Tariq Ali has made a number of incorrect and unjustifiable statements in his recent interview on Russia Today regarding Syria. Ali is a much-celebrated icon of the British left; he is a talented orator and writer, and often says quite good things. Therefore his comments are particularly dangerous, as they are considered trustworthy by many progressive/radical people.
Ali claims that “the overwhelming majority of the Syrian people want the Assad family out”. This is not a claim that anyone with an understanding of Syrian politics would make, at least not in good conscience. The government is popular, and continues to become *more* popular as it works to stop civil war. This fact is even occasionally recognised in the mainstream press - see for example Jonathan Steele’s recent Guardian article
Ali joins the rest of the western fake left in calling for bomb-free regime change, saying that Bashar “has to be pushed out”. Of course, it would be political suicide for Ali to support western military intervention; therefore he calls on Russia, China, Iran and Hezbollah to use their leverage to persuade Bashar to step down: “Non-violent pressure has to be kept up externally to tell Bashar he has to go… Countries that are not seen as hostile to Syria, including Russia and China, should step up pressure for Bashar to leave.” In other words, Ali completely supports the regime change operation, but he wants it to be brought about by “non-violent pressure”.
He does not address such difficult issues as why the west is so desperate for Bashar to go, or what political current is in a position to fill the power vacuum that would arise if the Ba’ath government were to fall. He comes close to admitting that the Muslim Brotherhood would dominate the political scene if the Ba’athists were defeated, and he even concedes that this could result in deep sectarian divisions, but he thinks this is preferable to the continuation of the secular nationalism of the Ba’ath: “It’s possible that the Brotherhood in Syria will target minorities, but if this is what the majority of the people want then unfortunately it will happen sooner or later.” So, according to Tariq Ali’s logic, ethnic cleansing can’t be stopped if it is the will of the majority!
Curiously, Ali sees fit to label the Syrian government as a “sectarian clique”. This is consistent with the mainstream narrative, which accuses the Syrian rulers of being Alawite sectarians. However, this accusation is nothing but war propaganda; it has no basis in fact. There are plenty of things you could justifiably criticise the Syrian state for, but religious sectarianism isn’t one of them. In fact anti-sectarian secular nationalism is one of the Syrian state’s defining characteristics - its record is impressive for a region that has historically been torn apart by British/French/Turkish/US-provoked sectarian fanatacism. The Assads have always sought to build a power base that crossed the religious divide. Meanwhile, the groups being funded by NATO-GCC really ARE sectarian. And the Middle Eastern regimes most favoured by the US (Saudi, Israel and Bahrain, for example) really ARE sectarian. Incidentally, how interesting that the least sectarian, most secular governments in the modern history of the Middle East (Nasser’s Egypt, Qaddafi’s Libya, Saddam’s Iraq, Assad’s Syria) have been the most hated by western imperialism.
Ignoring the Syrian National Council’s statements that it would end Syria’s relationship with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas; and ignoring the SNC’s open support for Iran’s Green Movement, Tariq Ali says he doesn’t “think the fall of Assad will affect Iran, because it will be in the interests of the Syrian government - if it is a democratic and representative government - to maintain good relations”. Once again, Tariq Ali refuses to acknowledge the *actual* composition of the opposition, which is dominated by the pro-west liberal stooges of the SNC on the one hand and militant Sunni supremacists on the other - both of which groups are irreconcilably hostile to Iran and Hezbollah. Ali has swallowed so much media misinformation he thinks that the opposition is primarily composed of nice, left-leaning, democratic, secular peaceful protestors. This is very clearly not the case. Those who genuinely want reforms in Syria are unambiguously siding with the government against conspiracy and intervention. As Alistair Crooke writes: “There is this mass demand for reform. But paradoxically — and contrary to the ‘awakening’ narrative — most Syrians also believe that President Bashar al-Assad shares their conviction for reform.”
Tariq Ali ends the interview by saying that “if the Assad clan refuse to relinquish their stranglehold on the country, sooner or later something disastrous will happen, possibly involving intervention. Do they want to end up like Gaddafi or Saddam, lynched by mobs backed by western troops?” That is: Assad should stand down and abandon the Syrian people, otherwise the west will get him. I, for one, prefer the sentiment of Emiliano Zapata: “It’s better to die upon your feet than to live upon your knees”.
It is not good enough to call for bomb-free regime change, brought about by NATO-GCC-funded opposition groups rather than NATO-GCC warplanes. We must close ranks against the greater enemy: imperialism and zionism. Mao writes in On Contradiction:
"When imperialism launches a war of aggression against such a country, all its various classes, except for some traitors, can temporarily unite in a national war against imperialism. At such a time, the contradiction between imperialism and the country concerned becomes the principal contradiction, while all the contradictions among the various classes within the country (including what was the principal contradiction, between the feudal system and the great masses of the people) are temporarily relegated to a secondary and subordinate position. So it was in China in the Opium War of 1840, the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 and the Yi Ho Tuan War of 1900, and so it is now in the present Sino-Japanese War."
So it is today with Syria.