In an interview* late last year, Yassin Al Haj Saleh, one of Syria’s leading political dissidents, was asked: What do you think the Western left could best do to express its solidarity with the Syrian revolution?
I am afraid that it is too late for the leftists in the West to express any solidarity with the Syrians in their extremely hard struggle. What I always found astonishing in this regard is that mainstream Western leftists know almost nothing about Syria, its society, its regime, its people, its political economy, its contemporary history. Rarely have I found a useful piece of information or a genuinely creative idea in their analyses. My impression about this curious situation is that they simply do not see us; it is not about us at all. Syria is only an additional occasion for their old anti-imperialist tirades, never the living subject of the debate. So they do not really need to know about us.
David Bromwich, a professor of English Literature at Yale and stalwart of the American antiwar left, exemplifies the trend which Saleh describes.
For him, Syria is a nest of bloodthirsty Islamists fighting a religious war at the behest of foreign powers. The opponents of Assad that Western governments hoped would be the instruments of regime change are a ragtag mob entrusted with a fantasy. The only thing we really need to know about Syria, apparently, is that we should stay out.
Perhaps like Patrick Cockburn, Bromwich welcomes Russia’s direct intervention in the war. He seems to believe that Russia, by virtue of its closer proximity, has a genuine interest in the fate of Syria, yet the fate of Syrians is another question.
In an exercise in textual criticism, Bromwich’s current concern is Washington and the media’s resuscitation of the term moderate — a term around which, he says, the West has long contrived its fantasies.
The fact that the professor makes a living from analyzing language might explain why he has more interest in the words used by New York Times reporters than he has in the lives of Syrians.
But as a leftist, how did he forget what it means to be a humanitarian? How can he show so little interest in the lives of the Syrian people?
In his latest commentary, the refugee crisis doesn’t get a single mention.
Turkey is now warning that Russia and Iran’s escalating intervention in the war may lead to millions more refugees fleeing the country.
In that event, don’t expect Russia to assume any responsibility.
On September 9, while the refugee crisis in Europe dominated the Western media, Russia’s state-funded RT.com reported:
The head of the Federal Migration Service, Konstantin Romodanovsky, told TASS on Wednesday that Russia is ready to accept refugees from Syria on condition that they violate no laws.
He added that Russian authorities were studying asylum applications from Syrian citizens and rendered help to these people, but noted that “historically European countries are more appropriate as refuge for Syrians than the Russian Federation.”
The report offered no explanation of what makes European countries more appropriate. Maybe it’s simply the fact that they have more liberal immigration policies than Russia.
After Samar Kriker sought refuge in Russia, having been rescued in the Mediterranean by a Russia-bound tanker, he was then confined in a detention center cell for 23 hours a day. After his asylum application was rejected, he was expected to be deported back to Damascus.
For those whose cause is resistance to American imperialism, stories such as that might look like mere distractions, promulgated to stir unreasoned sentiment. If we keep our gaze high enough, there will be no risk of seeing the people below.
*Charles Davis’ article, “Anti-imperialism 2.0: Selective sympathies, dubious friends,” drew my attention to this interview.