BBC News reports that “[s]upporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have attacked the US and French embassies in Damascus.” Tensions rose to the surface after last week’s visits from French and American ambassadors, trips explicitly “meant to express solidarity with the anti-government protesters.”
As conspicuous outposts of foreign governments, embassies — at least those of countries like France and the United States — become inescapable reminders of both past colonialism and present military imperialism. For Syrians, certainly it must be impossible to pass by some featureless shrine to the U.S. government without immediately being reminded of the fact that their neighbors, people who speak the same language as they, are subjects of American domination.
After World War I, the victors carved Arab-speaking regions of the world into arbitrarily defined European fiefdoms; a League of Nations mandate gave to France most of what is today Syria. Though no longer ruled from afar by the Turks or the French, Syrians nevertheless remain subjugated, tyrannized from Damascus by an oppressive band of thugs.
In spite of the despotism of their own government, Syrians can hardly be faulted for meeting the hypocritical admonitions of the West with outrage. As both France and the United States contribute to the ongoing, interventionist enterprise in Libya, they feel no less at ease lecturing the Syrian state on its human rights violations and failure to protect their embassies.
In historical context, then, Syrians’ attacks on American and French buildings look less like unequivocal support for the Assad regime than righteous indignation at condescending and meddlesome outsiders. Whatever the ostensible differences between a state like Syria and one like the United States or France, those differences are a matter of degree, not of kind.
Whether small or sweeping, self-contained or on the quest for empire, the state is and always has been defined by conquest — by the crushing subjection of one group to another. As Frank Chodorov observed, the state originated “when a band of freebooters developed an appetite for other people’s property,” and elites “were granted subsidies, tariffs, franchises, patent rights, [and] monopoly privileges of one sort or another.”
Syrians are no less the victims of some external power just because their overlords happen to share with them certain cultural or linguistic traits. Wherever an individual is not a self-ruler, but is instead controlled and coerced, there is the same principle of violence that the state relies upon. It is that characteristic, that use of unprovoked aggression, that separates the state from all other societal institutions and from the kind of society advocated by market anarchists.
Syrians must be wary of political figureheads who equate independence from western corporatism and empire with genuine liberty in their homeland. The consistent position in favor of autonomy and independence reproves all states, both one’s own and those making up the larger “global community.”
The notion that Syrians must either stand with the Assad regime or with Hillary Clinton in demonizing it is a false choice. The better option is to turn away from both, putting faith in an order that grows from mutual respect, voluntary exchange and nonviolent cooperation.
By creating a supposed justification for “security measures” and crackdowns, attacks and violence usually stand to benefit the ruling class, which is never quite so benevolent as its apologists believe it to be.
Syrians, Frenchmen and Americans should all awaken to the reality that their respective governments do not represent them — that we are all subjected to foreign rule. Once we begin to disintegrate the illusion that any state is “legitimate,” we’ll witness the “democratic transformation” our leaders keep talking about.