Deceptive Documentaries

When we watch a documentary film I imagine most of us suppose it to be portraying factual information, not fiction. That, after all, is what would differentiate a documentary from other genres like drama or entertainment.

With this assumption in mind I have often wondered how broadcasters, filmmakers, festivals and prizegivers could be screening and celebrating ‘documentaries’ that purvey demonstrable untruths.

As luck would have it, with the International Film Festival being in town here in Edinburgh just now, I was able to get my answer from an industry expert.

It goes like this. When a company/organisation is pitched a documentary they don’t see it as their business to be acting as arbiters of truth. If the thing has good production values and they believe the public would have a real interest in seeing it, then they’ll consider it eligible for support. My expert gave an example: we can suppose that there are scores of biographies of a famous figure like President Kennedy, and that each one has a particular take on its subject; we can readily imagine that the different authors may consider others to be plain wrong in various particulars. These disagreements wouldn’t be the business of someone commissioning or showing the film to pronounce on.

So, I asked, more pointedly, what about a film that portrays a bunch of mercenary terrorists as humanitarian heroes and thereby completely misrepresents the truth about them to the public? Well, she thought for a bit about this. Probably, she reflected, it could  be appropriate to make clear when a documentary was offering one perspective on a situation that other people may have alternative perspectives on. She seemed to allow that this kind of acknowledgement would probably not need to be particularly overt or conspicuous. In other words, even if those involved in promoting the film know it to be controversial in some quarters, that is not a fact to be flagged as a warning. Indeed, it might well be used as an extra dash of spice in the promotion material.

The conversation left me somewhat enlightened and morewhat depressed. I think of how sometimes a documentary is presented to the public as providing a compelling dossier of evidence in support of a case for or against this or that hero or villain. People are led to believe the case has been made. Yet, in reality, they have been deceived.

So the organisations that want to use documentaries for deceptive ends can get away with it. I am therefore sure they’ll carry on getting their Oscars and their Amnesty Media Awards so long as their story chimes with the interests of the sponsors.

Meanwhile, the rest of us will just have to work that bit harder to disseminate more honest understandings of what is really going on behind the screens.

 

Posted in Amnesty International, BBC, bullshit, Channel 4, disinformation, film, journalism, media, propaganda, Syria, Uncategorized, war, White Helmets | 2 Comments

Last White Helmets in Aleppo: in lieu of a film review

In the wake of Netflix’s Oscar winning The White Helmets comes the Sundance Festival Grand Jury Prize winning Last Men of Aleppo. According to early reviews, audiences leave screenings with a desperate feeling that something ought to be done, but with a sense of helplessness about not knowing what.[1]

While that is very understandable, there are some things we can know if we really want to, even though the film does not reveal them.

First, in case it is true that among audiences are people who wish there was something they could do to just make the bombing in Aleppo stop, I would mention that it has stopped. It stopped before Christmas 2016. The siege of Aleppo ended, and the citizens who had been trapped there, essentially as human shields, were able to leave. Most went to the Western part of the town that had remained under government control.[2] The fighters who had been in control of the eastern quarters were given amnesty and left town in green buses laid on by the Syrian government. They were allowed to take their handheld weapons. The White Helmets went with them to Idlib, although some may have gone to Turkey (where their video clips were edited into this new film).

Since their departure, law and order has been restored across the whole of Aleppo. The eastern part is no longer bombed. Nor does it any longer experience the kidnappings, rape, murder, crucifixion, torture, sexual exploitation and organ trafficking that had been permitted and perpetrated by the “rebels”. It also no longer serves as the launch pad for mortars and hell cannon fired into the civilian population in the Western part of town.[3]

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Aleppo 2017

Citizens are returning and starting to rebuild their lives in East Aleppo. The White Helmets, meanwhile, are providing their services in the Al Qaeda held territory of Idlib.

Viewers of the film may find this puzzling news, given they’ll have heard ‘the White Helmets’ collective insistence that they’ll never abandon Aleppo’ and that ‘Aleppo will always be their home’.[4] The fact is no White Helmets operate in Aleppo now, just as none did before the “rebels” seized its Eastern part. Incidentally, the real Syrian Civil Defence volunteers, who have operated in areas under legitimate government since 1953, wear red helmets.[5]

Several further facts about the White Helmets are not much publicised in the news media or these films. One is that they are not actually volunteers in the usual sense, for they are paid. The funding comes from foreign governments, notably UK and USA (as explained, respectively, by Boris Johnson and Mark Toner).

The White Helmets do not typically put others first, at least according to witnesses, and in Aleppo had a reputation for robbing the houses they entered and the people they helped.[6] Not that they helped ordinary citizens, for the most part, since it appears their main practical role was to provide support to the fighters.[7] Their filmed rescues are not all necessarily genuine.[8] Nor is it true that they assembled as a group spontaneously. This was the work of British military man James Le Mesurier, with funding from Western governments, notably Britain and America. He organised training for them in Turkey.

Among the White Helmets are fighters who, despite what we are told, can be seen with weapons.[9] They are also accessories at executions.[10]

A beauty of film is that it can conjure a world of pure imagination. When this potent capacity is applied in the making of a documentary it can make the material more compelling. It can, of course, also serve to manipulate and distort the evidence it presents.

The film does not aspire to help audiences understand better “what they can do” about the terrible situation in Syria. It tends to reinforce the received wisdom about the supposed heroes of Aleppo. But anybody wondering how truthful it is will want to review that received wisdom, and perhaps consider some of the now numerous critical accounts of the role the White Helmets have actually been playing in the Syrian war.

One might then also try to understand what the deep motivation is for Western media and even film industry award institutions to be involved in glorifying people who are at a maximum of one degree of separation from active terrorists. By thinking about this, one may better understand – unswayed by the artful manipulations of a motion picture – exactly what one should really be worrying about.

The West’s support for regime change wars has brought devastation to whole countries. Think about Iraq or Libya as well as Syria. It has brought refugees. It has involved allowing British citizens freely to train for jihad. It has allowed them to fight against legitimate governments abroad and return home. We have seen them here in Britain. We saw them in Manchester recently, and on Tower Bridge. I fear we may see more.

We live in a time, I believe, when it is vital to be challenging the assumptions that support the escalation of conflicts. While the message of White Helmets films may seem to be about the need for peace and humanity, their underlying function – and the reason for their being funded by hawkish governments – is to reinforce the need for intervention to overthrow another country’s government.

That is why I think films like this are not really best described as documentaries. For what the White Helmets are, as John Pilger has succinctly observed, is ‘a complete propaganda construct’.[11]

 

Not having seen the film ‘Last Men in Aleppo’, I am not in a position to recommend it. A short film I can recommend is this. At less than 4 minutes, a view of it will be time well spent if you are tempted to believe what is said in White Helmets promotional material.

 

Notes

[1] ‘I suspect it’s the filmmakers’ wish that once those initial feelings ebb, moviegoers will ask what they can do to help. This picture doesn’t offer hope; its aim is to compel us to create some.’ Glenn Kenny in the New York Times 2 May 2017 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/02/movies/last-men-in-aleppo-review.html?_r=0

[2] This is recorded by Aron Lund in an article that is by no means sympathetic to Assad’s government: https://www.irinnews.org/analysis/2017/04/12/eastern-aleppo-under-al-assad

[3] You would not know it from this film, or the Netflix one, or the Western media more generally, but the Western part of Aleppo is far more populous than the eastern part and has remained functioning – despite the incoming shells from the “rebel” areas – throughout the war.

[4] This is from the review by Vikram Murthi, 3 May 2017 http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/last-men-in-aleppo-2017

[5] http://21stcenturywire.com/2017/04/02/the-real-syria-civil-defence-saving-real-syrians-not-oscar-winning-white-helmets-saving-al-qaeda/ This resource gives detailed information about the real Syrian civil defence as well as some further insight into operations by the White Helmets.

[6] See for instance this account by Aleppo journalist Khaled Iskef: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSl1wT6Q0Lg . Indicative is this interview with a young boy from Aleppo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSBvd9i_jAs

[7] Abu Jaber Al-Sheikh, the leader of Hay’at Tahreer Al-Sham (Al-Qaeda in Syria) thanks the White Helmets and calls them “the hidden soldiers of the revolution”. This was part of his speech commemorating the 6th anniversary of the Jihadist insurgency in Syria: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvTAi0MXY6w See also the evidence on the ground in Eastern Aleppo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpyCkk47Hhs

[8] We cannot be certain exactly what is and what is not staged in White Helmets films, but we can be certain of their capacity to make convincing fakes for the camera, since they demonstrated it with their notorious Mannequin Challenge video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zgl271A6LgQ .

[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5k6hSS6xBTw

[10] Evidence can be found on social media but I have opted not to link to it here since it is disturbingly graphic.

[11] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X27B0yuazGo.  Since Pilger is known to be on the political left, it is interesting to note that a similarly critical view of the White Helmets is given by someone usually regarded as on the political right, Peter Hitchens:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwjw0vkV7_I

 

Posted in disinformation, film, media, propaganda, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war, White Helmets | 3 Comments

Blowback from ‘Regime Change’ policies: the need for better public debate

Terrorist acts on British soil have been committed by people revealed to have been not only known but actively supported by British intelligence agencies.  They were supported in carrying out acts of violence in other countries, including Libya and Syria, because it was in accordance with UK foreign policy objectives. Those objectives themselves were highly questionable, and the methods still more so.  Meanwhile, we have started to learn – and at a bitter cost to those killed or injured, and their friends and families – what goes around comes around.  What went around was not fair or deserved in Libya or Syria, and it is cruelly arbitrary for lives to be lost or terribly changed in our country too.

Blowback is, I fear, a word we may find ourselves using increasingly and for some time to come. We should certainly try to get as focused, rational, mature and responsible an approach as possible to the complex problem we face.  That would mean raising the level of public and political debate somewhat from what has become usual.

For that reason, a number of us – 62 academics and journalists, including John Pilger – have signed the letter below that has today been sent to the Guardian.  In case you don’t get to read it there, it is reproduced below. 

Update: the letter appears in the Guardian 9 June 2017,

Update: Noam Chomsky has added his signature 19 June 2017.

(For more background see also the article on OpenDemocracy by our letter’s lead author Piers Robinson.)

 

From 9/11 to the London Bridge Attack: Time to Rethink the ‘war on terror’

Today, 16 years since 9/11 ushered in the US-led ‘war on terror’ and with attacks now occurring across Europe and multiple wars across the MENA region, it is time for the West to reflect far more deeply on these matters. Whilst the attacks should be condemned and sympathies expressed for the bereaved, these actions will not address the ways in which terrorism has become interwoven with Western foreign policy.

To date, policy responses involving civil liberty crackdowns, threats to control the internet and repressive measures such as Prevent, which target entire communities, especially Muslim, have not been evidence-based and have, indeed, run counter to advice from experts and the security agencies themselves. Responses to the immediate problem of terrorist acts, such as those witnessed in London and Manchester, need to be much more intelligent and informed.

At the same time, simplistic and politicised representations of ‘Islamic fundamentalist’ terrorism vs. the West are wholly inadequate and are belied by emerging facts. It is now clear that, even as far back as the response to 9/11, the US sought to exploit this event in order to initiate regime operations against countries unconnected to Al Qaeda. The recent Chilcot Report quoted a British Embassy report stating ‘The “regime-change hawks” in Washington are arguing that a coalition … (against international terrorism) could be used to clear up other problems in the region’. The most notable outcome of this exploitation was the catastrophic invasion of Iraq.

More recently, the highly destructive conflicts in Syria and Libya have highlighted powerful inconsistencies regarding Western governments claim to be fighting terrorism. In Syria, the priority of toppling Assad has involved support, intentional or unintentional, for a variety of extremist groups and key allies, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which have been implicated in providing support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups. Indeed, the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia based on massive arms deals, and support in that country for ‘Islamist Jihadists’, has now become an election issue in the UK. Regarding Libya, the recent Manchester attacks have triggered remarkable claims regarding the possible relationship between the alleged attacker, Salman Abedi, and British security services and a broader policy of facilitating the movement of extremists between the UK and Libya to help overthrow Qadafi in 2011.

Responding to the dreadful events in London and Manchester requires level-headed policy responses and critical reflection upon the way in which Western governments have become embroiled in exploiting terrorism and even facilitating it. If we are to move beyond the ritualistic cycle of terror attack-condemnation-military response-terror attack, it is time to come to terms with, and bring to an end, Western involvement in terrorism.

 

John Pilger, Journalist and Documentary Film Maker

Professor Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Professor Vian Bakir, University of Bangor

Professor Ruth Blakeley, University of Kent

Professor Oliver Boyd-Barrett, Emeritus Bowling Green State University

Professor Daniel Broudy, Okinawa Christian University

Professor Emanuela C. Del Re, University of Niccolo’ Cusano

Professor John L. Esposito, Georgetown University

Professor Des Freedman, Goldsmiths, University of London

Professor Natalie Fenton, Goldsmiths, University of London

Professor David Ray Griffin, Emeritus, Claremont Graduate University

Professor Penny Green, Queen Mary University London

Professor Tim Hayward, University of Edinburgh

Professor Jenny Hocking, Monash University

Professor Eric Herring, University of Bristol

Professor Tareq Y. Ismael, University of Calgory

Professor Richard Jackson, University of Otago

Professor Jeremy Keenan, Queen Mary University London

Professor Timo Kivimäki, University of Bath

Professor Paul McKeigue, University of Edinburgh

Professor David Miller, University of Bath

Professor Mark Crispin Miller, New York University

Professor Fredrick Ogenga, Rongo University

Professor Julian Petley, Brunel University

Professor David H. Price, Saint Martin’s University

Professor Piers Robinson, University Of Sheffield

Professor Salman Sayyid, University of Leeds

Professor Tamara Sonn, Georgetown University

Professor David Whyte, University of Liverpool

Professor James Winter, University of Windsor, Ontario

Amir Amirani, Producer and Director

Dr Nafeez Ahmed, Anglia Ruskin University

Dr Matthew Alford, University of Bath

Max Blumenthal, Author and Journalist

Dr Emma Briant, University of Sheffield

Remi Brulin, New York University & John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Dr TJ Coles, University of Plymouth

Sarah Earnshaw, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich

Dr Philip Edwards, Manchester Metropolitan University

Dr Lucy Morgan Edwards, Researcher

Muhammad Feyyaz, University of Management and Technology, Lahore

Dr Ciaran Gillespie, University of Surrey

Stefanie Haueis, Fachseminarleiterin, JGHerder-Gymnasium, Berlin

Dr Mark Hayes, Southampton Solent University

Dr Emma Heywood, Coventry University

Dr Nisha Kapoor, University of York

Dr Paul Lashmar, University of Sussex

Dr Sarah Marusek, University of Johannesburg

Dr. Narzanin Massoumi, University of Bath

Dr Anisa Mustafa, University of Nottingham

Ismail Patel, Friends of Al-Aqsa, Peace in Palestine

Dr Elizabeth Poole, Keele University

Dr Fahid Qurashi, Canterbury Christ Church University

Dr. Piro Rexhepi, Max-Planck-Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity

Cathrin Ruppe, University of Applied Sciences, Münster

Dr Rizwaan Sabir, Liverpool John Moores University

Dr Joshua Shurley, Clovis Community College, California

Dr Katy Sian, University of York

Dr Greg Simons, Uppsala University

Stephanie Weber, Curator of Contemporary Art, Lenbachhaus Munich

Dr Milly Williamson, Brunel University

Dr Kalina Yordanova, Assistance Centre for Torture Survivors

Dr Florian Zollmann, University of Newcastle

 

 

 

LIBYA-GRAFFITI

Posted in blowback, journalism, media, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war | 10 Comments

Calling Bullshit!

I don’t entirely agree with it. It’s a bit aggressive, a bit crude, to be so direct. Still, I’m thinking it can sometimes be a proportionate response to how much we have to deal with that is passive aggressive. For instance, the sickening phenomenon that has become so prevalent lately as to acquire a name – cry-bullying. The powerful or privileged making victims of themselves. More specifically, I’m thinking how, every time someone tries to understand some strange anomaly in public life, and this leads to questioning an official narrative of the powerful, the dismissal is ever at the ready: “conspiracy theorist!”[1]

As someone whose job is to be a theorist, I find it hard to see why this is used as a term of disdain: if there is evidently some possible conspiracy, surely it is better to have a theory of what is going on? Theories generate hypotheses that can be tested. That way, knowledge and wisdom lie.

Or should we just take it that conspiring never happens and everything not conforming to what official sources say is all pure coincidence?  No matter the odds?

Frankly, I would say, let’s call out these coincidence theorists! Let’s watch them, aghast, as they pronounce – as I suspect they may have plenty of opportunity over the next day or so[2] – about how any manner of strange circumstances are either inexplicable or purely chance.

But in calling them out, let us not dignify their mendacious contortions with the name of theory, which I would reserve for those who take the trouble to investigate conspiracies.

Let’s call it what it is – bullshit!

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Brad Bauman: disgusted by conspiracy theories, and Russia

[1] Some serious scholars of the derogatory term ‘conspiracy theorist’ show how it was coined for a specific purpose of narrative control. See, for an overview, the recent interview with Mark Crispin Miller of New York University: https://www.rt.com/shows/renegade-inc/388411-conspiracy-theories-chilling-effect/ . But be aware: that’s on the RT channel, which is, of course, a hotbed of conspiracy theorizing, with the R standing for, yes, RUSSIA! So maybe Mark is a conspiracy theorist about conspiracy theorizing…

[2] I have particularly in mind today the bringing back into public awareness the unexplained death last year of DNC staffer Seth Rich. Stefan Molyneux has put out an informative video about this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ioBiYxZReTo. There are theories about that terrible event which stand to be tested, and, insofar as it is a matter of public concern, I believe it is better for them to be tested than to be ignored or dismissed.

To be clear, my point is that a theory is worth testing and should not simply be dismissed.  Dismissive tactics can involve bullshit.  This does not mean that any of the hypotheses dismissed should be assumed true; it just means trying to be clear about what we know as opposed to what we are merely instructed to believe.  Conspiracy theorists could themselves engage in bullshit if they try to prop up a theory in the face of contrary evidence.  This mistake is presented by narrative correctors as the defining feature of conspiracy theorists.  I would say it is what separates a bad conspiracy theorist from a more competent one.

giphy

Posted in bullshit, disinformation, journalism, media, political philosophy, propaganda, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

BBC Complicity in Warmongering

The BBC has announced that ‘Syria’s government is continuing to make chemical weapons in violation of a 2013 deal to eliminate them’. But if you read past that opening statement, and get as far as the end of the article, you find this admission:

“The intelligence information about the suspected weapons manufacturing sites was shared with the BBC on condition the agency providing it would not be named. It does not give detail about how the alleged evidence was gathered.”

In other words, we have to trust the word of some anonymous informant who is spouting an unverifiable line that conveniently chimes with the slurry of widely discredited ‘reports’ that have been coming out since April 4th to blame Assad for the chemical incident at Khan Sheikhoun.

(All the allegations about that incident, by the way, have been quietly back-pedalled on since, but that doesn’t get reported. And meanwhile the UK foreign secretary seems to be preparing for repeats of that incident.)

With the UK government seriously talking about joining in the bombing of Syria if it gets re-elected, this kind of thing from the BBC is extremely worrying.

The BBC has already shown how little scruple it has about making allegations against the Syrian government: its notorious 2013 Panorama production Saving Syria’s Children stands accused of outright falsification, and the accusations have never been addressed, with a Freedom of Information request relating to them being denied on the grounds that journalism is protected from required disclosure.

Social media is currently awash with rumours that a media organisation in the Gulf may have already done filming of a further chemical attack to be alleged against the Syrian government.  It is dearly to be hoped that if those rumours have any truth, the spreading of them may have served as a deterrent to completing any such move.

But the continued concerted efforts of Western and Gulf media to trump up pretexts for further aggression against Syria ought to be a cause of humanitarian concern and, frankly, even self-interested alarm on the part of anyone who does not relish continuing on the current slide in the direction of a third – and pretty much final – world war.

 

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Posted in BBC, bullshit, disinformation, media, propaganda, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war | 6 Comments

Rejoinder to George Monbiot on Syria

In my previous post I urged George Monbiot to check the basis of his assumptions about the narrative he accepts regarding Syria.

In a tweeted response, he repeated his opinion that people like me, who question it, are denying a mountain of evidence.

So to state a point that should not need stating: to question is not to deny – although nor is it to affirm. It is to seek knowledge and understanding. Being less impressed than George by the quantity of data presented as evidence, I have only ever commented on its quality.

As can be seen from my earlier blogs on Syria, I was shocked to discover – and only very belatedly – how we have been systematically misled by organisations that many of us assume can be trusted implicitly.

George still trusts the Syria testimony of organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Far be it for me to tell him who to trust, but I did urge him to look more closely at what they present for evidence.

Instead of doing that, he has entrenched more deeply his defence of the NATO narrative. He also appears to believe he has satisfactorily responded to my concerns (via twitter).

I don’t think he has, so I shall just record how the exchange went, from the perspective of my twitter feed. My aim is to ensure that this important question for serious public debate is not just shut down.

Our exchange centred on a set of six questions George tweeted:

Monbiot4

As can be seen, the first five questions all invite me to speculate about the facts of the recent chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun. These are good questions in themselves, but given that the very point of my open letter to him was that we are not in a position to know the facts, I was surprised he solicited conjectures from me. So I just answered his sixth, more general, question.

Still, he pressed me on the rest, and we had this exchange:

Monbiot1For the record, my beliefs had not changed in the 10 days since that previous post, and I shared it because I think it makes plain why I would not join him in speculation about the facts.  (Since his response is a little dismissive, let me add: Who I believe is independent of who I like. My article was about the former. While I do find it generally harder to like people that I don’t believe, unless they are especially charming, I don’t necessarily like everyone I believe. As pointed out in the paper, I believe some of the claims made by ISIS and Al Qaeda spokesmen.)

Monbiot2b

Today, George has updated the blog I challenged:

Further Update, 1st May 2017: Human Rights Watch has now published a report on the gas attack at Khan Sheikhoun, and a further 19 chemical weapons attacks in Syria that appear to have been perpetrated by the government. Already, HRW is being denounced as part of the conspiracy by some of my correspondents on the left, using a meme developed by the paranoid right as their excuse for not reading or crediting its report: namely funding for HRW by the evil mastermind of the new world order, George Soros.

I very much regret that George has mistaken HRW for an independent source of verification. I also regret his departure from the canons of reasonable public debate. I engaged with his views in the first place because I regarded him as someone who – unlike a great many in journalism – would respect them. I hate to think I could have been wrong about that.

 

Posted in Amnesty International, disinformation, journalism, media, propaganda, Syria, Uncategorized, war | 56 Comments

George Monbiot, about Syria…

I write this open letter, George, because you have been using your public platform to defend claims about Syria that I fear may be damaging for its people.

Most recently, you blogged a note about the 4th April chemical incident in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, and you related this to the more general issue of competing narratives.

Professor Postol of MIT criticised the NATO/Gulf State account of the incident, and you say his claims ‘should be treated with great caution’. That’s fair enough. Shouldn’t we apply a similar standard of scrutiny to claims made on both sides?[1] You replied to the Media Lens article reporting Postol’s claims without acknowledging that it also mentioned that ‘former and current UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix, Scott Ritter and Jerry Smith, as well as former CIA counterterrorism official Philip Giraldi, had all questioned the official narrative of what happened on April 4.’

We can be cautious about what they all say, of course, but I hope we may avoid the hubris of just dismissing their concerns.

There are serious unsettled questions about every aspect of the incident, not only the anomalies concerning time of incident, identity of victims, causes of death, role of White Helmets, and about whose interests it served, but also concerning the forensic evidence itself. Regarding the latest claim made by France, a very elementary issue is chain of custody: with no French representatives on the ground, the test samples appear to have come from Al Qaeda by way of Turkey. Must we simply trust the testimony of a terrorist organisation in collaboration with a major conduit and supplier of anti-government forces in Syria? Do we find any corroboration? Western powers, you might be aware, have blocked the independent investigation sought by Russia.

The reported results themselves are opaque. The French reports are no clearer on the science than the earlier UK ones (and I note that the UK has since gone rather silent about those rather than address questions about them). Moreover, the French claims rely on the veracity of claims relating to a 2013 incident, which are highly questionable.[2]

Still, even aside from the facts around the Khan Sheikhoun incident, you are confident that there is a mountain of compelling evidence that is disregarded by ‘a few contrarians’. In tweets, too, you seem to be impressed by the sheer quantity of evidence purporting to establish President Assad’s complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Yet you surely realise that what actually matters is the quality of evidence?

I therefore ask you: what evidence are you referring to? Whose evidence? In your note you link to a Guardian article by an Egyptian, raised in Dubai and living in Lebanon, who conveys reports from an Al Qaeda base; you also link to another Guardian article, by the same author, reporting claims from Turkey – one of the chief supporters of anti-government forces. Meanwhile, on twitter, you respond to ‘contrarians’ with the advice to read a lengthy thread authored by Kuwaiti activist Iyad El-Baghdadi who is renowned for talking up the “Arab Spring”. Based in Norway, he cites evidence from sources like the New York Times.

Why should utterances from your recommended sources inspire less caution than those of MIT professors and professional weapons inspectors? You seem to think that anyone who questions the official narrative is a conspiracy nut, or an ‘Assadist’. I personally find a little condescending your reference to ‘an element on the left that seems determined to produce a mirror image of the Washington Consensus … and denies the crimes of the West’s official enemies.’ [3]

At any rate, that begs the question: what crimes have been demonstrated? We have had mountains of allegations from organisations like Amnesty International since the “Arab Spring”, but what credible evidence have they ever produced?

I earnestly invite you to cite some. Having looked at their reports over the past ten years myself, I have not found it. Instead, I have found very clear traces of a narrative produced in Washington. And not just a narrative, but a strategy for getting the liberal intelligentsia on board with the hawks.

I think we need to look very closely at who is being misled by whom. Wouldn’t you agree?

Meanwhile, with the upcoming UK election to think about – and the imperative of removing this warmongering government – I will understand if you direct your focus and energies towards areas of public life where you have a strong intellectual and political contribution to make.

Best wishes,

Tim

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In memory of all Syrian children, taken by violence.

[1] You might start by taking a more dispassionate look at the people you imagine have ‘debunked’ criticism of the mainstream narrative. Your link to Louis Proyect’s attack on Postol, for instance, betrays what I would regard as some want of judgement. In an update to your note, you add a link to further ‘debunkers’ who turn out to rely on the same Guardian evidence you are claiming they offer further support for! Incidentally, when the Guardian tells readers it is ‘the first western media organisation to visit the site of the attack’ it should really be careful what it boasts about, given that the area is controlled by Al Qaeda.

[2] I understand from scientists that the unanswered questions include these:

  1. Did the Porton Down analysis of samples collected from the alleged attacks on 19 March 2013 support the finding of the Russian Laboratory for Chemical and Analytical Control that the material contained diisopropyl fluorophosphate and that the sarin had been produced under “cottage industry” conditions?
  2.  What were the findings with respect to the synthetic pathway by which the sarin was produced? Specifically, did this synthesis start from trimethyl phosphite (which the Foreign Secretary stated had been sold to the Syrian government by UK companies) or from phosphorus trichloride or elemental phosphorus (which Turkish prosecutors stated was on the procurement list of the Nusra Front members arrested in Adana, Turkey in May 2013)?
  3. What efforts have been made by the UK government to establish whether or not the sarin used in alleged chemical attacks in Syria originated from Syrian military stocks, based on comparison of the chemical profiles of the environmental samples analysed at DSTL with the stocks of the sarin precursor methylphosphonyl difluoride that were profiled by mass spectrometry under the supervison of OPCW inspectors before they were destroyed on the MV Cape Ray in 2014?

Those of us who struggle even to understand questions like these can very easily be bamboozled by bullshit responses from government spokespersons. But when scientists put such questions, I think they merit answer rather than dismissive tweets bidding us trust the word of foreign activists.  I am grateful to Professor Paul McKeigue for the formulation of these questions.

[3] For a more considered view of disagreement on the left, see, e.g., the recent short talk by Jay Tharappel on ‘Syria and the Confusion of the Western Left’: https://www.facebook.com/Chacko.TJ/videos/10158536910055697/

Posted in Amnesty International, bullshit, disinformation, journalism, media, political philosophy, propaganda, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war | 49 Comments