Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 5, 2015

Baathist secularism? In response to Gary Leupp

Filed under: Islamophobia,Syria — louisproyect @ 1:44 pm

Gary Leupp

Dr. Gary Leupp,

Ordinarily I don’t pay attention to Baathist propagandists but your CounterPunch article today was so over the top and so screaming out for a rebuttal that I decided to take a few minutes to respond. I can only say that as a tenured professor at Tufts University, you show a blatant disregard for serious and thoughtful analysis based on the facts–probably a function of a hangover from your youthful Maoist past.

Your article relies heavily on the word of one Brad Hoff, an ex-Marine who is the editor of something called LevantReport.org that tells its readers that the “Arab Spring” was a myth and that it was really a secret plot by Washington to foster al-Qaeda type groups in the Middle East. Well, well.

Hoff’s article is an unabashed defense of the “good old days” in Syria when he was able to see “mostly unveiled women wearing European fashions and sporting bright makeup — many of them wearing blue jeans and tight fitting clothes that would be commonplace in American shopping malls on a summer day.” He also was impressed with the “number of restaurant bars and alcohol kiosks clustered around the many city squares” and his ability to “get two varieties of Syrian-made beer, or a few international selections like Heineken or Amstel, with relative ease.” Frankly, this sounds like the sort of item one would read in the Sunday NY Times Travel section but let’s leave it at that.

Once you get past the babes and booze nostalgia, you offer up the Leupp history of the Middle East that is basically a sort of mish-mosh of Bill Maher and vulgar Marxism with repeated denunciations of Washington’s opposition to “secularist” governments in Iraq and Syria. It can all be reduced to your “what if” question: “What if a series of U.S. administrations (influenced to say the least by Israel and its powerful Lobby) hadn’t come to view Baathism as a greater enemy than Islamic fanaticism?”

What you don’t seem to grasp is that both Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad were not quite the secularists you make them out to be. In 1993 Iraq embarked on something called “The Return to Faith Campaign” that promoted Islamic fundamentalism–this was long before George W. Bush’s invasion. As wikipedia reports, “The selling and consumption of alcohol was curtailed by the state” and “Prostitution was deemed illegal and punishable by death.” The Fedayeen Saddam, Iraq’s morality police, were infamous for beheading prostitutes.

So much for the babes and booze in the good old days.

Syria was about the same. Statistically speaking, Hafez al-Assad and his homicidal ophthalmologist son built more mosques than cultural centers, cinemas, and theaters. This is not to speak of the homicidal son releasing the men from prison who would go on to form the backbone of the jihadist militias that are terrorizing Christians and anybody else with a fondness for babes and booze.

I hope that this helps clarify your understanding.


  1. “What you don’t seem to grasp is that both Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad were not quite the secularists you make them out to be.”

    This needs turning on its head to be true, you should have said, Saddam and Bashar are not quite the believers that they made themselves out to be, just like many a US politician! The question is why did Saddam and Assad etc (throw in the trade union backed thuggish regime of Tunisia while we are at it) feel that they had to pander to such religious sentiment? I don’t think imperialism can be let off the hook here, I think all the evidence points to the fact that imperialism has greatly deformed progress in that region.

    In the case of Libya we that that very markedly in the vast number of dead bodies floating in the Mediterranean sea. Remind me of your position re Libya?

    Comment by Simon Provertier — May 5, 2015 @ 5:17 pm

  2. “Babes and booze nostalgia.” Perfect. Pretty much sums up some types of popular political discourse: Grown men talking about the candy they think they lost.

    Comment by mui — May 6, 2015 @ 1:19 pm

  3. Some 20 years ago after corresponding with the Loopy Professor Leupp over a ridiculously inaccurate letter he managed to get published in the Monthly Review I concluded that he suffers from a malady called “prosaic incontinence”.

    The “Babes and booze nostalgia” stories are not surprising either considering his penchant, earlier in his academic career, for pondering the coital frequencies of Anglo males with their Japanese concubines.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 6, 2015 @ 7:28 pm

  4. Karl Friedrich, its the dilettante aspect of gonzo journalism that gets me. Like right now, I’m looking at a Syrian female journalist’s accounts, and really “looking sexy” is really really beside the point, especially when dodging barrel bombs.

    Comment by mui — May 8, 2015 @ 11:37 pm

  5. Of course Mui. Like when the French petite bourgeois ex-Pats in Algeria back in the day were so annoyed when the Algerian urban guerrillas ruined their nightlife. That’s what these Assad regime apologists remind me of — the annoyed French petite bourgeoisie, chagrined to see the sexy nightlife of youthful exuberance turned into a poison river of blood & misery, a Wasteland so awful that even TS Elliot couldn’t envision, where not only April but every successive month is crueler than the next, a bottomless pit of human anguish so dark that not a single photon of light can escape.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — May 9, 2015 @ 12:33 am

  6. I wonder if Gary Leupp is still obsessed with Bob Avakian’s New Synthesis?

    Comment by dennis — May 13, 2015 @ 9:57 pm

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