Tim Anderson’s Dirty War on Syria

By Brian Slocock

Assad regime supporter Tim Anderson, who is on the teaching staff of the University of Sydney, is organising a conference at the University entitled “After the War on Syria” on 18-19 April. This is presented with all the paraphernalia of an academic gathering, though I cannot comment on the political diversity or otherwise of the speakers and presenters. But I do recognise some familiar names from Anderson’s local entourage, and I see that one of the keynote speakers is Leith Fadel, editor of the vociferously pro- regime Al Masdar News.

I’m not concerned here with the Conference but rather with Anderson’s long standing attempt to project himself as an authority on the Syrian conflict with academic credentials. Anderson’s principal claim to authority is a book entitled The Dirty War on Syria, much of which first appeared as posts on the Global Research website. This work provides a handy conspectus of Anderson’s approach to the Syrian conflict and to knowledge in general. It merits a closer look.

Continue reading “Tim Anderson’s Dirty War on Syria”

A dizzying abundance of events this coming week

There’s never a shortage of rich cultural programming in a cosmopolis like Chicago, but the coming week presents an absolute frenzy…

 

Monday, April 3 at 6:00 PM

Joel Beinin discusses his book Workers and Thieves: Labor Movements and Popular Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt — at the Evanston Public Library (in partnership with Northwestern University’s Middle East and North African Studies Program)

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Wednesday, April 5 at 6:00 PM

Mustafa Akyol discusses his book The Islamic Jesus: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims — at Bookends & Beginnings in Evanston

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Continue reading “A dizzying abundance of events this coming week”

Children’s trauma is a laughing matter—if you are Vanessa Beeley

by Amr Salahi

The notorious Assad regime propagandist Vanessa Beeley has been recently on a speaking tour of the UK. She has been showing up at small venues  in Bristol, Birmingham, and London to give a presentation entitled “Aleppo: Fall or Liberation”. These talks have been hosted by the Communist Party of Great Britain Marxist-Leninist (CPGB-ML), which openly supports and glorifies Josef Stalin. In Bristol, her talk was held at the Palestine Museum and attended by about 70 people.

The general gist of Beeley’s talk is similar to her published work on websites such as 21st Century Wire and Mint Press News. The rebels are non-Syrian terrorists from Al-Qaeda who commit atrocities against the population in the areas they hold; what is happening in Syria is part of a regime change conspiracy that has been in place since the 1980s involving the media, human rights organizations, and Western governments; Bashar Al-Assad’s army is the main humanitarian agent, providing Syrians in East Aleppo and other rebel-held areas it captured with relief and medical care.

Members of Syria Solidarity UK who attended Beeley’s presentation (two and a half hours ong) have provided a more detailed account of the meeting here. This article will only look at a few minutes of her talk, which encapsulate the maliciousness of her propaganda and how it is designed to make the targeting and murder of Syrian civilians acceptable to people who consider themselves “progressive” and “anti-imperialist”.

Continue reading “Children’s trauma is a laughing matter—if you are Vanessa Beeley”

The (literal) fascists who took Tulsi Gabbard to meet Assad

gabbard-assadIt has now been widely reported that Tulsi Gabbard, a member of the US House of Representatives from Hawaii, recently met with Bashar al-Assad during a ‘fact-finding’ mission to Syria. As The Daily Beast reported:

Gabbard initially declined to say who financed her trip to Syria. However, in a press release Wednesday Gabbard revealed her delegation (which also included former Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich) had been “led and sponsored by” an outfit called the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services (AACCESS—Ohio). Her statement added she and the rest of the delegation had been accompanied by two men, Elie and Bassam Khawam.

The flag of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) is "patterned after that of the Nazis, with the red and black in opposite places and a helix with four blades in place of a swastika"
The flag of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) is “patterned after that of the Nazis, with the red and black in opposite places and a helix with four blades in place of a swastika”

The Khawam brothers, it turns out, are officials in the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), a fascist organization that actively supports the Assad regime and indeed “has dispatched its members to fight on [its] behalf,” reports The Guardian. Who exactly are the SSNP? The Daily Beast goes into some of the group’s history.

For a deeper dive into the ideological swamp Gabbard has waded into, here’s what Gilbert Achcar, Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at SOAS, University of London, wrote about the group in his 2011 book The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives:

Continue reading “The (literal) fascists who took Tulsi Gabbard to meet Assad”

Dancing in Damascus

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This review of miriam cooke’s new book was published at the Guardian.

Syria’s revolution triggered a volcano of long-repressed thought and emotion in cultural as well as political form. Independent newspapers and radio stations blossomed alongside popular poetry and street graffiti. This is a story largely untold in the West. Who knew, for instance, of the full houses, despite continuous bombardment, during Aleppo’s December 2013 theatre festival?

“Dancing in Damascus” by Arabist and critic miriam cooke (so she writes her name, uncapitalised) aims to fill the gap, surveying responses in various genres to revolution, repression, war and exile.

Dancing is construed both as metaphor for collective solidarity and debate – as Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, it isn’t my revolution” – and as literal practice. At protests, Levantine dabke was elevated from ‘folklore’ to radical street-level defiance, just as popular songs were transformed into revolutionary anthems.

Cooke’s previous book “Dissident Syria” examined the regime’s pre-2011 attempts to defuse oppositional art while giving the impression of tolerance. The regime would fund films for international screening, for instance, but ban their domestic release.

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“Dancing in Damascus” describes how culture slipped the bounds of co-optation. Increasingly explicit prison novels and memoirs anticipated the uprising. Once the protests erupted, ‘artist-activists’ engaged in a “politics of insult” and irony. Shredding taboos, the Masasit Matte collective’s ‘Top Goon’ puppet shows, Ibrahim Qashoush’s songs and Ali Farzat’s cartoons targeted Bashaar al-Assad specifically. “The ability to laugh at the tyrant and his henchmen,” writes cooke, “helps to repair the brokenness of a fearful people.”

As the repression escalated, Syrians posted atrocity images in the hope they would mobilise solidarity abroad. This failed, but artistic responses to the violence helped transform trauma into “a collective, affective memory responsible to the future”.

Explicit representations of “brute physicality and raw emotion”, from mobile phone footage to Samar Yazbek’s literary reportage, soon gave way to formal experimentation. Notable examples include “Death is Hard Work”, Khaled Khalifa’s Faulknerian novel of a deferred burial, the ‘bullet films’ of the Abounaddara Collective, and Azza Hamwi’s ironic short “Art of Surviving”, about a man who turns spent ordinance into heaters, telephones, even a toilet. “We didn’t paint it,” he tells the camera, “so it stays as it arrived from Russia especially for the Syrian people.”

This section also covers full-length films such as “Return to Homs”, which follows the transformation of Abdul-Basit Sarut from star goalkeeper to protest leader to resistance fighter.

Cooke’s consideration of the role of social media is better informed than the somewhat superficial journalistic takes on the cyber aspects of the Arab Spring which filled commentary in 2011. The internet provides activists anonymity and therefore relative safety. It also offers a space in which to display and preserve art, even while Syria’s physical heritage, from Aleppo’s mosques to Palmyra’s temples, is demolished by regime bombs and jihadist vandalism. Online gallery sites archive the uprising’s creative breadth and complexity. One such is the Creative Memory of the Syrian Revolution, whose multimedia approach sometimes “connects specific elements within each genre to produce a film about the process of painting that responds to music.”

Certain digital images ‘aestheticise’ sites of destruction in order to both lament and humanise the war. The best known are works by Tammam Azzam which superimpose Klimt’s “The Kiss” on a crumbling residential block, Matisse’s circle dancers against a rubble-strewn street, and Gaugin’s Tahitian women on a refugee camp.

A section on arts produced in exile examines refugee theatre created in the youth centres of camps and urban slums. Via Skype, a cross-border Shakespeare production played by Syrian children cast Romeo in Jordan and Juliette in Homs. The performance was completed despite bombs, snipers and frequent communication cuts. The play’s conclusion was optimistically adapted. The doomed lovers threw away their poison and declared, “Enough blood! Why are you killing us? We want to live like the rest of the world!”

Through ‘applied theatre’ techniques women performed Euripides’ “Trojan Women” and so found a way to talk about the regime’s mass rape campaign. Director Yasmin Fedda incorporated the rehearsals into her prize-winning documentary “Queens of Syria”.

Of course, “Dancing in Damascus” doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s nothing on hip hop or several other important genres. The book tends to concentrate on ‘high art’ rather than the arguably more significant bottom-up production. Yet, with admirable concision and fluency, it assists what journalist Ammar al-Mamoun calls “an alternative revolutionary narrative to contest the media stories of Syrian refugees and victims”. It shows how, despite everything thrown at it, the revolution has democratised moral authority, turning artist-activists into the Arab world’s new “organic intellectuals”. As such it is an indispensable corrective to accounts which erase the Syrian people’s agency in favour of grand and often inaccurate geo-political representations. Beyond Syrian specifics, it is a testament to the essential role of culture anywhere in times of crisis.

Russia Is Not Iraq (and Neither Was Syria)

With right-wing authoritarians ruling in Moscow and Washington, leftists should find it easy to oppose these evil empires — but some, poisoned by pre-election contrarianism, are too busy what-abouting their evils and conflating legitimate fears of demonstrable collusion with bigoted, liberal hysteria.

“If you look, for example, at the agency that has led the way in pushing these allegations about Russia, which is the CIA…. The CIA was very aggressively in favor of Hillary Clinton’s victory. And there’s a lot of different reasons for that, but I think the primary one is that the CIA proxy war in Syria is something that Hillary Clinton had promised not just to support, but to escalate.”

— Glenn Greenwald on Democracy Now!

One thing  we really ought to sneak up on with a cloth soaked in ether, nudge into a ditch on the side of the trading route and leave behind for dead in 2016 is the notion, pushed by a social media left and libertarian fellow travelers poisoned by brand-conscious contrarianism, that Donald J. Trump — reminder: right-wing authoritarian scumbag — is a victim of liberal McCarthyist red-baiting over his fondness for a kleptocrat in Russia whose intelligence agencies worked as an arm of the Republican billionaire’s opposition research team. And buried with this notion, in a lead-lined coffin incapable of penetration by a WiFi signal, we ought to lay the accompanying dogma that to express concern about this budding geopolitical realignment (and the clear and present evidence that of course the Russian state had an interest in aiding the election of an avowed ally, and indeed did) is the product of a decidedly normie faith in the CIA that — betcha didn’t know — was wrong about Iraq.

One might have thought the alarming spectacle of an actually-going-to-be-president Trump, and his continued, open embrace of a foreign war criminal, would wake the sophists of the left from their intellectual slumber, but paradigms, like Russia as a universally loathed official enemy and Hillary as the next U.S. president, are awful hard to kick. And so the trite response to the unsurprising revelations of the Russian state’s perfectly sensible partisan hacking operations is itself lacking in shock value. This was to be expected from a left that’s only frame of reference appears to the be the 2003 invasion of Iraq, supported by the likes of Glenn Greenwald, and which long ago decided to serve penance for the crimes of the U.S. empire by reflexively countering indictments of others’ crimes with something moderately less rank than outright apologism: increasingly stale reminders that the U.S., also, meddles and bombs.

What’s lacking in the response to Russian intelligence operations — different from the U.S. variety only in that the hacked information was selectively made public — is any attempt at a counter narrative: If not them, then who? No, bumper-sticker leftism requires the centering of the U.S. for the purposes of battle-tested talking points, like: If not us, then who cares? We’ve got plenty for which to atone, mister. It’s a leftism divorced from the trials of reality and the difficulties of grappling with multiple poles of power as they actually exist in a world from which a certain brand of “left” (“pseudo-” if one prefers that to mocking quote marks) has retreated, preferring the smugness of a contrarian subculture and a reactionary (and boring) anti-liberalism with its self-satisfied truisms to truly independent socialist critique.

Another Iran, Not Iraq

The truth is Russia is not Iraq, nor is evidence that Moscow hacked and disseminated information that helped a friend akin to saying Baghdad had WMDs — and neither claim, true or not, could possibly justify U.S. militarism. The claims are dissimilar in another respect: The intelligence in the lead-up to Iraq was manufactured from the top down by political appointees that accused the CIA of housing liberals who just didn’t get that the intelligence its agents had discarded as unreliable or fake could, in fact, be useful to its boss, Dick Cheney. Today, we witness the spectacle of the CIA and the FBI and the NSA all concurring on a matter that President Barack Obama reportedly sought to delay addressing until after Trump’s election, and which (badump) doesn’t ingratiate the intelligence community to the next man that community will call “dad,” and who will have the power to dismantle it.

If there’s a historic parallel, it’s not Iraq, but Iran: As with Russia’s hacking, it was also the U.S. intelligence community’s consensus that Iran was not building nuclear weapons, a finding that didn’t please the “real men” in the Bush administration who wanted to follow up the bombing of Baghdad with airstrikes on Tehran.

But that said, did you know (I bet you didn’t) that there were, in fact, no WMDs in Iraq? It’s a reference that is damning, on the surface, for those unfamiliar with how the U.S. came to invade that country, and so those who prefer their politics superficial will return to it time and again, just as they do a narrative on Syria, the next Iraq that wasn’t.

Appearing on Democracy Now!, The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald helpfully united both Russia and Syria in the “next Iraq” take we didn’t know we wanted but which we, as inhabitants of an evil empire, totally deserve. Asked why revelations of Russian responsibility were coming out now, Greenwald suggested we were on the road to Damascus. “There’s a lot of different reasons,” Greenwald said, “but I think the primary one is that the CIA proxy war in Syria is something that Hillary Clinton had promised not just to support, but to escalate.” The CIA, Greenwald maintained, “is attempting to undermine and subvert Trump because they never wanted him to be president in the first place, and now they’re trying to weaken and subvert his agenda, that they oppose.”

Trump, in other words, poses a challenge to the deep state because he threatened to pursue the same policy as his predecessor: regime preservation, not change, with Obama even pursuing a deal with Russia to jointly bomb Syria together. Greenwald, who failed to recognize the latter’s joint bombing plans until it was useful to deploy against liberal “Russophobic” hysterics, is here seeking to salvage his pre-election take that Trump has a “non-interventionist mindset” by portraying his non-interventionism as under assault by the deep state; when the bombs do inevitably fall, then, they can then be spun as the spoils of that deep state’s victory against a president “they never wanted.” And so, even post-November, harping on liberals and their intelligence allies as the greater evil can continue to be the woke call despite a proto-fascist’s assumption of power. Hillary, after all, would have started World War III for Jabhat al-Nusra, and it doesn’t take supporting Trump to oppose that!

End this, please. A new year and a new U.S. head of state requires more from the ironically detached left than the cock-sure scumbaggery of vapid owns of liberals and asinine comparisons to earlier , more easily understood times that only demonstrate one’s inability to accept that times change and alliances shift.

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Whatever This Is, I’m Against It

Whatever the reasons — likes and shares or an intellectual laziness that prevents them from abandoning old paradigms — it is disappointing and sad that many old comrades cannot abide their analysis, proven woke and true in the mid-2000s, being affected by new developments, like Russia no longer being red and non-U.S. imperialisms having eclipsed the American empire’s body count in the 21st century. We sneer at Democratic elites’ unwillingness to own their failures, and that perhaps explains the unwillingness to concede the reality of Russian hacking lest we excuse those failings, but the left’s most confident pundits have, like the liberals they deride, fallen into the comfortable habit of preaching to their own social media cluster, where possessing superior politics, in the abstract, is a license for not having to grapple with the world through anything but the comfortably distorting prism of ahistorical slogans.

The world, as it exists, is defined by a resurgent threat of fascism that a swathe of the left is content to challenge by blaming everyone and everything but itself, a self-defeating and self-satisfied impotence — literally nothing a leftist says or does matters because the left doesn’t hold power which is totally not its own fault in any fashion — absolving the savviest from having to wake up and notice that the Russian state is objectively bad, even if liberals say it too, and that the right-wing authoritarian who rules from Moscow is about to have an ally in Washington that his intelligence services helped elect. Instead of retreating to the comfort of takes we knew to be true in an earlier, more innocent time, when the laughter of children wasn’t at plausible risk of being extinguished by an unhinged megalomaniac with a greater-than-zero chance of firing off some nukes because he finds that laughter annoying, the left should consider that rejecting Moscow and Washington alike was leftists’ proudest moment, and that we live in a time when both empires are set to work in concert, with Syria likely to be the first testing grounds for this alliance — making it all the more easy and refreshingly unproblematic to oppose them both.

Let’s do that, not whatever it is Greenwald and his imitators think they’re doing.

Charles Davis is a journalist based in Los Angeles.