by Danny Haiphong
U.S. foreign and domestic policy both serve the same corporate master, whose primary pursuit is profits. “The same trillion dollar military apparatus that Washington utilizes against Syria also militarizes the police to occupy the streets of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Black cities all over the US.”
Black Lives Matter as Much as Syrian Lives Do: The Geopolitical Dimension of White Supremacy and the State
by Danny Haiphong
“Syria and Black America are thus facing down the same enemy.”
In the summer of 2012, thousands hit the streets all over the US after vigilante George Zimmerman gunned down Trayvon Martin. Four years later, US cities all over the country demonstrated in memory of the police murder of Michael Brown. Brown’s murder in August of last year ignited the Black Lives Matter movement in the midst of nearly six years of racial conservatism led by the Obama Administration. Throughout this four year period of heightened Black political response to police terror, the US has been engaged in many other wars abroad. One of Washington’s most ruthless wars resides in Syria. From the time Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012 and Michael Brown remembered in 2015, Washington has simultaneously worked to destabilize the Syrian state.
On the eve of Michael Brown’s one-year anniversary, Washington escalated its war on Syria by giving six new fighter jets and hundreds of military “personnel” to Turkey. Turkey has been hostile to Syria and a long-time US client, but it hasn’t acted alone. Since at least 2011, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other regional partners have waged a multifaceted proxy war to overthrow the Syrian government. This has primarily consisted of financial and logistical assistance to jihadist terrorist groups. In 2013, Washington attempted to launch a direct military offensive in Syria under the pretext that the Assad government had attacked its own citizens with sarin gas. The claim was proven false by numerous sources and Russia helped broker a deal to prevent a potential world war scenario.
But Washington didn't quit. The Obama Administration quickly moved to justify war with Syria by forming a coalition with its regional allies in the name of a campaign against a particular brand of jihadist terrorists called the Islamic State (ISIS). ISIS provided a new pretext to launch airstrikes in Syria in a blatant violation of international law. In May, these airstrikes killed 52 Syrians and not one ISIS fighter. This should come as no surprise, as reports have confirmed that Washington not only backed ISIS financially, but also was willfully involved in its very creation. The war on ISIS remains a war against Syria. It has killed tens of thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands more in what amounts to a continuous wanton massacre of the Syrian people.
“Washington not only backed ISIS financially, but also was willfully involved in its very creation.”
The entire US populace has in large part ignored the US war in Syria. The lack of attention on this war can be attributed to the same white supremacist system that sparked the Black Lives Matter insurgency. One of Washington's most popular narratives, conveyed conveniently through its mouthpieces in the corporate media, is that military operations in Syria are meant to protect the region from ISIS. And prior to the sarin gas debacle, Washington attempted to assert a "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) no fly-zone in order to conduct airstrikes on Syrian land with international protection. Both moves justify imperial intervention by stripping the Syrian people of their humanity and self-determination. They assume that the Syrian people need the help of the "civilized" West to develop a legitimate state.
White supremacy paints itself as force for good when in reality it is a force of oppression. Similar to Syrians, Black Americans have repeatedly been told that they are at fault for their problems and thus need their oppressor to mend them. When Darren Wilson murdered Michael Brown, the corporate media described the young Black American as a thief and a drug user. Brown was also accused of attacking Darren Wilson before a thorough investigation had taken place. Sandra Bland and the thousands of other Black people who have been murdered by the police have faced similar attacks as the white supremacist foundation of the US works to shed accountability for its daily massacre of Black America.
The reality is that world capitalism's ruling class must propagate a racist, colonialist narrative of the oppressed in order to exploit them for profits. Profit always comes at the expense of labor, whether through the process of exploitation or the plunder necessary to establish it. Syria and Black America are thus facing down the same enemy. At the subjective level, the politicians, police, military forces, and corporate operatives forward a dehumanized narrative of both peoples to desensitize and legitimize the wanton destruction of Syria and the daily police murder of Black Americans. And at the objective level, the same trillion dollar military apparatus that Washington utilizes against Syria also militarizes the police to occupy the streets of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Black cities all over the US.
“World capitalism's ruling class must propagate a racist, colonialist narrative of the oppressed in order to exploit them for profits.”
When Michael Brown was murdered by the state in 2014, militarized policed rolled through the streets of Ferguson and St. Louis to contain Black resistance. On the anniversary of Mike Brown's death, the same militarized police returned and arrested 150, shot and critically injured a protester, and declared martial law. Some have said the Washington-funded militarization of the police in Ferguson and cities across the US is comparable to the military forces deployed to occupy Afghanistan and Iraq. While this comparison does make a critical observation, it ultimately reinforces the idea that military occupation is not possible within the colonial borders of the US. The comparison is only relevant when it drops the narrative of American exceptionalism and analyzes the geopolitical relationship between white supremacy and the state through an internationalist perspective.
The state is the enforcement arm of white supremacy and global capitalism. It is often confused with the government, but it is much more than that. The state comprises of the police, the military, the courts, and the entire apparatus of social control that supports the exploitation of oppressed people. More concretely, the character of the state depends on the political and economic system in question. The US state is a manifestation of centuries of racist, capitalist development that began with the enslavement of Africans and extermination of indigenous peoples. Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz’s new work, The Indigenous Peoples History of the United States, summarizes this development as follows:
“Any true history of the United States must focus on what has happened to (and with) Indigenous peoples – and what still happens. It’s not just past colonialist actions but also ‘the continued colonization of American Indian nations, peoples, and lands’ that allows the United States to ‘cast its imperialist gaze globally.’”
“Washington's rulers are dependent upon a white supremacist framework to legitimize oppression and dehumanize the oppressed, from Damascus to Baltimore.”
Ortiz's conclusion that US capitalism's global expansion couldn't have occurred without the vast riches of stolen land and labor is the material basis for white supremacy. The transformation of Black American cities into war-zones and the repression of resistance through the channels of the Mass Black Incarceration State ultimately share a common cause with the Syrian people. The war on Black America is both a necessary precondition to politically repress potentially revolutionary resistance and an economic move to incarcerate and thus control a Black labor force that can no longer be accounted for in the post-industrial capitalist wasteland of the US. Washington's war with Syria is a geopolitical maneuver to reassert dominance in a region that is increasingly becoming hostile to US interests. Washington's rulers are dependent upon a white supremacist framework to legitimize oppression and dehumanize the oppressed, from Damascus to Baltimore.
From the perspective of the imperialist ruling class, Syrian lives matter as much as Black Lives do. Black Americans and Syrians are expendable from the standpoint of the ruling system's ultimate goal of keeping the rich in power and white people compliant. Syrians will continue to be painted as incapable of managing their own affairs and in need of Western imperial medicine. Black Americans will continue to be dehumanized and criminalized as the assault on their bodies, minds, and labor continues. Black Lives Matter has continuously framed the movement against police terror as an ideological and political intervention. Another addition to the intervention that will be critical in the overall movement's growth is the development of an internationalist consciousness capable of forging relationships of solidarity with the Syrian people and all people staring down the same imperialist enemy.
Danny Haiphong is an organizer for Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST) in Boston. He is also a regular contributor to Black Agenda Report. Danny can be reached at [email protected] and FIST can be reached at [email protected]m