Occasionally (not necessarily here) there’s an old-fashioned Trotskyist sound to Robin Yassin-Kassab’s posts on the middle east (stock phrases from 1970s polemic, “Zionist” sometimes replacing “capitalist”) which might stop some people reading.
Here are links to a few recent entries on his blog. Links are mainly his. Headings are mine.
Syria update, July 27
“Hizbullah used to be wildly popular in Syria because it was perceived as an organisation dedicated to fighting for the oppressed. Now that it’s taken to supporting the Syrian oppressors against the Syrian oppressed, Hizbullah is widely despised in Syria. Its own stupidity achieved what decades of Wahhabi-Saudi, Zionist and Western propaganda could not. Here’s an article by Hamid Dabashi on that.”
“There is no danger for the Palestinian cause in the shadow of a democratic Syrian system. The Syrian people are closest to the Palestinian people, and they are more protective of the Palestinian cause, the Golan Heights, and Arab solidarity than the current regime whose leaders have made the country feudal and do not care for anything except for protecting their own interests and existence.” (Ghalyoun)
Syria update, August 6
“Despite my disappointment with Hizbullah’s leadership, I still of course respect and admire their victories against Zionism. Look at this organisation, the first Arab organisation to confront and defeat the occupier: it succeeds because it is of its people, it fights for justice for its people, it arms its people. None of these things can be said for the Syrian regime, which arms against the people, and fears the people – which is why the Syrian regime will never confront and defeat the occupier.”
Hizbullah’s victory in 2006 was limited. He would like Muslims and Jews to live together with equal rights in a single secular state. In the meantime, the occupier is the Zionist regime.
“Iran banks all on Assad’s survival [...] It is entirely conceivable that any diminution of Alawite political power in Syria (let alone the downfall of Assad and the ruling clique) will re-orient Syria towards the Sunni Arab political order at the expense of Iran. Under this scenario, even if the Iranian-Syrian alliance endures in one form or another, the Islamic Republic’s position on the eastern banks of the Mediterranean Sea will become increasingly vulnerable.” (Abedin)
The Israeli flag falls in Cairo, August 21
Attack on the Israeli embassy.
“I’ve often used Ali’s cartoons to illustrate online pieces. His work has been the perfect choice – its tone is tragicomic; he never minimises the pain of the contemporary Arab situation even as he laughs at it. His pen, and his blessed hand, draw the catastrophes of dictatorship and occupation, of misogyny and class oppression, of bureaucracy, hypocrisy and ignorance. Ali is a valuable friend of the Palestinian people: I hope those fools who still believe the Syrian thug regime is a ‘resistance regime’ will note this well.”
“On the radio I said that the Syrian regime isn’t trying to be popular at present. Escalating its attacks on Syrian cities in Ramadan, increasing the gunfire at the dawn prayer and at the break of fast: these are not moves calculated to win popularity. Likewise, when regime torturers force the detained to pray to a picture of the dictator, and to repeat ‘There is no god but Bashaar’, they are not seeking approval. It’s much more basic than that. The message is: We can do whatever the hell we like. We can outrage you as much as we choose. We can shock you with our barbarity and then shock you again, because we are unimaginably strong.
“But they aren’t strong. They are very weak indeed, as we will all soon – insha’allah – discover.”
Passive tools, August 30
“Somebody said to me recently, ‘The Libyans will soon be doing business with Israel, whether they like it or not.’ Here we go again: the assumption that the Libyans have no agency of their own, even after they’ve so dramatically taken the initiative to change the course of their own history.”
Sufis, September 19
“I love [Sufism] for its symbolic, illogical, individualist challenge to literalism and the obsession with rules, and because it smiles, and for its openness and tolerance, and its music and poetry [...]. [...] But when Westerners assume the Sufis are automatically cuddly or, alternatively, progressive, they make a blanket mistake. The ‘Sufi’ Barelvis in Pakistan cheered the murder of Salman Taseer as much as the purist Deobandis. And there’s nothing progressive about hereditary holy men, backward superstition, or the false structures of authority that have adhered to some schools like rust to polished metal. There’s nothing good about the Islamo-hippies who wish for peace at any cost with Zionism [...].”
Sectarianism in Syria, September 29
“Alawis have a complex, esoteric religion that throughout history has been savagely denounced, and its adherents savagely oppressed. Ultimately it’s a matter of political interpretation whether or not Alawis are to be considered Muslims. The Ottoman Empire didn’t even consider them ‘People of the Book,’ which meant that unlike Christians, Jews, and mainstream Shiites, Alawis didn’t enjoy any legal rights. The ravings of the influential medieval scholar Ibn Taymiyya (who thought Alawis were ‘greater disbelievers than the Jews, Christians, and Indian idol-worshipping Brahmans’) contributed to their oppression and justified the theft of their lands around Aleppo and their forced retreat into the mountains. Until the 1920s, the Alawis were stuck in those mountains. Antakya (Antioch) was the only city where Alawis lived with Sunnis, and Antakya was gifted by France to Turkey before the independence of the modern Syrian state.” On which last point see my post about some recent Syrian history.
Malta, October 7
“The language is Malta’s idiosyncracy: half Arabic in vocabulary, more than half in structure. The verbs, prepositions and pronouns are Arabic. The rest is mainly Italian. The air hostess asked us to store our bags ‘fowq raasikum’. When we landed she said ‘saha wa grazia!’”
The thousand lives and the one life, October 20
Release of Gilad Shalit. “The Israelis are the ethnic cleansers and the occupiers. The Palestinians are the refugees and the occupied. Zionist propaganda constantly obfuscates these simple facts. The Palestinians are the first victims of the propaganda, but Israeli Jews are also its victims, as the future will demonstrate.”
Syria resources, October 29
Links, including to a fully-annotated historical piece by Michael Provence and Jamal Wakim at al-akhbar.com, Colonial Origins of the Syrian Security State. Wonderful photograph at the beginning of that. But much more too.
After 42 Years, October 30
The Libyan poet Khaled Mattawa reads After 42 Years – his reflection on the fall of Gaddafi.
Ahmz, November 1
British-Syrian rap in both languages from Ahmz.
Marina Warner, November 12
Review (positive) of Marina Warner, Stranger Magic, Charmed States and the Arabian Nights, about the Arabian Nights and its contexts, and its impact in the west.
“Warner quotes Jorge Luis Borges (a guiding spirit in her book) approving the belle infidele approach to translation. ‘I think that the reader should enrich what he is reading. He should misunderstand the text; he should change it into something else.’”
Fadwa Sulaiman, November 15
Translation by Laila al-Attar of an interview on Jazeera with the Syrian actress Fadwa Sulaiman. Since then the Arab League has come out, belatedly, against the Assad regime.