Mark Boothroyd: Aleppo Falls, and Humanity Falls With It

Wounded civilians arrive at an Aleppo hospital
Wounded civilians arrive at a hospital in Aleppo

East Aleppo, the last bastion of Syria’s democratic-nationalist revolution, is falling. Foreign sectarian militias in the service of the Assad regime, backed by continual bombardment from Russian warplanes, have broken through rebel lines. Relentless aerial bombardment has reduced much of the rebel-held part of the city to rubble. Every hospital has been destroyed, along with everything needed to sustain life: water pumps, bakeries, food warehouses, the offices of the local council, even offices of journalists reporting on the slaughter.

Fifty-thousand civilians have fled, either to West Aleppo or to the Kurdish district of Sheikh Maqsood, controlled by the YPG (Kurdish militia). Anyone left in Aleppo is either on a regime blacklist, or has loved ones working or fighting in the city. Surrender is not an option for many. Already five-hundred men arrested by the regime when it conquered the district of Masakan Hanano have gone missing. There are reports of regime militias carrying out field executions on civilians trying to flee. Forty-five were killed when the regime shelled crowds attempting to flee through the supposedly ‘safe passages’ out of East Aleppo.

The ferocity of the slaughter seems only matched by the indifference of progressive forces around the world. No marches or protests have been held to oppose the slaughter. Crowds are not gathering at the Russian embassy to demand a halt to the bombing. Anti-war groups, trade unions, and whole swathes of the radical left are mute.

How can this be when these same groups mobilise hundreds of thousands when Palestine is bombed, and millions when the US and Britain invaded Iraq, yet they will not even issue a statement of condemnation when Russia burns Aleppo to the ground?

A latent orientalism and racism, a crude and undeveloped understanding of anti-imperialism and a failure to support basic democratic and internationalist principles lie behind this horrific betrayal. In the multi-polar capitalist world of the 21st century, all imperial powers are barbaric and capable of vile atrocities to maintain their clients, and all states can face popular revolts by their oppressed and exploited populace.

Instead of acknowledging these basic truths, and working to build a solidarity movement with Syria’s revolutionary struggle, a gruesome ‘war on terror’ narrative was adopted by many, whereby Syria’s peaceful protestors and nationalist Free Syrian Army fighters became ‘Islamic terrorists’, backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar against the ‘secular’ Assad regime. The presence of radical Islamic forces was exaggerated out of all proportion to their strength in the popular movement, which at its height comprised millions of people, with all the contradictions and problems that entails.

Anti-war organisations whose whole existences were dedicated to opposing imperial wars and dictatorships in the Middle East suddenly declared that the only government that mattered was their own, and if they weren’t involved, it was nothing to do with them. Studiously ignoring the Russian arming and Iranian bankrolling of the regime, the civil war was blamed on paltry Western support for the rebels, instead of the regime’s use of bombs, torture, mass rape and chemical weapons against civilians.

Left-wing activists who spent years arguing that the real terrorists were those wearing suits using their airforce against civilians, that state violence was always worse than the violence of resistance movements or popular struggles, suddenly found they held the same fear of bearded Muslims with guns as the neo-conservatives, and opined that the worst thing that could possibly happen would be the fall of the Assad regime to a popular revolt. A left that preached popular revolt at home became the biggest proponents of ‘stability’ and ‘order’ in Syria, even if this was maintained with torture chambers and mass murder.

No solidarity was forthcoming with Syrians’ struggle, and the left’s positions became a self-fulfilling prophecy. With no support from progressive forces and leftists, and only lip service being paid by Western democracies, democratic and nationalist forces were sidelined by better-armed and -funded Islamic groups. ISIS took advantage of the chaos to invade Syria from Iraq, providing a propaganda gift to the regime and the ‘war on terror’ ideologues. Millions fled the regime’s barrel bombs and scorched-earth tactics, to languish in camps in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan.

The refugees, exiles from a revolutionary struggle, refused to wait in camps for a return to Syria that may never come. They believed the West’s promises and swam and trekked into the EU seeking shelter and a viable future. ISIS, feeding off the chaos of repression and civil war, carried out atrocities to provoke the West and encourage more repression and anti-Muslim racism.

Far-right and fascist groups in the West fed off the chaos spread by the regime. Every ISIS atrocity, every new refugee surge seemed to legitimise their narrative. In a grim echo of the regime narrative, they positioned themselves as the only ones prepared to defend Western Civilisation against the Islamic hordes. They all pledged support for Assad and Putin and their war on the Syrian people.

Through this all, Aleppo endured. Its democratically elected local council organised food distribution, provided municipal services, held training sessions to organise and empower women. Its teachers built schools, nurseries and playgrounds underground, to shelter the next generation from the regime’s bombs. Artists organised theatre about the revolution, and the struggle for freedom and democracy. Journalists organised a union to protect their freedoms to report on the struggle and on corruption and abuses by rebel factions. Hope that one day they would triumph over the regime was maintained.

This is all being crushed. With Aleppo the last hope for the Arab Spring dies. And with the fall of Aleppo, falls the world. Out of the chaos of Assad’s repression have emerged the new authoritarians: Hofer, Trump, Le Pen, Orban, Sisi. The global counter-revolution to the revolt of the Arab Spring. And those groups internationally that are supposed to stand for freedom, democracy and social justice: they remain silent.

This silence is complicity, and it condemns us all. The entire world will suffer for the betrayal and abandonment of the Syrian people.

  1. Abu Ward, the Gardener of Alleppo. I posted his story and changed my background to a picture of him and had precisely no 'likes' or comments. Changed my background to a piece of art and posted a poem - untold numbers of f**king 'likes' and supportive comments. I like to think that my friends are among the most progressive in my town. Yet... There is a blindness to certain types of atrocity that has been induced by the reframing of the narrative, and none of us who have been exposed to white corporate propaganda are completely immune to its corrupting taint.

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