Critical distance and open minds on Syria

By Jonathan Cook (The Blog from Nazareth)

My recent posting of doubts raised by Robert Fisk about the likelihood of the chemical weapons used at Ghouta being from the Syrian army aroused predictable anger from those supporting another US military strike on a developing country (collateral damage, anyone?)

Fisk had pointed out that, according to Russian information, it had not supplied the missiles that delivered sarin gas at Ghouta. The missiles, it was claimed, had been sold to Libya, among other countries, where military hardware has been flooding the black market and is being bought by opposition groups in Syria. If true, this would bolster the case for those arguing that the rebels, not the Syrian army, were responsible for the attack.

As I pointed out in my earlier post, there is no evidence for this account so far beyond Fisk’s reliable sources. But then again, from what I can see, there isn’t strong evidence yet for the west’s version, despite it rolling out its great propaganda machine.

(And by the way, I have seen HRW, Amnesty and the UN bow to US pressure often enough in the Israel-Palestine conflict to refuse to simply take what they say at face value on any matter. Remember only a few days ago the UN General Assembly voted down a resolution that would only have recommended that Israel sign up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty on its nuclear arsenal, as it is obligated to do under international law.)

Apparently, according to my critics, simply giving house-room to a counter-narrative to the one that dominates the political and media discourse in the west – and bombards our consciousnesses every day – is to become a dupe of Russian propaganda.

It surprises me how many otherwise sane leftists keep falling into this mischievous (mendacious?) mode of argument when it comes to the latest “humanitarian” intervention.

There are very good reasons why it is vital to keep at the forefront of our minds possible or plausible, even if unproven, accounts from the “other side”.

Chief among them is the point that, as the powerful western states and their media vassals have no interest in promoting or investigating accounts that challenge their own claims, such stories usually lie buried on the margins of public consciousness. If we don’t work hard to identify these stories and give them space, they will be entirely lost to the public debate.

Additionally, few or no mainstream journalists will have the backing of their bosses to investigate such claims, searching for the evidence that could decide the matter. Making these stories more visible at least makes it harder for the media to ignore the stories and may even encourage them over time to do their job properly. That can only be a good thing.

And, as Noam Chomsky keeps reminding us, I am responsible only for the crimes committed by my side and its allies. This is the only thing I can change. Therefore I have a moral responsibility to listen carefully to what the other side is saying about my side’s crimes.

The armchair warriors want to discredit me for giving this latest information attention, even when I do so cautiously and without endorsement, and even before they know whether it is true or not. I want to argue something that will surprise them: it will not discredit me even if this story turns out to be wrong. Because, unlike them, I am not cheerleading for a single side; I am giving myself and my readers the opportunity to hear both sides. The armchair warriors want to shut down debate, allowing only the “truth” they decided on at the outset; I want to let the debate continue until someone provides convincing evidence. At least that way, if US bombs start raining down on innocent Syrian families, no one can claim afterwards, as they have done in Iraq and Afghanistan, that they did not have the full picture.

The position I advocate is called maintaining “critical distance” and it the only insurance policy against being duped by our own side’s much more powerful and insidious propaganda. The denial of this obvious point by so many of those cheerleading another violent US-led assault on a Middle Eastern state makes me doubt their sincerity.

So for the reasons stated above, I am going to post another counter-narrative to the one we read every day in our media – in the interests of keeping minds open. This article by Sharmine Narwani and Radwan Mortada challenges the credibility of  the UN report’s findings. It concerns me that I am seeing little effort from the armchair warriors to provide answers to these kinds of critiques. If some of them care to point out a good response, I’ll happily post that as well.

One Comment

  1. One of the best and most lucid articles I’ve ever read.

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