamism, as all the other doors were slammed shut.

    If you want to know who created ISIS, J’accuse USA!

    The progressive thing to do is to fight US imperialism without qualification, for us in the West this means fighting it politically. In the UK, the election of Jeremy Corbyn would be a great start.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — November 17, 2015 @ 7:49 pm

  22. “Irrefraggable facts show the Revolution was not just primarily “moderate” (a bogus State Department word) but a legitimate “democratic opposition” which organized itself into neighborhood councils which instituted universal suffrage on all matters large & small”

    And it was overwhelmingly Islamist in character.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — November 17, 2015 @ 7:54 pm

  23. And it was overwhelmingly Islamist in character.

    Oh sure. I can remember all those demonstrations in places like Homs and Deraa calling for Sharia law and the veil in early 2011.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 17, 2015 @ 8:16 pm

  24. “Islamist in character”? Are you fucking joking. It was young urban working people and students in blue jeans. They didn’t want their women covered up and rock music banned and night life shuddered. On the contrary. Like all of the Arab Spring revolts, going backwards into medieval Sharia and Wahabbi fundamentalism was the last thing on the protesters minds.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 17, 2015 @ 8:22 pm

  25. Well, we know you have a very selective memory.

    This plays into your good rebel bad rebel narrative which i have mentioned numerous times, which of course nicely mirrors US imperialist interest.

    Replace Assad with the puppets and they will take care of the bad rebels. Ergo, all problems solved!

    Comment by Simon Provertier — November 17, 2015 @ 8:23 pm

  26. “It was young urban working people and students in blue jeans.”

    It would be more accurate to say, in your mind the revolt was by bright young progressives looking to Western culture for inspiration and dreaming of the bourgeois freedoms we take for granted.

    When the actual protests morphed into armed rebellion those actually fighting the butcher Assad and getting their hands dirty were primarily Islamist factions. And they were visible right from the beginning. They didn’t just appear once the shrapnel started flying. Though your blue jean brigade kept a rather low profile at that point

    Comment by Simon Provertier — November 17, 2015 @ 8:31 pm

  27. Yes, the revolt has now become primarily Islamist. That is what Assad intended. A revolt that was in the spirit of the 2011 Spring would have succeeded in more or less the same fashion as Tunisia. Assad could not accept that so he released jihadists from prison in June 2011 in order to accelerate the sectarian dynamic.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 17, 2015 @ 8:36 pm

  28. The revolt was always primarily Islamist, you just imagine it otherwise. I assume you do this because you want your puppets to annihilate them. You whole narrative leads to this assumption.

    Which is what is happening anyway as the advanced, civilized nations book air space to kill as many rebels as they can.

    This is my main problem with John Wight’s position. While I totally agree that the US want rid of Assad I take issue with the idea that the USA are not fighting ISIS. They are, but they are treading carefully, as they hope to provide the Kurds with support against ISIS in Iraq but at the same time want ISIS to provide a few blows to Assad in Syria so their minority puppets can pick up the pieces.

    “That is what Assad intended”

    This is a patently absurd conspiracy theory. He only released a handful of prisoners. The armed revolt against Assad was carried out by entire communities. Not many were chic blue jean wearers.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — November 17, 2015 @ 8:48 pm

  29. The revolt was always primarily Islamist, you just imagine it otherwise.

    No, it was not. It advocated an end to torture, corruption, hunger, joblessness, and neglect of the agrarian hinterlands. It was a class struggle of the rural poor against privilege. The slogans of the demonstrations were “Down with the Regime”, “Peaceful, peaceful, Christians and Muslims,” etc. For some reason unfathomable to me and to anybody whose purpose here is other than trolling, you have an orientation to Islamists. Have you considered psychotherapy?

    Comment by louisproyect — November 17, 2015 @ 8:58 pm

  30. So now we have sawing off the heads of human beings with bread knives, burning them alive in cages, throwing gay men from the top of tall buildings, enslaving women, and turning Syria into a mass grave of minorities being described as ‘advanced’.

    Your hysteria is only exceeded by your intellectual incompetence, your cowardice, and your dishonesty. Not one word you have written in any of your postings here is a legitimate answer to anything anyone has actually said.

    You have no right to speak here or anywhere else.

    Comment by Pete Glosser — November 17, 2015 @ 9:13 pm

  31. “It advocated an end to torture, corruption, hunger, joblessness, and neglect of the agrarian hinterlands.”

    it agitated for an end to detention and torture and the banning of political parties, being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood carried a death sentence. Why do you think the Islamists were in jail in the first place? The Muslim Brotherhood took a active decision not to take on overtly Islamist slogans after this tactic worked in Egypt. The slogans were more peace land and bread, which reflected the economic character of the rebellion. What you seem unable to understand is that Islamists can think of over things beyond the Quran

    I have an orientation to the truth, simple as that. Personally, I am not inspired by islamism. But I am sure that opposing US imperialism is the main concern.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — November 17, 2015 @ 9:41 pm

  32. Why do you think the Islamists were in jail in the first place?

    —-

    You really have no idea about how the Assad dictatorship used the Islamists, do you? Maybe you should try to do some reading. You’ll find that Damascus used them as an attack dog, sometimes putting them on a short leash and other times letting them loose.

    http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/iraq-asked-syrias-assad-not-aid-jihadists-former-official-1553468312

    Comment by louisproyect — November 17, 2015 @ 10:14 pm

  33. ‘Yes, the revolt has now become primarily Islamist. That is what Assad intended.’

    This is on a par with the false flag theories being thrown around the internet in response to the Paris attacks.

    Syria is in a state of chaos. It has descended into total war. The classified DIA document clearly identifies Salafists as being the dominant faction in the opposition from as far back as 2012. They were also key in the Libyan uprising from its early stages, as a well circulated report by French Center for Research on Intelligence revealed. It was also admitted by Libyans invovled in the uprising themselves http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8407047/Libyan-rebel-commander-admits-his-fighters-have-al-Qaeda-links.html.

    The fact you still describe it as a revolt is significant.

    Comment by John Wight — November 17, 2015 @ 10:17 pm

  34. ‘This is my main problem with John Wight’s position. While I totally agree that the US want rid of Assad I take issue with the idea that the USA are not fighting ISIS.’

    You have me confused with somebody else. I have never stated or written that the US is not fighting ISIS. I have stated they are doing so tepidly and ineffectively, which is the case, and that their attempt to locate and cultivate a third force of ‘moderate rebels’ has failed utterly.

    Up to this point they, along with the likes of Louis Proyect, have drawn a nonsensical equivalence between IS and Assad. It is therefore at least good to see that this is starting to change in the wake of Paris.

    Comment by John Wight — November 17, 2015 @ 10:21 pm

  35. John, you don’t understand the time-frame I am referring to. I was referring to 2011. Assad declared a General Amnesty in June 2011 that set all the jihadists free. In fact I referred to that in my article. So a year went by and these men achieved primacy. Assad calculated that by appearing secular, pluralistic, etc., he’d gain credibility as an anti-terrorist. In fact, when he collaborated with the CIA in its extraordinary rendition program, that was part of the same strategy–to endear himself to the imperialists who were looking for “reasonable” leaders in the Middle East, in other words men who were very good at jailing and torturing the sorts of people who held off the marines in Fallujah in 2004. He was willing to try everything except allowing Syrians to enjoy democratic rights such as the kind that exist in Tunisia today where the ruling class was a lot less barbaric than the Baathists.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 17, 2015 @ 10:29 pm

  36. So weird.

    Pete wrote: “The ultimate cause of ISIL and all the other evils in the Arab world is advanced capitalism and imperialism.”

    And John responded: “So now we have sawing off the heads of human beings with bread knives, burning them alive in cages, throwing gay men from the top of tall buildings, enslaving women, and turning Syria into a mass grave of minorities being described as ‘advanced’.”

    I wonder if John has read much Marxist literature in recent years after becoming a Labourite reformist but the term “advanced capitalism” does not refer to a superior form of development but just the opposite. As capitalism “advances”, it becomes more barbaric. Maybe John could spend a little bit less time trawling the West Point anti-terrorism website and more time reading Rosa Luxemburg.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 17, 2015 @ 10:52 pm

  37. ‘Assad declared a General Amnesty in June 2011 that set all the jihadists free.’

    Yes, but in a futile attempt to forestall a gathering crisis. We know he also articulated his intention of ending the 1963 Emergency Law and to begin a process of reform. However he was too late, as by now the crisis had erupted after its initial mishandling by Syrian security forces, whose brutality, whether you wish to acknowledge it or not, was at least partly motivated by events preceding the start of the Syrian crisis in Egypt and Libya. The Assad regime is not one any socialist could support in normal conditions. And we know that when Assad continued liberalising Syria’s economy, continuing where his father had left off, the benefits were enjoyed by his family and small clique around him. His cousin, Rima Mahklouf, owned 60 percent of the Syrian economy and was a hate figure in the country. Syria isn’t Cuba and Assad is no Castro or Hugo Chavez.

    But your analysis has to be tailored to specific material and historical factors and conditions. The Middle East and Mahgreb cannot be treated as one homogenous bloc. Specific local conditions were key in the success of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, and the fact it ran out of steam in Libya. It did not have the same popular support in either Libya or Syria as in Tunisia or Egypt. The Syrian Army would have disintegrated long before now if it had. The struggle between Ba’athism and Islamism in Syria goes back to the 1970s, when the Syrian MB was engaged in a low level conflict against the regime. When Hafez al-Assad changed the Syrian constitution to enshrine equal status for women and allow non Muslims to become president. The Brotherhood, benefiting from disaffection among Sunnis, who’d seen their dominant economic and political status in the country reduced with the Ba’ath Party’s orientation towards the peasantry, started preparing an armed uprising. The 1982 Hama assault was the culmination of this conflict.

    This is the roots of the current crisis and conflict in Syria, the catalyst for which was an Arab Spring that itself was a product of the severe impact of the global economic crisis of 2008 on the region.

    Political feform in Syria is undoubtedly necessary, but only under stable conditions and not in conditions of chaos. The state of Iraq and Libya surely make this self evident.

    Comment by John Wight — November 17, 2015 @ 10:59 pm

  38. #35. Exactly. The masses of protesters in both Egypt and Syria and even Libya aspired to something like what happened in Tunisia. It was part of the hope of Arab Spring, after all, which was decidedly working class and not the least bit Islamist. Sure its morphed into ugliness everywhere but Tunisia but for crissakes that’s not the fault of the initial demonstrators who had absolutely no use for jihad & barbaric sectarian violence.

    Sure the Baathists are more barbaric than the Tunisian ruling class. That’s why Assad’s been soft on them and ISIS soft on Assad. Nobody denies that the ISIS leadership is largely Iraqi ex-military from Saddam’s army. Saddam was historically the strongest Baathist in the region after all.

    But why erstwhile leftists have so much trouble acknowledging the working class, democratic and secular character of all these INITIAL Arab Spring uprisings is unfathomable, especially since they’re historical facts. Yea, yea I get it that the INITIAL character is long gone and has been supplanted Islamists & foreign jihadis but why deny the truth of what the INITIAL uprising was all about?

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — November 17, 2015 @ 11:05 pm

  39. The activists who rose up in the Spring of 2011 were not likely to view Assad differently because he released men like the al-Absi brothers who helped to form ISIS. A blogger who had been sentenced to 7 years for opposing Assad and who was in a cell alongside the jihadists spoke for the democratic opposition when he said:

    “From the first days of the revolution (in March 2011), Assad denounced the organisation as being the work of radical Salafists, so he released the Salafists he had created in his prisons to justify the claim … If you do not have an enemy, you create an enemy.”

    If Assad wanted to broaden his support, the best thing he could have done is allow peaceful protests to take place so that Syria could have developed a political culture much more like Tunisia’s.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 17, 2015 @ 11:14 pm

  40. “Hafez al-Assad changed the Syrian constitution to enshrine equal status for women and allow non Muslims to become president.”

    John, are you aware that Syria was a dictatorship under Hafez al-Assad? It was very generous for him to enshrine equal status for women and allow non-Muslims to become president but what good would that do for people trying to exercise democratic rights? Basically Hafez al-Assad ran Syria in the same way that Somoza ran Nicaragua or that Suharto ran Indonesia. I know that you might be confused because he was despised by the USA but not everybody who is despised by the USA should enjoy support from the left.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 17, 2015 @ 11:43 pm

  41. Replace Assad with the puppets and they will take care of the bad rebels.–Simon Provertier

    The training phase is a critical step in the Syria train and equip mission designed to build the capability of the appropriately vetted Syrian fighters so that they can defend the Syrian people from attacks by ISIL and secure territory controlled by the Syrian opposition; protect the United States, its friends and allies, and the Syrian people from threats posed by terrorists in Syria; and promote the conditions for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict in Syria.

    http://www.centcom.mil/en/news/articles/initial-class-of-syrian-opposition-forces-begin-training

    Nothing better states US strategy for a Syria “opposition”. The US failed miserably to co-opt rebels or any true anti Assad democratic opposition. But the idea of the Pentagon (above) was to create an independent force, vetted and controlled, and to essentially invade and take over areas controlled by the anti Assad population: their defenders, the fighters, medical personnel, writers, journalists, taxi drivers, farmers, aid workers, civilians and patriots.

    The US hoped to co-opt puppets, to have an opposition negotiate with Assad or his cronies — a few politicians to join the govt, a few fighters to join the Army, a few patronage appointments in State institutions. But nobody joined: So the “the idea” was to create an outside force supplanting the non cooperative anti Assad areas of self governance, to force the population et al. to lay down their arms and deal with the regime (at the gun point of a vetted force, representing US interests). But even that plan failed. The conditions for Peace can only come with the dismantling of the dictatorship: considering the very sensaible fear that Assad’s regime tortures and kills anyone, especially civilians, and especially those associated with opposition areas. So even if some take a few rewards for “peace”, the massacres and deaths upon surrender would only get worse..

    Comment by seaspan — November 18, 2015 @ 3:18 am

  42. “The collusion has been more between IS and the regime. Putin and Assad have overwhelmingly targeted non-IS opposition.”

    As with the FMLN and the violent Islamic groups in Algeria in the 1990s. Meanwhile, the Saudis just killed 130 people in a wedding party in Yemen with US supplied weaponry. Very few in Europe and the US will mourn them.

    Comment by Richard Estes — November 18, 2015 @ 3:32 am

  43. Disclaimer: I say the following as a committed atheist, socialist of the Marxist school of education, who, since 1980 in different shapes and forms, has been an active opponent of theocracy in Iran, and I confidently speak here for most of the principled Iranian socialists, when I say:

    The thing that a lot of white western leftists seem to refuse to understand is a simple universal: just as in Christianity, whereby different class perspectives and interpretations of the religious purpose receive different levels of support from the left, Islam can have the same different interpretations depending on the class perspective that is brought onto the discussions at hand. In Iran alone, we have had three-to-four different class-based interpretations of Shiite Islam in the past two-hundred year period.

    Just as there is a difference in class perspectives between Liberation Theology and Pope Benedict’s (former, right-wing Pope) version of Catholicism, there exists a difference in class perspectives within the ‘Islamic world’ between the so-called jihadist, head-chopper perspective and the more justice-oriented views.

    This means that, just like in any other religion, you can bring different class perspectives to the religious outlook, and the socialist left has an *obligation* to take those differences into account in its analysis. Otherwise, it is not being scientific; meaning, not being truthful.

    Such outbursts and expressions of class differentiations and bifurcations within a religious outlook have happened at different critical historical points of development within all religions. So, the true historians will most likely look back at this period as one such historical moment when some major differentiations started forming with the Islamic viewpoint in the Arabic-speaking world.

    So, the international socialist left will either intervene and help push this bifurcation and differentiation process to the left and closer to a socialist viewpoint, or it will act in the same manner as the imperialist powers are doing; i.e., push back against the progressive forces within the Islamic outlook and help nourish the *reactionary* forces, by reducing all Islamic-oriented thinking to a head-chopper outlook; exactly the same as the ultra-right wing ideologies in Europe and the U.S. are doing.

    This is most likely too complex and not worth the slightest attention of the likes of Mr. Wight. But, they are not important. Their audience, however, should be redirected. The only reason the likes of Mr. Wight can assume that ALL Muslims who are fighting for justice within their religious perspective can be categorized as crazed head-choppers is: racism.

    Those of us who are from the region see it clearly on our end. Mr. Wight, et al, are not fooling us; they should stop fooling themselves and their audience, who deserve to learn better.

    Didn’t the American slave-holders take up arms to beat their British overlords, and aren’t we all thankful and glad that they did beat the British, back then? Are the ordinary Syrians who dare to lay claim to their national and social resources and demand to be treated with dignity, are they to be treated as a bunch of animals, while the ‘Founding Fathers’ are tolerated politely?

    Racism is the only thing that blinds the likes of Mr. Wight. No wonder he can so easily dismiss entire millions of Syrians as cannon fodder for his lunatic fantasies of ‘Great Game’ type of geopolitics; fantasies shared by the likes of Putin, no less.

    He is sick in the head, and in a healthy society he would be receiving urgent psycho-medical care, and definitely not be paid to write about anything.

    Comment by Reza — November 18, 2015 @ 5:42 am

  44. ‘John, are you aware that Syria was a dictatorship under Hafez al-Assad?’

    By this logic Louis presumably you supported the US/UK destroying Iraq and the destruction of Libya also? This is reductionist in the extreme. You tell me where in the entire region there is a flourishing liberal democracy never mind socialist paradis?. Are you blind to the relationship between a society’s economic development and political development? Do you think democracy is something that we just pull out of a hat like a magician, regardless of economic or material factors.

    Doesn’t it enter your thinking for at least a second that the generations of Western colonialism and imperialism may have played a part in disclocating and retarding the region’s social, political, economic development?

    Is democracy really the most important factor in a society’s existence? Don’t you think that at least some of the security measures Syria imposed may have been justified – i.e..rising threat of Islamism, previously described, and the external threat posed by hostile relations with Israel just across its border?

    If Marxism is anything it is a tool to enable us to penetrate the surface appearance of things to get at their roots and essence. The world does not exist on a blank sheet of paper, and societies and polities are not created on the basis of Kantian moral absolutes.

    What do you say to the millions of Egytians who supported the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi in Egypt, their first ever elected president, by Sisi? Are those tens of millions, who came out onto the streets supporting this coup, really your enemy? Was there no reason for them at all to be concerned over the government of a president who suspended the constitution and announced Egypt’s support for Islamist rebels fighting in Syria? Are you even aware of the complexities and sectarian faultlines that criss-cross the Middle East?

    Comment by John Wight — November 18, 2015 @ 6:31 am

  45. […] “Understanding the rise of ISIS” von Louis Proyect am 16. November 2015 auf seinem Blog ist in weiten Teilen eine Auseinandersetzung über das Zustandekommen der Position, die die Isisbande heute in der Region hat – und eine Polemik gegen die Position des vorne zitierten Patrick Cockburn wie zahlreicher weiterer Counterpunch-AutorInnen, die die Verteidigung des Assad-Regimes auf ihre Fahnen geschrieben haben. Wobei er neben den wechselnden Sympathien zu verschiedenen Zeiten (etwa mit angeblich antiimperialistischen Kräften im Irak, die eine der Keimzelle der heutigen Isis gewesen seien) auch auf die Ölgeschäfte der Isis-Dealer eingeht – die nur in Kooperation mit dem Assad-Regime stattfinden könnten. […]

    Pingback by LabourNet Germany: Treffpunkt für Ungehorsame, mit und ohne Job, basisnah, gesellschaftskritisch » “Euere Kriege – unsere Toten” – unter diesem Motto sammeln sich die GegnerInnen von Krieg, Terrorismus und Polizeistaat in Fr — November 18, 2015 @ 9:15 am

  46. ‘#Russia seems to be exploiting the terror attacks in #Paris for their war in #Syria. #IS still not the target.’ Don’t you ever consider the possibility that its you who is ignoring complexity and what is actually happening? Today Assad praised Putin as ‘the sole defender of Christian civilisation in the world’. Thats your bulwark against the insanity of canting religion is it? Industrialised torture, barrel bombs, Hezbollah, – thats your progressive front against Islamism?

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — November 18, 2015 @ 10:17 am

  47. By this logic Louis presumably you supported the US/UK destroying Iraq and the destruction of Libya also?

    No, I was only responding to you making brownie points for Hafez al-Assad as if allowing a non-Muslim to become president gave him the legitimacy to kill 20,000 people in Hama in 1982.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 18, 2015 @ 1:20 pm

  48. Louis, Wight’s goofy “reply” to my comment above was so neurotically wide of the mark that I actually didn’t make the connection between my use of the phrase “advanced capitalism” and Wight’s crazy and libelous suggestion that I had praised Isis as “advanced.” Thank you for solving this psychiatric puzzle.

    Comment by Pete Glosser — November 18, 2015 @ 1:55 pm

  49. For the record, I utterly repudiate Isis and all their works and days.

    Comment by Pete Glosser — November 18, 2015 @ 1:57 pm

  50. John Wight and Mossad see eye to eye:

    John Wight: “Barrel bombs are an atrociously indiscriminate weapon, for sure, and their use rightly comes under the category of atrocity. However just as the atrocity of the allied firebombing of Dresden in 1945 did not invalidate the war against European fascism then, neither does the atrocity of Syrian barrel bombs invalidate the war against its Middle East equivalent today. When the survival of a country and its culture and history is at stake, war can never be anything other than ugly, which is why the sooner it is brought to a conclusion in Syria the better.”

    Tim Arango reporting in today’s NY Times:
    Speaking on Israeli radio on Sunday, Shabtai Shavit, a former chief of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, said the international coalition that has been fighting the Islamic State for more than a year must “stop talking and start doing.”

    He continued: “With this enemy, we have to push aside arguments on law, morality and comparisons of security and the rights of the individual. That means to do what they did in World War II to Dresden. They wiped it off the map. That is what has to be done to all the territorial enclaves that ISIS is holding.”

    Comment by louisproyect — November 18, 2015 @ 2:35 pm

  51. “But why erstwhile leftists have so much trouble acknowledging the working class, democratic and secular character of all these INITIAL Arab Spring uprisings is unfathomabl”

    Because it isn’t entirely true. Libya was a straight down the line Islamist uprising right from the get go. Inspired by Western conspirators. Syria was much the same, though there is no doubt that economic issues were prominent also. Even in Egypt the main opposition was the Muslim brotherhood who were very prominent in the Tahrir Square protests and of course eventually won the election before being brutally put down by the fascist liberal secularists. Every time Islamists do gain power the liberal secularists turn into blood crazed murderers. So much for democracy and freedom!

    In Tunisia the uprising was also led by Islamists, after years of putting up with brutal dictatorship. A dictatorship which was backed by the main trade unions incidentally, who were perfectly happy for Islamists to be tortured and suppressed (with understandable reasons). So in many ways the leaders of the working class were bitterly opposed to any sort of change.

    John Wight has cleared up his position but I still have a major problem. He is advocating dictatorial regimes in the region and is clearly against popular and bottom up revolutions. And he is especially against it in times of chaos. Well, revolutions are always times of chaos and the very best times to support the toppling of dictators! The problem we have in the Middle East are Proyect’s puppets who would be installed and will murder and then Proyect and all the left liberal chattering class will be silent and complicit.

    As citizens of the West it is our duty to destroy imperialism from within. Any socialist not doing this may as well join the National front.

    And at the end of the day it all that we can really do.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — November 18, 2015 @ 6:07 pm

  52. Libya was a straight down the line Islamist uprising right from the get go.

    Final results in Libya’s election have confirmed that the centrist National Forces Alliance has a commanding position in the new parliament, winning more than double the seats of its principle rival, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction party.

    After delays and recounts, Libya’s election commission announced that the 7 July poll has given the NFA, led by a US-trained economist, Mahmoud Jibril, and its allies 41 seats to the Justice and Construction party’s 17.

    For the Muslim Brotherhood, it was final confirmation of its failure to match the success of its sister parties, who have won power in Egypt and Tunisia, and were fellow participants in last year’s Arab spring revolutions.

    More conservative Islamist parties fared even worse, with the al-Wattan party of Abdul Hakim Belhaj, a former Islamic fighter who is suing former foreign secretary Jack Straw for alleged complicity in his rendition by the CIA in 2004, failing to win a single party seat.

    full: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/jul/17/mahmoud-jibril-party-elections-libya

    Comment by louisproyect — November 18, 2015 @ 6:23 pm

  53. Well, I did predict that even though the Islamists had initiated the revolt and spilled blood for it, the opportunistic vultures of the centre would pick up the rewards, I said this on your site. And of course in Libya I am aware that they have a strong tradition of Arab nationalist values. So the result is not at all unexpected.

    The truth is the revolt in Libya was a western plot.

    It is also interesting how silent you are on the brutal crackdown of supporters of Islamist parties in Libya, I also predicted on this site that you would remain silent and indeed you have.

    Despite Proyect silence on Libya I would keep an eye open for its further descent.

    And there is the issue of Libya currently having 2 parliaments and all that. But lets keep quiet!

    Comment by Simon Provertier — November 18, 2015 @ 6:53 pm

  54. This is a bit of a side issue, but I’m amazed that people continue to push the notion that NATO unilaterally “destroyed” Libya during the 2011 incursion.

    Wikipedia says:

    On March 2, 2012, after the conclusion of hostilities, the United Nations Human Rights Council released a comprehensive report concluding that in total 60 civilians were killed and 55 wounded by the NATO air campaign.

    In addition, one of two plants supplying pipe for Qaddafi’s “great man-made river” project was put out of production by bombing, allegedly because rockets were being launched from there.

    These statistics are of course debatable, and much more damage was done by the fighting itself, where responsibility for damage is much harder to assign, but even if the stats are off by orders of magnitude, they simply do not compare with (e.g.) the firebombing of Dresden, the dropping of nuclear bombs on Japan, or the bombing and defoliation campaigns in Vietnam and neighboring countries during the Vietnam War–actions that certainly qualify as “destroying” the places attacked (but that even so did not, in fact ultimately destroy those countries).The peudo-anti-imperlalist idea that the U.S. Imperialist devil just keeps eternally repeating exactly the same evil acts in exactly the same way over and over again is unhistorical and irrelevant to an objective analysis of any really existing situation.

    If Libya is in fact “destroyed,” in any case, the blame in the first instance rests squarely on the shoulder of the Qaddafis, whose bloodthirsty tyranny was spontaneously and rightly rejected by the Libyan people, just as the Syrian people have attempted to reject the dictatorship of Assad and are being slaughtered as a result.

    As to Libya’s having been a model of Arab socialism, you cannot square this with Qaddafi’s abject courtship of the neoliberal West for many years before his overthrow. If you are going to praise Qaddafi as a socialist, you might as well also praise Adolf Hitler for the same reason. After all, Hitler’s political party called themselves socialists. (I don’t know whether the man-made river actually works/worked or is/was sustainable and environmentally sound, but if it does/did and is/was, then I will give Qaddafi a few points over Hitler and his autobahn.)

    The fact that revolutions encounter obstacles or even fail–or that foreign powers (e.g. the NATO countries, but also, I would urge, Russia and China) are almost invariably false and treacherous friends to real revolutions–does not invalidate the revolution.

    As for Islamism, that is an ideology for the desperate, the hopeless, and their manipulators, much like Trump-ism in the United States. It is awful and atrocious, but it is not the root of evil in the Middle East. Rather, it is the horrifying symptom of a disorder that is the legacy of European and American (and Turkish) colonialism and imperialism and the stratification of the world’s peoples into first-, second-, and third-tier “worlds.” As long as world social inequality persists, especially under the aegis of unchecked financialized advanced capitalism, with its increasing parasitic indifference to actual economic productivity and the producing classes, Islamism and other fatally mistaken or perverted reactionary ideals will keep emerging quasi-spontaneously and taking ever newer and more murderous forms.

    Oh wait–I keep forgetting that Dresden was actually a good thing. My bad.

    Comment by Pete Glosser — November 18, 2015 @ 7:21 pm

  55. The truth is the revolt in Libya was a western plot.

    Really? I heard that it was the Jews and the Freemasons who stirred up the people against the universally beloved leader.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 18, 2015 @ 7:52 pm

  56. I am even more amazed when people try to play down the Wests role. It is like they have been asleep for 40 years. Only someone who has been in a coma for decades would fail to see the connections, unless they are ignorant and/or motivated by ulterior motives. For Pete Glosser I suspect the coma.

    I guess Glosser blames the Emperor Hirohito for the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki!

    See here for the West’s role in Libya

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/oct/26/libya-war-saving-lives-catastrophic-failure

    “I heard that it was the Jews and the Freemasons who stirred up the people against the universally beloved leader”

    I try and avoid such company, but hell firends are firends!

    Comment by Simon Provertier — November 19, 2015 @ 5:28 pm

  57. I guess Glosser blames the Emperor Hirohito for the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Perverti, you are an imbecile.

    Comment by Pete Glosser — November 19, 2015 @ 9:10 pm

  58. The weird thing about this guy is he comes here knowing in advance that nobody will agree with him, least of all me. It would be like me hanging out at Moon of Alabama or Socialist Unity where you can cut the crypto-Stalinism with a knife. That is why I suggested psychotherapy to him.

    Comment by louisproyect — November 19, 2015 @ 9:18 pm

  59. The anti-imperialist Left sees no shades of Islamism just as much as extremist Islamists see no shades of political difference in the West.

    Comment by anaselhaouat — November 21, 2015 @ 3:38 am

  60. “Doesn’t it enter your thinking for at least a second that the generations of Western colonialism and imperialism may have played a part in disclocating and retarding the region’s social, political, economic development?”

    Does this mean we’re supposed to support the results of Imperialisms legacy? When exactly will people be allowed to fight back against regimes which even John Wight admits are little more then neo-liberal kleptocracies.

    “You tell me where in the entire region there is a flourishing liberal democracy never mind socialist paradis?. Are you blind to the relationship between a society’s economic development and political development? Do you think democracy is something that we just pull out of a hat like a magician, regardless of economic or material factors.”

    So its not the dictatorship its the incapacity of the people.

    “Is democracy really the most important factor in a society’s existence? Don’t you think that at least some of the security measures Syria imposed may have been justified – i.e..rising threat of Islamism, previously described, and the external threat posed by hostile relations with Israel just across its border?”

    Democracy is hugely important both for socialists and very obviously for those who rose up with enourmous bravery to demand it. Its why socialists traditionally support democratic revolutions rather then oppose them. And no-the barbarism of the Syrian regime against the demand for democracy is not ‘justified’ either by the existence of the Israeli regime or indeed by forces like Daesh that the Syrian regime much like the Egyptian did so much to inculcate through its murderous repression of demands for democracy. The argument that all forms of Islam equate to Daesh is simply a charter for authoritarian reactionaries in the region in an era of counter-revolution.

    “What do you say to the millions of Egytians who supported the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi in Egypt, their first ever elected president, by Sisi? Are those tens of millions, who came out onto the streets supporting this coup, really your enemy? Was there no reason for them at all to be concerned over the government of a president who suspended the constitution and announced Egypt’s support for Islamist rebels fighting in Syria? Are you even aware of the complexities and sectarian faultlines that criss-cross the Middle East?”

    That authoritarians attempt to spread hysteria and fear about the consequences of social disintergration whilst at the same time engineering economic instability is hardly a new thing. Most people on the left who mistook the nature of the movement supporting the coup bittterly regret it. Anyone who imagines that the mass repression, the mass killings, the disapearences, the crazed propaganda blaming the Ikwan for even the breakdown of the sewage system is somehow an improvement on the socially conservative but elected FJP has lost all sense of perspective. I had thought John Wight was just selectively supporting counter-revolution in countries he wrongly took to be part of some axis of resistence. It turns out that he is basically an opponent of all movements for democracy and civil liberties in the region.

    Simply an out and out reactionary.

    That’s kind of shocking to be fair.

    Comment by John Gamey — November 22, 2015 @ 8:48 am

  61. Oh on Libya-the notion that Libya would be in a better state today if Qaddafi had hung on and done an Assad-seems a strange one. Libya is in a dreadful state its true. But its a vertible paradise compared to contemporary Syria. Supporting democratic revolutions-like any other kind, is a wager-sometimes things don’t turn out well. But the evidence shows that its a better bet then supporting these gothic neo-liberal kleptocracies prepared to pull the sky down on their own and their peoples heads to stay in power-there is no evidence that the result of their overthrow is worse then the terrible carnage they’re prepared to inflict on their own society. If your not prepared to make the democratic wager and want to join the Assad;’s and the General Sisi’s-its your right-but please stop calling yourself a socialist. It simply causes unneccessary confusion.

    Comment by John Gamey — November 22, 2015 @ 9:09 am

  62. The Morsi govt was weak, too weak to “contain or satisfy” revolutionary demands, and too weak to “contain or satisfy” the military or the deep State. The latter simply implementing regime change at the most opportune time, when massive anti govt demonstrations were planned. Libya is an odd one, confusing in that Russia and China actually abstained from a clear UNSC interventionist resolution. Their excuses that they were fooled is not believable.

    There have been anti Qaddafi groups in eastern Libya, for the longest time, sleeper cells I guess you could call them, always ready for the West to use. I agree with Simon there was a western conspiracy, But with the backing of Russia and China. Context is everything, the Arab Spring was spreading (even to Spain), and Egypt the largest country in the region was neither controllable nor predictable — containment of Egypt, its revolution, would seem the most logical military rationale, to knock out Qaddafi and take Libya.

    As it turned out: Libya became difficult to manage, and had a diminishing utility as a stable base of operations. But what does it matter?: Sisi and the military seized an opportunity and crushed the revolution soon after, making operations out of Libya redundant.

    Nobody should be saying military planners are geniuses or oracles, Sometimes they make decisions that really are dependent on flying by the seat of their pants. But do you think they tell us about it? No, we hear a completely different narrative,,, and left to ponder the few loose ends that simply dont make sense…

    That’s my take on Libya, for what it’s worth…

    Comment by seaspan — November 29, 2015 @ 4:58 am


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