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.

Missing Istanbul

Lately I have been thinking a great deal about if I will be able to go back to Turkey. Knowing a great deal of people who are still there, I understand that it’s possible to exist there for someone like me, but looking at the day by day dynamics, I wonder how much longer until everyone I know there has to make a major lifestyle change, so to speak.

In diaspora intellectual circles, it is extremely fashionable to boast of not missing the “memleket”. One constantly meets people who speak about how glad they are to be away from that “mess”, from the backwardness, the fascism, etc.

It’s not that their complaints are baseless, or that there aren’t nice parts about being somewhere else. But one can’t help but miss one’s own people. One misses Istanbul, one misses the ferry… One misses the dawn call to prayer, not for religious reasons, but simply because it is the first real sign of morning.

One misses the bars and cafes and restaurants, and picking out which organisation is using which one as a front. One misses the real solidarity between the left groups that evaporates when those same groups go abroad, because the struggle begins to feel more abstract and the sense of isolation and alienation feels greater. One misses pouring over newspapers with friends and dissecting the positions of rival groups, knowing they are almost certainly within earshot.

One misses the old Anatolian women with their nasal accents who sell alcohol, although they themselves don’t drink. One misses the drunken Black Sea uncles one meets on late night walks, who could speak any one of a dozen languages but who are all most comfortable in their particular dialect of Turkish. One misses being a “boy” to countless slightly older people, who in the US would never be so unegalitarian, or so familiar.

One misses the young boys who work in various establishments, immigrants from Kurdistan, who are so polite to everyone who comes in that it makes one feel guilty. The real Kurdistani youth, whether in Kurdistan or Istanbul, are painfully kind to outsiders. All the talk of violent Kurdish youth one heard on television growing up is easy to disprove in only a few minutes among them. If such young men are stirred to violence, one is sure it can only be in self-defence.

One misses one’s cousins, who would spare a cigarette in a back room so the uncles and aunts can’t see, who flash a sly victory sign as you bid them good night, behind the door so their neighbours can’t see. One misses the neighbour children, whose parents you can hear whispering bad things about you, but who are too young to understand the ideologies that make their parents fear you. You miss the CHP aunties who still cling to the republic which every day fails them, but who became allies with our rebel youth for a brief and beautiful moment during Gezi.

You miss the countless cats which take over all corners of the city, you miss the people’s love for their feline neighbours. You miss the birds, and you miss how when one of them shits on you, some friend invariably informs you of the good luck which this signifies. You miss looking up at night at the stars, trying in vain to see them, and hearing the older people talk about how in the village, they would count the stars, in their own language, in a different time, before the war reached them.

You miss hearing the stories of why they left their villages, although hearing them fills your eyes with tears. You even miss looking at them through teary eyes, and trying to communicate without using words that we will bring everyone back home, where they belong. We will make it all better. We can’t promise when, but we can promise we won’t give up.

umut

I miss closing my eyes when an Alevi song plays and imagining the new life in the new homeland, where we will enrich our own lives with unity and cooperation, instead of cheapening them with division and exploitation.

I miss walking alongside the water with that comrade, weighing the pros and cons of the statements made by various socialist leaders on dialectics, before the conversation turned to the gift economy of the Māori people, because that’s the sort of comrades I have.

But then I realise the train has arrived at my stop, and it’s back to reality, and a country that feels so alien, but which circumstance has dictated is my home for now.

Then I realise that although many others like me are here in this country with me, it’s less the individuals I miss than the society. When we see one another, we smile coldly and exchange pleasantries that sound more artificial than the worst forced conversation in an English class. They can miss Istanbul too, but they can’t understand how I feel.

I realise that the only people who can understand how I feel when I’m screaming at a protest for that country that is far away are my comrades, many of whom have never been there, but who every day, like me, are trying to grasp the dynamics around them and unite to struggle for a better world.

It’s very hard to miss home. But slowly, one learns to find home in different places in different ways, even from foreign people, just so long as they are the right kind of people.

On Choosing One’s Enemy

electionfatigue

As the entire English-speaking world can’t stop talking about Trump and Clinton, I suppose I’m going to keep talking about Trump and Clinton, despite my best efforts. Anyway, given current conditions “back home”, there is a very good chance I will be stuck here for longer than anticipated, and even if I should return to the UK I will be forced to put up with constant news from “across the pond”. Regardless, I am only too happy to intervene in the politics of the chief imperialist power on the planet in my own small way. So here we go:

All around me, even among the supposed professional “critical thinkers” in academia, US citizens have accepted the premise that the supreme evil in the world is Donald Trump. As anyone who has been reading me knows, I am not a fan of Donald Trump nor do I think there is some benefit in his candidacy for the left. My argument is that his candidacy is beneficial for the Clinton campaign and the forces which that campaign represents.

Clinton could not ask for a better enemy than Trump. He has thrown the Republican party into a panic, for one thing, which is the first reason why the DNC/Clinton campaign helped elevate his position within the Republican race. The Republican party could not do the same with Sanders even if they had wanted to, because, as the representatives of “the left” to the mainstream US audience (as laughable as that concept sounds to the rest of us), the Democratic party has built-in mechanisms to protect its favoured candidate, most overtly and legally the infamous super-delegates which handed Clinton her victory.

Following this victory, the same media which (by Obama’s own admission) gave undue emphasis to this orange clown so that he would seem viable pursued a reverse sensationalist line about how un-viable and embarrassing Trump is. Ranks have been closed, and now hardly a day goes by without the bulk of the media screaming to the high heavens what an embarrassment Trump is. Clinton’s victory is now all but assured, yes, even according to the Republican Party which itself has closed ranks around Clinton.

But as we all know, Clinton is herself the enemy of the left. Clinton represents the dominant order which promises more Trumps, Clinton represents a legacy of trampling on the rights of the Afro-American people. Clinton is Wall Street (one of the few points Trump raised during the debates which was at all reasonable, the others of course being Syria and Russia), which is why both Wall Street parties know she must win. And she will.

What is to be done now? As I have said before, the only apparently viable step is to rally the troops around the Green Party for a protest vote, to strengthen the organisation of the oppressed, and to raise higher the voice of resistance at home and abroad.

But is this what is happening in the media? Far from it! Sanders – who, despite his many flaws, represented a strong step forward for the Yankee proletariat in terms of articulating an attack on Wall Street rule – has tried to pose Clinton as the head of an anti-fascist front (just as the CPI(M) does in India with the Congress Party!). I dare not even mention the CPUSA, who make Sanders look like Lenin by comparison with their more or less uncritical support for the Democrats regardless of the local conditions!

But Sanders’s supporters would doubtless mention that Sanders still has potential: After all, he has to take part in electoral politics, and is continuing to try to work outside of the presidential election through his “Our Revolution” campaign. There is certainly still the very real possibility that Sanders will reemerge onto the Yankee national stage when (not if) Clinton drops all pretense of synthesising the Sanders campaign demands with her own (after her election). What we ought to do then is look to the “radicals” who do not have a political office to look after, and not put undue blame or faith in Sanders, who supposedly have an independent and critical role.

Perhaps you are all familiar with England’s own Laurie Penny. This ex-student ex-radical represents the general trajectory of oppressor nation petty bourgeois “radicals”, whose own class interests make it more likely that they will sell themselves out to the status quo under the guise of “reformism”. Here she is gushing about Clinton as a “good enemy” (one would think the “good enemy” would be the enemy more likely to blunder and make mistakes which could be exploited by our side!):

A general election is about nothing more or less than choosing your enemy. Any government leader must be considered an enemy to those who believe in radical change. Hillary Clinton is not yet that enemy but by damn. I hope she gets to be. Hillary Clinton is the sort of enemy I’ve been dreaming of over ten years of political work. She’s the kind of enemy you can respect. I look forward to fighting her on her commitment to climate protection, on workers’ rights, on welfare, on foreign policy. Bring that shit on. That’s the sort of fight I relish. I want to argue over how the state can best serve the interests of women and minorities, not whether it should.

A fine rebuttal was penned by a dear comrade from Red London:

Ulrike Meinhof warned about Laurie Penny back in 1968 in her piece on the role of columnists: “The columnist’s fenced-in but independent thinking gives the whole paper the aura of independent thinking. The columnist’s outrageousness gives the paper the aura of outrageousness. The columnist’s occasional and courageous expression of unpopular ideas gives the paper the aura of courage to express unpopular ideas […] the columnist is the editor’s best lackey, the one who brings in the money and the prestige, and behaves as though it were possible to have an opinion on any topic in the world, expressed in a text that is always the same length, and all that. Columnists are the blacks of the State Department, the women in the federal government, the fig leaves, the tokens, the alibis, the excuses.”

Laurie Penny shamelessly capitalises on her ‘student radical’ label 5 years on to pretend that she is the voice of left-wing activism rather than liberal capitulation: “[Clinton]’s the kind of enemy you can respect. I look forward to fighting her on her commitment to climate protection, on workers’ rights, on welfare, on foreign policy. Bring that shit on. That’s the sort of fight I relish. I want to argue over how the state can best serve the interests of women and minorities, not whether it should. That’s the sort of fight that makes me better.”

So when Laurie Penny says this about Clinton, remember that she’s not the one who will be doing any fighting – at best she’ll write a few mildly critical columns for a lot of money. Something that Meinhof summed up so well: “It is opportunistic to claim to be struggling against the conditions that one is actually reproducing. It is opportunistic to use the methods that stabilise a system and claim to be seeking change.”

Indeed. This chorus of agreement that we must be “with her” against him reeks of silencing what little dissent was drummed up by the Sanders campaign (and to appease pplswar, let me reiterate that despite my disagreements with Sanders, he did more to radicalise the Yankee proletariat than anyone else since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis). The danger is that “when the dust settles” we will be back where we started under Obama.

Now, I would be no dialectician if I did not emphasise that we cannot literally return to 2008. Rather, it is “first as tragedy, then as farce”, with a US leadership with an even worse track record prior to assuming office, promising us even better conditions for the fascist forces which have rallied under Trump!

We see this with the coup attempt in Turkey. The entire media, even those supposedly critical of Erdoğan, have rallied behind the narrative of “FETÖ” and to a certain extent accepted the “heroism” of the protestors (who were actually backed by the dominant portion of the state forces) who “saved democracy” (as if Turkish “democracy” is even worth saving). When one utters such heresy in Turkey, one is asked if one supports “the coup” or “FETÖ”.

Nobody is more critical of the Gülen movement and anti-Erdoğan elements within the Turkish Armed Forces than I am. These are the forces which criticised Erdoğan because he was too soft (!!!) on the Kurdish people’s heroic liberation movement for years. These are not people who can be entrusted with our future at all.

…But then neither can the Turkish Armed Forces under Erdoğan, who are currently bombing West Kurdistan (Rojava) as they crack down on progressive forces across the country (in the name of mopping up the reactionary coup to which we had no connection)!

Now thankfully, in terms of the organised left in Turkey, only a few small “left” factions openly backed Erdoğan against “the coup” (the UK SWP-backed Trotskyite “party” DSİP, and the arch-revisionist Doğu Perinçek’s pseudo-socialist cult Vatan Partisi). Our general movement was to condemn the coup entirely and to resume our resistance to Erdoğan. So we still have some forces on the ground, and we must continue to march forward in spite of extremely adverse conditions (outside of Kurdistan, the anti-fascist movement is still relatively weak, one must be honest). But without an organised left in the US, can serious resistance to the incoming Clinton regime be expected?

As always, and as every foreign visitor to the United States immediately observes, the most revolutionary force is certainly the oppressed Afro-American people. Other oppressed nations and nationalities also present a relatively strong force which can be directed against the state and monopoly capital which it represents, but it seems there is still something to the old thesis that the Yankee oppressor nation’s “bourgeoisified” proletariat is too “bought off” to be the main focal point of organisation in the United States.

Of course, this is not to say that one should ever cease trying to organise people of diverse backgrounds. It is simply to say that, just as we should focus organisation on the proletariat of all nations (despite progressive elements of the bourgeoisie), we must assume that serious forces of resistance in the US will come from the oppressed nations first, who can relate to the victims of US imperialism around the world as Sanders and many of his supporters cannot, because they too are direct victims of US imperialism. The oppressor nation proletariat must itself be organised on the grounds of solidarity with these oppressed nations. Put another way:

Workers and oppressed peoples of the world, unite!