Well, the British parliament just voted to enter the air war against ISIS in Syria, having up till now limited its air-strikes to Iraq as part of the US-led coalition. (WP) The Independent boasts that its Patrick Cockburn (assailed as a "media missionary" for the Assad dictatorship by supporters of the Syrian revolution) was invited by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to "brief MPs on the facts about…Syria" ahead of the vote in the House of Commons. By "facts," they actually mean fictions, of course. Putting aside the actual question at hand (that of air-strikes), Cockburn's "briefing" was in fact dedicated to dissing and dismissing the Syrian resistance that is fighting both Assad and ISIS on the ground…
He starts with answering Prime Minister David Cameron's contention that there is a 70,000-strong "moderate" rebel force opposing ISIS. Cockburn (of course) has to line up with the ugly and racist pseudo-left line that the Syrian rebels are "dominated" by ISIS and other jihadists—and (of course) implicitly frames his response in terms favorable to Assad's continuance in power:
"The notion that there are 70,000 moderate fighters is an attempt to show that you can fight Isis and [President Bashar al] Assad at the same time," says Professor Joshua Landis, the director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and an expert on Syrian politics. But he is dismissive of the idea that such a potential army exists, though he says there might be 70,000 Syrians with a gun who are fighting for their local clan, tribe, warlord or village. "The problem is that they hate the village down the road just as much they hate Isis and Assad," he said.
The armed opposition to President Assad is dominated by Isis, the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and the ideologically similar Ahrar al-Sham. Some of the smaller groups, once estimated by the CIA to number 1,500, might be labelled as moderate, but only operate under license from the extreme jihadists. Aymenn al-Tamimi, a fellow at the Middle East Forum and an authority on the Syrian armed opposition, says that these groups commonly exaggerate their numbers, are very fragmented and have failed to unite, despite years of war.
Quibbling about the number 70,000 aside, there certainly is a vigorous resistance against ISIS among the Syrian rebel forces which is apparently invisible to Cockburn. And not only can you fight Assad and ISIS at the same time (that's what they are actually doing, thank you), but it is the only way to fight ISIS. Telling the Syrians they must accept rule under one tyrant is hardly conducive to a strong resistance against a rival gang of fascists. As we've said before in response to such dictator-shilling pseudo-left nonsense.
Singling out the most reactionary factions as "dominating" the Syrian rebels is patently dishonest. Even the ultra-reactionary Nusra Front is hostile to ISIS, which is not allied with any faction among the rebel forces. Cockburn does feel compelled to make a perfunctory nod to reality by at least mentioning the Syrian Kurdish forces which are even at this moment launching a major offensive against ISIS—but in the most lukewarm, unenthusiastic and even calumnious terms (not even noting the major offenisve):
The one group that has some claim to be non-sectarian, secular and a powerful fighting force is the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) who claim to number 50,000, but probably total half that. It has been the most effective anti-Isis ground force and, heavily supported by US air strikes, its territory now stretches across northern Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates.
It claims to be non-sectarian and that it does not persecute Sunni Arabs, but sectarian fear and hatred is today so deep in Syria – partly but not entirely because of the atrocities of Isis – that people flee the attack of every other sectarian or ethnic group different from themselves. The Sunni population in Raqqa, Isis's Syrian capital, or in Mosul in Iraq, may dislike Isis, but they are even more terrified of the Kurds or the Shia militias.
So the YPG "claims to be" non-sectarian and secular? Does Cockburn have any evidence to the contrary? in fact, the YPG is militantly non-sectarian and secular—it is at the heart of their ideology. And they are certainly not the "one group" in the Syrian resistance that adheres to principles of secularism and non-sectarianism. Cockburn doesn't mention the recently formed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that unites the YPG with more progressive and secularist elements of the Free Syrian Army. As for the bit about the Sunni Arabs in Raqqa being more afriad of the Kurds than ISIS—how on Earth does Cockburn purport to know this? Is he in Raqqa? Has he even spoken to the civil resistance network that survives in Raqqa even now, getting out the truth about ISIS rule through their website Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently? He certainly didn't mention them in his "briefing." Nothing on their website indicates they fear the Kurds more than ISIS. Even the extremely problematic Amnesty International report that trumpeted dubious claims of YPG attacks on Sunni Arabs didn't go nearly so far as to make such a wildly improbable claim.
UK-based Syrian blogger Leila Al Shami notes the disgraceful love affair between the Assad dictatorship and the British "left" (sic). She reminds us that Corbyn has been the chair of the (poorly named) "Stop the War" coalition for the past four years, and has now appointed the "Stalinist and Putin supporter" Seumas Milne as the Labour Party's communications director—a very bad sign. Al Shami calls out the Orwellian nature of the "Stop the War" moniker:
Over the past few days, demonstrations have been held in London and elsewhere to oppose the UK bombing Syria. The demonstrations were organized by the Stop the War Coalition (STW), an organization which has long adopted a counter-revolutionary position on Syria. Since the start of the uprising in 2011 STW has refused to acknowledge the agency of the oppressed Syrian people struggling against a fascist regime or to support their struggle in any form, preferring to see the current conflict only through a geopolitical lens. Their selective anti-imperialism means they've only ever opposed Western intervention in Syria (even when this was not a reality) and refuse to actively oppose Russian or Iranian intervention. They have never called for any action against Assad or opposed the war he has waged on the Syrian people, raining down barrel bombs and targeting civilian areas with Scud missiles for over four years. It is this war which has been the main cause of civilian deaths in Syria and which has created the vacuum and desperation giving rise to Daesh [ISIS]. These 'progressives' have consistently refused to give a platform to revolutionary Syrians. They have even, shamefully, called the police to remove Syrians present at a recent meeting. Conversely, they give non-Syrian apologists for the Assad regime a voice, people such as the odious George Galloway…
Right, Galloway who was revealed by an e-mail hack three years ago to have been in direct contact with Bashar Assad. "Anti-war"? As we've had too many occasions to say before regarding the Syrian war, Orwell would shit.
OK, as to the actual question of air-strikes… Of course Cameron was way out of line in his statement that those who oppose them are "terrorist sympathizers." (WP) In fact, all too many of them are dictator sympathizers, who favor an alliance with Assad against the "terrorists." But heaven forbid that progressives in the West should actually listen to progressive Syrians. If they did, they might realize the bogus and hypocritical nature of their "anti-war" position. They might even be capable of drawing a distinction between unilateral air-strikes on a populated city (such as just carried out by the French in Raqqa), and air-strikes in support of indigenous forces on the ground—such as those carried out by the US-led coalition at request of the Kurdish forces, to back up their ground offensives against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.
But even if you oppose any Western military involvement at all on anti-imperialist grounds—fine, that's a defensible position. Just spare us the racist condescension that renders the Syrians and their revolution invisible. Thank you.