Yassin al-Haj Saleh: “The International left is suffering a major crisis”

Interview with Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Syrian writer and activist. Bashar al-Assad’s political prisoner for 16 years between 1980 and 1996. He has been living in Istanbul this last year. Interview conducted by Lucha Internacionalista (Internationalist Fight – LI) from the Spanish State and İşçi Demokrasisi Partisi (Workers Democracy Party – IDP) from Turkey.

IDP/LI: Obama threatens to attack the ISIS in Syria … and the Assad regime greets him offering itself as an ally of the West against terror. Iran plays in the same way.

YH: I’ve always thought that the best way to act against the ISIS was helping Syrians against the Assad regime. Not only because the regime is tyrannical and sectarian, but because it actually is a terrorist regime, which uses the jihadists fascist groups and manipulated them in Iraq and Lebanon in the years before the Syrian revolution. I see the plans of Western attacks on ISIS — without helping the Syrians against Assad, without addressing the political and social roots of the struggle Syria — as another betrayal of our people, after three years asking for help against the criminal regime. We must not forget the shameful reaction of the West after the chemical slaughter a year ago. The ISIS, with their inhuman ways, has capitalized much on this way of treating such a heinous crime.

IDP/LI: How can you explain the rapid growth of ISIS? What role did it play in the 5th column of the Syrian revolution?

YH: There is no simple explanation for its growth. First, they have increased the nihilistic tendencies in the consciousness of many Syrians (and Iraqi). It’s the result of long injustices and lack of confidence in the global institution. Second, the ISIS has a project, a kind of “nation building”, applied with a ruthless determination.

Third, the Assad regime was glad of the rise of ISIS, an ultra-extremist entity that lends credibility to his discourse of fighting terrorism. It is a known fact that currently the regime avoidsthe ISIS, attacking only the resistance against the regime.

The ISIS, many of whose members were Iraqi Ba’athists, is beneficial to the regime because it is a killing machine, although less effective than the Assad regime, it matches and surpasses it in the brutality and in the spectacular nature of their crimes. It destroys the popular movements, abducts or murders activists against the regime, and this is the only thing in the world that one can justifiably say that it is worse than the regime itself.

IDP/LI: Three years after the start of the revolution, many political groups claim that the revolution turned into a sectarian civil war. Do you agree with this idea? How do you consider the current situation of the Syrian revolution?

YH: It is true that there isa large sectarian element in the Syrian struggle, which has increased its presence in the last two years. But the world of sects is not separate from world of classes. Sectarianism in my view is a class ideology, not an ideology of identity.

It is a tool to divide the popular movements and to protect the social and political system established on the basis of privilege and monopoly of power and wealth. This is true for the regime, but also for certain groups fighting against it. They use sectarianism as a method to mobilize people under their leadership.

The situation now is very difficult. The national structure of the fight collapsed in the past two years. We have Iranians, Lebanese, Iraqis and others fighting the regime, and jihadists of many countries fighting with ISIS. I think the role of the US is no less criminal than that of Russia in planning the destruction of our country, and the role of Israel is no less destructive than that of Iran. At the same time the traditional opposition failed miserably when it was time to convey our problems or at least to save the dignity of the people and the dignity of the revolution.

IDP/LI: It seems that resistance is concentrating in Aleppo. Is this true? What is the situation there?

YH: Aleppo is important because it is the place with the three factions of our struggle: the regime, ISIS, FSA and moderate Islamic groups.

It is also the country’s largest city. If the regime lost Aleppo completely it would lose the argument that represents the unity of Syria. It would seem that it would bring about a new era in Syria if ISIS or the regime dominate Aleppo definitely. There are other fronts of the fight in Deera, in the south. In eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, in the province of Idlib not far from Aleppo, but the latter is vital for the fate of the revolution and for any possible agreement in the future.

IDP/LI: Are still alive the self-organizations such as the committees of the Syrian people that emerged with the revolution?

YH: They suffered much in 2013 and 2014. Their golden age was in 2011 and 2012. There was room for creative activities in the levels of organization, protest, documentation, media coverage, logistics, medical services, comfort, etc. But the dynamics of the militarization led to a situation where these groups controlled military activities, limiting civilians to a minimum. This benefited the fight against the regime’s aggression, but they created power structures that are not revolutionary.

The fate of Razan Zeitoona, the famous and respected founder of the Local Coordination Committees is exemplary at this level. Razan was kidnapped by the Islamic Army in eastern Ghouta in December 2013. My wife Samira al Khalil, Wael Hammada, husband of Razan, and lawyer and activist Nazem Hammadi were abducted with Razan, without knowing anything of them for a long time.

IDP/LI: Comment on the role of the Syrian Kurds in the revolution.

YH: It’s a contradictory role. The Kurdish military power is worseenemy of Turkey than of the Syrian regime. They are related with the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] in Turkey, the country that myopically helped Islamic groups against the Kurds. Perhaps this policy of the AKP [Justice and Development Party] government in Turkey led to the arrival of thousands of jihadists to Syria.

I mean to say that the Kurdish struggle in Turkey, one of the biggest allies of the Syrian opposition, left a very bad image of the role of Syrian Kurds in the revolution. There was never any confrontation between the PYD [Democratic Union Party] and the regime. There are isolationist elements in the policy of the PYD during the revolution.

The right thing, in my opinion, is to make a broad alliance against the regime and ISIS, with Kurds, Arabs and all, oriented towards the liberation of Syria from both of them in order to build a new regime, in which Arabs and Kurds are equal, as individuals and as ethnic groups.

The greater the role of the Kurds in this struggle, the more they will share in the future Syria. The problem is that the Kurds have not sensitised themselveseitherto follow a pan-Kurd plan, that would keep them together with the Kurds of Turkey and Iraq, or their own plan for Syria, which could make common cause with other Syrians.

IDP/LI: During the three years of the revolution, the international left could not really build a solidarity network with the Syrian revolution. However, while the revolution continues this enormous task is pending. What are the tasks of the international left to advance the Syrian revolution, what kind of specific international campaigns can be built for the Syrian revolution?

YH: I think that the international political left suffers a great crisis that affects their vision of the world today, their role, their self-awareness, their organization… The general thinking of the left is conservative, outdated, if not reactionary. The majority are satisfied with the positions against the US, with monsters like Putin in Russia, Assad in Syria, the regime of the ayatollahs in Tehran.

They talk a lot against imperialism, but to my knowledge they practically do nothing to help or even understand the persecuted struggle against local oppressors or against imperialism and its clients. What I find most despicable of the international left is that they know nothing about Syria, about its history, about our struggle for justice and freedom in the past.

They always identified our country with the fascist regime of Assad, and know very little about the regime. Do they know, for example, that Bashar inherited his position as head of the ”Republic” from his brutal father who ruled the country for 30 years? If this seems good, why don’t they come to live under this cruel regime? In August 2013 they thought their duty dictated they should be against America’s intentions to punish the fascist regime that killed 1,466 people in one night. They reassured the Obama administration at this time, in coordination with “imperialist” Russia, agreeing that the criminal regime would be disarmed of its chemical weapons, but would have international license to kill Syrians with any other weapon. Their problem was not the war, because this served to contain the revolution from day one, their problem was with the punishment of the criminal.

They didn’t see that the task was progressive and that the Americans were looking for any excuse not to do so. As Syrian I find this position as sordid and inhuman as the Obama administration position.

Nor are they different from this administration. The latter eliminated chemical weapons and allowed the regime to continue with its murderous work, these leftists protested against an imaginary war, against the criminal, and they never saw anything wrong with the murderous regime! There are however some individuals and groups who saved the dignity of the international left and represent the dignity of the left. As Syrian and actor in this terrible struggle, I wanted to express my deepest respect for them, in Turkey, Spain and other countries.

Interview by IDP and LI, Turkish and Spanish State sections of the IWU–FI