Comment: White privilege and the love of dictators - the Syrian case

Those who oppose Assad are described as “ISIS [Islamic State] and Al-Qaida...terrorist groups supported by the US government, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.”

LEBANESE HOLD posters at a protest in front of the Arab League headquarters, in Beirut in 2011. The Syrian regime is still in power today (photo credit: REUTERS)
LEBANESE HOLD posters at a protest in front of the Arab League headquarters, in Beirut in 2011. The Syrian regime is still in power today
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘Are you going on legal invitation of the legitimate Syrian government or sneaking in illegally via Turkey in favor of supporting the FSA/ISIS ‘rebels,’” asked a man on Facebook about an activist attending a conference in Syria. “If you going to Syria to be critical of the government then best you stay at home because Al Jazeera and all the other Zionist mainstream filthy media is doing that already.”
The comments by the young man on Facebook joined others supporting the Syrian regime. There was Jonathan, Susan, Peter, Robert, Matthew, Morgan, Gregg and many other names, names that would not have seemed out of place at a Thanksgiving dinner in colonial America, or back in jolly old England in the 17th century. What is the attraction of Bashar Assad and his murderous dictatorial regime for so many people in the West, especially among parts of the self-defined “Left”? One Assad supporter posted a helpful “what’s actually happening in Syria,” to explain it to us. The Assad regime, he said, is “actually a secular government which protects Syrian Christians and religious/ethnic is targeted because it is not controlled by international finance and puts the interests of Syria first and is opposed to Zionist aggression.”
Those who oppose Assad are described as “ISIS [Islamic State] and Al-Qaida...terrorist groups supported by the US government, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.”
This toxic mix of oddly passionate love for Assad consists of a few elements. First, it involves people on the Left who pretend they are against “imperialism.” By that they mean they are against the West, generally against whatever the US and UK are doing.
When the US and UK were cozying up to the Syrian regime in 2009, these “anti-imperialists” suddenly opposed the regime. When the regime was looking to make peace with Israel, the same year, these “anti-Zionists” were horrified.
That’s the second part of the Assadophile ideology: anti-Zionism, usually tied to antisemitism. Stories about “Jewish lobbies” and “international finance” are hidden among claims of opposing “Zionism” which is said to “control” everything from ISIS to Al-Jazeera. For the white American who adores Assad, Zionism is the enemy and Zionism is often behind almost every nefarious thing taking place in the world.
A third piece of the puzzle for the pro-Assad fellow-traveler is opposition to war, – but oddly what they mean by “peace” and “stopping the war” is supporting Russian and Iranian intervention in Syria, the bombing of civilians in Aleppo and the driving out of 11 million Syrians from Syria. This is the kind of old Cold War Orwellian “peace means war” logic wherein Communism always sought “peace,” even when its cronies were murdering and ethnic cleansing and genociding, and the capitalist West always wanted “war.” Joseph Stalin was a peace activist, Winston Churchhill was a war monger. Any rally for civilians in Aleppo is tarred as “rally for military escalation and regime change” by those like Max Blumenthal.
When you start to survey the large number of voices, particularly in media, who sympathize with Assad or take his side you come across a constellation of white men and women from privileged Western backgrounds.
Simon Jenkins tells us that “the Syrian horror began with a sectarian insurgency of Syria’s own peculiar making...the West’s support for Assad’s enemies, like its toppling of Saddam and Gaddafi, aided the cause not of democracy but of chaos. It displayed the arrogance of empire without its true commitment.” Jenkins, who titled an article in 2015 with “bombing is immoral, stupid and never wins wars,” then wrote in the same article that “the only intervention likely to work in Syria just now is from Moscow.”
Read that again. “Bombing doesn’t work.” Ok. But Russian bombing on behalf of Assad will “work.” What? This type of logic from an educated British intellectual like Jenkins is symbolic of the warped thinking of so many. Western bombs bad, Russian bombs good.
Stephen Kinzer, an American writer, claimed in early 2016 that “this month, people in Aleppo have finally seen glimmers of hope. The Syrian army and its allies have been pushing militants out of the city.” He claimed that American support for rebels would “prolong war and condemn more Syrians to suffering and death.” His views are joined by many others.
What unites them all is Western white privilege. They have the privilege of living in democracies, of traveling where they please and writing what they please. They have the privilege and they often use it to excuse Assad’s crimes, support Russian intervention or pretend that the only problem in Syria is ISIS and that the regime is defending the world from “terrorism.”
Nowhere along the way do they wonder why Syrian people should have to live under one family’s rule for almost 50 years. The Assad family came to power in 1970 and treats the country like its own private feudal preserve. Is it “defending minorities” from jihadists or did its decades of dictatorial rule help cause extremism and endanger the fabric of Syria? Its scorched earth policy has helped destroy much of ancient Syria.
This white privilege to support foreign dictators has a long pedigree in the West. Many supporters of Stalinist Russia or Cuba’s Castro family (in power for 55 years) have come from educated Western elites. They have a jaundiced view of the West, which they perceive as causing the world’s problems.
But in their supposed self-loathing and love for “authentic” dictators abroad, and opposition to Middle East “chaos,” they betray the rights of non-Western people to enjoy the same choices that a Western, privileged person enjoys. There is something awful and gross about people who enjoy freedom supporting the denial of freedom to others.
One could oppose both Assad and the extremist tendencies of some of the groups arrayed against him. But these voices don’t say that. They openly support Assad. Some of them openly supported Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi, or Stalin, Castro and a long list of others who run prison-like states.
So why do those who, if Christians established an Iranian-style theocracy in France, would be the first to oppose it support it abroad? Why do those who complain of fascism at home adore it abroad? Militarism in Damascus is beautiful, but not in the UK.
If every supporter of Assad had to live in Syria, if that was the price to be paid for support, how many would chose to move there? So you like the ayatollahs? Great – put on your hijab and move to Iran. The first people to flee such an arrangement would be the Western Assad sycophants.
In the time of Stalinism, although there were a few Westerners who did choose to live under Stalin most wanted their privileges and freedoms and to support Stalin’s repression at the same time.
There is nothing more reprehensible about Western society than its tendency to provide people with the freedom and platform to support the denial of freedom abroad. There is nothing more disgusting than someone who says “of course I should have the right to vote, but not them.” Ask the legions of Assad supporters why the Syrian people can’t have the basic rights that are enjoyed every day in London, Paris or New York. Are they less than us because of the accident of their being born in Syria? The disturbing answer may be that it simply because they are not white and Western.
Catalans recently destroyed a statue of Franco in Barcelona. There’s no doubt he was a dictator. So when Idrees Ahmed says “Aleppo is our Guernica – and some are cheering on the Luftwaffe,” he makes a good point.
We would never accept an Assad regime in Spain or France. We complain of Donald Trump’s treatment of women, but we have among us those who coddle the ayatollahs.
If Trump put on a white turban and grew a beard, would his views be acceptable? Rabbi Hillel said “that which is hateful to you, do not unto another.” For decades the most privileged in the West have supported the most vile dictators abroad, they supported the locking up of millions in prisons, torture, hangings, the denial of basic rights, such as right to free speech, right to equality, the vote. They even supported the bombing of civilians, the mass expulsion of people who became refugees. It may be true that some of the groups opposing Assad are distasteful, but supporting Assad is not the logical rejoinder. Those who have freedom should support only one thing for other people: that those people enjoy the same rights we do. Period.