Tuesday, September 23, 2014

US Strikes In Syria

Since 2011 Assad has progressively escalated his war against the Syrian people. His regime set the daily killing quotas, they escalated from small arms fire to tanks, cannon, rockets and airplanes. As the days turned into weeks and the months turned into years we were subjected to the same diatribe demanding that innocent unarmed people die for the principles of those watching them from a thousand miles away. Anybody who thought otherwise was dismissed as a warmonger. The chemical attacks came, and still the world did nothing. Then ISIS emerged, it almost overran the north of Syria before the Free Syrian Army along with Jabhat al Nusra pushed it out, and it went on to overrun most of Iraq. Then the world took notice but that was only because ISIS were about to commit the mother of all massacres against the Azidis of Iraq. Nobody complained about the airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq. Today those airstrikes began in Syria, and like earthworms after the rain the people who were silent before have now appeared and are able to speak.

Now they wring their hands in anguish. They pray for Syria. They wish there was another way. They worry about the innocents whose lives would be lost if the US led strikes against Syria materialised. Maybe to them a death by a US made bomb is a far worse fate than being killed by a Russian made one. So they shake their heads, "No, this won't do at all. It is one thing to watch a country bleed white over the course of three years, but to have the United States cauterise the cancer that is ISIS immediately, well that's just outrageous".

There's only one reason why the United States is bombing ISIS in northern Syria, and that's because the Assad regime gunned down innocent protesters in 2011. In his first speech after the protests in Deraa, and when his regime could no longer pretend like nothing was happening, he ranted and raved about a terrorism that didn't exist in Syria yet. He warned, no he threatened, that Syria will turn into another Afghanistan. He abandoned the north east of Syria, he struck oil deals with ISIS, he deliberately avoided bombing their headquarters whilst raining his wrath on the parts of Syria in control by the Free Syrian Army. His army obliterated parts of Homs, and eviscerated Aleppo, in a scorched earth policy that his soldiers spray-paint christened as "Assad or this country burns". If there is anybody who holds the moral blame for all that has befallen Syrians since then, it is this bankrupt regime and its Russian and Iranian backers.

Syrians have had three years of this murder. Three years of his apologists using smoke and mirrors and every trick in the book to paralyse the international community and prevent it from doing anything about the barrel bombs and the chlorine bombs dropping on the heads of civilians. Again and again the spectre of Iraq is raised, not so that anybody can learn anything, but to frighten anyone from action, however much needed, to help Syrians. The anti-imperialist camp must, at any cost, oppose intervention in Syria and they are pathologically incapable of comprehending its necessity. Others will get on to the moral high horse and say that strikes on Syria will lead to innocent lives being lost. Of course, they don't seem to mind much that the very next day those lives could be lost either by an overzealous ISIS fanatic enforcing his apocalyptic vision of a utopian society, or that death could come by Assad's barrel bombs or rocket attacks or air strikes. No, for that they can only offer the potential victims a lot of moral anguish, hand wringing and anxiety as they are crushed between Assad and ISIS. Heaven forbid that anybody interfere, that anybody try to do something.

Last year many of those same people cheered with joy that strikes against the Assad regime were averted after he used chemical weapons against the Syrian people. Since then the death toll in Syria has risen to over 200,000. But they have nothing to say about that. They've been too busy spending the last year basking in the warm glow of their own self righteousness. Since then Assad and his Shiite allies have managed to push back the Free Syrian Army (without ever challenging ISIS seriously) and ISIS has emerged from a fringe lunatic group to a lunatic messianic state controlling an area larger than the size of England. The non-interventionists are responsible for this turn of events, and they are responsible for the rise of ISIS. They offered no solutions, only obstacles. They don't have a position you can criticise. They just insist that nobody have a position either, that Syrians die for the principles of somebody else; somebody who can rubber-stamp the revolution and say, "Yes, you're a bonafide revolution and we approve of you", and say to them, "We will sing your praises in post-graduate Middle East courses across the Western world for all time, and write books about your sacrifices". 

The fact is non-interventionists have no right to talk about who may or may not get hurt in Syria, to pretend to be concerned for the innocent, and they have no right to hold the moral high ground after the debacle we've seen in Syria for the last twelve months. This is a disaster, step aside and let someone do something about it.  

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Tired

Time is so short, yet the days go by so very long...
A seed dropped in the desert, thirsty for your rain.

Hold my face in your hands.
Let this tired loser rest...

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Friday, September 12, 2014

I Review The Week

I don't know where this week went. It's Friday - yes, another Friday - and all I can think of is that President Obama said something about striking ISIS, but not completely. And then the Syrian regime and Iran and Russia aren't happy even about the not completely bit. But they want him to, just not in Syria. Or is that not without the regime's permission? Yes, it was.

I read somewhere that more Syrians died. Somebody shared a video of bodies washing up on the beach in Tunisia. It looked like a beautiful sunny day. And those bodies just lying face down as the water rushes past them and then back into the sea. Black, some brown. All doomed, all lost, the victims of our collective failure to build proper countries for ourselves. They don't have a future anymore. And here's the thing, there are hundreds and thousands of people willing to take that same journey across a sea to countries that don't want them, where their future is uncertain. They'll do it, and I don't blame them. Because at least they get a chance. Where they're coming from, there is no chance. No hope of a steady job, sending your kids to school, a car, a house, a chance to save some money and maybe go on a nice holiday every now and then. Where they come from the schools and hospitals and universities are falling apart. Everybody is out to get what they can. And then there are the rich people who drive around and tut-tut at the poverty and backwardness of their compatriots. It's the same god-damn model in every third world country. Of course privileged first and second generation third worlders living in the West love the poverty and wretchedness of the third world. Their sociology degrees need a subject matter and what better than the unwilling subjects of their interminable interviews and research papers. All very important of course. It's very important to get the voice of these people out there - with the author's name, of course.

Where was I? Yes, the week in review. What else do I remember? I'm sure there is some important anniversary of a horrible massacre that I've forgotten, or that somebody famous died. Robin Williams passed away, but that was a few weeks ago. No, my memory at this instant draws a blank. All those books I've read, all those intelligent conversations I had with people and wanted to have, it all means didley squat right now. I've got loads of people on my timeline in Facebook and Twitter who tweet and write about the same stuff I used to as an undergraduate. I'm so tired of it all. Yet another book review or must-read article about Palestine and the "Resistance" but now we have Syria too. Syria's revolution is whatever you want it to be. You want it to be a secular class struggle for the domination of the towering heights of the economy, of the means of production? You got it. Maybe you'd like it to be about gender and the breaking of ancient historical and religious shackles. Go for it. Oh and look there's another guy quoting Gramsci. Well done, man. Another actually admits to reading the Hanna Battatu book about the Baath party. That's hours and hours of your life that you won't get back. Hashtag, retweet, look how profound this Edward Said quote is. Mmmm...profound indeed. Let's not mention that he ignored the gassing of the Kurds.

Then there are all the quirky musical tastes I see. What's the name of that Latin American singer? Ah yes, Manu Chao. That one. Very nice to say you like her music, but it's another thing entirely to listen to it. I'm told you have to speak Spanish to fully appreciate it. I guess that's true. And look, there's yet another girl getting in touch with her Arabic and Islamic roots. Yet more pictures of minarets, Islamic patterns, and "this is true Islam" style articles. And of course there's the angry guy who has beef to grind with "The White Man" and he uses that term like he knows what he's talking about. And of course he does, he's read many books on the subject and has worked up his outrage by attending countless vigils and demonstrations. He's probably got a sticker on his iMac to express that too. Go for it, buddy. Fight the Man. And when somebody dies there's that whole "Rest in Power" thing. Why rest in power? When did this become a thing? I feel I have nothing in common with these people.

But wait, I was reviewing the week. There's something about Scotland. Something about Khamenei being sick in the hospital. I'm not one to gloat, sickness and death reach us all and I've never liked cheap shots. Ah, I knew there was something I was forgetting. Syrian refugees were getting beaten up in the streets in Lebanon by Hezbullah fan-boys. Because that's what rabid mobs of fascists do. Their leadership is never to blame, oh no. But somehow, the pack gets the signal that such behaviour will be acceptable to a certain limit, and they rush off baying for blood. To think I used to respect this ideology and what it represented. I cringe and feel ashamed but I guess we've all been young and stupid. And yesterday was September 11th. I remember when it happened I was in a very different phase in my life. I got home and saw the news coverage properly for the first time, and I had to go up to my room and put my head under the pillow to drown out the noise because I couldn't handle the enormity of it all. I still can't.

Then there's ISIS, IS, or ISIL, depending on who you ask. Everybody seems to want to do something about them, but nobody wants to be that person. They're awful, the pictures of what they do to people who cross them are terrible. And yes, there's something even more sinister and frightening about them than even the regime. I know better than to succumb to that sentiment, but I think for a moment about what average people who don't know the Middle East would think. It's like something out of the darkest part of our past, primeval and frightening. I think what makes it scary for us is that ISIS is holding up a picture of what the world would look like without the international agreements, norms and conventions that we love bashing; a world without the recognised consensus that we know as the "international community". Some people can't wait for the apocalypse. They cheerlead Russia, Assad or Iran for their upholding principles of national sovereignty. And yet those principles are upheld in a manner that demands their abolition.

I've been reading a book, Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada. I'm halfway through and it's incredible. Since Syria descended into armageddon I've been reading more (much more than usual) about the Second World War, about the Holocaust, and about the rise of the Nazis. I've also been fascinated with the totalitarianism of Stalin's Communism. The parallels are striking. Fallada paints us a picture of life in Nazi Berlin and it's like somebody picked up those same people in the story and put them in Syria, Russia or Iran today.  The Otto Quangel's, the Inspector Escheriches, the Enno Kluges, all of them. We find today the opportunist, the fanatic believer in the Cause, the indifferent, and then those few people who care enough to make a stand and are pulverised into dust because they're too weak to stand up to the bullies. It makes me think how I used to admire Hassan Nasrallah's oratory, and if you understand Arabic you can be mesmerised by it. When I see short clips of Hitler swooning with passion, his eyes fluttering as he holds his chest and releases it, I sense the same mechanics at play here, and what a person living then might have felt listening to him. It's frightening because I understand its seductiveness now, and to think of all the horrible things that happened as a result of people letting down their guard, of letting the wrong people into power, is just too much to bear. What's even more frightening is that this slide into madness seems inevitable. We aren't even staring into the abyss anymore, we've fallen into it but nobody seems to realise it yet.

I can't think of anything else that's important to write about this week. It's not because I don't care, it's just because I'm so tired. I'm going to go back to my book and see what happens to Otto. I'm still holding out hope that they never catch him, and that maybe one of his postcards reaches somebody decent. Maybe that's all it takes, to have that one solitary person who doesn't let the madness affect them. Solzhenitsyn once said let the Lie dominate the entire world, but not through you. That sounds about right in times like this.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Life After Theory

I felt a sense of sorrow seeing the Syrian regime soldiers being herded into the desert by ISIS. They were stripped of their uniforms and weapons. In the video they looked naked and weak. It wasn't without a sense of irony that I recalled similar videos of Syrian civilians being herded off a bus, naked, hands tied and blindfolded as they were rushed off to whatever horrors lay in store for them. But I can't bring myself to mock. I can't look at a human being getting degraded in that way and not feeling something. Isn't that why this whole affair kicked off? Wasn't our outrage and horror at the way protesters were being treated the reason why we all broke the fear barrier and spoke out?

I can feel empathy for the regime soldiers, though perhaps less for the hardcore of the regime itself, and I'm free to do so. There is nobody compelling me to, and I feel no worry about holding my opinion, which is something that a pro-regime Syrian could never do. They can feel outrage only for certain victims, certain injustices, and certain types of suffering. And now that this ISIS has reared its head, what? Do we abandon everything as a hopeless dilemma? As a choice between two barbarisms? Between bearded and non-bearded butchers and torturers? No, I choose instead to believe in our decency and kind heartedness. Since the start of the Syrian revolution I've felt a resurgent humanism in my thinking and understanding and it tugs away at my feelings constantly. I know I'm not alone. It's there if you look for it within every Syrian person who took the difficult and frightening first steps to stand up for what they believe in and say no to injustice. We had to overcome obstacles at every level to do that and anybody who hasn't gone through that wouldn't understand. Instead they would hide behind lofty talk of geo-politics and "great games". But the dusty narratives about colonialism, post-colonialism, occupation and liberation are no longer relevant, if they ever were. There is something stronger, more powerful than all of that, and it's something I choose to believe in.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Protest

We are about to reach Trafalgar Square. The day started off cloudy but by the time we arrived to the protest the sun was beating down on us through a patch of blue sky that had been emptied of clouds. Dozens of green, white and black flags - the flags of the Syrian revolution - waved and rippled in the breeze. When we got there we saw a man in a werewolf mask posing with some people and their camera. He had a placard and it said something about Assad the killer who used chemical weapons on his own people. He had ketchup smeared on his hands - that was supposed to be blood. A small group of people stood dejectedly, listening to people making statements through loudspeakers. There was a woman who regularly appears at the London protests with two crutches, I don't know who she is, and she had placards with pictures of dead Syrian babies hanging from her neck on her front and back. She looked like a walking billboard that hobbled from place to place. Her whole manner reminded me of the beggar women in front of the Friday mosque, after prayers, waiting for the more charitable worshippers to drop some alms and save their eternal souls. The group formed a semi-circle around the speakers, and placards and Syrian flags were being held up, not facing outwards, but inwards. It seemed to sum up the whole mentality of the protest. Every now and then one of these Syrian dinosaurs would take a picture with their smart phone, the whole thing seemed an exercise in vanity. Garish, cringeworthy photographs of dead Syrian children were festooned everywhere.

A man held the microphone and started addressing the small gathering while bewildered tourists looked on at us. He said things about chemical weapons, about butchers and about savagery, all with the most appalling English. He pantomimed some story about a child that had lost his parents, again in the most awful English, perhaps expecting that he was tugging on the heart-strings of the listeners and passersby. Instead it was off-putting and would have bordered on the comical were the subject matter not so serious. It was a silly performance and the people standing there were starting to get tired. Thinking to energise the crowd he started to chant some of the tired and stale slogans that have been copied wholesale from pro-Palestine demonstrations, "Free, Free Syria!", "From the river to the sea, Syria, Syria will be free!", and the utterly uninspiring and unimaginative, "Syria, Syria don't you cry, we will never let you die!". These were empty and hollow chants that most of us were too tired or disinterested to repeat. Then a young Syrian dressed like Tony Montana with a white shirt, wide collar, and a velvet black blazer, all with slicked back hair to complete the Mediterranean-villager-in-the-big-city-for-the-first-time look, started to do a version of the Syrian "Arada" but in English, and it was cringeworthy. More tired chanting, more terrible English. Walking around the small space we had cleared was the man who had been pantomiming earlier, egging people on as if he was managing a rock concert. The whole exercise was uninspiring and left us feeling deflated and underwhelmed.

There is a generation or type of Syrian that might be living in England, but has never left Syria, and has never grasped that their way of viewing things, and what they take for granted, might not be shared by the people they now live amongst. That talking about paradise, angels, virgins in heaven, and children floating up to God, does not really make an impact with a largely secular society that views most religion - and especially Islam - with a mixture of distrust and distaste. The peculiar way this older generation portrayed the suffering of the Syrian people was a cringeworthy and pitiful affair, undignified and cheap, as if the world had to be begged to do something about the carnage in Syria as an act of charity than the international, legal, and moral obligation that it really is.

We were then told that we would be marching to 10 Downing Street to observe a minute's silence for the victims of the chemical attack. The man picked up the microphone and began yelling angry chants through the amplifier at an uncomfortable volume. The crowds avoided us while we cringed with each yell. We walked past the horse guards and even the horses were getting panicky. Somebody eventually lowered the volume, thankfully. We passed a group of people who were protesting the war on Gaza. Cheers of "Free, Free Palestine" drew a response from the walkers on the other side, and several people there decided to join us, many looked at us indifferently. A naive air of camaraderie sprouted for a brief moment between the two lost causes, and then we moved on. We stood in front of 10 Downing Street and the man stood on a small wall and spent ten minutes shouting at people through the microphone to prepare for the minute's silence. Eventually we managed it. When it was done we put down the placards and everybody hurried off, eager to be done with this business. Next year I expect we will find fewer people commemorating this awful anniversary, if at all.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Melancholy

It's a solitary business, watching the news come and go like ships in a harbour. Each story comes from somewhere, it's all the buzz for a few hours, and then it sails away and is soon forgotten. We sit in this harbour of dreams, each of us perched in our corner, waiting for salvation - for that ship that will bring us the good tidings - but none ever comes. The seagulls float above us mocking us with their cries. They can see far into the horizon, and they tell us to despair, that our long lost loves will never come, that those who left us have forgotten us and are too busy to write. So we settle into the drudgery of every day life. We wake up every day and go to work, sometimes one of us meets the other in the street and we nod at each other silently. At night we have our meals, bathe, and put ourselves to bed. We dream dreams that we won't remember, sleeping in fits and starts. The dreams that make us jolt upright are quickly forgotten as we sink back into oblivion. And in the morning we awake. That's all there is. Sometimes we don't sleep that well. Then it's a slow march through the day as we try to focus on work, try to get the shopping done, try to remember appointments and promises and obligations. Keeping in touch with distant loved ones becomes more and more of a chore.


It's as if time is slowly turning us into the gnarled old trees that we walk past in the streets without noticing. Maybe those trees are really the people that everybody forgot about. Is it possible, I wonder, to slowly sink into a state of not caring, not feeling, not remembering? To decide one day to stop moving as you walk down the path of life? You stare on with unseeing eyes. Your skin turns to bark, your feet dig deep in the ground and spread their roots. Slowly leaves cover your tired head from the sun and the rain and the wind. Birds would come and settle on your branches, and lovers would carve their names on your body, hoping to be remembered forever. And then a child on a tricycle would speed ahead of his parents as they walk past, hopeful and full of life, and neither of you would notice the other or think anything of it.

Another ship sales into the harbour, and the watchers stand up, their eyes wide and full of expectation, only to turn them down again in disappointment as it disembarks again. No journey home, no good news, no letters from loved ones. So the watchers sit back down and drink their tea or coffee or whiskey. As they walk back home that evening, another watcher stops walking down a path, his eyes fixed to the distance at something only he can see. His limbs stop stirring and another tree is born. 
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Saturday, August 16, 2014

It's Always About Assad

No, Hassan Nasrallah. This isn't about ISIS, it isn't about radical takfirism. It isn't even about the global conspiracy against your precious resistance. This is about a man who kills people so that he can stay in power. You don't want us to talk about the one thing that has led us down this road, the one thing you closed your eyes to when the first protests were in the streets of Homs.

I watched you on the television set three years ago when you told us that you had asked "your people" in Homs about what was happening and they said nothing was happening. You looked surprised at the stories coming out of Syria, as if you were being told about a country like Thailand, not the country that has been the lifeline to your military machine for the past two decades. Where was ISIS back then? Where was Jabhat al Nusra in June 2011? They didn't exist. Their leaders were only just being released from the prisons of your backer and best friend. Don't ask us to forget or ignore what this is about. This isn't about the ghosts you are fighting in your head, this is about Assad. It has always been about Assad.

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