“All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.”Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations
It’s not difficult these days to find symbolism for America’s culture built on violence and colonialism. Party to party, politician to politician, oligarch to oligarch, everything appears to be an illusion which harms the world the more we believe in it. It was just last January that Joe Biden illegally ordered a missile strike targeted towards Syrian soil. It was aimed at an Iranian-backed militia, and wound up killing at least 22 people, including Syrian citizens, and injuring several U.S. soldiers upon impact. Biden responded to this with mechanical indifference, along with, I assume, the tyrannical multinational corporations and military-partnered manufacturers who funded him. According to a statement made by Biden just hours after the bombing, which mirrors the militaristic dystopia of our time, it was meant to serve as a warning against Iran to “be careful” while U.S. bases have no scrupulous business in Syria or anywhere else.
This incident catalyzed a number of reactions.
Since this is America, the practice of doublethink sparked for yet another controversy. Defenders of the Duopoly—namely Democrats, in this case, even including some “progressives”—thoughtlessly rushed to Biden’s defense, abandoning all previous criticism of U.S. interventionism and the warmongering that took place during the Trump administration, resurrecting the Obama-era apathy towards human rights violations and corporate hegemony involving U.S. politics. They did this just as quickly as they switched to condone ICE concentration camps. Mainly, they used the tactics of downplaying the corruption and grisliness of the situation, acting like the Democratic Party doesn’t have any leverage, acting like a structure which gives a few individuals such devices are necessary, and using that pathetic “Trump would be worse” excuse. This time, they particularly ignored how Biden went out of his way and over the heads of others to do this.
Those who are less indoctrinated saw the bombing as either an expected or unexpected betrayal. They recognized that Biden was elected only because he was pushed on us and we were afraid; they saw in him nothing more than a corporate-sponsored murderer and demagogue who’d already abandoned his promises before ever trying to fight for them. Hopefully, it helped more than a few approach the realization that any job with that much power is undemocratic and unjustifiable on a default level, because there is no democracy in electing corporate-friendly politicians to dictate our lives, especially when we can have open participation and direct vote from the bottom. Among his lifelong history of corruption and warmongering, it was just additional evidence that he’s in the pockets of oligarchs. Since his inauguration, he has (among other scandals) signed 31 new drilling contracts against his vow to crack down on Big Oil, gaslit the country over the amount we were to receive with our stimulus, turned his back on student loan amnesty, perpetuated the ICE internment camps at an even higher capacity, and now this: illegally bombing a foreign country which we’ve been robbing and disrupting for no sensible reason for almost a hundred years.
Americans have a bad habit of only looking at the world from their own position, through viewpoints spun by propagandists, rarely considering the victims affected most by our corporatocratic state and its monopoly of power. People suddenly take sides in conflicts they know nothing about, fueled by the loyalty of their political “sports team” combined with misdirected discontent. We shouldn’t let ourselves have opinions forced onto us by corporate media. This is why I wanted to seek out people who’ve experienced among the worst of our country’s politics, someone who doesn’t need to be told what to think on the matter because it affects them every day. I was able to reach out to a 21-year-old Syrian artist who is attending university in Aleppo, Syria—a city which has endured tremendous destruction since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War. I was asked not to use her real name, out of concern for her safety, so for the purpose of this article I will apply the alias “Elmira.” Before we begin, I want to say that it was made very clear to me after our interview that the citizens of Syria and other parts of the world are but bystanders, forced to watch their families murdered, their homes destroyed, and their resources robbed by hegemonic and neofascist powers such as Turkey, Russia, the United States, and others. It’s our duty to help them where we are, by pushing back against our governments making life worse for all of us.
The Syrian conflict began with the Arab Spring movement: a series of pro-democratic protests that (in Syria) quickly escalated into armed conflict, especially after an incident where 15 school children were arrested and tortured for graffiti-ing sentiments associated with Arab Spring. Civil war ensued, and quickly several world powers intervened to exploit the situation to their advantage. From the North, rebel groups, U.S.- and Saudi-backed Turkish forces attempt to seize territory and resources from Syria and Kurdistan (Rojava), although Kurdish and Western militaries combined forces briefly, making for an incredibly uneasy relationship between the bourgeois nation-states and minarcho-socialists; from the West, various nationalist and religious extremist groups such as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) skirmish with Syrian allied and opposed militaries. Trade wars economically suffocate the citizens caught in the chaos.
Obviously, more than a decade of this would deeply affect any group of people. What began in idealism, opposition to the despotism and brutality under Assad and the neo-Ba’athist government, slowly transformed into broken down masses, a new generation which cares more about security than the quality of existence under that security, and an understandable pessimism towards the future. Besides the highly democratic and libertarian socialist aspirations of the Kurds in Rojava, who are more and more at risk, much of the population is now concerned foremost with survival and being left alone by foreign powers.
Elmira was eleven years old when the war began. Because of this she has less of a connection with the roots of the conflict and based on the impression I got from her she views Arab Spring as irrelevant to moving forward. However, despite her innocence in the matter, she still suffers the same result, along with the rest of the Syrian population. Her entire life, all she’s known is war, corruption, regimentation, territorial squabbles, and imperialism for which she and the Syrian population have paid dearly. I started by asking her about the Syrian conflict from her perspective.
Elmira: “The situation in Syria is not good. In terms of missiles and wars, we can say that it has ended somewhat, but Syria is now divided into many parts, and each part is controlled by a specific group. If you wanted to move in the city from one region to another, it would take a lot of time because of standing at the checkpoints and a lot of procedures, but now the situation is much more difficult due to the high prices of everything, especially food. There are families in Syria forced to give away their children to get rid of their expenses.
“Whoever lives in any region must adapt to its people, but not many people could live here in Syria, and this is their right. During the war, Syria witnessed many cases of emigration and displacement. They preferred to live in a country other than theirs and endure the pain of exile in order to preserve their lives, and this is what it should be. As I previously told you, Syria is divided into many parts; the party controlled by the Free Army forces its people to be with the Free Army, and the party controlled by the Syrian Arab Army forces its people to be with the Syrian Arab Army, and so on . . . America supports the Free Army and thus the party that controls the Free Army will support America’s policy. I speak from my point of view.”
T.P.: “You told me in one of our previous conversations that the war has been hard on Aleppo. Can you say anything about that?”
Elmira: “Aleppo . . . We can say that it is the city that has suffered the most from war and destruction, so it had a greater fate than the demolition of homes, the displacement of families, and the killing of children and women . . . The effects of the war are still visible today . . . My country has suffered a lot and is still suffering. Parents work day and night, women and men just to keep their children alive, just to secure food for them. I am talking about families around me, in my area. I’m talking about the middle class and below. I hope that the future of Syria will improve, but it does not seem so. If the reconstruction took 10 years, it will not return to what it was. It will take a long time.
“No, there is no justice at all. Wasta [nepotism] and favoritism are spreading. For example, if I studied and graduated, I would not be employed in my field of study if I did not have an intermediary. At the same time, a person who does not have any degree can work in any job he wants only because he has wasta.”
I thought to myself how this sounded vaguely similar to the United States, though combined with more desperate internal and external factors.
T.P.: “What are your thoughts on Joe Biden, who recently bypassed Congress to bomb Syria?”
Elmira: “Joe Biden was at odds with the Iranians, and Syria is an arena for wrestling with the rest of the countries. Each country had a dispute with another that was attacking it, but in Syria, namely the Syrian people, they are the only ones to be hurt. For example, America and Russia are in constant conflict, and unfortunately, it is Syria that has endured all of this because of the wars against it.”
T.P.: “What do you think was the root cause of the Syrian Civil War? What are your thoughts on the factions that evolved from it.”
Elmira: “I really don’t know. I was young at the time. All I know is that there was a small armed group that was engaged in sabotage, and the media was helping to confuse the facts”
“The war began in 2011, and we can say that it is still continuing. Since then, many children have left school. Many Syrians have fled (moving within Syria) in search of a safe place. Many were killed and many emigrated abroad. In every Syrian family there are deceased and exiled. As for me and my family, we have been displaced five times. We were going out in the dark and running to escape from the shells and bullets. Now it is not so much a war of bullets, but it is a material war. Prices are very high and everyone suffers from poverty.”
“I lived in several areas, among them was controlled by the Free Army, including the Syrian Arab Army, but it was generally safer in the areas of the Syrian Arab Army.”
“The factions are all bad. We just want safety, and all of these factions do not provide us with sufficient safety. But I think the [Syrian Arab Army’s] platoon is the best. I lived in several areas, among them was one controlled by the Free Army, including the Syrian Arab Army, but there was more safety in the areas of the Syrian Arab Army.”
T.P.: “You said that you were forced to flee five times in your life. Would you mind sharing some of this experience in detail?”
Elmira: “No, I do not mind. This was in the year 2013, as the beating intensified a lot in places common in homes and public places. We were forced to flee looking for a way to live elsewhere in Syria. First, we went to live in a shared house for our relatives in an area without war. We were displaced again, but this time our relatives were with us. We lived with other family as well, and every time we repeated the same story, but to no avail. Life was almost impossible in all of Syria. About five years ago we settled in my current neighborhood in a brick house after our house was demolished.”
T.P.: “Is there anything you would like to say to Americans?”
Elmira: “American citizens are ultimately citizens like me, and they also have their problems like racism and so on. I just hope that there will be a voice or an advocacy by American citizens for humanity in my country and in the world in general.”
I was glad she made that point.
We should not allow ourselves and communities to permit the destruction of lives in the name of national and corporate greed. We had no right when the Truman administration and the CIA led a coup in Syria in 1949, when Obama led his bombing campaign which killed mainly Middle Eastern civilians, when Trump was bombing them during his turn, and while Biden is bombing them now. This isn’t a game, and even though we can’t prevent the actions of the tyrants making those decisions, we are still consenting to the structure which produces them. This is wholesale terrorism and theft we are contributing to one way or another.
But how can there be constructive advocacy if people in this country still have faith in the “essential decency” of bourgeois republicanism? When we are still caught up consenting to unjustifiable monopolies of authority in our so-called “democracy” with the delusion that any individual is going to come and save us, while defending “leaders” when they use that authority to rip us off and destroy the world, how could we ever successfully stop this trend? Even progressive Bernie Sanders voted for the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, an exercise in unjustifiable violence and misuse of resources. There isn’t a single politician who isn’t either ineffective or hasn’t gone out of their way to contribute to corporate dominance and interventionism. If we were to both alleviate the chaos and encourage democracy in Syria (and elsewhere), it would require us to reject the antidemocratic and feudalistic principles where we are. By doing this, we’d in turn be rejecting neoliberalism, globalism, militarism, monopoly, nationalism, and pretty much everything else the United States, Joe Biden, and every other politician stands for. America is one of the most influential governments on the planet, which is not good on any level. The reason ultraviolence and corruption exist elsewhere is usually because we fail to stop it here. We bear this responsibility. At the very least, we need to take the time to stand up for what’s right.