Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 23, 2018

Petrified Assadism

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:00 pm

Petrified wood (wood that has turned into stone)

If you’ve been following Assadist propaganda as closely as me, you’re probably aware that it divides into two fairly distinct approaches: hard and soft.

The soft approach goes something like this. In 2011, Syrians rose up with legitimate grievances but before long (ranging between 6 months and 2 years approximately), the revolt was commandeered by jihadists. It is not unusual for people in this camp to be very critical of Assad, to refer to his neoliberalism, his repression, etc. The only solution to the country’s problems is to convene an international conference that can resolve the crisis through peaceful means. This requires allowing the dictatorship to remain in place since attempts to remove it will only prolong the misery. Vijay Prashad, Phyllis Bennis and the Stop the War Coalition in England are fairly representative of this trend.

The hardies view Assad as the head of a “developmental” state like Gaddafi’s Libya. Attention is paid to the Baathist past when state ownership was central to the economy and when social welfare measures were generous. There is a tendency to characterize the rebellion as illegitimate from the start, with claims that it initiated the violence and was Islamist from the outset. Much of the narrative has a conspiracist quality, with frequent references to Wikileaks and the infamous document on the Judicial Watch website that supposedly proves that the West favored groups like ISIS when in fact, it concludes that this would be the worst possible outcome. Typifying this camp are Stephen Gowans, The Partisan Girl, Vanessa Beeley and the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

If you had asked me a year ago how the Grayzone people fit into this spectrum, I would have placed them either in the soft group or in between the two. For example, in a Real News interview in 2017, Max Blumenthal put forward a fairly “soft” position:

In my opinion, they [the media] have abrogated their mission, which should be to challenge mainstream narratives and particularly imperial narratives on issues like Syria. I understand there are massive human rights abuses by the Syrian government, but that’s not reason enough to not explore what the West’s agenda, the Gulf agenda is for that country, what the consequences are, to actually get into the geopolitical issues. [emphasis added]

However, more recently it appears that Blumenthal and his gang are firmly in the hard zone, if not reaching the point where they will be creating a new group that might be called Petrified Assadism. The evidence can be found in recent tweets by Blumenthal that reflect a surprising affinity with deranged propagandists like Stephen Gowans.

Yesterday, Blumenthal linked to a Gowans attack on Medhi Hasan with this preface: “Stephen Gowans on @mehdirhasan’s moral posturing and his attempt to discipline the consequential left”. Here’s the background on this. The chemical attack on Douma has provoked a number articles criticizing the Assadist left for its “false flag” trolling. Among them is Medhi Hasan’s (@mehdirhasan) one on the Intercept titled “Dear Bashar al-Assad Apologists: Your Hero Is a War Criminal Even If He Didn’t Gas Syrians”. Hasan must have irked people like Blumenthal who has endorsed the “false flag” narrative:

Now, I totally understand why those of you on the MAGA-supporting far right [Make America Great Again] who cheer for barrel bombs don’t give a damn about any of this. But to those of you on the anti-war far left who have a soft spot for the dictator in Damascus: Have you lost your minds? Or have you no shame?

Remember: Whether Assad used chemical weapons in Douma is irrelevant to the moral case against him. What about the rest of his crimes? Was Assad any less of a war criminal when his “indiscriminate bombardments,” according to the U.N., were destroying “homes, medical facilities, schools, water and electrical facilities, bakeries and crops,” without the aid of sarin or chlorine? When he was dropping barrel bombs (68,000 since 2012, according to one count) on defenseless civilians? Or cluster bombs? Or good ol’-fashioned shells?

In a tweet responding to Hasan, Blumenthal endorsed the reporting of Robert Fisk, the go-to guy for all things Assadist:

Now here is @mehdirhasan reinforcing the official msm/Guardian narrative that if you accept the credibility of Robert Fisk’s reporting from Douma or question the credibility of the insurgent-allied, US-funded White Helmets, you’re a crazy conspiracist…

Since Blumenthal is on record as a supporter of the truthiness of Russian media, I hope he can explain the latest report on RT.com that is sharply opposed to Fisk’s. It relies on coverage by ZDF television in Germany. At first blush, the article’s title appears to be consistent with the tale told by the Kremlin: “’Whole story was staged’: Germany’s ZDF reporter says Douma incident was false flag attack”. However, when you read a bit further, it veers off in an entirely another direction:

The scene of the attack, which allegedly took place on April 7, was in fact the “command post” of a local Islamist group, the [ZDF] reporter said, citing the witnesses he was able to speak to at the refugee camp.

He went on to say that, according to the locals, the militants brought canisters containing chlorine to the area and “actually waited for the Syrian Air Force to bomb the place, which was of particular interest for them.”

As the Syrian forces eventually struck the place, which was apparently a high-priority military target, the chlorine canisters exploded. The locals also told Gack that it is not the first such provocation in Douma that was staged by the militants. [emphasis added]

According to other witness accounts, the militants deliberately exposed people to chemical agents during what they called “training exercises” then filmed it and later presented as an “evidence” of the alleged chemical attack in Douma.

So RT.com publishes an article that states “chlorine canisters exploded” during a helicopter bombing. These innocent helicopter crews had no intention of gassing people. The dear hearts only wanted to blast them to kingdom come with nice, little barrel bombs.

A good prosecutor would put RT.com in the witness stand and ask which story was right. Was it a totally staged Mission Apollo hoax in which a nonprofessional cast pretended to be dead with artificial foam on their mouths? Or were there dead people whose relatives only had the jihadis to blame? If they hadn’t devilishly been putting chlorine canisters under the direct aim of helicopters, everybody in Douma would have lived happily ever after. Maybe with some amputated limbs and a few killed here and there but all’s fair in love and war.

This is not to speak of how absurd Fisk’s story now appears. If he was put in the witness stand, the prosecutor would ask why he was circulating a false report. What dust storm? Did you cover up the ZDF report? All these stories contradicting each other are typical of Assadist propaganda and those promoting them should all be found guilty of perjury and given stiff sentences.

Turning to Gowans’s article, you enter the domain of really unabashed propaganda. Titled “Mehdi Hasan, beautiful soul, and his diatribe against the consequential Left”, it states in the first paragraph that Fisk’s reporting has “demolished” the “ridiculously thin” allegations of a chemical attack. Well, one gathers that Gowans won’t be following on up on RT.com’s version 3.0. Maybe it was a combination dust storm and jihadi chlorine gas provocation organized by the Mossad and funded by the Rothschild Bank. And have intrepid journalists also looked into the possibility of chemtrails?

Basically, Gowans defends Assad’s mass murder along the same lines as the wretched John Wight who once wrote a defense of barrel bombing on the basis that the allies firebombed Dresden so what’s the big deal? Both wars were against fascism and hence required a no holds barred strategy. Obviously, people like Wight and Gowans have little use for weak tea liberals like Howard Zinn who viewed both the firebombing of Dresden and Hiroshima/Nagasaki as “terror bombing”.

Like Wight, Gowans defends “extraordinary measures” to defeat Islamofascism. Assad found himself in the same position as FDR or Churchill:

It would be wrong to denounce the anti-fascist war as deplorable because some, or indeed many, of its methods, were distasteful–from the virtual dictatorships exercised in Britain and the United States, to the abuse, torture and summary executions of Axis prisoners of war, to sieges and the starving of civilians. And was the Allied countries’ refusal to guarantee the rights of assembly and free expression of Nazi and fascist supporters to be condemned as a human rights violation? Every accusation Hasan makes against Assad he can equally make against Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s conduct in WWII. Curiously (or predictably) he doesn’t, choosing instead to direct his venom at the duo’s ally, Stalin, the only one of the three whose goals were authentically leftist.

So based on this, Assad did everything that could defend his socialist state against “jihadis” backed by Washington, Saudi Arabia and Israel: barrel bombing, starvation sieges, chemical attacks, 13,000 prisoners executed in Saydnaya prison, rape, torture, and all the rest.

For this argument to succeed, Gowans has to sweep the class character of the Syrian war under the rug. An examination of the plight of Syrian farmers would make comparisons with German and Japanese big business laughable. In my review of Gowans’s ludicrous book on Syria, I pointed out:

You can search in vain for any reference to economic data in Gowans’s book. Since his goal is to portray the conflict purely as one involving a socialist government’s attempt to suppress an extremist threat to the idyllic status quo, he needs to sweep countervailing data under the rug. In all likelihood, Gowans has never read a single article or book about the class divisions that grew apace in Syria since the early 2000s so perhaps he is off the hook.

If he had read the two-volume “Syria: from Reform to Revolt” edited by Raymond Hinnebusch and Tina Zintl, he would have learned why those in the Jezira farm belt decided to pick up arms. Unlike the Krupps, who wanted to turn Eastern Europe into a slave labor camp, these were poor people trying to survive as Myrian Ababsa points out in a chapter titled “The End of the World: Drought and Agrarian Transformation in Northeast Syria (2007-2010)”:

The drought put an end to decades of development in the fields of health and education in the Jezira, and the sanitary situation became dramatic. In 2009, 42 percent of Raqqa governorate suffered from anemia owing to a shortage of dairy products, vegetables, and fruit. Malnutrition among pregnant women and children under five doubled between 2007 and 2009. To complicate matters, vegetable and fruit growers in dry northern Syria used polluted river water to irrigate their crops, causing outbreaks of food poisoning among consumers, according to environmental and medical experts. Experts pointed out that the problem stemmed from sewage and chemicals allowed to reach rivers in rural areas near Aleppo, Lattakia, and Raqqa.

Reading through Gowans’s drivel, I was somewhat surprised by the venom he hurled at Eric Draitser in an addendum. I was aware that Draitser, whose podcasts are a regular feature on CounterPunch, had been evolving but until now I didn’t realize how much the Petrified Assadists like Gowans had come to hate him:

The intellectual predecessors of Hasan, Draitser, and their ilk likewise adopted a position of neutrality in the struggle between slave owners and the slave rebellion, deploring the methods of struggle chosen by both sides, but particularly the violence of the slave rebellion, the necessary condition of the slaves’ emancipation. “If only they could work out their disagreements amicably,” they sighed.

In the 1930s, the neutralists, seeking to hover God-like above the fray, refused to side with either the Communists or Nazis, abhorring the deployment of defensive violence by Communists and Jews against the Nazis who would destroy them.

In my view, anybody who can get the execrable Stephen Gowans so worked up deserves the widest hearing. From now on, his podcasts will be up front on my agenda. I had noticed a significant change in Draitser’s approach some time ago and would urge you to look at what I wrote about him in 2016. Showing an integrity that is sadly lacking in the professional Assadist class, he made a clean break with these cynical, lying, venal propagandists:

But what does it mean to oppose the war? Does it mean that we should be opposing just Russian and Syrian bombs being dropped? Does it mean that only US-Saudi-Turkey-Israeli supplied weapons are doing the killing? Sadly, these too are not rhetorical questions as so many on the Left, including many self-described anti-imperialists, have positioned themselves as hawks in a war that has utterly devastated the country. It seems that many, myself included up to a point, have gotten so enveloped in the embrace of partisanship in this war that we have forgotten that our responsibility is to the people of Syria and to peace and justice.

If you’re supportive of Assad then it’s a certainty that you’ve chosen to ignore or downplay the horrific violence of the bombings, the brutality of the torture chambers, and other unspeakable atrocities (I admit that I have often strayed too far into the latter) out of a desire to uphold the nominally anti-imperialist position.

And how about the refugees? I’ve seen the fascist talking points spouted by many fake “anti-imperialists” who with one breath proclaim their commitment to peace and justice, and with another demonize and scapegoat Syrian refugees whose politics don’t align with the pro-Assad position. Words like “traitors,” “cowards,” and “terrorists,” are shamefully applied to ordinary Syrians fleeing to Europe and elsewhere in hopes of saving their families. Indeed, it is precisely this narrative that is at the core of the white supremacist, fascist ideology that underlies a significant amount of the support base for Assad and his allies (see David Duke, David Icke, Alexander Dugin, Brother Nathanel, Alex Jones, Mimi al-Laham, Ken O’Keefe, and on and on and on). I’m sorry to say it, but it’s true, and too many of the pro-Assad camp have willfully ignored this fundamental point.

I ask these questions as someone who took a firmly pro-Assad position from the very beginning, someone who felt (as I, and many others, still do) that Syria, like Libya, was a victim of US-NATO-GCC-Israel imperialism and that, as such, it should be defended. And while I still uphold that resistance, I also have enough humility to know that, in doing so, I abandoned other core beliefs such as defense of ALL oppressed people, including the ones with politics I reject.


April 21, 2018

Assad’s Confused Apologists: Academics in The Times

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 10:37 pm

Michael Barker’s brilliant takedown of Tim Hayward and company.


via Assad’s Confused Apologists: Academics in The Times

The US must have known about Japan’s “surprise” attack on Pearl Harbour

Filed under: Brian A. Mitchell,WWII — louisproyect @ 5:30 pm

A Brian A. Mitchell guest post

The US must have known about Japan’s “surprise” attack on Pearl Harbour.

The US had intercepted and deciphered Japanese communications since 1940. With their surveillance and technology at the time, the US would have known about the “surprise” Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7 1941. With Britain and its empire on its knees; the US wanted to grab the chance to further dominate the world, and Pearl Harbour gave them the excuse they wanted to enter the war by overcoming the “isolationist” policy of the American public and Congress in opposition to involvement in the war. This is not “proof” that the US knew about the attack, but there’s no reason to conclude otherwise.

“If by these [economic, trade and military] means Japan could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better.”

(Secret memo from US Naval intelligence officer Lieutenant Commander McCollum to Commodore Knox October 7 1940, detailing options for provoking Japan to attack the US, all of which were carried out. Not declassified until 1994. Many documents on this are still classified.)

“we face the delicate question of the diplomatic fencing to be done so as to be sure Japan is put into the wrong and makes the first bad move – overt move.

(US Secretary of War Henry Stimson in his diary October 16 1941.)

“For a long time I have believed that our best entrance into the war would be by way of Japan.”

(US Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes, in his diary, October 18, 1941.)

“We are preparing an offensive war against Japan.”

(US Army Chief of Staff General Marshall, in a “secret” report, November 15 1941.)

“Eighty percent of the American people in 1940… were against going to war in Europe against Hitler. Roosevelt did the next best thing… He needed something to cause an important trauma and make the Americans’ mind up regarding the war. Therefore, he provoked the Japanese into attacking us at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.”

(US author and political historian Gore Vidal.)

“It may be taken as almost certain that the entry of Japan into the war would be followed by the immediate entry of the United States on our side.”

(Winston Churchill, in a secret directive to the British War Cabinet, April 28 1941.)

“The President had said he would wage war but not declare it. … Everything was to be done to force an incident.”

(Winston Churchill, to the British War Cabinet, August 18 1941.)

“[Roosevelt] brought up the event that we were likely to be attacked perhaps next Monday [December 1], for the Japanese are notorious for making an attack without warning, and the question was what we should do. The question was how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.”

(US Secretary of War Henry Stimson, in his diary, November 25 1941.)

“The task force, keeping its movement strictly secret and maintaining close guard against submarines and aircraft, shall advance into Hawaiian waters, and upon the very opening of hostilities shall attack the main force of the United States fleet and deal it a mortal blow. The first air raid is planned for the dawn of x-day. Exact date to be given by later order.”

(Japanese Admiral Yamamoto to Japanese Air Fleet, November 26, 1941, decrypted by the US.)

“the news got worse and worse and the atmosphere indicated that something was going to happen.”

(US Secretary of War Henry Stimson, in his diary, December 6 1941, the day before the attack.)

“Prior to December 7, it was evident even to me… that we were pushing Japan into a corner. I believed that it was the desire of President Roosevelt, and Prime Minister Churchill that we get into the war, as they felt the Allies could not win without us and all our efforts to cause the Germans to declare war on us failed; the conditions we imposed upon Japan – to get out of China, for example – were so severe that we knew that nation could not accept them. We were forcing her so severely that we could have known that she would react toward the United States. All her preparations in a military way – and we knew their over-all import – pointed that way.”

(US Rear Admiral Frank Beatty, Aid to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox.)

“Japan was provoked into attacking the Americans at Pearl Harbor. It is a travesty on history ever to say that America was forced into the war. Everyone knows where American sympathies were. It is incorrect to say that America was ever truly neutral even before America came into the war on a fighting basis.”

(British cabinet Minister of Production Oliver Littleton, June 20 1944.)

Brian was born in the bombed out wartime East End of London and developed an interest in political books early on. He worked in various technical fields for 20 years, all of which thoroughly bored him. He entered academic life (History and Classical Economics) and became an independent journalist, worked for the ANC (secret at the time) until the end of apartheid, and was a trade union representative in a large hospital. He is now retired and still works (when able) as an independent journalist.

April 20, 2018

Syria and neo-McCarthyism

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 5:02 pm

Tim Hayward

A group of academics in England dedicated to the Herculean task of clearing Bashar al-Assad’s name has been stung by a couple of articles in Rupert Murdoch’s London Times. Since the articles are both behind a paywall and germane to the analysis I will be putting forward in this article, I have used my retiree benefits from Columbia University to penetrate the paywall and make them available to the general public.

University of Edinburgh professor Tim Hayward launched the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media to “to facilitate research and debate with respect to the 2011-present war in Syria and the role of both media and propaganda.” Like many who write about Syria, the focus of the group is exclusively geopolitical. The unit of analysis is not social class but the state. For them, the narrative is all about how the CIA, reactionary Middle Eastern states, Israel et al decided to destabilize Syria using proxy forces in 2011 as part of a general strategy against the “axis of resistance”. Interest in questions such as the role of neoliberalism, elite kleptocracy symbolized by Assad’s cousin Rami Makhlouf sheltering billions in Panama banks, the misery of farmers during a period of drought and declining state investment in the countryside are really beside the point. All you need to know is what side Nicholas Kristof or George Soros took. Where they put a plus, it was necessary to put a minus and vice versa. While it is certainly important not to neglect the geopolitical side of the conflict, if it becomes the exclusive focus, there is always the tendency to descend into conspiracy theory where history is determined not by class struggle but by back-room cabals. When referring to 9/11 Trutherism, a belief held by one of Hayward’s board members Mark Crispin Miller, Alexander Cockburn identified its origins in a retreat from class analysis:

These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx via the small, mostly Trotskyist groupuscules. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatetic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, or the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale (the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos) or supposedly “rogue” agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list.

In my view, a lot more thought has to be devoted to capital accumulation rather than “false flags” to understand both 9/11 and the war in Syria.

Continue reading

April 19, 2018

The Confessional

Filed under: Film,middle east — louisproyect @ 6:15 pm

This Saturday evening at 6pm and showing at the Rich Mix theater, Londoners will be able to see the premiere of Lucas Jedrzejak’s “The Confessional”. The film is part of the East End Film Festival and is based on a play by Andrew Woodward who adapted it into a screenplay in combination with Emily Swain. Swain plays an Irish nun who is working with refugees that have fled violence in the Middle East. We are not told where they have come from but it is just as possible that they are Yazidis from Iraq or Sunnis from Syria. Unlike documentaries such as Jedrzejak’s “Ketermaya” that is explicitly about Syrian refugees in Lebanon, “The Confessional” operates on another plane. It is much more about people trying to find absolution in a period of apocalyptic warfare under ever-increasingly conditions of savagery. It may not be possible to find such absolution, not even for a nun.

As Sister Claire, Emily Swain is frayed at the edges. We are not exactly sure why she is wound so tight but it likely has much to do with her work on behalf of refugees that Jedrzejak is intimately familiar with as having spent months at a time in Ketermaya.

One day as she is out on a walk with some refugee children, they are nearly run down by a caravan of cars that is filled with men in suits who have come to Iraq to finalize a deal with some of the country’s elite. In a conversation between two of the investors beforehand, we are told that one of the men is troubled but we only find out how troubled he is when his path accidentally crosses that of Sister Claire.

She has found sanctuary in a church’s confessional box where she sits by herself swigging on a pint of whiskey. Not long after her arrival, the troubled man stops at the church to confess his sins to a priest. His role in launching the war in Iraq keeps him up at night even if its proceeds line his pocket. Even though he is still in the business of neocolonial exploitation, something keeps nagging away at him. Was the invasion of Iraq a sin? Were all the deaths and the ongoing chaos worth it?

Instead of a priest, he runs into Sister Claire who perhaps lubricated by alcohol or perhaps angry over what England did to Iraq as well as her native country decides to extract a confession out of the man that is much more like what a cop gets out of a criminal than any feel-good Catholic rite.

Needless to say, the film is very topical and worth seeing even though it offers no pat solutions to the ongoing agony of the Middle East, as no film could.

April 18, 2018

Family photo of two war criminals

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:30 pm

Bashar is standing right in front of Hafez. His older brother Basel, who is wearing jeans, died in the 90’s. His younger brother Amjad with the ginger hair died in the 2000’s. Only his other younger brother Maher remains. Axis of resistance? Give me a fucking break.

Lou Andreas-Salome – The Audacity To Be Free

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:39 pm

This Friday, an extraordinary film titled “Lou Andreas-Salome – The Audacity To Be Free” opens at the Village East Cinema in NYC (schedule info here). I had the good fortune to see the film at the Socially Relevant Film Festival last month and posted a review of the film on CounterPunch that is reproduced below. I also took part in a Q&A with the director that helped me understand the labor of love that went into it. Cordula Kablitz-Post, the 54 year old director, first came across a biography of Lou Andreas-Salome 37 years ago and was struck by the fierce independence of a woman who defied patriarchy in all its manifestations. She began research on the film 8 years ago and her ability to recreate the social world of young bohemian philosophers like Frederich Nietzsche and his friend Paul Rée is a feat in of itself. But, as I pointed out to her in the Q&A, she also had the ability to breathe life into these characters and make their struggles as palpably real as if they were 1960s cultural rebels rather than obscure historical figures. The film succeeds in the same way that “The Young Karl Marx” succeeds by making post-Hegelian revolutionaries come alive. If I were to pick only two narrative films to see this year, it would be those two.

From CounterPunch:

The photo at the top of the article depicts in rather sadomasochistic terms Lou Andreas Salomé applying the whip to Paul Rée and Friedrich Nietzsche. This photo, whose taking is a key scene in the film, is provocative enough on its own terms to deserve pride of place in a photography museum. However, the story behind the photo deserves a full recounting, which is the purpose to a large part of Cordula Kablitz-Post’s 2016 film, finally viewable in New York—and hopefully across the USA before very long.

Like Alexandra Kollontai and Victoria Woodhull, Lou Salomé was a transformative feminist figure who challenged oppressive patriarchal norms. Although she was not a revolutionary, her boldness and independence arguably exceeded that of any woman from her time. Living between 1861 and 1937, her path crossed with some of the most important men of her generation. Besides Nietzsche and Rilke, she was one of the first women ever to practice Freudian psychoanalysis. If anything, her connections to Freud (possibly sexual as well as professional), Nietzsche and Rilke indicate a breadth of learning that is unrivalled. In every sense of the word, she was a renaissance woman equally conversant in philosophy, literature and psychology.

If this was all there was to Lou Salomé, there still might have not been a basis for a biopic. What makes Cordula Kablitz-Post’s film work so well is that it fully captures the dramatic story of a unique woman who as the title indicates had the audacity to be free.

Four different actresses play Lou Salomé at different stages of her life and special credit should be given to the 81-year old Nicole Heesters, who plays her in her final year as the Nazis are closing in on the woman who is under suspicion for practicing the evil arts of Sigmund Freud the Jew.

Born in St. Petersburg to an army general and his wife, she had 5 brothers and was determined at an early age to have the same freedoms as them. We see her climbing a tree with a brother and tumbling down from a lofty branch. When her father rushes out to tend to her, he asks what he can do. Her reply: get me a proper pair of shoes like my brother so I won’t have fall again. It was her spunkiness that persuaded her family to begin calling her Lou rather than Louise, her birth name.

Preoccupied with the deeper questions of existence from an early age, she caused a ruckus in church one Sunday morning when after the priest said that God is everywhere in a sermon, she asked if he was also in hell. Despite her iconoclastic frame of mind, the church sent a priest to provide home schooling in philosophy and religion. All was going well until he tried to force himself on her sexually. Her reaction to him should have been the same reaction that budding actresses had to Harvey Weinstein.

Seeing her so committed to philosophy and religious studies, her parents agreed to send her to Switzerland where women were permitted to attend university unlike backward Russia. It was there that she became immersed in philosophy, including that of post-Hegelians like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.

On a trip to Rome with her mother in 1882, she met a young man named Paul Rée who was the son of wealthy, assimilated Prussian Jews. A monthly allowance gave him the freedom to pursue philosophical investigations that overlapped those of Salomé. As is typical of the biopic, her initial meeting with Rée turns immediately to intellectual matters—specifially their mutual admiration for Schopenhauer. Long walks between the two covering philosophical questions did not satisfy Rée who was smitten by Lou Salomé as were most men. When he proposed to her, she replied that marriage was not for her. Raising children within the confines of the household was not her life’s goal. Instead she wanted to pursue her philosophical studies without interference. So dear to his heart was the charismatic young woman that Rée accepted a platonic relationship.

When Rée introduced her to his friend Frederick Nietzsche (played brilliantly by Alexander Scheer, who also played Wilhelm Weitling in “The Young Karl Marx”), she went through the same duck and parry maneuvers she went through with Rée. Except with Nietzsche, who called her the smartest person he ever knew, it became even more stressful since she was far more attracted to him than to his friend. Not only did she have to deny him; she also had to deny herself. Watching the three together will remind you of the love triangles in French new wave films by François Truffaut or Jean-Luc Godard. Her ability to keep the two men at bay was the source of the joke depicted in the photograph above.

It was only when she met Rainer Maria Rilke in 1896 that she finally decided to give herself to a man sexually. He was 15 years her junior and deeply worshipful of her. In addition to her command of philosophy, she had also become a famous novelist writing under the name Henry Lou. Her success persuaded her publisher to finally reveal that it was a woman who had become a best-seller.

Rilke is played by Julius Feldmeier who fully conveys the puppy dog affection the young and as yet unrecognized poet had for the older woman. In one discussion between the two, he complains that his birth name René was chosen by his mother because it was sexually ambiguous. (She also dressed him in girl’s clothing when young, thus being the complement to her tom-boy youth.) It was Lou Salomé who convinced him to change it to Rainer even though she says at one point that it was his feminine qualities that made him irresistible to her. Rilke pays tribute to her in “To Lou Andreas-Salome”. The closing stanzas:

For I don’t think back; all that I am
stirs me because of you. I don’t invent you
at sadly cooled-off places from which
you’ve gone away; even your not being there
is warm with you and more real and more
than a privation. Longing leads out too often
into vagueness. Why should I cast myself, when,
for all I know, your influence falls on me,
gently, like moonlight on a window seat.

April 17, 2018

Fisking Douma

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:51 pm

Robert Fisk

With Syria and Russia claiming that East Ghouta is under “full control”, we can understand why Robert Fisk would saunter in with his sleeves rolled up to do some investigative reporting for the Independent. Meanwhile, Syria says that it is “too dangerous” for OPCW to do their own investigations even if it is safe enough for Fisk or any other malleable journalist. Could Syria be buying time to cover up evidence? Who would suspect them of that unless they were for “regime change” and funded by the Rothschild Bank, I guess.

Fisk’s article is really the sort of thing that could occupy an entire semester in a journalism class as an example of what not to do. Fisk is essentially Judith Miller but in a kind of reverse-kryptonite version. Instead of being embedded with the American invasion like Miller was, Fisk is escorted around by Syrian troops. Instead of functioning as a propagandist for George W. Bush, Fisk serves another master in Damascus. Is there anything that Miller and Fisk share in common? Certainly. It is the Islamophobia that allowed both to justify their support of war crimes in the name of stopping al-Qaeda.

In an article titled “The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack”, Fisk relies on the word of a physician named Assim Rahaibani who refers to the rebels in Douma as “terrorists”, Fisk adding that this is “the regime’s word for their enemies.” Would a journalism class question the use of relying solely on someone like this? Even Fisk has to admit, “Am I hearing this right? Which version of events are we to believe?” This of course is a rhetorical question because he never had any intention of getting any other version except one that would serve Bashar al-Assad. In seven years of reporting on Syria, there has never been an attempt to get outside his pro-regime comfort zone.

Even though he was not an eyewitness to events that took place in another clinic, Dr. Rahaibani assures Fisk that no chemical attack took place there. He claims that because of a conventional bombing attack, “huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived.” (Generally, dust clouds float upwards but let’s not trouble ourselves over this rather minor defect in an article filled with Goebbels-like fabrications.) This led to an onrush of people suffering hypoxia or oxygen loss. Then after a White Helmet member on the scene shouted “Gas!”, a panic began and people started throwing water over each other. That’s what he was told by the medics in that location, in any case. Nothing more to see here. Move along, folks.

Not every doctor agrees with Rahaibani. In today’s Guardian, Martin Chulov describes what they were up against:

The head of the largest medical relief agency in Syria claims that medics who responded to the suspected gas attack in Douma have been subjected to “extreme intimidation” by Syrian officials who seized biological samples, forced them to abandon patients and demanded their silence.

Dr Ghanem Tayara, the director of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM) said doctors responsible for treating patients in the hours after the 7 April attack have been told that their families will be at risk if they offer public testimonies about what took place.

A number of doctors who spoke to the Guardian this week say the intimidation from the regime has increased in the past five days, a timeframe that coincides with the arrival in Damascus of a team from the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which aims to determine whether chemical weapons were used. All the medics insisted on anonymity, citing the fear for their lives and those of their families.

“There has been a very heavy security presence on the ground ever since the attack and they have been targeting doctors and medics in a very straightforward way,” said Dr Tayara, a Birmingham-based physician, now in Turkey where he is supervising the departure from Syria of some of the Douma medics. “Any medic who tried to leave Douma was searched so vigorously, especially for samples. At one medical point, seven casualties were taken away. The Russian military police were heavily involved. They were directing things.”

Fisk has the temerity to explain the absence of OPCW investigators as if it were simply a matter of bureaucratic delay, like getting your license renewed at the Motor Vehicles Bureau:

At the same time, inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are currently blocked from coming here to the site of the alleged gas attack themselves, ostensibly because they lacked the correct UN permits.

Russia claims that security concerns have led the UN to delay giving permission to the OPCW investigators but if you spend 5 minutes looking into this question, you will discover that this is a lie. Yesterday, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “The United Nations has provided the necessary clearances for the OPCW team to go about its work in Douma. We have not denied the team any request for it to go to Douma.”

Continuing in Milleresque fashion, Fisk writes:

There are the many people I talked to amid the ruins of the town who said they had “never believed in” gas stories – which were usually put about, they claimed, by the armed Islamist groups.

How did he find these “many people”? Strolling down the street or through dating services provided by the Syrian secret police? Fisk is sure to add that he “walked across this town quite freely yesterday without soldier, policeman or minder to haunt my footsteps, just two Syrian friends, a camera and a notebook.” Odd that this being the case, he could not find a soul that opposed Assad. If you had no knowledge of East Ghouta, you would probably take Fisk at his word. But if you understood that the religiously observant and poverty-stricken agricultural belt around Damascus was the first to rise up, you’d have to be skeptical. Fisk says that “a surprising number of Douma’s women wear full-length black hijab.” Well, I am surprised that he is surprised since the city’s make-up was well known to genuine reporters like Aron Lund, whose integrity is beyond reproach:

Many inhabitants of the Ghouta and the bulging suburbs of eastern Damascus were new arrivals, escaping from drought-stricken parts of Syria to compete over low-paying, menial jobs. They bristled at the glittering wealth, the class divides and the corruption of the capital. Others were part of the Ghouta’s original population, but among them, too, anti-regime sentiment grew alongside the social crisis of the early 2000s. In conservative Sunni towns like Douma, known for its piety as “the city of minarets,” the Sunni-fundamentalist teachings of Salafism were gaining ground. The Salafists excoriated the secularism of the ruling Baath Party and its rapacious corruption as two sides of the same coin.

Well, those Salafists will no longer trouble East Ghouta. In fact, after Assad is finished with these pockets of discontent, he will be free to reconstruct Syria as a place that has been purged of the Sunni poor with their hijabs and their AK-47s. In an article titled “Creating a New Syria: Property, Dispossession, and Regime Survival” Erwin van Veen describes the coming gentrification that would have made Robert Moses green with envy. Who knows? Maybe Jared Kushner has begun consulting with Syrian investors about mega-projects co-funded by Saudi Arabia:

An additional consequence of Law no. 10 is that it will enable large-scale demographic engineering by reallocating appropriated property to new owners. This will not necessarily be sectarian in nature as the majority of both Syrians and regime-loyalists are Sunni. Rather, it will create large loyalist urban centers to underpin the regime’s power base and limit the return of refugees, who are largely not perceived as supporters of President Assad.

In addition to remaking urban centers as areas of repopulated loyalist concentration, the strategy will probably also involve undoing the existence of impoverished Sunni-belts around Syria’s main cities from which so many rebels were recruited. Insofar as these poorer suburbs are currently depopulated due to rebel recruitment, casualties, and flight, the regime is likely to use Law No. 10 to appropriate the land (in many such areas, property rights were not well established even before the war) and to then prevent their resettlement if and when refugees return. Any Sunni populations that have not fled but are still living in such suburbs at present will also be at risk of forced displacement and dispossession commensurate with the extent of their perceived disloyalty to the regime. It is clear that the regime has no problem initiating displacement on a large scale when it suits regime interests. Dealing with the suburban belts in this fashion will remove a source of resistance against the regime once and for all.

Richard Hall, a former editor at the Independent, took to Twitter to debunk Fisk’s reporting:

Robert Fisk is allowed access to Douma before OCPW inspectors are allowed in. Doesn’t speak to any witnesses of the attack, only a doctor who didn’t see it, but says everyone “knows what happened.”

Fisk seems perplexed why victims of the attack did not hang around in Douma when the government took over the area. And doesn’t seriously deal with the fact that those who stayed behind might not be able to speak freely.

Fisk is among a handful of journalists given regular access by Syrian government. He and others are shepherded in on minded trips when it is useful for the government. Journalists who do make it in and write something that counters the government narrative are not allowed back.

Fisk notes in his piece that he was granted access to the site before chemical weapons inspectors. As were a number of other journalists who — let’s be generous here — toe the government line. That feels like an attempt to muddy the waters ahead of an independent investigation.

In his own critique of Fisk, Scott Lucas of EA Worldview provides a translation of an interview that a Swedish reporter conducted with a Douma resident. Somehow the reporter managed to make it into Douma just like Fisk but without the predisposition to absolve Assad. The Douma resident stated:

We were sitting in the basement when it happened. The [missile] hit the house at 7 pm. We ran out while the women and children ran inside. They didn’t know the house had been struck from above and was totally filled with gas.

Those who ran inside died immediately. I ran out completely dizzy….Everybody died. My wife, my brothers, my mother. Everybody died.

Women and children sat in here, and boys & men sat there. Suddenly there was a sound as if the valve of a gas tube was opened.

It’s very difficult to explain. I can’t explain. I don’t know what I should say. The situation makes me cry. Children & toddlers, around 25 children.

Fisk’s reporting has gained so much notoriety over his service to the Baathist dictatorship that it has helped to coin a term: “fisking”. (I have subsequently learned that it was the rightwing that first used the term but that does not let his reporting since 2011 off the hook.) It is not just his embedded reporting from Syria that has come under scrutiny. Brian Whitaker, a long-time editor and reporter for The Guardian, is something of an expert on Fisk. This article on his personal website Al-Bab should reveal how questionable Fisk is across the board:

Robert Fisk, the veteran Middle East correspondent, once offered this advice to would-be journalists: “If you want to be a reporter you must establish a relationship with an editor in which he will let you write – he must trust you and you must make sure you make no mistakes.”

It was good advice, though perhaps more a case of “do as I say” than “do as I do”. Even if you disagree with Fisk’s articles or find them turgid, there’s still entertainment to be had from spotting his mistakes.

On Wednesday, for instance, anyone who read beyond the first paragraph of his column in The Independent would have found him asserting that Saudi Arabia had refused to take its place among “non-voting members” of the UN Security Council. He described this as an unprecedented step – which indeed it was, though not quite in the way Fisk imagines: the Security Council doesn’t have “non-voting” members (unless they choose to abstain). Presumably he meant “non-permanent members”.

Perhaps that is excusable, since the UN is not Fisk’s speciality. But he does specialise in reporting about the Middle East, and so we find him in a column last year informing readers that Syria had a stockpile of nuclear weapons – or, to be more precise, quoting President Obama as saying that it had:

“And then Obama told us last week that ‘given the regime’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad … that the world is watching’.”

Obama’s actual words were: “Given the regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons, we will continue … etc.”

Fisk is at his most comical when he gets on his high horse and immediately falls off. Writing with (justified) indignation about the killings in Baba Amr last year, he began:

“So it’s the ‘cleaning’ of Baba Amr now, is it? ‘Tingheef’ in Arabic. Did that anonymous Syrian government official really use that word to the AP yesterday?”

Well, no. Obviously a Syrian official wouldn’t use the word ‘tingheef’, since it doesn’t exist in Arabic.

Let me conclude with a link to an article written by Idrees Ahmad, the fearless academic who has become the subject of an investigation by the administration at the University of Stirling after Assadist Tim Hayward lodged a complaint for Idrees’s ongoing critique of Assadist propaganda. Like Whitaker, he has been following Fisk for years and has focused on his Judith Miller-style embedded reporting:

In this context when one of Britain’s more celebrated war correspondents—a person known for his acerbic diatribes against docile western journalists—enters Aleppo and sees a destroyed ambulance righteous fury is sure to erupt. And Fisk doesn’t disappoint. There is the familiar bombast of superlatives. Things are “ghostly”, “ghastly”, “frightening”, and “horribly relevant”.

But it is the object of Fisk’s fury that is a surprise. Fisk is not angry at an ambulance being bombed. Indeed, he heavily implies that the bombing was merited. Fisk devotes much of the article to implicating the Scottish charity that donated the ambulance. In his curious legal brief against medical aid, Fisk’s allies are not facts but suggestion, insinuation and innuendo. His method is insidious and part of a pattern. It merits closer scrutiny.

For the past four years Fisk has reported from Syria embedded with the regime. The regime herds him to the places it wants him to see and the people it wants him to interrogate—and Fisk appears to yield to the controlling arms of his handlers with the somnambulant innocence of a debutante. On more than a few occasions he has echoed the regime line without demur.

Take Daraya. After a horrific regime massacre, Fisk arrived at the site “in the company of armed Syrian forces” riding an “armoured vehicle” and after interviewing a few frightened survivors, wrote that contrary to “the popular version that has gone round the world”, the massacre was the outcome of a “failed prisoner swap”; the men who committed the crime “were armed insurgents rather than Syrian troops”.

In Daraya, however, no one was aware of this “prisoner swap”. And even his own interviewees didn’t support his conclusions. Most gave evasive answers. And the only interviewee he cites as supporting his theory casts further doubt on it: “Although he had not seen the dead in the graveyard,” writes Fisk, “he believed that most were related to the government army”.

The record was quickly set straight by the American journalist Janine di Giovanni who sneaked into Daraya disguised as a local and interviewed survivors without the intimidating presence of regime forces. (The Free Syrian Army had left two weeks earlier.) Di Giovanni revealed in precise detail how the offensive began, what weapons were used, and how the slaughter was carried out. Human Rights Watch corroborated her report.


April 16, 2018

Castrated in the 21st Century

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 2:36 pm

The other day I learned that I was FB friends with a British academic named David Miller who was part of Tim Hayward’s Assadist propaganda group. (See earlier London Times articles for more on the group).

I wrote a brief comment to explain why I was unfriending him:

David, why in the world did you ever send me a friend request? Surely, you must be aware that I have written many articles against people like Tim Hayward, Tim Anderson, Seymour Hersh, Ted Postol, and 25 other people carrying Assad’s water. Frankly, I was shocked to see your post about the Times attacking your pro-Assad academic network. I am unfriending you now. I really can’t deal with this kind of provocation, even if it was not a conscious one.

He replied:

Hey Louis, no provocation intended! I think I was first aware of your work on the LM network, about which you seem to have a reasonable position. I was not aware of all of your work on Syria. Nevertheless, to be targeted by Murdoch’s Times is hardly something that should be celebrated in left quarters. I am not pro-Assad, and many of the claims in the four separate pieces in the Times are ludicrous. But anyway, if you must unfriend me so be it. Syria seems to be creating interesting new splits on the left. I guess for my own part that I am keen on following evidence, wherever it might lead, but obviously this is not always the same place for each of us.

What really got my attention, however, was the comments from Leah Wild, who is the Project Coordinator of the Blue Door Project that provides support for displaced peoples, including Syrian refugees:

When you count conspiracy theories as evidence and peddle propaganda that props up islamophobic tropes and genocide apologism it kind of undermines your credibility. That was you, not the Times. Sadly unfriending too but not before I share a story here from Mohammad Ali. Some food for thought for academics and students everywhere right now:

In March 2008, Bushra Al-Assad, sister of Bashar Al-Assad, came to Damascus University College of Pharmacy as a guest lecturer for third year Pharmacy students. My friends and I were in the lecture hall when she started her lecture with “The immortal leader”…. She kept going on and on about different topics, until she start talking about the specific components of a certain drug and how the way they come together is how the country should come together. One of my friends interjected to correct her by saying that the drug she named didn’t have all the components she named. We all began to laugh, which was stupid of us.

After the lecture was over and Bushra Al-Assad left, the Army Major came in and told us not to move. He then asked who interrupted her lecture, and my friend stood up confidently and said he did. He walked over all the pharmacy students until he got to my friend, pulled him by the ear, and dragged him out. The Colonel waiting outside was disappointed and said, “You only brought one person? Bring the entire front row.” Unfortunately, I was a part of the first row. My friend was put in a car on his own while, the rest of us were loaded up into a bus as they beat us. One girl started to cry and said “Where’s Dr. Bushra, let her see what they’re doing to us.” She was immediately slapped on the face with blood pouring out of her nose. We were taken to the interrogation branch and were detained for 12 hours of beating. There was even an Alawite girl who’s father was a General in the Army who kept threatening them to tell her father, to which they didn’t bother to care.

We went back to school and waited for them to release my friend but a month passed and we never heard from him. After two months we left the lecture hall and found our friend standing at the door of the lecture hall with the most horrifying facial expression and said he was coming to say his goodbyes. We went to a cafe and asked him what happened when they took him away. He said, “Nothing, they were amazing and said because I was so brave, Bushra Al-Assad wanted to send me to Germany on a scholarship she will fund herself so I can pursue a higher education.”

A couple of times a week, I would video call him on Skype and I would joke how he got the ultimate hook-up. He would just laugh a long drawn-out lifeless laugh. Then I would ask him when he would get married and he would say “not till you get married first” and would turn his face away from the camera.

A few weeks ago, my friend got an incredible job at a drug company in Germany and I called to congratulate him. We talked for about 3 hours and then he said “Do you mind if he hang up, I’m starting to get a headache.” Joking, I said, “So now that you’re high up there with a great job, you don’t talk to the little people anymore?”.. He then said, “No I’m serious, I have a headache, I have to go.”

Two minutes later he sent me a message on Whatsapp saying “Do you remember in 2008 when I was dragged out of the lecture hall? I lied. They castrated me and gave me two month to leave the country with a paper that said ‘Not valid for sexual relations'”.

So if you’re curious what Syria was like before people demanded freedom, this story can sum it up for you. You couldn’t even interrupt the president’s sister or you were CASTRATED…. IN THE 21st CENTURY. What country in the world still castrates human beings and gets away with it? Imagine someone demanding the president to step down, of course he was going to burn the entire country down. We don’t know what the strike will be, but we do know that the more Assad loses power, the more people are saved from his barbaric ways. This strike is too little too late, but it’s something. A slap on the wrist if you will.

But for those of you who are “gray” or have the audacity to support him, don’t you dare ever say Syria was fine. It was never fine.

May God protect the civilians, and wipe out every inch of Assad, Russia, and Iran’s weapons.

If you want to read the original story in Arabic, it’ll be the first comment.

(Sorry for the butchered translation)

The Axis of Resistance can’t get its story right

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 1:00 pm

Max Blumenthal

Southfront, an Assadist website, reports:

Syrian forces have taken full control of the district of Douma thus liberating the entire Damascus subrub [sic] of Eastern Ghouta from militants, Chief of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing parties in Syria Yuri Yevtushenko announced on April 12. [emphasis added]

Full control, right? So you’d think that there would be no problem with OPCW inspectors trying to settle the question of whether there was a “false flag” incident.

Not so fast. The Guardian reports:

Inspectors from the global chemical weapons watchdog have been unable to access sites controlled by Russia and the Syrian regime in the town of Douma to investigate an attack on 7 April that killed dozens and prompted US-led missile strikes over the weekend.

The director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told a meeting of the OPCW executive council that inspectors had not been allowed to visit the town outside Damascus, the UK delegation tweeted. “Unfettered access essential. Russia & Syria must cooperate,” the delegation tweeted.

According to Petter Lycke, Sweden’s representative at the OPCW executive council, Syria and Russia told the inspectors that their safety could not be guaranteed. [emphasis added]

So even though the regime has FULL FUCKING CONTROL, it cannot guarantee their safety. So the Kremlin can issue such statements while its trained seals in the West like Max Blumenthal clap their flippers on cue. What a fucked up left we have.


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