Thursday, July 26, 2012

Beirut leftists turn ire on Putin

[Originally posted at NOW Lebanon]

“Anti-imperialism,” as a political persuasion, is one about which it usually pays to be suspicious. Those who shout loudest about the self-interested realpolitik of Western governments are more often than not ready to excuse comparable, or even greater, crimes at the hands of rival empires. Theirs is a long-standing tradition, whose milestones have included lauding the “resistance” credentials of Supreme Leaders in Tehran, fellow-travelling with tyrants from Stalin to Mao, and even opposing war with Hitler on the grounds that Churchill was no better (see Nick Cohen’s magisterial 'What’s Left?' for a comprehensive account of this sorry history).

So it was a very pleasant surprise indeed to find a rare display of genuine anti-imperialism outside the Russian embassy in Beirut on Tuesday evening. Around 20 people of a manifestly leftist bent had gathered to protest Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intractable support for the gore-drenched Syrian regime. They held up signs to passing cars on Corniche al-Mazraa saying things like “Russia: We want your vodka not your weapons.” One placard, which ought to give Hassan Nasrallah something to think about, equated Putin’s policy on Syria with America’s on Israel. They then proceeded to throw paper planes over the barbed-wired walls surrounding the embassy compound, each one unfolding into a list of names of murdered Syrians.

Can one draw any meaningful conclusions with such a pitifully small turnout (there were more journalists than demonstrators, and far more security officers than journalists)? Perhaps not. But it would be nice all the same to think the Lebanese left was increasingly breaking ranks with the despot-friendliness that too often taints its name (those who haven’t read it yet, please see Amal Saad-Ghorayeb’s blog, in which she describes her politics as simultaneously “anti-imperialist” and “Greater Syria nationalist”). More of this please.

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