Sunday, January 3, 2016

On Russia's dictatorship-or-terrorism binarity in the Arab region

By Azmi Bishara

On Russia's dictatorship-or-terrorism binarity in the Arab region

Dr. Azmi Bishara deconstructs Russia's discourse that reduces all conflicts and nuances in the Arab region to dictatorship versus terrorism, wherein dictators are sold as the lesser of two evils.
Russia's Foreign Minister, a man with a square-shaped logic and a square-shaped rhetoric, recently summed up Russia's "grand achievement" thus: That Moscow has finally convinced Washington that Arab dictators, both those who departed and those who are alive and killing, are better than Islamic terrorism.
Sergei Lavrov even mentioned the dictators by name.
The head of Russian diplomacy's oversimplified and reductionist explanation of his ideas, however, is due not only to a lacking vocabulary, but also to a severely lacking repertoire of ideas.
The Russian foreign minister reduced all conflicts and distinctions in the Arab region to leaders versus Islamic terrorism. In his flat world, neither tyrannical regimes nor peoples and political forces have any bearing.
And what seems to matter most of all to Putin's minister is that the US has now been convinced of this "binarity" of opposites, one of which seemingly superior to the other.

Dictatorship sans slogans
Russia's conviction of this is a given, having supported various kinds of dictatorships over the years.
In the past, people and movements were taken by erstwhile Soviet slogans used as ideological justification for totalitarianism.
That totalitarian regime collapsed, but dictatorship endured in Russia minus the delusions sold to peoples, masses and revolutions, in the form of an authoritarian one-man rule that have nothing but contempt for peoples, masses and revolutions.
Russia's binarity would have had little effect in the Arab region without US consent to the crude oversimplification

Yet Russia's binarity would have had little effect in the Arab region without US consent to the crude oversimplification.
Therefore, Russia had to wait until the US became convinced.

Or at least, Russia had to wait until the US adopted a neutral posture vis-a-vis Russia's intervention to implement this terrible equation, to restore Russia's international role by spilling Arab blood.
The Russians are now proceeding to bombard all forces that oppose dictatorship, but in the mentality of the Tsars this includes what is left of the cities and villages these forces are based in.

In the Russian binarity, all of this to the category of Islamic terrorism does belong.
The classification is not theoretical and the sorting is not surgical, but is carried out by bombers incinerating everything that is not part of the dictator's camp.
People to them are an object of dispute, things to be seized and controlled

One wonders, what do people mean to them? At best, people to them are an object of dispute, things to be seized and controlled.
In the process, victims fall, and they are called collateral damage - though they are collateral not in size but in value, since the magnitude of the damage in the case of Russian bombardment is huge and is utterly disproportionate to the intended target.
In a country like Russia, there isn't much sensitivity towards civilian casualties.

No refugees are admitted to Russia, no alternative media count civilian casualties, no human rights groups challenge the narrative and no real electoral process holds the criminals accountable.
In a much worse case, the civilians being bombarded are deemed outright to be a popular support base and "incubator" for "terrorists," and thus their deaths is far from regrettable.

Dictators to rein Arabs in
In the racist colonial mind, this is what Arabs and Easterners best deserve.
Thus the far right in the West allies itself to Arab dictatorships, because force to them is the only language Arabs understand, and because only dictators can keep the Arab hoardes in check.
There is no shortage of Arabs who echo this racist view either.
Meanwhile, Israel's regime is revered and an alliance with it is sought without reservations, including on the part of Russia in continuation of a long-standing tradition.
Indeed, the Soviet Union had backed Israel against the Arabs in 1948 as a promising "progressive" socialist force against British-backed Arab monarchies.

That is, until Israel chose the winning alliance with the West in the bipolar world that emerged during the Cold War. Only then did the Soviets switch to backing the Arabs against Britain and France first, then against the US.
But if the Arab world is divided between dictatorship and terrorism, what should the average Arab, whose interests, aspirations and even characters go beyond Lavrov's deadly binarity, do?
There is no place for Arab citizens in this equation

There is no place for Arab citizens in this equation.

They are required to disappear from the picture, and wait for the dust of the bombardment to settle, or surrender to this binarity: Either go the way of savagery to avenge the crime, or accept the rule of the dictator, complete with his corruption, tyranny and violation of people's lives and dignities.
A third option
The extremist forces have ruined the aspirations of the people that had risen up against tyranny. The extremists resemble dictators in submitting everything to one goal, beyond good and evil, which allows them to commit the worst of crimes as they are not subject to moral judgment.
The extremist forces have hurt ordinary people in other ways, including at the level of public opinion, by facilitating the endorsement of the binarity of dictatorship versus terrorism.

As a result, it became easy for powers like Russia to win over the world's silent consent to doing its dirty work, an ideal job for a state whose main exports are oil and arms.
It will not be possible to overcome this deadly binarity without renouncing extremist forces. However, accepting dictatorship as the alternative would be a victory for this binarity.
The vast majority of Arabs aspire to have a just and pluralistic system of government

The vast majority of Arabs aspire to have a just and pluralistic system of government.
But the problem of the Arab opposition elites is that as they compete with one another, they forget this basic truth, which is the antithesis of such devastating binarities.
Respecting the aspirations and sacrifices of the Arab peoples for freedom and dignity is thus a duty and obligation for political, cultural and military elites that represent the majority in the fight against tyranny, with its two faces of dictatorship and terrorism.
Only this will truly expose the delusion of choice in the Russian-peddled binarity.

Azmi Bishara is a Palestinian intellectual, academic and writer.

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