Syria (and a bit on religion)

I am a “Sunni”.

I am a “Sunni” in as much as my family is more “Sunni” than “Alevi”. I am a Sunni in that on Mevlid a few days ago, I went to a Sunni mosque and offered prayers, out of habit. I don’t actually feel more of a sense of a connection with the divine in the mosque than I might in an Alevi religious ritual, but I am more used to the rituals connected with Sunnism than Alevism.

The state is “Sunni”.

The state is “Sunni” in a very different respect to the one in which I am “Sunni”: the state considers that Alevis are perverts, in that they supposedly pervert our “shared” faith, endorsed and enforced by the state (Alevis are never allowed to decide if they want to “share” a faith with us, but the state imposes this “brotherhood” on them), and often it is implied that they are sexual deviants, although I can say that in my experience, Alevi men are far more sober and respectful of women in a sexual sense than Sunni men are.

The state protects Sunnis who call for the extermination of Alevis in Turkey from any consequences. If Alevis were to dare to respond directly to this provocation, they would be threatened with another Sivas, and again, the perpetrators would walk free.

In fact, right now, due to the situation in Syria, pro-AKP public figures are calling for more massacres of Alevis simply because of the “Alevi”ness of the Syrian state (proven by the Alevi origins of the Assad family). Sunnis in Turkey are told that it is normal to want to kill all Alevis because “they” kill “us” in Syria.

This is why Alevi neighbourhoods long ago learnt that they should protect themselves, with guns if necessary.

Alevis do not “like” Assad. Or, to be more precise, “Alevis” do not “like” Assad any more than “secular” “Sunnis” do. But as soon as one fails to identify with rapist, throat-cutting jihadist gangs, one becomes an “Assadist” in the English-speaking world. Why? Because those gangs want to overthrow the Assad regime for “democracy”… which will be called “democratic” only because the killers who head the new regime will be friendlier to Turkey, the GCC, and NATO. There is no evidence that they will be “progressive” in any way (and their actions imply they will be more reactionary than the Assad regime), and there is evidence that they are already less “democratic” according to the standards of those around me who cry for “democracy” in Syria than the regime (Assad held elections, for whatever that’s worth, while the FSA leadership is selected and not elected, and by foreigners and not Syrians).

Just as “the fight for democracy in Syria” is utterly fabricated, but still pushed by “leftists” in the UK and US who are desperate to avoid the label “tankie” (by making their views acceptable to the Foreign Office and the US State Department), so too is the Syrian state’s “secularism” often exaggerated by its defenders. Like most Arab regimes (including those far worse than the Syrian regime but which, for some reason, nobody is crying for their immediate overthrow, by anyone, consequences be damned), it is actually quite patriarchal and conservative in many ways. But this is not an “Alevi” conservatism: Sunni clerics are constantly to be seen with Assad, who does not appear to practise his Alevi faith in any way. This “Alevi oppression” is decried by those in Turkey who are campaigning to free common rapists, while they continue to deny the recognition of Alevism as having equal freedoms to Sunnism in Turkey, and who, lest we forget, wish to tip the balance of forces in Syria such that Rojava can be crushed, the base it provides for revolutionaries destroyed, and the hopes of the Kurdish people for liberation once again smashed.

If “Stalinists” like me are at a loss to prove that we are not “Assadists”, it matters very little. This is but the particular manifestation of their universal attack on us as “tankies”, a term which is meaningless on both sides of the Atlantic where it is used by the worst sort of people. Those who wish to smear us in this fashion have already chosen to side with the CIA against everyone, and while we Marxist-Leninists certainly do not side with just anyone against the CIA, we can’t hope to be loved and understood by those who have a generalised faith in the good will of “western democracy”, performed merely to separate themselves from a spectre of Kremlinism that barely exists in the real world (outside of the CPGB-ML perhaps).

What does matter to me is proving the innocence of the Alevis. Not only have many heroic Alevis (including Alevi Arabs, and in Syria) fought for real revolutionary values far beyond the petty pragmatism we must often accept in everyday politics, but I’m sorry to say that even their reactionary leadership is “better” than ours. If Assad is the “evil Alevi”, he is a much less “evil Alevi” than his Sunni neighbours are “evil Sunnis”, and it takes only the smallest amount of empathy to see this.

US and UK readers will at this point protest that they have nothing against “Alevis”. Well I am sorry to tell you that in the region, those who call for the downfall of the Assad regime today (perhaps it was different years ago before the proxy war began in earnest) very specifically have a problem with Alevis. In Turkey, the Venn diagram between between those who want to kill Alevis for being “infidels” and those who were out protesting the regime’s victory in Aleppo is indistinguishable from a circle. Of those Syrians who remain in Syria and outside of Kurdish-held territory, the Venn diagram of those who oppose al-Qaeda rule and those who have distanced themselves from “the Syrian Revolution” (for now at least) is similarly very close to a circle.

This does not make us “tankie” “Assadists” to say, it makes us realists. Indeed, I do not support “Assad”, although he is the “lesser evil”, but many prophets of “lesser evilism” in far less dangerous conditions ought to (and yet they are the very ones gambling with the lives of Syrians by calling for US-backed regime change in Syria, to the advantage of the greater evil!)

There are those who would say that the Zionists have their own “realism”, predicated on a similar logic, that we would thus be “forced” to accept. Again, I do not actually advocate “supporting” either side in Syria, nor do I support all Palestinian political camps simply because they are Palestinian (as is implied by the comparison). But even so, I must say that the facts of international monitors and the theory of Marxism-Leninism both stand at odds with this comparison: Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas, as much as I dislike them, are not accused of the sort of mass crimes “the Syrian rebels” are accused of, although Israel’s crimes and the Syrian regime’s crimes are quite similar. As for theory, we hold that an occupying power where a national question is concerned must be separated out. “Both sides” of the propaganda war assure everyone that there is but one “Syrian people” (part of “the Arab people” according to the regime, which is another reminder that neither side understands the Kurdistani reality), and so what we have are two “bad” leaderships, one of which is clearly the one which all readers would prefer to live under if they were absolutely forced to choose (and Syrians are, which is how Assad is winning, not because he is truly beloved).

But the crux of this pro-“Syrian Revolution” argument is that we are “Islamophobic” or “Sunniphobic”. That those of us who fail to cheer on al-Qaeda impose “western” ideas on people who, we are told, would prefer to live that way.

This cultural relativism masks in most cases a deep ignorance: I know religious Sunnis. I have comrades who are religious Sunnis. I have family who are religious Sunnis. I fast on Ramadan with religious Sunnis, and have for years, even after losing most of my own belief. And while I am very critical of many things “true believers” believe, I can assure the reader, they do not wish for al-Qaeda. Most of them, even those who turn a blind eye to the state’s campaign of hatemongering against Alevis in Turkey, have their stomachs turn at the sight of al-Qaeda supporters. Al-Qaeda and groups like it prey on the most easily manipulated elements of the society, and (flush with GCC and occasionally NATO funds), they wreak terror against whatever targets present themselves, which often includes religious Sunnis (hence why, again, Assad is winning the war in spite of the fact that he is not beloved, and that is not and has never been my or almost anyone’s argument).

But is it not the regime’s fault the war started? Naturally: The narrative that I’m pushing, which has long been accused of being “Assadist” (whether it appears soberly in Jacobin or in satire form on Worker’s Spatula) is that the regime creates conditions which are easily manipulated by imperialism, and its momentary victory will not prevent more barbarism. “Socialism or barbarism”, as Rosa said.

But just as the regime is “barbarism” and not “socialism” (no matter how it and the revisionists define it), putting jihadists in charge is likewise “barbarism” (a worse kind), and not “socialism”. It is not socialism, nor is it a positive step forward for socialists, nor can it be a tactical gambit that can improve our position. The reality of the jihadist gangs foreign-backed takeover of large parts of Syria, like the Trump victory, is an unavoidable warning sign that we must, right now, today, organise.

Syrian progressives who do feel disillusioned by both sides of this ugly and senseless civil war understand now, one hopes, why for decades in the diaspora, our neighbourhoods were abuzz with revolutionary activity while theirs were apathetic and apolitical. They thought we were wasting our time, perhaps, but the result was a series of strong networks for revolutionaries who are able to intervene, sometimes openly, sometimes more secretly, in day-to-day politics, to outmanoeuvre the dangerous forces of fascism that are coming, like it or not.

I am very hopeful for Turkey and Kurdistan, while I can only hope for hope in Arab Syria. But to all the Syrians out there, hoping, we are here for you, and we do want to help, not by offering you a saviour (as the GCC/NATO axis tries to do with its plots against the regime and as the Russia/Iran axis tries to do with its support for the regime), but by working with you to lead the people and the forces of progress to power, across the whole region.

Only then can we have real secularism, real women’s rights, real democracy, and real socialism.