Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 8, 2012

ZNet Orwellianism

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 2:50 pm

Andre Vltchek, master of doublespeak

I just noticed a piece “When is the Syrian ‘opposition’ Syrian?” by someone named Andre Vltchek on ZNet that appeared originally on the Open Democracy website dated September 24 2012 and reported from a border town in Turkey:

A uniformed police officer appears at the door as we speak. He gives us an inquisitive look and disappears as suddenly as he entered. “90% of Syrian people are in favor of Assad’s government and only countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar are supportive of the ‘opposition’, and of course the West,” continues Suleyman. Soon a small circle of people is formed around our table. Once they hear that I am not ‘one of those official media people’, they begin gesturing and talking over each other, explaining that Hatay – the city they love and feel proud of – is renowned for the peaceful coexistence of various ethnic and religious groups. “There are Syrians living here for ages, as well as Armenians, Jews and other diverse ethnic groups. There are Sunni, Shia and several Muslim sects. We used to all live in peace!” “Hatay is very close to Syria”, explains an old man, sipping his strong tea. “90% of the people here are somehow linked to the major city of Aleppo just across the border. And this place – Hatay – even used to be an independent republic; it only joined Turkey in 1939.”

Then Suleyman who obviously has more on his mind, speaks:

“People here believe that the US and the west in general are heavily involved in the conflict in Syria, and that they are grooming the opposition which is both very religious and very intolerant. Hillary Clinton was here in Turkey, and she openly declared that her country would be supporting the ‘refugees’. Now, to make it clear, these people that are being called ‘refugees’ come to our city, and they rent houses here and then many of them are walking around fully armed, waving their machine guns. What is on everyone’s mind here is that they did not come here just to fight the war at the other side of the border – they appear to be quite ready and capable of igniting the violence in Hatay itself.”

There are some points to be made here. To start with, Open Democracy has been fairly consistently liberal/Islamophobic for quite some time, giving a platform to Fred Halliday when he was still alive. I had this to say about a piece on Hezbollah that appeared there in 2006:

Opendemocracy.net can best be described as Harry’s Place for the cognoscenti. With lavish funding from such sources as the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation and the Rockfeller Fund and editorial guidance by such wretches as Todd Gitlin and Danny Postel, Roger Scruton (the British philosopher who got caught taking surreptitious payoffs from the tobacco industry in exchange for writing pro-smoking articles in the Wall Street Journal), the website maintains a steady drumbeat for the war on terror and against ‘Islamofascism’ and the Bolivarian revolution, etc. Unlike the spittle-flecked Harry’s Place blog, Opendemocracy tries to maintain a certain kind of scholarly detachment, which arguably makes it far more insidious.

One of their recent articles is making the rounds on the Internet. Titled “How the European left supports Lebanon” and written by Hazem Saghieh, the editor of Al-Hayat–a British newspaper hostile to Arab and Muslim radicalism, it has the dubious distinction of invoking Karl Marx in support of a reactionary agenda: “The left’s embrace of an Islamist movement supported by Iranian mullahs would have appalled Karl Marx.”

In coming across the Russian-born Vltchek’s piece through a link on ZNet, I can only conclude that Michael Albert is desperate for content, whatever the source.

Intrigued by the utter stupidity of Vltchek’s article and its shameless kindergarten variety bias, I went to his website to see what else I could find there. It turns out that our intrepid investigative journalist whose command of Turkish allowed him to understand kardeş Suleyman perfectly has had a gig writing for the Chinese press over the years. I imagine that they paid good money to get the services of a seasoned pro who could write this sort of material. From his article “Should the Internet be regulated?” in China Daily:

Could the Internet be totally free and should it be? The recent turmoil in the Arab world caused by a contentious video denigrating Prophet Muhammad shows the United States, which is busy promoting global Internet freedom, has paid a huge price with the lives of its diplomats.

In an unregulated cyber world, calumniation, fraud, violence, pornography or rumors can bring serious consequences.

India and many other countries across the world are periodically suffering from “rumors” spread by the Internet and social media.

The US-led West always promotes Internet freedom and refutes any regulation as censorship, but it should think twice if it calculates the heavy price that has been and has to be paid for “free Internet”

So obviously we are dealing with a hack for hire here. Anybody writing such garbage for the Chinese press whose publishers—the government—has one of the worst record on Internet freedom in the world and that sent one blogger to prison for a year after attacking party boss Bo Xilai. The blogger’s main crime was premature ejaculation apparently since Bo Xilai has just been expelled from the Communist Party for corruption.

So what are we to make of such a crude propaganda piece appearing in both Open Democracy, a magazine that has assailed Edward Herman and David Peterson, as well as ZNet, their roost of choice.

It suggests to me that there is a growing affinity between the liberal opinion-makers and our good friends who occupy the nether reaches of the “anti-imperialist” left at places like Global Research, MRZine, and Voltairenet. They concur that the Free Syrian Army is the worst thing that ever happened to Syria and that it would be best for the world if al-Assad crushed it.

Yesterday’s New York Times had a quite candid account of the attitude of the American ruling class and its servants in the Middle East who are supposedly the FSA’s chief supporters, in the manner of Reagan backing UNITA, the Afghan rebels of the 1970s, the Nicaraguan contras, etc. If this is the case, how are we to explain this?

For months, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been funneling money and small arms to Syria’s rebels but have refused to provide heavier weapons, like shoulder-fired missiles, that could allow opposition fighters to bring down government aircraft, take out armored vehicles and turn the war’s tide.

While they have publicly called for arming the rebels, they have held back, officials in both countries said, in part because they have been discouraged by the United States, which fears the heavier weapons could end up in the hands of terrorists.

As a result, the rebels have just enough weapons to maintain a stalemate, the war grinds on and more jihadist militants join the fray every month.

“You can give the rebels AKs, but you can’t stop the Syrian regime’s military with AKs,” said Khalid al-Attiyah, a state minister for foreign affairs in Qatar. Providing the rebels with heavier weapons “has to happen,” he added. “But first we need the backing of the United States, and preferably the U.N.”

The article portrays Saudi Arabia and Qatar as fearing “sectarianism”:

Many Saudi and Qatari officials now fear that the fighting in Syria is awakening deep sectarian animosities and, barring such intervention, could turn into an uncontrollable popular jihad with consequences far more threatening to Arab governments than the Afghan war of the 1980s.

“If the killing continues, the youth will not listen to wise voices,” said Salman al-Awda, one of this country’s most prominent clerics, in an interview at his office here. “They will find someone who will encourage them, and they will go.”

As is so often the case, you have to read between the lines when it comes to official statements from Saudi Arabia or Qatar. Frankly, I find the notion that they are afraid of “sectarianism” ludicrous. What is much more likely is that they fear the example of armed guerrillas overthrowing an Arab despot since the example might spread in the fashion of “falling dominoes” as LBJ once put it.

The presence of jihadists in Syria is to be expected. The armed struggle does rely on the participation of Sunnis who have battlefield experience. For some on the left this is reason enough to condemn the movement as a whole, even though most experts doubt that they represent more than 10 percent of the fighting forces.

Then there are those who would disagree, such as Turkish ideologue Serkan Koc who told this to Vltchek:

Of course you do realize that those people are not really ‘Syrian opposition’. They are modern-day legionnaires collected from various Arab countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, paid by western imperialist powers. Some are members of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Most are militant Sunni Muslims. One could describe them as rogue elements hired to fight the Assad government. It is important to point out that some 90% of Syrian people are still supporting Assad and I think he is now actually winning the war, although reading the western media you would never think so.

What can you say when you are told that “western imperialist powers” are paying for al-Qaeda fighters and that 90 percent of Syrians support al-Assad? We are obviously dealing with what Chomsky would call Orwellianism, all the more shameful that they appear in ZNet, a magazine that has created an altar to his writings.


  1. “What can you say when you are told that “western imperialist powers” are paying for al-Qaeda fighters and that 90 percent of Syrians support al-Assad?”

    What is so unbelievable about either of those statements? al-Qaeda/Jihadi movements of all stripes have more often than not been sponsored, trained and organized – if not, as is the case with some groups, thoroughly invented – by the CIA and its ilk. The latter statement might be a slight exaggeration but the point – that Assad’s “regime” still retains massive embedded social bases all over Syria and that they might in fact have grown substantially since these whackos emerged and started terrorizing people — still holds.

    What one might say when confronted with these statements is “oh shit. maybe I need to read a book”.

    Comment by Sarah — October 8, 2012 @ 3:28 pm

  2. What is so unbelievable about either of those statements?

    It is a free country. You can believe that the USA is paying for al-Qaeda fighters and that 90 percent of the Syrians back al-Assad. I have been around the Global Research/Voltairenet left long enough to figure out that you obviously share their beliefs. My only point in writing this article was not to convince people like yourself that you are wrong but simply to alert others that ZNet is publishing such garbage.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 8, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

  3. Robert Fisk
    “Turkey is funnelling weapons and armed men across the border into Syria”


    Comment by prianikoff — October 8, 2012 @ 5:45 pm

  4. “…Assad’s ‘regime’ still retains massive embedded social bases all over Syria…”

    Yes, the Assad regime’s social base isn’t crumbling at all! Nevermind this:

    Or this:

    Or this:

    (They are chanting “O Qardaha we are with you till death!” Qardaha is Assad’s hometown.)

    Comment by Binh — October 8, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

  5. http://english.the-syrian.com/2012/08/30/darya-lcc-on-robert-fisk/

    The-syrian.com have received the following press release by the Local Coordination Committee (LCC) of Daraya , the town in which a massacrer has ben committed few days ago.

    The Daraya LCC press release is a response to an article published in the “Belfast Telegraph” on Aug. 29th 2012, by Mr. Robert Fisk. It implies that the Belfast Telegraph article was unbalanced, biased, and influenced by the presence of the regime army and security forces who accompanied Mr. Fisk, and provided him with ”witnesses” around whom he built his report without any questioning of their legitimacy.

    It is not the first time that Mr. Fisk has been criticised for inadequacy and the lack of professionalism in recent times. An article published on the-syrian.com last month accused Mr. Fisk of committing elementary mistakes when analysing the situation in Syria.

    Below is the full text of the Daraya LCC press release as we received it,

    Daraya Coordination Committee

    Press Release

    Robert Fisk’s report about the massacre of Saturday 25/08/2012

    On Wednesday 29 August 2012, Mr. Robert Fisk of The Independent wrote a report on the Daraya Massacre that was perpetrated only 4 days earlier. Mr. Fisk is a world-famous journalist known for his balanced opinion pieces and ground-breaking reports especially from the Middle East. The people of Syria especially remember Fisk for being the first foreign reporter to enter the city of Hama after the 1982 massacre and relate to the world the horrors he saw there. Thus, we were absolutely astonished by the above-mentioned report and would like to make sure that certain points in it are not left uncorrected. We do this out of respect to the fallen heroes and to make sure the voice of the victims is heard.

    Anyone who watched the infamous and insolent report made by the state-favored Addounia TV, would notice the obvious similarities between the two reports.

    One major concern that would invalidate any statement taken from the victims is the presence of army personnel as admitted by Mr. Fisk himself. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the Syrian regime would know the degree of intimidation this would incur in the hearts and minds of witnesses. The army does not need to spoon-feed the statements to the witnesses as fear is more than enough to make them repeat the narrative propagated by the government about armed militias and radical Islamists.

    Moreover, the article is headlined and predicated on the government’s unbelievable prisoner-swap story. The question that begs to be asked is the following: Even if there was a prisoner exchange and it failed, does the Assad regime have any grounds at all for this level of retaliation? Were there similar failed rounds of negotiation before the massacres of Muaddamiya, Saqba etc. In fact, what has been happening in the towns of the Damascus Countryside Governorate, and indeed all of Syria, follows a similar scenario that begins with shelling and ends with massacres of civilians.

    A seemingly strong point in Mr. Fisk’s report is his mentioning of real names of people telling their real stories. However, the Coordination Committee of Daraya has been in touch with some of these people and the following corrections need to be made.

    1- The story of Hamdi Khreitem’s parents. The witness must have been too intimidated to identify his parents’ killers. Our reliable sources from the field hospital of Daraya confirm that both of them were targeted by a sniper (from the Assad army of course).

    2- The story of Khaled Yahya Zukari. The witness was actually in a car with his brother and their wives and children. They were shot at by government forces and his wife and daughter (Leen) were hit. The baby girl’s head was almost split in half and a bullet penetrated the mother’s chest. The mother became hysterical as a result of the shock. Later she died as the field hospital had to be evacuated prior to an army raid. The Assad army told the people that the FSA raped and killed the woman.

    The fear and intimidation of witnesses is reflected sometimes in their refusal to name a guilty side. Moreover, Mr. Fisk should know better than reporting conjecture such as this: ‘Another man said that, although he had not seen the dead in the graveyard, he believed that most were related to the government’s army and included several off-duty conscripts.’ The implicit accusation is of course directed against the FSA and this method of reporting resembles Syrian state propaganda par excellence, something that we wish Mr. Fisk had not done.

    The revolution committee would finally like to stress also that Mr. Fisk did not meet any member of the opposition in Daraya and that he merely depended on the narrative of his ‘tour guides’ in reporting on such a horrific massacre, the ugliest Syria has seen in the 17 months of the revolution.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 8, 2012 @ 6:01 pm

  6. If one could imagine that just 10% of a population plus some foreign jihadis could actually fight to a “stalemate” a heavily fortified state army like Syria’s — then regime change seems a fairly simple task for the masses.

    We should thank Znet for this profound contribution to the humanities.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 8, 2012 @ 6:04 pm

  7. Louis Proyect never has anything positive to say about the Spartacist League, but on the question of the civil war in Syria, it makes more sense than he does with his complaints that the American imperialists aren’t doing enough to support the rebels militarily. It’s true that they do not appear to be doing as much as he would like, but from either their point of view or from a Marxist point of view, why should they? For that matter, why should any leftist lift a finger to support Muslim jihadists seeking to wipe out Alawite and other minorities, merely because the ruling regime is brutal and deserves to be overthrown? Proyect increasingly reads like a cheerleader for Muslim fanatics. The Sparts made this sensible observation last week: “Revolutionary Marxists support neither side in this civil war, in which a victory of one combatant or the other would do nothing to further the cause of the working class and the oppressed. However, workers internationally DO have a side in opposing military intervention by the imperialists. In the event of imperialist attack, we would stand for the defense of Syria while maintaining proletarian political opposition to Assad’s bloodsoaked rule.” The Spartacists have no more influence than Proyect and his fellow complainers on the left that the imperialists aren’t doing enough to get rid of Assad. But to this day I have not seen anything by Proyect that actually tries to analyze what is going on in Syria, the social and religious/sectarian forces in play, or even demonstrating a knowledge of the complex history of Syria, itself a product of colonial and imperialist meddling. Apparently, some “leftists” cannot even tell the difference between sectarian civil war and radical revolution. If these leftists had any measurable influence in American society, it would be downright scary. They make Obummer look good.

    Comment by David Thorstad — October 8, 2012 @ 8:47 pm

  8. David Thorstad: The Sparts made this sensible observation last week…

    Sad to see David embracing these lunatics especially when he is older than me. With so few years left on earth, why would anybody waste even a minute reading the Spartacist League press? I’d rather have a hungry vulture peck out my eyes.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 8, 2012 @ 8:52 pm

  9. One reason I read the Spartacist newspaper–since you ask–is that of all left-wing groups, they are by far the best when it comes to questions of sexuality. Most of the rest of the left is sunk into abject liberalism and tailending of the bourgeoisie on sex matters. That’s not to say I agree with them entirely. They support gay marriage, for instance, even while critiquing marriage (something rarely seen among American left groups these days), and I oppose it. Moreover, the Spartacists have a sense of humor, unlike the deadly grimness of most left writing. My favorite Spartacism came after Jesse Jackson wore a bloody shirt for days after the assassination of Martin Luther King just so he could appear on TV wearing it. For this, the Spartacist newspaper called him Jesse “I Have a Scheme” Jackson.” That is priceless.

    Comment by David Thorstad — October 8, 2012 @ 9:07 pm

  10. Moreover, the Spartacists have a sense of humor,

    Yeah, here’s some of it from their founder:

    “The Greek population exists by selling its children or selling its Swiss watches to each other”. Albania is a nation of “goat-fuckers”, an example one supposes of their leading edge thinking on sexuality.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 8, 2012 @ 9:18 pm

  11. The Sparts are the greatest on questions of sexuality? Really? http://icl-fi.org/english/wh/209/Polanski.html

    Comment by Binh — October 9, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

  12. The article mentioned Fred Halliday in connection with openDemocracy, and from the way it was written the reader would almost certainly conclude that Halliday wrote there as either a liberal, or as an Islamophobe, or as both.

    As far as I know Halliday neither said he was no longer a socialist nor that he had become a liberal. He had a deep understanding of many Islamised societies and was no bigot. His ‘The Left and the Jihad’ was published by openDemocracy on 7 September 2006, and there he made a clear distinction between Islam and Islamism. In his final paragraph he also rejected the concept of Islamofascism: “The habit of categorising radical Islamist groups and their ideology as ‘fascist’ is unnecessary as well as careless, since the many differences with that European model make the comparison redundant”. http://www.opendemocracy.net/globalization/left_jihad_3886.jsp

    In his 2006 article and for almost 40 years he consistently warned socialists and liberals that Islamists are their political opponents, especially as Islamists have often been anti-imperialist in both word and deed. His 2006 article mentions many examples of how Islamists have murdered socialists and liberals, cautioning those on ‘the left’ with historical amnesia.

    As rational discussants we need to be accurate and avoid possible misrepresentations of people’s views. Fred Halliday is no exception in this.

    Comment by Calum — October 10, 2012 @ 9:01 pm

  13. I’d rather spend an evening castrating myself with a dull knife than spend it reading a Sparticist paper. Even that Jesse Jackson joke sucks. Sounds like something Limbaugh would run with.

    Comment by Tim — October 16, 2012 @ 5:08 am

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