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<p>GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty</p>

GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty

Demonstrators march in Sydney against foreign intervention in Syria, August 2012

Assad’s Useful Idiots

How prominent commentators from the ‘anti-imperialist’ left have twisted the public discourse on Syria and, in the process, provided intellectual cover for the Assad regime.


It was the first weekend of August, and on the highway leading out of Damascus, Syrian tanks rumbled northwards towards Aleppo. As 20,000 government troops mobilised outside the city, Syrian bomber jets shattered the shopping district of Salahedin, a rebel stronghold. Just metres away from the fighting, a Reuters reporter found a local couple, shaking with fear. "Just to hold power he is willing to destroy our streets, our homes, kill our sons," cried Fawzia Um Ahmed as she waited for a car to take them to safety.

In Sydney that weekend the sun was out, and so were hundreds of Syrian Australians. In a rally organised by a group called 'Hands off Syria', they marched through the city, brandishing posters of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and signs that read, "Thank you Russia and China 4 Vetoes" and "Let the whole world hear: Syria is our Nation, Bashar is our Leader".

"He's a doctor, he studied in England," 'Naja' told TruthNews in a broad Syrian-Australian accent, adding that President Assad had been 'democratically elected' by 75 per cent of Syrians. "He doesn't kill his people. We've got militants in Syria. They're terrorists."

Flanked by cheering Assad supporters, Dr Tim Anderson, a senior lecturer in political economy at Sydney University and a member of Hands Off Syria, made an impassioned speech in support of the Syrian president. "People in this country are very ignorant about what's going on in Syria," he began.

"That's not a crime in itself. But what is unacceptable is the unethical use of this ignorance… Those people saying Assad must go, they have no ethical basis to make that sort of claim," he continued, cheered by the crowd. To this, he added: "They haven't understood that it's the foundation of the post-colonial era… that a people have a right to self-determination."

Hang on a minute. Isn't the Syrian opposition fighting the Assad regime for its right to self-determination?

Don't try to make sense of this logically; think ideologically.

Anderson is among the ideologues who believe there is no greater enemy than American imperialism. That means the Syrian uprising poses a grave threat to the 'Axis of Resistance' — Iran, Syria and Hezbollah — which, according to them, is the only force blocking America's imperialist ambitions in the Middle East. If Assad falls, they believe it is America, Israel and Saudi Arabia that have the most to gain.

This ideological war is being fought at varying levels of sophistication by leftists with far greater influence than Dr Anderson, such as The Guardian's associate editor and columnist Seumas Milne, award-winning journalist John Pilger, military historian and intellectual Tariq Ali and British MP George Galloway.

At first glance, it might seem indulgent to slip from reporting on the facts, to reporting on the reportage. Many of us would like to ignore these commentators. Increasingly, however, journalists reporting from Syria are being driven to despair as their reporting is dismissed as propaganda by anti-imperialist ideologues who claim to know 'the truth'. Many Syrians I've spoken to are also aware that their fate is connected to how the conflict is reported.

Using tactics that vary from the overt to the insidious, these ideologues are willfully twisting the narrative on Syria to score points against the 'imperialist West'. In the process, they are excusing and providing intellectual cover for the Assad regime. What's worse, their 'truth' is filtering into the mainstream, with many in the public convinced that the conflict in Syria is now little more than a proxy war between the world's great powers.

This is not to say that hawks who are cheering for intervention in Syria aren't guilty of peddling their own kind of propaganda — they are. But right-wing hawks don't typically claim to be champions of the oppressed. Those mentioned above do, and in the same breath, happily undermine a civilian-led uprising against a remorseless dictator, all because said dictator is (on paper, at least) opposed to Israel and the United States.

"It's a dreadful moral and political capitulation," says Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine. "It surrenders all other leftist values to a reductive, hyper-simplistic, anti-Western stance which makes all regimes opposed by the West worthy of support by default… That means supporting fascist right-wingers, as long as they have the right enemies."

Syria has been one of the hardest conflicts in living memory to report on, largely because of the extreme restrictions imposed by the Assad regime. Earlier this year, I wrote about how these restrictions were making it immensely difficult for reporters to sort fact from propaganda, and how important it was that we maintain a critical eye on both sides ('Syria's Propaganda War', April 12).

Now the fog of the Syrian war is providing cover for conspiracy theories which are published as fact with increasing frequency.

Here in Beirut, the worst offenders in this category write for the leftist Hezbollah-friendly newspaper, Al Akhbar. In his scathing letter of farewell to the paper, former columnist Max Blumenthal decried its opinion pages as "a playpen for dictator enablers".

Many other media outlets in the Middle East deserve this epithet. But there are too many to cover here. Instead, let's focus on ideologues that most egregiously distort views on Syria in the West.

HERE'S THE STORY THEY'RE PEDDLING: The Syrian revolution may have been started by peaceful protesters, but those people have long since been sidelined by a radical Sunni-Islamist insurgency. These radical insurgents are armed by and fighting at the behest of the United States and its allies in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who want to remove the anti-imperialist Assad regime in order to weaken Iran. It's all part of the imperialist project that began with the attacks on September 11, 2001, and just as evidence for Saddam Hussein's WMDs was fudged in order to justify the 2003 invasion and occupation, the Assad regime is being framed for civilian atrocities to justify another invasion.

Let's be clear: In 2003, evidence of WMDs was concocted, and the war was sold to the world in 'humanitarian' terms. Many — most — in the media utterly failed to hold the Bush Administration to account. The few politicians, journalists and activists who did — including the ideologues I criticise here — were widely denounced, vindicated only after the invasion had gone ahead and Iraq was in flames. They — and we — should be angry about the way they were ignored.

But this is not 2003. For these ideologues to frame the Syrian uprising as a sequel to the Iraq invasion is deceptive.

The Arab world has changed since 2003. In an epoch-changing string of events known as the 'Arab Spring', large numbers of Middle Eastern citizens suddenly shifted the blame for their misery away from foreign interference, and on to the dictators who had (with foreign help) been subjugating them for decades.

But for old left-wing paternalists like The Guardian's Seumas Milne, the only Arab citizens who've become empowered are those that have deposed dictators friendly to America, like Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak. The Syrians fighting to depose President Assad, an American enemy, aren't empowered — they're just cannon fodder for a new installment of the Great Game.

"For Syrians who want dignity and democracy in a free country," he writes, "the rapidly mushrooming dependence of their uprising on foreign support is a disaster — even more than was the case in Libya".

(In fact, most Libyans actually don't regard foreign intervention as a disaster; this recent Gallup poll found that 75 per cent approved of NATO's military intervention — a sentiment I found to be widely held myself when in Tripoli recently.)

No word from Milne on whether Assad's dignity is similarly compromised by reliance on foreign assistance — his reliance on Russia for heavy arms, on Iran for financial aid, and on both Russia and China for diplomatic vetoes. Apparently that's just a matter of sovereignty.

Forget the ambitions of Syrians themselves — they’re just pawns in an international conspiracy.

In Milne's analysis, neither Iran, Russia nor China are to blame for Syria's 'descent into darkness', either. The blame for this he lays on the Saudis and the Qataris who are funding the smuggling of light arms across the border, the United States, whose agents are coordinating the smuggling, and on the Turks providing safe haven to the Free Syrian Army.

"The sharp increase in arms supplies, funding and technical support from the US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and others in recent months," Milne writes, "has dramatically boosted the rebels' fortunes, as well as the death toll". This statement is not wrong on its own — and this is the key to Milne's sophistry. Using omission and innuendo, he builds fallacious arguments by relating just one side of the story. Here, for instance, the Russian weaponry Assad is using to bomb his own people doesn't even warrant a mention by Milne. Nor does the massive financial life-support the Assad regime receives from Iran.

The fact is that whenever a centre of geopolitical power grows unstable, foreign powers compete for influence. Syria is no different. Would a regime-change in Syria suit the West and its allies? It might, or it might not — especially if the end result is a triumphalist Sunni regime on Israel's border. Would the maintenance of the dictatorial Assad regime suit Iran and Russia? Without question. But through Milne's ideological lens we see only the malignant interests of the Western powers — not those opposed to them.

British MP George Galloway takes Milne's rhetoric and turns it up to 11. Since June, Galloway has had a regular segment on the Beirut-based channel Al Mayadeen, which is said to be partly funded by President Assad's tycoon cousin, Rami Makhlouf; the head of the news division is, incidentally, married to President Assad's communications advisor. In this segment, aptly titled "Syrian Rebels are Servants of the Crusaders", Galloway rants: "You must know who I'm talking about — people who are based in Paris, based in London, based in Istanbul," he says. "They are servants of the Crusader powers. That is why they are asking the Crusaders to bomb them — because the Crusaders are asking their servants to ask them to bomb them."

Galloway wants a political transformation in Syria, he earnestly tells his audience, and President Assad does too. Assad accepted the Kofi Annan peace plan, he says; the only ones who rejected peace were (drum roll) "the Crusaders, and their political allies in the Syrian revolutionary camp".

Yes, President Assad accepted the Kofi Annan peace plan — then repeatedly violated its conditions by refusing to withdraw from population centres, continuing to fire heavy artillery at civilians and maintaining a policy of mass arrests. The opposition also violated the ceasefire, but Kofi Annan himself blamed the eventual failure of his peace plan primarily on the Syrian regime.

<p>AAP Image/SBS</p>

AAP Image/SBS

Journalist John Pilger in Kabul, Afghanistan

Despite Annan's assessment, however, The Guardian's Seumas Milne is adamant that the real bogeyman in the Syrian situation is the West and its allies in the Gulf.

"Only pressure for a negotiated settlement, which the west and its friends have so strenuously blocked, can now give Syrians the chance to determine their own future — and halt the country's descent into darkness," he writes.

Put simply, if the West would just stop trying to engineer regime change in Syria, President Assad would, with some pressure from his allies, happily negotiate an end to the crisis with the opposition — the same opposition he's denounced for months as 'terrorists'.

That's not the view of Syria's foreign minister, Walid Muallem, who recently declared that the Syrian regime would only consider negotiating with the opposition after the 'rebels' had been purged from Syria. In other words, Syria's opposition would need to lay down its arms and accept whatever retribution the Syrian regime decided to mete out before negotiation with an opposition group — approved by the Syrian regime — would even be considered.

Clearly incensed by his colleague's spin, The Guardian's Middle East editor, Ian Black, wrote a withering rebuke two days later:

"The cartoon book claim that "the west" (conspiring with compliant Arabs) has malevolently blocked an agreement that a principled Russia tirelessly supported does not stand up to scrutiny."

“That is why they are asking the Crusaders to bomb them — because the Crusaders are asking their servants to ask them to bomb them.”

Black refers to a UN resolution that was drafted by Britain in July that "repeated the call for a 'Syrian-led political process' (language supported by Russia). Nowhere did it advocate forced regime change". This resolution also excluded international military action. Both Russia and China vetoed it.

BUT LET'S LEAVE MILNE AND THE GUARDIAN aside for now, and move on to one of the Left's leading lights, the influential British Pakistani intellectual Tariq Ali.

Earlier this year, Ali was adamant that President Assad must step down, and his allies must pressure him to do so. However, when Ali was interviewed recently on the Kremlin's news network, Russia Today, he was unabashed in his binary, conspiratorial projection of the choice facing Syrians.

"Many of the people who first rose against the Assad regime in Syria have been sidelined, leaving the Syrian people with limited choices, neither of which they want: either a Western imposed regime, composed of sundry Syrians who work for the western intelligence agencies, or the Assad regime."

Never mind that Ali, for accuracy's sake, might have replaced the term 'sidelined' with 'tortured and killed by the regime', 'fled into exile', or 'imprisoned en masse'. Nobody with Ali's knowledge of military history would present the potential outcomes of Syria's chaotic civil conflict so simplistically — unless they had an ideological barrow to push.

<p>GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty</p>

GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty

Demonstrators march in Sydney against foreign intervention in Syria, August 2012

But when it comes to binary and conspiratorial projections, Ali has form. "Whatever the final outcome, the Libyan people have lost," he wrote in April 2011, just two months into the uprising. "The country will either be partitioned into a Gaddafi state and a squalid pro-west protectorate led by selected businessmen, or the west will take out Gaddafi and control the whole of Libya and its huge oil reserves."

The success of Libya's democratic transition may be debatable, but only the most blinkered ideologue would say the West has now taken control of Libya (oh, hi George).

But Ali wasn't the only commentator who was proven wrong on Libya. After the revolution, it was commonly expected that Qatar, having contributed both blood and USD2 billion in treasure to the uprising, would simply install its proxies, the Muslim Brotherhood, at the head of Libya's new government.

And they sure gave it a red-hot go. In Tripoli, campaign posters and billboards for the Muslim Brotherhood far outnumbered those of its competitors. But it turns out there was a real democratic process in Libya, and no amount of money was enough to buy the Libyan vote. In the July election, Libyan voters shocked the world by rejecting the Muslim Brotherhood for the party led by the moderate Mahmoud Jibril, former chief of the National Transitional Council.

The moral of the Libyan story is that just because you fund a revolution, doesn't mean you own it.

The moral of the Libyan story is that just because you fund a revolution, doesn’t mean you own it.

Of course, as the Qataris tried to do in Libya, foreign powers will try to co-opt the revolution in Syria. But could the West just impose its own handpicked regime onto the Syrian people, as Tariq Ali so confidently asserts? That's a question The Global Mail posed to David Wearing, founder and co-editor of the New Left Project.

"The [Syrian National Council] were being set up as our allies, but they've proved to be something of an incoherent joke and are apparently now being ditched, so no joy for Washington there," he says. "Perhaps by setting up training and operations bases and controlling the flow of arms, the US and its allies can pick winners within the Syrian opposition. But again there is the fact that the opposition is rooted in the country, fundamentally. Their autonomy cannot easily be stolen."

"Either way, it does not follow that Western assistance equals Western control. Showing that requires better and more information/proof than anyone on the left has provided so far."

But who needs proof when you can feel the truth? American satirist Stephen Colbert defines this as "truthiness": the kind of truth that doesn't just roll over and surrender to proof, or logical examination.

And on no other topic have the ideologues been more 'truthy' than on the Houla massacre.

IT CAN TAKE JUST ONE EVENT AND A HANDFUL of people to transform a pile of evidence into a morass of doubt.

<p>GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty</p>

GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty

A protestor at a Sydney march in support of the Syrian regime, August 2012

For example, in November 2009 climate-change deniers leapt triumphantly onto an illegally obtained cache of emails between climate scientists in England and the United States. The deniers insisted they proved that scientists had been manipulating temperature data to fake the extent of human-induced global warming. The ensuing scandal was dubbed 'Climategate' and it rocked the very foundations of climate science research.

Seven months and four independent reviews later, the climate scientists in question were cleared of any wrongdoing and their research was found to be wholly intact. But Climategate had already done its work. It was a PR disaster because it raised huge question marks over the veracity of the science, put a respected university's credibility on the line, and provoked death threats against climate scientists.

One event, and a handful of people.

On May 25 this year, 108 people, including 83 women and children, were murdered inside their homes in the Syrian village of Taldou in Houla.

Two days after the massacre, Channel 4's Alex Thomson accompanied a group of U.N. monitors to the area. As their van pulled into the village, it was mobbed by people "shouting and crying in a mixture of shock, relief and anger". Thomson was shown children recovering from gunshot wounds and fragments from Syrian army shells. He spoke to "scores of people" who all said the same thing:

The Syrian army started shelling the village in response to anti-regime demonstrations after Friday prayers. After hours of intensive shelling, around 100 shabiha (the regime's civilian militia) arrived from Shia/Alawite villages surrounding Houla. From mid-afternoon that day until early the next morning the shabiha went from house to house, killing the men, women and children inside.

On no other topic have the ideologues been more ‘truthy’ than on the Houla massacre.

The Houla massacre shocked the world. Everywhere the headlines read: Has the time for intervention finally come?

Then on June 6, one of Germany's leading daily papers, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) published an article claiming it was not the shabiha who committed the Houla massacre, but the very rebels who had blamed it on the regime. Filed from Damascus and based on information "gathered by opposition members from the region", the report claimed the massacre was committed by 700 members of the Free Syrian Army, who had travelled to Houla from nearby towns. They were assisted by local residents, who targeted the victims because they had converted to Alawi and Shia Islam and had refused to join the opposition.

The anti-imperialist ideologues and Assad apologists pounced on the FAZ report with the enthusiasm of climate deniers on an email cache. This was their big chance to prove the Assad regime was being framed, WMD-style, to justify a Western-led military intervention.

On June 20, journalist and former war correspondent John Pilger bet all his chips on FAZ, denouncing all other reports on the Houla massacre as "raw propaganda". "The threats against Syria, coordinated in Washington and London, scale new peaks of hypocrisy," he raved in the New Statesman. "Contrary to the raw propaganda presented as news, the investigative journalism of the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung identifies those responsible for the massacre in Houla as the 'rebels' backed by Obama and Cameron. The paper's sources include the rebels themselves."

<p>STR/AFP/Getty</p>

STR/AFP/Getty

President Assad in a rare public appearance in Damascus, January 2012

On July 16, Tariq Ali told Russia Today the FAZ report was further proof that the Syrian National Council and its supporters were deliberately carrying out atrocities so they could be blamed on the regime. "A journalist on the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung some weeks ago explained what had happened in the Houla massacre and was denounced."

One week later, another German newspaper, Der Spiegel, sent two journalists to Houla to see if there was any truth to the FAZ report. They were the first foreign journalists to arrive in the village since Channel 4's Alex Thomson. Over two days, they interviewed several eyewitnesses and relatives of the victims, all of whom blamed the killings on the shabiha. One eyewitness also pointed out that since several of the victims' houses were located between two Syrian army checkpoints, it would have been impossible for several hundred rebels to move between the houses undetected. All those interviewed insisted there had never been any Shiite or Alawite families in Houla, just as there were no Sunni families in the surrounding Alawite villages.

“He doesn’t kill his people. We’ve got militants in Syria. They’re terrorists.”

Der Spiegel wasn't the first to challenge the FAZ report's claim that the victims were mostly Shia and Alawite, however. In the days immediately following the massacre, Alex Thomson visited the Alawite villages surrounding Houla. None of the villagers he interviewed said anything about Alawite or Shia victims. One imagines that if their co-religionists had been killed by the Free Syrian Army in a nearby village, they might have heard about it.

On August 15, after several weeks of investigation, the U.N. released its final report: government forces and the shabiha were responsible for the Houla massacre. Read the report. The evidence is incontrovertible.

The FAZ report was clearly based on misinformation. But have Pilger or Ali issued any mea culpas for providing cover for the Syrian regime? No. And we shouldn't expect any, for the same reason that climate deniers didn't apologise for slandering scientists exonerated after Climategate.

Let's be clear. The mission of the ideologues is not to reveal the truth about what's happening in Syria. Their mission is to campaign against Western intervention. A key strategy in that campaign is to discredit events that may justify intervention in the minds of the public. The Houla massacre threatened to do just that. If they provide intellectual cover for the murderous Assad regime in the process, that's a small price to pay for preventing Western intervention, which they're convinced would be an even greater disaster.

Thanks to the recalcitrance of ideologues like Pilger and Ali, many people are still unsure about who is to blame for the Houla massacre. At the very least, it can now be referred to as 'contested' — a propaganda win for the Syrian regime and its supporters.

LAST YEAR, WHEN ANTHONY SHADID WAS FIRST PLANNING to sneak into Syria, he wrote an email to his editors at TheNew York Times explaining why the story was worth risking his life for. "It's just nuts," he wrote. "I feel like no one there is telling the truth now. We have to get the details."

“For Syrians who want dignity and democracy in a free country, the rapidly mushrooming dependence of their uprising on foreign support is a disaster — even more than was the case in Libya.”

In February this year, Shadid's determination to get the truth cost him his life. More than 30 professional and citizen journalists have died covering the conflict in Syria, and every time a journalist goes into Syria they have to face the very real and terrifying prospect that they may die there. Not many journalists can match Shadid’s piercing insight, but most are going in for the same reason: to find out what's going on.

The ideologues I've addressed here prefer to wage their propaganda campaigns from offices located thousands of miles away from the war in Syria. Taking cynical advantage of the fog of war, they distort the facts on Syria to make them fit their bogus ideological framework.

It's an approach that's driven a deep faultline through the Left. "Anti-imperialists are right to be concerned about Western involvement (in Syria)," says New Left Project editor David Wearing. "(And) of course, Western lefists must focus on Western power because we can affect that. But still, we have to offer an accurate account of the situation.”

Here's what we know. The Assad family has ruled Syria like its own personal colony for decades. Just like the foreigners that ruled Syria before them, they have been a distant elite, treating Syrians not as citizens but as tools of the state. Many of those Syrians have risked everything to reject the Assad regime, and since the very beginning Assad has responded with bullets and bombs. His promises of 'democratic reform' have been a fiction, just like they always were.

Whatever is to become of Syria, those genuinely engaged in trying to "halt the descent into darkness" will only be hindered by those whose ideological agenda is more important than seeking and presenting the truth.

For his part President Assad says he has no intention of stepping down. He says he's fighting an international conspiracy.

And who among the ideologues could argue with that?

Read more Jess Hill stories on the civil war still raging in the Lebanese psyche, the bold satirists of Syria deploying humour against the Assad regime, and Egyptian revolutionaries learning to play politics after decades of dictatorship.

25 comments on this story
by Richard Hill

We are sorely tested in the modern news world for accurate and balanced reporting. The shift toward opinion, agenda and ideology, sometimes regardless of the facts, has changed the way 'the readers' are able to comprehend world events. Jessica Hill is clearly troubled by the blatant misrepresentations of the Syrian situation. I recently saw a petition was floating the internet urging that 'fact checkers' be present at the the US presidential campaign debates. It is distressing to think that we also need 'fact checkers' nearby when we are presented the news of the world. In confusion, we fall back to what is familiar and safe. Maybe that is what motivated the Sydney protest - the familiar, safe field of ideology. In amongst this incompatible mix of ideology, politics, commercialism, reporting and re-reporting one unquestionable reality persists - people die.

September 11, 2012 @ 3:57pm
by Marty Silk

Serious omissions and factual errors in article published Sept 11, 2012

Assad’s Useful Idiots - By Jess Hill

Jess Hill's Useful Omissions.

This is pure misinformation, pushing a clear agenda - any academic or reporter who doesn't completely submit to the rebels is a bad guy.

"But right-wing hawks don't typically claim to be champions of the oppressed," is the most ridiculous comment I think I've ever heard on geopolitics.

The administrations of Bush and Obama used that exact reason as their prime fall back to justify their military adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya

And you contradicted yourself on this point later in your article when you write

"Let's be clear: In 2003, evidence of WMDs was concocted, and the war was sold to the world in 'humanitarian' terms."

You speak of certain commentators omitting information about Russia and China but haven't you omitted mention of outside support for the rebels?

"Here, for instance, the Russian weaponry Assad is using to bomb his own people doesn't even warrant a mention by Milne. Nor does the massive financial life-support the Assad regime receives from Iran."

Yet you make no mention of the car bombings, massacres of minority groups or support rebels are receiving from Turkey among other countries. The friends of Syria (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friends_of_Syria_Group) declared that the Syrian National Council was the sole representative of the Syrian people. The sole representative, no local coordination committees, no existing government in Syria. The group is mainly exiles who haven't been in Syria for years, so much for democracy.

Aren't you guilty of the same omission to further your own agenda?

"Yes, President Assad accepted the Kofi Annan peace plan — then repeatedly violated its conditions by refusing to withdraw from population centres, continuing to fire heavy artillery at civilians and maintaining a policy of mass arrests. The opposition also violated the ceasefire, but Kofi Annan himself blamed the eventual failure of his peace plan primarily on the Syrian regime."

You used this article to justify back up your argument (http://news.yahoo.com/annan-blames-syria-peace-plan-failure-223151401.html) but the Associated Press struggles to provide any direct quote where Annan blames the Syrian government.

The following article is a much better representation of the truth (http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/world/annan-quits-syrian-mission-impossible/story-e6frfkui-1226441898550) to bad you didn't provide it to your readers.

The opposition also violated the ceasefire, in fact, they issued lengthy statements saying they would not accept the plan whatsoever and would continue fighting (http://news.yahoo.com/syrian-opposition-rejects-un-transition-plan-094047988.html)

Once again you omit information to further your own agenda.

You also mention all the journalists who have been killed, implying the regime did it which they probably did, but what about veteren Channel 4 journalist Alex Thompson (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/jun/08/alex-thompson-syrian-rebels) who said that rebels tried to get him killed on purpose. How many rebels were successful with this technique?

"Taking cynical advantage of the fog of war, they distort the facts on Syria to make them fit their bogus ideological framework."

"Those genuinely engaged in trying to "halt the descent into darkness" will only be hindered by those whose ideological agenda is more important than seeking and presenting the truth"

Seems like your omissions are just as bad as the leftists you've censured in the article, we know what agenda you're pushing.

And it is not "your audience" as the Global Mail claims.

September 11, 2012 @ 5:48pm
by Srinivas rau

We have too many such in India,with nocorrective in the press!

September 11, 2012 @ 7:03pm
by whocares

accuracy certainly is concerning but to argue Jessica Hill's 'interpretation' equates valid reporting simply because she can synthesize a number of original articles into a commentary piece that begs her own premise, well, that's inductive reasoning at its best. Ironically, if one rereads Jessica Hill's article, one may actually get the impression she was reporting at times from within Syria. That would be factually incorrect, but don't let that get in the way of reporting the who, what, where, when it is so much more sensational to take a side and present the(alleged) 'reasoning' or 'motive' or 'impetus' or even perhaps the 'moral' to the story

September 11, 2012 @ 8:20pm
by AM

Great article dealing with the important points of a divisive topic. I agree with the discussion but not the conclusion.

The bottom line is that THE VIOLENCE MUST STOP NOW. This will save the most lives, quickest. Supporting an armed uprising/insurgency/civil-war will achieve quite the opposite.

In 2012 I am astonished that arms are so relied upon to resolve such issues. With galvanised international support and agreement this could have been wrapped up a year ago. The UN is a failure, permitting lone-cowboys control of an anarchic international environment.

If the US/UK hadn't frittered it's international credibility in 2003 and subsequent issues, if they weren't seen as hawkish, hypocritical aggressors then they would receive my full support in becoming involved on humanitarian grounds (although this argument is of course undermined by other humanitarian causes around the world)

So my predicament is described perfectly by the author. However he cites a wealth of commentators who I admire, and George Galloway who have weighed up this situation and arrived at a similar conclusion.

I want everyone to stop the killing, on both sides and those that do not to be punished in the Hague if necessary. Escalating the violence will only lead to further killing and further stability in an already shredded region of the world.

September 11, 2012 @ 8:41pm
by AM

Lastly I will add that here in the UK our mainstream media has been banging the war drum, as have the Canadians, US etc This happens and polarises the debate.

To want to see the end of the killing is not the same as wanting Assad or any tyrant to stay in power, there is a very clear yet little debated better way.

September 11, 2012 @ 8:48pm
by Vaska Tumir

Intelligent criticism of George Galloway is always a useful means for manufacturing this sort of shameless obfuscation and denial of what's going on in Syria these days.  

But for all the finessing of the facts in this remarkably well crafted piece of right-wing propaganda, the work of Stephen Crittenden, also published by this organization, debunks the thesis of this article: i.e. the argument that the contention that Syria has become one of the battlegrounds in the Sunni-Shiite intra-Islamic power-struggle is a left-wing cover for the Assad regime.  

http://static.theglobalmail.org/feature/the-clash-within-civilisations-how-the-sunni-shiite-divide-cleaves-the-middle-east/349/

Crittenden's article and his historically and culturally far better informed (or simply more honest) coverage of the current war in Syria is buttressed by the recent statement by Erdogan that what is happening in Syria today is a re-play of the Battle of Kardala.  

Crittenden's article was published some 2-3 weeks before the Prime Minister of Turkey publicly invoked the Battle of Kardala, the key moment in the Sunni-Shiia intra-Islamic power struggle, in describing the situation in Syria today.

7 September 2012 / TODAYSZAMAN.COM ,
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a strong critic of Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria, drew a parallel between the bloody campaign against civilians by the Syrian government and the Battle of Karbala during a speech on Friday.
“What happened in Karbala 1,332 years ago is what is happening in Syria today,” Erdoğan said at an international conference titled “Arab Spring and Peace in the Middle East: Muslim and Christian Perspectives.”

http://www.todayszaman.com/news-291652-violence-in-syria-is-new-karbala-pm-erdogan-says.html

September 11, 2012 @ 8:48pm
by Paul Smyth

This article has a very different character to the outstanding piece Jess Hill wrote in April. She is clearly annoyed by the ideologues who (unsurprisingly) argue from a specific perspective/bias. She is right to highlight that the information presented in the media is often (I'd say routinely) a subjective assessment that should be viewed accordingly. But there are perhaps two dangers: when any subjective view is considered to contain no objective truth, and when the message is dismissed because of the messenger.

So, as a Defence analyst I would consider the link between the availability of weapons and incidence of fighting an objective one, based on a professional consideration of conflict. The rebels cannot fight without the means to do so. Similarly, the idea that Russian arms supplies (which equals what exactly this summer?) are responsible for the increase in combat in 2012 is a dubious notion. Damascus had plenty of Russian arms (delivered over many years) in 2010-11, so why wasn't Aleppo bombarded then? Do those views make me an ideologue?

Also, it is a shame when the messenger is more important than the message. Take, for instance, Robert Fisk's recent reports while with the Syrian Army. He is clearly very unpopular among many commentators and journalists, which is presumably not a coincidence, but this meant that whatever he reported from the Army's perspective was instantly 'tainted', undermining an extremely important insight into one side of the conflict which is hugely under-reported. In the same way, those who live in the UK may know that Alex Thomson has a particular approach to his reporting (he works for Channel 4 News) but must not allow that to simply dismiss what he has to say.

Perhaps the greatest danger with polemic that correctly targets bias among ideologues is that criticism of their motives unhelpfully discredits their arguments. There are very good reasons why a military intervention in Syria would be strategically counter-productive, why Assad's removal may be worse than his continued presence and why securing peace, not regime change, should be the top priority in this crisis. It would be a travesty to label all those who argue so as 'anti-Imperialists'.

September 11, 2012 @ 11:14pm
by Amjad of Arabia

An excellent and very well researched article. Puts to shame every prominent pro-Assad enabler. As the writer very eloquently pointed out, the "anti-imperial" Left's narrative depends not on debating the facts, but on selectively acknowledging only certain facts and completely ignoring the rest.

September 11, 2012 @ 11:56pm
by Chris Shaw

The reason why people don't trust mainstream reporting on Syria is because mainstream journalists have shown themselves to lie on behalf of power - Iraqi WMD is just the most famous example from a huge catalogue of deciet

September 12, 2012 @ 12:21am
by Huw Peach

I thought it was interesting that you equated those who highlighted problems with the reporting of the Houla massacre with 'climate-change deniers'.

This is because one of the targets of your piece ('anti-imperialist ideologues' in your words) are the British media activists, Media Lens. (2 columns after the John Pilger photo, follow the hyper-link).

Even if you disagree with their line on the Houla massacre, I think it would be clear to anyone reading their articles on climate change that Media Lens, one of whom was a climate scientist, has done very valuable work highlighting the press's indifference to climate change. In my view it is not only unfair, but also a smear to compare them to climate change deniers.

September 12, 2012 @ 2:41am
by Helen

Australian Syrians fucking traitors if they like the bastard so much go support him in Syria not from afar in your fucking comfy sofa gather your balls if you can find them and go to Syria and get killed supporting this wanker yes he studied in England but no he did not finish his studies so again no he's not a proper dr but he is a first clas arse hole murdering bastard....

September 12, 2012 @ 3:55am
by Nikolas Kozloff

Good one on Syria. Have you seen my earlier piece on this? http://www.nikolaskozloff.com/blog.htm?post=841956

September 12, 2012 @ 4:16am
by Peter Best

What's a mile?

September 12, 2012 @ 11:44am
by Samer Beyhum

Very well written and researched researched article. however, i must agree with Alex Rowell when he wrote "they're not anti-imperialists" http://www.nowlebanon.com/BlogDetails.aspx?TID=2642&FID=6

September 13, 2012 @ 12:55am
by Nathan

I seem to be at odds with the purpose of this article, that the reporting in Australia is pro-Assad/anti-Imperialism. Admittedly I have not been reading many Australian newpapers of late, but from Australian TV News I got the impression that it was all Assads fault.
He was a bastard that had to go, and if China and Russia would just stop the arms support and vetos than we would have military intervention... because that would be the just thing to do, to promote democracy and protect the minority's.
Then I learn that Syria's army ranks comprise the dominant religion, that Al-Qaeida are sending a 1000 soldiers/terrorists to fight Assad and numerous other snippets of information that make me wonder if we really are being presented with a biased pro-intervention (war) oversimplification of what is going on.
An article that details all the players, checks the facts and perspectives in a concise and informed guide would help.
As it stands this article only seemed to support the main stream reporting currently available in Australia.

September 13, 2012 @ 11:03am
by Bud Peart

As a journalist who spent all her time embed with anti government forces, then cries conspiracy(Twitter) when Robert Fisk reports from the government side and shows complete partisan allegiance to the FSA, SNC and LTC I find your criticism a bit rich. Sure it is wrong to blindly follow one side of the conflict, but a quick look at your own reporting on Libya and Syria verifies that you yourself actively practice what you preach against. Having spent considerable time with members of Australia's Iraqi and Syrian, Assyrian Community I can verify that they don't like Assad, but they despise the Muslim Brotherhood even more, and with very good reasons. Sunni fanaticism has wiped out Iraq's Christian's, and will no doubt do the same to Syria's. Deriding these legitimate concerns, back by volumes of supportive evidence as the work of hysterics is misguided.

September 13, 2012 @ 2:21pm
by .

Thanks so much for your article. It's absolutely spot-on. It's EXCELLENT. One way and another, I've been up against these total fools for years.

Well done!

Dr Alan George
Senior Associate Member,
St Antony's College,
Oxford University.

(Author of 'Syria: Neither Bread Nor Freedom', Zed Books, London 2003)

September 16, 2012 @ 5:47pm
by David

Jess seems to be suggesting that because the media figures cited have taken 'ideological ' positions before, they are being suckered along now, so we should discount what they are saying. This is wrong- we should test the claims, allegations and analysis they are trying to bring to the mainstream debate just as we should test any other claims from other sources. Just because George Galloway says Saudi Arabia is sponsoring Islamist rebel elements doesn't mean it's not true. You can't discount inconvenient facts that way. Robert Fisk, Paul McGeough and others are saying similar things- are they all being misled- or misleading? Is everyone out of step except Jess?

There is general agreement that the domestic momentum that characterized the early stages of events in Syria has been usurped by external interests. As the latest report by the International Crisis Group (No. 128) puts it ‘Syria has indeed become an arena for outside meddling, but the meddling has been far more effective in sustaining the fighting than ending it.’

Unfortunately, those meddling from outside are unlikely to have the immediate welfare of the Syrian population or the establishment of a stable democratic entity as their top priority. They will channel support to whichever internal elements can best advance their interests, regardless of the damage this will do to the prospects for a speedy and lasting solution to Syria’s woes. Once again, the Syrian people find themselves at the mercy of other nation’s games.

September 17, 2012 @ 12:54am
by Nathalie George

A much needed article Jess, providing the main point that so many seem to miss, unfortunately as usual - being that it is the average citizen and their families who are the ones who suffer most by the actions of those with an agenda for power on any sides of a conflict.

October 13, 2012 @ 1:53pm
by wtfbollos

"So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan. I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?” And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.” He reached over on his desk. He picked up a piece of paper. And he said, “I just got this down from upstairs” — meaning the Secretary of Defense’s office — “today.” And he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” I said, “Is it classified?” He said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “Well, don’t show it to me.” And I saw him a year or so ago, and I said, “You remember that?” He said, “Sir, I didn’t show you that memo! I didn’t show it to you!”"

http://www.globalresearch.ca/we-re-going-to-take-out-7-countries-in-5-years-iraq-syria-lebanon-libya-somalia-sudan-iran/5166

November 12, 2012 @ 3:06am
by Jose Luis

al-Assad is bad... but rebels are totally worse... that is the true!

January 16, 2013 @ 1:33am
Show previous 22 comments
by jason

ok Jose, tell that the families of the 120,00+ innocent civilians who have lost their lives. Last time I checked, the rebels don't have any fighter jets or tanks. Why don't you actually take the time to learn about how the Alawite came to power. Read about Hafez Assad and then look at Bashar. Like father, like son. May I also direct you to research "Hama Massacre".

June 12, 2013 @ 5:29am
by Marcus Weber

Jose Luis, how DARE you say the Assad is preferable? Would you say that if he had murdered 100,000 of your countrymen? How dare you say that? What kind of human being are you, to disregard the worst crimes of the 21st century because you have been convinced that there is a Boogey Man called al-Qaeda? You are pathetic and delusional. Assad is a criminal against humanity, and you are buying his propaganda and lies; Anything to keep power, lying and murder included. And you would forgive all that. Shame on you.

June 25, 2013 @ 10:14pm
by Donny Johnson

Although the actions are to be condemned, we should remember that over 600,000 died in the U.S. Civil war. We have to remember that coalition forces had no problem, and the countries who were part of the coalition forces had no issue with training heavy artillery directly into an urban center such as what took place in Fallujah. Does it mater to the mother of a child if her infant son was gassed or killed by heavy artillery? Where was the outrage there, where was the outrage when the Congo fell apart? All of these are human tragedies, this outrage would be more believable had it been consistent across the board.

Someone also needs to point out that President Assad is, and has protected the Syrian Christian community from being slaughtered by radical Islamist. If and when Assad is driven out of power there will certainly be a massacre of Syrian Christians as well as secular Syrians. Will we then be obligated to commit troupes to stop this slaughter? Women's rights will cease to exist as well other reactions generally associated with events surrounding the ascendency of any fundamentalist group.

I personally believe in the use of force against leaders who engage in the slaughter and torture of their countries citizens. I am also comfortable with the West prosecuting this action. I would use force wherever abuse takes place simply because I believe somethings are worth fighting for. The other side of this coin is does anyone really want someone like me making these types of life and death judgments?

September 5, 2013 @ 3:27am
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