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Andy Heintz (ed), Dissidents of the International Left

New Internationalist, 2019; 304pp; £9.99

ImageIn this anthology of interviews, we hear from activists, academics, and journalists, whose widely differing, radical views often challenge the preconceptions that the West has of itself.

Covering a broad range topics, including Islam, sexism, racism and tribalism, the interviewees often disagree with one other, showing a wide range of nuanced opinions that makes for stimulating reading.

In the introduction, the interviewer, Andy Heintz, explains how he initially set out to ask, ‘Is there such a thing as humanitarian intervention?’

For the Left, he writes, this question poses a significant dilemmas, given the horrific wars caused by US foreign policy, and the amnesia and patriotism shown by the Western media.

Heintz stayed true to this project, but greatly broadened the scope of the book by including voices from areas of recent conflict and struggle for justice, such as Syria, Nigeria, Israel and former Yugoslavia.

The first section discusses the belief, widespread among people in the US and often promoted by the media, that constitutional principles of freedom and democracy mean the country can do no wrong. The section considers whether this ‘US exceptionalism’ is harmful or helpful to the Left.

In the section on the Middle East and North Africa, I particularly enjoyed three chapters on the Rojava revolution and the imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan (one of the places where the interviewees disagreed with one other!).

In the same section, Algerian academic, Anissa Helie, challenges the editor, Heintz, himself on the religious framing of his question about homosexuality and abortion, as well as other common assumptions the West makes about Islam. A contribution from Southall Black Sisters reminds us of similar assumptions made by the UK media, where diverse community groups are nowadays given one religious label, ‘Muslim’.

Apart from the introduction and afterword, the editor’s voice is only present in the questions so I was curious to know how he devised them. The interviews often switch topic without warning, hinting at longer conversations and also relying on the reader’s prior knowledge of global history.

As a peace activist, I welcomed the critical approach, taken by many interviewees, to understanding violent conflicts rather than relying on simplistic notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’.

This book is a valuable resource for those who would challenge military intervention and an inspiring opportunity to appreciate the variety of movements on the Left – and the promise of some of its new elements.

Topics: Activism