by Ramin Mazaheri for the Saker Blog
This is the final part of a 3-part series which examines the leftist project of Northern Syria
In the first article of this series, “Stop confusing Kurdistans! Syria’s leftists must turn home to Assad”, I discussed how the Turkish invasion of Afrin should provoke the immediate reconciliation of the self-proclaimed Democratic Federation of Northern Syria and Damascus.
In the second article, “Northern Syria’s leftism explained: a response to Socialist Arab Nationalism” I described the policies of the DFNS, also known as “Rojava”, and explained how their rise is a result of the lack of modern ethnic equality/multi-culturalism in the official Arab Socialist Baath Party…which has promoted Arab nationalism in a northern region which is half-full of Kurds and half-full of other ethnic groups, including Arabs.
I concluded part 2 when it came to describing Rojava’s view of religion and government – which is “secular”. But secularism such a broad term that it needs clear definitions. Let’s take the historical worldview:
Firstly, Muslim secularism is not a contradiction, but it has undoubtedly been an anti-democratic disaster. Tp those who promote Western-style secularism in the Muslim world: It is as if you are totally blind to the atrocities required to implement it.
Iraq: Outlawing and massacres of Islamist Dawa Party (this was the official reason Saddam was hanged).
Algeria: Military coup ahead of impending election victory of Islamic Salvation Front in 1992, which started the Algerian Civil War, killing 250,000 people.
Egypt: Morsi jailing, coup overturning 2011 revolution, decades of Muslim Brotherhood repression.
Syria: Mass repression of the Muslim Brotherhood, sparking 6 years of Islamist insurgency that peaked with the Hama massacre in 1982 – tens of thousands dead.
We clearly see that massive, violent, anti-democratic repression has been required to enforce Western secularism; the reason for this is that Western secularism in a Muslim context is totally undemocratic, culturally inauthentic and ineffective.
Those four countries compose the entire list Middle East-North African Arab countries which are not reactionary monarchies, although only Egypt is a Zionist collaborator. All of these countries are totally screwed up in 2018, with Algeria being the tallest of the 7 dwarves (poor Algeria, so far from God, so close to France).
Lest we not forget: Tunisia – Islamist Ennhada party wins vote, gets Islam enshrined in Constitution and thus overturning secularism, but they are also too timid to accept power. Turkey – Erdogan’s base is definitely more Islamist than secular. Iran – the least secular and most successful leftist country in the MENA region.
The reality – which, again, is impossible not to see if one is an honest democrat and if one views the region objectively – is that as long as Muslims are banned from being openly political, a Muslim-majority nation will be at risk of civil war for reasons ranging from inauthenticity to cognitive dissonance to injustice, envy, resentment and more.
Therefore, it is impossible to to promote democracy in politics and oppress religion in politics at the same time – this is global left’s hard-earned lesson of the 20th century.
It’s too bad Rojava has not learned this.
Rojava follows secularism…but their model isn’t authentic, desired or democratic
What does “secularism” even mean in 2018? Let’s examine the models:
Western left-wing secularism has been a dismal failure. It has failed because it is a religion in itself. Much like neoliberals do, its proponents take it on faith that this is the best model despite their lack of proof: there is every indication that secularism has actually reduced the amount of morality in its political programs, and also among the politicians who thrive in such a model. It is even a radical “religion” because it seeks to impose a one-size fits all model; its propaganda bars not just dissent, but even discussion. This model runs from the absolutely unbearable fake-leftist “Je Suis Charlies” to far-left Trotskyists. This model of secularism believes that all public decisions must be totally untouched by religious beliefs or practices.
Western right-wing secularism is simply a lie: To say that Christianity is not embedded in Western society – in their socio-political classes and in their ideology -is a falsehood which can only possibly be swallowed by the region’s Christians: everybody else sees the lack of honesty, balance and justice. Christian Democrat parties, usually with that exact name (like in Germany) have governed Western Europe almost universally and continuously since World War II…yet “Muslim Democrat” parties are impossible, right, LOL? This model is less severe, as it wants political life to be religiously neutral, neither imposing religion nor barring it (at least officially).
Muslim right-wing secularism is exemplified by massacres of Islamist democrats – total intolerance, and a refusal to admit that grassroots Muslim organisations are actually working to help improve their societies (unlike their Western-puppet leaders). This model of secularism is not the banning of religious thought in government, but rather the banning of religious people from holding positions in government.
Muslim left-wing secularism is not exemplified by Muslim left-wing secularism is best described by…Baathist Syria today: There is religious equality, and their legal system currently has religious personal courts (for each preferred religion) but secular civil and criminal courts. So Islamic law does exist, but it is limited to parts of the judicial branch and is subordinate to civil law. Not accepting the “guardianship of the Islamic jurist”, as in Iran, is a choice only Syrians can make – but Syria is secular in that it does not allow religiously-inspired democratic parties despite the obvious democratic demand to do so.
So, to finally answer my final question of Part 2: Rojava’s view of religion and government is best described as “Western right-wing secularism”…which is clearly culturally inauthentic and thus doomed to be democratically rejected. It is also not a modern advance on this issue.
Rojava is similar to what Russia floated in January as a change – from the “Syrian Arab Republic” to a “Republic of Syria” would not allow Islamic law to be a basis of jurisprudence. Well, the problem is that this would be a revolution in Syria’s current system, and one which goes in the exact opposite of Syria’s recent history. For all the flaws of those opposed to Assad south of Rojava, the Baathist party’s barring of Islam (as well as ethnic equality) has been opposed in Syria for decades. Indeed, such a constitution would not resolve the core demand of those opposed to Assad south of Rojava. Clearly, such a constitution would not be the result of inter-Syrian, democratic diplomacy.
Rojava’s great contribution is to demand ethnic equality in an Arab nationalist state, but Syria cannot be modern if it continues to bar democratic participation base don religion.
Protecting ethnic identities is good, but we must recall that it is inherently divisive. Let’s recall that Rojavans understand this – they promote and defend Syrian nationalism.
Arab nationalism has been enough for Syria to keep from crumbling under imperialist attack, but it will not resolve its decades-old tensions, and it will likely require more than just state nationalism to provide the moral foundation and moral unity in the victorious, free Syria.
Ignoring the unifying appeal of Islam is to ignore a universal Syrian resource
If you don’t understand that already, you are either lazy or uncurious.
If Christians and Jews would take just 10 minutes to read only the first 5 pages of the Koran they would quickly understand that Islam embraces all Abrahamic religions to the tune of about 10,000%. The Koran is crystal clear on this: if you are a Christian or Jew but you are a righteous and religious person – you have a place in Paradise.
Every Muslim who has read the Koran knows this, and lives it.
This fact of tolerance is never reported in the West because…capitalist-imperialists feed off of creating divides, of course. On the other side, the Muslims who hate all Jews because of Zionism, for example, are clearly bad Muslims who don’t read or follow the Koran.
Indeed this Islamic tolerance and whole-hearted embrace of believing Jews and Christians is why all 3 brother religions lived in communal harmony from 700-1800. Even the small Yezidi minority lived in peace with Muslims (they are monotheists, after all) – it is only ISIL which has persecuted them, and they are obviously not Muslim.
Christians, Jews and Yezidis living in Syria, Iran, Egypt and elsewhere know about this Abrahamic unity because they know their own history and because they are in daily contact with each other. Zionists coming from New York City, however, have no conception of this, nor did Europe’s medieval Christian crusading imperialists. It is their loss….
Historical reminder: This peaceful coexistence changed in places like Syria only when the French & English came along in the 19th century, bringing their racism, religious intolerance, identity politics and privileged statuses for minority Christians, etc.
Indeed, our fellow “People of the Book” (a Book revered by Islam) in 2018 are sadly and totally misled about there being some sort of animosity between Muslims and their fellow Abrahamic religions. Again…take the time to read just 5 pages of the Koran to enlighten yourselves and you will take a huge step forward in brotherhood, harmony and understanding. Radical leftists and extremist Christians will, I’m sure, be unable to make such a small effort despite their alleged “European humanism”….
Realising that Islam unites all the region’s religions, and that Rojava unites the ethnicities, it is thus absurd for Syria to not, as Tunisia did, declare themselves an Islamic nation. The failure to do so excludes a source of historical-yet-existing unity, and which will only culturally antagonise the majority and create needless tensions. Indeed, Wester secularism does that very well: create needless tensions.
Indeed, who loses if Syria makes their Islam formal, like Tunisia? They are 90% Muslim, and the other groups are part of the Abrahamic brotherhood. Indeed, Jewish and Christian Syrians will obviously find receptive minds if they have religiously-inspired policies. Must Muslim-majority countries be pushed towards the faith-based religion of atheism, as in Western societies? That would totally ignore the democratic will (along with even more important considerations) which I thought “Western human rights” revered?
It is clear that Rojava, being heavily influenced by the Turkish Marxist PKK Party, is not modern on the issue of religion: they are not modern for the Muslim world because they have not embraced all-unifying Islam and have instead continued an unwanted embrace of Western secularism.
The worst part is that Western secularism excludes a coalition democracy with a Muslim-democrat/Muslim-socialist party…despite that group being the ideological majority. Just look at history for the bloody results – it is crazy to continue on this line.
This rejection of religion in politics means Baathist Damascus and Rojava have something in common…but it is something which loses, and which costs very dear.
The long-term trend: (mostly Arab) Nationalist Socialism versus Islamic Socialism
The results are in: Islamic Socialism has been far more effective than Baathist Nationalist Socialism. Even on the authoritarian end of Islamic Socialism – provided by Libya, with Iran on the democratic end of the spectrum – this model has provided a better, safer, more modern society than Baathism ever has.
The two ideologies fought it out during the Iran-Iraq War, and Islamic Socialism won. Now Islamic Socialists are consolidating democratic power in Iraq, and they are helping to save Syria along with other Islamic Socialists, Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Therefore, my thesis that Rojava has emerged as a response to the failures of nationalist-based Socialist Baathism fits right in line with history. But it does not mean that Rojava’s socialist-influenced model is superior to Islamic socialism!
Islamic religion as a key part of the foundation for the future Syrian culture and the government will likely be a democratic demand of the Muslim Syrian people, as I wrote in “The future of postwar Syria: victory looks like Iranian Islamic Socialism”. You can reject that, and the idea that the Muslim world needs democracy, but I don’t think Syrians will make demands which are hugely different from people in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Tunisia, etc.
Does Syria need Islamic Socialism? Does Syria need to change from Baathism, or at least update it? Is the Rojavan movement going to sweep all of Syria? That is for Syrians, and only Syrians, to decide.
But say it loud, even if you are not Muslim: Islam is no threat to democracy, and democracy cannot be said to truly exist without Islam, for Muslim-majority nations.
So there is nothing to fear…but there is no precedent – that is true.
That’s because, like all leftist projects (which anti-Zionist Syria has been for decades), socialism of all kinds is something which has to be created on a daily basis – there is no model in mankind’s reactionary, racist, sexist, anti-democratic histories! Iran has no model, China has no model – we are all making it up as we go along, but thank God we were not content with the status quo.
Conclusions & reasons for leftist hope
A few things are clear:
If Rojava wants to stay within Syria – as they insist – they must subordinate themselves to the democratic will of the nation. Autonomy cannot be self-declared – it must be democratically approved, and such approvals cannot be made during wartime.
If Rojavans insist on total autonomy…that means prolonged civil war. Rojavans must give in first and trust “Damascus” – that means they are trusting in the legitimate government of ALL of Syria – and promote state nationalism in order to defeat imperialist balkanisation. Showing the lower two-thirds of Syria the sincerity and modernity of their political system appears to require a faith that a significant part of it will be democratically chosen in any possible postwar political restructuring…once Syria is secure for Syrians. But this is not a one-way street: Clearly, Baathist concessions are required to catch up with modernity.
Baathism has spent decades denying ethnic equality in favor of Arab nationalism, but the latter’s time has passed. Baathists should give that up.
Baathism has spent decades violently repressing Islamic socialism – Baathists should give that up (Rojavans as well).
Rojavans must accept that – at least for now – they are not a vanguard party capable which has been selected by the Syrian people to lead, unlike Iran’s clergy or the Chinese Communist Party. They must come to the table and fall under the umbrella of Syrian nationalism which they have been espousing.
Since 1917 the left’s Achilles heel has been religion, and Rojavans must realize that. We should all recognise the political, modern, leftist, democratic advances Rojavans have created, but also realize that their lack of modernity on the religion question is a major weakness which can be easily used to destabilise all of Syria.
On the Western right, they would love to split Rojava from Syria – that would destabilise Damascus and the entire region, help safeguard Israel and make them a de-facto ally of imperialism. On the Western left, they would love to split Rojava from Syria – that would see Rojava praying to their false idol of secularism and make them them an ally against Muslim democracy and Muslim socialism.
Both these Western groups, of course, totally disavow democracy, because democracy in Syria would allow the people to choose Islamic Socialism, and their form of Islamic Socialism, and in the proportion that they choose.
Of course, the US will throw money at Rojava. Kurdish separatists will try to convince Rojavans that the Kurds are like the Jews (that they are so harassed that they must live in a separate state which segregates them from the rest of the world). Rojavans don’t believe that, but the longer they resist compromise with Damascus….
The only opinion that matters is that of the Syrians – but this opinion can only be democratically decided after the expulsion of foreign armies. If Rojava does not side with Damascus in this fight, they cannot be leftist, or Syrian, and they have claimed to be both.
I am very optimistic: History shows that massive wars post-1917 push the population towards leftism. Except for on the issues of religion and ethnicity, Syrians have been fine leftists at the forefront of some 20th century political trends.
Keep the faith, Syria! You will need it – leftist projects are not easy, but it is easier than fighting off murderous capitalist fascists.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.