In Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, the Chinese military strategist wrote, “So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.” Few would argue with Sun Tzu’s logic; therefore, if knowing your enemy is important, first off, one must realize who one’s enemy is.
Many regimes in the Middle East find themselves embattled. I see little reason but to dissent from most of the regimes in the Middle East, but this holds pretty much elsewhere in the world.
Freedom of political determination by a people is a progressive principle, and people should be free to make such determination by themselves without outside interference.
This is not a principle respected or adhered to by either the United States regime or the Israeli regime. They are behind or deeply complicit in much of the mayhem, carnage, upheavals, repression, and war crimes that occur in the Middle East.
Arabs and other peoples of the Middle East are aware of the destructive and adversarial role of the US and Israel to their aspirations.
Therefore, I was surprised by the recent essay of leftist writer, Ahmed Amr, whose pieces on the Middle East and other topics I usually find myself in agreement with.1 While I find myself in sympathy with Amr’s argument for supporting democracy in Syria, I find myself at odds with some of the argumentation by which he calls for the establishment of democracy in Syria.
Amr begins by envisioning a future where “Syrians join the ranks of free nations.” I wonder: which are the free nations that Amr refers to and what defines a free nation? I suppose the free nations are those that can vote for their “representatives.”2
He talks about “a despotic regime that was destined to collapse.” I have no love or respect for the Assad regime. It has been in place largely because it enjoys control over the state’s levers of violence, and it has no electoral legitimacy, although winning an election hardly confers much legitimacy in the world of today.
Yet, Amr’s essay implies that elected governments carry credentials of legitimacy over and above that of governments that do not have electoral credentials. I do not grant that such a notion is necessarily so. I do grant that it is the ideal, but only when elections function as a part of genuine democracies. It is facile to talk of free nations and democracies and elections in an über-capitalist world where money preponderantly controls the state and corporate media, where money propels the contrived messages of corporate-backed candidates, where so-called free nations aggress with impunity nations with regimes that do not submit to western capitalist dictates.
And what is this “price of liberty in Syria”? Again, freedom to vote is a kind of liberty, but to use the word liberty so casually is to impart that the mere overthrow of one regimes brings about liberty. Amr’s reference to Arab Spring needs to be examined, and more so the notion that the Arab Spring is revolutionary or bringing liberty to the Arab lands.
Amr writes, “The Syrian rebels are facing a diabolical regime that not only has a monopoly on violence but has forty years of experience in making liberal use of its exclusive franchise to torment its people.” The regime is – if not diabolical – definitely regressive. Progressivist principles do not support regimes that wield power without the informed and unmanipulated will of the people.
There are Amr’s words: “Arab regimes are like Mafia families…,” “Assad’s gang,” “the Godfathers of the House of Saud,” “the theocrats in Tehran.” He notes these regimes have “secured an unofficial détente with Israel.” In this essay from Amr, the Arab regimes are portrayed in words as gangsterish while the Zionist regime is referred to simply as “Israel.”
Amr even takes a potshot at the resistance in Lebanon. He accuses Hizbollah, without evidence, of doing the bidding of Damascus. His lack of solidarity with the Lebanese resistance is surprising. He also points fingers at other Arab regimes’s support for “stability” in Syria. Is “stability” a bad thing? Or is instability preferred?
Amr presses his opposition to the Assad regime through accusative rhetoric; hence he writes of the “banal business of a brutish dictatorship,” “Syria’s Machiavellian genius,” “the ‘savage atrocities’ of Assad’s goons … demented psychos capable of all sorts of depravity,” “the infamous Shabiha, a shadow militia of Baath Party goons.” But of the imperialist forces? Well, Amr refers to the “international community…”
He takes a potshot at Sudan’s Bashir and seemingly confers legitimacy to the International Criminal Court, what many progressives argue has become a tool of imperialist regimes.3
He writes of “unarmed Syrian rebels bearing their chests to the guns of a despotic regime.” Amr fails to enlighten readers just who these rebels are. He fails to tell readers why progressives should support these rebels (aside from Amr’s criticism of Assad as a despot, which is true enough). Are the rebels free of despotic tendencies? Can Amr assure readers of this?
Amr states, “For the Syrian uprising to succeed, new tactics are needed …” He suggests, “… turning out the lights every Thursday night at 9 pm and banging pots and pans till midnight,” “boycotting all state media,” later “hord[ing] some pita bread, cheese and olives and start[ing] a one week strike.”
I submit that Amr’s priorities are misguided.
There is no reason why Bashar Assad should be entitled to power. I prefer to see a genuine democracy in Syria. I prefer to see genuine democracy anywhere on this planet, but as far as I am aware, it does not exist. If it does not exist, then why would someone take potshots at one particular regime?4 Is it the worst regime in the world?
Is the Assad regime worse than the Zionist regime in Israel? Amr knows Assad does not even come close to the atrocities, racism, and humiliation that Israel metes out to its citizens. Is it worse than the rotating Democrat-Republican regimes in Washington? Assad is not gallivanting around the world trying to impose regime change and redraw borders.5 Is it worse than the Zionist-supporting regimes in Egypt (the border with Gaza is still not fully open, calling into question how successful the so-called revolution was in Egypt) and Jordan (a favorite dictatorship of the United States)? What of the other despotic regimes in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Kuwait, Qatar, etc.?
The Middle East is in turmoil, is repressed, and is ruled by dictators primarily because of two intrusive, disruptive, meddling, and controlling entities: the regimes in Israel and the US.6 Why is Amr’s wrath not focused on the primary source of dictatorship and upheaval in the Middle East? Why does he instead focus on a state that is a recalcitrant and resisting pawn of more powerful adversaries?
The solutions that Amr proposes against the Assad regime play into the hands of Zionist and imperialist regimes. If, indeed, divided houses will fall, then Amr is calling for a vacuum to be created in Syria that most likely serve Zionist and imperialist interests. This is puzzling logic.
Self-serving rhetoric aside, Washington and Tel Aviv/Tall Abīb behave as enemies of the Arab peoples. For Arabs to defeat the powerful external forces arrayed against them, they require solidarity.
Therefore, let the peoples in the West begin to establish genuine democracy first at home before they might attempt to impose it elsewhere (and I would argue forcefully that is something that should never be attempted because one culture has no right to impose its ideals or institutions upon another culture without its blessing.) Amr would do much better to call for the overthrow of the despots in Washington by turning away from corporate media and starting a general strike to last until the military-industrial complex is gone for good.
After imperialist and Zionist power has waned, then Arabs can reform their systems of governance themselves.
- See “Harnessing the Courage of a Syrian Rebel,” Dissident Voice, 14 June 2011. [↩]
- Representative is an Orwellian term since the elected representatives in party politics — more often than not — do not represent their constituents but rather the party line which is subject to the caprice of the party’s corporate sponsors. This is what passes for so-called democracy in the minds of too many people. [↩]
- “ICC tool of Western imperialism,” Press TV, 17 May 2011. [↩]
- Amr does criticize several regimes in his extensive writing. I confine my comments to why he feels it necessary to direct so much vehemence against the Assad regime given the circumstances the region finds itself in. [↩]
- See Kim Petersen, “A Bloody Border Project: Zionist-Imperialist Dogma from the Armed Forces Journal,” Dissident Voice, 5 June 2007 to get a feel for what lurks underneath Arab Spring. [↩]
- Granted Europe, Canada, Australia, and Aotearoa play major supporting roles. [↩]