‘Freedom. Down with the regime. Your turn, Doctor’

These young blokes are true heroes. I hope they survive and thrive in a democratic Syria. A single spark can start a prairie fire!

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(Photo of them in 2011, after arrest and torture)

From eNCA:

“Your turn, Doctor.” Seven years after scribbling the anti-Assad slogan that sparked Syria’s war, activists-turned-rebels Moawiya and Samer Sayasina are bracing for a regime assault on their hometown of Daraa.

They were just 15 when they and friends, inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions they saw on television, daubed a groundbreaking message on one of the southern city’s walls in the spring of 2011.

“We’d been following the protests in Egypt and Tunisia, and we saw them writing slogans on their walls like ‘Freedom’ and ‘Down with the regime’,” said Moawiya, now 23.

“We got a can of spray paint and we wrote ‘Freedom. Down with the regime. Your turn, Doctor’,” referring to President Bashar al-Assad, a trained ophthalmologist.

Within two days, security forces stormed their homes and detained the boys, who are unrelated but share a common family name.

“They tortured us to find out who had provoked us to write it,” Moawiya said.

The teenagers’ detention prompted a wave of angry protests demanding their release, in what many point to as the spark to Syria’s nationwide uprising.”

The rest of the report can be read here.

 

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A Genuine Left Would Support Western Civilisation – by David McMullen

First published at On Line Opinion

… western civilisation is no longer western. It is global and a far better term is modernity. By the end of this century we can expect it to have totally supplanted all pre-existing conditions, even in the most backward regions. This will be a jolly good thing too.

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The pseudo-left wants to stop a multi-million-dollar donation by the conservative Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation to the Australian National University for a new course on Western civilisation. According to the heads of the staff and student unions at the university it is racist to prioritize western history or culture. It mustn’t be “privileged”.

I guess we are supposed to look back lovingly at all those civilisations that crumbled in the face of the western onslaught, for example, Czarist Russia, Qing China, Mughal India, Ottoman MENA and Aztec Mesoamerica. And then of course there were the remnants of hunter-gathering society that lived in harmony with nature, and from whom we can learn so much, so we are told.

Of course, western civilisation is no longer western. It is global and a far better term is modernity. By the end of this century we can expect it to have totally supplanted all pre-existing conditions, even in the most backward regions. This will be a jolly good thing too.

Western history should indeed be prioritized over other history because that is where modernity began. The history of other regions is still important, but mainly in order to understand how their traditional cultures are an obstacle to modernity.

By studying western history, we get to understand how the connection between the economic, social and political transform the way be live.

The collapse of the Roman Empire is a good place to start. That’s when things slowly began to get interesting. Under the dead hand of Rome, innovation had been forbidden or a matter of indifference. But with the “Dark Ages” came something of a technological revolution in comparison. For the first time we saw the harnessing of horse-power with the adoption of the saddle, stirrups, horse shoes, bridle, horse collar and tandem harness. Water and wind mills sprang up everywhere.  The cranks and gears used in mills would become the basis of modern machinery. Lock gates in rivers and streams appeared for the first time. There were ships that could sail into the wind. And in the meantime, the church was doing a good job preserving literacy for a later time when it could be put to good use.

We gradually saw the spread of the market. This was assisted by the political fragmentation of Europe where the local thugs (sorry, lords) did not have their own raw materials for weapons and finery, and also of course by the development of ocean going sailing ships.

However, the feudal conditions became a fetter that could only be broken by the development of capitalist property relations. Small scale production could not meet the demand of the growing markets. Production carried out with the cooperation of large numbers of workers using machinery replaced small scale individual production. Steam power for machines and locomotion replaced wind and water.

This new economic system was compatible with, indeed required, more freedom of thought and action by the individual. A totally new society sprung up.

Studying the emergence of the modern world also gives an appreciation of how progress can be a messy thing.

When Martin Luther undermined a pillar of the feudal order, the Catholic Church, the achievement did not come cheaply. Notably, the subsequent religious wars killed off a quarter or more of the population of central Europe and half the male population of Germany.  About the same time, we had The English Civil War. This was critical to the creation of modern Britain but was a protracted bloodbath and lead to the death of 40 percent of the population of Ireland. Then it took a century of mucking about for the French Revolution to replace the old feudal regime with a respectable bourgeois one.

And nearer to the present we have seen the rocky road out of feudalism achieved in the former Czarist empire, China and eastern Europe. In the 1940s, we had to resist fascism’s attempt to roll back history, and that struggle cost millions of lives. So, if you think change seems pretty messy in the Middle East at the moment just look back at modern history.

The Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation will of course want modernity to stop at capitalism. They are aptly called conservative. In their view, not only are capitalist property relations superior to older forms but attempts to move beyond them are bound to be a tragic folly. Exhibit one is the failed attempts in the 20th century to create post-capitalist societies on the back of totally unsuitable pre-capitalist conditions. Exhibit two is the doubtful results of “socialist” tinkering under capitalism. That sort of evidence would not get past a committal hearing but it has wide acceptance.

We then have the revolutionary wing of western civilisation that I belong to. Modernity in its preliminary capitalist form is a vast advance on everything else past or present and lays the conditions for the next stage. We should welcome its global spread.

In a letter to Engels of October 8 1858 Marx wrote: “The proper task of bourgeois society is the creation of the world market, at least in outline, and of the production based on that market. Since the world is round, the colonisation of California and Australia and the opening up of China and Japan would seem to have completed this process.” He was being rather optimistic but his point of view is clear. And notice the reference to Australia. No black armband there. (You may like to check out more Marx at the Marx Engels Archive.)

While capitalism is an advance it is still the exploitation of the many by the few.  But as luck would have it capitalism is an incubator of the next stage, a classless society based on social ownership of the means of production. Capitalism turns most people into workers with no vested interest in capitalism; it unshackles our brains from pre-capitalist, traditional junk; and it creates a level of economic development that makes it possible to imagine equality because it would no longer be a case of sharing want and toil.

We can expect a messy transition. To start with those who want change will be confused about what they want and how to get there while those opposed to change will have a very clear idea on both counts and years of practice. But let’s hope the transition is not as tortuous as the transition from feudalism to capitalism.

However, that is for the future. At the moment there is no revolutionary movement nor any support for revolution. For now, fully entrenching and advancing the present capitalist stage of modernity is the priority. There are still large regions of the world where backwardness and tyranny reign supreme.  MENA is a priority area from the point of view of lifting tyranny from people’s backs. Then in the long hall we have Sub-Saharan Africa. It is the most backward region and has a huge and growing population. Possibly a third of people will live there by century’s end.

Unfortunately, there seems to be an alignment of toxic trends hampering this process. In the US and Europe, “both sides of politics” are heavily infected by isolationism and protectionism. Europe has its disgraceful agricultural policy that adds to Africa’s misery and a limited ability to project military power.  Then we had Obama’s appalling failure to stay the course in Iraq and to intervene in a timely fashion in Syria.

And now nobody is denouncing Trump’s failure to do the right thing and occupy Syria while arranging regime change. Doing nothing is a policy fully endorsed by both the pseudo-left and the alt-right. The former all supported Saddam and now some even support Assad.

The pseudos have also built a whole movement over the last 20 years or so opposing the global spread of capitalism. And even more insidiously, they oppose economic development because it is “unsustainable”. They want the darkies to live in noble simplicity.

To get down to brass tacks, a genuine left would align itself with the neo-cons and support their re-emergence. They stand for an activist foreign policy of regime change, nation building and economic development. There needs to be military support for change where it has a chance of success. (It is worth noting here that the recent Iraqi elections have been surprisingly open notwithstanding the violent efforts of Baathists and Islamo-fascists.)  Diplomacy should be heavily focused on giving kleptocrats and tyrants a hard time.

Australia could play a special role given the failure of the Americans and Europeans. We can pressure them to act and take a much more activist military policy. Being a pipsqueak power, our contribution is limited. However, we can be good at training and deploying special forces.

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David McMullen lives in Melbourne and he can be found at The Communist Manifesto Project.

 

 

 

Good migrant/bad migrant

Political cartoons – also known as ‘editorial cartoons’ – can be very powerful, for good or bad causes.

This one is a stand-out for me. I came across it on facebook via a couple of pro-Syrian revolution groups.

I know that the Syrian refugee crisis will not be solved until the regime is overthrown and some kind of orderly democratic process developed with appropriate international support, but the cartoon draws attention to the hypocrisy of those elsewhere who support immigration restriction.

Had the bloke who rescued the child not been so courageous, he might have ended up deported one day – yet he is still the same human being.

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“Factfulness”

Just finished this book and VERY strongly recommend it.

First do this quiz is at the main site for the book (with lots of other very useful material):
http://forms.gapminder.org/s3/test-2018

Do above first for quick preview without spoilers. Numerous surveys done with this quiz. Consistently show that most people including most “experts” do worse on choosing between 3 plausible answers to basic factual questions about the world than random one out of three guesses of “Chimpanzees”.

Continue reading

Syrian Coalition Condemns Israeli Occupation Massacre against Palestinians & Transfer of US Embassy to Jerusalem

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https://buff.ly/2rSD7Tl

The Syrian Coalition condemns the horrific massacre that was committed by the Israeli occupation against Palestinian demonstrators demanding their rights on Monday. The massacre claimed the lives of dozens of demonstrators and left hundreds more injured, including women and children.

The Coalition also reiterates its categorical rejection of the US president’s decision to recognize occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to transfer the US embassy to the city. The move violated international resolutions, most notably UN Security Council resolution 478 (1980) which condemned any attempt by Israel to annex Jerusalem.

The Coalition also denounces the continuing violations being committed by the government of the Israeli occupation against the Islamic and Christian holy sites. It stresses that nothing can justify violence, repression and crimes or grant legitimacy to occupation and mass forced displacement.

The Syrian people will always support the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to their land and to build their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital, which will remain a Palestinian Arab land. No other party has the right to claim sovereignty over the city. It will not be long before the Palestinian people regain all their rights and achieve a just, comprehensive solution that ends violence and restores stability to the region.

The struggle of the Syrian and Palestinian peoples for freedom and dignity is one. The resistance and resilience that the Palestinian people have shown over the past decades will always remain an example for steadfastness and patience.

 

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Iraq Elections

Polls have only just closed for the first Iraqi elections since defeat of Daesh.

Results will take 48 hours. Negotiations between parties and coalitions for formation of government could take much longer.

Preliminary reports indicate Sadrists did unexpectedly well, in coalition with the revisionist Iraqi Communist Party. Described as “patriotic” and anti-corruption because social basis among poor Shia and denounces both US and Iran. I suspect more like “Trumpist”.

Current Prime Minister Abadi said to have done “unexpectedly” badly. Actually the previous election winner “State of Law” coalition led by Shia Dawa party headed by Maliki was forced to accept compromise Prime Minister to avoid splitting under combined onslaught from US led West and Iran to facilitate unity with Sunnis against Daesh. Successfuly suppressed both Daesh and opportunist uprisings by Sadrist militia thugs and subordinated Iranian militias to national government. Ran as two coalitions in this election with Dawa members free to support either. What would be VERY surprising is if the two wings combined failed to outpoll the Sadrist/revisionist coalition and all the others.

Results will be available at wikipedia:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraqi_parliamentary_election,_2018

There really isn’t much to say before results.

I am mainly posting this to draw attention to the importance of the results and the truly remarkable phenomena of how open the genuine party contest has been despite the mass murder campaign from Baathist and Islamo-fascists. This highlights the extreme viciousness of the pseudoleft who bitterly opposed the emergence of democracy in Iraq.

Even the opportunists of the revisionist Iraqi Communist Party were not as bad the entire western pseudoleft. While nominally opposing the invasion they in fact helped setup the interim governing authority and new constitution. But for everyone pretending to be “left” and not actually living under fascist terror a clear choice was made that Iraqis should be left to deal with fascist terror by themselves.

The same choice has naturally been made for Syrians but the forces promoting that view in alliance with the rest of the far right in the west are even more discredited and even less likely to be mistaken for anything even mildly progressive.

The barbarism of Assad. No more ‘kneel or starve’!

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‘When the 2011 revolution was launched, the Assad regime had entered a new phase: It no longer hid itself behind the masque of socialism. There was no longer a need for these banners promising death to opponents under the slogan of progress and socialism, or in the name of the Baath Party. Instead, Assad’s henchmen declared a slogan summarising the dynastic essence of the regime: “Assad or we burn the country”. Here, there were no pretenses of some ideal or any form of morality. It is naked despotism, openly showing its true face. At the checkpoints set up by pro-regime militias encircling zones fleeing Assad’s supremacy, we can read another slogan: “Kneel or Starve”, a way of telling the besieged ‘either you die of hunger under the bombs or you accept the humiliation of submission.”‘

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Translation of ‘Assad ou le lion nu‘, the op-ed by the Syrian writer and poet Omar Kaddour, on the barbarism of the Assad regime (Assad means ‘lion’ in Arabic). Originally published in Le Monde – 11/05/2018.

Born in 1966, Omar Kaddour is a Syrian poet, novelist and journalist. He has published two collections of poems in the 1990s and four novels between 2002 and 2013, none of which have been translated. In 2014, he left Damascus for Lebanon and has lived in France since 2015.

Translation by Joey Ayoub. Republications allowed as long as you credit author and translator. (Thanks to Hummus for Thought) .


Towards mid March 2018, the regime-affiliated television station Al-Ikhbariya showed brief interviews with the inhabitants leaving Eastern Ghouta following the long military campaigns against the rebel enclave. The journalist, whose face did not appear on screen, was speaking to one of the evacuated in an accusatory manner: “People are saying that the inhabitants [of Eastern Ghouta] supported the armed factions” to which an elderly man responded “we are a poor and defenseless people”.

At the same time, a young man takes the initiative to tell his young girl to say that she is “Habiba, the ‘daughter’ of Bashar al-Assad”. But instead, the girl yelled out of anger, in a conclusive tone, to say that no, she is not the daughter of Bashar! Syrians would understand here that the man would only ask such a thing of his daughter to beg for aman (mercy) as he is of fighting age. We know that men his age, after leaving the besieged areas, are either arrested and tortured, or forced to join Assad’s forces to fight opposition groups. Syrians would also understand that for this public blunder the father, and perhaps even the girl, could pay the price.

The little Habiba reminds us of the famous tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes (known in Syria under the title of ‘the naked emperor’) by Hans Andersen because she has yet to become aware of fear and of the caution it demands. Except that in her case, we can imagine that this goes even further than for the child who yelled ‘the king is naked!’. After all, this girl has lived her whole life under the siege, barrel bombs, shells, and even chemical weapons. It is not unlikely that one of her friends or one of her relatives was killed by these weapons of mass destruction. In this context of death and famine, Habiba heard that the one responsible for their ordeal was Bashar al-Assad. Then came the day where her father asks her to declare that she is the daughter of Bashar. This is how the return to Assad’s supremacy works: accepting him despite all that he has made people endure and all that he will continue to make them endure.

In an Orwell novel

The case of Habiba, as with many others, elucidates this great paradox: portraits of Bashar excessively hanged over the ruins of the zones he has reconquered. In politics, we are supposed to avoid psychological interpretations – such as speaking of necrophiliacs. However, if we observe the discourse of the Assad regimes – both of the father and the son – we find this drunken language of destruction. I was a teenager when Hafez Al-Assad crushed the Muslim Brotherhood uprising. His troops had just committed a massacre in Hama, killing over 30,000 people, not to mention the destruction inflicted on the city.

At that moment, portraits of Assad senior invaded all of Syria’s roads. I also remember a banner that we’d see everywhere accompanied by a saying of the president which read: “There is no life in this country other than for progress and socialism”. For a long time, I thought of this banner covered in portraits of Hafez Al-Assad over the lifeless rubble. Before that, we would read another saying written by his men on walls or on banners: “I am the Baath [party in power in Syria since 1963], death to its enemies!” Here and there, the goal was to threaten adversaries with death, in the name of the party in one case, in the name of progress and socialism in another.

As it happens, I entered university in 1984, when the world was re-reading George Orwell’s 1984. I read the novel – Assad’s censorship allows the book to circulate while it banned its movie version, because it knew that readers were far fewer than viewers. Regardless, for people like me who read 1984 in Syria, the novel brought nothing new. We lived in a reality similar to what it was imagining, with Big Brother seeing everything, with his intelligence services interfering in every aspect of our existence.

That year, Hafez Al-Assad had finished destroying the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, he was busying himself imprisoning communists, including those who abandoned any opposition to support him in his war against the Brotherhood. Between 1984 and 1987, many of my leftwing friends were arrested and condemned to harsh sentences in front of special courts which didn’t allow them to defend themselves. Nevertheless, they were luckier than those who claimed to be with the Muslim Brotherhood because those were judged by “campaign” tribunals which generally chose the death penalty.

A distant relative connects me to two brothers who were arrested for belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. No one in their family had heard of them since. They had children who grew up without knowing them. Their mother became hopeless for knowing nothing about them. And if there was a glimmer of hope, it was no doubt extinguished when ISIS/Daesh took control of Palmyra prison without anyone knowing what happened to its archives.

Like an Occupation Force.

Outside of prison, where we lived like the characters in Orwell’s novel, people abstained from doing anything that would remotely look political. If someone denounced you, even if out of personal vengeance, it could lead to your disappearance. All that was needed was for a simple quidam to accuse you of having insulted ‘the commanding father’ for your destiny to sink into a dark unknown. There is a word for that: “Al-istibaha” (the act of declaring the violation of human rights legal). In other words, the whole of society was at the mercy of a powerful elite and no one had dignity. There are no laws forbidding that group from degrading people, or killing them, or stealing their possessions. It’s an expression inherited from past wars, when conquerors allowed their soldiers to do whatever they wanted to do to the inhabitants of the cities they occupied.

Concretely, the power of Assad senior soon resembled an occupation force allowing itself to trample upon a whole population. The concept of istibaha implies that those who find themselves outside the circle of power have no rights. And if that circle abandons any responsibility in terms of public services, it considers it a form of generosity. This is how school students had to study about the ‘generosity’ of the ‘commanding father’: The fact that he brought electricity in certain villages, for example, as though it didn’t exists in homes in countries poorer than Syria. Also, when they increased the salaries of public officials, they announced it like it was a generous act by the president, as if he were paying for it from his own pocket, even though it was also accompanied by a higher rate of inflation which affected these employees  salaries.

“Kneel or Starve”

When the 2011 revolution was launched, the Assad regime had entered a new phase: It no longer hid itself behind the masque of socialism. There was no longer a need for these banners promising death to opponents under the slogan of progress and socialism, or in the name of the Baath Party. Instead, Assad’s henchmen declared a slogan summarising the dynastic essence of the regime: “Assad or we burn the country”. Here, there were no pretenses of some ideal or any form of morality. It is naked despotism, openly showing its true face. At the checkpoints set up by pro-regime militias encircling zones fleeing Assad’s supremacy, we can read another slogan: “Kneel or Starve”, a way of telling the besieged ‘either you die of hunger under the bombs or you accept the humiliation of submission.”

As the regime applies its scorched earth policy and starves the population to bring it to heel, it insists on showing that in the regions it controls, life follows its natural course. It’s not only an image sent abroad to prove the regime’s resilience. It’s only a way of bringing Syrians to accept the idea that there is nothing abnormal happening in their lives while thousands of others are crammed into internment camps and that, every day, security services tell new families of the death of a detained son with no explanation and without returning his corpse.

The standard for Assad is for its repressive machine to kill Syrians wherever it finds them. The world was made aware of the reports by ‘Caesar’ on the systemic usage of torture for the purpose of murder. It was also made aware, a year ago, of a report by the US state department of the existence of a crematorium next to Saydnaya prison. But all of that was just the tip of the iceberg compared to everything we know now and to what the Assad regime will continue to do. The regime isn’t seeking a one-off victory, but a permanent one, a victory that guarantees that no revolution will ever be able to exist. And this means a perpetual war against Syrian society.

We have a president whose legitimacy is still recognised by the world. And yet, in a speech given on the 20th of August, 2017, he said: “Yes, we lost our best youth and infrastructure which cost us a lot of money, we lost whole generations, but in return we gained a society that is sane and homogeneous.” Assad declared that losing thousands of combatants and millions of exiled creates a better society. His concept of homogeneity is inspired by the worst Nazi literature, where he also got his idea of a holocaust.

However, Assad’s victory doesn’t only consist of committing unimaginable crimes, but to make sure they become something banal even to the outside world. The more he kills Syrians, the less the international community is interesting in their tragedy. This is the criteria for his success. Indeed, in the foreign press, these killings do not make the headlines anymore, regardless of how much we talk about them. As for international efforts in favor of a democratic transition, they have practically stopped. Certain world powers which demanded Assad’s departure when he had made only a few thousand victims are now declaring their willingness to see him maintain power now that he has hundreds of thousands of victims.

Documented and filmed atrocities

Even the notion of going after Assad for his use of chemical weapons is a victory to him, as it is a humiliation to Syrians, because it implies that their lives are despised to promote a convention on the interdiction of chemical weapons. What more could we have hoped for? We have powers responsible for peace in the world, as permanent members of the Security Council, invoking the Russian veto when the life and the future of Syrians are at risk. And yet, these same powers act on their own, regardless of that veto, when Assad violates the accord on chemical weapons!

Assad also wins when his Mufti threatens Europe with suicide bombers ready for action and that these threats are realised, only for people to then say that Assad ‘only’ kills his people while ISIS is a threat to the planet! Assad also wins in becoming the first to commit so many documented and filmed atrocities in plain sight for the whole world to see, with no strong international reaction demanding that he be brought to justice.

But his biggest victory is that people now see us as characters in a terrifying tale, and that they may even be sincerely shocked by what is happening to us just as we are shocked when we read a horrible story or watch a tragic film – except that this stays within the realm of imaginary characters. If our story stopped with the little Habiba refusing to be Bashar’s daughter, we might see an optimistic end. Alas, Syrian children like Habiba will grow up, and the first leson that they will learn is that the wolf from the Little Red Riding Hood will eat them with the assistance of the gamekeeper. And it’s not impossible that in the Syrian version of the tale, the gamekeeper trains the children to call the wolf “daddy” before he devours them.

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See also: Occupy Syria!

 

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