Archive for September 2012
For half of the last century, Arab nationalists, socialists, communists and others were locked in a battle with the Muslim Brothers for hegemony in the Arab world.—Tariq Ali 
The Jihadists who toppled the secular nationalist Gaddafi government—and not without the help of Nato bombers, dubbed “al Qaeda’s air force”  by Canadian pilots who participated in the bombing campaign—are no longer disguised in the pages of Western newspapers as a popular movement who thirsted for, and won, democracy in Libya. Now that they’ve overrun the US consulate in Benghazi and killed the US ambassador, they’ve become a “security threat…raising fears about the country’s stability” —exactly what Gaddafi called them, when Western governments were celebrating the Islamists’ revolt as a popular pro-democracy uprising. Gaddafi’s description of the unrest in his own country as a violent Salafist bid to establish an Islamic state was doubtlessly accepted in Washington and other Western capitals as true, but dismissed in public as a transparent ploy to muster sympathy. This was necessary to sanitize the uprising to secure the acquiescence of Western publics for the intervention of their countries’ warplanes to help Islamic guerillas on the ground topple a secular nationalist leader who was practicing “resource nationalism” and trying to “Libyanize” the economy– the real reasons he’d fallen into disgrace in Washington. 
The uprising of militant Muslim radicals against a secular state was, in many respects, a replay of what had happened in Afghanistan in the late 1970s, when a Marxist-inspired government came to power with aspirations to lift the country out of backwardness, and was opposed by the Mullahs and Islamist guerillas backed by the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China.
An Afghan Communist explained that,
“Our aim was no less than to give an example to all the backward countries of the world of how to jump from feudalism straight to a prosperous, just society … Our choice was not between doing things democratically or not. Unless we did them, nobody else would … [Our] very first proclamation declared that food and shelter are the basic needs and rights of a human being. … Our program was clear: land to the peasants, food for the hungry, free education for all. We knew that the mullahs in the villages would scheme against us, so we issued our decrees swiftly so that the masses could see where their real interests lay … For the first time in Afghanistan’s history women were to be given the right to education … We told them that they owned their bodies, they would marry whom they liked, they shouldn’t have to live shut up in houses like pens.” 
That’s not to say that Gaddafi was a Marxist—far from it. But like the reformers in Afghanistan, he sought to modernize his country, and use its land, labor and resources for the people within it. By official Western accounts, he did a good job, raising his country’s standard of living higher than that of all other countries in Africa.
Gaddafi claimed that the rebellion in Libya had been organized by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, and by the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which had vowed to overthrow him and return the country to traditional Muslim values, including Sharia law. A 2009 Canadian government intelligence report bore him out. It described the anti-Gaddafi stronghold of eastern Libya, where the rebellion began, “as an ‘epicenter of Islamist extremism’ and said ‘extremist cells’ operated in the region.” Earlier, Canadian military intelligence had noted that “Libyan troops found a training camp in the country’s southern desert that had been used by an Algerian terrorist group that would later change its name to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.”  Significantly, US officials now believe that the AQIM may have plotted the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. 
Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the Libyan rebellion’s most powerful military leader, was a veteran of the U.S.-backed Jihad against the Marxist-inspired reformist government in Afghanistan, where he had fought alongside militants who would go on to form al-Qaeda. Belhaj returned to Libya in the 1990s to lead the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which was linked to his al-Qaeda comrades. His aim was to topple Gaddafi, as the Communists had been toppled in Afghanistan. The prominent role Belhaj played in the Libyan uprising should have aroused suspicions among leftists in the West that, as Western governments surely knew, the uprising was not the heroic pro-democracy affair Western media—and those of reactionary Arab regimes—were making it out to be. Indeed, from the very first day of the revolt, anyone equipped with knowledge of Libyan history that went back further than the last Fox News broadcast, would have known that the Benghazi rebellion was more in the mold of the latest eruption of a violent anti-secular Jihad than a peaceful call for democracy. 
“On Feb. 15, 2011, citizens in Benghazi organized what they called a Day of Anger march. The demonstration soon turned into a full-scale battle with police. At first, security forces used tear gas and water cannons. But as several hundred protesters armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails attacked government buildings, the violence spiraled out of control.” 
As they stormed government sites, the rampaging demonstrators didn’t chant, “Power to the people”, “We are the 99 percent”, or “No to dictatorship.” They chanted “‘No God but Allah, Moammar is the enemy of Allah’.”  The Islamists touched off the rebellion and did the fighting on the ground, while U.S.-aligned Libyan exiles stepped into the power vacuum created by Salafist violence and Nato bombs to form a new U.S.-aligned government.
Syria’s Hafiz Asad, and other secular nationalists, from his comrade Salaf Jadid, who he overthrew and locked away, to his son, Bashar, who has followed him, have also been denounced as enemies of Allah by the same Islamist forces who violently denounced Gaddafi in Libya and the leaders of the People’s Democratic Party in Afghanistan. The reason for their denunciation by Islamists is the same: their opposition to an Islamic state. Similarly, Islamist forces have been as strongly at the head of the movement to overthrow the secular nationalists in Syria, as they have the secular nationalists in Libya and the (secular) Marxists in the late 1970s-1980s Afghanistan.
The secular nationalists’ rise to power in Syria was a heavy blow to the country’s Sunni Islamic militants who resented their society being governed by secular radicals. Worse still from the perspective of the Islamists, the governing radicals were mostly members of minority communities the Sunnis regarded as heretics, and which had occupied the lower rungs of Syrian society. From the moment the secular nationalists captured the state, Islamists went underground to organize an armed resistance. “From their safe haven deep in the ancient warrens of northern cities like Aleppo and Hama, where cars could not enter, the guerrillas emerged to bomb and kill.” 
In 1980, an attempt was made to group the Sunni opposition to the secular nationalists under an “Islamic Front’, which promised free speech, free elections, and an independent judiciary, under the banner of Islam. When militant Islamic terrorists murdered Egyptian president Anwar Sadat a year later in Egypt, Islamists in Damascus promised then president Hafiz Asad the same fate. Then in 1982, Jihadists rose up in Hama—“the citadel of traditional landed power and Sunni puratinism” —in a bid to seize power in the city. The ensuing war of the Islamic radicals against the secular nationalist state, a bloody affair which costs tens of thousands of lives, convinced Asad that “he was wrestling not just with internal dissent, but with a large scale conspiracy to unseat him, abetted by Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the United States.”  Patrick Seale, a veteran British journalist who has covered the Middle East for decades, described the Islamists’ movement against Syria’s secular nationalists as a “sort of fever that (rises) and (falls) according to conditions at home and manipulation from abroad.” 
Media accounts of Syria’s civil war omit mention of the decades-long hostility between Islamists and secular nationalists—a fierce enmity that sometimes flares into open warfare, and at other times simmers menacingly below the surface—that has defined Syria in the post-colonial period. To do so would take the sheen off the armed rising as a popular, democratic, progressive struggle, a depiction necessary to make Western intervention in the form of sanctions, diplomatic support, and other aid, against the secular nationalists, appear just and desirable. Today, only Trotskyists besotted by fantasies that the Arab Spring is the equivalent of the March 1917 Petrograd uprising, deny that the content of the Syrian uprising is Islamist. But the question of whether the uprising was initially otherwise—a peaceful, progressive and popular movement aimed at opening democratic space and redressing economic grievances–and only later hijacked by Islamists, remains in dispute. What’s clear, however, is that the “hijacking”, if indeed there was one, is not of recent vintage. In the nascent stages of the rebellion, the late New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid noted that the “most puritanical Islamists, known by their shorthand as Salafists, have emerged as a force in Egypt, Libya, Syria and elsewhere, with suspicions that Saudi Arabia has encouraged and financed them.”
Secular nationalists, socialists and communists in Muslim lands have struggled with the problem of Islamist opposition to their programs, to their atheism (in the case of communists) and to the secular character of the state they have sought to build. The Bolsheviks, perhaps alone among this group, were successful in overcoming opposition in the traditional Muslim territories they controlled in Central Asia, and improving the lives of women, who had been oppressed by conservative Islam. Female seclusion, polygamy, bride price, child and forced marriages, veiling (as well as circumcision of males, considered by the Bolsheviks to be child abuse) were outlawed. Women were recruited into administrative and professional positions and encouraged – indeed obligated – to work outside the home. This followed Friedrich Engels’ idea that women could only be liberated from the domination of men if they had independent incomes. 
Western governments, led by the United States, have made a practice of inflaming the Islamists’ hostility to secular nationalists, socialists and communists, using militant Muslim radicals as a cat’s paw to topple these governments, which have almost invariably refused to align themselves militarily with the United States or cut deals against the interests of their own people to fatten the profits of corporate America and enrich Wall Street investment bankers. But whether Washington aggravates fault lines within Muslim societies or not, the fact remains that the fault lines exist, and must be managed, but have not always been managed well.
For example, no matter how admirable their aims were, the reformers in Afghanistan had too narrow a political base to move as quickly as they did, and they rushed headlong into disaster, ignoring Moscow’s advice to slow down and expand their support. The Carter and Reagan administrations simply took advantage of their blunders to build a committed anti-communist guerilla movement.
The leftist Syrian regime of Salah Jadid, which Hafiz Asad overthrew, did much that would be admired by leftists today. Indeed, Tariq Ali, in an apology apparently intended to expiate the sin of seeming to support the current Asad government, lauds Jadid’s regime as the “much more enlightened predecessor whose leaders and activists…numbered in their ranks some of the finest intellectuals of the Arab world.”  It’s easy to see why Ali admired Asad’s predecessors. Jadid, who lived an austere life, refusing to take advantage of his position to lavish himself with riches and comforts, slashed the salaries of senior ministers and top bureaucrats. He replaced their black Mercedes limousines with Volkswagens and Peugeot 404s. People connected with the old influential families were purged from government. A Communist was brought into the cabinet. Second houses were confiscated, and the ownership of more than one was prohibited. Private schools were banned. Workers, soldiers, peasants, students and women became the regime’s favored children. Feudalists and reactionaries were suppressed. A start was made on economic planning and major infrastructure projects were undertaken with the help of the Soviets. And yet, despite these clearly progressive measures, Jadid’s base of popular support remained narrow—one reason why the Soviets were lukewarm toward him, regarding him as a hothead, and contemptuous of his claim to be practicing “scientific socialism.”  Scientific socialism is based on mass politics, not a minority coming to power through a conspiracy (as Jadid and Asad had) which then attempts to impose its utopian vision on a majority that rejects it.
Jadid backed the Palestinian guerrillas. Asad, who was then minister of defense, was less enamored of the guerrillas, who he saw as handing Israel pretexts for war. Jadid defined the bourgeoisie as the enemy. Asad wanted to enlist their backing at home to broaden the government’s base of support against the Muslim Brothers. Jadid spurned the reactionary Arab regimes. Asad was for unifying all Arab states—reactionary or otherwise—against Israel. 
Asad—who Ali says he opposed—recognized (a) that a program of secular nationalist socialism couldn’t be implemented holus bolus without mass support, and (b) that the government didn’t have it. So, after toppling Jadid in a so-called “corrective” movement, he minimized class warfare in favor of broadening his government’s base, trying to win over merchants, artisans, business people, and other opponents of the regime’s nationalizations and socialist measures. At the same time, he retained Jadid’s commitment to a dirigiste state and continued to promote oppressed classes and minorities. This was hardly a stirring program for Marxist purists—in fact it looked like a betrayal—but the Soviets were more committed to Asad than Jadid, recognizing that his program respected the world as it was and therefore had a greater chance of success. 
In the end, however, Asad failed. Neither he nor his son Bashar managed to expand the state’s base of support enough to safeguard it from destabilization. The opposition hasn’t been conjured up out of nothing by regime change specialists in Washington. To be sure, regime change specialists have played a role, but they’ve needed material to work with, and the Asad’s Syria has provided plenty of it. Nor did Gaddafi in Libya finesse the problem of mixing the right amount of repression and persuasion to engineer a broad enough consent for his secular nationalist rule to survive the fever of Salafist opposition rising, as Patrick Seale writes, according to conditions at home and manipulation from abroad . The machinations of the United States and reactionary Arab regimes to stir up and strengthen the secular nationalists’ opponents made the knot all the more difficult to disentangle, but outside manipulation wasn’t the whole story in Gaddafi’s demise (though it was a significant part of it) and hasn’t been the sole, or even a large part of the, explanation for the uprising in Syria.
The idea that the uprisings in either country are popular, democratic movements against dictatorship and for the redress of economic grievances, (a) ignores the significant history of struggle between secularist Arab nationalists and the Muslim Brothers, (b) mistakenly minimizes the role of Salafists in the uprisings, and (c) turns a blind eye to Washington’s longstanding practice of using radical Muslim activists as a cat’s paw against Arab nationalist regimes that are against sacrificing local interests to the foreign trade and investment interests of Wall Street and corporate America. With Islamists lashing out violently against US embassies in the Middle East, their depiction by US state officials and Western media as pro-democracy fighters for freedom may very well be supplanted by the labels used by Gaddafi and Asad to describe their Islamist opponents, labels that are closer to the truth –“religious fanatics” and “terrorists.”
Reactionary Islam may have won the battle for hegemony in the Muslim world, as Tariq Ali asserts, and with it, the United States, which has often manipulated it for its own purposes, but the battle has yet to be won in Syria, and one would hope, never will be. That’s what’s at stake in the country: not a fragile, popular, egalitarian, pro-democracy movement, but the last remaining secular Arab nationalist regime, resisting both the oppressions and obscurantism of the Muslim Brothers and the oppressions and plunder of imperialism.
1. Tariq Ali, “The Uprising in Syria”, http://www.counterpunch.com, September 12, 2012.
2. Stephen Gowans [A], “Al-Qaeda’s Air Force”, what’s left, February 20, 2012. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/al-qaedas-air-force/
3. Patrick Martin, “Anti-American protests seen as tip of the Islamist iceberg”, The Globe and Mail, September 13, 2012.
4. Gowans [A]
5. Rodric Braithwaite. Afghantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-1989. Profile Books. 2012. pp. 5-6.
6. Gowans [A]
7. Siobhan Gorman and Adam Entous, “U.S. probing al-Qaeda link in Libya”, The Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2012.
8. Gowans [A]
9. David Pugliese, “The Libya mission one year later: Into the unknown”, The Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 2012.
11. Patrick Seale. Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East. University of California Press. 1988, p.324.
12. Seale, p. 333.
13. Seale, p. 335.
14. Seale, p. 322.
15. Anthony Shadid, “After Arab revolts, reigns of uncertainty”, The New York Times, August 24, 2011.
16. Stephen Gowans [B], “Women’s Rights in Afghanistan”, August 9, 2010. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2010/08/09/women%e2%80%99s-rights-in-afghanistan/
Canada has severed diplomatic relations with Iran, a country it decries as “the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” and it has done so as part of the Harper government’s re-orienting Canada’s foreign policy to more vigorously back Israel. But it is Israel—which daily clamours for an attack on Iran and threatens to undertake one itself—that is the greatest current threat to world peace and international security.
Canada has withdrawn its diplomats from Tehran and ordered Iran’s out of Canada. Ottawa says it has suspended diplomatic relations because Iran is:
Providing military assistance to the Syrian government;
Refuses to comply with UN resolutions pertaining to its nuclear program;
Routinely threatens the existence of Israel;
Engages in racist anti-Semitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide;
Is among the world’s worst violators of human rights;
Shelters and materially supports terrorist groups.
Given rampant speculation in Canada about the real reasons Ottawa has suddenly broken off relations with Iran, it’s clear that Ottawa’s purported reasons have been dismissed as empty rhetoric.
And so they should be.
If Ottawa were genuinely concerned about the world’s worst violators of human rights giving military assistance to tyrannical regimes to put down peaceful uprisings, it would have shut its embassy in Saudi Arabia long ago. Human Rights Watch describes rights violations in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy that refuses to tolerate meaningful democratic reforms, as “pervasive.” And when Bahrainis rose up in peaceful protest against their country’s despotic rulers last year, Saudi troops and tanks spilled into the country to help Bahrain’s absolute monarchy violently suppress the uprising. Canadian diplomats remain on station in both countries.
The United States refuses to comply with innumerable UN resolutions to lift its illegal blockade on Cuba, and yet Ottawa continues to maintain diplomatic relations with Washington. UN resolutions in connection with the Palestinians are regularly ignored by Israel, but all the same Canadian diplomats are not withdrawn from Tel Aviv.
Indeed, Israel offers multiple reasons for Ottawa to close its embassy in that country and boot Israeli diplomats out of Canada. Human Rights Watch describes conditions in territories occupied by Israel as a “human rights crisis.” Within Israel proper, Arabs are treated as second-class citizens, subordinate to the favoured children, the Jews.
Israel’s record of furnishing military aid to repressive, retrograde regimes is long and shameful. After the Carter administration suspended military aid to the Chilean regime of Augusto Pinochet in 1977, Israel stepped in to become the dictator’s major arms supplier. Israel ran guns to Iran soon after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, to fan the flames of war between Iran and Iraq, and before that was a major supporter of the Shah’s dictatorial, human rights charnel house.  In the 1970s, it entered into a secret military alliance with South Africa’s racist apartheid regime, offering to sell it nuclear weapons.
As for the Canadian government’s professed opposition to nuclear weapons proliferation, Tel Aviv’s nuclear program should be ringing alarm bells in Ottawa. Israel is estimated to have some 200 nuclear weapons. It refuses to hear any discussion about giving them up, won’t join the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and bars international inspectors from entering the country.
By contrast, the Iranians have no nuclear weapons—and as US military and intelligence officials continue to affirm—there is no evidence they’re working to acquire them (see here, here, here, here, here, and here.) More than that, there is evidence of absence. “Certain things are not being done,” a former US intelligence official told the Washington Post, that would have to be done were the Iranians working to weaponize their civilian nuclear energy program.
And unlike Israel, Iran is a member of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Its nuclear facilities are regularly scrutinized by international inspectors. And while it is true that Tehran refuses to comply with some UN resolutions related to its civilian nuclear program, it does so because the resolutions would uniquely deny its right to process uranium—a right the non-proliferation treaty guarantees.
And as for supporting terrorists, in the early 1980s Tel Aviv groomed Christian Phalangist right-wing militias to act as Israel’s proconsul in Lebanon. When a bomb killed the Phalanges’ leader Bashir Jumayal, who had been recently elected president, the militias went on a rampage, terrorizing Palestinians and Shiite Lebanese in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. As the Phalanges rampaged through the camps, killing men, women and children, the Israeli army threw up a cordon around the camps, firing flares into the night sky to provide illumination to help the terrorists do their grisly work. 
Far worse is the reality that the Israeli state was founded on terrorism. For one thing, Zionists used terrorism to try to drive the British out of mandate Palestine, bombing the King David hotel, headquarters of the British mandate authority, in 1946. But that was small potatoes compared to what was to come. Exhausted, and no longer willing to administer Palestine, the British transferred responsibility to the UN in 1947. Over the objections of the majority Arab inhabitants, the UN developed a partition plan which would allocate 56 percent of mandate Palestine to a Jewish state. Jews made up only one-third of the population. The Arabs, two-thirds of the population, would receive only 42 percent (Jerusalem, the remaining two percent, would become an international city.) The Jewish state would have a rough demographic balance of 500,000 Jews and 400,000 Arabs (the Arab state 800,000 Arabs and 100,000 Jews.) Recognizing that a democratic Jewish state could not long exist without a preponderance of Jews, Zionists terrorized Arab villages to depopulate them, sending hundreds of thousands of Arab Palestinians fleeing for safety. They were later barred from returning. Zionists claim the Arabs fled only to get out of the way of advancing armies from neighbouring Arab states. But the terror, formalized as Plan Dalet, was well underway before the Arab armies intervened. In end, the Zionists seized 80 percent of Palestinian territory, and were only prevented from seizing all of it by the intervention of Egypt and Jordan. 
What’s more, Canada might consider its own support for terrorists. Some Canadian military officers who had participated in last year’s NATO air war against the government of Libya referred to NATO jets bombing Gadhafi’s troops as “al-Qaeda’s air force,” a recognition that Islamist terrorists made up part of the opposition that NATO, with Canada’s participation, intervened on behalf of.
As for the Canadian government’s claim that Iran “routinely threatens the existence of Israel,” this is pure wind. Tehran is certainly hostile to Zionism—the idea that European Jewish settlers, through a program of ethnic cleansing, have a legitimate right to found a state on someone else’s land. And there can be little doubt that Iran is ready to do all it can to facilitate the demise of the Zionist regime. But the notion that Iran has the intention—even the capability—to bring about the physical destruction of Israel is absurd in the extreme. Iran is severely outclassed militarily by Israel, and its possession of a handful of nuclear weapons—if it were ever to acquire them—would be no match for Israel’s hundreds, or the formidable military might of Israel’s sponsor, the United States. The idea that Iran threatens Israel is a silly fiction cooked up by Israeli warmongers to justify an attack on Iran to prevent the latter from ever acquiring even the potential to develop nuclear weapons in order to preserve Tel Aviv’s monopoly of nuclear terror in the Middle East. Canadian politicians simply ape the line that Israel is threatened, a canard Zionists have used since 1948 to justify their aggressions. On the contrary, it is Israel—a super-power-sponsored nuclear weapons state—which threatens Iran, to say nothing of Syria and Lebanon.
So why has Ottawa really suspended diplomatic relations with Tehran? Iran’s foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi says Canada’s government is “neo-conservative”, “extremist”, and “boundlessly defending international Zionism.” These are apt descriptions. Canada has practically outsourced its Middle East foreign policy to Israel, letting it be known that it will unquestioningly prop up Israeli interests. Extremist? Since Ottawa’s outsourcing of Middle East foreign policy to Israel yokes Canada to a bellicose regime with an atrocious human rights record, how could it be otherwise?
But Salehi’s description, no matter how apt, does not explain why Ottawa has severed ties with Iran now.
Former Canadian ambassador to Iran John Mundy raises the possibility that Ottawa is pulling its diplomats out of the country in anticipation of a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran. Since Canada has offered unqualified support to Israel, Canadian diplomats would be in danger if Israel followed through on its threats. Britain recalled its diplomats when, last November, protesters stormed the British Embassy in Tehran. Canada may be seeking to avoid a similar occurrence. Ottawa may have no specific knowledge of an impending Israeli strike, but may be playing it safe all the same. Or it might be participating in an Israeli-sponsored ruse to ratchet up psychological pressure on Tehran, withdrawing its diplomats to falsely signal an imminent Israeli strike.
Whatever the case, it’s clear that Canada has adopted the extremist position of supporting a rogue regime in Tel Aviv that, to quote Ottawa’s misplaced description of Iran, is “the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today.”
1. Patrick Seale. Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East. University of California Press. 1988.
3. Ilan Pappe. The Ethnic Cleasning of Palestine. One World. 2006.