Last week, I read a piece of provocative journalism by Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept. It served to functions. One was to describe the latest discovering regarding an incident in December 2012 when Richard Engel, a top reporter for NBC News, was kidnapped in Syria along with members of his team.
|Every organization, even the necessarily violent militias|
of the Syrian-Iraqi wars, know they need good media
skills to prosper today, so will take time out from
fighting to leave a good impression on folks like this
photographer from VICE.
He at first believed that he had been captured by a pro-Assad guerrilla group, which was understandable, because there was pro-Assad graffiti all over their cell, and he had been travelling with an anti-Assad rebel group at the time. Engel and his crew were held for a few days, then rescued when their convoy went through a rebel checkpoint. His next high-profile appearance back on NBC stations saw him describe his captors as brutal, savage, pro-Assad Shi’ite militiamen and his liberators as virtuous Free Syrian Army forces.
When Greenwald began to quote sources and draw his own analysis after this descriptive part of his article about how this was all a trick, I was believing that this was another witless conspiracy. It’s a way of thinking that has become depressingly common among the Western left in the years since the September 11 attacks, so common that it’s completely mainstream.
Conspiracist thought that we consider completely insane is taken for granted throughout a lot of the Arab world. Examples would be the widespread belief that the Israeli government forcibly sterilizes its entire community of Ethiopian-descended Jews for an ideal of racial purity, that the Holocaust never happened and is a product of an Israeli and American propaganda machine, and that the US government destroyed the World Trade Centre in 2001 to provoke public hysteria that would give them free rein to invade Iraq.
Given this intellectual environment of total distrust and extremely creative conceptions of the truth, I hesitate to believe anything that sounds conspiracist. It makes people support horrible people for ridiculous and untrue reasons. I’ve come across folks online and in my own circle of politically active friends who defend Bashar al-Assad as an admirable socialist ruler dedicated to the welfare of his people, and who installed a fine-quality state healthcare system.
This is because the single-minded opposition to American policy in the Middle East drives otherwise conscientious activists to support anyone who can be seen as standing against US imperialism. The argument run in circles of self-contradiction because you end up defending military dictators who run their countries through secret police institutions because the American government doesn’t like them at the time.
Ten years ago, the dissident left was denouncing Assad because the American government was contracting with his secret police services to hold and torture renditioned terror suspects. I’m especially saddened when I see Canadians defending Assad on grounds of his anti-American stance, because Syrian secret police tortured my countryman Maher Arar at the request of US intelligence services.
I can understand the desire to see the world in conspiracist lenses. It makes the world simpler, it makes sense. Otherwise, we have to face the fact that the world is rudderless, a disorganized mess of half-blind men (and it is almost always men) in charge of the most powerful weapons and industries the Earth has ever known, stumbling around as they trip over their own feet.
Even the original conspiracy that turned out to be true about Bashar Assad, that the American government contracted him to torture terror suspects, isn’t a vast, expert plan. It was an alliance of convenience that contradicted the W Administration’s own government policies that included Syria among a list of foremost enemy states.
The United States was forbidden by its own laws to torture suspects in domestic prisons, and it couldn’t take Arar or rendition victims like him to Guantanamo Bay because they were arrested at airports and not in combat. So they shipped them wherever they could find a foreign partner that had no laws against torturing prisoners. Sometimes it was Mubarak’s Egypt, but in Arar’s case it was Assad’s Syria.
That’s why it depressed me when Greenwald revealed that Engel had uncovered new evidence which demonstrated that he really was tricked. He was kidnapped by the anti-Assad forces themselves, and fell for their line completely. It wasn't just that in this prominent case, there actually was a conspiracy, though that did disappoint me terribly.
|The enemy of one enemy is not a friend. I will not let|
myself begin to think this way. It will corrupt me.
It became a standard message from NBC News that Engel was kidnapped in December 2012 by a brutal group of Shi’ite militiamen allied with Assad and the Iranian government. Because Bashar Assad is a brutal military dictator who rules Syria through a secret police institution that his father began, who the Middle East would be better off without. I want him to be overthrown, but I now know that most of the groups trying to overthrow him will end up being just as bad. I can’t in good conscience or any conscience endorse one horrifying political regime because some other horrifying political regime is against them.
Greenwald’s article and the successful conspiracy he describes by the Free Syrian Army to trick Richard Engel and NBC into promoting them as virtuous rebels against a noxious dictator will have the effect of turning more democrats into boosters of Assad. If the Free Syrian Army, the United States government, and American media are so deceptive, then the dictators they’re trying to topple must be the good guys, right?
I oppose Western military intervention in the Syrian-Iraqi-ISIS-Iranian war because it is an absolute clusterfuck that our involvement will only worsen. The American invasion of Iraq killed millions of Iraqi civilians in the name of maintaining the peace, let a massive mercenary organization wreak uncontrolled havoc all over that country, and gave birth to Islamic State in the torture cells of Camp Bucca. An American-led invasion of Syria, even if it could ever secure UN blessing, would be just as disastrous.
I oppose Western military intervention in Syria’s war because we will only make things worse. Our armies are incompetent and, despite all our shiny equipment, poorly funded and rotting from the inside. I can only bring myself to support humanitarian aid, non-violent resistance, and genuine popular overthrow of dictators and militia groups by their own people. I refuse to play realpolitik that will see me make an ass of myself to support a dictator that we were denouncing years, months, or even weeks before.