The “Syrian Knot” binds to itself two kinds of power in the world:
Political Absolutism (Moscow) v Democratic Distribution of Power (Washington)
Behind that contest:
–Syria’s drought and declining agriculture (leading to protests in 2011), which in a good world would be less important, but for a dictatorship, getting rid of people one doesn’t really care about or care for in the first place seems pretty convenient.
–Dissolving of the Soviet 25 years ago (December 26, 1991), for which the Soviet had prepared in the 1980s, and which Putin has effectively dropped the communist ideology but sustained the architecture of the earlier organization of the state, i.e., secret police (FSB), central leader (himself), and a privileged class (the “Oligarchs”). Possibly (probably), Russian barbarism predates the czars, and the combination of very dirty deeds (like bombing refugee camps) and high culture (like the concert in Palmyra) have centuries of historical precedent (that assertion is something I want to research and better anchor).
In 2011, and in a quick exchange about positions, Obama and Putin played what in chess would be an opening gambit. Obama had offered the potentially democratic Russian state a “reset” and Putin handily declined in favor of producing a neo-imperial update on the Soviet model. The KGB became the FSB. The invention of the PLO became the continuation of relationships with Hamas, Hezbollah, PFLP, and others.
The cultivating and promoting of anti-Semitism in the world is a feudal-medieval ruse to deflect fault on the part of leadership toward the Jews.
Why the Jews?
The Jews have been doing battle with “political absolutism” since the humbling of Pharaoh — thanks to God — and their turning their backs on the same with a “mixed multitude”, i.e., others who shared the Jewish abhorrence of the tyrant. What follows about 4,000 years later is “uptake” by others, i.e., the Romans who turn to Judaism and later differentiation and expansion of subscription (which brings wealth) as Christians. Several hundreds years after that, Muhammad borrows from the Jews, makes himself central in access to God or the Idea of God, and we arrive about here with a long sorry history of medieval warring over “political absolutism” and the basis for it (e.g., “divine right”; “dictatorship of the proletariat”; etc.)
With dictators, you know my rule: “Different Talks — Same Walk!”
Now the “digest” version of the Jews and Russia —
Once Rome had burned, raped, and sacked Jerusalem, the Jews became everybody’s “guests” . . . so come forward a thousand-plus years and find the Jews, a People laden with laws from the time of Moses, a “problem” (more of an opportunity) — an alien enterprise, strangers in a strange land — to Russian Christians who could and would leverage anti-Semitism into the customary theft and murder.
Look into the history of the Cossacks and the Pale of Settlement.
Then go forward again into the Soviet enterprise and its repression of religion (“the opiate of the people,” said Karl Marx). Russian Jews found themselves trapped for decades in Russia by the forces of Soviet exploitation and possession. When it became possible to leave that atmosphere en masse, they did.
Along comes Putin, and Putin makes it his mission to “defend” the speakers of Russian — “Russophones” — wherever they may be found. The ploy excuses aggression (as in Ukraine). With hundreds of thousands of the Jews of Russia repaired to Israel, he knows also to become modern in this fashion and stand against anti-Semitism!
Post-Holocaust, post-Hitler, what Russian leader would not do the same?
Let’s add back ISIS — Assad’s incubated horror — and “Islamic Terrorism” in general and its effects: when a mosquito pricks the skin, the skin swells. The body responds to in the insult. Of course, the hand slaps or slaps away the mosquito (or the bee or wasp), and it starts repairs against infection and against any poisons delivered.
So it is that each terrorist act encourages resurgent nationalism where it takes place.
Migration has similar effects: people want to close their doors seal their boundaries, and fend off those most in need.
It could be said that nature is cruel — or here with political nature that Putin, Assad, and Khamenei are cruel, but like the cowardly fireman who sets the fire and later offers to put it out (!), these have created a condition and perception in many of the west that they can handle ISIS — and they may, having incubated that enterprise to glorify themselves in battle against the same.
Oh brother oh sister — Israel is a precious jewel of a small state representing the character of a people who turned their backs on the idea that any man, including Moses, could represent God on earth. For the Jews, God is indeed greater, and while Moses gets recognition, prayer is always to God, not to Moses. That separation changes the politics, and when Titus of Rome destroys Jerusalem, the priests take the hit (because they failed!) and the scholars and teachers rise in the esteem of the community and the great conversation about ethics and morality comes to represent the Jews. Old Jewish wisdom . . . that’s just my opinion and not very good scholarship but something that might hold up to scrutiny.
Putin has melded many modern ideas into his own medieval atmosphere and the surface of related political theater — “Assad vs The Terrorists” — works for most who simply haven’t the time to examine (as I have) the complexity of the conflicts displayed or experienced.
Israelis don’t like being murdered by incited teenagers creeping into their children’s bedrooms — and there is Putin the Strong fending off Chechnya rebels and applying Russia’s most advanced weapons to the same once they have been channeled to ISIS in Syria.
The “west” has moved around Syria in its responding to post-Soviet neo-Imperial Russia in Syria and Crimea and elsewhere, but, give the devil his due, Putin has worked to weaken the European Union (the British vote on BREXIT seems to me an example of success with that) and NATO (Erdogan’s own embrace of despotism in Turkey accompanied by a go-ahead from Russia on the the “Turkish Stream” pipeline project seems also to affirm Putin’s influence and power) — and he has succeeded in partially renewing — or affirming — our world hosts immensely powerful financial and political elites — medievalism in the modern world.
Post-Soviet Russia saw two old clients — Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi — swept away into history, but with Assad in Syria and the way to Iran potentially laid bare, the dictators have taken their stands.
Would nature have forced mass (economic) migration from Syria?
But nature would not have incubated ISIS (by selecting other targets for bombing and combat earlier in the war) to later aggrandize and glorify the “abilities” of the “strong men”.
The conversation continued, always a few more words, a little more distillation of old observations and new ideas.
In the Garden of Eden story in the Torah, God introduces to Adam and Eve human awareness, self-awareness, and conscience.
It’s all right there at the beginning, i.e., a statement about our own nature — and it’s a good statement.
It’s not the Christian statement; it’s not Muhammad’s statement.
It’s a mysterious statement about the two that God will send off into human life and they will have to work to eat and wrestle with some thorny realities in the way of their own survival.
The dictators — caliphs, emperors, kings, sultans down through the ages — often bend the Divine to their own will, and then they use that power that comes from similar words and technologies in the worst imaginable ways.
The good seem either not powerful enough, proactive enough, or smart enough, frankly, to unmake the tyrant before he has got his hands on a serous treasury and a willing military.
Some could argue that the evil is as much our nature too.
I don’t know the answer to that.
I know that Syria represents perhaps the darkest tragedy of our time, as I believe it has been fashioned by Moscow, Damascus, and Tehran as a complete theater of politics and war.
BackChannels had a Muslim conversational partner for this post and one who advocated for Israel against anti-Semitic anti-Zionist smears launched in an advocacy site for the Syrian Revolution. Questions were raised about Israel’s nationalist politics, links with Russia, and associated anti-Islamism. Over the years, BackChannels has come to see Moscow promoting the amplification of political sentiment into internal conflicts beyond its borders. Color codes “Red”, “Red-Green”, “Red-Black” apply to the reinvigorating of “old comrade networks” and the Islamic and Black Power politics that feed Black Lives Matter, Palestinian Solidarity, International Solidarity, Code Pink, and so many others nourished by the still moving inertia of old Soviet disinformation and related inspiration.
As Putin and Russo-Iranian politics have also promoted Far Right politics (Marie Le Pen in France, Jobbik in Hungary), the political color code “Brown” for nationalists and national socialists also applies. It’s perfectly sensible that any space attacked by an alien force, conveniently “Islamist” these days, including “Islamist” against Muslims worldwide, will rally around its flag, and that whether it be in London or Islamabad.
A third force — i.e., a Moscow — helping to make that attack happen (by incubating ISIS; by using war to create conditions for mass migration irksome to one’s more true target regions and states) is something else: call it “diplomacy by other means” — and means generally beyond the public ken, for the public rarely has time and space for doing more than adjusting its perceptions according to major headlines.
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