Like many other people on the left, Jonathan Cook is a very well-meaning and dedicated activist/author who has a blind spot when it comes to Syria. With his long time commitment to the Palestinian cause, he seems to have trouble understanding that those under attack in Homs or Aleppo have much in common with those living in Gaza. While he is obviously trained enough to understand and communicate the plight of one group of Arabs, another group gets short shrift because it is perceived as inimical to the interests of peace. A lot of this, of course, has to do with being unable to distinguish between Iraq and Syria, and between George W. Bush and Barack Obama—a difference certainly capable of being grasped by the American ruling class that has been steadfastly indifferent to Syrian suffering.
I first caught wind of this when I came across an article of Cook on September 22nd titled “More doubts over Syrian role in gas attack”. It quoted Robert Fisk (the first warning sign) to the effect that the missile that landed on Ghouta a month earlier could not have come from the Syrian military via Russia. Says who? Well, the Russians of course:
According to Fisk, Russia has identified the markings on the missile used to deliver the sarin gas – and concluded both that it is one of its munitions and that it was never delivered to Syria.
If you look at Fisk’s article, however, you will see this disclaimer: “These details cannot be verified in documents.” Well, who needs to see any stinking documents as the bandit said to Humphrey Bogart in “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” when the cause of “peace” is uppermost.
Surely, there is no need to see any documents when the word of the Kremlin is so trustworthy and since it has no vested interest in the outcome in Syria. Any fool can see that to question the sincerity of Vladimir Putin automatically lines you up with Rush Limbaugh. Did I say Rush Limbaugh? Oh, excuse me. I forgot that he has touted the famous pacifist website Global Research that also denies any Baathist involvement with the attack on Ghouta, the very same website that Jonathan Cook’s peevish article on Mother Agnes’s withdrawal from the Stop the War Coalition conference appears. Speaking for myself, I’d rather wash my hands in a Grand Central toilet bowl than write for Global Research but—hey—that’s just me.
Turning to Cook’s latest (Bowing before the Inquisitors), he states: “Mother Agnes is supposedly a supporter of Bashar Assad, though no one seems to be able to offer any definitive proof.” I suppose this is true insofar as she has never quite said something like “I support President Bashar” but, on the other hand, she has written a 50 page dossier on the Ghouta massacre that tries to obfuscate who is responsible. Say, isn’t that what Robert Fisk and Cook are up to as well?
Well, the least you can say is that neither Fisk nor Cook reach the dizzying heights of the mad nun who concluded that the dead children in East Ghouta were actually not those of local residents but Alawite children from Latakia, the victims of jihadists, who were trucked in to fool the world. This is the kind of Big Lie that Goebbels specialized in and it is really quite sad that a trained journalist did not take the trouble to investigate the nun’s trail of slime, as Galloway once referred to Hitchens, before sticking his nose into this controversy.
In an update, there are signs that Cook might be coming to his senses. He writes: “If there is clear evidence that Mother Agnes is a malign influence in Syria, then the duty was on Scahill and Jones to marshall [sic] that evidence and set it out to the conference organisers.” Actually, the burden would seem to rest on Cook who having taken the trouble to comment on these issues should at least spend a half-hour getting up to speed on the satanic nun. That’s all it takes, really.
There’s another update in which Cook refers to my write-up on the Mother Agnes controversy. I am not quite sure what his point is but will allow you to puzzle over it and make of it what you will:
Helpfully someone has sent me a post just up from Louis Proyect, a Pulse ally, that rather makes my point about Scahill and Jones’s behaviour. Proyect claims that Mother Agnes’ role “as a liar and a warmonger is so well known” that the conference organisers must have been aware of what they were doing in inviting her. (This, as I point out in my earlier update, is the implication of Scahill and Jones’ act of bolting the conference.)
Then Proyect subverts his own argument by explaining how Scahill came to withdraw from the conference. A Syria blogger “tweeted Jeremy Scahill, urging him to look closer at Mother Agnes’s record, which he did.” The blogger’s posts “I am sure helped Scahill make up his mind.”
So Scahill and Jones – like many others of us – obviously didn’t know much about Mother Agnes. Which brings me back to my repeated point: responsible leftists don’t tweet their concerns and then bolt. They engage, explain and try to persuade. If they fail, then they are entitled to act.
Frankly, I have no idea about Jones’s motivations. My guess is that he is much closer to Cook and the organizer’s way of thinking than mine. Indeed, he has stated in the past that jihadists have hijacked the revolution for all practical purposes, the party line of the Independent upheld by Jones, Robert Fisk, and Patrick Cockburn. Jones would likely have never threatened to back out from this conference if Mother Agnes had not been invited in the first place. I find this rather problematic in light of the dodgy statements by STWC on Ghouta that are in line with Fisk/Cook and all the rest.
You can read Jones’s latest thinking here: http://owenjonesramblings.tumblr.com/post/67573116704/mother-agnes-syria-and-free-speech. It marks real progress on his part, sadly something that we have no reason to expect from Cook. Jones writes:
Mother Agnes is perhaps most infamous for publishing a 50-page report claiming that the video footage of the Ghoutta massacre was faked, that the children suffocating to death had been kidnapped by rebels and were actually sleeping or “under anaesthesia”. This was the most striking, crank-like example of Mother Agnes blaming what were widely accepted atrocities on the rebels, and therefore her detractors regard here as a mere mouthpiece for the Assad dictatorship.
One of the gravest side effects of the war in Syria for those living outside its borders has been a decline in journalistic standards. For people like Fisk and Cook, who would certainly count Judith Miller as a symbol of everything that is rotten about the mainstream media, there is absolutely no recognition that a dry rot has penetrated their own prose, most visible in their “analysis” of the chemical attack in Ghouta but beyond that a failure to come to terms with the fact that the Syrian revolution is part and parcel of the revolution taking place across the Middle East and North Africa. If they can’t rise to the occasion and write truthfully about Syria, then you can be damned sure that people with more intellectual and moral integrity will do the job for them.