Western Anti-Imperialists Silence Middle Eastern and North African voices
Guest Contributor Daliah Lina
“You stand with the terrorist troops.”
“You are a jihadist.”
This accusation is just part of the public smearing I, and many other activists, had to face the last couple of weeks since Trump’s airstrike on Qassem Soleimani. Those who have been involved in political debates would assume that these accusations come from convinced right-wingers; but the reality is truly worrisome if not absurd: The accusers are Western Anti-imperialists. The reason? I am a Palestinian-Iranian leftist who opposes all global and regional acts of imperialism and authoritarianism. A stance that seems incomprehensible for some, as, in their view, one must take sides as an act of solidarity. Even if it means taking sides with war criminals. The fact that these alleged comrades target us while obtruding their “Anti-Imperialist” agenda is not new to me. In fact, since Syria’s uprising a strong front of “Western Assadists” have emerged, determined to side with any regime that spreads anti US-imperialist propaganda, and willingly turning a blind eye to the butchering of Syrian civilians.
The most dangerous aspect of this development is that it does not only legitimize crimes against humanity, but more than that, causes a disturbance within the Middle Eastern activist movement- one where often, the voices of activists from the region are silenced at the cost of Western ‘anti-imperialist’ voices. Once again, we Middle Easterners, inside the region and in diaspora, find ourselves dominated, silenced and separated by Western hegemonies – this time it is with an Anti-Imperialist face.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend– the glorification of a war criminal
On January 3, U.S. president Donald Trump targeted unauthorized a convoy near the airport in Iraq’s capital Baghdad and executed, amongst others, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Qassem Soleimani, known to be the second essential Iranian leader after Ayatollah Khamenei and murderous repressor of the Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian popular uprising as well as the head of Iran’s proxy war in Syria. Even though the level of his brutality is known, the Western Anti-Imperialist scene mourned him as their martyr, a hero and “glorious defender against ISIS”, determined to carry on his legacy by applauding the Iranian regime, disregarding, if not denying, their human right abuses, their contribution in the mass-killing of the Syrian people and harmful mingling in Iraq and Yemen. All this support and chants of empowerment by so-called “leftists” who claim that they stand for social justice and equality, yet they walk over the recent bodies of 1,500 Iranian protestors, human rights activists, feminists, the queer community, minorities and anyone who strives for peace and self-determination, saying that they stand with refugees, yet they express indifference when it comes to the thousands of displaced Syrians. Disrespecting their struggle. Silencing their suffering. Willing to overlook visible injustices and crimes against humanity for the sake of pushing their agenda of demonizing the West, at all costs, even when the price means 600,000 Syrian lives.
The “leftist” arguments to silence Middle Eastern and North African voices
The most dangerous aspect of Iran’s Western apologists is not only the amount of space they are claiming in political activism, but also the arguments they are using to mute Middle Eastern and North African voices through gaslighting methods that falsely portray them as supporter of imperialism, settler colonialism and terrorism. During debates, Western leftists are lip-syncing the propaganda of the Ayatollah, deceiving their audience with a peace-advocating leftist appearance claiming to argue for “MENA’s best interest”. The most popular arguments are listed as followed:
“The Islamic Republic is empowering the working class”
As a Middle Eastern socialist, this argument has repeatedly left me more than puzzled. Through 2017 and beginning of 2018, working class Iranians have expressed their frustration of exploitative wages and the unemployment rate that covers 40% of the Iranian population, of which most are young adults. These protests occurred through spectacular collective mobilization across dozens of cities in Iran. The Iranian authorities responded with brutal violence and immediate blockade of social media and messaging apps. At that time, a proposed government budget of President Rouhani was leaked that initiated raising fuel prices and other imposed taxes, that would especially indebt the working class. The protests have been shut down by killing 40 people, of which one was a 11-year-old child. Reuters reported that 450 people have been arrested with an eventual threat of facing the death penalty, according the head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court.
“Iran is fighting ISIS.”
While Iran’s fight against the Islamic State is being portrayed as an act of bravery by Western leftists, one essential aspect is deliberately ignored: Iran is recruiting Afghan children as soldiers in their “heroic anti-terrorism war”. During my work at the refugee camp “Moria”, in Lesvos, Greece, I have worked with countless unaccompanied Afghan minors between the age of 14-17, who were utilized as fighters in Syria. I witnessed first-hand the immense damage and incomprehensible trauma the Iranian regime has imposed on those children, who were treated as second class-citizens since birth for being Afghans in Iran, and later forced to fight in the Fatemeiyoun division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which has also been confirmed by Human Rights Watch (2017). According to international law, enlisting children under the age of 15 is considered a war crime.
“Iran is the only state that shows true solidarity when it comes to the Palestinian struggle”
Being Palestinian and an activist, Iran’s alleged support for the Palestinian resistance against the settler colonial state means nothing to me. According to Middle East Monitor, the Islamic Republic finances Hamas with military and financial aid, a resistance group that, in my opinion, has done no effective contribution to the liberation of my people, and represses the resistance dynamics of Palestinian feminist movements. Also, how can one be appreciative of ‘political support”, while knowing that Iran is responsible along with Russia and the US to create the world’s “worst humanitarian crisis” of our neighbouring country? How can one glorify the support of an oppressed nation but turn a blind eye to Iran’s discrimination and oppression of their Kurdish population, that includes numerous types of human rights violations? For me, it is unfathomable how those who claim to stand for social justice prove to have selected empathy when it comes to the brutal repression of civilians.
We need to be united in struggle and in solidarity to counter all acts of imperialism and authoritarianism.
Western leftists seem to clearly, and rightfully see through US imperial war propaganda but fail to see through the Iranian and Russian equivalent to it. This results in repeating their propaganda with strong resources and smearing those as enemies who oppose all global and regional acts of imperialism and authoritarianism. As an activist, a Middle Eastern socialist feminist and simply as a human being, I refuse to stand with oppressive governments, murderous leaders like Assad, just like I refuse to side with Western imperialism or jihadist opposition groups. If you are an Anti-Imperialist out of the true spirit of righteousness and justice, how can you support any leadership that benefits from human suffering? Selective empathy reflects neoliberal and colonialist characteristics, which impose the repetition of history, at the cost of Middle Eastern and North African lives. Which is why it is essential to unite in struggle and in solidarity to support popular uprisings of the civil society inside the whole region and eliminate counterproductive Western leftist myths once and for all.
Daliah Lina is a Iranian-Palestinian-German social justice activist, humanitarian and researcher who is working in the field of gender equality, migration and sexual gender based violence prevention.