By Intibah Kadi
A curious phenomenon has gradually crept upon the English language social media community that defends Syria; a small but effective group of “orientalists” with their varied agendas, gatekeepers amongst them of all shapes and sizes and evangelizers and assorted nefarious subverters. Syrians, having never experienced working together with people from across the world, had no experience of the pro and cons of such activism. In general, Syrians have politely made excuses for colonialist or exceptionalist behaviour with statements such as “anyone who speaks up about Syria is our friend”. We may even say that the Syrian government has done this in its endeavour to welcome any promotion for the defence of Syria , no matter who it comes from.
How did this happen? Syrians had not experienced what Palestinians had in their decades long struggle which involved volunteer advocates, mainly from the West. Palestinians became quickly aware that they had to keep control and ownership of their struggle as some of their supporters suffered from an overwhelming need and sense of entitlement to speak for and on behalf of the Palestinian people to the point where some actually saw themselves as representing that struggle. Apparently Gandhi insisted to his great and life-long friend Charles Andrews that only Indians must be involved in their struggle, so, that awareness was there a long time ago.
Edward Said’s most famous and rather complex work ,“Orientalism”, published in 1978, explores the relationship between power, knowledge and colonialism. Some of his words echo in my mind when it comes to this subject of a people needing to preserve the integrity of and control over their struggle. It is claimed that Said was influenced by the Italian Marxist Gramsci’s notion of ‘hegemony’ in terms of understanding the influence of orientalist constructs and entrenchment in Western academia and even their reach of power over the Orient itself. In this context, Gramsci’s views on ‘hegemony’ refer to the victory of the dominant class’s promotion of their definition of reality and world view.
We are here talking about people in the West and in the case of this article, specifically of a section of Western activists. Hence, the various frameworks they present are seen in their paradigm as the norm, as logical, the given and the only set of frameworks to view the world through. Those who do not toe the line, and in this subject being discussed here, these are the actual “orientals” themselves; they are utterly marginalized even though is it their struggle, their story, their history and their culture. They can lose their voice because of the exceptionalists’ need to play the role for them and be their voice. These “orientalists” have a tremendous need to retell another culture’s experience. And, how dare in the case of Syria, for example, that there can exist eloquent, highly educated, brilliant and deeply knowledgeable Syrian analysts and activists who contradict the conclusions derived from the frameworks of the significant and only paradigm on this planet?
For as long as such a person toes the line, agrees with his Western allies, all goes well and, to a certain degree, there will be some support for this analyst or writer. But, the moment this “oriental” has the audacity to make conclusions or claims that fall well outside of those reached by the Western academics or analysts who use their Western paradigm frameworks, then it is time to silence, shut out and shut down this audacious “oriental” before their own inadequacies and failings are exposed.
All views, theories and assessments must fit neatly into these Western hemisphere frameworks, if not, then they must be ridiculed and shut down.
In the increasing phenomenon of Western activist involvement in causes far away from their lands, causes that have emerged principally due to the actions of the “masters of the universe”, they are coming into contact with people who they normally would not and, this is the case vice versa . The Western activists see themselves as in a position to to assist and support advocacy on situations involving underprivileged, disenfranchised or oppressed people. For the well-intentioned who are able to keep their ego in check and who have expunged as much of their socio-political biases and subconscious assumptions, they can be of immense assistance and value. However, for those who see a window of opportunity for personal advancement or some other agenda, then this is an ideal opportunity for them and this is where, in the case of Syria, generally experience of Syrians in recognizing this and making an informed assessment and decision about this is lacking or they are just too polite.
The more this problematic section of solidarists became involved in the struggles of others far away from their world, the more many became enmeshed and deluded in a world of fantasy, placing themselves as the centre piece of someone else’s struggle and ultimately disempowering those they were meant to support.
In the case of Palestine this became painfully obvious when many if not most activists from the West, not having the background to understand the history, cultural and intimate nuances of life in the region that only an Indigenous person can have, supported the disappointingly large section of Palestinians who took the sectarian path and supported the murderous Takfiris. Some took these little understood, adopted views on as if it were a new cause for their very own existence when, in fact, they were assisting those who were threatening the very existence of the only secular and truly independent nation in the Levant, Syria and the mother of Palestine.
The world in the Levant is so different in so many ways to life in the West and, no words can adequately reflect this. For a person from another culture far away, to meddle in areas of sensitivity in the region, believing they understand it all, they can, in fact, contribute to further violence, hatred or even genocide. For example, in the Levant, there is a term used to inflict extreme insult upon others; it is in fact the name of a particular ethnic culture. The same goes for those who do not understand that some of their words have contributed to fanning the flames of sectarianism in the region. Both examples have the potential to become giant bloodbaths, particularly the latter.
When we come to the works of Indigenous Levantines, from newspaper reports, analysis or interviews, these seem not to be regarded by any Western analysts as primary materials. And, when Indigenous Levantines endeavour to bring out to the Western world important news or analysis from key, important Arabic speaking analysts, they are not for one moment regarded as primary documents or even read by these described analysts. So in fact, in general, many of these non-Indigenous analysts tend to present their analysis based on secondary sources. I am not specifically referring to news reports here as many competent Syrians have been able to get news out in the English language. I am talking about analysis. So the point I am making here is that, when I really think back to the last five years of the War On Syria, indigenous insights from the Levant brought to the West in order to assist the supporters of Syria and the West in general to appreciate what is really going on from the perspective of the people actually in that area tends to be discounted or totally ignored by serious Western analysts and others. Those “orientalists” often are at total odds in their analysis to what the Levantine analysts state.
Even worse, despite countless instances when none of the Arabic language media in the region makes a single mention of some purported event published in the alternative media of the West, these reports gain enormous credibility amongst the Western supporters and even gain a life of their own. The fact that these “reports” are not even mentioned in the street or in the media of the country or region where it was supposed to have occurred, seems not to have the slightest impact on the this section of Western supporters. It is desired reading and it perhaps fits within their framework.
As for the story about why ISIS and such Takfiri groups were able to be created and prevail, the story from the Levant, from learned and informed understanding of the Quran and the history of Islam from an Indigenous person, is to be totally discounted and in fact ridiculed and insulted. The Western framework around this narrative is the one and only valid explanation.
I will share a very telling story with the reader which demonstrates a world of insight into the issues this article explores. This is an experience I encountered but I am sure many other Indigenous analysts may have even more amusing stories to share.
A startling report came out back in September 2013, in the Arabic language Al Manar, the official organ of Hezbollah, a stickler for accurate reports. It claimed that Russia had stopped two ballistic missiles heading for Syria. When I partook in promptly and urgently translating this report into English and sent it around the world I came across a problem with one of the alternative media sites in an English speaking country. The editor refused to publish it as he said the report was not verified as it had not been reported in the American site called “Information Clearing House” (ICH). Rather a chicken versus the egg argument! So a report from the mighty Hezbollah’s media site about an event that happened in its own area was not valid until the ICH said it was so. Besides the incredible arrogance, the logic in the Editor’s argument was missing.
Edward Said always warned about ‘orientalism’ and its proponents’ tremendous need to retell another culture’s experience and that it was even utilized by imperialism. Undoubtedly this includes conscious but mostly subconscious attitudes of colonialism and gate-keeping and ultimately results in the silencing of Indigenous voices that are “non-compliant” with the place and status these “orientalists” want to relegate them to!
This hijacking and subverting of Syrian control over the English speaking social media fight for Syria came to a head recently when a large section of the English speaking members of the social media movement, after one of the members had for months promoted one of her kind, Senator Dick Black, shared across the social media enthusiastic posts of the “hero” Senator. Senator Black was welcomed in Syria and indeed had a meeting with President Assad.
This is the background fundamentalist Christian Senator Black comes from; the Ted Cruz platform in the running up for preselection for the American Presidential race which included a proposed policy of only Christian Syrian refugees, not Muslims, being allowed into the USA; an overt and despicable sectarian stand.
Senator Black is a minor State Senator who curiously believes he has a role to play on the international arena. The Senator had been challenged over a year ago by an analyst whose insights on the misinterpretation of Islam and how that lent itself to driving the jihadist recruitment was given to a trusted acquaintance but immediately landed in the hands of the Senator. The Senator promptly used this information to achieve the exact opposite goals to the originator of the information and, clearly, this was used by the Senator to further his sectarian agenda. The result was a cleverly written article by the Senator, where that analyst saw his own words and concepts in print but with a very different message to the one he was trying to get across. Senator Black, in a subtle manner, stated that extremist Islam was a danger for Christianity and the Western civilization, making no mention of the danger it posed to everyone in the entire Middle East and indeed the whole world. Just like ISIS, the fundamentalist drive in the USA potentially poses a great danger. Such beliefs including other bizarre beliefs of Senator Black, goes against everything the State of Syria values and advocates.
“Cruz is avowedly as sectarian as you can get and so is Black”, to quote an American academic when contemplating on the meeting Black had with President Assad, … “nor does it benefit Syria to elevate a local state politician who is ridiculed in the US press for such bizarre extremist views on sexuality, birth control, etc. My god, what is [Black] doing even speaking about marital rape, let alone denying it. The guy is a nutcase and minor figure.”
And why do I focus on this matter of Senator Black? It is to demonstrate the extent that the Syrian fight for Syria on the English speaking forum has been subverted. So who does Black truly represent? For those who understand Cruz and his kind intimately, they will be able to suggest some answers. Cruz is as rabidly pro-Israel as an American can be. Those from his camp who may be involved in defending Syria are only interested in the Christians of Syria. Some may even come from USA based churches that on one hand have members setting off to Israel for solidarity activities and other members who suddenly veer off and focus on Syria.
Had the Syrians been in control of their cause on the English speaking social media forum, then the issues described above would never have occurred. Instead, due to politeness and extreme civility on the part of Syrians, their cause on the English speaking social media, was incrementally eroded and overrun by evangelists, agents of all kinds of agenda, self-promoting individuals, agents who speak for Syrian fifth columnists and even agents of the CIA backed Unification Church.
The clique that gradually formed and overran the solidarity community all fraternise with each other, the whole lot of these nefarious characters, supposedly some being in total contradiction to each other’s values and politics, all the while co-opting vulnerable Syrians and attacking or freezing out the Syrians who expose them just by the virtue of what they write and say. The Arabic speaking Syria defence community on social media has never heard of these “famous” clique members or of Senator Black. This clique, formed their own cocoon, live in a fantasy and, unfortunately affected the English language social media fight for Syria.
The genuine, sincere, Western supporters of Syria are also generally sidelined as their modus operandi of empowerment of Syrians and helping from far behind acts as a mirror to the ego driven and profile seeking activists. The most hard working and effective supporters of Syria are those we never hear about, and we never know of their deeds or how their help empowered key Syrian figures to achieve certain tasks. Some of these quiet unsung heroes from the West may silently enter Syria at times, meet discreetly with key figures, listen carefully, keep their eyes and ears open and mouths closed and, with the expertise they may possess, help from behind the scenes without any recognition or fanfare.