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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

How the Left has helped radical Islam grow in Syria

While discussing the recruitment by radical Islam of fighters for Syria in the West, someone in a France24 debate this week compared this movement to the Lincoln Brigade and the other left-wing groups that formed up to fight fascism in what was later seen as the pre-conflict to the last world war, the Spanish Civil War. The point was that in both cases, young people were motivated to leave relatively comfortable lives in the West to risk theirs because they saw the need to right a great wrong even while others whistled past it.

Today, young people all over the world are connected to what is happening through the Internet, and social media is their platform. This has given them a way to follow the agony of Syria in spite of the wilful ignorance of the mainstream media. If they are Muslim, read Arabic or are religiously inclined, because it is a basic tenet of Islam to help people in need, they will find a community of support for the Syrian people among Muslims, and through the most extreme Islamists, a path directly to the frontline, if they want to go that route. If they are more secular, progressive, and look left for guidance and leadership, say to the likes of KPFK in Los Angeles, ICUJP, VFP and such, they will find them at one with the mainstream media's boycott of Syria except for occasional outbursts of support for Bashar al-Assad.

Young people aren't being drawn to radical Islam because they have been seized by a burning desire for the Caliphate. They are being drawn to radical Islam because they have refused to bury their heads in the sand like so many of their elders. They see what is going on in Syria, and with all the energy and idealism of youth, they want to fight back. When they seek ways to help, look for groups that share their concerns and can give them a path to support the Syrian people in this struggle, they don't find the Left. They will, in fact, be repelled by the Left.

Through Islamic groups they may find a way, and through the most radical Islamic groups they may even find a way to fight, Lincoln Brigade style, although they will be tutored in an ideology very different from those of the 1930's leftists. They will be schooled by a radical version of Islam that is extremely reactionary but incorporates many features attractive to the young and has an explanation as to why the so-called more "progressive" and more "western" parts of the world are so willing to sit on their hands while a hundred thousand people are slaughtered on YouTube.

The US Left is in decline and one important reason is because it has chosen to ignore, or worst -  support the prosecution of, the greatest humanitarian crisis and the greatest social injustice of our time. As a young man who turned 20 in 1968, I wasn't won to the Left by Marx or Mao or the ideologies of any of the left groups, not at first, but I wanted badly to do something about the Vietnam War. I wanted to feel connected to this great tragedy of our time and to be able to do something about it, so I was drawn to the people and groups that were leading that struggle, the anti-war movement, and the Left that was leading it.

The re-invigorated Left that grew out of the civil rights struggle and the anti-Vietnam war movement received a badly needed injection of youth when it led Western opposition to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Radical Islam also grew by opposing these US wars. They were able to use these wars to make propaganda points for their argument that the West was carrying out a systematic war against Islam, use US atrocities as recruiting tools, and with the help of President Bashar al-Assad, who ran the jihadist rat-line through Syria, send these new recruits to engage US troops in Iraq. Thus, while Assad was building his ties to the jihadists, ties that serve him so well in the double-game he is playing now, he was endearing himself to so many in the American Left as an "anti-imperialist."

That may go a long ways towards explaining the silence of the Left on Syria. There has always been a section of die-hard Assad supporters, most notably ANSWER Coalition and International Action Committee, and they had played a leading role in the Iraq and Afghanistan anti-war movement. Others, while not as forthright about their support for Assad, see his opposition as little more than puppets of the GCC and the West. They deny the agency of the Syrian people. The Syrian situation is extremely complicated and requires a lot of time to understand, so most on the Left have tried to avoid Syria all together and otherwise made themselves agreeable to whatever builds "unity." 

Nonetheless, the Syrian conflict grinds on and the death count grows. Some are saying the likely real count now is close to three hundred thousand and the number of people driven from their homes is around nine million, as a government uses starvation, scuds, barrel-bombs, helicopters, chemical weapons and mass bombardment against its own people with impunity. This is the 21st century and anyone who chooses to look can see exactly what is going on. The most caring and concerned among us cannot help but be drawn to the plight of these people and we will seek leadership from those who share our concerns, not those who invite us to look away.

Frankly, I think it unfortunate that there isn't the equivalent of a Left led Lincoln Brigade sending people to Syria, and certainly more Left led peace and justice projects designed to support the Syrian people by providing direct aid to refugees and building political pressure for international intervention. Instead of developing a revolutionary socialist analysis of the Syrian struggle from participation in it, these so-called leftists prefer to sit back and point to a lack of Left leadership in the Syrian struggle. Maybe the fact that the two so-called communist parties in Syria sided with Assad had something to do with that?

When it comes to leadership in or support for the Syrian Revolution, the Left has all but abandoned the field, so there is irony in the refusal of many on the Left to support the Syrian Revolution because they think it is dominated by Islamists. In Syria, Assad has this trick where he allows Islamists to take Christian villages by withdrawing. Then he claims atrocities and condemns the whole revolution. It seems like the US Left has adopted a similar strategy.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

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