Friday, 17 August 2012

Syria's Islamic 'civil war'.

The Wrong brand of Islam.

As Robert Fisk observes, the coverage of this conflict is mired in hypocrisy and mendacity. No Western power is serious about a ‘humanitarian intervention’ in this instance. The political class was relieved (though it won’t admit it) at the Sino-Russian veto which provoked such criticism in the West. Not that there is ever any such concern about the four decades that the US has spent blocking a peaceful settlement over Israel-Palestine. This is highly relevant as the Israelis want to see Syria fall into the hands of people who will betray the Lebanese resistance and sell-out on the Palestinian question. Interestingly, Hezbollah in Lebanon have gone completely quiet as its Shi'ite comrade Bashar al-Assad struggles to hold down a democratic opposition in his own country. Fisk notes "For 30 years, Hezbollah has defended the oppressed Shias of southern Lebanon against Israeli aggression. They have presented themselves as the defenders of Palestinian rights in the West Bank and Gaza. But faced with the slow collapse of their ruthless ally in Syria, they have lost their tongue."

In The Evening Standard Philipp Bobbitt comments “Various Iranian officials have depicted the Syrian civil war as a clash of outside powers, with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey serving as proxies for the US and the UK [which they most certainly are!], trying to weaken the alliance of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah [to further empower Israel].” Note that Bobbitt emphasises that this is the line of the Iranian regime, probably with the intention of muddying it in the minds of his readers. Yet it’s soon clear that Bobbitt is sympathetic to an “extensive bombing campaign, and air strikes” to undermine Syria’s air defences and lay the way for a power-sharing arrangement. He stresses that he isn’t for ‘Western ground troops’ (and no one is) but then stresses that we can rely on Turkey (and NATO) for that. Bobbitt goes on to frame all of this as a ‘civil war’ within Islam, between the Sunni and the Shia manifested in the competing orders of the Saudi Kingdom and the Iranian Republic.

Of course, it seems more like a conflict between Western influence in the region and the only current independent of American-Israeli edict. The problem is not Iran's human rights record, the real problem is that the Iranians will not take orders from Washington between hanging homosexuals. If there really is a ‘civil war’ within Islam then it’s a portion of the Sunni lot that’s on our side, in this view the Shi’ites are the enemy because they inhabit the oiliest land in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Iran poses a threat to the unnatural order that has oil profits being wired to New York and London. So naturally Iranian influence is highlighted as part of the problem in Syria. It seems more plausible that there’s a conflict over the natural resources of that region and it has multifarious belligerents. This is how to take the Sino-Russian opposition to any UN sanctions against Syria. It is also plausible that the objectives of the Western support for rebels go as far as the subversion of any democratic currents in Syria. But it isn't clear if this aim will be achieved.

The Saudi-Qatari ruling-class would love to create another bulwark to Iranian influence in it's tacit alliance with Israel. The Syrian regime has to be destroyed because it's a decrepit Ba'athist model rooted in the Alawite sect of Shi'ite Islam, which makes it a conveniently placed ally of Iran and Hezbollah. It is in the interests of the US and Israel to dethrone Assad and destroy the Ba'ath Party for this reason. This is where the interests of Wahhabi Islamists converge with the interests of Western power and the rebel groups fighting to bring down the Syrian regime. At the same time it has to be said that the popular movement to free Syria from this regime does not subscribe to any religious edicts coming out of Saudi Arabia. The sectarian Wahhabi Islamists are a minority within the struggle, as Richard Seymour has noted. It may be more plausible that the Turkish-backed Muslim Brotherhood will come to power at the ballot box, as seen in Egypt, but it's not a predestined conclusion.

The ideal outcome would take the most progressive aspects of the legacy of Arab nationalism further within a democratic framework to set the ground for a new politics. We should note, as Seymour does, that the Assad regime has sought to harden its position by paying agents to shout sectarian slogans. This is reminiscent of attempts by the Egyptian regime to stir inter-religious violence between Coptic Christians and Muslims. Instead the Coptics and the Muslims stood together in Tahrir Square, "We are one!" they shouted defiantly. Similar methods of whipping up anti-Semitic fervour among the crowds failed. This is a struggle for democracy in the region and it has yet to flower. It is vital that the Left stands behind the democratic opposition and resistance to Bashar al-Assad and the Ba'ath Party for the sake of a shift in paradigm. The opportunity to wrench Syria from all spheres of influence can't be missed. This isn't the same as saying that we should support the liberal interventionists and NATO apologists for bombing a sovereign country.

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