Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 21, 2013

In response to Jonathan Cook

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 9:47 pm

Jonathan Cook

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.


  1. The Syrian revolution has served as an acid test for all manner of “solidarity activists”. It has forced a split between those who anticipate, embrace, and support popular revolution, on one hand, and those who embrace victimhood, atrocity, and impotent commentary on the status quo. The Syrian revolution has forced a very sharp split. It is pointless to attempt to heal the split, as too many pro-revolutionary supporters do, as if arguing the virtues of the Syrian popular uprising is what is missing. No, the task must be to learn the lessons of revolutionary victories and defeats, and to arm the masses with those lessons. The Syrian workers and farmers and refugess, and all the oppressed the world over, have a world to win. They need political clarity and organization. The impotent anti-revolutionary fakers have nothing to offer them. Time to move forward.

    Comment by Henry Lowi — November 22, 2013 @ 4:42 am

  2. Henry Lowi commented: “arm the masses with those lessons.”

    Yeah, the U.S. masses are so eager to understand Syria. They’ve just got to know. Forget Obamacare messing with their lives. Forget the 10% cut of Food Stamps. And as far as foreign affairs go, angry debates on Syria have displaced the still unhealed gash of Vietnam, and demoralization over the fact that large street marches in 2002-3 had no effect on the drive to war on Iraq.

    Comment by Hooee Looee — November 22, 2013 @ 6:05 am

  3. there is no contradiction between his position on syria and palestine. stalinism is on the side of the semi colonial bourgeoisie and pseudo radical islamists against the national democratic revolutions that are needed in the arab world. in the name of anti imperialism they support assad against the revolution and in palestine they support those elements that are happy to collaborate with imperialism and zionism against the palestinian national democratic revolution. fatah and hamas are national bourggeois and feudal elements and are happy to run israeli approved bantustans. they do not want to destroy zionism. support for assad and fatah or hamas is support for semi colonial tyranny against democratic revolution. not even stalin would have dared to support franco against the spanish revolution on the grounds of anti imperialism. these neo stalinists have turned popular frontism into an excuse for an alliance with fasistic elements.

    Comment by David Ellis — November 23, 2013 @ 5:55 pm

  4. […] But critics want to use a different stick to beat me and others who resist their on fervour for intervention. Here is how Louis Proyect, a diehard interventionist who blogs under the title “The Unrepentant Marxist”, sets out the accusation: […]

    Pingback by The false analogy of Syria and Palestine | Mondoweiss — November 25, 2013 @ 5:27 pm

  5. It was nice that the post started off on a positive note about Cook, and Louis made some good points.

    I would agree that we do not have proof that Syria did NOT make the gas attack. On the other hand, one of the reasons some critics of intervention brought up the Russians’ claims is because they are looking for reasons to avoid intervention, and doubt as to US claims is one reason. Personally I would have to say I am sympathetic to retarding US intervention base don how it has gone bad in the past, although I understand the idea of humanitarian actions against oppressors.

    Comment by Hal Smith — November 25, 2013 @ 5:52 pm

  6. I think you are right that Mother Agnes made goofy statements about the kids being photographed for propaganda while sleeping. It’s goofy because both sides have claimed the other has used poison gas.

    But although her statements on this are goofy, my guess is that her motives are good- she wants to prevent their country from being attacked by the world’s superpower and she does not like the faction of the rebels that are Muslim extremists and causing human rights abuses. The outside countries have in fact sent in alot of foreign extremists and heavily armed them. Meanwhile the Christian and Alawite minority is siding with the government – for protection because they see the danger posed by that faction. That reality cannot be denied.

    I do not really support Assad’s style of governance and few people, including I assume Jonathan Cook, really do. So we are all on the same page with that, and want to see a democratic change. The main reason I am much more reluctant about the case with Syria is really that I see the extremists and US backing as being such a major, dangerous part of the forces of their civil war.

    For example, look at pro-Soviet Afghanistan in the 1980’s. There really was a democratic opposition faction. Even the Maoists had anti-government forces there. But most of what was happening was a US-backed Taliban war against the Soviets in the era of Perestroika. And what came out of the Soviet defeat was alot of repression by the rebel victors. I am not saying rebellion is always bad, and I am not disagreeing that there is a democratic faction in Syria’s rebels. But when most of what I see is the power of US-backed extremists in a religious/political war, I have to be skeptical about supporting their revolt,

    Comment by Hal Smith — November 25, 2013 @ 6:53 pm

  7. I do appreciate your insights and writing, Louis, and hope they will have a democratic change in Syria at some point.

    I wish you many years more of writing, comrade!

    Comment by Hal Smith — November 25, 2013 @ 6:56 pm

  8. […] exercise in prolixity was prompted by an observation made in an article that was mostly about the sarin gas controversy that he totally […]

    Pingback by Yarmouk, Jonathan Cook and the Baathist left | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — January 22, 2014 @ 4:46 pm

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