The other night I went to a student fundraiser for Palestine, with the usual combination of hip-hop, poetry, speeches and musical performances. Not being a student, I don’t typically go to that sort of event, but a friend - one of the organisers - asked me to help out with the music and so I went along.
Several of the speakers spoke in support of the “Arab democratic uprisings of Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya and Syria” and they were greeted with wild applause and cheering from the crowd. How is it possible that, in a crowd of several hundred educated young people that consider themselves progressive/radical/alternative, the vast majority could get euphoric about this “Arab Spring”, the most clear results of which so far are:
- An estimated 50,000 killed by NATO bombs in Libya
- On-going civil war in Libya (a previously stable and peaceful country)
- Widespread torture and racist murder of black Libyans
- A dramatic fall in living standard for the Libyan people (remember it was economically by far the most successful African nation)
- A dramatic fall in political liberty for the Libyan people (these days, to be openly pro-Qaddafi is to be killed, tortured or interned)
- An estimated 70,000 suspected pro-Qaddafi people in jail and makeshift detention centres
- Hundreds of thousands of Libyan refugees (out of a population of six million)
- The serious threat of a brutal sectarian civil war in Syria (a stable, peaceful and secular country) that would set Syria back decades
- The possibility of Syria’s collapse, which would be the most unbelievable boost for Israel (and disaster for the Palestinians and for Lebanon)
- An extremely precarious political situation in Egypt
- A leadership role for the nutty pro-west monarchy of Qatar
- The increasing region-wide dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni organisation representing reactionary sectarian and pro-west interests, for many years backed by the British as an opposition to the secular nationalism of Nasser and Hafez al-Assad
- A vastly increased danger of war against Iran
Apparently these inconvenient details are not relevant to the discourse on the ‘Arab Spring’. Nor is there room for an analysis of the differences between, say, Bahrain (where the government is using its Saudi-supplied weapons against protesters) and Syria (where the protesters are using their Saudi-supplied weapons against the government).
It seems so obvious that if the US, Britain, France, Israel and Saudi Arabia support a political movement - and if Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Zimbabwe, China and Russia oppose it - then it is very likely working in the interests of imperialism and zionism! And if you are supporting Israeli, NATO and GCC interests, you are manifestly NOT supporting Palestine - no matter how loudly you shout “Free free Palestine”; no matter how careful you are to avoid buying Israeli basil; no matter how much you listen to ‘conscious’ hip-hop; and no matter that you have a keffiyeh for a pillow cover and a poster of Che Guevara on your bedroom wall.
So many people these days claim to support Palestine. It has become a fashion, a trend, a shibboleth, a badge of honour for alternative middle-class student types throughout the western world, crying cathartic tears over Palestinian victimhood. Of course, Palestine needs the broadest possible support, but the right of the Palestinian people to national self-determination - their right to a homeland, to existence - is not a matter of fashion; it is a matter of highly complex political, military, geo-strategic, historical and cultural considerations which must be analysed and understood. To content oneself by saying “I support freedom and democracy everywhere” is lazy liberalism, and easily results in being led down the garden path by the sophisticated imperialist media machine. Ignorance is not bliss, nor is it an excuse.
We must deeply analyse each situation, and position it within its historical context. Supporters of the ‘Arab Spring’ say that it is a region-wide expression of the people’s desire for ‘democracy’. However, without defining what we mean by ‘democracy’, we’re left with the dominant model: western liberal parliamentarism, which is highly problematic, and not very democratic!
The legitimacy of governments is not determined by their adherence to the principles of western parliamentary democracy; it is determined by the extent to which they represent the will of their populations. For example, former Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser did not favour multi-party democracy - far from it. He believed that consensus unity was required in order to fight successfully against Israel. Therefore political rights in Egypt were limited. And yet Nasser was the hero of the masses across the Arab world, not because he conformed to dubious western concepts of ‘democracy’ but because he genuinely represented the people’s aspirations. Similarly, Cuba has a highly inclusive model of democracy, and yet it does not at all fit in with the western democracy narrative that goes with the ‘Arab Spring’. Raul Castro said just recently: “In Cuba, based on its experience in the long history of the fight for independence and national sovereignty, we defend the one-party system instead of the demagoguery and commercialization of politics… Giving up the principle of one party would simply amount to allowing the party or parties of imperialism on national soil”.
Such examples should cause us to question the dominant narrative about Libya and Syria - both of which countries have made great sacrifices in order to maintain their independence, their socialist orientation and their opposition to zionism and imperialism.
Syria has done a great deal - perhaps more than any other state - to oppose Israel and support the Palestinians. It has long been the chief financial and practical supporter of the various Palestinian resistance organisations, as well as of Hezbollah. It has intervened militarily to prevent Israel’s expansion into Lebanon. It has provided a home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, who are treated far better than they are elsewhere in the Arab world. In spite of massive pressure to do so, it has refused to go down the route of Egypt and sign a bilateral peace treaty with Israel. Palestine is very much at the forefront of the Syrian national consciousness, as exemplified by the Syrians who went to the border with Israel last year on Nakba day and were martyred there at the hands of the Israeli ‘Defence’ Forces.
Yes, Syria has also made serious mistakes and has from time to time fallen victim to the US-British-Israeli divide-and-rule tactics that have been used so effectively in the Middle East for over a century. These mistakes are to be learned from (and it seems that Bashar has taken on board many such lessons), but they have not rendered the Syrian government illegitimate, they have not made it unpopular, and they do not constitute the Syrian state’s main character.
To anyone with an ounce of understanding and sense, it is clear that the fall of the Syrian government would be disastrous for the Palestinians. The power vacuum could only be filled with a coalition of rich pro-west foreign-based politicians (ie the Syrian National Council) and the conservative Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which will do whatever dodgy deal required to destroy Syria’s secular culture. Such a government, backed by vicious Sunni supremacist militias, would not hesitate to tear apart Syria’s state-dominated economy and would very likely sign a peace treaty with Israel (which would basically mark the final death of Arab resistance to zionism and usher in a new era of Israeli expansionism). There would be a bitter sectarian conflict which would see Alawis and Christians facing horrific violence from an ascendant Sunni majority. The new economic rulers of the country - multinational corporations - would be significantly less inclined to support Palestinian refugees and resistance.
So, if you claim to support Palestine, perhaps you should reconsider your support for the Syrian ‘revolution’. Wearing a keffiyeh doesn’t mean a thing. If we want to do something for Palestine, then we should be actively opposing the zionist-imperialist conspiracy against Syria, in all its forms; and we should understand and expose how the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ has been totally hijacked by the west and is being used to wipe out all resistance to imperialist hegemony in the Middle East.