Ryan Harvey

ARTIST | WRITER | ACTIVIST

Trump, Clinton and the Illusion of Everlasting US Hegemony

There was plenty to read between the lines in Monday's presidential debate, from how the unsmiling, ultra-masculine persona of Donald Trump reflected his angry, anxious base, to a lack of critique from both sides about the basis for and follow-up to NATO's intervention in Libya.

But looming over the entire conversation -- and indeed, the entire Western world's current political crisis -- is the white noise of fading hegemony. The US is losing its place in the global order, and Europe is coming with it.

This shift is impacting the rise of far-right, fascistic movements both here and across the EU. It is also one of the reasons that the West won't do anything about Syria besides offering limited funding and symbolic support to multiple factions of the opposition. Far from a long-planned conspiracy, it's more of a "throw shit at the wall in the hopes that something sticks" strategy.

Why? Isn't this the "New American Century"?

Rising powers, both at the regional and international level, are filling voids left by the US in its decline. Nowhere is this more acutely felt than in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen; Israel continues incursions into Gaza; Russia plays a central role in the defense of the Syrian regime. Multiple US allies fund various (and often opposing) sides of the Syrian war. All of these moves have been against the wishes of the US, which did not want to see a further escalation in a region where its power had been weakened so much by its defeat in Iraq.

Domestically, populations that have been poised to benefit from long-term US power -- white America, for instance -- are feeling the possibility that they may have to live different lifestyles in the future. Their fear of even slight downward mobility, mixed with their privilege-enhanced expectations, is pushing the agendas of the far right, which has successfully eclipsed traditional conservative ideas with a neofascist agenda that places the US, Austria and the UK first.

Trump admits this relative decline, more or less, when he paints a picture of a US where "everything is bad" and we are "losers." Even the freshly renovated, waterfall and sculpture-filled airports of the US are apparently in "third world" condition to him. Though such a description is a blatant mythology (the US has fairly state-of-the-art airport facilities and a very safe travel record), it may sound like it could be true, to those who think the country is falling apart.

The idea that the country is literally deteriorating backs up Trump's image of an America on the brink of extinction, and justifies the state-of-siege mentality his campaign relies on for its momentum. While its decline as a hegemony is a reality, the inevitable, near-term, catastrophic end of the US itself is a fiction invented by the same folks who deny the existence of climate change and swear that Obama is secretly a Muslim.

However, there are multiple generations now that were raised to believe they would be better off than their parents, and their dreams are being shattered. That belief, reliant on a US that would rule the world for a long time to come, is not standing up to reality. Though generations of administrations have distributed soldiers across the world, built large military bases, and designed trade pacts to solidify economic arrangements that favor US corporations, they no longer see a future in their favor.

Why? Isn't this the "New American Century"?

Rising powers, both at the regional and international level, are filling voids left by the US in its decline. Nowhere is this more acutely felt than in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen; Israel continues incursions into Gaza; Russia plays a central role in the defense of the Syrian regime. Multiple US allies fund various (and often opposing) sides of the Syrian war. All of these moves have been against the wishes of the US, which did not want to see a further escalation in a region where its power had been weakened so much by its defeat in Iraq.

Domestically, populations that have been poised to benefit from long-term US power -- white America, for instance -- are feeling the possibility that they may have to live different lifestyles in the future. Their fear of even slight downward mobility, mixed with their privilege-enhanced expectations, is pushing the agendas of the far right, which has successfully eclipsed traditional conservative ideas with a neofascist agenda that places the US, Austria and the UK first.

Trump admits this relative decline, more or less, when he paints a picture of a US where "everything is bad" and we are "losers." Even the freshly renovated, waterfall and sculpture-filled airports of the US are apparently in "third world" condition to him. Though such a description is a blatant mythology (the US has fairly state-of-the-art airport facilities and a very safe travel record), it may sound like it could be true, to those who think the country is falling apart.

The idea that the country is literally deteriorating backs up Trump's image of an America on the brink of extinction, and justifies the state-of-siege mentality his campaign relies on for its momentum. While its decline as a hegemony is a reality, the inevitable, near-term, catastrophic end of the US itself is a fiction invented by the same folks who deny the existence of climate change and swear that Obama is secretly a Muslim.

However, there are multiple generations now that were raised to believe they would be better off than their parents, and their dreams are being shattered. That belief, reliant on a US that would rule the world for a long time to come, is not standing up to reality. Though generations of administrations have distributed soldiers across the world, built large military bases, and designed trade pacts to solidify economic arrangements that favor US corporations, they no longer see a future in their favor.

The Long Journey of Two Syrian Revolutionaries

“So how many secret police are there in Syria?” Tariq asks me after telling me of the country’s population of 23 million. “I don’t know” I reply. “23 million and 600,000,” he says with a smile, “that includes those Syrians living in Lebanon.” 

Originally published at al-Jumhuriya

Getting robbed in a Macedonian forest by members of the Albanian Mafia, sitting in waist-deep water on an over-crowded rubber dingie in the middle of a pitch-black sea, and being threatened by small-town fascists in a make-shift refugee camp in Germany are mere side-notes to Sami’s story.

“I want to talk about the regime” he tells me without pause.

On a late April night last year, Sami and his friend Ahmed came to the central plaza in Izmir, Turkey to meet the rest of the people who would be taking a small rubber boat together across the Aegean Sea. They stood in a loose crowd holding plastic bags with life preservers and their few possessions, half-attempting to seem inconspicuous.

Smugglers would soon hustle them away in small groups via a network of taxis to a dark, narrow alley that sheltered a 15 passenger micro-bus. Almost 40 people were crammed in for the hour and a half long ride to the coastal village of Didem, where the group was dropped off on a dark road and turned over to another smuggler, who had them hide in the forests for hours before they were led to the beach front.

The 9 meter boat they had been promised turned out to be a mere 4.5 meters, so the smugglers took the bags from refugees and threw them into the sea to make room for more and more people, cramming them on top of each other. No one was given a chance to take their valuables out of their bags before they were thrown over, unless they were among the last in line. People lost their documents, passports, phones, and other belongings.

With that, the packed rubber dingie left for Greece, sailing in total darkness. The smuggler jumped into the sea before reaching Greek waters, meeting another smuggler on a jetski to be taken back to shore. Now, one of the passengers would have to take control, learning the weak motor’s mechanics as they moved.

Sami spent the whole terrifying ride with water up to his waist, pinned under another passenger, unable to move his legs. He passed the hours wondering which of his fellow refugees would land on top of him when the boat capsized and specifically how he would drown. Would he be pulled under by a desperate person trying to stay above water? Would he just run out of energy eventually and die struggling to move?

Pregnant women, children, elderly people, and others like Sami sat in anticipation of two very different possibilities. Excitement grew as they approached a lighthouse, but they soon realized it was a ship. Land was still far from their reach.

Finally, and with a powerful jolt, their boat hit the rocks that line the shore of Agathasini, Greece, throwing everyone into the sea. Though they survived the landing, it left the group cold and wet on a breezy night. Nowhere near any sign of human life, they burned piles of cheap plastic life preservers for warmth, huddling together until the sun rose.

With daylight came a new hope as a small boat approached the shore. Inside was a Greek man in a wet-suit, and Sami and the others waved to him for assistance. Seemingly uninterested in their situation, the man jumped into the water by the wreckage of their dingie and a short time later hauled its motor into his boat. Before he turned to sea, the refugees yelled to him for help, and he simply replied by pointing north.

With no better ideas, they followed the man’s suggestions, walking many kilometers until they found another man on the beach who directed them to the police station. Hoping for safe passage, the group was arrested and put in jail for several days before being transferred to another prison with over 800 other refugees on the island of Samos, where they spent ten more days.

***** 

A few years earlier, Sami was in his village in the Damascus suburb of Qudsayya, just months into a sudden and surprising revolution against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Like many other Syrians, he was propelled into the movement and found himself searching the many Facebook groups that popped up across the country of self-organized coordinating committees that were planning demonstrations against the repressive police-state that had ruled the country since 1970.

Sami was not yet a political activist when the revolution broke out, but for five years he had been strategically avoiding mandatory military service by failing University. “At first, it was obvious that the pro-regime and the anti-regime… everyone was lying to get support,” Sami tells me. “It was hard to know the truth, but I decided after a few months that I would join the revolution.“

Tariq, seated across from Sami, was there at the very beginning of the revolt, across the city in the al-Jesser al-Abiaad neighborhood. His parents hated Assad and had imbued him with a radical sense of politics which he began exploring long before Syria erupted. Working for two years in Dubai, he had returned to Damascus in December of 2011, just days before Ahmed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in a Tunisian square sparked a flame that spread far beyond his angry home town of Sidi Bouzid.

Tariq focuses on the larger picture when he speaks, often removing himself from the story to take a broad look at the social and historical contexts that led to the Syrian Revolution, and to the subsequent civil war. “Protesting against the regime was simply unheard of,” he tells me. “It was not even within our political imagination that we could do anything against the Assad regime.”

For many Syrians, the revolution began in Daraa in mid-February when a group of young students wrote anti-Assad slogans on the chalkboard at their school. The secret police came to the school, seized them, and tortured them in brutal ways – including ripping out some of their finger nails. The families of those students responded with protests in Daraa, and at a sit-in there in March, the crowd, including members of those families, was fired on with live ammunition by Syrian security forces.

Around the same time, Tariq and some friends went to join a protest in solidarity with the attempted revolution in Libya. Running late, Tariq had not yet arrived when the entire crowd was rounded up by the secret police. “I got lucky twice,” he says with a deep breath and a dark nostalgic movement of his eyes.

An anarchist and natural intellectual, Tariq and his circle of friends began meeting at the start of the revolt when they realized it was growing into something much larger. In such meetings they discussed what they would do in the event of an actual revolution, for instance, what of the massive number of secret police who would be losing their jobs and were loyal to Assad? What of the lack of organized political alternatives? Could revolution work in this specific context?

The big protests began in the centers of different neighborhoods, coordinated though Facebook page. Participants wouldn’t know sometimes until the last minute the exact details of a demonstration to avoid state repression. From there, the revolt grew quickly in both numbers and intensity. Though the crowds started peacefully, and at first simply demanded justice for people like the teenagers tortured in Daraa, they grew quickly to call for, as their counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia did, the fall of the regime. The regime responded with six months of gunfire that grew into a full-scale civil war.

Sami went to the streets with hundreds of thousands of other Syrians. As the demonstrations surged, so did the casualties, and Sami and others stood daily against the regime knowing they could be the next in line when the military opened fire.

“They started to have these big demonstrations inside Damasus, in Midan.” Sami says, “And we had many in Qudsayya. Those were the really hard ones, you know? You had to run a lot, there were a lot of bullets. Sometimes you had to carry people who got shot and you put them in a car, you didn’t even know who is in the car. The car would drop them off before the hospital so the driver would not be taken by secret police. Eventually, we had hospitals that we made in safe houses in each neighborhood, so the injured would not be taken away.”

At one point, Sami tells me, Syrian forces went house to house in Qudsayya over a two-day period and rounded up 120 people, half of whom were killed under torture. It was normal to hear of another friend or neighbor who had been arrested, beaten, or disappeared. This climate took Sami and Tariq into 2012, when a lot of people started picking up guns to fight against the regime.

*****

The second of Tariq’s lucky moments hit harder for him. Assisting in the relief efforts for a neighborhood that had been bombed by the regime, he was headed to the north side of Damascus to join friends who were volunteering their time and energy there. When he arrived, he found out that all eight of those friends had been taken by the Air Force Secret Police, the most feared unit of the security services.

Tariq’s time was up – he knew immediately that he must leave Syria, fearing his name would soon be known to the secret police and that he would be tortured or disappeared. Two days later, in mid-December of 2011, he booked a flight to Dubai and left through the main airport, hoping he could slip out of the country undetected.

Suddenly, and with little notice, Syria, its revolution, and his family and friends were behind him.

Like Tariq and many others, Sami also has only accidental circumstances to thank for the life he now has in front of him, including run-ins with security forces, beatings, and close calls, but as the protests continued, he kept playing his part. He worked with others in his village helping to paint murals of the flag used by the revolution and of popular slogans against the regime. The army responded with tanks, occupying the village. Sami and his family were stuck in their house for days amidst the gunfire, but at a quiet moment, they managed to flee. Their house, like many others in Qudsayya, was then set on fire by the army.

Sami’s new home would find him in the al-Muhajreen neighborhood, on a street crawling with secret police only a few kilometers from the residence of Bashar al-Assad. There, Sami and his friends would take radios with speakers hooked up to bluetooth devices controlled by their phones and place them inside of trash bags. The trash would be out at the street, and they would turn the radios on, blasting anti-regime music and slogans. They would also pour gasoline in the streets and light it, just to remind the regime that they were hated.

One night in the Spring of 2012, Sami had planned to meet friends to do pro-revolution graffiti on the walls of al-Muhajreen, but he got sick the day before and decided he would stay home. He never heard from those friends again, and to this day he has no idea if they were killed, tortured, or both.

Sami remembered the time he was arrested and beaten, and the dark thoughts that accompanied his time in jail. He knew he would not get lucky twice – it was time for him to leave Syria for good. He began planning his escape.

*****

Tariq was unable to find work in Dubai or to bring his family there. There were unspoken rules to rid the United Arab Emirates of Syrians like him, and besides, he was not interested in being yet another underpaid, exploited migrant worker in the country’s hyper-capitalist economy.

In those two months, Syria had slipped further into civil war, and many of Tariq’s friends had stayed to participate in the continuing protests. He decided to go back home and see things for himself, flying through Beirut and paying a bribe to get himself across the Syrian border. There, he found a country divided in many pieces, where the revolutionary hopes had vanished from any popular dialogue and were being replaced by a culture of revenge.

He tells me of the twenty-two of his friends that were killed in the demonstrations, and of the stories brought back by other friends from the front lines of the revolt.

For Sami too, this is when things started to change in the streets and civil war appeared clear on the horizon. Various groups took turns looting the leftovers of his old house, from the regime to the Free Syrian Army, taking furniture and anything else of value. “People became kings of the streets,” he says. “They got guns and then they would just go and rob the houses, they would do whatever they wanted.”

“I think they wanted to create a monster,” Sami tells me in reference to the regime and the Islamic State. “So the regime could save us from the monster.”

Twelve days after arriving from Beirut, Tariq again left Syria, seeking temporary employment in Istanbul to prepare for his next journey. A few months later his parents managed to flee to Egypt, only days before their house was bombed by the regime, looted, and set on fire.

In early September, Sami too found his way to Istanbul, where he worked as an Arabic-interpreter for a company showing wealthy tourists from the Emirates and Qatar around the city. Among over a million Syrian refugees swelling the country’s work-force, Sami was not alone as a source of cheap labor for the Turkish economy.

Still hungry for a revolutionary movement, when the first anniversary of the Gezi Park uprising again ignited in Turkey, Sami joined Turkish friends in the streets. “That was my first time being tear gassed” he tells me to my surprise. “They didn’t gas you in Syria?” I ask. “No, only live bullets. They just fired at you with bullets in Syria. I know how to run from bullets, but not from gas,” he says with a smile.

*****

Early last year, Tariq contacted a smuggling network operated by the Georgian Mafia and arranged a trip via a rubber dingie which was to meet up with a small sail boat further out at sea. The smuggling operation would take him across the Aegean Sea, through Greece along the “Balkan Route,” and into Germany.

As soon as they cast off from Marmaris, Tariq’s group was spotted by the Turkish Coast Guard and chased into shallow waters, where the dingie’s motor broke. In the end, the Coast Guard was paid in bribes by the smugglers, and the sail boat was able to come pick them up, taking them almost 100 km across the south Aegean to Rodos, Greece.

Tariq describes this as the worst trip of his life. Smugglers crammed the refugees into the haul of the boat through a very small hole. “We were actually pushing people in who could not fit,” he tells me. Tariq tried to hide on the deck, but he was discovered and ended up the last one inside. He spent the seven hour journey at sea sitting on top of the motor, breathing in all of its exhaust, vomiting and fainting repeatedly, and expecting to die.

When the boat landed, Tariq and his friend Ahmed made their way to Athens before trying to to get themselves a plane ticket from the small island of Santorini, hoping they could pass through the airport there without being suspected. But Ahmed, who had accompanied him since Dubai, was discovered right before takeoff, and soon Tariq too was removed from the plane. The two were arrested, taken to the police station, and subsequently imprisoned in several jails on various islands before being released.

The Georgian mafia contacts worked out in Athens, and the network assisted Tariq and the others in his group in a journey by foot, bus, and train through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, and Germany, where Tariq was bounced around several refugee camps. Ahmed, who had survived the long boat ride, the arrests, the border crossings and everything with him since leaving Turkey, decided to stay in Germany and try his luck there.

Now alone, Tariq decided to take his fate once again into his own hands. He left the camp one night and booked an online ride-share to the Netherlands, which eventually led him to his current home in that country’s largest refugee camp, in the eastern city of Nijmegen.

Sami also ended up in Germany after a similar journey through borders, police stations, and unknown forests. With a less organized smuggling route, Sami pieced together various contacts to head north. Unlike Tariq, Sami crossed borders by dodging them, worried that he would be stopped and forced to live in a country like Hungary, where a far-Right, racist, and harshly anti-refugee government presides.

At one point, his group of a dozen Syrians was trailed through the forest in Macedonia by a group of Albanian mafia men. Relaxing by a stream after a long walk, the group was ambushed and fought back. The fight ended only after one Albanian man pulled a pistol out and the Syrians relented. The mafia made off with 10,000 Euros – all of the refugees’ smuggler and food money.

But the group kept on, eventually walking across the Hungarian border. Spotted by police, a chase ensued through the streets of a small border town before they were all caught and, once again, arrested.

Sami and the others were taken to Budapest, where they joined a few hundred more refugees who had met a similar fate. The group made a protest inside their facility, demanding to be released and to be allowed safe passage further into Europe. For whatever reason, the authorities decided to take the trouble-makers and organizers, like Sami, and drive them to the border of Austria.

Germany was a short trip away now, and Sami, like Tariq, was processed through many different camps before he walked out and boarded a train bound for the Netherlands, where he first met Tariq and other revolutionary exiles like him.

*****

Though they expected at many times to be among the Syrian dead, neither Sami nor Tariq expected to stand among the one million refugees who entered Europe last year, part of the largest movement of people in Europe since the end of the Second World War.

Now, caught in a system of refugee camps and bizarre restrictions, the two wait for word from European authorities on their claims for refugee status.

Nijmegen’s refugee camp is on the far outskirts of town, surrounded by kilometers of forests. Started as a makeshift-campsite, it now hosts countless box containers and three large “social spaces” with a total of one foosball table and four TV sets in them. Inside, crowds gather to watch football matches or to socialize in small groups on a large, empty, fluorescent-lit floor.

For their first year in the Netherlands these refugees are not legally allowed to learn the Dutch language, “so they don’t grow too comfortable in the country,” they have been told. Tariq says it’s because they don’t want refugees like them to to find work, “bother” locals, or be able to start building a sense of community.

Those who can speak English are able to make their way around town easily, finding new friends and places to hang out, have a meal, or at least, have a space outside of the camp to consider their situation. Others stay closer to the camp, living a quiet, boring life of waiting for some unknown future.

Tired of the situation, in October of last year, Sami, Tariq, and others in the camp started organizing a series of protests against their conditions, demanding to know when their cases would be heard. They marched into town with local supporters, held a sit-in outside the camp, and launched a hunger strike. One man cut himself in protest, posting photos on social media to rally attention. The latest protest, another march to the center of Nijmegen, was held on February 15th.

According to Tariq, some improvements have been made, and some cases are now being heard. The rest still wait.

Though many revolutionaries have found each other, most Syrians in the camp rarely discuss politics, Tariq explains. The heavy divisions pushing the country further into the horrors of civil war are silently avoided, exposing an atmosphere of both regret and responsibility. For Sami and Tariq, the regime that pushed them into exile remains a topic to be discussed,  emphasized, and challenged.

Something struck me almost immediately about these two men; both broadcast something like hope. As we talked further, I realized it was something deeper than that; pride. A pride that I have never experienced. When they speak about their journey to Europe and of their brushes with death, they do so knowing that they stood on the right side of history, that they did exactly what they would want themselves or anyone to do in their situation; they stood and pushed forward when the Arab world was trying to rid itself of the regimes and dogmatic political doctrines that oversaw the repression of their generation.

Though they carry trauma and scars from Syria, and while their families and friends are scattered, dead, or in prison, neither regret their role in the Syrian revolution.

But Sami and Tariq have hope as well, a hope in knowing that perhaps the revolt in Syria will be a building block toward some better future. It had to happen, they stress, and once it had started, they had to push it as far as they could.

Such hope does not come from blind faith, but from knowing that something could work, from a sense of potential and possibility. That is what Tunisia and Egypt taught the world in late 2010 and early 2011, and it’s what drove people like Sami and Tariq to the streets of Damascus a month later. They live now knowing that they were among the millions who tried.

Things don’t always look the way you think they will, the three of us agree, rolling cigarettes in a smoke-filled anarchist bar in central Amsterdam. When the revolution began, there was no turning back. And though they were defeated in the streets, disappeared in prisons, and driven out of the country, it wasn’t without reason.

“There’s a difference between losing and failing,” Tariq says.

Will the US Own Up to Its Role in Europe's Refugee Crisis?

Originally published at Truth-Out.

A small, crowded boat arrives at an isolated beach on a small Greek island. Inside, 49 people prepare to unload their few possessions. On the beach, lit only by a half-moon and a few headlamps, volunteers from around the world wait to assess if there are any medical emergencies.

Soon after landing, vans and cars line up to begin transporting the group of mostly young people from Afghanistan to a support facility established by local villagers and international volunteers, where tea has been prepared and dry clothes have been made ready for distribution.

The boat has sailed across the Aegean Sea from Turkey, where 3 million other refugees have gathered hoping to find temporary work to pay for the multi-thousand-dollar trip through various illegal human smuggling networks into the few northern European countries that have offered them safe haven.

The conditions they have fled from have been created, in large part, by US political, economic and military actions across the Middle East.

Scenes like this repeat every night in places like Langada and Skala Skamnias, on the Greek island of Lesbos. Last year, over 1 million people made the journey from Turkey to the Greek islands, the vast majority fleeing violence in Syria and Afghanistan. And while the solidarity networks that have emerged from this crisis are most present in Lesbos, the "Red Island" of Greece and the busiest landing point for such refugees, similar initiatives have been established in Chios, Kos, Samos and many smaller islands.

The effort in Greece is not limited to the islands. At the crowded Piraeus port in Athens, volunteer doctors work tirelessly to support the thousands who are stranded there, sleeping in tents, on sidewalks and in ship terminals. Further inside the city, anarchists have squatted a number of buildings, one at the Polytechnic University, to house refugees. Across Athens, volunteers cook food all day for public food distributions in the many parks that have become temporary homes for the 45,000 people who are currently stuck in the country, unable to proceed north.

Across the rest of the continent, refugees and European activists have mobilized protests together, blockading trains in London, occupying public squares in the Netherlands, occupying buildings in Hamburg, going on hunger strikes outside of refugee camps and storming the English Channel tunnel.

One of the central issues facing refugees here is the increasingly militarized borders of Europe, in both European Union (EU) and non-European Union states. In recent months, Austria, Serbia, Hungary and Macedonia have made moves to block many refugees from crossing their borders. At Calais, on the northern tip of France, thousands have been stranded for years in a self-built tent city, where they try daily to make the crossing to England. In Nijmegen, on the Dutch border with Germany, 3,000 refugees live in a massive campsite of containers and tents, supported by a small community of local activists.

The crisis in Europe has come to a head at Idomeni, on the Greek-Macedonian border, where thousands have been stranded with little-to-no support structures. In mid-March, a large crowd smashed through the border as tear gas filled the air. This week, as conditions in the makeshift camps have deteriorated, thousands crossed a dangerous river to break through the border en masse. Three refugees died in the process.

Though camps across Greece are now filled to capacity, a far larger crisis looms in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, where the vast majority of the refugees have ended up.

The recent series of European border closings spurred a political crisis in early March, when the EU announced that the "Balkan route" would be closed off entirely. That policy shift, stalled for a few weeks due to political tensions between Cyprus, Turkey, Spain and Greece, went into effect on March 19.

According to this bizarre agreement, every refugee -- the EU's preferred term is "irregular migrant" -- picked up at sea will be deported back to Turkey. For each Syrian deported, another Syrian will be allowed to enter Europe from Turkey. So, in order for a Syrian refugee to enter Europe, another Syrian first has to give $1,500 to a smuggler, risk their life at sea, get arrested and, finally, get deported back to Turkey.

The EU itself admits that this agreement is not ideal; in fact, it may create dangerous new smuggling routes. The most obvious one is an Albania-Italy route across the Adriatic Sea, as the Albanian mafia is already involved in the smuggling networks that operate between Turkey and Germany. Another risk is that the far more dangerous crossing from Libya to Italy, which claimed the lives of five times as many people last year as the Turkey to Greece crossing (nearly 3,000), may see an increase in activity.

US Involvement in Creating the Crisis

Until last summer, the refugee crisis in Europe was quietly and intentionally hidden from most Americans' view. It took 3,771 deaths in the Mediterranean last year - and a photograph of a lifeless, drowned Kurdish child named Aylan Kurdi - for coverage to hit the American press. By that time, 3,000 people were arriving every day to Lesbos, and many thousands more to the other Greek islands.

The irony of our ignorance should be obvious: the United States stands at the center of the situations pushing these refugees out of their homes, over mountains, around border crossings, through Turkish prison cells and onto crowded, dangerous boats. From Libya to southern Afghanistan, US interventions and occupations have led to further destabilization, violence and, in almost all cases, civil wars.

A longer trail of complicity stretches back to the four decades of economic and military support that the United States has given to the Arab dictatorships challenged in the 2011 Arab Spring, and to similar support given in that same time period to a number of insurgencies that dovetailed with US foreign policy objectives. One such group, the insurgency of the Afghan Mujahideen, fought a decade-long guerrilla war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

Those who came to fight in Afghanistan from abroad, many of whom received US military and economic support either from Congress or the CIA, hatched a postwar strategy of insurgency across the Arab and Muslim world, which resulted in a civil war in Algeria that took 120,000 lives. Meanwhile, other smaller rebellions caused significant fighting across the Maghreb, in northern Pakistan, Yemen, Chechnya, Albania and beyond.

The group now known to the world as ISIS was created in this period by a Jordanian Mujahideen veteran named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Originally launched in Jordan, the all-but-failed organization was given a second lease on life in post-invasion Iraq, where a destabilized and fractured society made fertile soil for the hyper-sectarian ideology of Zarqawi, who helped turn anger at the US occupation into a civil war against Shiites.

The sectarian state originally put in power in Iraq by the United States escalated divisions in the country, helping fuel the other side of the 2005-2006 civil war while pushing a large, disenfranchised Sunni population further toward the open arms of groups like ISIS. A focus of the US "surge" in 2007 was working with Sunni militias to turn against this tide, but that strategy only lasted until the Iraqi state took control of the Sahwa program (Awakening Councils, or Sons of Iraq) as US troops withdrew and quickly dismantled them.

Against a backdrop of electricity shortages, water contamination and continued political destabilization, ISIS, which had by then entered into the north of Syria to take advantage of the civil war there, re-entered the picture with its dramatic capturing of Fallujah, Ramadi and other key points in Iraq's Anbar Province.

ISIS may be the most menacing face of Syria's civil war, but the multifaceted war includes a range of other groups, most notable the Assad regime itself, but also groups like the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army, a "moderate" group originally formed by deserters from the regime's military. And while a civil society-based revolutionary movement continues to defend the small spaces it has been able to hold, a pipeline of US, Gulf and European money providing various factions with weapons that have helped prolong the bloodshed has helped shatter the hopes and dreams of those who first took to the streets in 2011. Though the US Congress recently canceled the public program backing such rebels, the much larger CIA program remains in operation.

Alongside the US funding, US allies like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pumped weapons, logistical equipment and soldiers into Syria to support various factions fighting in the civil war, mainly those linked with the Supreme Military Council of Syria, which includes the Free Syrian Army and other anti-ISIS, anti-Assad groups. These groups, as well as the Kurdish peshmerga (from Iraq but often fighting in Syrian Kurdistan) and the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), are often supported by bombings by the US, France, the UK, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Canada and Turkey.

On the other side of that war, Russia and Iran have sustained financial and political support to the four-decade-old Assad regime, helping defend its authoritarian police state from an array of forces fighting against it. In October 2015, Russian air support joined in the fight to secure Russia a seat at the negotiation table and to bolster Assad's position in power. Though Russia announced in mid-March that it would begin withdrawing forces as a long-needed cease-fire takes effect, fighting targeting Islamist groups unaffected by the cease-fire continues in Aleppo, Syria's largest city and its financial center.

The Refugee Crisis

Beyond the common narrative of Arab war and repression is the other Middle East: the one that occupied Tahrir Square and Pearl Roundabout and took to the streets of Sidi Bouzid, Daraa and Sanaa demanding social justice, freedom and the end of dictatorships largely supported economically, politically and militarily by the United States. That Middle East turned upside down the US demand for "regime change" that was made infamous in Iraq, initiating a wave of protest and revolution that swept Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali (in Tunisia), Hosni Mubarak (in Egypt) and Ali Abdullah Saleh (in Yemen) from power as it inspired the world to take action against injustice and poverty.

Since then, popular protests have exploded in almost every corner of the world, drawing comparisons to the revolutionary period of 1968. It's hard to analyze this wave of uprisings and protest without crediting the revolutions in the Arab world as the first spark that caught.

Those who inspired the world now face a severe wave of repression, with Syria as one of the most shocking examples. Over 11 percent of the population has been killed or injured since the start of the revolt, and over 20 percent have fled the country. Syria has become the single largest source of refugees in the world. The second largest? Afghanistan.

The Arab allies of the United States, fully involved in the war, have taken in an astoundingly small number of refugees from Syria, with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in last place, with zero. The United States, with its massive economy and "huddled masses yearning to breathe free" rhetoric, pledged last year to take in a mere 10,000 refugees for fiscal year 2016 - that's .015 percent. So far, that number has only reached 955.

Considering the extent to which US money has been spent killing people and destroying infrastructure in these countries -- for each of the 1,700 Syrian refugees accepted into the country last year, the United States spent an estimated $375,000 financing and arming various factions in the civil war -- it's far beyond an oversight that the United States' borders are almost impossible for refugees from the region to enter. Even those who worked as interpreters for US soldiers in Iraq regularly make the dangerous crossing to Greece, unsupported by the governments they risked their lives to assist.

The reality is that the United States is politically unwilling to help. Its wars of political and economic self-interest have always centered on a US perception of success and have always utilized a rhetoric of liberation to achieve long-sought foreign policy objectives. It has left those whose lives have been turned upside down across the Middle East -- the people it claimed to be liberating when it invaded their homes -- to fend for themselves in Europe or drown in the picturesque waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

The message is clear: "Your liberation only matters when we need to justify our wars."

Building a Solidarity Movement

Given this reality, we have an obligation to build a movement of solidarity with those fleeing these countries, as well as with those who have stayed home to continue pushing for radical social change across the Middle East. It is not enough to simply build awareness.

When similar revolutions, interventions and civil wars ripped Central America apart in the 1970s and 1980s, the Sanctuary Movement and groups like the Committee in Solidary with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) sprang to life, identifying ways that people in the United States could participate in the effort to defend the tens of thousands of social movement activists that were slaughtered there. Groups like Witness for Peace sent thousands of people to Nicaragua to learn about the realities there and to challenge US support for the Contras.

Over a million refugees from those wars came to the United States, often supported by a criminalized, coordinated network of congregations and activists who helped them find safe places to live.

A few years earlier, at the end of the war in Vietnam, US veterans and others from that antiwar movement began a project to address the massive suffering caused by the US invasion and by the ongoing tally of cancers and toxin-caused disabilities that resulted from the use of the poison defoliant Agent Orange.

Some of those groups, like CISPES, Witness for Peace and Vietnam Veterans Against the War, still operate these networks, recognizing that the long work of solidarity must continue far beyond the end of a war. Today, we are in a similar position as these groups were when they launched such important initiatives, and thankfully, we have some models from which to build in response to the massive human crisis in the Middle East.

So what do we do? We know from the European model that direct assistance for refugees is essential. Americans can participate in and help support these efforts economically. There are numerous organizations in Greece, Macedonia, Turkey and Lebanon that accept volunteers and donations, such as the CK Team (which I worked with in Lesbos in February), Doctors Without Borders (which operates in Syria and across the Greek islands) and both Proactiva and Sea-Watch (which operate rescue boats and provide emergency lifesaving support on the sea).

We can also directly support the small number of refugees from these countries who have been allowed into the United States, as groups in St. Louis and Baltimore have been doing. Nationally, a new initiative called Bring Them Here is organizing people to demand that more Syrian refugees be allowed entry into the United States.

In terms of solidarity with social movements in the Arab world, we have a long way to go, but some groundwork has been done. MENA, a London-based group focusing on building solidarity with workers in the Middle East, is a great resource for news, views and ideas for action. MENA also maintains the Egypt Solidarity Initiative, which focuses on solidarity with political prisoners and those facing state repression in post-revolution, post-coup Egypt.

Activists like Leila Al-Shami have been tirelessly promoting the ideals of, and news about, the popular revolutionary movement in Syria that has been pushing to oust Assad since 2011. This spring she will be touring the United States and sharing stories and perspectives from her new book Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War. Her blog Tahrir-ICN has been an important resource over the last few years with news, opinions and translated statements from revolutionary and anarchist groups across the Arab world.

A few years ago, Iraq Veterans Against the War, in partnership with the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq, War Resisters League and the Civilian-Soldier Alliance, launched The Right to Heal Campaign, demanding that "the human rights impacts of the war in Iraq be assessed and that concrete action be taken towards rehabilitation and reparations for those impacted by the lasting effects of the war."

Iraqi-American activist Ali Issa has recently published a book, Against All Odds: Voices of Popular Struggle in Iraq, and is doing numerous speaking events around the United States to talk about social movements in Iraq and how to support them.

In New York, Baltimore, Kansas City and elsewhere in the United States, groups have come together in solidarity with the revolutionary movement in Rojava, the Kurdish north of Syria. These groups have also embraced many of the principles of Rojava's revolutionary movement, including participatory democracy, feminism, ecological sustainability and secular pluralism.

These links should provide a starting point, but the conversation must spread far beyond small circles of activists. For those of us who consider ourselves human rights advocates or revolutionaries, the level of struggle we are willing to engage in to fight for justice for our counterparts in and from the Middle East must increase. We must begin thinking broadly and strategically about how to build a stronger, larger solidarity movement.

We owe it to the Arab world -- and to the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries where covert and overt US militarism has caused so much suffering -- to do more. In the face of a massive backlash, we must stand with the brave revolutionaries of the Middle East.