Why are leftists hot for the Houthis?
Yemen’s vicious Jew-hating Islamists are being whitewashed as brave anti-imperialists.
Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war last year, Yemen’s Houthis, the Iran-backed rebel movement, have been turning the Red Sea into a low-level warzone. In support of Hamas, the Houthis have now attempted numerous drone and missile attacks on merchant ships. They claim these ships are linked to Israel or are heading to Israeli ports. So far, the US Navy has largely thwarted the Houthis’ efforts, even sinking some of their ships at the weekend. Despite this, the Houthis have pledged to continue their assaults for as long as Israel continues its invasion of Gaza.
The Houthis’ attacks might not have had a significant military impact so far, but they have severely disrupted global trade. More strikingly, they have slowly started to thrill some Western leftists. After news broke that the Houthis had seized an Israeli-linked ship in early December, socialist magazine Jacobin painted the Houthis as an honourable anti-imperialist resistance movement. ‘They felt obliged to act’, it opined, ‘because of the strong, historically rooted support for Palestinians among the Yemeni people’.
Since then, the Houthi cheerleading among the left has only become louder. Self-styled ‘progressives’ have taken to expressing pro-Houthi sentiments on social media (Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King even managed to have his X account taken down for doing so). And on New Year’s Eve, pro-Palestine protesters decided to fill the New York City air with a new pro-Houthi chant: ‘Yemen, Yemen, make us proud! Turn another ship around!’
The opportunism and degeneracy of parts of the Western left clearly know no bounds. Having spent the past three months indulging in apologism for the Jew-hating maniacs of Hamas, campus and Twitter leftists have now added a new set of anti-Semitic Islamist extremists to their supposedly anti-imperialist pantheon.
Make no mistake, the Houthis are anti-Semitic Islamist extremists. Based in northern Yemen and formed in the early 1990s as Ansar Allah (Partisans of God), the Houthis began as a relatively peaceful Shiite group. But that didn’t last long. They soon became more militant and aggressively Islamist during the 2000s in their conflict with Yemen’s corrupt, Western-backed government. Indeed, it was at this point, influenced by their Iranian patrons, that they adopted their hardly subtle motto: ‘God is great, death to the US, death to Israel, curse the Jews and victory for Islam.’
During the early 2010s, the Houthis’ Islamist outlook hardened further. They took advantage of the instability unleashed by the Arab Spring and expanded their influence across northern Yemen. In 2014, they took the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. Since then, they have been engaged in a brutal civil and regional conflict, fighting the forces of the exiled Yemeni government and its principal backer, Saudi Arabia. A truce was agreed in 2022, but intermittent fighting goes on.
The humanitarian catastrophe that has engulfed Yemen over the past decade, costing nearly 400,000 Yemenis their lives, owes much to the brutal military intervention of Saudi Arabia and its gulf allies. But the Houthis, backed and armed by Iran, have more than played their part by routinely shelling civilians and vital infrastructure. Furthermore, in the areas under their control, the Houthis have imposed a vicious Islamist regime. Women are forbidden from working and from travelling anywhere without a male relative. Suspected homosexuals are tortured, raped and imprisoned – or killed. And any sign of dissent is ruthlessly crushed. Media outlets peddling anything less than the Houthi line are shut down. There have also been reports that the Houthis have routinely forced female migrants, especially Ethiopian women, into ‘sexual slavery’.
Then, of course, there is the Jew hatred, writ large in that motto, ‘Death to the US, death to Israel, curse the Jews’. So entrenched is their anti-Semitism that Houthi militias have been known to perform the Nazi salute, while shouting anti-American and anti-Jewish slogans. And now it seems the Houthis are seizing their chance to act out their loathing of Jews in the Red Sea, attacking any ship with the semblance of a connection to Israel or indeed Jewish people.
Violently repressive, deeply anti-Semitic and shot through with a dose of neo-Nazism for good measure… that’s the Houthis in a grim nutshell. And yet this is the group that Manhattan progressives are chanting their support for, and supposedly left-wing magazines are writing puff pieces about.
A left with any of its old universalist substance ought to run a mile from a movement like the Houthis. But as Tom Slater has argued on spiked, that left no longer exists. Radical leftists revealed as much when they threw their lot in with Hamas on 7 October. Sunk in the simplicities and platitudes of identity politics, they now see these Islamist barbarians as dark-skinned subalterns fighting the forces of Western imperialism.
First they were cheerleaders for Hamas, now they’re hot for the Houthis, have the woke left ever met an anti-Semitic Islamist group they didn’t like?
Tim Black is a spiked columnist.
Picture by: Getty.
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