Archive for November 2012
Israel has launched yet another attack against the Gaza Strip, striking the densely-populated and besieged territory from the air and the sea, and as usual the United States, Canada and Britain have lined up in support of Zionist terrorism.
Speaking from a system poisoned by the Israel lobby, State Department spokesman Mark Toner says: “There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately. We support Israel’s right to defend itself.” Confusing Zionist settlers for ‘the Jewish people’, confusing perpetrator with victim, and then parroting outmoded ‘war on terror’ propaganda, Canadian foreign minister John Baird vomits the following: “Far too often, the Jewish people find themselves on the front lines in the struggle against terrorism, the great struggle of our generation.” Then Britain’s foreign minister William Hague makes the following immoral and illogical comment: “I utterly condemn rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel by Hamas and other armed groups. This creates an intolerable situation for Israeli civilians in southern Israel, who have the right to live without fear of attack from Gaza.”
Two things must be said. First, this round of escalation, like the 2008/2009 slaughter, was started by Israel. It is totally mendacious to pretend otherwise. The Hamas government in Gaza refrained from stopping other groups from firing missiles as a result of Israel’s murder of a disabled man and of a twelve-year-old boy in Gaza. Here is a timeline of events. Second, the settlers of southern Israel do not have the right to live without fear of attack while the original inhabitants of ‘southern Israel’ are herded into refugee camps. Eighty percent of people in Gaza are descendants of refugees ethnically cleansed from their villages and towns by Zionist militias in 1947 and 1948.
Following my previous comment on the astounding failures of Syrian political elites, I must report some optimism. The Syrian National Council has accepted its place within the new Syrian National Coalition (it makes up a third of the new body), and the Coalition has won recognition by the Arab League, France, Japan and others.
The Coalition’s choice of leaders is the most inspiring sign, one which suggests both that the Coalition is no foreign front, and that another, much more positive aspect of Syria is finally coming to the fore.
President Ahmad Muaz al-Khatib is a mosque imam, an engineer and a public intellectual. He is Islamist enough for the Islamists and less extreme Salafists of the armed resistance to give him a hearing, but not Islamist enough to scare secularists and minority groups. He has written books on the importance of minority religious rights and women’s rights in a just Islamic society. His speeches since assuming his position have reached out to minorities and to the soldiers in Asad’s army, who he described as victims of the regime.
Vice President Riyadh Saif is a businessman, former MP, and a liberal democrat.
And Vice President Suheir al-Atassi, daughter of foundational Ba’athist Jamal al-Atassi, is a human rights activist, a secular feminist, a founder of the Syrian Revolution General Commission, and a key activist of the grassroots Local Coordination Committees. She is the sort of person who should have been representing the Revolution at the highest level from the very start.
All three leaders have been active participants in the revolution inside Syria, and all three have suffered imprisonment. All three are known and respected by Syrians inside the country.
George Sabra has been elected new head of the Syrian National Council. He seems like a good man and his first interviews suggest he’s an effective talker. But his election comes as the SNC loses the last of its relevance. Despite the gravity of its historic responsibility, the Council failed to connect properly with revolutionaries on the ground, it failed to do enough to reassure minorities, or to aid refugees, it put all its eggs in the basket of a foreign military intervention which was never going to happen, it overrepresented the Muslim Brotherhood, it was bedevilled by factional and ego-based conflict, and its self-renewal process ended up with no women in the leadership. Foreign governments have lost interest in it. Crucially the grassroots Local Coordination Committes say the SNC no longer represents them. Other opposition bodies and individuals outside the SNC (some of them doubtless secretly backed by the regime) have added to the sniping and backstabbing.
Today the news is that a new, broader body has been formed to coordinate the fight against Asad, to implement law in liberated areas, and to oversee the post-Asad transition. It’s called the National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary Forces and the Opposition, or the Syrian National Coalition. Perhaps this initiative will be more successful than others; we’ll see. Very sadly, it took Qatari and American badgering and perhaps promises of better weaponry (at this late stage with the country in flames and the resistance finally capturing heavy weaponry for itself) to force the ‘opposition’ to coalesce. You’d think Syria’s elite politicians would have been self-motivated to compromise and act by the destruction and mass slaughter in their homeland, by the urgency of the tragedy, by the vacuum allowing nihilists and potential warlords to call shots. But no. While Syria’s grassroots revolutionaries are unparalleled heroes, seemingly capable of endless self-sacrifice, Syrian political elites have failed their people massively.
Books which are published by small publishing houses are rarely reviewed by big newspapers, and this is a shame, because small publishing houses often publish excellent work. One example is “The Madman of Freedom Square” by the brilliant Hassan Blasim, published by Comma Press. Another is “Nod”, by Adrian Barnes.
The plot is a grand metaphor worthy of Jose Saramago. For no apparent reason (though people scramble for political and spiritual explanations) people stop sleeping. Only about one in ten thousand people are spared the insomnia plague, and these quickly become victims of an anti-sleeper mass frenzy. The Awakened, as they become known, suffer gradual degeneration through irritability and clumsiness, detachment and madness, to death. Our narrator, a writer of obscure books on obscure words and phrases, is one of the remaining sleepers. Being an expert on words, he reminds us that ‘Nod’ has two somewhat contradictory meanings – both the pleasant sleepy land we send children to, and the land of Nod, the barren desolation to which God sent Cain. The narrator has to watch as his long-term girlfriend and just about everyone else around him degenerate.
If this is science fiction, it’s the literary and philosophical end of the genre, Ray Bradbury or Kafka territory. With a few inversions, Barnes’s nightmare is not so different from this ordinary sleeping world. A former social outcast discovers leadership qualities and his own religion, and sets the people to useless work. Silent children hide in parks. The experience of watching someone you love stop talking to you, stop seeing you, and finally turn into an incomprehensible monster, will be familiar to many people who’ve suffered a relationship breakdown.
Like ‘armed gangs’, armed Islamists are one of the Syrian regime’s self-fulfilling prophecies. Most grassroots organisers and fighters are secularists or moderate Islamists, but the numbers, organisational power and ideological fervor of more extreme and sectarian Islamists are steadily rising. So why is the revolution taking on an increasingly Islamist hue? Here are some points in order of importance.
First, the brute fact of extreme violence. As the saying goes, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” Not only is faith intensified by death and the threat of death, and by the pain and humiliation of torture, but tribal and sectarian identities are reinforced. We want to feel like we when in death’s presence, not like I, because I is small and easily erased. So in Syria at the moment many Sunnis are identifying more strongly as Sunnis, Alawis as Alawis, Kurds as Kurds, and so on. This is very sad and it immeasurably complicates the future task of building a civil state for all, but it is inevitable in the circumstances. The violence was started by the regime, and the regime is still by far the greatest perpetrator of violence, including aerial bombardment of villages and cities, and now the liberal use of child-killing cluster bombs.
Second, beyond patriotic feelings for Palestine and Iraq and an unarticulated sense that their government was corrupt, two years ago most men in the armed resistance were apolitical. Finding themselves having to fight, and suddenly entered onto the political stage, they search for an ideology within which to frame their exciting and terrifying new experience. At present, the most immediately available and simplest ideology on offer is Salafism. As well as for their stark message, Salafists are winning recruits because of their organisational and warfaring skills honed in Iraq and elsewhere, and because of their access to private funds from the Gulf. If this were the sixties, the revolutionaries growing beards would have had Che Guevara in mind (and if much of the ‘left’ in the world were not writing off the revolution as a NATO/Saudi/Zionist conspiracy, the left might have more traction). At present, Salafism is in the air. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the historical moment. And why were all these young men apolitical before the revolution? Why hadn’t they learned more of debate and compromise? Simply put: because politics was banned in Asad’s Syria.