Yes, what about Syria?

Israel/PalestineMiddle East
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Yesterday, Annie did a brief round-up of the U.S. and Russia stand-off on Syria. I cannot claim, either, to be an expert on the Ba’athist regime and opposition groups in Syria, although I have recently worked with Syrians in London raising funds and awareness on behalf of people affected by the violence, and hosted Syrian artists in exile such as Ali Ferzat. I find myself in the – perhaps not unusual – position of fending off triumphant whataboutery regarding Syria from Israel apologists, and wanting to defend Syrian people, under attack by their own government forces and hired thugs, from the insinuation that they are waging a US/Zionist/Saudi Arabia proxy war against a true friend of Palestine. It does not surprise me that the aforementioned imperialist powers would seek to exploit the conflict for their own ends, or that elements of the armed opposition are committing sectarian atrocities, but the democratic aspirations and suffering of the Syrian people shelled and hounded out of their homes by the Syrian army is genuine enough.

Last month, Max Blumenthal wrote an impressive post on his principled decision to leave Al Akhbar. It’s worth reading the whole piece, but I excerpt two salient paragraphs here:

I can not disagree with anyone who claims that the United States and the Saudi royals aim to ratchet up their regional influence on the backs of the shabby Syrian National Council while Israel cheers on the sidelines. Though it is far from certain whether these forces will realize a fraction of their goals, it is imperative to reject the foreign designs on Syria and Lebanon, just as authentic Syrian dissidents like Michel Kilo have done. Yet the mere existence of Western meddling does not automatically make Assad a subaltern anti-imperial hero at the helm of a “frontline resisting state,” as Ghorayeb has sought to paint him. Nor does it offer any legitimate grounds for nickel-and-diming civilian casualty counts, blaming the victims of his regime, or hyping the Muslim Threat Factor to delegitimize the internal opposition.

In the end, Assad will be remembered as an authoritarian tyrant whose regime represented little more than the interests of a rich neoliberal business class and a fascistic security apparatus. Those who have thrown their intellectual weight behind his campaign of brutality have cast the sincerity of their commitment to popular struggle and anti-imperial resistance into serious doubt. By denying the Syrian people the right to revolution while supporting the Palestinian struggle, they are no less hypocritical than the Zionists who cynically celebrate the Syrian uprising while seeking to crush any iteration of Palestinian resistance. In my opinion, the right to resist tyranny is indivisible and universal. It can be denied to no one.

On Jadaliyya, Khalid Saghieh takes self-proclaimed anti-imperialists who rubbish the Syrian popular uprising to task:

Some loudly proclaim that what is happening in Syria is nothing but an imperialist conspiracy led by Western superpowers in collusion with Israel, designed to overthrow the bastion of resistance. Intentionally or not, they repeat the propaganda of the Syrian regime while shaping their argument in contrast to the regime’s rhetoric. In doing so, they excuse themselves from supporting the Syrian uprising, and all other past uprisings, because the outcomes are not guaranteed with regard to the Palestinian cause. In other words, they don’t categorize the Syrian rebels as conspirators, but they withhold any support for them because their uprising will eventually benefit the imperialistic enterprise that supports Zionism. Such people tout the slogan “Palestine is our compass,” despite knowing that the world cannot be seen through one lens. Most likely, they hide behind their support for the Palestinian cause to compensate for the morally reprehensible failure to support a nation of citizens besieged by massacres.

These last months at boycott Israel (BDS) actions, I have encountered this frequent, snide retort from Israel apologists: ‘What about Syria?’. And I think of my Syrian friends, wretched with grief and distress for their families, despairing for the future of their homeland – fighting every day, tirelessly – sometimes ineptly – to raise awareness and aid money, and to counter Ba’athist regime propaganda that the people in the streets defending themselves are ‘armed terrorists’; I can hear in the voices of these vile people who object to me picketing their Israeli cultural events that they don’t care one bit for Syrian humanity, in fact that they are delighted by this Arab conflict – they embrace it as a sort of gift from god. Surely this is one of the greatest examples right now of the moral bankruptcy of the Zionist narrative, so dependent as it is on exploiting others’ suffering to deflect criticism from Israeli state crimes. 

So I turn to the words of ‘Rita from Syria’ on OpenDemocracy:

Repeated experiences of military operations at the hands of regime forces in many parts of Syria, has left many scathing about the regime’s claim to protect its own citizenry. It has became well-known that being a child, a woman, an old man, a civilian, a neutral or even someone loyal to the regime does not protect you from death by a sniper’s bullet, a mortar shell or even tank fire. The number of civilians killed since the beginning of the revolution during military operations is many times more than double the number of militants. This is because the army follows what is tantamount to a scorched-earth policy: a policy aimed at quelling any kind of opposition in the Syrian street through using intimidation and the systematic mass slaughter of its own population. In the face of such overwhelming brutality and however life-threatening it is, more and more are forced to flee their homes… ”At this moment while you are reading this article, some families are fleeing their houses, and some of them have been spending days homeless. Some children are losing their joyful spirit, and also some freedom fighters are giving their lives for their country.”

While it is unforgivable how the bloodshed and instability in Syria are being exploited by Israel – and its declared and undeclared allies– and supporters of Palestinian human rights are understandably wary of mainstream Western press on the conflict, can we stop treating the Syrian people’s uprising with such contempt? 

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