Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 22, 2014

Charles Glass on the “improving” situation in Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 1:06 pm

Charles Glasshole

The latest issue of the New York Review of Books has an article by Charles Glass titled “In the Syria We Don’t Know” that has been making the rounds on the Internet. I have seen links to it from Vijay Prashad on Twitter, on the Greenleft mailing list in Australia, and just this morning on ZNet. Apparently, those who link to it must have taken heart in Glass’s assurance that the Baathists were getting the upper hand:

As Bashar’s prospects improve with each American sortie against his enemies in the east of the country, Damascus and the populous towns to the north have been enjoying a respite of sorts from war. The Syrian Ministry of Education reported that, of the 22,000 schools in the country, more than 17,000 of them reopened on time in the middle of September. Needless to say, almost all of the functioning schools are in government-held areas. The souks in the old city of Damascus, unlike their more extensive and now destroyed counterparts in Aleppo, are open. Shops selling meat, vegetables, spices, and other basic items to the local population are doing well, although the tourist boutiques in and around the famous Souk Hamadieh have no customers apart from UN workers and a few remaining diplomats. At night, restaurants in most neighborhoods are, if not full, nearly so. Everything from wine to grilled chicken is plentiful, albeit at prices higher than before the war. Traffic remains heavy, although somewhat less obstructed since June when the government felt confident enough to remove many of its checkpoints. Electricity is intermittent, and those who can afford private generators use them in the off-hours.

So, any normal person—especially those who prefer RT.com to Aljazeera—would conclude that it was best for Assad to stay the course, no matter how many barrel bombs it takes to level Aleppo and other cities to the ground just as long as there is meat, vegetables, and spices for sale in Damascus.

I took note of Glass in an article titled “The Betrayal of the Intellectuals on Syria” that was rejected by the publishers of Critical Muslim because they feared it would run afoul of British libel laws. I post the relevant section below:

Arguably, the New York Review of Books and its counterpart the London Review of Books have served as latter day equivalents of Action Française, serving propaganda for a vicious dictatorship that has little connection to its self-flattering image as a beacon of human rights.

Even when the title of an NY Review article foreshadows a condemnation of the Ba‘athists, the content remains consistent with the “plague on both your houses” narrative that pervades this intellectual milieu. In a December 5th 2013 article titled “Syria: On the Way to Genocide?”, Charles Glass ends up echoing the talking points of more openly Ba‘athist elements:

The introduction of chemical weapons, which have been alleged to have been used not only by the government but by the rebels as well, was only the most dramatic escalation by combatants who seek nothing short of the annihilation of the other side.

As is so often the case, the use of the passive voice allows the writer to condemn the rebels without any evidence. “Alleged to have been” leads to the obvious question as to who is responsible for the allegation. Was it Vladimir Putin? Assad’s propaganda nun Mother Agnes Mariam? Inquiring minds would like to know.

On August 20th 2012 Glass penned another article for the Review titled “Aleppo: How Syria Is Being Destroyed” that portrayed the rebels as a wanton mob invading the civilized city. He wrote:

While the urban unemployed had good reason to support a revolution that might improve their chances in life, the thousands who had jobs at the beginning of the revolution and lost them when the Free Army burned their workplaces are understandably resentful. There are stories of workers taking up arms to protect their factories and risking their lives to save their employers from kidnappers.

Since Charles Glass is a Middle East analyst for NBC News, it is not surprising that he can allude to ‘stories’ of workers taking up arms against the rebels to protect the bosses. NBC is a subsidiary of General Electric, and naturally its analyst will find arguments for preserving Ba‘athist rule. You can do business with al-Assad, but the plebian rebels might be as difficult to deal with as the Libyan militias.

Glass was in the graduate program of the American University in Beirut, but did not complete his PhD. His best-known work is “Tribes With Flags: A Dangerous Passage Through the Chaos of the Middle East”, a title redolent of Orientalism. In a March 22nd 2011 NY Times column, Thomas Friedman adopted Glass’s thesis to explain why the natives might not be ready for self-rule:

[T]here are two kinds of states in the Middle East: “real countries” with long histories in their territory and strong national identities (Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Iran); and those that might be called “tribes with flags,” or more artificial states with boundaries drawn in sharp straight lines by pens of colonial powers that have trapped inside their borders myriad tribes and sects who not only never volunteered to live together but have never fully melded into a unified family of citizens.

Libya and Syria were unfortunate enough to be the kinds of ‘artificial states’ that were unsuited for democracy.




  1. […] Louis Proyect writes: The latest issue of the New York Review of Books has an article by Charles Glass titled “In the Syria We Don’t Know” that has been making the rounds on the Internet. I have seen links to it from Vijay Prashad on Twitter, on the Greenleft mailing list in Australia, and just this morning on ZNet. Apparently, those who link to it must have taken heart in Glass’s assurance that the Baathists were getting the upper hand: […]

    Pingback by Charles Glass on the ‘improving’ situation in Syria — October 22, 2014 @ 6:09 pm

  2. “On August 20th 2012 Glass penned another article for the Review titled “Aleppo: How Syria Is Being Destroyed” that portrayed the rebels as a wanton mob invading the civilized city.”

    Glass probably exaggerates, but there may well have been a political catastrophe in Aleppo that haunts the rebellion against Assad to this day. Having posted an excerpt from an article by “Edward Dark”, a purported Syrian anti-Assad activist, here previously, I will just post the link to it:


    I have previously commented here about how the CCP consciously instructed its troops to avoid the looting and violence described by Dark, and worked to develop a Popular Front against first, the Japanese, and then, later, the KMT, so I will try to limit my remarks this time to some additional subjects of interest associated with Dark’s article.

    Upon reading it again, I am struck by Dark’s discussion of a serious internal conflict that rivals sectarian ones, the one between rural and urban people. Of course, there is a powerful class dimension to it but the notion that the revolution can prevail by treating city people as indiscriminate class enemies doesn’t strike me as a way to defeat Assad.

    There is also an important contrast between the willingness of the armies to confront Assad violently as opposed to the secular activists like Dark in Aleppo who attempted to do so as non-violently as possible. It is tempting to pick one approach or the other, but, again, the CCP sought to square the circle by pursuing both approaches simultaneously, working with students and intellectuals within occupied urban centers to organize strikes and other forms of non-violent resistance to the Japanese and the KMT. Such actions accelerated the KMT victory in the later months of 1948 and the early ones of 1949. Of course, the CCP is not the only revolutionary movement to undertake this approach.

    Is there a social and political dimension to the conflict in Syrian beyond the machinations of great powers and Assad apologists? I can’t say for certain from my far away vantage point, but I suspect that there is one that the left must engage in order to get rid of Assad.

    Comment by Richard Estes — October 22, 2014 @ 6:53 pm

  3. Even by the Marxist definition of the nation countries like Afghanistan and Syria and Libya are artificial nation states created by former colonial powers. Fact.

    Comment by Larry — October 23, 2014 @ 12:29 am

  4. “NBC is a subsidiary of General Electric”. No, its a subsidiary of Comcast.

    Comment by Georg — October 23, 2014 @ 3:50 am

  5. What’s a genuine nation?

    Comment by John Gamey — October 23, 2014 @ 11:05 am

  6. It is amazing how our neo-Stalinist chums have echoed the approach of their ideological fore fathers in regard of recent events in the Middle East.

    Stalin signed a pact with Hitler to carve up Poland and had the Stalinised CPs around the world denounce the Western imperialists as the main enemy characterising their most urgent task as being to prevent an imperialist war on Germany and, naturally, its allies.

    Our neo-Stalinist friends allied as they are with Russian imperialism in general and Putin in particular immediately came to the aid of his ally in Syria Assad. And although there was never any question of the West intervening on the side of the Syrian National Democratic Revolution spent three years protesting this non-existent, apart from by Russia and the arms embargo on the rebels, intervention whilst Assad butchered 100s of thousands on the grounds that the main enemy was at home.

    The minute an actual Western intervention became a possibility due to the rise of ISIL the neos immediately switched from the main enemy is at home position to become the keenest of NATO advisers recommending that they intervene immediately and forge an anti-ISIL coalition to include the Iranian Theocracy, the puppet Iraq government, the PKK, Hezbollah and of course the Butcher Assad who they now believed the West could save. Just as when the Stalin-Hitler pact broke down Stalin immediately instructed the CPs to demand that the West intervene on Russia’s side. The political damage and confusion Stalin’s centrist zig-zags caused left the international proletariat disarmed when the war broke out at a time when they needed to be at their clearest. The neo-Stalinist approach to the Arab Spring and the Middle East in general has had the same poisonous effect.

    Comment by David Ellis — October 23, 2014 @ 1:14 pm

  7. […] Charles Glass is an old hand at media spin on behalf of the torture state as I discussed here: https://louisproyect.org/2014/10/22/charles-glass-on-the-improving-situation-in-syria/ and here […]

    Pingback by Syrian refugees and the amen corner | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — September 7, 2015 @ 4:52 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: