Moral principles, the ‘Leftists’, and the Syrian Revolution

Criticizing the uprising, in itself, is not immoral. But what is immoral, is to criticize the uprising without declaring their solidarity with the Syrian people.

Odai Al-Zoubi
7 March 2012

Every week, we read articles, from the leftists, criticizing the Syrian revolution. Throughout this article, when I talk about the leftists, I mean these leftists only [for example, Jonathan Steele in Russia Today or Robert Dreyfuss in The Nation]. The leftists whom I refer to frequently state that they don’t back Assad. And that they don’t take sides. They criticize the Syrian uprising for what they think is its relationship to America and Saudi Arabia on one hand, and its Islamist programme on the other. However, they have never criticized the Syrian regime. For them, it looks like a battle between two groups, and they comment on it, every now and then, criticizing the opposition.

The way that these leftists are criticizing the uprising is immoral. They haven’t shown any solidarity with the Syrian people. Criticizing the uprising, in itself, is not immoral. But what is immoral, is to criticize the uprising without declaring their solidarity with the Syrian people.

The reaction to the Arab Spring from this leftist point of view is very disappointing (See Rupert Read’s excellent critique of this point of view). The reaction is confused, because they didn’t ask, or start from, any moral principle of solidarity or freedom.  They took as their guide in international politics a ‘pragmatic’ starting point. While, the guide they should have taken, the alternative, was a moral stance.

The pragmatic question is: do America and other imperialist powers support or agitate for the Syrian revolution? The leftists answer yes. Many reporters and journalists, begin with this question, and then try to understand what is going on in Syria. This is mistaken for, at least, two reasons.

First, it distorts the facts. It suggests to whoever is imbibing it, that America, Saudi Arabia, the imperialist in general, and their Islamist allies, lead and support the revolution. This is a lie. It is more than a lie. It is a myth created by the Syrian regime, and used to justify killing the peaceful protestors in Syria. The leftists who repeat the lie, whether they are ignorant of this or not, help the regime in killing thousands of Syrians. To put it more dramatically, those leftists have blood on their hands.

Why it is a lie? Because, no one supported any revolution in any country in the Arab Spring (with the possible exception of Libya, when Benghazi was threatened with a massacre. Nevertheless, the story is the same. When the revolution started in Libya, no one supported it. It was not motivated by anyone, except the Libyan people). The Arab Spring is the people’s revolution. This is the first point of information that is distorted.

Let me explain this, in relation to Syria. The revolution starts in 15 March, with a heroic protest in Damascus. After 3 days, there was a protest in Daraa. The reason behind the demonstration in Daraa, was that the police arrested (and tortured) children, who wrote on the walls of Daraa slogans attacking the president. Then, when the people ask Ateef Najeeb, the president’s cousin, to free them, he insults them. Since then, the regime is shooting people in every protest, anywhere in Syria.  What has America, or Saudi Arabia, or anyone on this planet, have to do with this incident in Daraa? Or with subsequent protests in Banias and Homs? There is nothing more insulting than saying that those protestors are American ‘puppets’. This is a revolution of the Syrian people: them alone.

Perhaps the leftists are racists. They don’t believe that the Syrians, those strange Arabs who live in the Middle East, can, could, or would, start a revolution for freedom. They cannot possess high moral principles which impel them to change the world. According to these leftists, sunk as many of them are in conspiracy-style-thinking, the Arabs are part of a world where America controls everything.

This might explain their deep suspicion of what the Arabs want. In addition, this would explain why the leftists start their articles, and end them, by pointing again and again at what America wants and plans to do. All the other questions - of what Syrians want, of the reasons behind their revolution, of the main aims of the Syrian opposition, and how they all agree on the need to end the regime, why they do agree, and what did happen in Daraa, in Homs, in Doma, in Idlib, in Hama, city by city, in detail, are not the questions which you will see in any article that criticizes the Syrian revolution. All this is ‘not important’. What is important, for the leftists, is only one question. A question, which, to spell it out clearly and without frills, is completely unimportant.

It is unimportant what America thinks, because the rebels, and the demonstrators in Syria, when they started their revolution, didn’t ask what America thinks (this is true of Tunisia, of Egypt, of Libya, of Bahrain, of Yemen – and of Syria). After eleven months, the people have organized their movements and their demonstrations without once asking what America thinks.

This problem the leftists have is very deep. They see international politics purely as a battleground against the American system. They judge the world according to what America wants. If America agrees on one thing, then it is condemned. If America disagrees, then it is welcomed and supported. In the case of Syria, if America supports the revolution (which it did not), then the revolution is condemned, and Syria’s dictator is depicted as some anti-imperialist hero.

Furthermore, the leftist’s picture is an imperialist picture. It sees the world as centred on ‘the West’. ‘The West’ is the centre. They judge every single event, on the basis of western interests. Whatever the Arabs say or do is not important.

The moral principle, which is missing here, is this one. What do the Arabs want? What do the people want? Why did they start a revolution? Once you start from here, you can think clearly.

The moral question that should be posed by these people, then, would be: how can we, leftists, help the Arabs in their revolution? To spell it out: the ethical call is for solidarity, not military intervention. Whatever your opinion is on the intervention, you should not lose sight of this ethical principle. Being against any intervention in the Middle East should not force leftists into repeatedly doubting the people’s choice.

I can’t see any moral principle behind the criticism of the Syrian revolution. There could not be a wider gulf between these two approaches. The first one fully supports the revolution, tries to help it, and at the same time, points out the risks and mistakes you see in it. The second, criticizing the revolution alone, and doubting only its aims and motivations, sees only a conflict in the balance between the opposition and the regime, as if it were an equal battle. It is not. It is a war by the regime upon the people. The first perspective should be the leftist view. The second is what I criticize here. 

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