Friday, July 19, 2013

Two Muddles: Syria and Zimmerman

The original title for this post was Middle East Marxist Muddles, based on two posts by Louis Proyect, here (1) and here (2). But on second thought, Marxists aren't alone in being confused--everybody else is too, including yours truly.

That said, Marxists are muddled in their own peculiar way. Take for example, Proyect's post (2), entitled Homs Today. It is a photograph, a panoramic view of the Homs skyline--destruction and ruin as far as the eye can see. What follows is only this short caption, which I quote in full:
The necessary consequences of resisting jihadist/CIA/Salafist/Samantha Powers/Zionist threats to a secular and socialist bastion of Arab nationalism? Or is that Arab national socialism?
Do you know what that means? Me neither.

Post (1) is a reprint from the Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal--an Australian publication of no renown. (Links is the German word for Left--I don't know if that's relevant.) The article, by Michael Karadjis, is very long (brevity must be a bourgeois virtue), but I'll try to summarize it for you in bullet points.

  • The events in Syria are a revolution, and represent secular, Leftist progress against a brutal government, and against western imperialism.
  • Evidence of secular leftism are found in the Local Coordinating Committees (LCC), which are democratic managers of local governance.
  • The threats to the revolution are three:
    • Imperialism wants to preserve the deep state, while changing the leaders at the top to make the government more representative.
    • The Assad regime wants to remain in power as is, with support from reactionary elements in Iran and Lebanon (Hezbollah).
    • The evil Salafists, represented by the al-Nusra Front, want to hijack the revolution for their own, nefarious Islamofascist ends. In this they have help from Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The Marxist error is to cast events as revolutionary, i.e., a struggle of Left vs. Right. The analysis relies heavily on the character of the LCCs, supposedly novel, grassroots organizations representing secular, Marxist principles. They have no such importance. Instead they are simply local efforts to restore basic municipal services. Syria is a country of kin and tribe--large, extended families who live together in neighborhoods and defend themselves with local militias. The LCCs are just another name for existing tribal institutions--civil extensions of militias.

The revolt is Syria is an ethnic conflict pure and simple--there is no ideological conflict of significance. The best recent analogy I can think of is the war in Sri Lanka, pitting the Tamils against the Sinhalese. The Tamil Tigers were so not-cuddly that even Marxists couldn't rise to their support, and the government wasn't much better. Unlike Syria, the Sri Lankan conflict had no resonance elsewhere, and so the world community just ignored it.

But the Syrian struggle is ultimately Sunni vs. Shi'a, which echos across the entire Middle East. It has already spread to Iraq and Lebanon. It could easily extend into Turkey, and not just through the Kurds, but via the Alevi--a Shi'ite sect comprising about 20% of the population. Bahrain and even Saudi Arabia are potential battlegrounds. This is no small problem.

So the "imperialist" project of preserving the "deep state" while broadening the government is not such a bad idea. That keeps Syria intact and prevents a larger war. Only problem is it is probably now impossible. Walter Russell Mead has long taken the Obama administration to task for dithering and speechifying. He believes (without much conviction) that if the US had intervened sooner we could possibly have rescued the situation. But now it is too late.

It's not so much that I disagree with the Obama administration on policy--but they are just stunningly incompetent. Mr. Obama is clearly just not interested in world affairs, and knows very little. He has made a complete hash of the Russian "reset," the Egyptian "Spring," the Libyan "lead from behind," the Afghanistan "threat to withdraw if you don't surrender first," and so forth. If anybody is in a muddle, it's Mr. Obama.

Apart from his obscure caption, Mr. Proyect has said little about the Syrian conflict. A wise man, that Mr. Proyect. Humility is in order when it comes to something as complicated as Syria.

So now let's think about muddle number two--the Zimmerman verdict. Unlike his speeches on Syria, I was absolutely astounded by Mr. Obama's speech yesterday about Trayvon Martin. I think he said exactly what needed to be said, and he said it very well. Again, let me summarize in bullet points:
  • He explained to majority America why Blacks see the Trayvon Martin case differently than others. I found his comments very clarifying.
  • He did not accuse whites of being racist, nor did he accuse Blacks of being stupid. He gave full credit to both sides.
  • He did not excuse or explain away Black criminal behavior.
  • Stand Your Ground has no bearing in this particular case, and this was the only sour note in his speech. I did not follow the logic of his role reversal hypothetical.
  • However, as Charles Krauthammer has pointed out, Stand Your Ground is a very nice way of changing the subject, and I think the fact that Obama brought it up implies the Feds will not prosecute Zimmerman for civil rights violations. If true, this is good news.
  • He said that we are not in a post-racial world. There still is racism, and there are certainly racial problems. But he acknowledged the huge improvement in our society since 1964. In this he separates himself from race hustlers such as Al Sharpton.

Post-racial we may not be. But we are post-civil-rights. It is not true that race has nothing to do with the Zimmerman case--of course it does. There's too much history here. But we can say that Zimmerman has nothing to do with civil rights. Zimmerman was found innocent on the facts of the case. In other circumstances he would have been found guilty. There are no civil rights issues involved at all.

The civil rights movement is over. Zimmerman, and Obama's speech, marks the end.

So what does this have to do with Syria? Syria is an ethnic conflict without ideological content. And likewise, because of the victory of the civil rights movement, race relations in America is an ethnic conflict without ideological content. White people and Black people simply have different views of the world.

Marxists have it wrong. Ideology is dead.

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