Solidarity Not Multipolarity
When the Arab Spring blossomed in the early 2010s, the Western Left found itself at a crossroads:
We could support — through our writing, art, advocacy, activism, fundraising and, perhaps most importantly, by educating ourselves on the history of the countries in revolt and by establishing connections and seeking to provide media platforms for voices of the progressive, democratic-minded opposition to post-colonial autocracies in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Iran (a “Persian Spring” variation on the A.S.), Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and in other Arab and majority-Muslim countries.
Or we could respond with a neo-colonial mindset — as a reactionary might — and lend our support to certain right-wing rulers who may repress, jail, torture and murder their country’s people, but at least when it came to geopolitics, they were not aligned with the US. Geopolitically, the right-wing rulers that these erstwhile Western leftists would support — most prominently, Bashar al-Assad in Syria — were aligned with Putin’s Russia.
Regrettably, the latter option was chosen by many on the Western left, including several once credible young journalists, like Max Blumenthal and Aaron Maté, and some could-have-been credible writers, like Caitlin Johnstone. And why wouldn’t one choose this path? The reactionary route requires little deep or nuanced analysis; it carries the superficial sheen of “radicality”; it allows one to still center themself as the from-outside-gazing-in chess master analyst; and there are sources, such as RT, Redfish and Bashar al-Assad himself, ready to fund the journalism-esque endeavors of any American, Canadian or European misguided or cynical enough to pursue such work.
This tendency among the Western left to choose geopolitical calculation rooted in a neo-colonial and Orientalist view of the world over empathy and alliance with people who are struggling to live freely under autocracies has a long and sordid history that has played out in regions across the world over more than a hundred years. And, make no mistake, what is now being dressed up under the moniker of “multipolarity” is the same old subjecthood-erasing, condescending mentality that defined the Age of Imperialism, much of the Cold War and the War on Terror. Fortunately, there are plenty of journalists, academics, activists and artists working in non-Western and in Eastern European, Eurasian, and Balkan nations and in the diaspora who are offering perspectives not defined by the colonial-periphery/”Great Game”/Kissinger “real politik” mindset. And it is to their voices that we must listen if we want to have any chance of understanding the current state of affairs.
Particularly, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I have been seeking out such sources. I do not speak Arabic or a Slavic or Turkic language, and considering the linguistic, political, financial and cultural barriers and considering the fact that even great Western left thinkers like Noam Chomsky have fallen into the Orientalist trap on occasion, it can be hard to find voices not strictly aligned to one or another of the “polarity” powers. My journey has just begun, but I can recommend Mangal Media (English, Arabic & Turkish) and Joey Ayoub’s podcast “The Fire These Times” (English) as two excellent media projects who publish from the perspective of real people living through these times in the the Balkans, the Middle East, Turkey, Eastern Europe and beyond.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: It is 2022 and the world is burning. I think we can allow ourselves to dream of political self-determination and a world free of all crushing imperial behemoths — whether American, Russian, Chinese or of any stripe.
(Lion is a mural reproduction of an image by Ukrainian folk artist Maria Prymachenko. The museum housing the largest collection of the artist’s work was bombed by the Russian military and destroyed on Feb 28, 2022 outside of Kiev. Fortunately, many neighbors rushed in and rescued paintings).