The Shit Show Continues

Today while watching football I glanced over at “faux anti-imperialist Twitter” to see them all sharing this post by Stephen Gowan, “The Revolutionary Distemper in Syria That Wasn’t”. It continues the nauseating distortion and outright lies expected from those so-called leftists looking to deface the Syrian revolution. He relies on the same “protesters are rioters” and fear-of-Islam rhetoric common on the right, while treating regime sources as accurate and using the lives of Syrians in an “upscale district of Damascus” as evidence of youth support for the government – so much for Marxist analysis!

Selective quoting, like the one from the Damascus youth, is commonly used to make the lies appear to be backed up by sources:

But if there was disagreement about what sparked the uprising, there was little disagreement that the uprising was violent. The New York Times reported that “Protesters set fire to the ruling Ba’ath Party’s headquarters…” [11]

When the source is read we find that it states clearly the protests were met by violent suppression:

As the protests grew heated, the police sprayed tear gas, further angering the protesters, who began tearing down a poster of Mr. Assad in the main square of Dara’a. The police then opened fire into the crowd, witnesses said.

Only after police opened fire on the crowd did protesters take the Ba’ath Party headquarters.

Gowan then details the fact that the protests were not, initially, calling for Assad to step down, but for detailed reforms. But how does this mesh with Gowan’s thesis that this is about regime change, then, if the protests were based on a lie and violent from the start? Well he has an explanation!

This wasn’t a demand for jobs and greater democracy, but a demand for the release from prison of activists inspired by the goal of bringing about an Islamic state in Syria. The call to lift the emergency law, similarly, appeared to have little to do with fostering democracy and more to do with expanding the room for jihadists and their collaborators to organize opposition to the secular state.

Of course! Protesters demanding economic reform and the freeing of political prisoners were actually undercover jihadis! And Assad fell for their trap! Assad wasn’t ruthlessly calculating with the release of the likes of Abu Muhammad al-Joulani and Mohammed Haydar (anything but peaceful political prisoners the protests called for the release of), assuming it would work in his favor to frame the opposition as “Islamic terrorists.” No, according to Gowan, Assad was simply duped.

Gowan continues:

Time reported that a string of protests had broken out and that Islam was playing a prominent role in them.

Frightening! Gowan seems to be hinting that Islam is counter to freedom and democracy, making this is a very worrisome development indeed. Elsewhere, Gowan, like a good faux anti-imperialist, makes sure to be more specific, citing “Sunni Islamists” so he can point out he doesn’t mean “all Muslims”:

Syria’s religious minorities recognized something about the uprising that the Western press under-reported (and revolutionary socialists in the United States missed), namely, that it was driven by a sectarian Sunni Islamist agenda which, if brought to fruition, would have unpleasant consequences for anyone who wasn’t considered a “true” Muslim.

But while Western leftists were from the beginning decimating this propaganda from Assad as he looked to capitalize on divisions, Syrians knew better: ‘One, one, one, the Syrian people are one.’

In order to link the uprising to Western orchestrated “regime change,” Gowan next discusses the plans drawn up in Washington for overthrowing Assad during the Bush administration. Which is true, but that was 2005, as early as 2006 the relationship between Assad and the West was warming. As soon as Obama was in office it was clear he, too, was not interested in regime change but instead working with the dictator. And the goal of keeping the Syrian state, with or without Assad, has remained the Obama administration’s policy, to protect the Iran deal, the president not interested in the aspirations of the Syrian people. The latter point is especially made clear by his lack of understanding for the revolution in this interview with Jeffrey Goldberg:

“When you have a professional army,” he once told me, “that is well armed and sponsored by two large states”—Iran and Russia—“who have huge stakes in this, and they are fighting against a farmer, a carpenter, an engineer who started out as protesters and suddenly now see themselves in the midst of a civil conflict …”

A ridiculous statement to make when the opposition’s armed resistance began through the creation of the Free Syrian Army by deserters – and the fact that Syria has mandatory conscription, so those farmers and carpenters have 1 to 3 years of experience in the army themselves. And when arms become scarce because of this indifference, but the bombs continue to fall, the result is predictable when armed Islamists groups are bringing in funds:

People who volunteer to fight have strong attachments to their communities and nurse grievances against the al-Assad regime. Religious ideation is secondary or even a tertiary motivation for joining.


In interviews with fighters who first joined FSA and then switched to Islamist brigades, almost all mentioned non-religious reasons: “My friends left my old group and I left with them,” “I didn’t like people in my old group,” “My friend got injured and they didn’t support him,” “I was with my old group [FSA] until I fought with Ahrar al-Sham. I liked their way of treating fighters and I joined.”

Syrian fighters joining armed Islamist groups wasn’t the cause of the uprising, but a result of the indiscriminate violence inflicted on the population by the counter-revolution and the international indifference to their suffering.

To top off the absurdity, Gowan attempts to position Assad’s regime as socialist and whitewash the neo-liberal “reforms” of the last decade before the revolution:

If Assad was a neo-liberal, he certainly was one of the world’s oddest devotees of the ideology.

In reality, the “reforms” were real and had consequences. The 2010 assessment, Syria on the Road to Economic Reform, by Syrian economist Samir Seifan, contains a passage relevant not only to the effects of economic reform but the people’s ability to express opposition:

The resentment of the poor could be clearly heard but in private since public demonstrations are banned in the country. The UNDP poverty report shows that in 2003-2004 around 2 million people (11% of the population) lacked access to basic food and nonfood requirements. Using another poverty line, the overall proportion of people in poverty was at 30%, including 5.3 million persons. If this survey had been conducted in 2008, poverty rates would have been higher still… [U]nder economic reform, the middle strata are shrinking while a rich stratum is emerging at the top, resulting in a social pyramid with a broad base, a narrowing middle stratum and a higher peak.

Writing comfortably from Canada it is somewhat understandable that at the end of the piece Gowan would again bring up the February “Day of Rage,” and the New York Times article always cited in these posts:

Demonstrations called by organizers of the Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook page fizzled.

Even ignoring the fact that Facebook had been blocked in Syria since 2007, the fear instilled by the decades of Assad family rule and heavy security services involvement made the initial call for protest as a way to gauge the regime’s reaction, Syria: ‘A kingdom of silence’.

Gowan’s article suffers from attempting to take any event during the Syrian uprising and analyzing it from a static point in time before the uprising began. He says there was not popular support for overthrowing Assad, and points out the initial protests were not for downfall of the regime. But he fails to connect the change in demands to the violent crackdown that occurred. He brings up the supposedly “hostile foreign policy” towards Israel as one reason for this support, but neglects the fact that using the army to attack his own people while the Golan Heights remained occupied revealed to many what Assad’s true concerns were.

Just as striking as the lies contained in the post is all that is left out. Of course there is no mention of the role Local Councils have had. He has nothing about the heavy Syrian army desertions (or those who stayed on to help the opposition from the inside), which would be hard to explain when one denies they were ordered to fire on peaceful protesters.

There should be no place for this bullshit on the left.