Authored by Andy Heintz, Dissidents of the International Left is an extraordinarily inspirational and illuminating book. The work constitutes a valuable contribution to discourse about the concept of international solidarity at a time when it’s needed more than ever. Based on interviews with dozens of academics, liberation theologians, NGO leaders, feminists, philosophers, and human rights activists from southern Mexico’s mountainous highlands to Syria’s Jazira Region to America’s rural heartland, Dissidents of the International Left offers new ways of thinking about the Left’s strategies for effecting positive change on a global scale.
Although divided into six regions—North America, Latin America, South and East Asia, Africa, Middle East and Northern Africa, and Europe—Dissidents of the International Left drives home the point that, for example, the “Islamic world” and the “West” are not two distinct worlds. In truth, the Left needs to act on the understanding that there is one global system. “Leftism is primarily a domestic politics,” said Michael Walzer, a prominent American intellectual whom Heintz interviewed. “I wanted an international Left that is alert to the realities of the world and honest in confronting them.”
As humanity copes with the rise of authoritarian leaders, endless wars, systemic racism, environmental degradation, misogyny, religious extremism, and many other challenges, Dissidents of the International Left will continue opening up critical discussions. Such conversations will ideally lead to leftist movements and individuals across international boundaries finding more humane, inclusive, and realistic solutions to dangerous crises that, if left unaddressed, will only worsen over time.
Heintz’s book offers valuable reminders about the importance of maintaining humility and respect for local perspectives on complicated problems. Too often the Western left is guilty of patronizing people in the Global South by depicting non-westerners in Orientalist and reductionist ways. Doing so only amplifies stereotypes about people in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which undermines the potential for greater solidarity across the globe.
For example, the Algerian academic Anissa Helie warns against the dangers of NGOs failing to appreciate the importance of deferring to people who
have spent years, if not decades, on the frontlines of their local struggles as opposed to moral crusaders who parachute into a conflict-ridden area of the world to conduct field research before flying home to New York or London two weeks later. All too often, as Helie explains, there are “seemingly ‘well-intentioned’ outside groups” in the human rights space that embrace “strategies that are ultimately detrimental to progressive groups—feminist and otherwise—working locally in other contexts.”
Similarly, another interviewee, Sarah Eltantawi, who is a renowned historian of contemporary Islam, Sharia law, and political Islam, discusses racism shaping conversations within many western left-wing circles about the Egyptian coup of 2013. Recalling the perceived “necessity of consulting ‘non-Egyptian sources’ to attain objective understanding of why Egyptians opposed the Muslim Brotherhood,” Eltantawi found it “preposterous [how there was a] refusal to understand Egyptians on their own terms at the time… as if Egyptians had a duty to conform to stereotypes about Muslim-majority societies finding Islamism to be the most liberating ideology.”
Ultimately, Heintz has produced an essential book for those of us who believe that the Left needs to find new ways to incorporate experiences from across the globe to deal with modern-day challenges that are transregional in nature. By conducting these 77 interviews, Heintz seeks to help bring us closer to a future with a new international system shaped by greater social justice, equality, and respect for fundamental and universal rights. For those who share Heintz’s desire to help create this future, Dissidents of the International Left is mandatory reading.
This review first appeared on FPIF.