Syria, Linda Sarsour & The Crisis of Western Discourse
New Eastern Outlook / Калеб Маупин
For many people in the west, the traditional political compass seems broken, and “left” and “right” are almost indistinguishable in a confused political mess. The controversy surrounding the Arab-American figure now embraced by the Democratic Party, Linda Sarsour, illustrates this perfectly.
A Political Compass for Syria
In Syria, it is very clear who the “right” and the “left” are. The “right” is the group of Wahabbi fanatics that seek to overthrow the Syrian government. The stated goal of many, if not all, of the different groups working to overthrow the Syrian government is to end religious freedom and establish a government in Syria similar to that of Saudi Arabia. Fanatics from across the region and the world are pouring in for a fanatical crusade to bring the Syrian government down. The western capitalist powers, the USA, France, Britain, etc. have all enthusiastically backed this campaign, which would replace a Baath Socialist government rooted in the region’s anti-imperialist struggles, with a pro-western, Saudi-style regime. Weapons, funding, supplies, and propaganda from the western capitalist powers are all being unleashed to support the right-wing anti-government forces in Syria.
The obvious “left” in the Syrian conflict are the forces who oppose this campaign of destruction, fomented by Wahabbi extremists and their backers. Syria’s ruling Baath Arab Socialist Party, the volunteers from Hezbollah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Christian militias, the Communist Party, the trade unions, women’s rights organizations; all of them are united in defense of the Syrian government.
“Left” and “Right” are basically defined by terms of historical progress. Leftists call themselves “progressive” because they strive for advances in human civilization, while the right-wing is called “reactionary” because it seeks to move toward an idealized interpretation of the past and opposes new reforms. Even one who is deeply confused about politics can understand that in Syria, the anti-government forces, fighting to drive out religious minorities and establish a government of extremists are on the “right,” while the coalition rallying around the secular socialist ruling party are on the left.
In Syria, the government ratified a new constitution in 2012 in response to the mass protests during the Arab Spring. The Syrian Arab Republic which stands for religious freedom, economic development, and political reform represents the future. At war with it are forces like Daesh (ISIS), Al-Nusra, and various other extremists who openly seek to impose a political model from thousands of years ago. They obviously represent the past.
An Extreme Rightist at the “Left Forum”
Linda Sarsour, formerly the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, is a right-winger, if ever. She loudly and unapologetically defends the government of Saudi Arabia, the repressive oil autocracy. Not only is Saudi Arabia right-wing in the Middle East, but it even meddles in American politics, pushing a right-wing agenda. Saudi Arabia is partial owner of News Corp, the parent company of the right-leaning news outlets FOX news and the Wall Street Journal.
While Sarsour defends the head-chopping, hand-chopping, flogging, autocracy which is currently destroying Yemen, she loudly opposes the Syrian Arab Republic. Sarsour has repeatedly taken the stage at rallies supporting the “Syrian Revolution” led by Wahabbi fanatics.
Sarsour has done her best, not only to defend Saudi Arabia, but to present it in a positive light to leftists. Her tweets speak of maternity leave for Saudi women, ignoring the fact that the millions of female guest workers in Saudi Arabia, who live as slaves with no human rights, have no access to such things. She speaks of women holding elected office in Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that such positions are merely symbolic. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy ruled by a royal family, and the local councils within it are almost completely irrelevant. Defending Saudi Arabia, Sarsour speaks of “Sharia law” getting rid of student debt and usury, ignoring the fact that the Saudi government has collaborated with British bankers to develop a near equally usurious industry called “Islamic Banking” for financial transactions in the region.
How can Linda Sarsour be described as a leftist, or even a feminist? Sarsour seeks regime change in Syria, and has gone as far as to convene a press conference calling on Obama to topple the Syrian government. As she defends the Saudi autocracy and calls for the violent overthrow of the Syrian government, while talking up the merits of Saudi Arabia’s medieval autocracy which bans women from driving cars, she makes Donald Trump and Pat Buchanan look like extreme liberals. Yet, she is scheduled to be a keynote speaker at the annual the “Left Forum” in New York City. Furthermore, she was a key speaker and organizer of the “Women’s March” against Donald Trump on January 21st.
An Islamophobic Opposition
Now that Linda Sarsour is scheduled to give the commencement address on June 1st at CUNY’s School of Public Health & Health Policy, a widespread campaign against her has opened up. However, the opposition to Sarsour’s planned address is not based on her warmongering against Syria. Rather, it is based on her religious views and her mild opposition to Israel.
New York City local media and national news reports have been filled with allegations that Sarsour is “Anti-Semitic” for criticizing Israel and supporting children who throw rocks at Israeli soldiers. Her tweets defending Sharia law have been fitted into the crazed, paranoid narrative of certain delusional rightists, who believe that the US is in danger of somehow being seized by an Islamic government.
The campaign against Sarsour essentially consists of three arguments: “she’s an Arab”, “she’s a Muslim,” and “she’s denounced Israel, so she must hate all Jews.” The campaign is a display of right-wing bigotry and stupidity, being driven by fanatical supporters of Israel in alliance with trembling xenophobes who obsessively fear Islam.
While Israel supporters are among those loudly denouncing her, Sarsour has been a good friend of Israel. She works to topple the Syrian Arab Republic, one of the principle supporters of the Palestinian resistance. Israeli newspaper Haaretz ran an entire article explaining how useful Sarsour had been to Pro-Israel anti-Trump activists. The article quotes one of the organizers of the January 21st Women’s March saying: “We worked closely with Linda specifically on the messaging for this march. The concern we had had to do with Israel. She could not have been more open and reassuring that there would be no Israel bashing, and she kept her word…I didn’t see one anti-Israel sign, not one BDS sign.”
Sarsour has gone as far as to declare that she supports the existence of Israel as a state, and has even declared: “Jews are some of my biggest supporters.” Yet, the crowds of Israel supporters denouncing her are so blinded by ethnic bigotry that they cannot comprehend this. To them, she is just a Muslim, a non-white woman in a head scarf, and their gut feelings of contempt for such people over-rule any rational conversation.
Left or Right? Bigotry or Empire?
The right-wing sees Linda Sarsour only as a Muslim Arab, and in an atmosphere stuffed with identity politics, the left sees her in the same way. To so many liberals, Sarsour is just a Muslim, non-white woman in a head-scarf. Her presence at events and rallies proves how “inclusive” the white middle class organizers are. Sarsour’s pro-Saudi perspective is “just another point of view.” They are happy to show how “tolerant” and “multi-cultural” they are by embracing her as they rally against Donald Trump.
It makes sense why Sarsour would oppose Donald Trump. During his campaign, he questioned Hillary Clinton’s support for the Syrian rebels. He announced opposition to “toppling regimes.” Trump even questioned the longstanding US-Saudi relationship. Sarsour, as a pro-Saudi, anti-Syrian fanatic, would certainly be threatened by Trump’s unfulfilled campaign rhetoric.
Sarsour’s assumption of center-stage on the American left fits a bigger pattern. While once the left was identified with centrally planned economies, class struggle, and radical ideals, it is now identified with the bland concepts of “tolerance,” “multiculturalism,” and “human rights.” In the lead up to the 2016 Presidential race, many leftists refused to criticize Saudi Arabia, and called the JASTA bill, allowing accountability for Saudi involvement in 9/11, “Islamophobic.”
At CNN’s direction, leftists cheer for the destabilization of governments deemed to be homophobic, oppressive of women, or otherwise problematic. Taking their cues from the New York Times editorial page, liberals unleash their “human rights” activism against whichever government Wall Street and the Pentagon decides to target. The supposed “radicals” that once were part of the anti-war movement, now cheer for US backed “revolutions” almost anywhere they can be found, and rally against Donald Trump, a President deemed to be an “un-American” “fascist” for his friendliness to Russia and his unfulfilled isolationist promises.
The “Stop Trump” movement that filled the streets against the Inauguration on January 20th was a display of pro-war American chauvinism. Signs and T-shirts bearing Trump’s face with hammers and sickles were abundant. Chants of “No Putin President” rung out. Images of Trump’s face adjusted to the likeness of Kim Jong-Il were present as well.
The “Stop Trump” movement unleashes its rage against Donald Trump and his supporters with a classist caricature of rural, Appalachian, and southern white workers. Their accents, their belief in Christianity, and their complaints about de-industrialization are mocked. Their observation that “regime change” makes global conditions worse, their feeling that the USA is ruled by a powerful financial oligarchy, and their fears about government surveillance are dismissed as just “conspiracy theories.” The “Stop Trump” movement lampoons figures like Alex Jones, while rallying behind figures like Samantha Power. The Anti-Trump movement stands for an arrogant defense of the failing political establishment against those isolationists, civil libertarians, and others who dare discuss Wikileaks revelations or question the unfolding global order of neoliberalism.
In Global Politics: Who is Left? Who is Right?
The concepts of Left and Right were first introduced in the aftermath of the French Revolution. The more conservative forces who wanted to accommodate with the remnants of feudalism sat on the right, while the most radical forces, who sought to fully embrace the “modern world” and march into the future, sat on the left.
Today, the most powerful right-wing force on the planet is the global economic system, where a small group of powerful financial elites based in western countries dominate the planet. This system of imperialism promotes backwardness and chaos, in the hopes of keeping a monopoly for the western, globalist-minded financial elite.
Wall Street’s oil and banking cartels, enforcing their will via the US government, happily embrace repressive regimes. In Central America, their allies are Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, regimes where Wall Street corporations rule amid poverty and narco-chaos. The chaos fomented by these pro-Wall Street regimes has spilled over the southern US border in a crisis of crime and mass migration. While embracing the corrupt regimes that preside over poverty and chaos, the US establishment’s target in Central America is now Nicaragua. The USA works to undermine and demonize this country where the Sandinista government, under the slogan of “Christianity, Socialism & Solidarity” dares to build infrastructure and raise the standard of living in alliance with China.
In the Middle East, Wall Street embraces backward, repressive oil rich autocracies linked to terrorism, while attacking countries like Iran and Syria, led by independent governments that seek to modernize. The destruction of Iraq’s Baath Socialist government, and the continued civil war fomented against Syria, have resulted in a mass refugee crisis. Millions have also fled Yemen as the US-backed Saudi onslaught continues against this country. Thousands of have been killed by the bombing campaign, waged in the hopes of beating back the uprising against Saudi puppet Mansour Hadi.
In Africa, US leaders embrace many corrupt regimes where poverty, crime, and western economic domination are a way of life. However, in 2011, Libya, once the most prosperous country in Africa, with the highest standard of living, was destroyed with NATO missiles and reduced to chaos.
Throughout the world, various forces have sought to reject this international dictatorship of enforced poverty and chaos. Sometimes these forces are nationalists, other times Communists, other times Muslims, Baathists or Bolivarians, The rallying cry they hold in common is a fight to build their country up from poverty, establish home-rule, and bring their historically impoverished homelands closer to the 21st century.
Even within the western countries, the effects of international global capitalism are unleashing a backlash. Working class people look into the future and see the unfolding trend toward a low wage police state and rising international chaos. Among working people of different races and ethnic backgrounds, alternative narratives are increasingly being embraced. In response to the desperate anger of the working class, the political establishment is rallying the middle classes, which still have some stake in the status quo. The “Stop Trump” movement in the United States, the mobilizations against Marine Le Pen in France, the anti-Brexit protests in the UK are waged in hope to beat back these rising sentiments. These movements see the fact that the working class is in motion and alternative narratives are widespread as very dangerous, regardless of the politics. They see the rising anger simply as “ignorance” and “paranoia,” and seek to blame it on “Russian meddling,” not the global economic crisis.
At the moment, only right-wing and nationalistic forces have been able to capture the rising anger among the working class majority in western countries. The middle class new left, rooted in the upsurges of the 1960s and 70s and based on the University campuses and within the Democratic Party, is uncomfortable with the working class nature of the growing dissent. However, as the new right-wing nationalists take power, in many cases they are proving themselves unable to resolve the crisis and bring the change they have promised. Trump has already reversed his isolationist campaign promises, and escalated US military involvement across the globe.
The terms which have defined western discourse since the end of the Second World War are rapidly changing, and as the Linda Sarsour debate illustrates, the concepts of “Left & Right” are being reworked in the face of a global crisis. The 21st century is new political terrain. The old rules are being rewritten.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.