Western “Anti-Imperialists” Silence Middle Eastern and North African Voices

Daliah Lina

“You stand with the terrorist troops. You are a jihadist.” This just covers a part of the public smearing I had to face the last couple of weeks since Trump’s airstrike on Qassem Soleimani. One who has been involved in political debates would assume that those accusations come from convinced right-wingers, but reality is truly worrisome if not absurd: The accusers are some Western so called “Anti-imperialists”. The reason? I am a Palestinian-Iranian leftist who opposes all global and regional acts of imperialism and authoritarianism. A stance that seems incomprehensible for some, as, in their view, one must take sides as an act of solidarity. Even if it means taking sides with war criminals. The fact that these alleged comrades target us while obtruding their “Anti-Imperialist” agenda is not new to me. In fact, since Syria’s uprising a strong front of some “Western pro Assadists” have emerged, determined to side with any regime that spreads anti US-imperialist propaganda, and willingly turning a blind eye to the butchering of Syrian civilians.

The most dangerous aspect of this development is that it does not only legitimize crimes against humanity, but more than that, causes a disturbance within the Middle Eastern progressive activist movement. Once again, We Progressive Middle Easterners, inside the region and in diaspora, find ourselves dominated, silenced and separated, but this time by some Western so-called Anti-Imperialist,

“The enemy of my enemy is my friendis the glorification of a war criminal

On January 3, U.S. president Donald Trump targeted, unauthorized,  a convoy near the airport in Iraq’s capital Baghdad and executed, amongst others, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Qassem Soleimani, known to be the second essential Iranian leader after Ayatollah Khamenei and murderous repressor of the Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian popular uprising as well as the head of Iran’s proxy war in Syria and influential force in the Lebanese Hezbollah. Even though the level of his brutality is known, sectors of the Western so called Anti-Imperialist scene mourned him as their martyr, a hero and “glorious defender against ISIS”, determined to carry on his legacy by applauding the Iranian regime, disregarding, if not denying, the Iranian regime’s human right abuses, their contribution in the mass-killing of the Syrian people and harmful mingling in Iraq and Yemen. All this support and chants of empowerment are  by these so-called “leftists” who claim that they stand for social justice and equality, yet  walk over the dead bodies of 1,500 Iranian protestors, human rights activists, feminists, the queer community, minorities and anyone who strives for peace and self-determination.  These leftists say that they stand with refugees, yet they express indifference when it comes to the thousands of displaced Syrians, disrespecting their struggle, silencing their suffering. Willing to overlook visible injustices and crimes against humanity for the sake of pushing their agenda of only demonizing the West.  They ignore  the 600,000 Syrian lives lost mostly because of the brutal Assad regime.

Unfortunately, similar trends can be found in some sections of the Left throughout the world, including the Middle East.  They are rooted in Stalinism and campism, instead of standing and supporting the struggle from below of the popular classes for democracy, social justice and equality.

Silencing Progressive Middle Eastern and North African voices

The most dangerous aspect of some of these  apologists for Iran  is not only the amount of space they are claiming in political activism, but also the arguments they are using to mute progressive Middle Eastern and North African voices through gaslighting methods that falsely portray us as supporters of imperialism, settler colonialism and terrorism.  During debates, these sectors of the left are lip-synching the propaganda of  Ayatollah Khamenei, deceiving their audience with a peace-advocating leftist appearance claiming to argue for  “MENA’s best interest”. The most popular arguments are listed as followed:

Argument #1:  “The Islamic Republic is empowering the working class”

As a Middle Eastern socialist, I am puzzled by this argument.

In December 2017 and January 2018, working class Iranians expressed their frustration with  exploitative wages and the over 40% unemployment rate, of which most are young adults. At that time, people protested against Rouhani’s economic policies,  corruption and high inflation and unemployment rate. The protesters were also calling for an end to the Islamic Republic,  burning images of Khamenei, and calling for an end to  Iran’s military interventions elsewhere in the Middle East, while people, mostly members of the working class under the age of 25, at home were barely able to sustain themselves. The protests were shut after 40 people were killed and 5000 arrested.

Just a year later, in November  2019, another uprising of mostly working class and unemployed youth arose.   After  the government blocked social media and messaging apps,  it engaged in brutal repression that according to Reuters News Agency,   resulted in the death of 1500 protestors and arrests of over 7000.   The fact that the majority of participants in  the uprising were members of the working class, did not stop the Iranian authorities from utilizing violence towards civilians.

Argument #2:  “Iran is fighting ISIS.”

While Iran’s fight against the Islamic State is being portrayed as an act of bravery by some Western leftists, one essential aspect is deliberately ignored: Iran is recruiting Afghan children as soldiers in their “heroic anti-terrorism war”. During my work at the refugee camp “Moria”, in Lesvos, Greece, I have worked with countless unaccompanied Afghan minors between the age of 14-17, who were utilized as fighters in Syria. I witnessed first-hand the immense damage and incomprehensible trauma the Iranian regime has imposed on those children, who were treated as second class-citizens since birth for being Afghans in Iran, and later forced to fight in the Fatemeiyoun division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which has also been confirmed by Human Rights Watch (2017). According to international law, enlisting children under the age of 15 is considered a war crime.

In addition to this, their military campaigns against ISIS in Iraq are not rooted in the aims of building a progressive alternative, but of consolidating the sectarian and neoliberal political system dominated by Shi’a Islamic fundamentalist movements and militias allied to Teheran.

Argument #3:   “Iran is the only state that shows true solidarity when it comes to the Palestinian struggle”

Being Palestinian and an activist,  I can respond that Iran’s support for the Palestinian military resistance against the settler colonial state of Israel is not the way to liberate and emancipate the Palestinian populations. The Islamic Republic finances Hamas with military and financial aid, not to advance the liberation of the Palestinian People but to advance its own geopolitical objectives and influence in the region. Otherwise how can we understand the reduction in the financial support to Hamas after the beginning of the Syrian uprising as a result of Hamas and Iran’s  political disagreements on the issue. Later, Hamas and Iran  settled their disagreement as Hamas’s  new leadership moved closer to Iran.

Also, how can one be appreciative of ‘political support”, while knowing that Iran is responsible along with Russia and the US for creating the world’s “worst humanitarian crisis” of our neighbouring country? How can one glorify the support of an oppressed nation but turn a blind eye to Iran’s discrimination against  and oppression of its own Kurdish population, that includes numerous types of human rights violations? For me, it is unfathomable how those who claim to stand for social justice prove to have selective empathy when it comes to the brutal repression of civilians.

The liberation of the Palestinian and Kurdish people goes through the liberation and emancipation of the popular classes of the region against all forms of reaction, whether authoritarian regimes or religious fundamentalist movements, and all regional and imperialist forces.

We need to be united in struggle and in solidarity to counter all acts of imperialism and authoritarianism.

Some sections of the Western left, as in other parts of the world, seem to clearly, and rightfully see through US imperialist war propaganda but fail to see through the Iranian and Russian equivalent to it. This results in repeating their propaganda with strong resources and by smearing those who oppose all global and regional acts of imperialism and authoritarianism.

As an activist, a Middle Eastern socialist feminist and simply as a human being, I refuse to stand with oppressive governments, murderous leaders like Assad, just like I refuse to side with Western imperialism or jihadist opposition groups. If you are an anti-Imperialist out of the true spirit of righteousness and justice, how can you support any leadership that benefits from human suffering? Selective empathy reflects neoliberal, capitalist, and colonialist characteristics, which impose the repetition of history, at the cost of Middle Eastern and North African lives. Which is why it is essential to unite in struggle and in solidarity to support popular uprisings of the working class and civil society inside the whole region.

This article is a revised version of an article published earlier on this blog:

Western Anti-Imperialists Silence Middle Eastern and North African voices

Posted on Alliance of Middle East Socialists, Jan 26, 2020.

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