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Soundtracking the Resistance - Red Lines in the Sand

A Look at Syria, Paul Ryan, Moby, Kamasi Washington, and L7

Apr 13, 2018 L7 Bookmark and Share

This week we look at the ongoing disaster in Syria, plus Paul Ryan and Hungary depart the stage, Moby and Kamasi Washington make a point, and L7 remain relevant.

The Big Event

The attention paid to the ongoing conflict in Syria ebbs and flows. Something flares up, the brutal civil war receives coverage, and something else happens to distract us again. It’s been this for way for over seven years and has caused no end of frustration for those following the situation, including musicians featured in this column (Nadine Shah and Benjamin Clementine).

Chemical weapons and Islamic State are the only things capable of drawing focus back now. Otherwise, the bewildering array of forces stumbling through shifting alliances are left free from notice by the Western media.

Of those two exceptions, the use of the former appears to have happened last weekend. If, as many suspect, President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, it wouldn’t be the first time, and at the current rate it won’t be the last.

Repeatedly bungled engagement and disengagement by Western countries certainly hasn’t helped the situation but let’s take a step back to briefly go over the course of events.

Back when the Arab Spring was sweeping across the region in 2011, and many began to believe they didn’t have to live under the thumb of dictators, opposition to President Assad, leader since 2000 when he took over from his father, broke out across parts of the country, launching a civil war that has seen multiple sides pile in.

These days the Syrian Regime is propped up by Russia, and on the other side the Free Syrian Army lost the remaining covert support of the U.S. last year having already gained the involvement of Turkey which is also there to push back Kurdish forces fighting the government. Then we have the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the mix, a threat countered by a coalition of Western forces focused on defeating them and ignoring the main conflict between the government and everyone else.

Sides have shifted regularly, conflicts within conflicts rage, outside powers fight their battles on someone else’s turf, innocent people find themselves battered and under pressure from all directions, and a once teetering dictatorship is back in the ascendency, helped by internecine warfare and Putin’s desire to assert Russian might. Got all that? Probably not because it’s a gross simplification of a situation hard to get straight.

And then we have the use of chemical weapons, part of Barack Obama’s famous red line that saw no meaningful action once it was crossed. Trump made great hay out of that, and launched his own missile strikes last year when the further use of banned substances was recorded. Now it has happened again, just after he announced he would be withdrawing American troops from the region. It could be a coincidence, or it could be an emboldened Assad reacting to the news one of his main adversaries is leaving the field.

Suddenly things have reversed, and Trump is plotting further attacks that could come any time, or not at all. It’s hard to tell what he’s on about really, his tweet rhetoric a baffling byzantine maze that could be threatening war only to row it back an hour later, or it could be about something entirely different.

Without a drastic rethink of strategy, and disciplined commitment, at most all that will happen is the launch of a few missiles to blow up government assets and kill some civilians in the process. Then they’ll vacate the field again, especially since the battle to push back ISIL has been going pretty well.

In all likelihood, Syria will be left to Assad to gradually force back rivals until he can punish those who dared defy him. Or, with all these outside forces messing about in another sandpit of global ambition, someone will accidentally blow someone else up and trigger a wider conflict. It’s not like we haven’t done that one before. In fact, we’ve already had inflamed tensions over recent days. None of this helps the civilians stuck in the middle.

What’s Going On

While we’re talking Syria and the possibility of wider escalation, this week saw Trump engaging in a little brinksmanship with Russia. He directly threatened the country in a tweet related to missile attacks, saying “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’” The scary sabre rattling even gave Russia a brief spell on the high ground when the Kremlin told Trump “We do not participate in Twitter diplomacy.” Both sides have backed down for now at least.

Goodbye Paul Ryan, you might be missed by someone I guess. The current Speaker of the House has announced his intention to step down in January. Once the golden boy of conservatism, he’s found himself unable to corral the troops, and forced to defend Trumpian positions he clearly feels uncomfortable with. Well, he’s okay with the giving the rich an easier time and the less well off a harder time part. Perhaps not the impact the past year will have on U.S. finances though. Ballooning the deficit on his watch doesn’t seem like the legacy a brutal fiscal hawk would have wanted. It’s not really goodbye of course. If he thinks there’s a sliver of a chance of the White House, he’ll be back.

Moving to Europe, Hungary took a further lurch into a miserable future with the resounding re-election of Viktor Orban. His immigrant bashing act managed to pull in votes from a far-right contender, giving him nearly 50% of the total. More than enough to wield substantial power that will allow further crackdowns on freedoms. The environment he’s fostered also means the brain drain is on. At the moment its looks like Hungary’s best days lie in the past.

Speak Up!

Moby has penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal to call for reform to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). He doesn’t want food stamps to be used to dole out unhealthy junk food that only worsens the health of recipients, instead favoring “healthy foods like beans, vegetables, fruit and whole grains.”

Kamasi Washington, usually found producing music focused on more harmonious themes, is joining the fight, seemingly endorsing the use of physical force to combat injustice. He offered up a track from his upcoming double album Heaven and Earth, “Fists of Fury,” which comes with the line “when I’m faced with unjust injury/then I change my hands to fists of fury.” (Although it is a cover of a song from the soundtrack to an old Bruce Lee movie.)

Song of the Week: L7 - “Wargasm”

L7 has announced a new album, which is potentially exciting news (dependent on the quality of the new album of course). Either way, it’s a good excuse to delve into the classics from years gone by, and as we’ve been talking war and the obsession with unleashing a little cathartic hell on someone before scarpering, this 1992 track fits the theme.

Comparing America’s war obsession with the delights of sex, “Wargasm” plays on the thrill Americans get from a bit of armed conflict, provided it’s kept far away. Thanks for being the latest to entertain us, Syria.

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