What Are We Waiting For? Rethinking Internationalism and Localism

The one-year anniversary of Ali Mustafa’s death passed on March 15, 2015. The one-year mark allowed many in the community and around the world to reflect on his art, his words, and his insistence to be in spaces of open conflict. As a new art exhibit opened in Toronto showcasing never before seen photos, one can see how his photographs captured the humanity and the resistance of people in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. His commitment to people’s resistance along with his talent showed a level of internationalist politics that is rarely shown.

In an interview done by Stefan Christoff in Upping the Anti Issue 15, Ali was very frank about the general lack of interest of activist mobilization around the violence happening in Syria. He spoke of his disappointment of the lack of interest and lack of solidarity, almost as if large sections of the Left did not care about what was happening in Syria. While Ali made a political choice to enter that area and develop relationships, his thoughts and general disappointment with the socialist and anarchist Left haunt us. When discussing solidarity with the people of Syria he said,
“I quickly came to the realization that the daily images of the horrors taking place in Syria – all of the death, destruction, displacement – although tragic, simply aren’t enough to move people to action. I felt very demoralized after leaving because I learned that no matter how much you try to show people the reality of what is happening, by itself it isn’t likely to make much of a difference. Most people will probably just tune out because it doesn’t affect them directly in any way.”

We reflect on these words with the one year anniversary of his death and with the sober reality that the Syrian uprising against Assad is now in its 4th year with little sign of ending, with ISIS controlling half of the Syrian territory, and with Canada and the US continuing their military intervention in the Middle East. Thinking beyond Syria to various armed conflicts around the world to the rise of #BlackLivesMatter to the international response to the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the question of international solidarity is one that remains murky and confusing. It is not only a question of effectiveness, but also about the process of what is deemed worthy and unworthy of political support. And while we may not have a template of “What Is To Be Done” in these conflicts, we find it perplexing how little energy is used to engage with Leftists in Syria or with the Syrian diaspora around the world, even with the Canadian government’s implicit ties to the exploitation and violence in the Middle East.

For the editors of Upping the Anti, this reality has led to many discussions and reflections on the history and politics of internationalism and international solidarity. With histories of working class movements attempting to build an ideology of internationalism through solidarity work with anti-colonial movements, anti-war organizing, and anti-globalization resistance, we wanted to take a humble look at international solidarity in the current political moment. How do activists in the West currently engage with politics of internationalism? How do we think of international solidarity beyond crisis responses? How do activists maintain long-term engagement and connect local organizing to international struggles (if they do at all?) While we organize for liberation close to home, what is our role in getting others free – especially when the governments and economies in North America cause so much exploitation and harm abroad?

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