This is a cogent essay by Leila Al Shami, the co-author of “Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution & War,” about the corruption of the antiwar movement particularly in the US & Europe. The Assad regime, in alliance with foreign militaries, has brought the Syrian Arab Spring uprising that began in 2011 nearly to collapse. It’s only a matter of time. The postmortems of that revolution will be as cacophonous & divisive as the debates between fascist propagandists for Assad & rightwing opponents of Assad who stand together on a militarist solution to the crisis.
There are parts of Al Shami’s analysis which I don’t agree with, the least of which is her reference to the ‘western antiwar movement’. This concept posits a schism between the US & European antiwar movements & antiwar movements elsewhere in the world. A substantial antiwar movement does not exist anywhere now because of equivocations about militarism. You cannot build an antiwar movement anywhere if you are not coherent, consistent, & intransigent against war. Outside of small rallies in Kashmir, there have been no noteworthy protests against foreign intervention in Syria. During the Vietnam War, in Palestinian solidarity, & during the Women’s Marches of 2017 & 2018, solidarity & unity were international in scope, with coordinated protests in hundreds of cities on every continent. If US antiwar activists played a leading role, it was only because the US was the primary aggressor in Vietnam. If there is no such unity in antiwar action now, it is because of the long-time political & theoretical corruption & deep-rooted sectarianism of the antiwar movement, the hold of Islamophobia derived from the so-called war on terror, & the alliance of Stalinism with fascism. Anti-Semitism, masked behind anti-Zionism, also plays no small part in this.
Where Al Shami’s analysis fails is in her equivocations, which she quite candidly admits, about US military intervention into Syria. She can’t see a solution outside of a military one. But why do her frustration & inability to see other options lead her to consider the US Pentagon as playing a role in advancing a popular revolution against dictatorship? She doesn’t have to know US military history; she need only look at what the US is doing right now in Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, & in fact, Syria. Where does she think the US coalition has dropped over 100,000 bombs & missiles in Syria since 2014? Just on ISIS targets? She need only look at the role played by the US in reversing the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya. They played a central role in buttressing dictatorship in those countries & are doing so in Syria, albeit in a disguised strategy.
She ends this valuable essay with a question: what is to be done to stop the slaughter of civilians in Syria? That is not a question that can be left hanging in agnosticism & equivocations. If we want to stop the carnage, we have to counter fascist & Stalinist analyses with elaborations about the character of the Arab Spring uprisings. We have to focus defense campaigns against the incarceration, torture, disappearances of thousands of dissidents in all of those countries, including Syria. We have to demand the immediate, unconditional cessation of bombing in Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, & Syria & the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all foreign military forces from those countries. We have to rebuild an international antiwar movement on a principled basis of opposition to militarism & support for the oppressed who rise up against dictatorship. The one thing we cannot do is be equivocal about war & revolution.