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Thu Dec 22, 2016, 12:50 AM

"Support the Syrian people not the USA or Russia" [View all]

Insightful interview with Leila al-Shami:

"Much of the left internationally has given open or covert support to the Assad regime in Syria. The Morning Star in Britain went so far as to call the defeat of Aleppo a “liberation”. Why do left-wingers support a murderous regime instead of people fighting for their freedom? What is the role of Islamist forces in the conflict? Leila al-Shami, co-author of the book “Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War”, gives an interview which provides some answers to these questions. She was interviewed by Max van Lingen, editor of the Dutch newspaper “The Socialist”. The interview was translated into German by Frank Simon, and then into English by Colin Wilson.

Excerpt of Interview:

"What was the main reason you wrote the book [Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War]?

Robin Yassin-Kassab and I felt that reporting about Syria was poor. It wasn’t that there were too few reports, but that they rarely represented Syrian concerns. The media reports mainly about the humanitarian crisis or the rise of Islamic groups and extremism. Syrians are seen either as victims or as terrorists.

We wanted to challenge this point of view by letting people speak for themselves. We wanted to offer a platform for activists who were involved in the revolution and were affected by the war. A left-wing analysis should be based on what the people are doing – not just on what is happening in terms of high politics between states or what the international repercussions of the crisis are.

How did you choose the people you spoke to?

We were connected with the revolution in Syria from the beginning. We already knew a lot of people. When we spoke to these activists, they brought us into contact with other people. So we gained a variety of insights into life in Syria from people from both rural and urban areas, both women and men. We interviewed people in Syria from all religious communities and nationalities: Muslims, Christians, Ismailis and Alawites as well as Kurds and Arabs.

Syria and the Arab Spring

Why do you think a large part of the international left was either very guarded as regards the revolution or even openly hostile towards it?

Many leftists look at Syria within a framework of existing ideas. Before the Arab Spring, their experiences of the Middle East were limited to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the US war and subsequent occupation of Iraq. When the Arab Spring began and the revolution in Syria grew, the left looked at Syria in the context of US imperialism.

What is wrong with this approach?

The situation had changed dramatically in 2011. Suddenly there was an international revolutionary wave in the region, which caused a huge change in people’s thinking. People said they no longer wanted to live under these regimes, which had suppressed them for so long. Most of the left, however, did not respond to the fact that there existed a mass movement from below. They saw the Assad regime as a secular socialist regime that was at war with the US and Israel. But that’s not true.

Can you explain that in more detail?

To start with, it is not a secular regime. In the course of the revolution, we have seen how the regime made use of the various religious communities to carry out a policy of divide and rule. Secondly, it is not a socialist regime. The implementation of neoliberal policies had already begun under Hafez al-Assad, and this increased under Bashar al-Assad.

Bashar al-Assad aimed to integrate Syria more closely into the world economy, for example through an economic “Association Agreement” with the EU. The neoliberal policies he pursued led to a concentration of wealth in the hands of his relatives and the people associated with the regime, while large sections of the population lived in poverty. As a result, one of the main demands of the revolution was social and economic justice.

"Syria, the USA and the “regime change

Some left-wingers reduce the Syrian revolution to a US attempt at “regime change” by supplying arms deliveries to Syrian groups. What do you think of that view?

It is not true that the US has delivered large amounts of weapons to Syria. The US delivered some supplies, but for a long time only light weapons, night vision equipment and ready-to-eat meals. Subsequently, they provided some anti-tank weapons so as to maintain a stalemate. The US did not provide the heavy weapons that Syrian rebels would need to defend themselves against the regime’s air attacks, such as air defence missiles.

What is the specific US military strategy?

The US is looking for proxies to carry out the “war on terror” on its behalf. The Southern Front – an alliance of democratic and nationalist groups which refused to work with Islamists – was forced by the US and Jordan to stop fighting the Assad regime. This allowed the regime to concentrate on other areas, including Daraya, which has fallen to the regime after a long siege and systematic starvation of its people. The US has also provided weapons and air support for the Syrian Democratic Forces, which are dominated by the Kurdish YPG, because they fight only against Daesh.

The “Islamisation” of the revolution has without doubt reduced its international appeal. How significant do you think this development has been?

A large part of the military struggle is led by Islamists of different kinds, ranging from moderate Islamist groups operating within a democratic framework to Salafist hardliners. International jihadist groups such as Daesh, on the other hand, are counter-revolutionary, they represent a third force. Syrians have fought against Daesh, as they have also fought against the Assad regime. The Free Syrian Army still exists, and has widespread support, but it is no longer the only actor.

The Islamisation of the Revolution

What were the reasons for the “Islamisation” of the revolution?

After the poison gas attack on Ghouta in 2013 at the latest, the Syrian people knew that they were not going to get any help from the West. So they turned to the Gulf States. The result was a more pronounced Islamic vocabulary. Many fighters switched to Islamist groups because these were able to provide weapons and funds. These groups were able to provide pay, which was decisive in the face of economic collapse and hunger.

Although the military struggle is the biggest part of the picture, a strong civil society also exists, which still plays a very important role in the Syrian revolution. In Maarrat al-Nu’man there were more than 200 days of continuous protests against Assad and against Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (the Front for the Conquest of the Levant, the new name of the al-Nusra Front). [The Al-Nusra Front are jihadists, with links to Al-Qaeda until July 2016 – ed.] The people of Maarrat al-Numan clearly rejected Fatah al-Sham, but the situation in Aleppo is quite different. There, Fatah al-Sham played a major role in breaking through of the siege of East Aleppo, in which 300,000 people were liberated. While the international community abandoned the people of Aleppo, Fatah al-Sham came to their aid. It is absurd to think that people in this situation will reject them."


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JHan Dec 2016 OP
oberliner Dec 2016 #1