Gerhard, the Moon of Alabama blogger
It’s very rare nowadays to find Jew-baiting on nominally leftwing forums but that’s exactly what I ran into during a brief time commenting at Moon of Alabama, an “anti-imperialist” website that like Global Research and Voltairenet can be relied upon to defend the Syrian dictatorship to the hilt.
I very rarely check in on Moon of Alabama but after doing a Google search on Sy Hersh’s “Whose Sarin” to see where it had shown up, I was not surprised that they had crossposted it. In a bear-baiting exercise, I posted a couple of comments that challenged the accepted wisdom of the blog owner and his regulars fully expecting them to gang up on me. But the response of one Rowan Berkeley who blogs at http://niqnaq.wordpress.com/ came as a complete surprise. He was responding to my calling attention to European far right support for Bashar al-Assad:
Now, Louis, you must understand that the fact that [x] expresses rhetorical support for [y] simply tells you nothing about [y]. Indulging in this kind of guilt by involuntary association is a very common Jewish weakness in argument.
A very common Jewish weakness in argument? What the fuck?
This was the first time I had run into Jew-baiting since abandoning alt.politics.socialism.trotsky about 10 years ago when a character who uses the tag “Dusty” began harping on “globalists”, all of whom happened coincidentally to be Jews. It didn’t take him long to become a full-blown neo-Nazi with frequent crosspostings from Brother Nathanael Kapner, including a recent one titled “Racial Traits Of The Jews”.
If you go to Rowan Berkeley’s blog, you won’t find quite the same level of knuckle-dragging stupidity of “Dusty” but there’s no mistaking what he is about based on a December 13th posting titled “doesn’t it ever strike you as odd that ALL US treasury, fed, world bank, etc officials are jews?”
Meanwhile, when I posted a comment there on December 17th calling attention to a Tea Party delegation visiting Lebanon at the behest of Mother Agnes, it was removed unceremoniously. One wonders how secure these “anti-imperialists” are in their politics when a single message out of 80 that goes against the grain cannot be tolerated. Apparently, Jew-baiting is acceptable but questioning the Baathist faith of the Moon of Alabama blog owner, a German named Gerhard, is not.
Just to make sure that people understand where I am coming from, I don’t use the term anti-Semitism since that has become so inextricably linked with mass movements of the 1930s that presented a mortal threat to Jews. The only people today in that kind of danger are Muslims, especially those whose rights are being abrogated in the name of fighting “jihadists”. This, to be sure, is one of the primary goals of Moon of Alabama—to demonize Muslims after the fashion of Christopher Hitchens, Michael Ignatieff and Paul Berman. Using the same inflamed rhetoric about “Wahhabists” and “Salafists”, the regulars at Moon of Alabama would have been invited to the Bush White House back in 2003 if the sole criterion were Islamophobia. For example, Gerhard is capable of saying things like “Why is the U.S. so much interested in creating a Sharia law state in Syria?” This moron is apparently more perturbed about Sharia law than he ever was about MIG’s firing rockets into tenement buildings in Homs or Aleppo.
The Islamophobia that runs rampant at Moon of Alabama is exactly the same as found in the ultraright today. If you want to check this for yourself, just Google “Seymour Hersh sarin” and see what turns up. In addition to Democracy Now et al, you will find links from Fox News’s hardcore rightist (I guess that is a tautology) Greta Van Sustern and Newsmax.com, the website launched by conservative journalist Christopher Ruddy in 1998 with financial support from the family of the late Central Intelligence Agency Director William J. Casey and ultrarightist billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.
This common cause between “anti-imperialists” and the hard right around the need to defend Bashar al-Assad prompted blogger Ibrahim Moiz, a young Pakistani graduate student, to make these profound observations:
The other danger is a rather subtler one. It also involves the blanket label of the entire Syrian opposition as a homogenous breed of radical Islamic jihadists–Salafists is the popular term nowadays, last decade it was Wahhabists–who want to establish the always-dreaded global caliphate. There is certainly a spillover of disturbingly fanatical jihadists, most notably from Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, into Syria; their conquest last winter of the eastern stronghold of Raqqa is an alarming development that signifies their growing influence. Yet to assume that all factions in the opposition are as irredentist, fanatical and extreme as ISIL is to fundamentally misunderstand the situation at best, and to turn it into a self-fulfillment at worst. To paint the entire opposition, on political rather than realistic grounds, as radical fundamentalists is to marginalize the more inclusive, open and reconcilable elements among them. The same scenario has taken place time and again over the past twenty years–in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Algeria, Chechnya and Somalia.
Among the more surprising hosts of this viewpoint was the usually-excellent Boiling Frogs blog run by repeatedly-gagged former intelligence agent Sibel Edmonds: in an alarmingly broad-stroked screed last year, contributing writer William Engdahl submitted a wildly swinging attack on, among others, the Syrian opposition, branding them all as hardline Sunnis called “Salafists” and “Wahhabites” whose raison d’etre is to wipe out “moderate Muslim” movements, such as mystical Sufism, in favour of a rigid revivalist hard line. Among his examples of “Salafi terror” was, along with the (Deobandi, not Salafi) Taliban leader Mohammed Omar, Egypt’s only legitimately elected president in history, Mohamed Morsi, who through that same twisted, broad-stroked logic was deposed in Egypt this summer during a bloody coup whose leaders termed any opposition as “terrorists” who deserved to be bloodily eradicated (a line repeated by, among others, the Wahhabi government of Saudi Arabia–so much for that theory) (3). Another usually excellent website, Global Research, which has long critiqued Western narratives in war zones, published an article by Michael Chossudosky that blamed the rise of death squads in Syria solely on opposition Sunni jihadists, never mind that both Sunni radicals and the same Iran-affiliated Shia extremists who had dominated post-Baathist Iraq have used such tactics. I privately contacted Chossudosky to pursue this rather unlikely claim further but have received no response. (4)
It is the same line toed by, among others, American neoconservatives such as David Frum and Richard Perle, their Muslim apologists like Stephen Schwartz and Zuhdi Nasser, and the brutal dictatorships of Central Asia, who have resorted to branding any dissent as Wahhabism to justify a savage crackdown for the past twenty years. While criticism of Wahhabis and Salafis is certainly not unwarranted–and there are certainly some voluble Wahhabis and Salafis, including Al-Qaeda, who uphold an extremely rigid and exclusive interpretation of Islam and authorize violent persecution of Shia and other minorities–the Muslim Matters website points out (5) that it is a usually politically motivated label, used by foreigners since colonial Britain to brand any native Muslim opposition to imperialism without much regard to accuracy. Hardly a black-and-white measure, in short, of judging radicalism. The killer of the Pakistani governor of Punjab, for instance, was a member of the generally more liberal Sufi persuasion, while the West’s closest Arab partner, Saudi Arabia, is the birthplace of what is broady termed Wahhabism. In Tunisia, meanwhile, Salafist party leader Saleh Bouazizi has condemned violence and refused to cooperate with violent Salafis; a self-described “true Salafist” Marwa, offered her interpretation of a Salafi as any emulator of Prophet Muhammad’s followers, which would put most observant Muslims in the category (6).
The practical dangers of such an approach–as if the detainment of random suspected Wahhabists and co in Guantanamo Bay and similar facilities is not enough–is the marginalization of the more inclusive Islamists and the empowerment of radicals like Al-Qaeda. While critics of intervention, such as the Irish parliamentarian Clare Daly (in an otherwise superb and rousing speech that railed at the Irish media and government’s slobbering reception of the Obamas last spring), have branded the Islamist rebels radicals and defended the Assad regime on the grounds of it being “secular” (7), the secularism of Baathist Syria (and indeed, of most Arab and Muslim regimes, from Central Asia to Egypt) is of a very different sort from the non-partisan, above-sectarianism brand seen in the West. In the Muslim world, where religion tends to be a far more public and encompassing affair than in the West, secular rulers–from the Young Turks to Islam Karimov to the Assads to Saddam Hussein–have sought to impose their usually nationalism-inclined rule not by rising above sectarian differences but by exploiting them.