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A letter to the Progressive International

Yassin al-Haj Saleh writes:

[Editor’s note: In April, the Syrian writer and Al-Jumhuriya co-founder Yassin al-Haj Saleh was invited to join the advisory council of the Progressive International, a new movement seeking to “unite, organize, and mobilize progressive forces” around the world, involving well-known figures such as Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, and Yanis Varoufakis. The below letter was to be al-Haj Saleh’s inaugural contribution to the movement’s media arm, Wire; envisaged as a platform “for the world’s progressive forces, translating and disseminating critical perspectives and stories from the grassroots around the world.” The letter, however, was never published by Wire, which ceased correspondence with al-Haj Saleh without explanation. It is published here by Al-Jumhuriya, with minor edits, for the first time.]

Dear comrades and friends,

It is a pertinent and timely moment for us to come together and work for a new international, active, progressive, and genuinely democratic world. So many of our problems today are global in nature, with no possibility of finding merely national solutions for any of them. The Coronavirus crisis shows this with renewed clarity, although environmental degradation has been demonstrating it for a generation at least. I would add another global problem: the double-headed beast of racism and the “War on Terror.” This War is by no means an actual war, but rather in effect the torture of whole societies, and I see torture as a socio-political practice of creating races. Torture belongs to a family of evils, the other members of which are slavery, colonialism, and genocide. By torture, which is a cruel game played by torturers on the boundaries between the lives and deaths of the tortured, masters and slaves are created: races, in other words. No shortage of “theory” is invoked to justify and legitimize this. Everything can be employed in the service of the racist scriptures: modernity; secularism; the War on Terror; even anti-imperialism.

It happens that my country, Syria, was a torture state for decades before it became a major theater of the War on Terror, in which so many of the world’s crime agencies have demonstrated their skill by joining this torturous war; Bashar “Chemical” Assad leading their way. After the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, Assad’s regime abolished the state of emergency that had been in effect in the country since the first Baathist coup of March 1963, only to replace it with laws of “combating terror,” moving thus from one form of what Agamben calls a state of exception to another. The move was simply a continuation of an exterminatory war on political organizations and independent initiatives.

In Syria today, which has now been ruled by the Assad family for a whole half-century, and where the privatized state called on foreign powers to protect its ownership of the country, we enjoy no fewer than five occupations: Israeli; Iranian; American; Russian; and Turkish. There are plenty of sub-state actors as well: Hezbollah, which is a Lebanese satellite of Iran; additional Shia Islamist militias from Iraq and Afghanistan; the Kurdish PYD, which is the Syrian branch of the PKK in Turkey; the al-Qaeda offshoot currently known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham; and various other smaller Salafi-jihadist groups. In its heyday between 2014 and 2017, the Islamic State/Daesh managed to attract jihadists to its ranks from almost half of the world’s countries, a feat rivaling the UN and its organizations as an international body. Jihadism is a sort of Islamic international, whose imaginary is haunted by specters of transnational Muslim empires of the past.

With so much of the world in Syria, and as many as 6.5 million Syrians (just under 30% of the population) displaced outside the country, scattered around the world, present-day Syria is a denationalized nation, a non-homeland. If we understand internationalism as a progressive and positive denationalization of the world, then the curious situation of Syria should be an analytical starting point. The country is a microcosm of a world which has become a macro-Syria. To understand Syria greatly helps us understand the world today, and I believe the failure of understanding and analysis is worse than the failure of solidarity with the subaltern millions in the country. I mean not to be harsh, but most of the prevailing analysis is truly pathetic, showing rare levels of oversimplification and poverty of knowledge: sheer ignorance, in short. One cannot but be amazed at the active worldlessness that has been rebellious Syrians’ lot: to be told that Putinist Russia’s protection of a genocidal regime is legitimate; or to hear sympathy expressed for a serial murderer like Iran’s Qassem Soleimani, rather than the victims on whose blood he walked victoriously in Aleppo and many other parts of Syria. These are just two among innumerable examples of dehumanized people being told for almost a full decade now that they are irrelevant, indeed ostracized from the world. That is why I believe a new international that ignores or marginalizes the gravest international crime of this century so far, or that does not challenge these conditions of worldlessness and misrepresentation in both theory and practice, is dooming itself to failure. [Continue reading…]

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