Indefensible: Idlib and the left – Leila Shami with an introduction (in french) by Catherine Coquio

Idlib n’est pas «l’épilogue » de l’insurrection citoyenne en Syrie – contrairement au titre d’un article récent du journal Le Monde –  mais un cri de résistance civile à entendre et répercuter, dans la longue nuit actuelle. Ce qui s’y est passé et ce qui s’y prépare contient, comme le montre bien Matthieu Rey dans une tribune au Monde, « toute la tragédie syrienne » : « Le drame d’Idlib – et de la Syrie – se résume comme un défi aux contemporains. Devant un régime et un Etat réduits à n’être que sécuritaires, les puissances régionales et étrangères ont tenté de contenir une crise dont le sens les touchait tous : des citoyens et citoyennes de tous horizons appelant à construire un nouvel espace politique dans lequel tous aient voix au chapitre. »

C’est une double imposture que relève Catherine Coquio en présentant le texte de Leïla Shami :

1 – une ville, Idlib, serait le repère des islamistes selon les trolls de Poutine et d’Assad (déchaînés sur les réseaux sociaux, y assénant fakes et contre-vérités, notamment via les médias russes pro-Poutine)

2 – les graves renoncements de la « gauche anti-impérialiste » européenne ralliée aux pires fascismes et racismes anti-immigrants.

« Leila al Shami, co-auteure anglo-syrienne de l’ouvrage Burning country, donne des précisions sur le conflit qui oppose à Idlib la foule des manifestants au régime d’Assad et au groupe islamiste HTS. En clair, les civils d’Idlib refusent et rejettent à la fois le régime et la mouvance HTS (Hayaat Tahrir Al Sham) forte de 10.000 combattants. Ces derniers, lorsqu’ils ont tenté ce vendredi 14 septembre d’arrêter les manifestations, se sont fait traiter de « shabiha » par la population, terme qui désigne les milices du régime chargées depuis toujours des basses œuvres. Disant par là non seulement une ressemblance objective, mais une utilisation d’HTS par le régime, qui avait ouvert les prisons pleines d’islamistes en 2011 pour corrompre le mouvement révolutionnaire, puis par la suite avait utilisé Daech.

Elle dit aussi l’imposture des anti-impérialistes « no war » en Occident, clairement devenus des machines de guerre contre-révolutionnaires et anti-démocratiques, applaudissant ou consentant à des dictatures violentes qui ont aidé à mettre la Syrie à feu et à sang ; et elle revient sur des conflits antérieurs (Bosnie Kosovo…), en citant le livre « Indefensible » de Rohini Hensma

Elle dit le scandale, pour les démocraties et la gauche européenne, de n’avoir pas soutenu une population qui défendait sa liberté sur deux fronts et continue de le faire avec énormément de courage, les femmes y compris. Cette population syrienne qui dit non à la Russie à l’Iran et au Hezbollah autant qu’au régime.

Au total, nous avons :

  • une gauche contre-révolutionnaire française qui fait bombance au sujet du Moyen-Orient, et avec Wagenknecht en Allemagne une gauche anti-migrants qui rafle la mise du racisme ordinaire et progresse en Europe, donnant un bon coup de main aux extrêmes-droites.
  • un gouvernement français soutenu par la gauche ex-socialiste, dont la politique migratoire est empruntée au FN et qui en un bel unisson européen laisse faire Assad et Poutine en Syrie, ne voyant pas le problème du crime contre l’humanité – bien que cette notion ait été utilisée par Macron à propos de la colonisation (en période électorale il est vrai).
  • et puis les positions ouvertement pro-Assad de l’Humanité et de Valeurs actuelles, en plus de l’ineffable « Marianne », qui a aujourd’hui la direction « qu’il lui faut » et parle de la « pitié dangereuse » pour « toute une population soumise à l’Etat islamique » (!) et dit que dans toute guerre il y a des « civils pris en otage ». Bref, selon cet hebdomadaire, il n’y pas d’omelettes sans casser des œufs ! (un pays détruit, des centaines de milliers de morts et disparus, des millions de réfugiés).

Elles ont vécu, la droite et la gauche… Résultat, au doux pays de Marianne ça porte de beaux fruits rouges bruns qui feront joli et sentiront bon dans les temps d’automne… » (Catherine COQUIO).

  • On peut par ailleurs lire ou relire un excellent texte de Catherine Coquio sur la Syrie publié ici
  • Lien vers le blog de Leila Shami : leilashami.wordpress.com

On Saturday regime and Russian airstrikes intensified on Idlib in what appears to be a prelude to the long anticipated campaign to regain control of the province.

Only a day before, thousands of Syrian men, women and children took the streets in over 120 cities towns and villages across the remaining liberated areas under the slogan ‘resistance is our choice’.

They were demonstrating for their lives. Idlib is now home to three million people, a third of whom are children. Of the current population, over half have been displaced, or forcibly evacuated, to the province from elsewhere. Their options for fleeing the assault are limited. Borders are closed and there are no safe-zones left. They don’t want to be forcibly displaced from their homes. At the protests many held signs rejecting recent calls by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura to evacuate civilians to regime-controlled areas, where they could disappear into torture chambers or face forced conscription, as has happened to others before them. ‘Reconciliation’ in the Syrian context means a return to subjugation, humiliation and tyranny.

Through signs and chants, the aim of the protests was clear: to prevent an assault by the regime and its backers, to show the world that there are civilians in Idlib whose lives are now under threat, and to affirm that they continue to refuse Assad’s rule. As-shaab yurid isqat al nizam (the people want the downfall of the regime) rang through the crowds, reminiscent of the early days of the uprising. They were not only protesting domestic fascism, but foreign imperialisms too – those of Russia and Iran – which have backed the dictator in his campaign to wipe out domestic opposition.

Yet once again the calls of Syrian anti-war protesters were largely ignored by the western ‘anti-war left’. Instead of calling for an end to the bombing or supporting the victims of war, many have instead chosen to buy into the regime’s ‘War on Terror’ narrative that the aim of the assault is to wipe out militant jihadists. Such illusions should have been shattered on Saturday. Sham hospital in Has village, southern Idlib, was targeted by barrel bombs and missiles, taking it out of service. The hospital had been located underground, in a cave, in an ultimately futile attempt to protect it from aerial bombardment. According to the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, three hospitals, two Civil Defence Centers and an ambulance system were attacked on 6 and 7 September in Idlib and northern Hama, leaving thousands without access to medical care.

Extremist groups have a presence in Idlib – some have been sent by the regime itself following evacuation from elsewhere. Hayaat Tahrir Al Sham (HTS) with former links to Al Qaeda dominates much of the province with its 10,000 fighters. Yet far from being an ‘Al Qaeda stronghold’ HTS has failed to win support from much of the population which has continually resisted the group’s presence and hard-line ideology. At last Friday’s protests in Idlib city, HTS fired live ammunition to break up the demonstration. The crowd quickly turned on the militants calling them shabiha (an insult once reserved for regime thugs) and chanting “Jolani get out” – in reference to the group’s leader.

Many on the ‘left’ claim that out of a population of three million individuals there are ‘no good guys left’ to support. Or believe the presence of a few thousand extremists is justification enough for razing Idlib to the ground and collectively punishing its residents. The invisible majority of Syrians who don’t use guns to wield power are dismissed as irrelevant. They choose to ignore those who have been resisting all forms of authoritarianism and are committed to creating a better future for their families, communities and society at large. They present a grotesquely simplified binary in which the choice is between Assad and Al Qaeda, as if the conflict and deep-rooted social struggle were a football match between two sides. The side they back is a fascist regime – because at least it is ‘secular’ – a regime which gasses children to death in their sleep, operates death camps in which dissidents are tortured to death and which has been accused by the UN of ‘the crime of extermination’. Anyone who resists a return to regime control is presented as an enemy and a legitimate target for attack. Freedom, democracy, social justice, dignity – they are goals to which only westerners should aspire. The rest should just shut up and make do.

In this sinister and racist world view, everyone is either an Al Qaeda member or sympathizer. The fact that there are women in these conservative, rural communities that don’t dress like them, or have to courageously overcome numerous obstacles and threats to their safety in order to participate in the public sphere (as they did at last Friday’s protests) is presented as evidence of terrorist leanings, justification in itself for their annihilation. Instead of standing in solidarity with the courageous women in Idlibwho are resisting both the regime and other extremist armed groups and fighting to overcome deeply entrenched traditional and patriarchal social mores, they would rather support a state which sent militia to carry out mass-rape campaigns in dissident communities, which inserts rats into the vaginas of female detainees. The dehumanization of Syrians has been so thorough that many struggle to believe that amongst the chaos and war-lords there may actually be ordinary human beings worthy of support – people like ‘us’.

It is hard to understand how devastating bombing campaigns carried out by the Syrian state and Russia on densely populated residential areas, which have killed hundreds of thousands, can be ignored by anyone who claims to be ‘anti-war’. It seems Syrian lives are only meaningful if they’re destroyed by western bombs. Today’s ‘anti-imperialism’ is often used as a cover in support of totalitarian regimes, by people privileged enough to never have experienced what it’s like to live under them. Not content to ignore war crimes and other mass atrocities, attempts are also made to absolve the perpetrators from blame and deny that atrocities have occurred. Conspiracy theories, often originating in Russian state or far-right media, are circulated about chemical attack ‘false flags’ to white-wash regime crimes and justify the targeting of civilians and humanitarian workers. Syria has become a talking point to score political points without a second thought given to the real-life danger such false accusations place people in, or the deep pain and offence caused to the victims.

In her recent book, Indefensible: Democracy, Counter-Revolution and the Rhetoric of Anti-imperialism, Rohini Hensman asks; ‘How has the rhetoric of anti-imperialism come to be used in support of anti-democratic counterrevolutions around the world?’ She argues that there are three kinds of ‘pseudo-anti-imperialists’. The first are those who believe that “‘the West’ has to be the only oppressor in all situations”, a “Western-centrism which makes them oblivious to the fact that people in other parts of the world have agency too, and that they can exercise it both to oppress others and to fight against oppression”. The second category consists of “neo-Stalinists” who “will support any regime that is supported by Russia, no matter how right wing it may be”. The third “consists of tyrants and imperialists, perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and aggression, who, as soon as they face a hint of criticism from the West, immediately claim that they are being criticised because they are anti-imperialists.”

In support of her argument, Hensman gives a detailed overview of genuine anti-imperialism as opposed to ‘pseudo-anti-imperialism’ through case studies from Russia and Ukraine, Bosnia and Kosovo, Iran, Iraq and Syria. She shows how self-declared ‘leftists’ have repeatedly supported authoritarian regimes over people’s democratic struggles, spread anti-Muslim bigotry, built tactical alliances with fascists, spread conspiracy theories and Kremlin/state propaganda, and engaged in genocide/atrocity denial and victim blaming. Her book is a timely reminder that the narratives propagated around Syria, in which the far-left echoes the talking points of the far-right and places geo-politics over people’s struggles and lives, are emblematic of a much broader malaise.

As bombs rain down on Idlib, few Syrians expect to see mass protests around the world in support of their cause or in defence of their lives. Those who claim a politics of ‘internationalism’ have abandoned them and retreated into isolationism or, worse, into apologia for fascism. Without addressing these issues the prospect of building an international movement against authoritarianism, imperialism, war and capitalism seems unlikely. In the meantime, we can expect the horrors which led the world to declare ‘never again’ to happen again, and again and again.

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