Concrete web-magazine

29Sep/130

Syriana

The world rejoices, the UN security council has reached an agreement on Syria, condemning the use of chemical weapons - without stating any responsible faction - and demanding their destruction. Syrian dictator Assad has voiced his support for the destruction of his chemical weapon stockpiles and experts, which have warned that this is an almost impossible operation during a civil war and that the massive task leaves many loopholes for the Syrian army to hide a part of the weapons are generally ignored.

In short, we have witnessed yet another act in this grotesque theater play called Syria. The weeks during which an American air-strike seemed imminent had already created truly obscure situations. Most notably the anti-war demonstrations, touting the slogan "No war on Syria" - begging the question what exactly has been going on in Syria during the last months. It was a kneejerk reaction by the political left, stuck in an ideological dead-end in which any action by the US is wrong and imperialist by default - and in turn, their opponents justified.

The facts at hand, however, tell us that there is a war on Syria - and it is fought by the Syrian government with direct support from both Iran and the Hezbollah Militias. Where are the anti-war activists demanding "No war on Syria" in direction to the Iranian government, that trains pro-government troops on its soil and supplies military aid, or in direction to the Hezbollah, that has openly intervened in support of Assad and thus provoked the war to cross borders into the Lebanon?

It gets worse.

If we may recall, the civil war in Syria started with peaceful mass-demonstrations against the government, inspired by the events in Tunisia and Egypt that had been dubbed "Arab Spring" in the west. Assads regime reacted with massive violence, to the point of provoking open rebellion by a myriad of different armed groups. It is indeed quite difficult to gain a complete overview of the confusing power-structures in Syria right now, but a few things are certain: there are Sunni Islamist groups, massively supported by the NATO-allies Saudi-Arabia and Qatar. They are, however, a minority, at least if voices of Islamist groups themselves are anything to go by. A Chechen Islamist, for example, voiced his opinion about the Free Syrian Army that there were too many members fighting for "freedom and equality". Organizations like the Arab Reform Initiative or IHS Janes support the conclusion that, as of now, the majority of the FSA fights for a democratic government and human rights.

These fighters receive pretty much no outside support at all. The ongoing war is threatening to marginalize their positions, as they can not compete with the monetary support and professional training which both Islamist groups and the government forces can muster. Already the violent response to the mass-protests had pushed aside many of the more progressive demands, has marginalized certain groups within society, especially women, and brought to the forefront of the battle many groups whose lack of political expertise and civilian agenda is replaced with military skill.

Speaking of military skill: one of the most popular stories revolving around the chemical attacks in Syria is, that these may just as well have been commited by the rebels themselves. There is a few indices that speak out against this version of the story and in favour of the Syrian military as perpetrator. Firstly, there is little evidence that rebel forces had captured any of the governments stockpiles, which are well guarded for obvious reasons. Considering the political gain that Assads regime already had from the vague story of the possibility of a rebel chemical attack, we can be certain such an event would have been made public. Secondly, the Syrian opposition is generally doubted to have the skill necessary to transport and handle chemical weapons safely, something that can not be said about the government forces. Thirdly, from all available information we can conclude that the rebels do not possess weapon systems capable of firing chemical weapons.

All reliable foreign observers have come to the same conclusion: the chemical attacks were an act committed by the Syrian government. They were the most massive of a series of incidents, during which the Syrian government had obviously been testing out how far it can go in terms of violence against its own population to win the civil war. Apparently, the Syrian government saw some necessity in extreme measures, because the war had turned into a stalemate throughout the last months. Neither side seems strong enough to win now.

The prospect of air-attacks, even just very limited ones, had created hopes amongst the rebels that in its wake, some strategic gains could be made. This possibility is now off the table, the opposition to US-air strikes amongst the civilian population in the west was large and the diplomatic protection of Syria by its allies in Russia was too strong. Syrias government may no longer use chemical weapons against its enemies now, but it will certainly consider its conventional warfare, which was just as cruel.

However, the political left in the west will now lean back and pat itself on the shoulder: "job well done", as if an US air-strike on Syria would have made anything worse for the people in Syria and by averting it, there is now pretty much peace in the middle-east. If the political left and the peace-movement in the USA, Europe and beyond were to be taken serious, however, it would try to understand the situation in Syria, try to do what it can to stop the war waged by dictator Assad and its allies Iran and Hezbollah.

And even if it would have to confess that the situation in Syria is too complex and chaotic for it to choose sides, there is still an monumentally vital task that any self-respecting left should adress: the plight of the refugees.

An estimated 1,5 million people have fled Syria to escape the war and they have mostly made it into desolate camps in neighbouring countries, half a million of them made it to Lebanon alone - a country that has less than five million inhabitants itself. This is a truly massive strain on the populations of neighbouring countries, but western governments do little to nothing to help. In fact, their main concern seems to be to make sure that as little Syrian refugees as possible end up within their own borders. Russia granted a whooping 500 (!) refugees asylum. Germany has granted permission to a measly 8000 Syrian asylum requests since 2012. That's the amount of people that left Syria in february this year alone.

Many of the refugees take to extreme measures to ensure their survival and child marriages amongst Syrian refugees have drastically increased, as families sell their daughters to feed themselves. If only the rest of the world would take its responsibility serious, these would be completely unnecessary acts.

22Jan/130

Good Bombs, Bad Bombs

Another war is fought on the globe and again, all those opinionated journalists who couldn't even have identified Mali on the globe earlier this year, much less lose one word about its politics, now seem to know it all after the first French soldiers touched the ground. The coalition of self-righteous world explainers is, as usual, spearheaded by the speakers of a subcritical left which seeks to press the world into a black and white scheme, no matter what. I will take an article by Stephen Lendman from Chicago to point out many fallacies of the current anti-war movement, because it neatly summarizes all this lack of coherent analysis, ignorance in regards to facts and the tendency to imply wherever it lacks evidence - and it wraps it all in moralizing language.

Lendman doesn't mess around, he gets straight to his accusation: it's all about the ressources, stupid! Not just any ressources, but rich Africa's ressources, with some of the globes largest deposits of oil and gas, ores and minerals. His intention probably is to put the war in Mali into a greater regional context of a new "scramble for Africa", but all Lendman achieves is to reveal his view on Mali as "yet another part of Africa". If war is fought somewhere in Africa, it must have the same reasons as on any other place on that vast continent. Without hesitation he therefore continues to write about Malis great natural wealth and Mali seems truly blessed:

"They include gold, diamonds, phosphates, bauxite, lignite, kaolin, salt, limestone, gypsum, granite, marble, diatomite, hydropower, iron ore, manganese, tin, lead, zinc, copper, oil, gas, and uranium.   Mali is Africa’s third largest gold producer after South Africa and Ghana. It’s rich in uranium. It has an estimated 5,000 tons or more. It’s neighbor Niger is the world’s fourth largest producer."

As Malinese blogger Bruce Whitehouse put it, "the truth of Mali’s >mineral riches< is rather murky".  Mali has potential reserves of oil and gas, its proven reserves are zero. In other words, it may be there, but we're not sure, there may also be nothing at all. The only companies present in Mali as of yet are minor players in the petrol business with a high risk-tolerance, speculating on the big success with a surprise find. Hardly the ones who could muster enough influence with western companies to urge them to fight a risky - and costly - war. There a no known uranium ressources in northern Mali, the only known mining operation is deep in the south-west, at the border to Guinea. Claiming that Nigers uranium riches extend into northern Mali would be pure speculation. Similiar holds true for Malis mining operations in regards to Gold. It's all far in the south, away from the territories currently held by Islamist and Tuareg rebels. All facts considered, this doesn't seem like an invasion to secure untapped ressources on land owned by an unwilling population. What little ressources Mali had its governments had always generously given away in the past, because the country lacks the technology level and infrastructure to develope them on their own and thus is dependent on foreign investors. Africa isn't exploited with cannons aimed, it's exploited with the willing consent of its governments, no matter if left or right, corrupt or honest, because the alternative to leave the ressources untapped does not benefit the increasingly urban population of Africas nationstates either.

But Lendman has found an explanation fitting its scheme and without checking whether his facts match reality, he proceeds to identify the responsible factions. No surprise here, it's the USA. France, former colonial power of Mali - and most of western Africa - is played down to a mere lapdog, used by Obama to "keep a low profile". The question whether France has its own africa policy can't be asked in Lendmans dogmatic worldview and he's probably unaware that the different policies of former colonial powers, including France, have brought them into conflict with the USA in the past. For example, right before the genocide against the Tutsi and Hutu began in Rwanda, France was supportive of the Rwandan government and there are allegations that French special forces proceeded to support the Rwandan military even while it was committing the largest genocide since Cambodia. The Tutsi-Militia RPF - current ruling party of Rwanda after it ended the genocide and won the civil war - was seen as an anglophone takeover.

For Lendman, however, France must remain a puppet of Washington, because he wants the war in Mali to fit into the greater image he constructs. "Washington wants unchallenged African dominance," Lendman writes, without bothering to explain how Islamist fighters in northern Mali are benefitting Russia or China. Worse, Lendmans argumentation comes crashing down on itself when he correctly identifies Russia and especially China as rivals of the USA (and Europe, though Lendman doesn't seem to think of European interests as a factor of their own) for Africas ressources, but doesn't stop a second to consider the implications. If Washington, Moscow and Beijing are rivals in a new scramble for Africa, does Lendman believe that only the first of the three is trying to exploit the continent? And if the insurgents in northern Mali are fighting against the USA, are they allies of China or Russia? Lendmans attempt to transfer the coalitions of Syria into Mali very obviously doesn't work and only serves to reveal that his own kneejerk anti-americanism drives Lendman to the support of murderous regimes such as Assads Syria.

Without intermission, Lendman narrates a tale of the great puppeteers in Washington who send their armies out into the world to build an "Empire" and permanently occupy the rest of the world by force. Consistently, he sacrifices facts for his fiction of a repetition of 19th century policies. He draws parallels between the North-Ireland conflict, the 1982 Lebanon invasion or the Israel-Palestine conflict, to lend weight to his prediction that France seeks permanent occupation of Mali. But North-Ireland is considered a part of its national territory by the UK and the Israeli security situation is a complex issue, its occupation of Lebanese territory in the 80s and 90s more rooted in the fact that it could not find factions within the Lebanese society that were both willing and powerful enough to prevent the Lebanon from becoming a staging ground for Hezbollah warfare against Israel once their troops retreat. Similiar fear haven proven correct repeatedly in the Palestine conflict: once Israeli troops left Gaza to self-administration, Hamas used the new liberty to turn the city into a missile-base from which hundreds of missiles are fired into Israel each year.

Meanwhile, the information that "Permanent Afghanistan and Iraq occupations are planned" is exclusive to Lendman and exists only in his brain. All NATO countries involved in the two countries are feverishly trying to reduce troop strength in Iraq and Afghanistan - and have developed timelines for a complete retreat of forces from the countries - without making it seem as if the protracted warfare against insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan were lost.

"Fighting terrorism, respecting Mali’s territorial integrity, and furthering democracy conceal dark intentions" Lendman claims ambiguously in regards to the French intervention, but reading texts such as this, it seems the part about "dark intentions" holds true more for their authors. The Islamist groups that control northern Mali only appear as "rebels" throughout his article - the Rebels and the Empire, makes you think of Star Wars, doesn't it? He manages to not once mention the acronym AQIM: Al Qaeda in the islamic Maghreb. During their attack on the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria, "hundreds of hostages were taken" and it almost seems as if Lendman cheers this on as a success report for the forces of good. What he doesn't mention is that these hundreds of hostages were seperated according to faith - many of the workers on In Amenas were foreign experts, technicians and engineers - and the Islamists then proceeded to kill those of their hostages who were not Algerian muslims.

"Contesting for the country’s north won’t be easy." Lendman predicts with apparent satisfaction. "It’s mountainous, rugged, and vast. It replicates France in size. It’s long enjoyed considerable autonomy. Protracted conflict looks likely. " This is wishful thinking on Lendmans part, because he desperately wants to see his rebel alliance win against the dark empire. Northern Mali is dominated by deserts, even the Hoggar mountains, which partly extend into north-eastern Mali, are relatively open spaces whereas Mali is concerned. Its vast size will work to the disadvantage of the islamic insurgents, because vast open areas, the deserts of the Sahara and the shrubberies of the Sahel, will favour the force that can bring more flexible and mobile units to bear. France fields a modern airforce, helicopters and mechanized ground forces.

Speaking of northern Malis autonomy is, by the way, a cynical joke. Enforced non-developement would be a more fitting description. The reasons for the sudden success of islamist rebels in northern Mali lie in decades long instability in the region due to the discrimination of the Tuareg minority in Mali and its neighbours. Hated for having been deeply involved in colonial forces and slave trade in the past, the independence of former French colonies marked the beginning of a prolonged campaign of impoverishment in the Tuareg areas, worsening in the recent past with the increasing hardships in the Sahel zone due to climate change. Tuareg rebels have long fought unsuccesfully for an independent Tuareg state, "Azawad", land of the Wadi's.

How the repeatedly unsuccesful Tuareg rebellions of the past turned into an islamist insurgency that routed the Malinese army and nearly conquered the country needs some explanation - read carefully, Lendman, you can learn something. The Tuareg were long known for living an especially moderate muslimic faith, with comparatively great rights for women. Their rebel groups are secular, but after the war in Lybia and the overthrowal of dictator Ghadaffi, many fighters from Lybia returned to Mali. Amongst them not just the Tuareg that had been hired by the Lybian government as reliable soldiers, but also islamist fighters that had participated in its overthrowal - and weapons from the stockpiles of north-Africas wealthiest oil exporter. Before that event, the suffocating poverty in the Sahel zone had already created a fertile breeding ground for the islamist ideology and especially young men are suspectible to the offers of a life as soldier of Islam, when the alternative is to cope with starvation.

Well armed, experienced and highly motivated the Tuareg-Islamist alliance could quickly overrun the north of Mali. But it remains an unsteady alliance. An agreement about the cooperation in the fight against the Malinese government, which also included a non-enforcement of Sharia law, lasted merely a few days. Their attempts to root themselves in northern Malinese society seem to yeild only mixed results, the majority of islamist fighters are foreigners. Wandering militias who have participated in other wars in the past. This points to another reason why Lendmans portrayal of the war as western invasion is flawed, because in fact, it's an invasion of northern Mali by organized Islamists. Lendmans refusal to even mention the wave of atrocities that followed in the wake of the Islamist advance, much less the broad support in Mali for the French forces.

Images of locals waving the flags of foreign forces to cheer them on are a staple of war propaganda to keep up the moral on the home front. But it would be ignorant to think those are therefore always false. There is a reason why Lendman hesitates to cite even a single voice from Mali itself, because those wouldn't support his view of the French operation in Mali as a forceful occupation. Quite to the contrary, the French forces were requested by the Malinese government and Hollande hesitate long to grant his support. French forces literally arrived on the last possible moment, as any day later, an important airfield that enables much of the current operation would have fallen to Islamists. There is one opposition party in Mali that rejects the French intervention, is the left-nationalist MP22. Only, they, too, support the fight against insurgents in northern Mali, they just believe that Malis army can do it on its own.

People like Lendman don't support peace, much less human rights. They have bloated the American state into the prime evil of the world and care little who fights them, as long as someone does it. Willingly, they lend their support to any group and cloud their intentions with smokescreens of peace-rhetorics and a demonization of one side of a conflict. What he fails to realize is that Islamism is a variant of the political phenomena best described as "fascism". It's the heavily religious version of fascism in the Arabic and broader muslim world, dreaming of the rebirth of a Kaliphate that never really existed in this way. In their attempt to lend importance to their own positions, people like Lendman jeopardize all standards of emancipatory and left-wing polititics for an alliance with islamist fascism. This has lasting consequences, because in much of the developing world, especially in the muslim countries, the left as we know it has ceased to exist. The strata of the local populations that could be reached with emancipatory positions are not just figuratively, but very practically, violently controlled by Islamic groups and their social issues are answered with anti-semitic, anti-feminine and anti-modern rhetorics.

One word of caution though: do not think that Islamism is a backwards, medieval movement. Their rhetorics may be anti-modern, their ideology is not. Like fascism elsewhere they employ anti-capitalist sentiment to direct it against specific groups, mostly jews and westerners, sometimes also christian or other minorities. But they do not challenge capitalism itself, not even in a reactionary fashion. Lendman lends his voice to people like Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, calling them political prisoners as if it's Mumia Abu Jamal we're talking about. Abdel-Rahman was one of the organizers of the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. Lendman keeps quiet about that. What he mentions instead is, that Abdel-Rahman was previously an ally of the CIA, trained and funded by the American government. Again, his narrative knows no private agenda for Washingtons allies. In Lendmans worldview, they are puppets, used and thrown away.

But Islamists are not puppets of western governments. They are dangerous, militant movements that are handy allies whenever it comes to keeping impoverished populations within the framework of capitalist economy. President Morsi in Egypt, Islamist rebels fighting in Lybia or Syria - western states ally with them, because they are the only groups with both the mass-base and the necessary will to violence to enforce the blind progress of the global market. But Islamism has plans of their own and may turn on the west, not just by allying with Iran (for many Sunni Islamist groups allying with the Shiites in Iran is out of question) but also out of their own volition. Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism (in many cases, it's not so easy to distinguish between these two and Islamists will claim the US is run by jews anyways) are integral parts of their ideology, not just as mock rhetorics, but as very real motivations for their actions.

These are the people trying to take over northern Mali.