Some reflection on events of recent weeks

There is something about blogging which requires instant response, and when just a week or two has passed since an event, it seems untimely to blog about it. This post is untimely in that sense, as it contains some of the things I have thought in response to some events which now seem not so recent.

I was struck by the under-reporting of some of the most extreme acts of violence by the Assad regime in Syria in what are hopefully its final weeks. Among the most brutal of its acts have been assaults on Palestinian refugee camps in Syria.

“Camps” is perhaps a misnomer, as these are really towns as old as many American or Australian cities, built of concrete, rather than the transient communities of tents and shacks the name conjures up. Some, like Dera’a, are “official” camps administered by the UNRWA, with kindergartens and health centres. More people live in “unofficial camps”, like Yarmouk, which has born the brint of regime attacks, a densely built-up suburb of Damascus, with multistory houses, hospitals, schools, heavy traffic, satellite dishes, electricity supply. (Read Arun with a View for evocative descriptions of Yarmouk; listen to an interview with a resident; read a 2010 BBC report on life in the camps; or read the account by solidarity tourist Sarah Shourd, who talks of a place of poetry readings, parks and boutiques.)

In July, there were reports of security forces firing on un-armed anti-regime demonstrations in Yarmouk. Here is a distressing video of the aftermath of one of the attacks on Yarmouk in August. The violence peaked early in September with four days of artillery bombardment, followed by ground assault (including the storming of the hospital and mass arrest of injured civilians). Later in September, there were reports of Palestinians killed and burnt by Assad’s forces and their bodies displayed in public, and of “sweeping” operations against Palestinian regime opponents, of snipers firing on children and old men. There have been reports of rape used as an act of war, and of summary executions of civilians, adult and child, male and female. This month, it is Dera’a camp, South of Damascus and closer to the Jordan border, that has been under attack, with heavy shelling around the mosque and many killed.

Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed in these attacks, and thousands injured. Some 269 Palestinians have been killed in the Syrian conflict, most by regime forces (the PLO claims over 400) out of a total death toll of around 30,000 (of whom around two thirds are civilians). The Syrians claim the camps harbour terrorists and pose a danger to the country’s security.

The under-reporting of these horrific events is in contrast to the ways in which Israeli operations (which also claim to be against terrorists and necessary for security) are reported. When Israel has deployed aerial bombardment or ground assault on Palestinian communities, it is front page news across the Western mainstream media, and especially liberal media. In response, and quite legitimately, thousands march through Western streets, demonstrate outside Israeli embassies. Others boycott Israeli products; still others attack synagogues or desecrate Jewish graves. Progressive Jews in the diaspora write letters to editors denouncing Israel’s actions and disassociating themselves, “as Jews”, from the violence. How many demonstrations have their been in Western cities about Assad’s violence? How many letters and boycotts have Western trade unionists and intellectuals organised to protest about the deaths in Syria.

Syria’s operations are comparable in scale and excessive in intensity – so why the quiet response? It seems to me the only plausible explanation is that for the mainstream Western media, and especially liberal media, Palestinian lives are not valuable in themselves, but of value only in relation to the acts of Israel. Palestinians are never the story for the liberal media; it is always Israel that is the story.

(Just to be clear, I am not at all suggesting the Western media is wrong to report, or Western liberals wrong to protest, Palestinian deaths at Israeli hands. For the sake of comparison, in the much shorter Lebanon and Gaza conflicts of 2006 and 2009, there were respectively 1200 Lebanese civilians and 200-900 Palestinian civilians killed. For further reading on Syria, I recommend Pulse Media and Qunfuz.)

I was also struck by the under-reporting of the extraordinary acts of courage and dignity in Libya, when thousands of Libyan civilians, most notably in Benghazi, physically invaded the strongholds of the militias which have made life a misery for Libyan people since the revolution. Specifically, it was Islamist militias which were rejected, and most especially the militias associated with the horrific slaying of the American ambassador in Benghazi, an act which appalled the city. The uprisings against the militias were spontaneous, self-organised mass acts of ordinary people from a wide cross-section of Libyan society, including devout Muslims and in particular Sufis: acts of democratic rage, perhaps, or patriotic rage, or just decent rage.

Here, the quiet response of Western mainstream media, and especially conservative media, was in contrast to the obsessive attention to the horrible spectacle of mob violence “provoked” in the preceding days by the dirty little Innocence of Muslims youtube video.

I am not for one second arguing that the Islamist rage was not worth reporting and condemning and dwelling on at length; its reach and intensity shows its geopolitical significance. What I’m suggesting is that the comparative media neglect of the democratic rage is telling. The conservative mainstream media, at least in 2012, is only interested in Muslims and Arabs if they play the role of fanatical jihadis – just as the liberal media is only interested in Palestinians if they play the role of victims of Israel.

Genocide denial and rape culture
If you only read one other thing on the internet, please read this long and devastating post by Jeff Mudrick on the loathsome neo-Nazi Israel Shamir and the article he wrote in the CounterPunch rag which simultaneously denies and excuses Pol Pot’s horrific genocide in Cambodia, an article which left my incandescent with rage and sheer disbelief when I read it. Anyone who still thinks CounterPunch is in any way worthy of anything other than wiping up shit basically needs a lobotomy.

And that includes the editors of the Stalinist Morning Star, whose continued existence is dependent on the completely misguided support of funds taken from hard-working British trade unionists; the Star asked the Jew-hater Shamir to reprint a lightly bowdlerised version of his misogynistic, antisemitic, Slavophiliac, Christianist and dictator-worshipping CounterPunch-published attack on Pussy Riot, and then retreated in a most dishonest way, provoking the fascist Shamir to reach new heights of “Jewish lobby”/“Jewish Marxist” conspiracy theories. Shamir, of course, is also a close associate of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, who continue to promote his excrement.

Assange shares with Shamir and with their late mutual acquaintance Alexander Cockburn a visceral contempt for women. And that brings us to George Galloway. I have taken great pleasure in the National Executive of the National Union of Students resolving (against the votes of the Student Broad Left) to deny a platform to Galloway for his rape apologies. The indefatigable and gorgeous Galloway took a break from celebrating his third marriage to his 23-year-old fourth (or fifth?) wife and from servicing his long-suffering constituents in Blackburn Bradford by helping democratator Hugo Chavez get re-elected in Venezuela to threaten legal proceedings against the NUS.

(By the way, I think it is worth looking at Galloway’s sexual escapades, and specifically his three (or four?) possibly overlapping marriages to a succession of increasingly young non-white women, as well as Galloway’s bizarre adoption of a strange Arabic accent. Is there any reason whatsoever that “other fetishizer” is not an extremely appropriate term for Galloway?)

The NUS resolution against Galloway, the widespread revulsion against a London SlutWalk spokesperson who tweeted in support of Assange, the resignation of Selma Yaqoob from Respect: these are signs which inspire a certain amount of hope for me in the British left, that basic feminist and socialist principles actually might make a comeback against the decade or so of “anti-imperialist” frenzy that has gripped it. Am I wrong to have some optimism?

(Also read Irna Qureshi’s excellent account of disillusion with Galloway among Muslim women of Bradford.)

In other news
Meanwhile, and far more sanely, TNC has an excellent post on Mitt Romney and the 47%: do read it. Less sanely, Paul C suggests Gove might be the next fascist prime minister of Britain. And the fatter Peter has a nice post on some alternative voices from rageland.

Image credits: Yarmouk demonstrates, from Pulse Media; Anti-militia protests in Benghazi, from CNN.


Alex Ross said…
Some excellent analysis of Left/liberal responses to Syria/Libya there, Bob.

On Galloway, as much as I absolutely loathe him, I'm not entirely convinced that "rape-denier" is an accurate term in this case. Less so that "no-platforming" is a great way to deal with repugnant views.
I guess we could say that technically/legally speaking the NUS are right. Assange has 4 specific allegations against him (as detailed at much length by David Allen Green) which, if proven in court, would **certainly** make Assange a rapist. These formed the basis of the EAW. Galloway in his creepy, night-terror inducing video blog says that even if the allegations hanging over him **are** proven in court – they do not constitute rape. So, strictly speaking, Galloway is a rape-denier.
However, Galloway, being a bit thick, does **not** seem to have been talking about the current allegations that formed the basis of the EAW – but some accounts circulated on the internet of earlier allegations against Assange. He has deliberately taken the mildest interpretation of what was alleged (sexual approaches in an existing relationship which have not been **explicitly** consented to and haven’t been **explicitly** rejected) and then said that such allegations don’t constitute rape.
He’s (1) hit upon a sensitive grey area in issues of sexual consent (2) talked about it in his usual brutish style and (3) applied it to the wrong case entirely (given the seriousness of the actual allegations against Assange and the fact the case is still in progress).
I think that there are many more egregious examples of things that Galloway has said or done.
Still, given his twatish recourse to libel proceedings, hope he looses!! As the NUS ruling should be considered “fair comment”.
TNC said…
Thanks for the link, always appreciated. I know what you mean about timeliness. My post is already dated as the political conversation in the U.S. has shifted to the first presidential debate.

Michael Weiss covers Syria extensively. I don't tweet but I'm sure he does.

I'd take Qunfuz w/ a big grain of salt. Make that a spoonful. I am not talking about his Syrian reportage, I am talking about his politics. Peek around here for just a few minutes and you'll see what I mean:
Bob said…
Re timeliness, I think I started writing this post in August! It's part of my ever-growing backlog, along with Maureen Dowd & neocons, the 47%, anti-capitalist graffiti, etc etc!

Re Qumfuz, I agree. I've linked to him in the past too, but also find a lot of stuff there on Iz/Pal that I strongly dislike.

Re no platform, I don't like the use of the concept of "no platform" for someone like Galloway (and also Tony Benn, who they originally criticised too), although the actual motion was slightly more limited than a blanket "no platform". Basically, I agree with everything you say Alex.
"claim to be against terrorists"?? Are you suggesting an equivalence between Assad's fascist regime and its plastic use of terminology and Israel?
bob said…
CC: short answer is no, but I can see how my wording makes it look like that.

I was concerned while writing this that I was open to the appearance of whataboutery: of saying using the Ba'athist assault on Palestinians (and the noble anti-jihadi uprising in Libya) to justify, excuse, minimise or apologise for Israeli state actions (and Islamist violence). It didn't occur to me I was laying myself open to the opposite charge of equivalencing.

My position is something like this. Among the Palestinian casualties in Syria, some are undoubtedly active in what they (and I) would call the resistance and the Ba'athist regime would call "terrorists". The regime assault has the aim of crushing resistance, and is killing massive numbers of non-combatants to carry out that aim. In Lebanon in 2006 and in Gaza in 2009, Israel among the Lebanese and Palestinian casualties were some (or rather many in 2009 - perhaps even a majority of those killed) who would call themselves the resistance and who the Israeli state (and me) would call terrorists. The Israeli actions had the aim of crushing terrorism, and killed many non-combatants to do so. In my view, the war aims of the Israeli state in 2006 and 2009 were just, whereas the war aims of the Ba'athist regime now are profoundly unjust. In both cases, but much more grossly in the case of the Syrian regime, the prosecution of those aims is unjust - much more grossly because the Syrian regime has no care for civilian deaths, whereas IDF strategies made much more effort in this regard. Another possible parallel is that both are about survival - in the Syrian case the desperate struggle for survival of an unpopular dictatorship in its death throes, clinging on to power over its subjects; in the Israeli case the existential struggle of the state and its six million inhabitants in the face of the genocidal intent of the Hamas/Hezbollah axis. However, the completely different scale, intensity, duration, and context of the different conflicts mean they are not remotely comparable, let alone equivalent.

I know few people will agree with that analysis, and I would not want this to be what the post is about. The post was meant to be about the Western public sphere, about leftists and mainstream liberals and conservatives in the country where I live. I have no purchase and little stake in what goes on in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza or even Israel; I do have a small audience and a large stake in what happens in the UK. I'd be more interested to see if people agree with my view of the reception of those events over here than if they agree with my perception of the events over there.
bob said…
Here is what I wrote about the Lebanon conflict in 2006. I broadly stand by it now, I think.
BTW, Bob, Israel's population is about 7.5 millions, out of whom 6 million are Jews.
bob said…
I realised I made that mistake as soon as I pressed publish, but was too tired to amend. I think I have made other mathematical errors in this post. I am not sure if the two thirds of Syria deaths being civilians is right: I think it might be much more. I also gave a figure in the post for Lebanese civilians in 2006, but I think it was actially the figure for Lebanese citizens, which would include Hezbollah combatants. I'll check and amend tomorrow if necessary. I'm not very numerate.
Sarah AB said…
I'd missed that piece by Irna Qureshi originally - very damning!
Nice article, thanks for the information.
modernity's ghost said…
"I do have a small audience and a large stake in what happens in the UK."

I suspect it is bigger than you think.

And well put about Syria & the West, there is almost boredom amongst some lefties, as far as I can see it.

If you don't believe that point, see Dave Osler open thread on Syria.

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