Syria’s Moderate Opposition: beyond the doublethink

Moderate political opposition does not involve or support taking up arms against the government, let alone against unarmed fellow citizens. This proposition would be treated as self-evident in our own country, so why are people seemingly ready to discard it when talking about Syria? Some who do so aim thereby to claim legitimacy for wishing ‘regime change’ upon that country, even if with little regard to the costs or actual benefits to citizens in Syria. Others who do so perhaps just don’t reflect carefully enough.

The fact is, the mainstream media narrative for more than six years now has involved what George Orwell called Doublethink.[1] The oxymoronic notion of moderate armed opposition actually came to be settled upon as the media’s euphemism of choice after earlier designations had failed to carry conviction. Initial suggestions of a ‘democratic uprising’ became hard to sustain as an armed minority of fighters, many foreign, were manifestly terrorising swathes of the population. In any case, the idea of an uprising has application to particular events rather than to a process of definite political change. Some people have spoken of a Syrian ‘revolution’. However, even aside from the point that a revolution is usually an alternative to moderate opposition, the most cursory comparison with actual popular revolutions – think of Cuba, for example – reveals this to be misleading. The revolutionary change most credibly attempted in Syria – and through violent, not moderate, means – would install some form of sectarian regime whereby the tolerant secular society of Syria would be transformed into something more like Saudi Arabia. The other popular locution ‘civil war’, even if inaccurate as a description,[2] at least has the merit of including a term that cannot be confused with moderation: war.

As a political philosopher I would sum up these points quite simply: moderate political opposition does not seek to overthrow the political constitution. It aims to achieve its goals by using constitutional means. In the event that specific constitutional changes become a political goal, any legitimate strategy for achieving this will have the approval of a clear democratic majority. I make these points because I cannot see how a cogent discussion of political opposition in the Syrian context can proceed without heeding them. I am not saying political opposition has to be moderate; I am simply saying we need to be clear in understanding when it is or is not.


It is not my purpose – any more than it is my place, or within my competence – to make substantive comment on particular political proposals that are, or could be, advanced by oppositional groups in Syria. These are matters for Syrians to decide. What I am commenting on here is the battle of ideas as it is being waged outside Syria, in our media, by politicians, by academics and amongst wider publics. Confused ideas can lead to poor political assessments. When political proposals demonstrably depend on doublethink, they can be criticised on that basis,[3] with the aim of reducing confusion, enhancing clarity, and promoting constructive and realistic dialogue. Public opinion might then be mobilised in support of more appropriate foreign policy objectives in relation to Syrian politics than would otherwise be the case.


Was there originally a popular demand or appetite for regime change as found expression in the protests of 2011?

Today we hear less talk of a ‘moderate’ demand for regime change in Syria than we once did, but is this simply a result of its being silenced through oppression and attrition these past six years and more? Could it be argued that the opposition’s turn to violence only eventuated because more moderate methods of seeking political change were crushed?

In the early years of the millennium, a sense that reform was possible encouraged increasing engagement in opposition politics. A high point was reached with the ‘Damascus Declaration’ of 2005. This cited principles of pluralism, non-violence, and opposition unity in a call for establishment of a democratic national regime by means that would be ‘peaceful, gradual, founded on accord and based on dialogue and recognition of the other.’  The aim was to create ‘a Constituent Assembly that draws up a new Constitution for the country that foils adventurers and extremists, and that guarantees the separation of powers, safeguards the independence of the judiciary, and achieves national integration by consolidating the principle of citizenship.’ However, the diverse groups involved were not able to maintain that spirit of unity, and it broke down fairly quickly, on what were perhaps predictable lines (see, for instance, Tim Anderson in Ch4 of The Dirty War on Syria). So there was a demonstrable will for political change, but there was not similarly clear agreement on what that should mean.

We know that there are commentators, critical of mainstream accounts, who argue that the story of a popular revolution were always a deceptive embellishment of a more moderate grain of truth;[4] we also know that there are independent voices that offer a similar view.[5] What is worth emphasising, though, is that even commentators who have come to be associated with a strongly ‘anti-regime’ position showed themselves at the time to be quite clear-sighted on the point.[6] For instance, Robin Yassin-Kassab wrote of the March 2011 protests that ‘motives for each of these events have been different and the groups themselves are disorganised and lack unity.’ He also observed that the ‘Muslim Brotherhood are scattered and with their base in London … are by and large a spent force. Domestically they hold little credibility and are not trusted.’[7] This is not to deny that a degree of political discontent was indeed at large in various Syrian communities, with many people fed up with a lack of basic freedoms, lack of opportunities, and corruption among those associated with the state. Yassin-Kassab did not foresee the makings of a significant confrontation, however, and he noted:

‘the regime is today too enmeshed with the people. There is an almost, dare I say, legitimacy, that the regime enjoys as far too many average people are interlinked with it through marriage, business, employment et al. There is a certain “we are all in it together” attitude that has survived from the 2005 crisis that Syria experienced with the West. The vestiges of this alliance exist still.’

The political reforms that were quite widely desired included abolishing the state of emergency and creating a fair and transparent judiciary so as to foster ‘an atmosphere that will allow a new generation of Syrian thinkers and politicians to emerge and to hopefully fulfill the role of a credible and legitimate opposition.’ The hopefulness Yassin-Kassab expresses was based on his appreciation of ‘a space in Syria’s political arena, and a historical precedent, for experienced political leaders that have shared the burden of rule to advise and criticise in Syrian politics.’ In keeping with such hopes in reform, as distinct from revolution, was the ‘deep unease that many Syrians today feel about the protests’. Yassin-Kassab quotes a friend from Deraa, the town whose protests are deemed to have sparked the wider Syrian uprising, saying ‘that few want revolution and many fear disorder and chaos.’[8] ‘Everyone wants change, but they want orderly change.’

This was a view widely accepted within academia too, where it was understood that the opposition lacked leadership or organized parties. Raymond Hinnebusch offered this assessment:

‘it is uncertain whether a viable opposition exists. Aside from their shared belief that the regime is the source of all problems, the interests of well-off external exiles and the deprived foot soldiers of the rebellion hardly seem congruent.’

Hinnebusch also stressed a fundamental point that is impossible to miss without deploying doublethink:

‘Any new government in Damascus will therefore be confronted with the same policy dilemmas and limited options that faced Asad’s, and will struggle to find better or even different answers to Syria’s intractable problems.’[9]

While hostile voices depict President Assad as the problem in Syria, the reality seems to have been – then, as now, and like it or not – that he is the person best placed to tackle the problems in Syria. Those problems, it has further to be recognized, have been severely added to and exacerbated by all the foreign interventions aimed at overthrowing him. How support for these could be regarded as being in the best interests of Syria and its people is a matter that takes doublethink to imagine.


What are the aims of moderate opposition today?

If it was already clear at the outset that there was not a viable alternative ‘regime’ waiting in the wings in Syria, how do matters stand today? Regarding the question of the present Syrian government’s legitimacy, an important reference point cannot be ignored. In 2014 the Syrian people had an opportunity to vote. Obviously conditions were not ideal, but the vote was meaningful in relation to our question. It produced a clear victory for Bashar Al-Assad. He won 10,319,723 votes – 88.7% of the vote – with a 73.42% turnout.[10] Western observers did not challenge those numbers or allege voting irregularities. It is true that voting could not take place in opposition-held areas, but participation overall was so great that even allowing the improbable assumption that the whole population under opposition control would have voted against him, they would still have had to accept Assad as legitimate winner. If that was the popular will in 2014, is there any reason to suppose it has shifted significantly since then? The available evidence, I would suggest, tends to reinforce the view that the Syrian people place greater importance on ridding terrorist violence from their land than seeking a different leadership.[11]

Even Western enemies of Assad have recently been acknowledging – with whatever degree of reluctance – that political change in Syria should not be thought to involve peremptorily ousting him from power. The idea that applying external pressures to internal divisions could force regime change in Syria[12] has been overtaken by recognition in US intelligence circles that there is no moderate secular alternative. The likely outcome of deposing the president, it is now understood, would be a radical regime. This could lead to protracted sectarian conflict and continued terror for the wider population without even necessarily furthering the US’s own interests.[13] So any credible non-sectarian opposition must now take a genuinely moderate approach. What this entails, in terms of detailed arrangements, is a matter for Syrians to work out.

Nevertheless, there are certain questions that the wider global public has a legitimate interest in. These concern allegations of serious human rights abuse on the part of the government against individuals or minorities amongst its people. What are we to make of them? Syrians are aware that political prisoners have been brutally treated by personnel within the state security forces.  If the government nevertheless retains a remarkable degree of support from citizens who have remained in Syria it may be because they share the sort of view that is articulated by this email correspondent:

‘does [Syria] have a notorious history in torturing in jails? Yes, arguments if they were few or many. Did some people lose their lives in Syrian jails under torturing acts? Yes. It happens in crisis times (like in the 80’s after the Muslim Brotherhood fighting era). Were some of these victims innocents? Yes, but not as exaggerated.’

I do not think this correspondent would make light of the horrors some of his or her fellow citizens have been subjected to. It is just that s/he also has some contextualised awareness of the scale of the horrors that the war for regime change has triggered. Nor does the correspondent think the problem should simply be attributed to ‘the Assad regime’:

‘Syrian governments pre the Assad family ruling were doing the same acts of torturing. I want to say that these horrible acts are not because of the Assad family…. We have enough examples of what Syrian terrorists (fighting opposition gangs) did to whoever they captured from Syrian soldiers in the last 5.5 years ago, they murdered people under torture and in front of cameras. … all the old atrocities in Syrian jails were like a piece of cake compared with what they practiced under Nusra, Da’esh, and the rest of the terrorists.’[14]

As I have shown elsewhere, accusations that the ‘Assad regime’ has been peculiarly prone to widespread abuses of human rights rest on questionable evidence. I came to be writing on these matters in the first place due to discovering the extent of a mismatch between the actual research carried out by Amnesty International, for instance, and the scale of extrapolation and sheer inventiveness involved in some of its most shocking reports relating to Syria. A comparable problem of credibility I found in reports of Human Rights Watch and of the various monitoring organisations that were created, it seems, specially for the purpose of producing damning claims about the Syrian government.

Clearly, when political leaders themselves are egregiously in violation of constitutional and political norms, it can hardly be ‘immoderate’ to press for their removal from office by means of due process. But due process necessarily involves a scrupulous and impartial approach to evidence.

Prior to 2011, credible reports – including those of Amnesty – suggested that while there was certainly a human rights problem in Syria, its scale was contained. The scholar Joshua Landis, writing in 2004, found that ‘Syria has a much better human rights record today than most countries of the Middle East, if not the best.’[15] He made the point that ‘there is no reason for Washington to vilify Syria while it holds up countries like Tunisia, Egypt, and Turkey as good allies and gives them a pass on human rights violations. They are all worse than Syria when it comes to detaining prisoners for political reasons and reasons of conscience. Some are a lot worse.’ He even suggested that ‘Bashar should be given credit for an important achievement in emptying Syria’s prisons of its long held political prisoners and for trying to heal the wounds of his country’s mini civil war. He has reached out to the banned Islamic groups, even as he has conceded very little political ground to them. Syria has managed the complex ethic and religious diversity of its population with surprising success.’

It is difficult to get objective information on developments since 2011, in a period during which the government has had to engage in warfare against multi-national insurgent forces of particularly ruthless kinds, but one thing we know is that the government has not been fighting against ‘moderate political opposition’. The more obviously oxymoronic euphemism, ‘moderate armed rebels’, requires doublethink to apply in any circumstances, and certainly in Syria – as Ricardo Vaz explains here.

Camille Alexander Otrakji, writing at the end of 2014, sets the question in perspective: ‘Before the events of 2011, serious torture existed, in small numbers, in Syrian prisons. Humiliation (often bordering on torture) was widespread.’ He adds that ‘one would expect that with all the violence Syria is experiencing after 2011, the number of those arrested and tortured has significantly increased.’ It is repulsive, he affirms, and has to stop. He does remind us that the US and many of its allies use torture and that Syrian opposition “rebels” frequently torture soldiers and civilians they capture. Nobody is justified doing it, but nobody can simply accuse one party while disregarding the others’ comparable guilt. He points out that the opposition activists feted in the West ‘rarely complained at their free army’s routine torture of those they captured. Their outrage at torture (or violence in general) is highly selective’.  ‘Most Americans believe torture was justified after 9/11 (where 3,000 Americans died). In Syria we have a savage war… 200,000 Syrians died. It wouldn’t be surprising that today many Syrians also believe torture (by their favorite side of the conflict) is legitimate. This corrupting of people’s values takes place during conflicts and the best way to confront it is to end those conflicts’.[16] In Otrakji’s view, ‘When the conflict ends, the two easiest starting points for those looking for positive momentum for a reforms process are 1) ending torture and 2) fighting corruption … I am confident that a large majority of Syrians will enthusiastically call for both.’

It appears, then, that the genuinely moderate political opposition in Syria, and in exile, is reconciled to accepting that the primary goal is to restore government order across the whole country rather than to support efforts to undermine or destabilise Syria’s government. This means accepting, for the duration, the legitimacy of the current president’s rule.


Why is doublethink so pervasive in the West?

What, then, of the small but vociferous groups of opposition supporters who engage in campaigning activities under the rebel flag in the West? A first observation I would make concerns that flag itself. To replace a national flag by another is ipso facto a radical statement of defiance, not allegiance, to the existing constitutional order. On the definitions I am assuming, this cannot be regarded as moderately oppositional. The moderate opponent wants to be the one rallying the people under the flag, not someone who tears it down. To fly the rebel flag is subversive and what insurgents do, not what citizens do in the course of normal politics. Thus, within Syria, we see that those who rally to that flag are closely aligned with the terrorist factions that are promoting a sectarian alternative to the Syrian secular state. idlib In the West, that affiliation may be obscured and obfuscated, but only because, away from the front line, there is no particular cost incurred by indulging in doublethink. But it is doublethink to cast the ‘regime’ as enemy of the people while siding with factions that treat people so brutally that nobody who is not clearly aligned with them even dares set foot in areas they control. This doublethink simply disregards how the great majority of the people in Syria look to the government as protector against those who gather under the opposition’s flag.[17] On the front line, you can’t fudge the issue. If you oppose the Syrian Arab Army, drawn from the body of Syria’s citizens, you are on the side of Salafists, Wahhabis, and terrorists of various stripes.[18]  For other possibilities to open up, the fighting must first stop; and it will not stop as long as external forces continue trying to impose ‘regime change’ on a resistant nation.

Doublethink permeates the external opposition supporters, who appear to embrace quite actively the Western media’s massive disinformation campaign in support of ‘regime change’. Doublethink is egregious in the proclaiming of such political ideals as freedom and democracy while expressing support for the ‘rebels’ who control areas like Idlib, particularly given the oppressive nature of their rule. Nowhere is doublethink more astounding than with regard to the position of women. In the west we find women alongside the men, waving green flags, protesting against the Syrian government and haranguing its supporters. It is hard to believe they actually want for Syrians freedom of the kind their allies in Syria are imposing in the places under their control, where the women are obliged in public to be covered and quiet, and where challenges to the warlords’ authority can be met with summary ‘justice’ of horrific kinds.


Clarissa Ward for CNN in rebel-held area. (The ironies appear unintended.)

What about those sections of the Western public that passively support the opposition, largely because of what they have uncritically absorbed from the media? What about those among them who might view the waving of the rebel flag as politically progressive? What about those sections of the commentariat that are implacably ‘anti-Assad’ and apparently not open to putting into discussion his alleged crimes against humanity? This group includes ostensibly critical thinkers like Owen Jones, Paul Mason, George Monbiot, and even the leaders of the UK Green Party. As far as I can tell, members of this section of opinion formers have not carried out independent research and they appear not only quite ready to accept the mainstream narrative but also to be rather open to persuasion by active opposition campaigners.[19]

That is why I am making the case for clarity at the level of basic conceptualisations. Once a tale has been repeated often enough, it acquires the status of an established truth for many of its hearers. This is something the seminal propagandist Goebbels knew well, and something the modern PR industry – which includes all the mainstream news media – has well learned. People in general, it seems, are persuaded more effectively by repetition than by evidence.

As long as no particular consequences follow from holding contradictory beliefs, then for people without any strong compulsion towards truth-seeking, it may be convenient just to allow their cognitive cohabitation.

That is why I feel an obligation to write on the subject. I write not as an expert on politics in Syria but simply as a human being who is concerned about how the world might become more peaceful and just. Part of that aspiration involves taking a more earnest and respectful attitude towards questions of truthfulness. This can never be achieved by allowing oneself to remain trapped in doublethink.


Thanks go to Tim Anderson, Andrew Ashdown, Bill Purkayastha, Piers Robinson, Jay Tharappel, and all the many friends of Syria who have helped me try to understand.


[1] Wikipedia sums it up: ‘Doublethink is the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in distinct social contexts. Doublethink is related to, but differs from, hypocrisy and neutrality. Also related is cognitive dissonance, in which contradictory beliefs cause conflict in one’s mind. Doublethink is notable due to a lack of cognitive dissonance—thus the person is completely unaware of any conflict or contradiction.’

[2] See, for instance:     [See also references in note (4) below.]

[3] In the background of the analysis here is the thought of a significant difference between double thinking and dialectical thinking. Both involve dealing with contradictions, and both allow the hypothesis that the two sides of the contradiction could both be true. Where they differ is in their way of dealing with that hypothesis. Double thinking means granting it without further examination. This can be illustrated by reference to the parable of the blind men and the elephant: having never encountered an elephant before, each blind man learns what one is by touching a part of it, but because each touches a different part, each forms a completely different idea of what the whole thing must be. A double thinker is likely to take this to illustrate why it is ok to maintain apparently contradictory propositions with regard to a particular dispute – it all just depends on your point of view at the time. A dialectical thinker will take it to show contradictions can sometimes arise from the basis of partial understandings and that there is more to discover before anyone can make any general inference on the subject. Until different points of view can be reconciled, we should not attempt to draw any general inferences. Thus, where the blind man’s elephant can serve as an alibi and refuge for the scoundrel, it acts as a stimulus for more probing investigation of the dialectician.

[Doublethink is the passive, indifferent and impotent acceptance of unresolved contradictions; dialectical thinking is the determination to settle or transcend contradictions. (Cognitive dissonance is the name given to the psychological condition experienced by people who cannot quite achieve either method of dealing with contradictory pieces of knowledge that they cannot simply disregard.)]

The idea that we cannot really choose between different perspectives is never very consistently maintained in practice, since people usually settle on a particular position; it is just that abstention from dwelling on opposing considerations is felt to absolve them of a need to justify their position very rigorously. It also allows them to say that, really, things are so very complicated. In fact, there are some who use complicatedness itself as an argumentative strategy against critical questioners, especially questioners who can be demonstrated to ‘know less’. That is why I emphasise throughout that I certainly know less, but it is not merely the quantity of knowledge that matters. To learn, in intimate detail, the road leading South, for instance, is to little avail if you have missed the more basic point that you were supposed to be heading North.

[4] See Stephen Gowans, Washington’s Long War on Syria (Baraka Books, 2017) and Tim Anderson, The Dirty War On Syria (Global Research, 2016). See also, for example:

[5] Camille Alexander Otrakji, interviewed in 2011, described the situation in these terms: ‘I believe that a clear majority of Syrians support many of the demands of the peaceful protesters. On the other hand, only a minority of Syrians are willing to risk destabilizing their country in order to try to achieve full regime change after a painful drawn-out conflict. You might disagree with me if your impression of the state of the protests movement is the product of Aljazeera and BBC Arabic endlessly looping some bloody clip of the day and creating an impression that victory is near for “the Syrian people” who are demonstrating against their despised tyrant. … Despite weekly calls from opposition figures for millions to demonstrate, based on the numbers of people we have seen in the streets of Syria thus far, it is clear that less than 1.0% of the country (about 150,000 Syrians) has joined the protests. … And yet western governments, the Syrian opposition, and the media covering Syria are all enthusiastically and casually using the term “the Syrian people” … which is a very serious distortion of the facts. … No one reported that for weeks Syrians were demonstrating each night in many cities supporting their President. … The only time millions demonstrated in Syria was the day Assad’s supporters went to the street in most of Syria’s large cities. …

In addition to distorting the true size of the protests movements, everyone seems to overlook the fact that unlike Egypt’s Tahrir Square, Syria’s protestors have mostly been men. “The Syrian people” include women too, as you can see from the pro-Assad demonstrations. Why didn’t any of those Western financed women rights organizations express any concern after seeing tens of all-male demonstrations so far?’

‘There are many groups who are trying to destabilize the regime. You have the regime change activists overseas, who are financed by various American programs that the Obama administration continued to finance despite seeking better relations with Syria. And you have American technologies that allow you to manipulate anything online. For example, you can help generate virtual members among some of the 150,000 that the Syrian revolution 2011 page on Facebook is proud of.

Then there are many Salafists around the country, guided by Syrian, Saudi, or Egyptian religious leaders. And it is possible that some of the four anti-regime billionaires might be trying to stir the pot for their own, different, reasons … most Syrians would much rather see some meaningful reforms undertaken in a peaceful fashion over the next five years under the current regime, instead of trying to sweep the regime away and dealing with the prospect of sectarian civil war. If Bashar were to sign several laws: (1) permitting the formation of political parties; (2) lifting the tight censorship in the press; (3) and modernizing and limiting the role of the mukhabarat (intelligence services), I believe that 80% of the Syrian people would be fully on board with that. They would say to the opposition: “Thank you very much for your courage. You did a valuable service by giving the regime a ‘cold shower’. But now we’ve had enough of the protests and we want to go back to work. We will give Bashar the benefit of the doubt, until the next presidential election.”’ He also emphasises the sheer complexity of Syria, and people’s awareness of its implications: ‘We have Sunnis, Alawites, Christians, Druzes, Kurds, Armenians, and various other ethnic and confessional groups. We have tribalism. We share borders and complex political ties ad history with Lebanon and Iraq, two of the most volatile countries in the region. We are in a state of war with Israel, and we are a central member of the Iranian-Hizbullah-Hamas axis that puts us in the crosshairs of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. All Syrians are aware of their country’s vulnerability to instability, which is why the vast majority are genuinely supportive, or tolerant, of the current regime, even if they are restless waiting for more reforms.’

If you read the older posts on the Syrian Revolution Facebook page (before they got a facelift and professional PR help), you wouldn’t believe how much religious language you find, and also how much deception there is. They were trying to whip up sectarian hysteria, to radicalize Syria’s Sunnis so as to bring down the regime.’

[6] A collection of references are supplied here : ‘leaked and declassified US cables and emails have demonstrated that this proxy war for regime-change was in the planning from before the end of 2006, with the documents citing the use of false propaganda, incitement of sectarian division, and the use of terrorist proxy forces to achieve the toppling of the Syrian government for the benefit of Israel, among other reasons.’ The drafting of plans, however, goes back much further than 2006. Already in 1983 we find a CIA intelligence briefing in which the strategy for fomenting internal divisions for regime change was set out .

[7] Robin Yassin-Kassab, ‘Syria Shakes’, Pulse, 23 March 2011

[8] Robin Yassin-Kassab, ‘Now Syria’, Pulse 21 March 2011

[9] Raymond Hinnebusch, ‘Syria: from ‘authoritarian upgrading’ to revolution?’ International Affairs, 88(1) 2012: p.113

[10] I give details and references for these statements in my earlier blog post: From the result we can reasonably infer that the people of Syria saw in the current leadership their best hope for unifying the country around the goal of ending the bloodshed. As I suggested in the earlier blog, it is interesting to reflect on how the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen could be right in saying the election was no normal ‘act of politics’: for Bashar Al-Assad has always been clear in statements and interviews that his position is inextricably bound up with the Syrian constitution.  His remarkable steadfastness of purpose he presents as a commitment to defending his country’s constitution.

[11] I don’t think this is controversial, but some relevant discussions include these: A particularly poignant first person account of disillusion at the failure of revolution is that of ‘Edwin Dark’ writing in 2013 of ‘How We Lost the Syrian Revolution’:

[12] The crucial briefing of 14 September 1983, classified secret – ‘Bringing Real Muscle to Bear Against Syria’, by Graham E. Fuller – was released 2008 and can be downloaded from the CIA reading room. [See also note [6] above.]

[13] This article is forthright about the catastrophe that Syria has become and about US responsibility for it.

[14] The correspondence continues: ‘Many Syrians today blame Bashar al-Asad of being “Too Good” and “Naive” in dealing with the crisis. Hafiz was tough against the Muslim Brotherhoods (MB) terrorism in (1979-1982), and many innocent people died while crushing the MB movement, and many innocent people went to jails, but that toughness saved Syria for 3 decades and makes it one of the most secure countries around the globe. … Bashar is a very humble person. … he has his father’s stubborn’s genes for sure. That was so obvious in the current crisis, and he used that trait in defending Syria and Syrians, not in torturing them.’ [Reproduced in Vanessa Beeley, ‘An Honest Response to the Criminally Hypocritical Western Cries of “Torture”’, 21st Century Wire 25 Oct 2017 .]



[17] Merrit Kennedy ‘U.N.: More Than 600,000 Syrians Have Returned Home In 2017’, NPR 11 August 2017: ‘Aleppo governorate saw the highest number’.

[18] It is possible to engage in fine differentiations, doctrinal and behavioural, between the various radical oppositional groups involved – and there are scholars who do so – but what the various factions have in common is far more significant from the point of view of the generality of citizens in Syria. If those groups are lumped together as terrorists it is for the simple reason that this is how they conduct themselves. To complain that this disregard of differences between armed opponents lacks nuance, as certain scholars may do from the comfort of their distant studies, would strike people in practice as morally vacuous. From the point of view of ordinary Syrian civilians who do not want any form of Islamist alternative to the secular Syrian state it is also politically inconsequential. How far removed from the lives of ordinary Syrian citizens must an academic commentator be if he can say things like ‘Libya-style state collapse is preferable to Syria-style state survival’? ‘Preferable’ for someone with no skin in the game, perhaps, and an inexplicable value system. One thing for sure, it is not a sentiment that is consistent with supporting moderate opposition. And if such scholars discern that some Jihadi factions are ‘more moderate’ in certain specific senses than others are, this does not make any of them remotely moderate as political opposition. For they aim at the overthrow of the secular system of government that the majority of people want to keep.

[19] Philip Roddis has written an interesting discussion of Jones and Monbiot as representatives of this particular tendency: . I myself have engaged Monbiot in debate about Syria (here and here) as well as expressing concern to UK green leaders; Mason has not wanted to respond to questions and blocked me on Twitter when I tried to engage him. A particularly interesting case exhibiting the quality of research of this section of opinion formers is the decision by Jeremy Scahill and then Owen Jones to withdraw from a platform on which Mother Agnes was also due to appear. Scahill was persuaded to withdraw by tweets from well-known and vigilant anti-Assadist ‘narrative correctors’ as can be seen in a Twitter thread of 13 November 2013. Following Scahill’s withdrawal, Jones followed suit (for more on which, see also Roddis; while Jones’s own account is here).

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41 Responses to Syria’s Moderate Opposition: beyond the doublethink

  1. Norman Pilon says:

    On a related note, and though I’ve not been able to find the time or manage yet to roundup prospective sources, I have come across solid hints that indeed there had been an incipient Syrian revolution in the early days of 2011 that the Syrian state had attempted to quash in a rather heavy handed manner.

    Consequently, I really would like to be able to find out more, and will make an effort to find out more, about the purported grass-roots “revolution” or “up-rising” that apparently did take place — if one in fact did — but that was apparently quickly overtaken and undone by the well documented regime change operation orchestrated by the U.S. and its Middle East partners in crimes against humanity.

    For example, this piece seems to testify that such overt unrest did occur, provoking a heavy handed reaction from the Syrian government: The Experience of Local Councils in the Syrian Revolution

    Samir Amin is also on the record with this:

    Quote begins:

    Facing that in Syria we have objectively a situation similar to the one of Egypt: that is, a regime which a long, long time ago had legitimacy, for the same reasons, when it was a national-popular regime but lost it in the time of Hafez Assad already — it moved to align itself with neoliberalism, privatization, etc., leading to the same social disaster. So, there is an objective ground for a wide, popular, social-oriented uprising. But by preempting this movement, through the military intervention of armed groups, the Western imperialist powers have created a situation where the popular democratic movement is . . . hesitating. They don’t want to join the so-called “resistance” against Bashar Assad; but they don’t want to support the regime of Bashar Assad either. That has allowed Bashar Assad to successfully put an end, or limits, to external intervention, in Homs and on the boundary of Turkey in the north. But opposing state terror to the real terrorism of armed groups supported by foreign powers is not the answer to the question. The answer to the question is really changing the system to the benefit of, through negotiations with, the real popular democratic movement. This is the challenge. And this is the question which is raised. We don’t know, I don’t know, I think nobody knows how things will move on: whether the regime, or people within the regime, will understand that and move towards real reform by opening, more than negotiations, a re-distribution of the power system with the popular democratic movement, or will stick to the way of meeting explosions just brutally as they have done until today. If they continue in that direction, finally they will be defeated, but they will be defeated to the benefit of imperialist powers.

    Quote ends.

    Source: An Imperialist Springtime? Libya, Syria, and Beyond

    So there are as yet to be deciphered a great many ambiguities for those of us not privy to the actual political dynamics playing out in Syria, notwithstanding all of the work that has already been done with respect to exposing the depth and breath of the criminal and murderous foreign interventions in that country.

    • AdrianD says:


      Wikileaked US diplomatic cables show that it was the US policy to ferment sectarianism in Syria with an explicit goal to produce an ‘over-reaction’ by the Assad government:

      • Norman Pilon says:

        Entirely agree. It certainly was US policy to foment sectarianism in Syria and to provoke ‘over-reaction’ on the part of the Strain state.

        But if Amin is to be taken at face value, and I personally don’t have any reasons not to, given his utmost reliability as an analyst of the social and economic and political realities in the Middle East, it would seem that there was something of a rift between what Amin calls the popular classes in Syria and the Syrian state, and that this tension either was converging or had already converged into open conflict.

        That is an issue that we can and should separate from the uncontroversial fact of the foreign invasion of Syria by the U.S., its Middle East vassals, and the countless mercenaries that they funneled through Turkey.

        The situation is, I think, even more complicated than it has already been revealed to be, with the fault lines and tensions perhaps running more deeply than we know or even imagine. So I’m raising a question with as yet, for me, no satisfactory answer.

      • Norman Pilon says:

        And my apologies. I’m having a really bad “typing day.” Maybe a stroke or something. Oh, well, it was bound to happen one day. Nothing lasts forever. . .

  2. Loverat says:

    This is a really good article. The thinking behind this conflict has been lacking in clarity for some time.Even in academic circles.

    This includes some of the elements I’ve long thought were well overdue to be aired. Let’s have maybe an artilcle discussing ideology. Tribalism is touched upon here but lets see if we can raise this debate up a level everyone can understand – and use more simple language to get a point across.

    I’m not confused. Just 99.99% of people never read it.

  3. Norman Pilon says:

    Following on Philip Roddis’s excellent Universalism in an unfair world led to Fred Weston’s What the Assad regime was and what it has become. Precisely the sort of thing I was looking for, in terms of an analysis of the broader historical (economic, political, and social) antecedents to the situation as we now find it in Syria.

    I’m not finished parsing the piece yet, but I note that Samir Amin and Fred Weston (and Walid Daou) appear to be roughly in agreement on the issue of whether or not there had been in the early days of the trouble in Syria a broad based or popular rebellion brewing and manifesting.

    • timhayward says:

      I think it is important to appreciate that the undeniable existence of economic hardships and inequalities, as well as administrative corruption, while constituting necessary conditions of a genuine revolution, are nothing like sufficient for one. I don’t personally find looking through Weston’s lens particularly helpful. I am not convinced he really thinks through the significance of his own observation that ‘the genuine revolutionary elements have been overwhelmed by all kinds of opportunist and counter-revolutionary elements’. Also, when he writes that ‘there isn’t an ounce of anti-imperialism in the Assad regime’ he really could explain why he thinks that e.g. Chavez and Castro were so mistaken. Weston – writing in 2013 – states ‘it is clear that Assad will sooner or later fall’. I think that shows how clear his lens is. He notes that ‘One of the slogans that could be heard on the rallies was “we are all Syrians”, a clear message to those who wanted to divide Syrian society along ethnic/religious lines.’ That is the truth that Assad seems to have proved in practice as against Weston’s theory. People say that hindsight is a wonderful thing. I think it is definitely helpful when trying to understand the past. Sometimes you have to revise your theory when the world proves recalcitrant and non-compliant with it. As such a late-comer to these debates I am struck by a certain sclerosis in some sections of commentary on Syria where people stick to long-held convictions rather than critically review them.

      • I’m not familiar with these authors that Norman Pillon suggests, and am equally sceptical, as someone not so new to the war on Syria and its origins. There has been a strong desire in the West to make Syria’s crisis into a Marxist style ‘revolution’ in a way that doesn’t fit the reality of what was a socialist and moderately anti-Israel, anti-US society.
        A much better place to look for the origins is Stephen Sahiounie’s article “the day before Dera’a’ published by AHT a year or so ago. The destabilisation of Syria had been going on since 2006, and for some long time before that.
        Also, of all the countries in the M/E which deserved ‘regime change’, Syria ended up as the one with a popular revolution? It’s not plausible.
        thanks for this long dissection Tim!

      • Norman Pilon says:

        I agree with you. It is indeed “important to appreciate that the undeniable existence of economic hardships and inequalities, as well as administrative corruption, while constituting necessary conditions of a genuine revolution, are nothing like sufficient for one.”

        At the same time, however, it is also important to appreciate “the undeniable existence of economic hardships and inequalities, as well as administrative corruption” that might have or continue to exist in Syria, and that although not sufficient conditions for a broad based rebellion, or even one that would be viable, as you put it, if it ever did get under way in earnest, might be necessary or objective conditions.

        You yourself acknowledge hardships and corruption. I want to know or at least get a more adequate sense of the nature and scope of those hardships and that corruption. There are many conflicting accounts.

        Which are right and which are wrong? What is exaggeration and distortion, and what is less so? I don’t know. I’d like to.

        But understand, my position is very much that of Philip Roddis’s, and in particular, vis-à-vis Weston’s moralizing stance:

        What’s wrong here is the tacit demand that an imperialised state behave with anti imperialist consistency to ‘earn’ the support of the left in imperialist states. But unless he thinks the west attacks Syria because of the failings he lists, and I’m sure he thinks no such thing, Weston makes the very confusion critical but unconditional defence disentangles. Internationalism begins at home. A key tenet is that imperialised states be defended from our own imperialism, regardless of Stalinist, nationalist, theocratic or other defects in their worldviews, or failings real or cynically concocted in their leaders. Such defects and failings must be condemned where proven, but always in the context of – yet meticulously decoupled from – unwavering insistence that the prime villain is ‘our’ imperialism.

        So setting aside Weston’s judgement on whether or not one should stand with or against Assad, is he “factually” wrong in his overall assessment of the hardships and corruption pertaining to Syria as such?

        Or does he have nothing at all to teach us about the conditions in Syria, as they evolved and currently exist, regardless of whether they are necessary or sufficient for a genuine revolution?

        We may not like Weston’s stance of “neither ‘our’ imperialism nor Assad,” but in his assessment of the social and economic and political realities of Syria, in both their historical and current dimensions, where is he right and where is he wrong? That’s what I want to know.

        I mean if we are to dismiss some parts or all of his narrative, then on what grounds?

      • timhayward says:

        Thanks Norman. I think the question about conditions is a vast and all-encompassing one requiring a lot of interdisciplinary input, with many objectively different perspectives to consider as well as reckoning with all the different lenses that might be tried on from and between them. And that is what has had to be contended with in practice too by whoever would try to govern the country, even without the external interference and sanctions.

  4. Pingback: Destruct to Reconstruct: a study by Jihad Yazigi | Taking Sides

  5. I would say then – why not examine the hardships and corruption endured by the Brits at the hands of a right wing militaristic and neo-con government. The point being that there is no reason to examine these things in Syria in relation to the war waged against it by deception and subversion. If there were hardships and corruption that simmerd in parts of the population, then that was the basis on which the propaganda from Western agencies operated. How easy it is to tell people they are being abused by a corrupt government, or manufacture sectarian tensions where they were none? And once you have a ‘protest march’ and some snipers fire and kill innocent people and blame it on the government, you’ve created a fire that can’t be put out but which can be showered with petrol…
    For a long time I have rebutted the question – “…but you have to admit that the SAA/Assad have committed some atrocities/killed civilians/overreacted to threats “. My answer is that this is irrelevant, because if you look at how any Western ‘democracy’ you can think of reacts to the kiling of police or, heaven forbid, it soldiers, but any means, “brutal crackdown” is what you get, in the name of protecting the people from terrorism. In our countries people, even children, get locked up just for thinking about running amok with a knife and posting it on Facebook.
    By comparison, one of the ‘crackdowns’ in the early days of the attack onSyria was a concession to release a whole lot of prisoners demanded by the insurgents. This was a big mistake of course.. Yet all along the reaction of the government has been similar, and the opposite of the way that the Al Jazeera crew have translated it for the Western world. Most notably the reconciliation and amnesty agreements began in 2013 and have gone on ever since, bringing most of the original Syrian ‘rebel’ supporters back into the fold.
    A lot more to say on this Tim, if you like to be in touch..

    • Norman Pilon says:

      “My answer is that this is irrelevant . . .”

      . . . that is to say, from the standpoint of passing judgement on the crimes of the ‘greater’ aggressor. For there are degrees of severity of consequences and wrongs. Granted.

      Consequently, we can argue equally for degrees of condemnation: ‘our’ imperialism is by far and away worse than the state targeted for regime change, and, therefore, our most vociferous and ferocious denunciations should be reserved for ‘our’ establishments and their geopolitical “humanitarian interventions.”

      The answer is not, however, irrelevant from the standpoint of those bearing the brunt the purported oppression at hand — if it truly exists.

      Out of the propaganda mill — and do note that I emphasize the word propaganda — we have heard the following rumor: the Assad regime is in collusion with ISIS, that is to say and in some way, with the hordes of foreign mercenary forces.

      Surely, most of the readers, here, have at least a nodding acquaintance with the notion of false flags, and if from Britain, have likely also some notion of Operation Gladio.

      These types of operations are standard operating procedure of modern military organizations around the world.

      They are deceptions engineered to nudge recalcitrant currents of opinion in desired directions.

      In this context, and to raise what to some will certainly seem to be an extreme possibility, even perhaps an impossibility, might it be that in Syria, as in the Middle East more generally, where people in their millions are falling into intolerable destitution as a result of finding themselves in a situation of increasing integration into the globalized neo-liberal regime, a revolutionary explosion really was in the offing, albeit one that had no chance of resulting in anything viable as a genuine alternative, and the Syrian power elites entered into, so to speak, an entente with an array of known mafias all intent on quelling that particular revolutionary upsurge?

      In other words, do we really have a grasp on the network of alliances, of who is working with and against whom?

      To my mind, it isn’t at all of a stretch to consider that the real alliances might be between all of the implicated state actors, given that every last one is a committed neo-liberal regime, all acting together against a restive and insurgent population, state violence,as it has always been, being the ultimate means of enforcing submission to extreme economic rape on resistant populations.

      Irrelevant? Maybe. Maybe not.

      • False flags have been the nature of the (opposition) game since the start of the war ON Syria – as in Banias, Houla, Jisr al Shoghour, Ghouta, and almost any other supposed massacre shown on videos from ‘opposition activists’. What remains as fact in all this, is that 80,000 odd Syrian soldiers have been killed, not by other soldiers but in kidnappings, by snipers, by roadside bombs and truck bombs, and in mass killings by terrorist groups. Of the 400,000 or so killed, these SAA forces and allied militias constitute the greatest single part. By now the number of armed jihadists/terrorists killed by the SAA, Hezbollah and Russian forces must equal that number, but many ‘rebels’ killed previously were likely called ‘civilian’ by the SOHR. We could guess – reasonably, that the majority of innocent civilians were killed by opposition fighters, in fact the vast majority, because the SAA never had a motive to kill civilians.
        In this context, the idea that the Syrian government/security would somehow have cooperated with IS is not a feasible ‘theory’, even remotely possible. To what end? It’s crazy, particularly given the compounding and convincing evidence of the last two months that the US and other coaltion forces have been actively supporting Al Qaeda/HTS and Islamic State, and in fact have been doing so ever since their ‘creation’ out of AQI years ago. IS and its ‘caliphate’ – as described in that DNI document of 2012 leaked by Michael Flynn – has been doing what the ‘supporting powers’ want – and the conclusion of their long-term plan is now occurring, as the IS occupied zone is hand-balled to the “SDF”/US forces.
        We can only hope that this doesn’t quite go to plan, and that the US finds itself the direct target of some Kalibr missiles in Deir al Zour very soon.

      • Norman Pilon says:

        “In this context, the idea that the Syrian government/security would somehow have cooperated with IS is not a feasible ‘theory’, even remotely possible.”

        No. The “cooperation” would not necessarily be with IS or any of the mercenary factions, however you want to dice them up — not directly.

        But on a higher level, it is not inconceivable that the power nexuses in each of the states involved (Russia, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, the Gulf states and the West (more generally)) are indeed cooperating.

        If that were the case, the function of the mercenaries under the control of and dependent for their existence as viable organizations on the Western (read primarily US and Gulf States) handlers is to demoralize the genuinely rebellious numbers to the point where they permit themselves to fall into the protective embrace of the Syrian state. This doesn’t mean that there might not be genuine differences of interests between all of the ostensibly contending state factions on the terrain of Syria, but which strategy the various contending oligarchies agree to pursue is dictated by two paramount factors: a) interests (which is control over resources and manpower, or if you will, property interests); and b) maintaining compliance to the operations of expropriation and exploitation from the underlying population.

        Consequently, if the larger danger from the standpoint of all of the oligarchies concerned is perceived to be that of an explosion among the general population, tamping down that insurgency becomes the paramount concern, even if it means having to collaborate with those with whom you are competing for turf.

      • No I’m sorry Norman – I don’t accept the basis of the whole thesis, which seems to be that the Resistance states are essentially no different from the Gulf States, Israel and the US, and the rest of the conspirators who set up this fake revolution in Syria for multiple reasons of their own, including Qatar’s Gas pipeline, and Israel’s expansionist interests, but also as Alastair Crooke has repeatedly elucidated, as one of the fronts in the final confrontation with Russia. As this war has developed, in combination with the US setup coup in Kiev and expansion of missile bases in Eastern Europe, the reality of its ultimate objective – against Iran and then Russia – has become more and more indisputable.
        I’ve looked at your blog, and seen many familiar names, as well as the analysis offered by Phillip Roddis (and I too have had some contact with Mother Agnes..), but I am frankly astonished by the comments you make in respect of Jihad Yadigi’s proposals. Anyone who thinks that the Syrian government destroyed even some of its own infrastructure and housing in order to take it from the people or to benefit from the reconstruction funding is either a Mossad mole or needs psychiatric help! Anything else he says cannot be taken seriously and is probably dangerous to read, in case one might be fooled into believing any of it at face value. One may as well consider the musings of Louis Proyect or Eliot Higgins.
        I’m quite happy with the sources I follow, not all of whom would go as far as I do in unconditional support for the four leaders of the Resistance – Assad, Nasrallah, Putin and Khamenei. But that support has strengthened enormously and will remain solid amongst their populations until the Western and Gulf aggressors are rebutted, by whatever means.
        I don’t want to go on using Tim’s blog as a forum for this argument – though I hope it will assist him in seeing through the fog of misinformation!
        What we really need now is someone to answer the questions about US backing for terrorist groups in Syria posed in my last article for Russia Insider:

      • Norman Pilon says:

        “. . . but I am frankly astonished by the comments you make in respect of Jihad Yadigi’s proposals. Anyone who thinks that the Syrian government destroyed even some of its own infrastructure and housing in order to take it from the people or to benefit from the reconstruction funding is either a Mossad mole or needs psychiatric help!”

        Did I make those claims or was it rather not Jihad Yazigi who makes those insinuations?

        But I agree with you. Tim’s Blog is not the best place to be having this particular exchange.

      • Norman Pilon says:

        I’ll leave you with one last link, David, as an echo to your link, and to help you get a better sense of where I am at with respect to Syria: The HRW Evidence Disaffirms Its Own Conclusions in Its Report of May 1, 2017 — Theodore A. Postol.

        In particular, beneath that post, see my reply to one ‘Clay Claiborne,’ and especially the links back to Tim’s blog, to a post he titled, “Rejoinder to George Monbiot on Syria.”

        You should, I think, get the sense that I’m not as out of the loop as you seem to imagine, nor are we all that far apart on the main issues if at all.

        If you do link back to Tim’s post, because the links in my reply to ‘Claiborne’ appear to be broken, perusing the comments chronologically from first to last should hopefully impress upon you that the state of my mental health is not as dire as you seem to think.

        There is a difference between making assertions and asking questions.

        Assertions that I would feel comfortable making about Syria would probably elicit your assent in each and every instance.

        The question that I’m raising is what is making you uncomfortable. It also makes me uncomfortable.

        But a Marxist slant on things sometimes does take you into objectionable territory, doesn’t it?

      • All fair comment Norman – and I’ve looked at the post you suggested. Isn’t “Clay Claiborne” Louis Proyect? His article dismissing Ted Postol’s elaborate analysis is I think the same, and a fair illustration of just what we are up against.
        I’m sorry if I didn’t express myself properly, because I would never have been so direct to accuse you of what I directed at Jihad Yadigi ! It’s just that I only had to read a couple of paragraphs of his article to identify his prejudices, so was surprised that you would consider what he says seriously.
        There may be things about the Syrian conflict that ‘make me uncomfortable’ – but I’ve long decided that they have little bearing on the actual issues, which all follow from the facts of “the Great Syrian Conspiracy”. The reality of this, and the Western media’s failure to present the truth, that Western powers bear the responsibility for the devastation of Syria and the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians and Syrian soldiers – and should now face justice and pay for reparations – overshadows almost all the other things that the media focus on at the moment. Until this 6-year long lie is exposed…
        So I hope we are now at least in the same book, if not quite on the same page!

      • timhayward says:

        I should thank you Norman and David for bringing these informed contributions to this blog.

  6. timhayward says:

    The post makes several references to Camille Otrakji. Watching this interview with him from February 2012 is five minutes well spent for anyone interested in a straightforward and dispassionate assessment:

  7. Tettodoro says:

    @ Norman Pilon Its not possible to deal with Hayward’s faarrago of inaccuracies and misrepresentations in a brief Comment, but when I encounter someone who seems, like you, to have an open mind, I feel I should respond. It is certainly the case that there was a genuine popular uprising in Syria in 2011-12; and the spirit of that lives on in many Syrian communities and in the large Syrian diaspora. I can only encourage you to keep an open mind and read the other side of the argument to that served up by people like Hayward. The best single source in Robin Yassin-Kassab and Lila al-Shami’s “Syria: Burning Country – partisan but well researched and thoroughly documented. Also key is Wendy Pearlman’s “We crossed a bridge and it trembled” a collection of interviews with refugees from Asad’s violence who lived through the events and offer their personal accounts. Its living proof that Syria cannot be viewed through a prism that reduces everyone to “Assadis” or “jihadis”.I fyour budget doesn’t stretch to books then try Joseph Daher’s account from another left perspective:
    Hayward decries “doublespeak” but he is an active pracitioner of the creation of “unpersons”. Not least in his assertion that women were absent from the Syrian revolution: Suhair Attasi, Samar Yazbek, Razan Ghazzawi, Razan Zeitouneh,Marcell Shehwaro. Just google a few of them to see just a few examples of the role women played (at least 3 young women activists arecurrently sitting on death row in Syria for their involvement.) Or you could try consulting the video evidence:
    Christian women in Homs:
    The women of Zabadani, the first liberated city: And just to lay one final myth: Hayward cites Assad’s “victory” in the 2014 Presidential elections: but these were rigged from start to finish: no serious opposition able to stand; near complete monopoly of the media by the regime; no real secret ballot. And to top it off its claimed that Assad won 10.3 million votes – but in 2012 there were only 10.1 million Syrian citizens of voting age- and in the intevening two years the regime had lost control of 25% of the country and two million had left as refugees. Do the maths.

    • Norman Pilon says:

      Thank you for the reply and references, Tettodoro. I’ll follow them up.

      • Tettodoro says:

        No problem – always happy to discuss Syria with someone who has an open mind on a complex situation. If you have any questions or want to discuss further, either post back here (I’ll keep an eye open for you) or visit my blog at The posts there are probably more specific than you are looking for at this stage, but if you make a Comment on the most recent one I will be alerted and will respond asap.

      • Hi again Norman.
        If you were genuine in your earlier debate about the questions raised in Tim’s article, then you would not be “following up” the references from “Tettodoro”, with which supporters of Syria are already all too familiar. To call the mass of disinformation that constitutes most peoples total vision of the Syrian conflict “the other side” is more than slightly disingenuous; it is because of this propaganda black out that people like myself and Tim Hayward who live in the West are forced to write counter-informative articles in the alternative press, and only the alternative press. Even supposed anti-Imperial sites like Democracy Now and the Intercept are not prepared to publish our stuff.
        And btw – for anyone like Tettodoro who maintains that Bashar al Assad was not legitimately elected, try telling that tale in cities in Syria now! Do you think that Syrians are fools, or still fooled?
        This week sees the end of the road for Riyadh’s “Syrian Opposition”; they are irrelevant.

      • Norman Pilon says:

        Hi David,

        Much that I read and even post on my blog, I don’t agree with. Nevertheless, ‘information’ can be gleaned from the most reactionary of sources. I don’t know who Tettodoro is or his overall stance with respect to Syria. Judging from your reaction, it is unlikely that he and I will see things eye to eye.

        Again, to reiterate: I fully concur with the brilliant analyses and exposés of incredibly courageous people like Eva Bartlett and Vanessa Beeley, and nothing that Tim has carefully and tentatively put forward, here, in his blog, is to my mind inaccurate.

        My questions are these: how widespread WAS the discontent in Syria in or around 2011; what were the grievances; how justified were the grievances; and how repressive (or not) was the ‘reaction’ of the Syrian state in the face that manifest discontent if it did manifest and was widespread. I don’t know. I want to know. Even Putin, for example, has hinted rather directly that the Syrian state mishandled in 2011 or thereabouts “changes” that were coming and that had been coming for a long time. (I do not for the moment recall where I saw an interview with Putin in which he makes that statement, but I did see it — if I find it, I’ll link to it.) So what was Putin talking about? In what sense did the Syrian state ‘mishandle’ the situation, and what was the mishandled ‘situation?’

        The only thing I’m getting from “our side” in this respect is that there never was a ‘popular uprising’ to begin with. It’s an assertion being made without the presentation of much evidence or analysis. And, of course, one person’s definition of an ‘uprising’ is another person’s definition of ‘peaceful protests.’ I get it. And I also completely understand that the current government, whatever its failings may (or may not) be or might HAVE been, may be the utmost best and most progressive option for the Syrian people, in the circumstances, what with the level of criminal interference and intervention in Syria by the West and the Gulf States. Furthermore, revolution, peaceful or otherwise, can be premature if the people are not clear in their minds what they are about in terms of their ends and means.

        Someone has read my comments and pointed me to material he or she fancies are sources that may help to answer my questions. I’ll read them, but hopefully not as a naive and gullible reader, but from a critical perspective, or so I very much hope.

        Of course, there is a risk: one reads and willy nilly one is, ideologically speaking, impacted. In addition, one reads what is proscribed by “one’s side,” and one finds oneself suddenly abandoned and isolated — and this, only for inquiring!

        Already, I’m beginning to elicit that sort of reaction from people I thought were friends. Apparently, having glanced into the abyss, not even yet having had time to fully stare, I have become that very abyss, somehow or other, now being branded as being in part complicit in all of the murder being committed in the name of ‘our’ imperialism. It is discomfiting, to say the least. But isn’t that a species of hysteria, of un-reason?

      • Norman Pilon says:

        Hey, David,

        Here is the interview with Putin (@ 2 minutes and 13 seconds, going forward to 2 minutes and 48 seconds, is, to my mind, rather significant — I’m assuming, of course, that the translation is accurate.):

  8. Tettodoro says:

    @Norman Seems to be no facility to reply to McIlwhain’s post separately so I’ll have to combine both here. McIlwhain’s response is typical of a regime supporter – no answer to the material I offered (and I could provide much, much more in a similar vein) – only an insistence that you should not read more widely on the subject (what is he afraid of?) and simply join him in his shuttered silo. I make no such demands – as you say, it may turn out that we disagree on many things – healthy, honest and evidence-based discussion is what I am committed to.
    The video you posted seems to be an odd amalgam of an interview with Putin and something else,. The passage you refer to seems to be Putin expressing a critical view of Assad, which is interesting. Putin (and even more so his counterpart Dimitry Medved) haveoften distanced themselves from the Syrian regime. . But in my view I find Putin is very duplicitous (often saying one thing and doing another). Hayward goes to great length here to reject the notion of a “moderate” opposition in Syria, but that is exactlythe term the Russians used when inviting Ayrian groups to attend the first Astana conference. Putin says a lot of things in the video (thank you for the link I hadn’t seen it before).Perhaps you could be more specific on what you regard as most significant and would like to discuss further. I am currently working on a post on my blog on Russian policy in Syria and future prospects, so we might be able to shift the discussion there. As you wish.

    • timhayward says:

      Tettodoro, you repeatedly make dismissive comments about my post, implying its defects are too numerous to mention. But if they are so numerous, you could as easily mention one or two as make the general slurs you do. Given you are claiming to be serious and open-minded you should be able to identify exact statements I make that warrant correction. I always stand open to correction.

      • Tettodoro says:

        I indicated in my first comment that I don’t regard it as viable to respond effectively to your posts in what must of necessity be a relatively short comment. Nevertheless I made two specific objections to your argument: 1. your claim that women were not involved in the Syrian revolution (a list of prominent women activists and two sample videos posted to challenge this); 2. your claim that Assad has some sort “democratic legitimacy” as a result of the 2014 Presidential election (some basic facts cited which show how hollow this is.) And there is the further point I made above about the Russians recognising the existence of a “moderate” armed opposition at the first Astana . I also posted a substantial critique of your attack on Medecins sans Frontieres some time ago.

      • timhayward says:

        Tettodoro, on your points: 1) I didn’t say no women were active in the opposition, I referred to the status of women in occupied areas; 2) if you don’t think Assad’s government has legitimacy I don’t know how you think we should regard the constitutional situation in Syria, so I agree that we are not likely to benefit from pursuing this in further debate; 3) I’d be interested to hear your objection to my MSF piece, which was not an ‘attack’, and was not taken one by MSF who invited me to their headquarters to discuss what they admit is a problem I identified.

    • Norman Pilon says:

      @ Tettodoro

      “Perhaps you could be more specific on what you regard as most significant and would like to discuss further.”

      To be more specific: I think it is rather transparent, within the context of everything else Putin has to say here about the Middle East more generally — that is to say, that the entire region is, in his words, “not calm,” naming as he does each and every country apparently embroiled in the ‘Arab Spring’ — that Putin is saying, ‘as in the Middle East more generally, in the grips of popular uprisings bordering on revolution, so it was in Syria, and if the Syrian regime hadn’t been so resistant to accommodating itself to the demands of the restive part of the Syrian population, or possibly worse than merely unaccommodating, but downright repressive, then it is a fact that the war, however you want to characterize it, whether as a civil or a proxy war, or as a combination thereof, would simply not have happened.’

      So if I’m right in my reading of Putin, the content of this interview adds credence to the supposition or thesis that there was, in fact, something akin to a popular uprising, perhaps even an incipient revolution, in Syria, in the early days or weeks or months of 2011.

      As for discussing further, perhaps. But I don’t want to commit if only because, for other commitments and interests, I might not be able to carry through. But if I’ve the time and feel the inclination, I most certainly will.

      En passant: for anyone who might be interested, in a piece that I read by Omar Hassan ((Summer 2017) @ Marxist Left Review), he mentions a book by Leila Al-Shami and Robin Yassin-Kassab, Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War. The full text of it can be read online  here. I haven’t read it yet, but hope to make some time for it. The book affirms the ‘fact’ of a Syrian revolution. Perhaps others have already read it and have some critical remarks to make about it?

      • I said I wouldn’t comment again… but: I also have a book to reccommend, for anyone who wants to understand the depths to which the Western aggressors have gone in spreading misinformation. It’s “Dear World”, by Bana Alabed. No doubt too that Robin Yassin Kassab would recommend it.
        But if you want the truth about Bana, and the liberation of East Aleppo from terrorist groups calling themselves ‘rebels’ and ‘freedom fighters’, go no further than the report by a Syrian journalist who visited Bana’s house there, about the Al Nusra/White Helmets headquarters.
        As for Putin, well Russia had the wrong idea about the “arab spring’ inititally too, and consented to the bombing of Libya. Never again. Because Putin noted it was “possible” the Syrian government was “repressive”, before he actually knew what happened, it’s hardly evidence for an incipient revolution!
        Did you read my article yet? (and the others…)
        No further comment, sorry.

      • Norman Pilon says:


        If you want the truth about Bana, you can also read this post on my blog, a piece I pilfered from 21st Century Wire, titled, When Bana Al-Abed Blocked @21WIRE on Twitter | 21st Century Wire.

        Question: What if the truth really is that there was initially something that we can call a popular uprising in Syria, then in what sense would that impact any of the research and exposés that have incontrovertibly proven the presence of foreign elements inside Syria, in their tens of thousands murdering and traumatizing innocents very much at the behest of both Western and other Middle East interests? Not a single thing.

        What it does change, however, is the analytical prism through which the Syrian regime must be assessed: no more than any of the other regimes implicated in the wholesale slaughter and brutal displacements and expropriations of ordinary Syrians is the Syrian state itself — ruling in the interest of a bourgeoisie like any other capitalist state anywhere (Rami Makhlouf, one of the richest and most powerful men in Syria, being the cousin of Bashar al-Assad, for example) — truly concerned about the welfare of ordinary Syrians except as labor from which to extract surplus value.

        In other words, if the truth is that the Syrian state, in its current class composition, is set to subject the Syrian population to the imperatives of capital — and it is — then why is it so pressing that we must try to conceal this truth from both ourselves and ordinary Syrians?

      • Tettodoro says:

        @Norman Actually I recommended Burning Country to you in my earlier post. As I said there its partisan but thoroughly researched and documented. You might also like to take a look at the full text of one of Hayward’s sources – Ray Hinnebusch’s article in note 9: to save you having to scroll up here is the link again Hayward cherry picks trhe last para to back up a point of his but most of this lengthy analysis cuts across Hayward’s arguments, and has a l ot of bearing on the issues you are raising. Good place to start.

      • Norman Pilon says:

        “Actually I recommended Burning Country to you in my earlier post.”

        Which proves that at 3h30 in the morning, after being up for 20 hours or so, one’s brain starts doing weird things. But alas, not that I need to be sleep deprived to experience impairments. 😦

      • Norman Pilon says:

        BTW: thanks for highlighting Ray Hinnebusch’s article. Just reading it now and I think I’ll make a post of it. Perhaps we can take the discussion there, if you wish to add commentary or suggest additional material, BTL?

  9. Tettodoro says:

    @Hayward in reponse to your 2 December post (doesn’t seem to be a Reply button for it):
    My comment about the role of women in the Syrian revolution was not primarily directed at your comments (which seem to be based on the strange view that women taking part in anti-Assad demonstrations in the West – many, if not most of whom, by the way, are Syrians – are supporters of Jabhat al Nusra. It was in response to the comments from Camille Otrakji suggesting that women were absent from the 2011-12 revolution.
    The opposition figures I listed were, of course all participants in networks which involved other women and several have gone on to build organisations that work to develop women’s rights in opposition areas, like .
    But more importantly I provided you with two videos that illustrate what nonsense this is: one (which I gather can’t be opened by other users for technical reasons) of a group of some 200 Christian women in Homs taking part in a demonstration in which they chant very vigorously “The people want the downfall of the regime” while other demonstrators respond with “Syria is one, one”. The other is about the role the women of Zabadani played in the uprising in their city – the first liberated city in Syria. These are not exceptional – go on to You Tube and enter “Women’s demonstration …” and insert the name of almost any Syrian city or town and you’ll find further examples. You presumably know about the courageous “Brides of the Revolution” who demonstrated in Damascus.
    I don’t really understand what you are trying to say about Assad’s “legitimacy”. As you know legitimacy is a complex status that can derive from several social and political processes. Assad’s “legitimacy” is first and foremost “hereditary legitimacy” – he is where he is because he is his father’s son, an essential condition for him to play the role he does in the Baath Party, which dominates the country’s political life. As you know the Syrian Constitution had to be amended in 2000 before he could be put forward for the Presidency – strikes me as an odd status for a constitution that can be amended for the benefit of a single individual.
    But I gather that you also consider Assad to have “democratic legitimacy”. That makes me wonder what you regard as the key conditions for a democratic political process. If you could spell that out it might be possible to discuss your claim for Assad more clearly.

  10. timhayward says:

    I’ve found an excellent video featuring Syrian journalist Aktham Suliman. It provides illuminating perspective on the early days of Syrian war and its construction in the media, especially by Al Jazeera. In the latter part of the video Suliman talks about the nature of the Syrian opposition, and what he says is consistent with the argument of my post. I recommend setting aside 9 minutes to hear what he has to say.

  11. Pingback: Criminal War Propaganda – Mark Taliano

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