A masterclass in sophistry: Patrick Cockburn on the Russian intervention in Syria

October 4, 2015 § 1 Comment

by Gilbert Achcar

A recent 2-part series on Syria in The Independent by Patrick Cockburn, one of the most influential journalists on the subject, is a masterclass in sophistry that illustrates why the conflict is so misunderstood. A closer look is therefore instructive.

On October 2, in an article titled “Syria crisis: The West wrings its hands in horror but it was our folly that helped create this bloodbath”, Cockburn writes:

Reaction to Russia’s military intervention in Syria shows that the lack of knowledge of the Syrian political landscape on the part of Western political leaders and media is hindering the adoption of more constructive policies. During the past four years, over-simplifications and wishful thinking have prevented any realistic attempt to end the civil war, mitigate its effects or stop it from spreading to other countries.

Since 2011 the departure from power of President Bashar al-Assad has been prescribed as a quick way to bring an end to the conflict, although there is no reason to believe this. There are no quick or easy solutions: Syria is being torn apart by a genuine, multi-layered civil war with a multitude of self-interested players inside and outside the country. If Assad dropped dead tomorrow, Syrians in his corner would not stop fighting, knowing as they do that the success of an opposition movement dominated by Isis and al-Qaeda clones such as Jabhat al-Nusra would mean death or flight for them and their families.

Sophism 1: Those in the West who have been calling for Assad’s departure as a condition for bringing an end to the conflict meant it as part of a “national reconciliation” and “managed transition,” not as Assad “dropping dead tomorrow,” of course.

Today there are four million Syrian refugees, mostly from opposition areas being bombarded indiscriminately by government forces. But this figure could double if the more populous pro-government areas become too dangerous to live in.

In the past, this was not likely to happen because Assad always controlled at least 12 out of 14 Syrian provincial capitals.

Sophism 2: In other words: don’t let more populous areas slip out of government control lest they get “bombarded indiscriminately by government forces” (a welcome acknowledgement of the obvious truth) and end up sending more refugees! « Read the rest of this entry »

Did the West ignore a Russian offer for Assad to step down as President?

September 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

by Brian Slocock


A story published in the Guardian on 16 September entitled “West ‘ignored Russian offer for Assad to step down as President’” has evoked considerable excitement on both sides of the Atlantic. The story is based on a claim by former Finnish President and UN Diplomat Martti Ahtisaari that the West failed to respond to an overture made in February 2012 by Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin. According to Ahtisaari, Churkin, in a private conversation suggested a means for resolving the Syrian crisis:

He said: ‘Martti, sit down and I’ll tell you what we should do.’ “He said three things: One – we should not give arms to the opposition. Two – we should get a dialogue going between the opposition and Assad straight away. Three – we should find an elegant way for Assad to step aside.”

The Guardian seems to have felt the need to “sex up” these comments, turning them into a “3-point plan”. (Of course this plan already existed, in the form of the Arab League initiative of 22 January 2012, of which more below).

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Why we can’t afford the rich

September 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

Andrew Sayer lectures on his book “Why we can’t afford the rich”.

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Benedict Cumberbatch’s full length refugee appeal

September 11, 2015 § Leave a comment

Benedict Cumberbatch lends his support to a Save the Children charity single raising money for Syrian refugees.

Conversations about home (at a deportation centre)—Warsan Shire

Well, I think home spat me out, the blackouts and curfews like tongue against loose tooth. God, do you know how difficult it is, to talk about the day your own city dragged you by the hair, past the old prison, past the school gates, past the burning torsos erected on poles like flags? When I meet others like me I recognise the longing, the missing, the memory of ash on their faces. No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. I’ve been carrying the old anthem in my mouth for so long that there’s no space for another song, another tongue or another language. I know a shame that shrouds, totally engulfs. I tore up and ate my own passport in an airport hotel. I’m bloated with language I can’t afford to forget.

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A Critique of Subaltern Studies and Appropriative Solidarity: A Response to ‘Dear Prof. Chatterjee, When Will You Engage with the “Discomfort” of Indian Occupied Kashmir?’

September 11, 2015 § 2 Comments

by Pothik Ghosh

More Info on the Indian Occupation of Jammu & Kashmir at http://www.jkccs.net

More Info on the Indian Occupation of Jammu & Kashmir at http://www.jkccs.net

A sharply combative polemic that hits the nail on the head and which must, for that reason, be hailed. However, I doubt that Chatterjee’s response, if at all he deigns to come up with one, will throw any new light on the matter, much less open new horizons. His intellectual orientation and theoretical presuppositions — which stem from his political complicity only to reinforce it – are simply incapable of that. Subalternity is a constitutive crisis of the horizon or structure of valourisation, measure, distribution and/or representation. (The operative word here is constitutive.) In such circumstances, to envisage politics in terms of affirmation of subalternity – which is precisely the theoretical and historiographical project of the Subaltern Studies collective – is to reproduce that structure and its constitutive lack or crisis. For, subalternity is the crisis of the structure of representation that is nevertheless sutured on to it. In other words, to envisage politics in terms of affirming subalternity is to reproduce the constitutive duality of the élite and the subaltern, and thus enable its continued extension through intensification. This is pretty much a continuation through intensification of the politics of passive revolution. Something the Subaltern Studies, and Chatterjee in particular, claimed to have critiqued — albeit only as one of its concrete historical moments or appearances — by precisely perpetuating its general political mode.

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Tragic Numbers

September 11, 2015 § Leave a comment

With the publication of the incredibly powerful photograph of Aylan Kurdi, the boy who drowned while fleeing the fighting in Syria, let’s hope the world pays attention to that awful war for more than one news cycle. Aylan has become the symbol of the current refugee crisis, the largest mass migration since World War II. You can see more at MarkFiore.com.

On Kashmir, Tripura and Other Such Places: Prof. Chatterjee’s Response

September 11, 2015 § Leave a comment

By Partha Chatterjee

Partha Chatterjee, professor of anthropology at Columbia University

Partha Chatterjee, professor of anthropology at Columbia University

I wholly endorse Huma Dar’s critique of the Indian state’s relation to Kashmir, even though, not being Kashmiri myself, I cannot share the position from which she writes. My declared position on the Kashmir issue has always been at odds with Indian nationalist views, as indeed have my views on the hill states of north-eastern India. Politically, I have taken every opportunity open to me to condemn the operations of the Indian security apparatus in Kashmir and the north-east. I have always argued against turning the Kashmir question into an exclusive matter of bilateral negotiation between Pakistan and India and insisted on recognizing the right of the Kashmiri people to determine its own political future. My views on the north-eastern states too are shaped by similar considerations. Those who are familiar with my critique of the Indian nationalist ideology recognize my position. Needless to say, for the last three decades, I have been condemned by Indian nationalists of every hue, including sections of the Indian Left, for holding those views. I have also realized that regardless of one’s standing in the academy, the voices of people like us in India’s public domain are utterly marginal.

I felt it necessary to bring up the question of Kashmir and Tripura in connection with my statement on the boycott of Israeli institutions only to point out that I was not employing a different standard in judging colonialist claims within the territorial state of India. That statement was obviously not the place to elaborate on my critique of the Indian state ideology. I was merely explaining my way of negotiating, as a private individual, the terrain of national and colonial power relations in which one is necessarily implicated. I do not mean my refusal to visit Kashmir or Tripura to serve as a demonstrative act of resistance, nor indeed do I mean it to be exemplary in any way. It is merely a personal ethical choice that I have never before felt it necessary to talk about in public. I did not mention in my essay the north-eastern hill states not because I accept their relation to the Indian state as unproblematic but because I did once visit those states – in the early 1970s. That visit, and the experience of being an “Indian” in Indian-occupied territory, left a deep impression on me. Since then, I have never visited Kashmir, Tripura and other such places not because I wanted to avoid observing a colonial occupation at work but because I was sure I knew exactly what I would see and yet would remain powerless to do anything about. All I have managed to do in the last forty years, besides adding my feeble voice to feeble public statements, is apologize to my friends in those places for not being able to visit them.

I fervently hope that where my generation has signally failed, another generation of young Kashmiris like Huma will, with their intelligence and commitment, succeed in changing things in those unhappy regions of India.

Note: Received via email from Ayça Çubukçu, Thurs, Sep 10, 2015 at 11:57 PM GMT.


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