Sometimes all you need is a single moment to stand as a snapshot of something else. In isolation its features might seem quite ordinary and harmless but placed on a wider context and it conveys a lot more.
So when Novara Media’s co-founder Aaron Bastani tweeted a picture of the Free Syrian Army soldiers doing a salute to God and compared it to ISIS’ triumphant gestures, it said a lot about not Bastani himself but the left’s deep ignorance for all its perceived we-told-you-so-why-didn’t-you-listen-to-us wisdom.
The celebration that ISIS militants often carry out is fingers raised to the sky, “tawhid” or “oneness to God”. It usually means gratitude to God. It’s unquestionable that jihadists do it, but then so does Liverpool winger Mo Salah when he inevitably scores. It’s a timeless tradition within Islam where Muslims point to the sky as an affirmation of their faith in God. It doesn’t belong to ISIS or jihadists, which Bastani essentially implied by seeking to equate FSA and ISIS.
But this, as mentioned before, is a snapshot that speaks about left-wing ignorance particularly over Syria. Many on the left, likes of Rania Khalek, Ben Norton and others have regularly portrayed Syrian rebels as terrorists. Their basis for this has simply been that the Syrian rebels are conservative Muslims. Thereby, they qualify as terrorists as soon as they pick up weapons.
The problem with this is both the simplicity and inconsistency of it all. Syria is embroiled in a bloody conflict that no longer resembles a civil war. That implies some sort of remotely fair footing for both sides. But the power gap that separates the regime and rebels is staggeringly reflected in Bashar Assad being responsible for the vast majority of casualties, according to various charities.
The Syrian people who have been besieged by a relentless avalanche of air strikes and gunfire pressing them back into shelled, crumbling towns, live in the knowledge that outside support will probably never come. The world witnessed a genocidal ethnic cleansing and did nothing. In the absence of any interventionist protection, they will turn to whoever and whatever they can. That will include moderate Syrian rebel groups and also Jihadist militant groups like al-Nusra and ISIS. It’s not unlikely either that today the Jihadist insurgents are stronger in Syria than the moderate rebels whose hopes of a democratic Syria further bleed out. But to reduce these people to simply Jihadists fuelled by violent religious motives is a terrible caricature of Muslim fighters in Syria, and one that isn’t just painfully simplistic but offensively so.
And herein lies the catalogue of moral and political inconsistencies. If you were to compare leftist attitudes to Syria and Iraq and Palestine, you find a very different kind of discourse and energy swirling around the anti-war movement. In Iraq the Sunni militants are seldom seen as jihadists but vengeful and terrified individuals seeking escape from Western forces and a new government under Nouri al-Maliki. In Palestine, the anti-Semitic barbarism and theocracy of Hamas is rarely scrutinised as their existence is said to be conditioned by Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people. In both Iraq and Palestine, the left rationalise the existence of these socially conservative groups ( Hamas actually are Islamists) while in Syria deny them that autonomy. They are terrorists. Ergo, deserving of death. This inconsistency stems from how the left views foreign affairs and international relations in very binary, simplistic terms where the world gravitates simply around American interests and Syria facilitates this narrative because their regime leader is outwardly anti-American.
There is a final point to be made here which is that attitudes like this towards Syrian fighters are simply Islamophobic. You cannot on one hand defend Islam as separate to extremists where it concerns western Muslims but then so casually conflate it with Syrian rebels. You cannot say that Islam doesn’t belong to extremists when defending western Muslims but then advocate its antithetical position when affecting other Muslims. The left often defends Muslims - correctly - in Britain by making a separation between violence and faith, arguing that conservative Muslims are not terrorists. If the rationale of actual Muslim extremists in Britain can be explained through material conditions then surely that should be extended to Muslims in Syria suffering war, starvation and more? Why are Syrian Muslims judged as extremists for fighting back against a brutal regime while others are rationalised?