For Syria, what is ‘left’? – by Bassam Haddad
The brutal crackdown of the past five months cannot be excused by Syria’s resistance credentials.
It is a concrete rationale that fuels opposition to Israel’s apartheid regime and the United States’ duplicitous and violent policies in the Middle East. It is a concrete rationale that imbues the condemnation of and struggle against authoritarian rule in the Arab world. It is a concrete rationale that inspires and necessitates the support of resistance to all the above. This rationale is an expression of the most basic forms of moral and political principles. It is this reasoning that must apply to the brutal suppression of the Syrian uprising.
But part of the leftist camp in the region, specifically in Lebanon, faces the unfolding bloodiness of the Syrian scene with a striking measure of ambiguity. Should “good” leftists support the opposition, condemn the regime’s unbridled brutality, or remain “neutral” (the latter decidedly a position in and of itself)?
This “dilemma” is a false one. It emanates from the arguably legitimate reverence for the Syrian regime’s support of the resistance – principally through Hezbollah – to US and Israeli imperialism. Few leftists disagree with this basic position, even if they were critical of, or condemned, Syria’s own domestic policies prior to the eruption of mass protests.
However, the five-month-long protests against the regime in Syria, and the brutal response that left more than 2,000 Syrians dead and many thousands more injured or imprisoned, should leave no ambiguity. One wonders how these brutal policies by the Syrian regime will bring about salvation/freedom/liberation from Israel’s own racist and brutal policies; how they will stop home demolitions, population transfer schemes, and illegal Jewish-only racist settlements? How will these policies roll back the hypocritical policies of the United States in the region, its devastation of Iraq, and its support of Israel’s apartheid policies and of the remaining Arab dictatorships that partake in this anti-resistance camp?
If one’s opposition to imperialism were based on a political position and not on principle, it might be more understandable, even if patently unprincipled, to stand by the Syrian regime. But this would be akin to Israelis or Israel supporters who personally object to the racist policies of Israel, but somehow justify their support for Israel as it stands. The irony is that these Israeli leftists are chastised by the aformentioned part of the pro-resistance left precisely for abandoning anything smacking of leftism.
Where is the principle in all this? While this question may indeed be naïve, it is directed here to those who claim to take positions on principle, and on principle alone. The Syrian regime has long passed the threshold when those who prioritise resistance must return again to principle. As with hyper-nationalism – i.e., “my country right or wrong” – unfettered exhibitions of loyalty to the Syrian regime have no place. If one opposes imperialism on principle, then one must oppose the Syrian regime’s crushing of the protesters on principle. Whatever resistance credentials the Syrian regime possessed withered when it started killing its own people at a rate of approximately one hundred per week (for the last five months).
The question is not whether the left – an increasingly amorphous category that now includes liberals, reactionaries, and even those with fascist politics – should support or oppose the Syrian regime. It is a decision that real people need to make in the real world: do we support a political position or a principle? Do we support country or principle? Does patriotism or nationalism trump principle? If so, why have we been criticising the Americans’ support for the United States’ war on Iraq? Why do we reject trickle-down economics that smash lives as we wait for the mirage of sustained growth? Why do we critique Israelis when they support their state’s racist policies?
To condemn oppression on principle means to condemn it whomever is exercising it. Otherwise, we cannot invoke principle. For then, we risk reenacting that which so many of us have loudly and rightly condemned. Have we not indicted the US war on terrorism as being arrogant and hypocritical in part because it violates the very principles it is purporting to uphold?
Certainly there are gray areas, and that is precisely why it was imaginable to support Syria’s support of resistance while condemning its internal policies prior to the protests. However, the last five months in Syria cannot be excused because of Syria’s resistance credentials. Without principles, there can be no Left.
Bassam Haddad is director of the Middle East Studies Programme and assistant professor in the department of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University. He is also co-editor of Jadaliyya.