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On Ilhan Omar, Assad Fetishism, and the Danger of Red-Brown “Anti-Imperialism”

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Perhaps no elected official has ever been subjected to the level of vitriol, threats, and attacks that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), the first Black Muslim woman ever elected to Congress and one of only two Muslim women there, has. And while we cannot be surprised that Omar was mercilessly attacked by the Israel Lobby and its various appendages and mouthpieces for speaking plainly about Israel’s policies and its influence in US politics, the degree of viciousness was appalling.

Omar was variously described as disloyal to the US, an adherent of sharia law, and an anti-semite. These attacks came from both Democrats and Republicans, and were themselves intended to stoke further animosity in the media and social media. They were designed to cow the Somali-American Omar, intimidate her into silence so she won’t speak openly about apartheid Israel’s crimes, or grill and publicly humiliate war criminals like Elliott Abrams in the way she did, or assert any independent voice in the oversight of US foreign policy.

And when Omar was being attacked, many who describe themselves as leftists or anti-imperialists rushed to her defense. Indeed, it seemed that Omar had overwhelming support from the relatively small, yet somewhat influential, online political community of mostly leftists.

But among that online community of Ilhan Omar supporters was a vocal contingent who deserve special scrutiny. And the reason is that today these same “supporters” are viciously attacking Omar, savaging her on social media in ways that would make right-wing MAGA chuds blush.

Omar’s great crime? Tweeting out the following:

Now, in a sane world, the tweet would be interpreted as fairly innocuous, a short statement on the anniversary of protests in Syria which eventually evolved into a civil war, a regional war, and indeed a global proxy war. However, when dealing with Assad fetishists – that online community of people from left and right who glorify Assad as an individual and leader of anti-imperialist resistance – even a simple statement such as Omar’s is taken as de facto evidence of collaboration with the CIA, Mi6, Mossad et al.

Take, for example, Maram Susli (aka Mimi al-Laham; aka @PartisanGirl; aka Syrian Girl) who is one of the most prominent Assad fetishists, and unabashed racist and fascist. Her response to Omar’s tweet read:

Ilhan, you claim to oppose AIPAC but on Syria you’re in lockstep with them. Israel wanted war with Syria, they backed AlQaeda, as to annex the Golan heights.

This tweet from the loathsome Susli is instructive and deserves a close reading if you want to understand what Assad fetishism is, how it operates, and why it is an inherently right-wing perspective.

Consider the first sentence: “You claim to oppose AIPAC but on Syria you’re in lockstep with them.” To distill the meaning here, it’s clear that Susli sees Omar as not at all opposed to AIPAC, that it’s merely a “claim” by Omar. And why? Because Omar does not support Assad. So, you see, in the mind of an Assad fetishist like Susli the genuineness of Omar’s opposition to AIPAC can only be measured by her position on Assad. Take the wrong position on Assad and you’re instantly a puppet of AIPAC. Never mind the fact that AIPAC has literally tried to destroy Omar after just two months in office, none of that matters because Omar has transgressed against Assad.

The second sentence is also quite revealing as it illustrates both Susli’s twisted perspective on the war in Syria, and the reason why she’s so intimately connected to fascists like David Duke. She claims “Israel wanted war with Syria” which is true insofar as Israel has been involved in the conflict (airstrikes inside Syria, medical aid to anti-Assad fighters, etc).

However, there’s an implicit subtext in that statement that Israel somehow masterminded the war, maneuvering other players into position to carry out Israel’s agenda. This gets into Rothschilds-Protocols of the Elders of Zion territory wherein Jews are always behind all wars, manipulating all sides to their advantage. Instead of simply saying what is factually correct and undeniably true – that Israel attempted to take advantage of the war for its benefit, just as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, and Russia all did – Susli strongly implies in her statement, and in many of her other statements, that in fact the war in Syria can be laid at the feet of Tel Aviv, rather than Washington or Ankara or Riyadh or Damascus or Moscow.

This is where the fetishists ultimately, and seemingly inevitably, end up: a world of right-wing conspiracy theory where fascists look like allies and real anti-imperialists and anti-racists look like the enemy.

Another good illustration of this phenomenon is the case of former Alex Jones employee, Patrick Henningsen, who runs the crypto-fascist 21st Century Wire website. Henningsen responded to Omar’s tweet by suggesting Omar was  “parroting CNN’s version of history… which is wrong. Do your homework, there was no ‘revolution’ in Syria. It was violence [sic] sectarian Salafists.”

Consider the hypocrisy of this far-right conspiracy troll suggesting that Omar is “parroting CNN” while he literally parrots Infowars, RT, SANA (Syrian state media) and a few other pro-Assad outlets. Nonetheless, it is a hallmark of the Assad fetishists to suggest that only they know the truth of what’s happened in Syria, despite either never having been there in most cases, or having gone there led by the hand by Assad’s public relations people who will mysteriously never encounter a Syrian who has anti-Assad views. It’s absolutely amazing that in the whole of Syria and its expatriate communities in Europe, Australia, and North America, these bloggers simply cannot find a single anti-Assad voice worth quoting.

Amazing I tell you.

Also, Henningsen claims “there was no ‘revolution’ in Syria” which is certainly news to all those thousands upon thousands of Syrians who participated in the local coordinating committees, citizen’s councils, and other forms of grassroots democracy which sprang up in the weeks and months following the start of the protests in March 2011.  There are tens of thousands of Syrians living in exile in Europe and elsewhere who might dispute Henningsen’s assertion. But hey, who cares? They’re only Syrians, what do they know about the truth of Syria?

Rep. Omar comes from a country ravaged by war. She lived in refugee camps. She has born the weight of racism and xenophobia simply by being Black, African, and Muslim in America. She has overcome tremendous odds and great difficulties to get to where she is today. She understands at a deeply personal level the pain and suffering of war, and the courage it takes to stand up to power. The only thing Henningsen has ever had to overcome is his own smug self-satisfaction (which he has yet to do).

Behind the Red-Brown Curtain

Of course, Susli and Henningsen are only two examples of so many others who have come out attacking Rep. Omar in recent days over her Syria tweet. It’s interesting to note the confluence of forces on this talking point: ostensible leftists, outright right-wingers, crypto-fascists, and some not-so-crypto-fascists as well. And this is no accident.

The de facto alliance between far-right fascists and left-wing Assadists has been written about numerous times (here, here, and here) but it’s important to point out that Syria is, in many ways, the perfect template for how Russia has exported a Duginist-style “Fourth Positonism” in which, to borrow the words of Dugin, left and right unite to attack the center. And in this case, “the center” is liberalism as typified by the so-called “Western democracies”.

This is not about socialism, but about imperialist revanchism, just as the war in Syria is not about democracy but, rather, power and geopolitical position. And yet, some alleged “anti-imperialists” feel that their role is to run interference for a sub-imperialist power like Russia as it carves its niche in the Middle East. And anyone who dares utter even minor criticism of that project, or of Assad or Putin, is immediately lambasted by the red-brown Kremlin Krew.

But guess what: Rep. Omar is more important than all of them combined. She has done more in two months than these trolls will do in their entire lives. And they can attack her all they want, it won’t change the fact that they’ve chosen to attach themselves to Assad rather than to the values that they claim to espouse.

Assad and Putin, in their fight against a variety of forces often (but not always) backed by the US and its regional allies, have made Syria a graveyard and call it peace. And maybe it is that, and maybe there was no other option.

But from here in the peaceful confines of an office in the US, people attacking Ilhan Omar over her Syria tweet just look like little children, begging for a pat on the head from their patrons. I only hope, for their sake, that they’re being well compensated, by whom I can only speculate.

You can support Eric’s work on Patreon, where this piece first appeared.

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Eric Draitser is an independent political analyst and host of CounterPunch Radio. You can find his exclusive content including articles, podcasts, audio commentaries, poetry and more at patreon.com/ericdraitser. He can be reached at ericdraitser@gmail.com.

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