We here at BSNews have a great respect for Media Lens, particularly as our co-editor, Alison Banville, has enjoyed friendly email communication with both David Edwards and David Cromwell (with the latter for a decade)and this has proved invaluable in terms of support when the fight to expose the damage wrought by the corporate media became sometimes emotionally and psychologically exhausting. Media Lens has been a lifeline, and Alison was glad to repay this debt in some small way by exposing a smear attempt on Media Lens as false. It is within this context of a record of mutual support that we publish the following exchange between a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and Media Lens. We believe the search for truth regarding the Syrian conflict can only benefit from an open and honest discourse:
The correspondence below was written by a CPGB-ML member in response to an article that appeared on MediaLens.org titled ‘Structural inclinations – the leaning tower of propaganda: chemical weapons attacks in Ghouta, Syria’ on 9 October.
We publish this not as an attack on Media Lens, whose work we value and respect, but as an exposure of the debilitating ideological castration that separates peace-loving people in the imperialist countries from adopting a class position on questions of war and peace; from turning imperialist war into a war on imperialism, from taking a resolute stand with the oppressed against the oppressors and unifying the workers in the imperialist countries with their brothers and sisters who resist in the oppressed countries.
1) Dear Media Lens
I was horrified to see the extent to which the imperialist bias that you make it your business to expose in corporate journalism has infected your own view of events in Syria.
In your recent article on the chemical weapons propaganda, you felt constrained to emphasise twice — at the beginning and at the end of your article — that President Assad of Syria is a ‘war criminal’. And, just like the journalists you excoriate, you offered not a shred of evidence for this assertion.
Near the beginning of your article you wrote, by way of an apology for criticising the corporate media’s ‘house lefties’:
The point is not that Aaronovitch, Hasan and Monbiot are wrong – the Assad dictatorship has committed many horrific war crimes, and may have again in Ghouta.
And at the end, having yourself referred to just some of the evidence that, when put together, makes it quite clear that the Syrian government did NOT carry out the recent chemical weapons attack in Ghouta, you undermined your whole article with the following statement:
Again, none of this means that the Syrian government, and indeed Assad himself, was not to blame for the August 21 attacks.
For any right-thinking person not infected with colonial prejudice, it is perfectly clear to see that President Assad is a popular, unifying leader in a country that has faced escalating hostility from imperialism for decades.
He heads a government that has been freely elected and which comprises members of many parties — a national-unity coalition, in fact. Syria’s government is far more democratic and representative than our own. Did you know that 50 percent of the seats in the Syrian parliament are reserved for workers? Since you so casually refer to it as a ‘dictatorship’ — as if that was established fact — I can only assume that you did not.
President Assad’s only ‘crime’ is to be the leader of a nation that has refused to ‘know its place’. He unites people from all backgrounds and presides over a much-valued secular state in a region where sectarian hatred has been deliberately fostered (and armed) by outsiders for generations.
Anti-imperialist, independent Syria has stood up to US and British corporate and military interests and to zionism. It has given real, physical support to Palestinian and Iraqi resistance and refugees — at great cost to itself. It has spent its resources on providing free education and health care, on keeping food prices low, and on limiting the activities of the very bloodsucking international corporations you also claim to oppose. It has refused to allow its people to become yet more disposable sweatshop-fodder for the world’s financial elite.
For decades, Syria has stood side by side with Iran and the Lebanese resistance to form a counterweight against Israeli (and therefore imperialist) dominance of the Middle East. It has supported countries all over the world — through both trade and diplomacy — that are trying to carve an independent furrow and lift their people out of the superexploited poverty that western imperialists have consigned them to.
So why should it be that you, who claim to want peace and harmony in the world, and an end to the domination of the imperialist corporations, have such a knee-jerk, hostile reaction to a leader and a government who are actually putting your supposed programme into action by standing up to the forces of imperialism? Why are you so quick to come down against David and agree with Goliath?
The only answers I can come up with are laziness and prejudice. You must have relied on vested interests for information in order to so casually refer to ‘dictator Assad’. And you would seem also to have accepted the right of the free-market fundamentalists who control our media to judge and label their opponents.
But any schoolboy critic of the system can tell you that words like ‘dictator’ and ‘undemocratic’ when used by our corporate media are simply code for ‘uppity native getting in the way of our profit-taking’. Can it be that, despite all your years of opposing the propaganda machine, this simple truth has so far eluded you?
Be that as it may, since you have set yourselves up as an independent voice that purports to expose the bias of the corporate media, it behoves you to find out the truth about the people that the West is demonising. And even if you can’t be bothered to to that, it ought to be a very minimum requirement that you not make categoric statements like ‘the Assad dictatorship has committed many horrific war crimes’ without backing them up.
I can assure you, if you think you have evidence, there are plenty of people out there who can help you see through it. Like so much of today’s propaganda, it will turn out to be paper thin.
Over the years, I have subsidised your work (when able), read your books and bought them for friends, followed your alerts and forwarded/shared them around. I have considered the work you do to be extremely useful to progressive humanity. You have written many things I disagreed with, but I considered you to be thoroughly critical in your thinking and aware that the narrative passed down to us by officially-sanctioned history books and the corporate media is written by vested interests and aimed at keeping us quiescent in the face of Britain’s hideous imperial crimes.
Which only makes your refusal to recognise the lies being told about President Assad and the Syrian government more baffling and disappointing.
I very much hope you will publish a full retraction of statements that — whether you mean them to or not — are reinforcing the lies of the corporate war propaganda machine, and therefore supporting what you yourselves have identified as a criminal war effort.
Thanks for your email and support in the past.
Assad is certainly not head of the kind of system we would consider democratic. We’re not alone in that view. Noam Chomsky has commented:
‘First of all, Israel was not opposed to Assad. He has been more or less the kind of dictator they wanted.’
In 2011, Amnesty reported:
‘The authorities remained intolerant of dissent. Those who criticized the government, including human rights defenders, faced arrest and imprisonment after unfair trials, and bans from travelling abroad. Some were prisoners of conscience. Human rights NGOs and opposition political parties were denied legal authorization. State forces and the police continued to commit torture and other ill-treatment with impunity, and there were at least eight suspicious deaths in custody.’
“But any schoolboy critic of the system can tell you that words like ‘dictator’ and ‘undemocratic’ when used by our corporate media are simply code for ‘uppity native getting in the way of our profit-taking’.”
That’s often true but the corporate media doesn’t have a monopoly on the use, or intended meaning behind the use, of particular words. We can use the same words without intending anything of the sort. We have often quoted Ralph Nader on the US political system:
‘We have a two-party dictatorship in this country. Let’s face it. And it is a dictatorship in thraldom to these giant corporations who control every department agency in the federal government.’
In quoting Nader, we didn’t intend to suggest that the US was an uppity native getting in the way of profit-taking.
“For any right-thinking person not infected with colonial prejudice, it is perfectly clear to see that President Assad is a popular, unifying leader in a country that has faced escalating hostility from imperialism for decades.”
We didn’t say Assad wasn’t popular or unifying. We’ve often pointed out that Syria has faced escalating attacks from external forces of the kind you’re describing. We wrote that the Assad dictatorship ‘has committed many horrific war crimes’. That’s really undeniable. For example, Robert Fisk has cited Syrian army officers who made it very clear that they had not been taking prisoners. The Syrian air force has clearly been bombing civilian areas, also a war crime, and so on. As in any war, the government and head of government are responsible for all crimes of this kind.
DE Media Lens
3) Dear Media Lens
From your reply it’s clear that you are relying on supporters of the system for your information.
‘Human rights NGOs’ are usually backed by the same corporations who control the rest of our media. They are the missionaries of our time, clearing the way for imperial crimes by preaching to the oppressed and spreading slanders about them while pretending to be ‘independent’ of the imperial machine.
They present themselves as ‘neutral arbiters’, but a hefty proportion of what they put out is outright lies, while the rest is distorted through the mirror of western corporate interests.
And who appointed these western ‘NGOs’ as arbiters of rights anyway? Isn’t the first right of people everywhere to be allowed to live in peace? To just live??? Amnesty International led the war propaganda effort for the destruction of Libya with total lies. Its leaders loudly and shamelessly laid the groundwork for a genocide against black Libyans and the almost total destruction of 40 years of civilisational advance — then quietly retracted their lies when the war was over. MSF have been doing the same in Syria by spreading unfounded lies about the use of chemical weapons based on nothing but the say-so of Nato’s death squads.
Robert Fisk and Noam Chomsky are similar ‘left-wing’ imperialists of the type that you are usually quite good at spotting. They are ‘safe’ critics because they never question the really big lies on which the whole ideological edifice of this rotten system rests. If they weren’t such tame critics, you probably would never have have heard of them! I know you have a thing for Chomsky, but I would not rely on him for information for a second. In the case of Syria, he reinforces the western narrative by describing the terror gangs there as a legitimate liberation struggle that has been forced to arm itself. So yes actually, it is perfectly deniable that President Assad is the author of ‘horrific war crimes’ — not only Assad and Syria deny it, but so do most of progressive and oppressed humanity.
There is no civil war in Syria. The US, British and French imperialists are fighting a PROXY WAR. Civilians caught up in terrorist campaigns universally report on how many foreign accents and even languages there are amongst the fighters — who have mostly been drafted in from abroad. These mercenaries are not patriots. They have been trained by their masters to be utterly brutal (ie, killing and kicking out huge numbers of civilians from their homes, kidnapping young children and using chemical weapons on them in order to take photos and blame the deaths on the Syrian government). They recognise no rules of engagement. No crime is too barbaric for them. They are true servants of the Nato nazis.
Syria is fighting for its life as an independent and proud nation against the most powerful forces this planet has ever seen. Are you really saying that you (or Robert Fisk, come to that) are in a position to judge their tactics? One brutal battle where some bloody nasty terrorists got killed does not make the leader of a government into a war criminal. Especially when that government is trying to defend its people’s fundamental right to life by standing up against a criminal onslaught. They are trying not to become the next Afghanistan, the next Palestine, the next Congo, the next Iraq or the next Libya. They are trying to prevent the next middle-eastern genocide.
Do you think the Syrian government would remain popular if it was seen to be bombing its own civilians? Does that actually make sense if you stop to think about it? Why are the Syrian army greeted everywhere as liberators if that’s how they conduct warfare?
There has been a difficulty with ‘democratic freedoms’ in Syria. Where is there not? In Syria’s case, these limitations were a direct result of imperialist and zionist warfare, not the random whim of some mythical ‘evil tyrant’. Countries that stand up to imperialism are forced to take defensive measures. They are under constant attack on all fronts all the time – economically, militarily, via the media and through sabotage and infiltration. In order to allow people to keep going to school, to keep living in their subsidised housing, eating their subsidised food and using their free hospitals, the government had to protect the system that provided those from collapse at the hands of outside agents.
Think Britain during WW2. The country was in a state of emergency. People were asked to be vigilant against alien activity. Democracy was curtailed. Were there good reasons for it? Did the people understand it? Would you therefore characterise Churchill’s government as a brutally oppressive regime of war criminals? [In fact, it’s a bad comparison, as Churchill really was a war criminal and a nasty racist piece of work, but you take my point, I hope.]
Syria has been in a state of emergency, a state of war, since Israel occupied the Golan Heights. It has been constantly infiltrated by spies and saboteurs and, of course, some Syrians are in the pay of these forces. Do you honestly believe that a country under such attack should not take any steps to defend itself? Would you like to see imperialism being given free reign to control every corner of the planet? How do you expect countries to defend themselves if not by ‘oppressing’ those who want to hand the country over to the forces of free-market fundamentalism?
But it is not the job of peace-lovers and anti-imperialists to condemn the victim for trying to stop a crime. We should be pointing our fingers at the criminals and exposing their dastardly activities, not helping them to justify their vicious attacks.
The imperialists are angry only because the measures such states take to protect themselves are to a certain extent effective against their attempts to effect regime change from within, by subversion and manipulation. ‘We should be able to control your political and economic life’ is what calls by the imperialists for ‘open government and democracy’ really amount to. They are total doublespeak. Is it really so hard to see that?
Are you aware that the genuine ‘popular protests’ that the West homed in on and infiltrated as an excuse to trigger its proxy war were against market reforms that had been forced through by the IMF? Did you know that a structural adjustment programme had opened up parts of the economy to corporate investors and led to higher prices and unemployment? That the demonstrations were essentially a result of Syria having made concessions to the great economic pressure that has been brought to bear for decades by the imperialists?
Did you know that the real protestors considered President Assad to be on their side in their call for greater democracy (a lightening of the state of emergency) and for a return to a more nationalised economy and better opportunities for young people? Did you know that the mass of people backed a new constitution two years ago and back the government today? If you knew these facts you would not be so quick to believe the stupid lies about Assad ‘clamping down’ on protestors, ‘firing on his own people’, etc etc.
It is documented that terrorist snipers and armed men attacked police at faked ‘protests’ in order to portray the government as ‘brutal’ and justify their impending war — a war that has been in the planning for at least a decade.
Governments get demonised by the West precisely when they do manage to stand up for themselves and protect their people. While imperialism exists in the world, people will have to find ways to deal with that reality. They didn’t create the situation. They didn’t ask to be in the firing line. I’m sure they would like nothing better than to be left the hell alone to develop their economy and their culture in peace.
But that’s not what happens is it?
Why are we in the imperialist countries allowed to identify with the nobly vanquished victim and loudly wish that the world was not so unjust, but not to give any real support to those who are trying not to be the next victims of this barbaric system? Should we not be pulling out all the stops to help those on the front line who are actually doing something to change the balance of forces in favour of the oppressed?
And if Assad is popular, unifying and freely elected, where the hell do you get off calling him a ‘dictator’?
It’s time to dig a little deeper and decide which side you are really on. There are no neutral arbiters in this world.