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Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for the ‘Syria’ Category

Introducing al-Haj Saleh’s Impossible Revolution

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Yassin and Samira

Yassin and Samira

It was an honour to write the foreword to Yassin al-Haj Saleh’s indispensable collection of essays “The Impossible Revolution”. If you haven’t read the book yet, you should. Yassin is perhaps Syria’s most important political dissident, and a thinker of global importance.

Here are some extracts from my foreword:

Yassin al-Haj Saleh is a burningly relevant political thinker. Unlike most of his counterparts, he speaks not only from theory but from a lived experience of repression, revolution, counterrevolution, and war. Objective but never neutral, he is engaged and in tune with the rapid shifts and turns of his tormented society, urgently seeking answers to the most wide-ranging and inclusive of questions, and unearthing more, previously unthought-of questions as he goes.

His context is Syria, where 12 million are homeless, perhaps half a million dead. Syria which, six years into the upheaval, has become a truly global issue. The war Assad unleashed to marginalise and destroy a democratic opposition has given rise to a series of increasingly complicated conflicts, often bearing ethnic or sectarian tones. Fanned by overlapping, sometimes competing foreign interventions, these conflicts have infected the region and the world in turn. Regional and international imperialisms are feasting on Syria. Battle lines and forced demographic changes are fueling a hunger to redraw the maps. The spectre of Syrian refugees and/or terrorists, meanwhile, is shaping America’s domestic politics and helping undo the European Union. As hopes for freedom and prosperity are crushed, new strains are injected into old authoritarianisms, and 21st Century forms of nativism are taking root, west and east.

Yassin speaks from the heart of this turmoil. Yet this in your hand is the first book-length English translation of his work.

It’s been a long time coming.

“They simply do not see us,” he laments. If we don’t see Syrian revolutionaries, if we don’t hear their voices when they talk of their experience, their motivations and hopes, then all we are left with are (inevitably orientalist) assumptions, constraining ideologies, and pre-existent grand narratives. These big stories, or totalising explanations, include a supposedly inevitable and ancient sectarian conflict underpinning events, and a jihadist-secularist binary, as well as the idea, running against all the evidence, that Syria is a re-run of Iraq, a Western-led regime-change plot. No need to attend to detail, runs the implication, nor to Syrian oppositional voices, for we already know what needs to be known.

Purveyors of such myths, the ideologues and regime-embedded journalists, the ‘experts’ who don’t speak more than a few words of Arabic, often seem to rely on each other to confirm and develop their theories. They brief politicians, they dominate opinion pages, learned journals and TV panels. And we the public, to a large extent, rely on them too. We see through their skewed lens, through a certain mythic framework which ‘covers’ the Syrian revolution only in the sense of hiding it from view. As a result we are unable either to offer solidarity to this most profound and thoroughgoing of contemporary social upheavals, or to learn any lessons from it.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

July 20, 2018 at 12:35 pm

Syria Films

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I’ve updated this post with links to Syrian-made films, over the fold…

I was interviewed for two documentary films on the Syrian revolution and war. I recommend both (and not because I’m in them).

The Impossible Revolution, by Anne Daly and Ronan Tynan, named after Yassin al-Haj Saleh’s essential book, is particularly good. It tells the story primarily with Syrian voices, and is beautifully made. For those interested, it also investigates the leftist failure to understand or engage with the revolution. You can watch or buy it on Amazon (here’s the UK link), or on Vimeo, here.

National Geographic’s Hell on Earth: The Fall of Syria and the Rise of ISIS, by Sebastian Junger, is also very good. And now on YouTube:

And…. look over the fold for Adnan Jetto’s ‘Jalila’, a Syrian-made documentary about women in the revolution.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 28, 2018 at 4:58 pm

A Letter Concerning Afrin

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Kaveh

Turkish-allied Syrian rebel militia destroying the statue of Kaveh, a figure of symbolic importance in Kurdish culture

A group of western leftists wrote a letter calling for US intervention on behalf of the PYD in Afrin. Many of these people never noticed the crimes committed by Assad and his allies in the rest of Syria. Many of them slandered the Free Syrian Army as tools of imperialism when they begged (largely in vain) for anyone at all to send them weapons to defend their communities. Some signatories are genocide-deniers. If their engagement with the PYD was in some way critical, and if it was matched by critical solidarity with the larger Syrian revolution, it wouldn’t look so much like fetishisation.

Anyway. I’ve written (in haste – no doubt I’ve missed things out) what I think is a more balanced letter:

We deplore the historical persecution of Kurds (and other minority groups) by regimes in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. We call on all concerned, in particular the Syrian revolutionary opposition, to unambiguously recognise the Kurdish right to self-determination in areas where Kurds are a majority.

While recognising the extreme difficulty of acting on principle when lives are at stake, we call on both the Syrian opposition and the PYD to carefully consider their alliances with regional and international imperialists. What appears tactically intelligent may turn out to be strategically disastrous.

We condemn the Turkish state’s self-interested intervention in Kurdish-majority Afrin, as we condemn the self-interested interventions of Russia, Iran and the United States in other parts of Syria.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 24, 2018 at 2:13 pm

Posted in Kurds, leftism, Syria

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Arise

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billI talked to Bill Fletcher on his WPFW show ‘Arise’ about the Syrian Revolution, the current state of the various wars born out of Assad’s war on the people, the west’s role, and western cultural myopeia.

You can listen to it here. And you can read a transcript of my comments at News of the Revolution in Syria.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 22, 2018 at 9:10 pm

Posted in Radio, Syria, Talking

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Genocide Denial

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srebrenica

Srebrenica

I recently came across an article written in 2009 by Marko Attila Hoare. It concerns the self-absorbed nonsense of some academics and many prominent leftists (Chomsky, Tariq Ali, etc) in the west concerning the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s. This nonsense often amounted to outright propaganda on behalf of the Milosevic regime, and therefore to genocide-denial.

The article could have been written today with regard to the leftist denial of the counter-revolutionary extermination of Syrians. It could have been written in the 1970s, when Chomsky was denying the Khmer Rouge’s extermination of millions of Cambodians, or in the period from the 1920s to the 1960s when many western leftists denied or downplayed exterminations and genocides perpetrated by the Soviet Union and Maoist China.

One reason for this ugliness is the left’s general tendency to identify with authoritarian states rather than with oppressed people. Another is its ridiculous (and west-centric) binarism, in which the enemy of its enemy is its friend (this of course must be connected to a profoundly illogical and fact-free analysis – in Syria, for example, the US, Russia and Iran have more often collaborated than been opposed). And Hoare correctly points to a further motivator: racism.

It is the racism of those who view their own Western society, and in particular their own political or intellectual circle, as being composed of real people; of being the real world. Whereas they view war-torn Bosnia (or Darfur or Iraq) as not being the real world; of not being inhabited by real people with real lives and feelings.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 22, 2018 at 3:58 pm

Media, Propaganda and Truth

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Ailean Beaton asked me some very interesting questions concerning “the partisanisation of basic facts” in western media (and social media) coverage of Syria. My responses describe a general “cultural slide involving populism, conspiracism and the dominance of powerful fictions.”

You can read the interview here.

And while you’re visiting…

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 19, 2018 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Syria, Talking

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Talking Trump with Sonali

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It was a pleasure (again) to speak to Sonali Kolhatkar on her Rising Up With Sonali show. We talked about Trump’s strike on three chemical weapons sites in Syria, and the outrage this caused among ‘anti-imperialists’ (as well as American strikes which killed thousands of civilians, but weren’t noticed, and the daily Assad-Russian-Iranian extermination of Syrians, which isn’t either). You can watch, or just listen, by following this link.

 

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 18, 2018 at 7:14 pm

Posted in Radio, Russia, Syria, Talking