The Middle East as Ideology-Free Zone


Popular media largely treats the Middle East as an ideology-free zone, excepting Islamism and racial nationalism.

Two big reasons for this spring to mind.

The first is US foreign policy. Our allies in the gulf are dominated by political ideologies that US media elites can only turn a blind eye to, except when kissing ass for MBS. To talk about the fact that the Kurdish movement in Syria, who besides being our allies (a fact that is widely bandied about) are working vigorously for women’s empowerment, pluralism, and local governance, would be a betrayal of our cohort in NATO, Turkey. Let alone the left resistance in Turkey itself. And regarding Iran, I have this funny feeling that toward socialism (c.f. Mosaddegh) is not the direction the US is hoping that someday regime change might go.

The other is the lingering flavor of Orientalism. It’s a discourse that reduces humans and peoples to narratives on a few longstanding themes. Islamism and racial nationalism are ideologies that admit readings as fanaticism or tribalism, which neatly fit these themes.

This tendency to ignore meaningful political differentiations in the Middle East played out particularly tragically in the Syrian Civil War. As mentioned before, now that Turkey has started making motions to invade North Syria, any mention of the profound humanism of the North Syrian project is off-limits for the popular presses. But beyond that, this tendency elided, and by elision eroded, the left wing of the Syrian revolutionary movement, as chronicled beautifully and tragically in Burning Country by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami. The war may have panned out differently if the media hadn't painted Syrian revolutionaries as homogeneous Islamists.