"epistemological agency", 'political agency' denied, a culturalist or civilizationalist discourse, a geopolitical discourse, a human-rights discourse, depopulated discourses, ivory-tower anti-imperialism, Michael Karadjis, transcendent position in the imperialist metropoles, Westerner academics and journalists, Yassin al-Haj Saleh
[Norm’s note: I’m pilfering this piece from Michael Karadjis’ blog. It is, as he opines, a masterful piece to be read end to end.]
[Also Related: Revolution, counterrevolution, and imperialism in Syria: Interview with Yassin al-Haj Saleh — Ashley Smith (October 2017)|International Socialist Review. And a link to Al-Jumhuriya, a website co-founded by Yassin al-Haj Saleh and where he apparently continues to contribute regularly: Yassin al-Haj Saleh. Finally, if only for the time being, a link to a thesis submitted to the School of Social and Political Sciences, The University of Melbourne Australia, October 2015, by Firas Massouh (and a “must read” in its own right): [PDF] Searching for Salvation: Yassin al-Haj Saleh and the Writing of Modern Syria. (And see this, too, if you can ever find the time: [PDF] Ideological Contest in Syria’s Revolutionary Moment:The Concept of Dignity, Juliette D. Harkin, Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. University of East Anglia. School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies) BTW: I’ve only just found (12/25/2018) what appears to be the original posting of Yassin Al Haj Saleh’s piece, and the original title is: The Syrian Cause and Anti-Imperialism — I will amend the broken source links and, of course, the title below . . . ]
Hat tip to: Syrian Revolution Commentary and Analysis
The Syrian Cause and Anti-Imperialism
Translated by: Yaaser ElZayyar
Posted on May 5, 2017
In memory of Michel Seurat, our martyr.
I was in Istanbul for about ten days when I met a Turkish communist who explained to me that what was going on in Syria was nothing but an imperialist conspiracy against a progressive, anti-imperialist regime. The Turkish comrade’s talk contained no novel information or analytical spark that could suggest something useful about my country, and everything I tried to say seemed utterly useless. I was the Syrian who left his country for the first time at the age of fifty-two, only to be lectured about what was really happening there from someone who has probably only visited Syria a few times, if at all.
Incidents like this are repeated over and over in both the real and virtual worlds: a German, a Brit, or an American activist would argue with a Syrian over what is really happening in Syria. It looks like they know more about the cause than Syrians themselves. We are denied “epistemological agency,” that is, our competence in providing the most informed facts and nuanced analysis about our country. Either there is no value to what we say, or we are confined to lesser domains of knowledge, turned into mere sources for quotations that a Western journalist or scholar can add to the knowledge he produces. They may accept us as sources of some basic information, and may refer to something we, natives, said in order to sound authentic, but rarely do they draw on our analysis. This hierarchy of knowledge is very widespread and remains under-criticized in the West.
There are articles, research papers, and books written by Westerner academics and journalists about Syria that do not refer to a single Syrian source–especially one that is opposed to the Assad regime. Syria seems to be an open book of a country; anyone with a passing interest knows the truth about it. They particularly know more than dissidents, whom they often call into question, practically continuing the negation of their existence which is already their fate in their homeland. Consequently, we are denied political agency in such a way that builds on the work of the Assad regime, which has, for two entire generations, stripped us of any political or intellectual merit in our own country. We are no longer relevant for our own cause. This standpoint applies to the global anti-imperialist left, to mainstream western-centrists, and of course to the right-wing.
The Western mainstream approaches Syria (and the Middle East) through one of three discourses: a geopolitical discourse, which focuses on Israeli security and prioritizes stability; a culturalist or civilizationalist discourse, which basically revolves around Islam, Islamists, Islamic terrorism and minority rights; and a human-rights discourse, which addresses Syrians as mere victims (detainees, torture victims, refugees, food needs, health services, etc.), entirely overlooking the political and social dimensions of our struggles. These three discourses have one thing in common: they are depopulated (Kelly Grotke), devoid of people, individuals, or groups. They are devoid of a sense of social life, of what people live and dream.
The first two discourses, the geopolitical and the culturalist, are shared by the Western right as well.
But what about the left? The central element in the definition of the anti-imperial left is imperialism and, of course, combatting it. Imperialist power is thought of as something that exists in large amounts in America and Europe. Elsewhere it is either nonexistent or present only in small amounts. In internationalist struggles, the most important cause is fighting against western imperialism. Secondary conflicts, negligible cause and vague local struggles should not be a source of distraction. This depopulated discourse, which has nothing to do with people’s lived experiences, and which demonstrates no need for knowledge about Syrians, has considered it unimportant to know more about the history of their local struggles.
The Palestinian cause, which was only discovered by most anti-imperialists during the 1990s, has paradoxically played a role in their hostility towards the Syrian cause. From their far-off, transcendent position in the imperialist metropoles, they have the general impression that Syria is against Israel, which occupies Syrian territory. Thus, if Syria is with Palestine and against Israel, it is against imperialism. At the end of the day, these comrades are with the Assadists, because Syria has been under the Assad family rule for nearly half a century. Roughly speaking, this is the core of the political line of thinking which can be called ivory-tower anti-imperialism. That Syrians have been subject to extreme Palestinization by a brutal, internal Israel, and that they are susceptible to political and physical annihilation, just like Palestinians, in fact lies outside the clueless, tasteless geopolitical approach of those detached anti-imperialists, who ignorantly bracket off politics, economics, culture, the social reality of the masses and the actual history of Syria.
This way of linking our conflict to one major global struggle, which is supposedly the only real one in the world, denies the autonomy of any other social and political struggle taking place in the world. Anti-imperialists, especially those living in the allegedly imperialist metropoles, are most qualified to tell the truth about all struggles. Those who are directly involved in this or that struggle hardly know what’s really going on – their knowledge is partial, “non-scientific”, if not outright reactionary.
During the Cold War, orthodox communists knew the real interests of the masses, as well as the ultimate course of history. This was sufficient reason for a communist worldview to be always in the right, without fail. But this position, which looks down on history, has placed itself in an overly exalted position with relation to the masses and their actual lives, and in relation to social and political battles on the ground. In fact, this position can be accurately described as imperialist: it expands at the expense of other conflicts, appropriates them for itself and shows little interest in listening to those involved or in learning anything about them. The distinguishing feature of most Western anti-imperialists is that they have nothing but vague impressions about the history of our country; they cannot possibly know anything about its potential adherence to –or noncompliance with– “the course of history.” This makes their meddling in our affairs an imperialist intervention in every sense of the word: interference from above; depriving us of the agency and capacity to represent our own cause; enacting a power relation in which we occupy the position of the weak who do not matter; and finally the complete absence of a sense of comradeship, solidarity, and partnership.
This remains true even when the anti-imperialist left stands with the Egyptian or Tunisian revolutions. It stands by their side on the basis of stereotyped and simplistic discourses that are inherited from the Cold War era. The anti-imperialist comrade is with the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt for the same reason that led him to “resist” alongside the Syrian regime: to stand in opposition to the great amounts of imperialist power that are concentrated at the White House and 10 Downing Street. Whether in Tunisia, Egypt, or Syria, people are invisible, and their lives do not matter. We remain marginal to some other issue, the only one that matters: the struggle against imperialism (a struggle that, ironically, is also not being fought by these anti-imperialists, as I will argue below).
The anti-imperialist left remembers from the Cold War era that Syria was close to the Soviet Union, so it sides with this supposedly anti-imperialist regime. Consequently, those who resist this regime are “objectively” pro-imperialists. Framing imperial power as something that only exists in the West ascribes to the anti-imperialists a Western-centric tendency, which is no less severe than that of imperialist hardliners themselves.
The response to this discourse need not be to point out the truth, that the Assadist state is not against imperialism in any way whatsoever. First and foremost, the autonomy of our social and political struggles for democracy and social justice must be highlighted and separated out from this grand, abstract scheme. It should be said that this particular mode of analysis, which belongs to the transcendental anti-imperialism, is a belittling imperialist tendency that should to be resisted. There is no just way, for instance, to deny the right of the North Koreans to resist their fascist regime on the basis of such an abstract scheme. Instead, such a scheme can only serve to silence them, just as their regime does.
It is absolutely necessary to rebuild an intellectual and political foundation for criticism and seeking change in the world, but metropolitan anti-imperialism is totally unfit for this job. It has absorbed subordinating imperialistic tendencies, and it is fraught with eurocentrism and void of any true democratic content. A better starting point for criticism and change would be to look at actual conflicts and actual relationships between conflicting parties. This could involve, for example, thinking about how the structure of a globally dominating Western first world has been re-enacted in our own countries, including Syria. We have an “internal first world” that is the Assadist political and economic elites, and a vulnerable internal third world, which the state is free to discipline, humiliate, and exterminate. The relationship between the first world of Assad and the third world of “black Syrians” perfectly explains Syria’s Palestinization. Imperialism as such has shifted from an essence that exists in the West to a major aspect of local, domesticated power structures. Ironically, the power elites protecting this neo-imperialism may well draw on classical anti-imperialist rhetoric in order to discredit local dissidence and suppress potential political schisms. This is especially true in the Middle East, the world’s most heavily internationalized region. It is characterized by an extensive and aggressive imperialist presence that is directed mainly at suppressing democracy and political change.
From this perspective, working to overthrow the Assadist state is a grassroots struggle against imperialism. Conversely, the victory of the Assadist state over the revolution is a victory for imperialism and a consolidation of imperialist relations in Syria, the Middle East, and the world. Meanwhile, the transcendental anti-imperialists continue to be mere parasites who barely know anything, practically contributing to the victory of imperialism by opposing the Syrian revolution.
In short, it must be stressed that individual struggles are autonomous, and that their internal structures and histories should be understood, rather than dismissed and subordinated to an abstract struggle that looks down on whole societies and people’s lives. Only then would it be meaningful to state that there is nothing within the Assadist state that is truly anti-imperialist, even if we define imperialism as an essence nestled in the West. Nor is there anything popular, liberatory, nationalist, or third-worldly in the Syrian regime. There is only a fascist dynastic rule, whose history, which goes back to the 1970s, can be summed up as the formation of an obscenely wealthy and atrociously brutal neo-bourgeoisie, which has proved itself ready to destroy the country in order to remain in power forever. As I have just mentioned, in its relationship with its subjects, this regime reproduces the structure of imperial domination; this is a thousand times more telling than any anti-imperialist rhetoric. Significantly, there exists a strong racist predisposition that is inherent to the structure of this neo-bourgeoisie and its ideology, which celebrates materialist modernity (the modernity of outward appearance and not of relationships, rights, values, etc.). This privileged class regards poor Syrians –Sunni Muslims in particular– just like Ashkenazi Jews regard Arab Muslim Palestinians (and even Sephardic Jews, at an earlier time), and just like whites of South Africa regarded the blacks in the last century. The colonized groups are backward, irrational, and savage, and their extermination is not that big of a deal; it may even be desirable. This attitude does not exclusively characterize the Assadist elite. In fact, the regime and its supporters are emboldened by identification with an international symbolic and political system in which Islamophobia is a rising global trend.
It is well known that the Assadist state has succumb[ed] throughout its history to what can be assumed as imperialist preferences: guarding the borders with Israel since 1974, ensuring stability in the Middle East, weakening the Palestinian resistence independency, treating Syrians as slaves, and destroying all independent political, social, and trade organizations. Indeed, the Assadist state is an integral part of what I call the “Middle Eastern system,” which was founded upon Israeli security, regional stability, and the political disenfranchisement and dispossession of our countries’ subjects. Herein lies the secret of Arab/Islamic exceptionalism with regards to democracy – in contrast to the popular interpretations of cultural critics in the West. Imperialist self-fashioning in such a regime, or the reproduction of imperialism therein, invalidates the conventional notion that imperialist power only exists in America, or in both Europe and America. This suggests that the anti-imperialist left has deep anti-democratic and patriarchal tendencies and suffers from intellectual primitiveness.
We have our own local anti-imperialist communists who adhere to the Assadist state, the Bakdashists. They are named after Khalid Bakdash, who was the Secretary-General of the official, Moscow-aligned Syrian Communist Party since early 1940s up to his death in early 1990s (his wife WissalFarha inherited his post after him, and their son Ammar subsequently inherited it after she passed away). These communists are exactly those who were faithful followers of the Soviet Union within Syrian communism during the Cold War. Today, Bakdashists are middle-class apparatchiks, enjoying a globalized lifestyle and living in city centers, completely separate from the social suffering of the masses and utterly lacking in any creativity. While a diverse array of Syrians had been subject to arrest, humiliation, torture and murder throughout two generations between the 1970s and the 2010s, Bakdashists have persisted in recycling the same vapid anti-imperialist rhetoric, and have paid nothing in return for their blindness to the prolonged plight of their country. This plight has included a sultanic, patriarchal transformation of the regime, the outcome of which was turning Syria into what I am calling the Assadist state, a country privately owned by the Assad dynasty and its intimates. This demonstrates a clear example of the collusion of transcendental anti-imperialism with domesticated imperialism.
In the third place, i.e. after stressing the autonomy and specificity of each conflict, and then emphasizing that nothing about the Assadist state is anti-imperialist, the anti-imperialists should be questioned about their own struggle against imperialism. I do not know of a single example of someone from Western anti-imperialist circles who has been subjected to arrest, torture, legal and political discrimination, travel ban, dismissal from work, or deprivation from writing in his “imperialist” country. I believe that these deprivations do not belong to their world at all, and that perhaps they do not know what a travel ban, deprivation from writing, or torture could possibly mean. They are just like the African who does not know what milk is, the Arab who does not know what an opinion is, the European who does not know what shortage is, and the American who does not know the meaning of “the rest of the world,” as in/goes the famous joke in which four people were asked their opinion about food shortage in the rest of the world. I have never heard of an anti-imperialist comrade who is resented, persecuted, personally targeted or subjected to smear campaigns by imperialism. Actual and moral assassination had actually been common imperialist practices until 1970s. This was especially true in the third world, but also true to a certain extent in the West. Names like Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, Mehdi Ben Barka, and Angela Davis, among others, come to mind.
Neither does it seem that these comrades are aware of how privileged they are compared to us Syrians. I do not wish to evoke the guilt of traditional Western leftists. I am merely asking them for humility, to direct their eyes downwards to the laymen in Syria and elsewhere, not towards murderers like Bashar al-Assad and his ilk, and not to a bunch of hypocritical Western journalists who grew bored with London, Paris, Berlin, Rome and New York and now find amusement and a change of scenery in Damascus, Cairo and Beirut– knowing that their monthly multi-thousand dollar salary allows them to live wherever they wish.
As democratic Syrians, we do not wish upon them that they lose the rights to travel and freedom of speech that they enjoy. But how can they not be required to stand in solidarity with us, we who are deprived of such rights, and to denounce the junta that persists in subjugating us?
What I am arguing based on the three points discussed above is that, our comrades are making three major mistakes, all of which are unforgivable: they appropriate our struggle against a regime with which imperial sovereignty in the Middle East is perfectly in peace, for an alleged struggle against imperialism to which they are not even remotely close, supporting an extremely brutal and reactionary bloc about which they are utterly clueless. I will conclude that their anti-imperialist tendencies signify a desirable identity-form for these groups, not an actual mode-of-action in which they are engaged. The transcendental anti-imperialist left today is but a small, bigoted sect, which is not only incapable of taking power, but is also arrogant, reactionary, and ignorant. Gramsci deserves better heirs.
The root of these three mistakes lies, in my view, in the worn-out nature of the essentialist theory of imperialism, which reduces imperialism to Western hegemony. This theory fails to recognize imperialism as a system of international relations that manifests in different ways throughout the various spheres of political and social conflict that span all countries and regions. Syrians live in one of the cruelest forms of this relational system, deprived of political liberties and exposed to a corrupt and criminal junta, which has turned Syria into a hereditary monarchy owned by a dynasty of murderers.
I mentioned above that there is something imperialistic inherent in leftist anti-imperialism. The Syrian struggle is a good example of this.
The US administration, along with Russia’s autocratic regime, denies the Syrian struggle an independence from the war on terror. The Obama administration has done everything to avoid doing anything that the Syrians could benefit from in their struggle, even after Bashar al-Assad broke Obama’s red line. Why? Because this administration preferred the survival of Bashar al-Assad –Israel’s favorite candidate for the rule of Syria– to a transfer of power that would not be fully controlled by them. It was not in favor of Syrian citizens steering political change in their country. The United States has been involved militarily in Syria since September 2014, targeting Daesh and al-Qaeda. The anti-imperialists do not seem to object to this war, however, as much as they did when the Obama administration considered punishing Bashar al-Assad for violating the red line (not for killing Syrians, by the way) in August, 2013. This is despite the fact that US officials rushed to say that the strike would be limited; John Kerry stated in London in the beginning of September, 2013 that the potential strike would be an “unbelievably small, limited kind of effort!”
The root of all of this is that the US administration has annexed the Syrian conflict to its own war on terror. It has tried to impose its battle on Syrians so that they will abandon their own battle against the tyrannical discriminatory Assadist junta: This is what imperialism has done.
In this regard, the anti-imperialist promulgators of the concept of terrorism fail to realize that the war on terror is centered around the state; it is a statist conception of the world order which strengthens states and weakens communities, political organizations, social movements, and individuals. It is furthermore a war in which Bashar al-Assad, who has been in direct conflict with his people for two years, is made partner in a cause that favors the continued domination of the world’s powerful. But perhaps it is not just a matter of realizing or not realizing. There is an inherent statist component in the structure of the anti-imperialist left, which has originated since the Cold War era. This statist quality confirms the observation that the typical anti-imperialist leftist has a geopolitical mindset. Perhaps this is why Trotskyists and anarchists, who are less state-centered and more society-oriented, have stood by Syrians in their struggle.
In the record of this endless fight against terrorism there has not been a single success, and thus far three countries have been devastated over its course (Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria). Yet this record is not surprising, considering that these imperialist forces are characterized by arrogance, racism, and immunity vis-a-vis the crimes they commit and the destruction they leave behind in foreign societies.
The anti-imperialist left, just like imperialism itself, has supplemented the Syrian-struggle to something else, “regime change.” From the point of view of anti-imperialist comrades, regime change in Syria appears to be an imperialist plot. This is a hundred times worse than any mistake. This is an insult to Syrians, to our struggle over two generations, and to hundreds of thousands of victims. This is an insult to a struggle that most of these comrades know nothing about.
I repeat: imperialism, and the Americans in particular, have not wanted to change the regime at any time. Following the chemical massacre in August 2013, they strived to invent reasons not to hurt it, despite the fact that, at the time, they had a very strong justification had they wanted to change –or simply hurt– the Assad regime. The change in Syria is our initiative, and it is our project. Anti-imperialists must consider us agents of imperialism, then. Some are not far from saying so outright – a few months ago, a number of Italian “comrades” attacked an exhibition displaying photographs of the victims of Assad’s killing industry. Otherwise, any change to any regime is a bad thing and serves imperialism. But isn’t that a rather wonderful definition for reactionism?
Annexation is a fundamental aspect of imperialism, and the anti-imperialist activists who deny the autonomy of our struggle and supplement it to their pseudo-struggle are no different from imperialist powers. The two parties find common cause in the denial of our struggle, our political agency, and our right to self-representation. Practically, they are telling us that they are the ones who can define which struggles are in the right; and that we are not worthy of either revolutions or the production of knowledge. But isn’t that a wonderful definition of imperialism?
It is worth mentioning that subordinating our struggle for another one is the defining characteristic of the Assadist rule. For almost half a century, and in the name of yet another pseudo-struggle against Israel, the Assad regime has not ceased to suppress the rights and freedoms of its subjects and to crack down on their attempts to assume political agency in their country. Meanwhile, it has showed a great willingness to wage two hot wars inside Syria, the first of which resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, and the second in hundreds of thousands of deaths, up to now. Additionally, subordinating our struggle to something else is also a feature of Islamisms that have worked to appropriate the Syrian struggle for political agency (freedom) in the name of something external to this cause (sharia law, Islamic statehood, and a really imperial caliphate).
Here we have four specific cases of our cause’s subordination; the American government and its followers, Russia and its followers, and Iran and its followers all making our revolution secondary to endless war against terrorism; the Western anti-imperialist left making our opposition secondary to its struggle against imperialism, understood as something practiced only by Western powers; the Assadist rule making our emancipatory aspirations secondary to a struggle with Israel that it has never been engaged in; and Islamists making our common struggle secondary to their own sectarian leanings. The four cases have one thing in common; a patriarchal view. Each of these powers acts like a archetypal father who knows everything, and decides alone what is proper for us, the little boys. Those who reject being infantilized in this manner are considered ignorant, agents of the enemy, or infidels, deprived of speech and of political action. They may even be deprived of life itself, annihilated by chemical weapons, barrel bombs, starvation, or an organized death industry in prisons and hospitals.
The basis of these reactionary patriarchal attitudes by our fellow anti-imperialists contains two important issues. The first is the transformation of the communist left and its heirs into the educated middle classes, which is separate from human suffering and incapable of creativity, just like our local Bakdashists. This is in part due to economic transformations in the central capitalist countries, deindustrialization, the decay of the industrial working class, and the emergence of the “campus left,” which does nothing and knows very little despite its position within academia. There is no longer anything revolutionary or emancipatory in the formation of the contemporary left, and it is not engaged in any real conflicts. The second important issue that underpins these patriarchal attitudes is the intellectual maps that have been inherited from the Cold War (knowledge by recollection, following the Platonic method), added to intellectual sterility and a severe lack of creativity.
Among the main sources of knowledge about Syria for this left are the likes of Robert Fisk, the embedded journalist who accompanied the regime tanks as they stormed Darayya and killed hundreds of its inhabitants. His work later evolved into interviewing notorious murderers such as General Jamil Hassan, of Air Force Intelligence. He publishes his pieces in what are supposedly pro-democratic independent platforms such as The Independent. Another main source of information is Patrick Cockburn, who is Fisk’s partner in friendship with the Assadist junta, and who I doubt knows a single Syrian leftist dissident, just like Fisk. Also in their ranks is Seymour Hersh, who was spoiled by the Pulitzer Prize he had received, becoming fixated on thinking exclusively about “high politics” and seeing nothing down below. In fact, Bashar al-Assad himself is a source of knowledge for this left, as he is frequently interviewed by Western media and visited by delegations from the Western left (and fascists and Western Christian rightists as well), enjoying a status that he had not dreamed of before killing hundreds of thousands of his subjects.
This left no longer has a living cause of any kind. It merely intrudes upon causes like our own, about which it hardly knows and to which it ultimately does a great deal of harm. This left feels guilty because it lacks nothing, so it directs its disordered anxiety at Merkel, Teresa May, Obama, and Trump. It stands with Bashar al-Assad after it has convinced itself that this vile person is against those Western politicians. It is far less knowledgeable or curious about the fate of Bashar al-Assad’s subjects, about whom it knows nothing other than confused impressions it draws from watching TV or reading newspapers.
None of the above is to suggest that Western leftists should not interfere in our affairs or should not comment on what we say about our conflicts. We want them to interfere. In turn, we do and we will interfere in their affairs. We live in one world, and universality must always be defended in both analysis and action. What we expect is that they become a bit more humble and willing to listen, less eager to give lessons, and that they develop knowledge that is not based on recollection. We expect them to be democratic, not to make our conflict secondary to others, to take our opinion into account on the subject of our affairs, and to accept that we are their equals and peers.
Neither am I suggesting that we, the Syrian democrats opposed to the Assadist state, are correct in everything that we say simply because our cause is just, or that we do not accept criticism from others. We want to be criticized and advised, but our critics do not seem to know anything about us or to even be offering criticism or advice. They do not see us at all. Their lofty perspectives render us invisible. Had they been more open over the years to the realities of the Syrian conflict, its dynamics and transformations, they would have been in a better position to synthesize more informed perceptions and to offer more nuanced criticism. Our leftist partners in the West, a multitude of radical democrats, socialists, anarchists, and Trotskyists, have come closer to the grassroots Syrian world and have listened to Syrian narratives. None of them has shaken the blood-stained and pillaging hands of the likes of Bashar al-Assad and the murderers and thieves that constitute his circle.
We are not simplistic, and we do not reduce our struggle to the single dimension of bringing down the Assadist junta. There is another dimension, the struggle against nihilist Islamic organizations. But only among us, the people who are involved in the Syrian struggle on a democratic and emancipatory basis, can radical democratic politics be formed regarding Islamists. We do not approve of essentialist hatred of Islamists, which may be driven by class or sect, and which is definitely reactionary and most probably racist. The most optimal position for a struggle against Islamism is undoubtedly the revolutionary democratic position that also resists Assadist fascism.
Having said that, we are not unaware of a third dimension to our struggle, which pertains to various interventions by conventional or emerging imperialist centers; interventions which are carried out either directly or through regional proxies, in the form of states or sub-state organizations. Here, too, we find that the most coherent and radical position against imperialism is that which takes internal, Assadist colonization into account, and takes sides with the weak and disadvantaged, in Syria and the region at-large. Those who think that Bashar al-Assad and his junta are supportive of the struggle against imperialism are insensible fools at best, and anti-democratic racists at worst.
This three-dimensional struggle defines universality for us, and perhaps for the world as a whole.
Moreover, I am not suggesting that we have no short-comings, or that what we say about these causes and others should be the final word. We work and we learn. Our greatest shortcoming is that we are dispersed and our forces are unorganized. This has been exacerbated by the conditions of detention and killing under torture, which have mainly targeted the social base of the revolution; by the condition of displacement and the extensive destruction of Syrian society by the tyrannical and sectarian Assadist junta and its imperialist partners; and finally by nihilist Islamist organizations. Our efforts are constantly at odds with the shocking and unprecedented extremes that the Syrian tragedy has reached. But we continue to work.
In short, for us, Syrian democrats and leftists, the struggle is a fight for independence. First, we seek the independence of our country from colonial powers, which have donned false masks that boast about sovereignty, territorial unity, pluralism, or the war on terror, much like all colonial powers have throughout history. Second, we seek the independence of our struggle from other colonists, who don equally false masks, such as anti-imperialism and also the war on terror, demanding that we stay silent or act as local copies of them.
This criticism of Western and non-Western anti-imperialist left is both a contribution to the struggle for independence, that is, for freedom, and an effort to own authority over our own discourse. It remains open to partnerships that are based on comradeship and equality.
This article is part of a book about Syria, edited by FouadRoueiha and due to be published soon in Italian
“I was the Syrian who left his country for the first time at the age of fifty-two, only to be lectured about what was really happening there from someone who has probably only visited Syria a few times, if at all.” I see this from time to time and I’m unimpressed with the argument. People from any country can be uncaring. If someone caring in one country has taken the time to study another country that he or she has never visited, Are their views unacceptable and inferior to the resident – who may be caring or uncaring – of that studied country solely because they haven’t visited the country? And if the resident of a country studied by a caring foreigner who has never visited that resident’s country is also caring, then I wouldn’t expect him or her to even make such an argument.
Norman Pilon said:
So you are one paragraph into the “argument,” and already know all of it’s chinks and failures. Brilliant!
Before I read one sentence I had my opinion. Cheers.
Norman Pilon said:
I would have never guessed . . . Cheerio.
Norman, Which is it? If I have an opinion after reading the anti-Syria screed, Is it valid even though I haven’t visited Syria? Or is it still valid although I haven’t visited Syria? If it’s invalid because I haven’t I haven’t visited Syria, then why does my not having read all of the article – which you did, indeed guess at – trouble you?
Are there countries that you only read about, and never visited, that you’ve had an opinion on?
You simply yelled at me. If you had said something along the lines of “You haven’t got the whole story and it isn’t what you think, I probably would have read it. I might anyway, although the author puts me off.”
And you have no idea that amount of reading I do for my blog. On principle, I read every article I link to. Occasionally, I might read 90% of an article. And that reading is aside from the books I’m reading always. Nothing in means nothing out. It’s fair of you to criticize me for having an opinion about an article that I haven’t read, but in my own defense, it wasn’t laziness that caused me to leave it. And the comment I made was about something specific. that I did read. It wasn’t mindless. And I read more of the article than what you seemed to believe I had.
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Norman Pilon said:
I “get” the critique that you are making. It is certainly valid as far as it goes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually engage with the upshot of Saleh’s piece.
In academic circles, meaning among doctorate level academics who are Middle East scholars, that is to say, among people who tend to be better informed than the ordinary bloke and even the most experienced of investigative journalists about the details pertaining to either the Middle East or Syria as such, Saleh is a recognized and reliable primary source of both penetrating analyses and first hand accounts of Syrian cultural, sociological, political and economic affairs.
And, yes, you may have read more of the article than you imagine I imagine that you did, but your remark widely misses the mark. Saleh’s complaint and remonstration is that among the Syrian opposition — which a broad section of the left argues does not even exist — there are, in fact, many astute and reliable witnesses of Syrian internal affairs that are simply dismissed out of hand by an anti-imperialist Western left that imagines itself to be adequately informed about all things Syrian, when the fact of matter is that, for ignoring an important body of expert first-hand accounts about the goings-on in Syria, they are anything but “well informed.”
BTW: if only because I’m working my way through an article written by Dr. Carsten Wieland this morning (a piece that you should also read if you can ever muster the time), a man who is a Middle East scholar, something pertaining to Syria that you may or may not find interesting, not to say arresting, but that certainly helps to validate Saleh’s very copious output on Syria, and of course, as well as that of other radical Syrian intellectual dissidents — some primary evidence gathered shortly prior to the ‘uprising’ by a Syrian presidential advisory committee corroborating that the Assad regime knew what was coming; that it was anything but socialist in the economic reforms it was pursuing; and that it was, without doubt, reprehensibly repressive:
But first, a contextualizing comment from Tina Zintl:
“[…]the memorandum in the annex, prepared in 2010, had been commissioned by the Syrian president’s office but later been ignored by it. While the short-timed and ineffectual nature of advisory committees and their reports was rather common under Bashar al-Asad –their recommendations were regularly sought but seldom implemented–the frankness and urgency demonstrated by this particular report are striking. It shows that ‘insiders’ of the system were well aware of the headwinds al-Asad’s politics and, particularly, his polarizing political economy faced. Despite due adulation of its recipient, the memorandum to the president spells out that “difficulties […]have escalated, neglect and mismanagement, into a socio-economic crisis” and thus led to “a great deal of dissatisfaction among the citizens as well as the elite.” For instance, the memorandum points towards the lack of direction and clear decision-making, rising poverty and social imbalance, corruption and mismanagement and, even, towards the limits of using police, security services and the military for controlling social unrest. It prefigures the outbreak of the popular uprising less than a year later and, notably, it is a far cry from the self-assured public speeches of Bashar al-Asad. As late as end-January 2011 he claimed in a, by now infamous, interview with the Wall Street Journal that “[i]f you want to talk about Tunisia and Egypt, we are outside of this” since he believed himself to be “very closely linked to the beliefs of the [Syrian] people”.1Thus, the memorandum presents a highly interesting primary source that not only confirms Carsten Wieland’s point that Bashar al-Asad could have taken different decisions and possibly even have warded off the uprising, but that also demonstrates that the Syrian president was informed by his advisors about the most pressing problems and the alternatives available to him.”
Source: The Syrian Uprising: Dynamics of an Insurgency pp.4-5.
And now for some highlights from the memorandum (everything in bold is my emphasis):
•On the other hand, the Syrian private sector has demonstrated a lack of social responsibility and, at the same time, suffers from structural deficits that render it incapable of replacing the role of the state vis-à-vis the workers. Subsequently the private sector has been unable to fill the vacuum created by the retreat of the state
• […] most people only are seeing the regression of social support and the raising of prices. It seems to many that the state is abandoning the poor for the sake of the rich.
•Furthermore, the negative results of this policy are apparent in the decrease in living standards and increased poverty rates. Figures in 2009 were higher than in 2004.
•Parallel to this, a drastic collapse in health services, education and transport has continued, in addition to growing corruption and bureaucracy, which have made people’s quality of life unbearable.
Such a decline has also impacted on the security services and their ability to deal with the society with tools other than violence.
It should be noted that the potential use of hard power (police, security and military) in managing social problems is limited and risks inciting an international intervention in the internal affairs of the Syria state.
The ministries have kept their old habits, without daring to take any decisions, preferring to evade responsibility, waiting, as they say, for instructions from above.
The new economic approach, […] has created dissatisfaction in many fields. It seems to us, that there is a need to address the reform in the processes of decision making.
The reason for this difficulty is due to the lack of definite orientation towards a social market economy. The currently chosen track for reform simply ignores the needs of the less fortunate classes in our society, in spite of the fact that there are many other forms of reform and many alternatives which could differ in their socio-economic outcome.
Furthermore, the decline in social services, the shortage in electricity, the increasing numbers of people with no access to potable water, and the continued transport crisis all over the country have exacerbated popular disaffection. This has been compounded by the decline in health services and public hospitals infected by sluggishness and corruption, the extremely overcrowded public universities, the rise in organized crime and corruption, which remains widespread without any level of auditing or follow-up. ..
Further, the pace of trade liberalization has been harmful to the productive sectors, such as industry. This seems to be an approach based on the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund, which is a recipe with known results at the social and economic level.
The private sector does not comply with its moral and social responsibilities which guide the business sectors in developed countries. Its commitment to the rule of law is very weak, it continues to evade taxes and to avoid payment of customs duties and social security duties through bribes. It does not care about the environment or for workers’ rights, and pays no attention to improving the working conditions or the conditions of residence of workers and their families. Nor does it understand the importance of the company as a social institution, rather than being the property of an individual acting out his desires.
Furthermore, the overall economic policy applied in favour of traders at the expense of industrialists has led many of them to shift from productive activities to commercial activities and rent. This has been at the expense of the productive capacity of the Syrian economy.
An increasing concentration of power in the hands of the crony bureaucracy classes is notable, while the popular classes have lost power.
Such a phenomenon has its risks, especially in a country like Syria, which is exposed to various pressures. The need to ensure the loyalty of the population is of utmost importance.
If we add this to the decline in state capacity and the lack of willingness to support free education, medical care and subsidies, this will lead to further polarization of the community, something which threatens social stability. This will also lead to the erosion of the middle class and reverse its role as a dynamo in the society.
If we add this polarization to the cultural polarization, the risks appear doubled. The Syrian community is witnessing the growth of cultural division, including those among youth groups. In light of the significant decline of the identity and ideology of the state, and the Baath Party as a secular nationalist party, more and more splits will occur. The community will be torn apart between the Salafist groups and the forces of modernization. This division is further amplified by the new cyberspace. With the growing sentiments of tribalism and sectarianism the new generation is fragmented and desperate.
Thanks Norman. I can’t accept a great number of facts laid out in your reply. But I will still examine much of what you point me to and I’ll read the article which I mostly read. That’s the least I can do.
Have you read Stephen Gowan’s “The Long War On Syria” and if you have, Would you call it nonsense? I believe professor Tim Anderson has also written a book about Bashar al-Assad’s Syria and the attack on it that began with a phony people’s revolution.
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Norman Pilon said:
Yes and yes. Everything. Inside out. The problem with ‘their’ testimony is that it is contradicted by all of the Middle East scholarship, i.e., doctorate level research, that I’ve been perusing for the past year or so, whenever I get the chance. Anderson is NOT a Middle East specialist. Gowans, even less so. This doesn’t mean that they get everything wrong. But it does mean that their accounts miss important aspects of Syrian society as such.
If you do nothing else in the next little while pertaining to any research you might do on Syria, read this highly informed and informative piece by a scholar of world renown on Syria:
Syria: from ‘authoritarian upgrading’ to revolution? — Raymond Hinnebusch (11/01/2012) | International Aﬀairs
It’s all bookmarked. First chance I get. I’m disappointed that you had so little use for Gowan’s book. But so be it. His book on Korea is equally illuminating in my opinion. Regardless, Thanks for the dialog. Peace.
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Norman Pilon said:
Perhaps a misunderstanding between us, for which I assume the responsibility: when I write “Yes and yes. Everything inside out,” I’m only speaking to that part of your question that reads, “Have you read Stephen Gowan’s “The Long War On Syria . . .” Of course I wouldn’t call it “nonsense.” But I would say that it is a perspective that is unduly myopic and in need of some serious broadening . . .
Anyway, much to read and to do . . .
Norman Pilon said:
You know what, on second thought, I will retract my assertion that Gowan’s “The Long War On Syria” is “not nonsense.”
The truth is that it most emphatically is nonsense, given that he argues, without the slightest reference to any political economic research, that Syria was a socialist regime, that contrary to what insiders of the Syrian regime themselves assert and have asserted, you know, on the record and in documents like that Syrian presidential advisory committee’s memorandum to which I referred, it was not the case that the state had taken a neoliberal turn, that the “collapse in health services, education and transport, in addition to growing corruption and bureaucracy,” all resulting from policies being purposely pursued on Assad’s watch, was making life unbearable for the majority of ordinary Syrians.
Utter nonsense. Everything. Inside out.
Okay, I’ve read that whole… rant. A few observations, besides the one I just made, are as follows:
The author lies a lot. Barrel bombs? That’s been quite debunked. Nor did it ever make sense that Assad would barrel bomb his own people.
“SYRIA: Consign “Barrel Bombs” to the Propaganda Graveyard” by Vanessa Beeley (who has visited Syria plenty of times) :
The author is ‘not’ scholarly. I know what scholarly looks like. Also, Scholarly isn’t automatically a good thing. Plenty of scholars work in rightwing think tanks. They mix up their scholarly work with propanda and often produce rubbish that looks like rubbish, if the reader can think critically. But Yassin al-Haj Saleh doesn’t appear to even try to appear scholarly, substituting “supplement” for ‘sublimate’ or ‘subordinate’ as he continues to write. If he thought he had the wrong word, okay. Then go back and change it before publishing your article. As for his English, he seemed to have enough facility with it otherwise. For a good example of what scholarly that is bad can look like, examine pg 268 of Noam Chomsky’s “For Reasons Of State.” I’ll quote the relevant passage below, at the bottom of my comment.
The author is offensive and irrational. He tells everyone, except Assad’s ‘outside’ opposition, that they don’t know anything and are wrong, period. Apparently, We don’t even know what the definition of ‘imperialism’ is. He suggests that we ‘all’ believe it to mean ‘American imperialism’. Uh, No. Is that a way for Saleh to get us to ignore what the most powerful State on the planet is up to, as if ‘that’ doesn’t matter? Any State that does imperialism is imperialist. And that would ‘not’ include North Korea, which is ‘not’ fascist, unless you ask Donald Trump. Fascists, especially those with power who can get away at babbling nonsensically at people because ‘What can we do about it?’, love calling those who they are targetting fascists. It’s attitude. It’s perverse. But it’s a free unverse.
The author’s reference to the “Syrian struggle” omits the fact that he’s talking about imperialists’ terrorist proxy forces. He doesn’t mind that readers may get lost in his rambling narrative and imagine that “our” means all Syrians. I haven’t investigated this guy yet, but he’s not one of the ‘majority’ of Syrians, including the internal political opposition, who ‘supports’ (conditionally) Assad. Whose side is he on? It doesn’t look good. Similarly, When Saleh talks about “Syrian citizens” he can’t be talking about the ‘majority’ who support Assad, who, together with forces invited into Syria, are pushing back the assault by Western- and Gulf Monarchies’-funded proxy terrorists. (Most of Assad’s loyal soldiers are Sunni and they represent the majority of victims of war in Syria. Is Assad murdering his own soldiers?)
And there’s Nazi Israel, attacking – directly, overtly – Syria, which Trump’s recent decision to withdraw troops from Syria probably was meant to clear the way for. Israeli aggression here is against the Syrian people, not outsiders who Saleh calls the Syrian people. Attacked is the majority who are actually interested in preserving a democratic, secular (not sectarian) State (as Elijah J. Magnier explains in his article titled “Trump Is Leaving Behind A Trap For Russia, Turkey And Iran In Syria.” – https://ahtribune.com/world/north-africa-south-west-asia/syria-crisis/2738-trump-trap-russia-turkey-iran-syria.html). And, it turns out, Israel was helping the terrorists all along. See “Report Confirms Israel Has Been Secretly Funding Syrian Rebels For Years” by ? from ZeroHedge at: https://www.mintpressnews.com/new-report-confirms-israel-secretly-funding-syrian-rebels-years/229038/. See also “Trump Admits His Mideast Policy Guided by Israeli, not American, Interests” by Whitney Webb (Mint Press News) at: https://www.mintpressnews.com/trump-admits-his-mideast-policy-guided-by-israel-not-american-interests/253170/
“In the record of this endless fight against terrorism there has not been a single success…” writes Saleh. Firstly, Saleh’s idea of terrorism is the opposite of mine and most honest people. He calls those attacked by terrorists terrorists and he labels actual terrorists as ‘Syrian citizens’ or ‘the opposition’. Secondly, It’s a ridiculous statement. Only he has made it. What actual terrorists would claim that they’ve had 100% success? What targets of terrorists would claim that they’ve only had 100%.
Eva Bartlett (excerpted from: “Part III – Voices from Syria: Assad is Essential for Syria’s Unity & Security” – https://21stcenturywire.com/2016/02/28/part-iii-voices-from-syria-assad-is-essential-for-syrias-unity-security/):
I have spent the last 6 weeks in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, the fourth such visit in 2 years – talking to numerous people, including refugees, from all segments of Syrian society. Assad has very strong support within Syria across the whole spectrum of Syrian society, the majority of whom are Sunni.
Sunnis in fact make up the majority of the Syrian Army. Just a few weeks ago, 70 Sunni Syrian Army soldiers were executed by ISIS at Deir Ezzor, largely ignored by the mainstream media. A huge number of the population support Assad personally, though everyone has criticisms of the regime, especially about corruption and the security apparatus.
Many refugees, even if they don’t support the regime, say that Assad is better than the chaos that would ensue if the sectarian ‘rebels’ were to win. Talking to Kurdish Refugees from Syria at a camp in Iraq 2 weeks ago, all of them were united in their belief that though they didn’t like the regime they support Assad personally, and do not want to see him defeated.
Even the government’s opponents inside Syria acknowledge that Assad did try to undertake reform, and I saw plenty of evidence of this in my travels to Syria immediately prior to the conflict.
An example of what scholarship ‘can’ mean follows. Noam Chomsky (pages 268 & 269 of “For Reasons Of State”):
Ideas rather like those of [Emile] Benoit and [Arthur] Smithies are developed in the public record as well, for example, in several of the papers of a symposium organized by the Council on Vietnamese Studies of SEADAG [South East Asia Development Advisory Group] on Vietnam’s development in the postwar era, held in October 1970. The countil is financed by AID to give the government advice “which we are trying to convert into program operation.” To be sure, it affects a rather different public pose, not unlike much academic scholarship in the social sciences. The former head of the council, Professor Samuel Huntington of Harvard, has stated publicly that the council has never to his knowledge undertaken any task for the State Department and that its primary concern is “to raise funds from public and private sources to support scholarly research on Vietnam.” The little that is known of its activities, however, indicates that this statement is rather disingenous, and confirms the conclusions of those who pay the piper. For example, the May 1969 meeting was devoted to a discussion of a paper by Huntington entitled “Getting Ready For Political Competition in South Vietnam.” The paper tries to develop a strategy for overcoming the political advantages of the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam, given the possibility that events will force the United States to enter into the political competition that is has always, for obvious reasons, sought to avoid. Huntington’s paper and the ensuing discussion (according to minutes which have been privately circulated) wrestled inconclusively with the problem that the NLF is admittedly “the most powerful purely political national organization.” Huntington suggested various techiques that might be used to overcome the political advantages of the NLF: pork-barrel projects, electoral manipulations of various kinds, “inducements and coercions to foster alliances or mergers among political actors,” control of media, various covert means. The participants discussed and explored these possibilities, rather pessimistically. Perhaps this is an example of what chairman of the Department of Government at Harvard regards as “scholarly research on Vietnam.” The symposium on postwar development – in this case, made public – is a comparable example of neutral, balanced scholarship.
Anyone can call anything anything. But, a thing is either what someone says it is or it isn’t. Norman: Your calling the above presentation/article by Yassin al-Haj Saleh scholarly does not guarantee that it is. I find the article be awful ranting by someone with terrorist sensibilities, at the least. I’m sorry if that disappoints you. I don’t understand how you could have been bamboozled by Saleh. It’s possible that you haven’t been bamboozled. But I would rather you were bamboozled than just didn’t care.
Norman Pilon said:
“The author lies a lot. Barrel bombs? That’s been quite debunked. Nor did it ever make sense that Assad would barrel bomb his own people.”
Vanessa Beeley is an amateur. Furthermore, as a foreign journalist, she is thoroughly embedded with the Assadists.
It also appears to be the case that she is not above dissimulating the truth so as to leave the image of Assad and Co. untarnished: Beeley admits: “Even Assad doesn’t deny torture”: Spy vs Spy… a Pro-Assadist Comedy.
At any rate, if you take the time to comb the academic literature on Syria, that is to say, the doctoral level scholarship on Middle East and Syrian affairs, you will be hard pressed to find a SINGLE expert that does not, from an independent standpoint, agree in substance with Saleh’s perspectives.
In fact, I have been digging for the better part of a year, and haven’t been able to find a single scholar who even comes close to articulating a viewpoint approximating to Beeley’s, a viewpoint that in point of fact isn’t even Beeley’s, but that of the regime’s own propaganda about itself.
I also find it ironic that I can refer you to the details of a Syrian presidential advisory committee’s memorandum that 100% confirms that the military and security apparatus of Syria has engaged and does engage in violent repression against ordinary Syrians and that this doesn’t register with you. Furthermore, Syria was a rendition site for the CIA during operations against Iraq, which underscores the fact that torture was and is standard operating procedure for the Syrian security complex.
The argument that any government would never engage in murderous repression against its “own people” is also simply laughable. The history of capital is the history of murderous state repression against ordinary people, Arrby.
In addition, whether or not the Assadists used chemical weapons or barrel bombs as such is entirely immaterial to the substance of Saleh’s argument, mere details distracting from the fact that both a domestic political opposition in Syria is a reality and that the majority of Syrians are arrayed against the regime, again spelled out in that Syrian presidential advisory committee’s memorandum to which I explicitly referred you, but that in this respect also somehow does not register with you. If you doubt that an opposition finding widespread support among Syrians exists, how do you explain this:
“Bahjat Suleiman, the feared and powerful former head of Syrian intelligence, wrote in the Lebanese newspaper al-Safirin 2003, “In Syria, the regime does not have enemies but ‘opponents’ whose demands do not go beyond certain political and economic reforms, such as the end of the state of emergency and martial law; the adoption of a law on political parties; and the equitable redistribution of national wealth.”21 Source: [PDF] The Syrian Uprising: Dynamics of an Insurgency p.17.
My sources are Joseph Daher, Samir Amin, Raymond Hinnebusch, Rima Majed, Carsten Wieland, Thomas Pierret, Aoyama Hiroyuki, Bassam Haddad, Daniel Neep, Eberhard Kienle, Maria Aurora Sottimano, Max Ajl, Mohanad Hage Ali, Myriam Ababsa, Nabil Marzouk, Peter Sluglett, Philip Proudfoot, Raphaël Lefèvre, Sanam Naraghi – Anderlini, Steven Heydemann, Juliette D. Harkin and all the other Middle East scholars on whose work their own depends and expands upon.
You have two embedded journalists with weeks spent in Syria under the auspices of the Assad regime and online sources like 21st Century Wire, or the likes of the amateur activist ‘investigator’ Gowans. Saleh has lived his entire life in Syria, spent 16 years imprisoned for his political views, and is acknowledged by a network of the best and most informed minds on the Middle East to be an outstanding analyst and investigator, in his own right, of Syrian affairs.
And no, on Syria, I’m with Norman Finkelstein, who sees things as Chomsky does, whom you apparently quote in favor of something you seem to be arguing for (start your viewing @ the 8 minute mark):
Norman Pilon said:
BTW: since you do mention Beeley, what do you make of THIS.
When you post ‘all’ of our exchange, I’ll have a look, maybe. But, really, We are flogging a dead horse here. And I’m not interested in angry arguments that are nothing but anger.
Norman Pilon said:
There is no anger, Arrby, only concern for the truth. You are projecting.
As for the deleted comments, they have been restored. But as you can see, they nullify each other and taken together can be reduced to the manner in which you originally interpreted this comment.
Now that I’ve re-posted “all” of our exchanges, do reconsider whether to read Ahmed’s investigation, and not only for what he has to say about the journalistic integrity of Beeley and Bartlett.
I don’t see ‘all’ of our exchange here. I’m just saying. You complained that two journos who I mentioned are amateurs (which is nothing but a nasty smear in my view) and I pointed out that I am pretty sure that if I gave a you long list of people who have visited Syria (some who were born there, like Sarah Abed), you’d probably just call them all Assadists and dismiss them. I don’t see that part of our exchange ‘restored’. (If you deleted it, and then deleted it again from your recycle box, that’s that. I don’t blame you for you losing track, like I do, when there’s lot to keep track of. But, Were you angry when you deep-sixed that part of our exchange?) In another instance, You seemed to react in anger when I posted something you didn’t like (pretty much everything). You changed your mind about your assessment of Gowans’s book, seemingly, out of that anger. You either think that Gowans’s book is garbage or you don’t, I would think. Calling it not entirely worthless when you’re not angry with me and then entirely worthless when you are angry with me is… amateurish. Even so, I thanked you again for that dialog in that still missing post.
I don’t want to spend more time on this, although I have kept note of all of the names (sources) in our exchange. I am by no means done with the subject of Syria. Did you see the recent Consortium News articles on Syria? (There’s stuff I agree with and stuff I am not at all sure is correct.) I see you on Off Guardian all the time, although I don’t spend all of my time there. I assumed that you were a progressive. (I am not seeing that in this exchange.) Consortium News is not perfect (no progressive org is) but it is progressive.
I quite liked this Finian Cunningham article about Trump’s decision (if it’s solid) to withdraw from Syria: https://opensociet.org/2018/12/29/trump-comes-clean-from-worlds-policeman-to-thug-running-a-global-protection-racket/
I’m very familiar with Nafeez Ahmed, who claimed that Europe has known no war for 70 years! Hello! Yugoslavia! (Michael Parenti – http://www.michaelparenti.org/nobel_peace_prize_for_war.html) He has an entry, co-authored, in a (mostly) good book edited by Nick Buxton and Ben Hayes, which is connected to the Transnational Institute, which is partly funded by George Soros, a no no. Ahmed quotes Sibel Edmonds on the White Helmets. Oh my goodness! She has gone over to the dark side big time. (See “The Destruction, Or Self-Destruction Of Newsbud” – https://arrby.wordpress.com/2018/03/29/the-destruction-or-self-destruction-of-newsbud/) Little by little I began to see Nafeez Ahmed more clearly. I have come to the conclusion that he is just another faker. And a talented one at that. His article that you linked me to is AWFUL!!! Like your hero Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Ahmed would actually have us equate Syria’s enemies, including the ‘external’ opposition, with the Syrian people. The White Helmets are terrorists and the bombing that occurs where they, and helpless stuck innocent Syrians, are, is to be expected. Don’t fight back when terrorists attack you? How’s that work? 21st Century Wire has done a great job of keeping track of the White Helmets stuff. Except for their climate crisis denial (as I said, there are no perfect progressive orgs), they are progressive. And very good.
I will say this though. I am very aware of the history of Assad and torture. There’s many references in books I’ve read to Syria’s role as a black site for torture (Chomsky, McCoy) and there was Maher Arar. I think (based on his own writing) Maher Arar is clueless about what’s going on in the world. Just because he was born in Syria, that doesn’t make him caring and knowledgeable. And I am not impressed with the polishing of Assad by those who push a narrative (even if it’s one that I think mostly hews to the facts) that Assad is the victim of imperialism designs. I say so when the subject comes up, but I seem to be tilting at windmills. However, I certainly don’t trust any account of the Assad government’s history of torture from those who are trying to sell me the idea that the White Helmets are heroes. No one – good or bad – is honest. And I hate it.
Actually, I’m glad you put me onto that Ahmed article piece. It’s a keeper!
Norman, Let’s just go our separate ways. I’ll read whatever reply you post here, but I can’t handle this darkness anymore. I have other things to do. I wish that our dialog had been productive, but it wasn’t. You’ll say that it wasn’t because I don’t see things your way and vice versa. So be it. There’s no sense in hanging around this dead horse.
Norman Pilon said:
ALL of our exchanges are here. You are correct: at one point the thread’s format was such that the two mutually nullifying comments I just re-posted at your request had been removed because, well, they were mutually nullifying and in being so, didn’t actually in their juxtaposition either add anything to or take away anything from our exchange. I mean, you know, if you assert ‘A’ and then deny ‘A,’ then logically you haven’t said anything, right? Furthermore, I was probably still in edit mode, so to speak, pertaining to those two comments, and simply decided I didn’t want to post them, though I had, and again, because they didn’t contribute anything to the thread that wasn’t already there. In other words, they were extraneous.
And yes, there was a third comment expunged from where it originally had appeared in the thread, but that’s because I moved it from its original spot in the thread to HERE, as a direct reply to you, so that you would see it, see. Is that okay? Or do you want me to return it to its “original” spot in the thread. I can do that if you want me to. But I don’t really see what the point would be. Do you?
So there. I hope I’ve adequately resolved all of your really big concerns over the way our exchange is going.
So ALL of the comments are here and in their original and substantive formulations. And if you have a screenshot of what you imagine is missing, do provide it. I’ll post it for everyone to see, and they can compare “what was” with “what is.” Fair enough? That way they can make their own assessment of just how honest or dishonest I am, which seems to be something you are insinuating. But you’d be wrong, eh?
But before I let this thing rest, let me bring you in on a little secret: I have the right, and reserve the right, both to change my mind about anything that I may assert and to retract it completely and utterly.
For instance, a line of thinking on my part might go something like this: “Gowans wrote a good book.! But wait a minute! Actually, when I think about it, it’s all total bullshit. Not only does Gowans not substantiate his claim that Syria is a socialist state with the slightest reference to any political economic research, but as Louis Proyect demonstrates beyond all reasonable doubt, Stephen Gowans actually misrepresents his sources. Oh, yeah! Here, let me quote some Proyect for you that neither you nor I nor anyone else can rebut:
Perhaps the most glaring example of Gowans’s dodgy cherry-picking habits was a reference to a New York Times article that found Syria “immune to the wave of uprisings sweeping the Arab world” in the spring of 2011. In keeping with his analysis of Syria as being threatened by germs, Gowans found the article as proof that Syria was “distemper-free” until the dastardly Salafist jihadis got a foothold. But if you take the trouble to read the Times article, you’ll notice that he excised the beginning and conclusion to the sentence he cited so as to give it the opposite meaning:
“Syria, a police state known for its brutal suppression of any public protests, seemed immune to the wave of uprisings sweeping the Arab world until the past week, when demonstrations took place in several cities. The southern town of Dara’a, where citizens were outraged by the arrest of more than a dozen schoolchildren, has seen the largest protests by far. Thousands took to the streets on Sunday, as they have for several days now.” [Norm’s emphasis in bold, to highlight what Gowans extracts from the context to make the New York Times article from which he quotes substantiate what he claims it said.]
I try to understand the mentality of people like Stephen Gowans. Did he expect his readers not to double-check his sources? Perhaps, he simply lifted the quote from another article floating around the Internet that had already carried out surgery on the sentence. That’s giving him the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, given the pattern of his citations, it appears rather that he is so committed to flattering the dictatorship in Damascus that he hoped nobody would notice that he put rouge on the vampire’s cheeks.
Source: On Gowans on Syria
So, yup. Gowans book : “Utter nonsense. Everything. Inside out.”
Do you think, now, that maybe the fact that I deleted two meaningless and mutually nullifying replies to you might have better been left alone if only from the standpoint of making your case?
Shall we continue the discussion on Gowans, or shall we let it rest?
What about the adjustments to the discussion-thread that I made: are we good, now?
BTW: when you suggest that our exchange was unproductive, you are wrong. Let me quote something you wrote back to you: “Actually, I’m glad you put me onto that Ahmed article piece. It’s a keeper!”
Indeed. Something to read and to sleep on.