Like many I have been trying to keep track of the Syrian conflict, which has gone from an uprising to a full blown civil war beyond anything seen in Libya. The conflict has raged for 18 months leaving over 20,000 dead and over 1.5 million people have fled their homes. It would seem the bat-eared Bashar is looking to outdo his father in this slaughter. I haven’t covered the conflict on my blog, until now, as I feel a tad under-informed to follow events consistently. With that in mind I have picked up on Saudi financial support (at least) for armed Islamist rebels in Syria. It seems the case that the US has ‘encouraged’ the Saudi bourgeoisie to fund and arm the rebels. No doubt the other Arab Gulf states are in on this too, given that the Saudi Kingdom leads the way in the Gulf Cooperation Council. Now the British have pledged £5 million to the rebels. There has hardly been a word about this until it became apparent that the money is probably going to Wahhabi fundamentalists in the opposition.
It was from the mouth of George Galloway that I first heard of Western support for al-Qaeda in Syria. Putting Galloway’s troublesome support for Assad aside, the case is that there are radical Islamist militants fighting in Syria with the backing of the Saudi bourgeoisie and, indirectly, the US government. Conveniently Galloway draws no distinction between the Muslim Brotherhood, radical Wahhabi elements and what's commonly called al-Qaeda - which really refers to a diffuse network of terrorists, ideologists and their financiers. It also should be emphasised that the Arab Spring has predominantly been a force for democratic reform in the region. Syria should be no exception. But there is indirect Western support for Islamic conservatism in the region at large. And it remains that Islam is a common means of association and identification in Middle Eastern politics. The alternative model of revolutionary nationalism died long ago.
Sami Ramadani has argued that the influence of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the US has been to pursue militarization of the conflict in order to block democracy in Syria. He argues that the non-violent resistance would have brought down Assad if it was not for the militarization of the conflict. There may be some truth in this given the contradictions in the Ba'ath Party and Syrian society that the army may have brushed aside Assad as the generals threw out Mubarak in Egypt. At the same time, it should be noted that the military establishment in Egypt has yet to be defeated. The systems which held these dictators in place have survived the revolt in many countries. It seems plausible that the peaceful movement for democracy in Syria may have dethroned the Assad family, but it seems less likely that the peaceful means could be used to bring down the Ba'athist regime. As inevitable as violence seems to be the only means to destroy the regime it is definitely the case that the US will do anything to prevent democracy from prevailing in the Middle East.
It should surprise no one that the Saudi Kingdom is promoting a particular version of political Islam in Syria to destroy a republican alternative. Its policy of petro-Islam has a long record of supporting Islamist militants, including the Taliban in its barbaric rule over Afghanistan. Many Syrian women are right to fear the impact of Saudi influence for this reason, just going on its appalling internal record on women's rights. But even comparatively progressive Turkey is seen as a regressive force. Remember the cries in the West that the fall of Mubarak would allow a Iranian style Islamist government to spring up and immediately go after the Jews? There are no such cries over Syria for the reason that the fall of Assad is perfectly compatible with American-Israeli strategic interests. Even if the GCC find a way to conjure a Sunni-Muslim despotism out of this chaos, it is totally within the contours of US interests. The problem is not Islamic politics, it is a particular Islamic politics.