Syrian Crisis: Three’s a Crowd

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (

Al-Akhbar Management

Members of the Free Syrian Army "commados brigade" take position near the town of al-Qusayr in Syria's central Homs province, in anticipation of an attack by government regime forces on 10 May 2012. (Photo: AFP - STR)

By: Amal Saad-Ghorayeb

Published Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The conflict in Syria has recast the political fault lines in the Mideast. Divisions that were once demarcated by ideology and religion, are today centered around the issue of overthrowing the Assad government. Arab leftists, nationalists and Islamists are now divided between and amongst themselves over the Syrian question, and have borne yet another quasi-movement, the anti-interventionist “third-way” camp. Third-wayers, comprised of intellectuals and activists from academia, the mainstream media and NGOs, support elements in the home-grown opposition, reject the Syrian National Council (SNC) on account of its US-NATO-Israeli-Arab backing, and reject the Assad leadership on account of its repression of dissent and its alleged worthlessness to the Resistance project.

While the third-way camp is anti-Zionist and pro-Palestine in orientation, this hardly constitutes a political position. The Palestinian cause has become deeply etched in the Arab collective subconscious and has even become an increasingly pervasive slogan in western liberal activist discourse. Now the real litmus of Arab intellectuals’ and activists’ commitment to the Palestinian cause is no longer their support for Palestinian rights, but rather, their support for the Assad leadership's struggle against the imperialist-Zionist-Arab moderate axis’ onslaught against it.

Supporting Assad’s struggle against this multi-pronged assault is supporting Palestine today because Syria has become the new front line of the war between Empire and those resisting it. The third-way progressive intellectuals are failing to see the Syrian crisis through this strategic lens. They have shown an inability to “take a step back from the details and look at the bigger picture,” to quote Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

The third-way campaign against Assad only serves the strategy and interests of the US and Israel, who have made no secret of the fact that his fall would help them achieve their wider strategic ambitions of weakening Iran and resistance forces in Lebanon and Palestine. Moreover, agitation against the regime on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations of war crimes further incites sectarian oppositionists who identify the regime with Alawis, thereby indirectly fanning the flames of Sunni-Shia tension in Syria and the region at large.

The exigencies of the situation require Arab intellectuals to assume a more strategic and responsible position which is based on a recognition that despite its many flaws, the Syrian regime is actively resisting imperialist aggression and anything less than lending it full support — for the duration of this crisis at least — is tantamount to opposing its resistance to imperialist aggression. Although part of our duty as intellectuals is to call for political reforms and a greater inclusion of the homegrown, legitimate opposition in the reform process, this must be done in a manner which neither undermines the regime’s current position vis-à-vis our shared enemies, nor benefits the latter.

In fifteen months, third-wayers have failed to deliver a political solution for a conflict that now belongs entirely to larger geopolitical players. Instead, third-way proponents have taken a seat at the fringes of this conflict and satisfy themselves with pats on the back for “moral consistency” – all the while continuing to lend their legitimacy to a less sovereign and less secure Syria.

As Lenin observed regarding third-way politics: “The only choice is – either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for mankind has not created a ‘third’ ideology, and, moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms, there can never be a non-class or an above class ideology). Hence to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology. There is much talk of spontaneity. But spontaneous development of the working class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology.”

Although the quote relates to class analysis, Lenin’s argument lends itself well to the Syrian case since he viewed imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism. It is fully in line with Lenin’s logic to therefore argue that the geo-strategic balance of power and the political exigencies at hand leave very little room for such irresponsible and aimless rejectionism practiced by leftist intellectuals, when this only serves to strengthen imperialism both ideologically and politically.

It is not a coincidence that today’s third-wayers also have a misplaced faith in the ability of the Syrian masses to spontaneously resist imperial designs on their country independently of the Assad regime, despite the massive information war waged against them and the imperialist coalition’s firm grip on the uprising and its future direction. This assumption also ignores the sizeable number of Syrians — at least half of the voting population — who have entrusted the Assad regime to confront Empire’s hegemonic ambitions and lead them out of this crisis.

Indeed it is something of an irony that many ordinary Syrians who do not enjoy the same social function or profession as intellectuals have been far more successful than the latter in resisting the propaganda onslaught directed at them. While such an advanced level of political consciousness is in part the product of Syrian political culture, it has undoubtedly also been sustained by the Assad regime’s political identity as a resisting frontline state, and reinforced by the punitive measures imperialist powers have subjected it and its people to as a result of this identity. The history of struggle and sacrifice in neighboring Palestine and Lebanon, and the wider resistance paradigm in which they are anchored, have also contributed to this critical consciousness.

In effect, Syrian political consciousness has in large part been shaped by these challenges and the sacrifices the Syrian people had to make in facing them – in short, by their commitment to foiling imperialist-Zionist schemes. As defined by Marxist educator Paulo Freire, “critical consciousness” or “conscientization” doesn’t merely involve a deep understanding of oppression and domination, but also, the will and commitment to struggle against it: “Conscientization is not exactly the starting point of commitment. Conscientization is more of a product of commitment. I do not have to be already critically self-conscious in order to struggle. By struggling I become conscious/aware.”

Given that third-way intellectuals are producers and disseminators of knowledge and are hence responsible for their own conscientization as well as that of the Arab public, a dilution of their resistance consciousness can only mean that they are not sufficiently committed to the struggle, according to Freire’s logic.

This is largely due to intellectuals’ professional considerations as they relate to academia’s political standards and criteria for publication and promotion. However, politically correct liberal discourses centered on individual rights unconsciously seduce people further into auto-censorship. While the appeal of liberal ideology was less potent in the past, the rebranding of the Arab uprisings as a liberal democratic popular wave has rendered liberalism the new intellectual default position for many progressive Arabs who are keen to remain at the vanguard of regional political trends.

Although Empire has always engaged in a civilizing mission to implant liberalism in “authoritarian” cultures, its latest incarnation of liberal imperialism is less the overt cultural colonialism of the past, characterized by Orientalist tropes, and more a campaign which markets an attractive liberal ideology to more discerning intellectual consumers. Thus, unlike its cruder predecessor, which was easier to detect and hence resist, today’s intellectual imperialism works in far more insidious ways on account of its affected benevolence and seeming universalism, both of which facilitate its internalization.

Moreover, in contrast to more direct modes of imperial control, the new liberal imperialism is an exercise in hegemonic domination which is not imposed but afforded its consent by those its hegemonizes. As with the hegemony practiced within western societies, hegemonic imperialism is exercised by civil society actors like the mainstream media, academia and NGOs, even more so than by governments.

As acknowledged by a senior British diplomat who worked for the Blair government, Sir Robert Cooper, in his seminal essay “The New Liberal Imperialism,” wrote: “What is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values. We can already discern its outline: an imperialism which, like all imperialism, aims to bring order and organisation but which rests today on the voluntary principle… a framework in which each has a share in the government, in which no single country dominates and in which the governing principles are not ethnic but legal. The lightest of touches will be required from the centre.” While Cooper was referring to the laws of international and regional organizations, his logic can just as easily be applied to the supposedly universal rules and standards governing the media and academia.

None of this is to say that progressive Arab intellectuals are intellectually colonized; only that they remain imperialized by liberal hegemony. As in the Marxist-Leninist understanding of the term, colonialism is but one expression or phase of imperialism and as such, the two concepts are not synonymous. Colonialism involves the transfer of a population to a new territory, where they live as permanent settlers, whereas imperialism refers to the way one country exercises power over another, either by means of colonialism or through indirect mechanisms of control. By implication, intellectual colonialism can be seen as a direct Euro-American epistemological invasion which leaves a distinct ethnic footprint, while intellectual imperialism is an indirect form of epistemic control which appears culturally neutral when exercised outside the Metropole, and class-blind when administered within it. It is precisely because of the undiscriminating nature of this deeply entrenched and well concealed domination that de-imperialization is a much harder goal to achieve than decolonization.

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb is an independent Lebanese academic and political analyst. She is author of the book, “Hizbullah: Politics and Religion”, and blogger at ASG’s Counter-Hegemony Unit.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.


they only removed them on the basis of legal background(let alone, financial reasons too

The HLF, once the largest Muslim charity in the prekast United States, had been under investigation for years before

Thanks for the unmatchable was rale useful for me. prekast navigator sharing specified

From the link dry bones posted:"…and so on. The snide, bntiig attacks on Israel in such “objective reports” goes on day after day, and the BBC seldom misses a day. Just check it out for yourself. Think any other country in the Middle East is subjected to similar negative scrutiny or relentless negative spin? Guess again! This, my friends, is anti-Semitism, period!"Bullcrap. Israel is not a person, it's a f*cking country. You can't be antisemitic/racist whatever against a strip of land. Also, that article is full of such misinformation and bias. For example:"The ethnic cleansing of Jews from Gaza is, somehow, not apartheid."Stupid, it's only ethnic cleansing if they removed them (the settlers) because they're Jews when in reality, they only removed them on the basis of legal background(let alone, financial reasons too).

Good to find an exeprt who knows what he's talking about!

lidia yes sure capital letters

'Supporting Assad’s struggle against this multi-pronged assault is supporting Palestine today because Syria has become the new front line of the war between Empire and those resisting it."

That's ok then. 15000 dead Syrians in the last 15 months is apparently a small price to pay for "resistance" sloganeering by the Assad clique. Maybe the author believes that Syrians are sub-human compared with Palestinians?

'It is not a coincidence that today’s third-wayers also have a misplaced faith in the ability of the Syrian masses to spontaneously resist imperial designs on their country independently of the Assad regime,..."

Don't you love it when comrade-leader Amal Saad-Ghorayeb reminds just how helpless and infantile Syrians would be without regular shelling and staffing by the military and their paramilitary death squads. Nothing like a bit of 'discipline' to provide some backbone.

It doesn't matter what resistance flag an apologist for fascism wraps themselves in. They stink the same.

"15000" is dead because Saudi-founded NATO lackey says so? I suppose one does not need to read more. Of course, with USA/Saudis openly arming sectarian murderers aka FSA the number could still turn true and worse.

By the way, before USA "liberated" Iraq we were told how awful Saddam was. Now for harleymc it seems that all murdered by such "liberation" was "worth it", using the word of one of such liberators.

Yes, sure, let NATO/GCC turn Syria into Iraq-2. It would be so great for Syrians as it was to Iraqis.

No, the Assadi regime are angels and they acted humanely decades ago in Hama, Tadmur, Tripoli, Tal az-Za'tar, Saida, War of the Camps, and Palestine prison in Damascus. Mina is a big supporter of what the Assadi regime did to the Palestinians in Lebanon.

I found the article very interesting for the facts it states, less so with the inferences drawn from them.
To say that the United States or Israel have any substantial control over ancient blood feuds between Shia and Sunnis, overstates the point considerably. Even national and regional leaders in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region have difficulty containing radicals in their midst.

Sadly, the reasons for mistrust abound on all sides, and the US and Russia have contributed greatly to stoking divisiveness, to say nothing of arming the parties to the conflict, directly or indirectly. Yet, both Shia and Sunni claim the moral high ground as the aggrieved party, and lean on ancient debts and righteous Islamic fervor to fan their anger. Neither behave responsibly within the conflict, and the truth and fragile common ground for coexistence evaporate. Soon, even voices of reason are at risk within their own communities, for expressing the need for conciliation.
No one is willing to hear the ultimate truth, that this war would devastate their world.

Why do the Saudis allow poisonous vitriol from Sunni clerics in their umma, spewing the venom of hatred over their communities? Why do Iranians and Russians ply Bashar's regime with arms and 'technical advisors', while he slaughters civilians with no compunction?

Only spilled blood will remain where villainous politicians and power-brokers pursue their agendas at the expense of the people. Heinous solutions like 'ethnic cleansing' and 'genocide' are trumpeted as credible outcomes, attainable, desirable, in order to inherit...... a scorched wilderness?

That would be all that is left in the Levant if the sectarian conflict persists and is allowed to grow.

1) Yes, sure, it is all "ancient" and not colonial dived and rule (as if Nothern Irland "troubles" were stated by Martin Luther)
2) Yes, sure, Russia is arming Syria, while Saudis only allow poisonous vitriol from Sunni clerics in their umma, spewing the venom of hatred over their communities, and not arming so-called FSA, and not paying them wages for sectarian murders and torture.

In short, a perfect orientalism regarding facts about the roots of the ME problems, pretending to be "evenhanded" while whitewashing NATO imperialism and their local lackeys from GCC - not mentioning Zionists.

Just when you thought Assad groupies couldn't fall any lower or disgrace themselves in an even more spectacular way. This is beyond nonsense or garbage, this is deranged!

Yes, sure, to be against one more NATO colonial war is the same as to be" Assad groupies", and support such war is to be a human rights defender. We got it, go to admire the results of what have you supported in Libya.

A very good article.

I suggest she write a biography: "The Woman Who Outdid Sharmine".

Yes for such an eloquently written comment to this post, I couldn't click your link fast enough to read your rubbish.
I didn't click on it. I promise you....Neumannnnn

I have come to the view that the Syrian government has to defeat the armed opposition to prevent the US/NATO/Turkey/Israel/GCC agenda from ripping apart Syria (and Lebanon), dragging the region into a horrific sectarian war, deflecting attention from the Palestinian issue and to protect those living in the region from a worse fate than the Assad regime, I'll oppose the armed opposition in Syria. But I will never support a regime that treats its people in the way that Syria has for decades. Syria's anti-imperialist cred does not give it a free pass on its authoritarian character. I'm not happy for the Syrian people to have to choose between different systems of domination and dictatorship - one domestically-based and the other internationally based. I'm not happy that the people's uprising was usurped by fanatics for foreign agendas.I only choose to reluctantly support the Syrian govt because I think that if the armed opposition wins, the people of Syria and Lebanon will be looking into the abyss.

Whether I am in agreement with your total views or not is not the issue. You have presented a strong argument against that of Ms. Saad-Ghorayeb and many in her entourage who have come to the conclusion that no price is to dear to pay for the possible one favourable element in the foreign policy of the cruel Assad regime. I applaud your logic.

The author justifies the collaboration of the Assad regime in Gulf War I at her blog:

pulling an obscure quote from a book to pathetically defend and excuse the Assad regime, forgetting that it was rewarded with the re-occupation of Lebanon by the Americans, something which benefitted it in reasserting its control of Lebanon and the billions that came its way and then has the audacity to demand that one must side with Bashar using the hypocritical card of "mumana'a", which she and the regime's supporters don't apply to themselves like Amal and Hezbollah who have been engaging in a non-stop takhween carnival of all the Syrian opposition while they were totally silent on their allies who came to power on American tanks in Afghanistan and Iraq and took billions from them. Yes, there are traitors among the Syrian opposition and hypocrites who want Western intervention, but the millions of anti-Bashar Syrians aren't opposed to Bashar because of mumana'a nor are they against him for the sake of the West and Zionists and the author's hypocritical use of the Palestinian cause is bogus and demanding that one with should side with the regime for the sake of Palestine, forgetting what it and it's allies did to the Palestinians in Tel az-Za'tar with Michel Aoun, who collaborated with the Zionists in the 82' invasion, and Tripoli, Baddawi, Saida and the War of the Camps. Should we have also stood with the Assadi regime then when it was waging war on the Palestinians then?! Enough of the hypocrisy and the majority of the Palestinian people are with the Syrian uprising:

Hulloo 'anna wa nifaqiqum

Ms. Saad-Ghorayeb distorts in order to make an argument that fits her already arrived at conclusion. She does not let the analysis of the events in question lead to a conclusion based on merits but is apparently willing to use twisted logic as long as she can appear to make a rational statement in favour of what she has already concluded.
If the support of the Palestinian cause by a totally ineffective regime that is willing to use its pretense of resistance to violate the most basic of the human rights of its citizens and to set up a most cruel, exploitative and undemocratic governance is her idea of justifying repression then she should state that clearly and without the need for obfuscation by using quotes that are at best tangentially connected to the issue at hand.
What is it that gives Ms. Saad-Ghorayeb the right to justify the heavy cost in blood and treasure in Syria in exchange for a dictatorship that has achieved next to nothing in the field of Palestinian Israeli question. Why should Syria have to continue to pay the heavy price of an ineffective dictatorship whose only achievement is the destruction oh Hamma, the loss of the Golan Heights, cruel interrogations for the CIA and the 15000 killed so far across Syria. Why would she want to maintain the cruelty of a regime against its own people on the grounds that the revolutionaries might not take a stand on one issue that she approves off. But then they might.

So she's presenting an already-arrived-at conclusion while you, with your three paragraphs laid out a very convincing argument based on irrefutable facts and evidence, that's almost algorithmic in style which somehow sounded so much like the garbage being peddled by the western MSM and it Arab parallels.
Or were you trying to get us to read your amazing blog post with the cartoon which serves to guide the reader before they start reading as to what to expect. Isn't that an arrived-at conclusion. And no one should dare suggest that you are distorting to reach those conclusions because after all, you are regurgitating the white man media narrative. We all know they're objective and professional and adhere to the highest standards of journalism as does Al-jazeera and Al-arabiya.
I think another reason you wrote with indignation is to fit yourself in with the group of people that Miss S-G branded as Third-wayers. "I'm a third wayer, I am imperialized... I don't care, as long you call me intellectual, I am fine with that" (that's you) :)

"the garbage being peddled by the western MSM and it Arab parallels.
Or were you trying to get us to read your amazing blog post with the cartoon which serves to guide the reader before they start reading as to what to expect. Isn't that an arrived-at conclusion. And no one should dare suggest that you are distorting to reach those conclusions because after all, you are regurgitating the white man media narrative. We all know they're objective and professional and adhere to the highest standards of journalism as does Al-jazeera and Al-arabiya."

Would Al-Manar and NBN dare host an anti-Bashar figure? Why have we heard thousands of takhweenat on these channels of the Syrian opposition, but not one takhween towards their Afghan and Iraqi buddies who rode to power on American tanks?

If your only defense of Ms. Saad-Ghorayeb rests on your presumption that I committed the same errors then, as you well know that is the best proof of her guilt. BTW, be careful not to swallow your own venom.

And you think that's an air-tight argument? So where did I say that I agree with you that she presented an argument with an-arrived-at conclusion like you said. I opened my comment by mocking your amateurish style, not agreeing with you. You attacked what she said with wild claims and not facts. You said she arrived at her conclusion but you didn't convince me with your three paragraphs that were hardly original in content and are a very naive analysis at best.
You were too rash to write this, though I am sure you thought about it a lot. But like your posts on your blog, it wasn't well thought out.
And don't worry about me swallowing my venom. The truth doesn't hurt.

Yes, the bitter truth of the treachery of your allies is a bitter pill to swallow. Kama tudeen tudaan

"My allies"? I have allies? Who are your allies ya zaki. The biggest treachery is you not repeating the famous line "rode to power....". Next time, do not write unless you're gonna repeat the refrain. And I asked you to make a youtube video where you sing it. Either do that or go blow yourself up in Iraq so you can go to Al-qaeda heaven.

You're either with us or against us.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><img><h1><h2><h3><h4><h5><h6><blockquote><span><aside>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

^ Back to Top