“To conflate the just struggle of oppressed people with white nationalism is merely a variant of white supremacist ideology.”
Believe it or not, this writer has been asked on more than a few occasions about why I write when there is more urgent political work to attend to. The question assumes that the creation and dissemination of political propaganda is secondary to other forms of political activity. Such an assumption has no basis in material reality. The truth is that all forms of political struggle are equally necessary to accomplish the daunting objective of social transformation. No further explanation should be required. The Intercept's most recent piece on Syria provides a shining example of the reasons why I continue to write amid a period of profound political confusion.
Mariam Elba's first piece for The Intercept attacks the Syrian people by conflating their struggle for self-determination with fascism. She compares Assad to Hitler and (disgustingly, I may add) utilizes a picture of Syrian youth draped in the national flag as proof of their adherence to fascism. The argument that Bashar Al-Assad is a fascist dictator is nothing new. Washington and its allies have targeted non-compliant governments for decades as violators of "human rights." Iraq, Libya, Russia, China, and Venezuela have all been accused of oppressing their own people. In the case of Libya and Iraq, these accusations have led to US-backed wars responsible for the deaths of over a million people.
“It is one thing to condemn Trump's racism, but entirely another to utilize fascism as a weapon against the oppressed.”
I write because far too many in the US remain in the dark about the atrocities of the US military state. In Syria, imperialist-backed terrorists are responsible for the death of over half a million people. A similar number of Syrians have been displaced from their homeland. A once prosperous, independent state is now facing a years-long reconstruction process. This does not seem to matter to Mariam Elba. Elba promotes the same tired, imperialist line on Syria that has been exposed as a lie many times over in the course of the last six years.
I write because Elba's conflation of Assad with white nationalism is more dangerous than what is presumed by many to be the biggest danger of the period. The Trump Administration has been labeled as fascist by his opponents in the ruling class. His political orientation and personality make him an easy target to deflect from the reasons why he is in office in the first place. It is one thing to condemn Trump's racism, but entirely another to utilize fascism as a weapon against the oppressed. That is exactly what Elba does in her analysis of Syria.
I write because reactionary ideology must be combated lest it be digested as truth. The Intercept's article is littered with problems. First, Alexander Reid Ross and Efraim Zuroff are the author's primary sources. Reid Ross is a "freelance journalist" whose articles rarely discuss the question of global affairs. He writes extensively about “fascism,” but rarely mentions imperialism despite the fact that one cannot exist without the other. In fact, Elba quotes Reid Ross extensively without any citation of primary or secondary sources with firsthand knowledge of the war in Syria.
“The Wiesenthal Center ‘helps’ the world by confronting antisemitism and terrorism, as long as it doesn't criticize the imperialist and racist policies of the Israeli government itself.”
However, it is Elba’s use of so-called "Nazi hunter" Efraim Zuroff that is truly shameful. Zuroff is the Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel. This Zionist NGO "helps" the world by confronting antisemitism and terrorism, as long as it doesn't criticize the imperialist and racist policies of the Israeli government itself. Zuroff has also served as an official advisor for the Rwandan government in 1995 to 1996. His service coincided with the delivery of US and Israeli aid to Rwandan military forces as it prepared for its genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo, now estimated to have killed at least 6 million Congolese from 1996 to the present.
If Elba was interested in legitimate sources on Syria, she could have consulted Eva Bartlett, Vanessa Beeley, and countless others who have gone to the Arab nation to document the war. The author could have fact-checked the plethora of sources, including the New York Times, Reuters, and others, that have revealed the wide net of support given to terrorists by the US and its imperial allies. She could have questioned why Syrians in 2012 and 2014 overwhelmingly supported their government in internationally recognized elections and referendums. Syrian support could have something to do with the secular and progressive character of the government, where healthcare, education, and other social services are provided to all regardless of one's nationality or religious affiliation. Time magazine admitted as much in 2011.
“Elba attacks the very legitimacy of the right to self-determination.”
I write, however, because the problem with Elba's article goes much deeper than a distortion of truth. Elba attacks the very legitimacy of the right to self-determination. This has dire consequences not just for the Syrian people, but for the world's people as a whole. The Syrian government is the product of a national struggle against Zionism and imperialism. Syria, once a French colony, has maintained independence in the face of daunting challenges. These challenges include being encircled by imperialist states along its border and facing constant attacks from Israeli forces currently occupying Syria in the Golan Heights region. To conflate the just struggle of oppressed people with white nationalism is merely a variant of white supremacist ideology.
I write because this insidious form of political reaction negates history and seeks a eugenicist-like type of political purity unknown in the world. The struggle for independence and national liberation has never been a clean one. Oppressed people in Latin America, Africa, and Asia have all made great sacrifices for the cause of independence. Socialist states have emerged in the process. Syria has a long history of support from the Soviet Union prior to its collapse in 1991. Socialist China has also declared support for the Syrian government, as has Cuba and the DPRK. The Syrian government has historically welcomed Palestinian and Iraqi refugees with open arms. Each of these nations have one thing in common: they have all suffered from imperial domination and struggled to chart an independent path toward freedom from that domination. There is nothing anti-colonial about white nationalism, but there is much white nationalism in the smears these countries have received based on their struggle for liberation.
“There is nothing more necessary than the defense of the legitimate struggle of the oppressed.”
Contrary to Elba's view that Assad's desire for a "homogeneous society" equals white nationalism, the Syrian government's adherence to Arab nationalism actually evokes a politics of solidarity that extends to all Arab people oppressed by imperialism and Zionism. How can one characterize the Syrian government as a Nazi regime when in fact the Syrian government is in a struggle of self-defense against the white supremacist, imperialist states of Israel, the US, and their partners? Elba finds herself on the wrong side of the most critical contradiction. Her side paints oppressed nationalities as incapable of independent thought and governance, making them ripe for “humanitarian intervention.” No Syrians are quoted in her piece. And even if they were, they would surely be painted as "dupes" of Assad brainwashed by an "authoritarian regime."
I write because the ruling class has made the same characterizations about Iraqi, Libyan, Iranian, and Korean people (to name a few). US-backed war in the form of sanctions and military invasions has always followed such racist representations. I write because there is nothing more necessary than the defense of the legitimate struggle of the oppressed, especially when that struggle is holding on to important victories. The Syrian people are holding on to a dignified, sovereign existence. Their dehumanization mirrors that which Black and other oppressed people in the US and West face when we rise up against the oppressors. Whenever Black Americans protest police brutality, such protest is deemed criminal by the corporate media and political class, especially when it challenges property relations. When Ferguson protesters were being met with militarized police armed with tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, and AK-47's, it was the Black community that was described as criminal for looting stores. The Syrian people have faced similar dehumanizing attacks in their stand against the destabilization of their country.
“Whenever Black Americans protest police brutality, such protest is deemed criminal by the corporate media and political class.”
I write because solidarity is one of the most important elements missing in the struggle for liberation in the US. I write because the most successful revolutions and movements in the US and the world have always relied upon deep mutual bonds of solidarity in unity against a common oppressor. That oppressor, US imperialism, is in decline. Its desperation has wrought an even deeper form of exploitation than known in prior periods. If oppressed communities in the US are to be victorious, they will have to join forces with the oppressed worldwide in the struggle to eradicate empire. Elba's conflation of Syria as a white nationalist state sews the seeds of division and discord in the broad movement. Her arguments and ones like them must be combated in all political discussion and activity that takes place among the oppressed in the US. So I will continue to write until the imperialist ideology promoted in the piece becomes subordinate to a new set of ideas that respect the right of oppressed people to self-determination.
Danny Haiphong is a Vietnamese-American activist and political analyst in the Boston area. [email protected]