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The Monster in the Mirror


A sizeable minority has opposed the “government” – actually representatives of a crony corrupt elite – for decades, now. Members of that minority have been imprisoned in per capita numbers higher than Stalin’s Soviet Union or Mao’s China. The government sanctions torture. The government kills them by stealth or by the gun. It subjects its people to surveillance. And the very same government sponsors external militias. It is surely time to covertly arm that minority to remove the head of the snake. Nothing made it clearer than the killing of journalists, targeted in the heart of the Middle East. Time and again, the government says it will reform. Even politicians, usually so beholden, say that never before has the nation been so threatened by its government. Even in the corridors of power, nervous advisors from all sides say the same thing.

The nation is, of course, the U.S.A. Except that if one listens to pundits, politicians and the commentariat, the nation is Syria. You would have guessed I was talking about America, if I had said that the nation sponsors militia states or the nuclear arms programs of militia states instead of “external militias.” However, the U.S.’s  toy poodle, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague couldn’t even bring himself to mention Israel’s nuclear weapons when he warned the world of a nuclear cold war in the Middle East.

How we came to a point at which NATO states oppose most of the world and want to arm the rebels of Syria is a tragic tale of disinformation. It hardly needs saying that there is no excusing the brutal crackdown on civilians by the Syrian government, but then in our Manichean media, any call for dialogue or investigation is greeted with hysteria. “You’re an apologist!” they say.

Leaders in the developing world, anxious not to incur the wrath of the de facto überpower and its EU lackeys may be grimly perturbed and amused. At this rate, the Obama administration could arm any rebellious minority (and I am not talking about minority by religious sect) to overthrow its government and the 24/7 media will go along with it. At least the Soviet Union supported armed liberation struggles like those fighting U.S.-backed Apartheid in South Africa. But, here the USA is supporting rebels, organizing unilateral conferences, shooting its mouth off and all in support of a rag-tag “coalition.” Does anyone think members of the Syrian National Council get on with each other, let alone any of them get on with the soi-disant Free Syria Army command in Turkey?

As a matter of indisputable record, U.S. and Israeli policy is aimed at destroying the Iranian government and any formation of a Palestinian state even if it means the grievous self-sacrifice of economic and cultural wealth at home or respect abroad. Iran and Syria have an uneasy alliance. Now, the horrific legacies of post-colonial map drawing are excuses to further those a priori aims. How Moscow and Beijing can be blamed for not appearing at the farcical conference in Tunisia on the grounds that both sides should be invited to discuss the war in Syria is another sign of the times. Even more depressing for those of us who knew her was Marie Colvin being claimed by Paul Wolfowitz as one of his own. Similarly at U.S. State Department press conferences, the deaths of the world’s bravest journalists are being used to further policies that can only impoverish the many.

Syria has taken in the impoverished. There is, of course, the half a million refugees whose homes have been stolen by Israel. But, imagine the U.S. taking in 20 million refugees. That is the equivalent of what Syria did after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. During this time, British politicians and media moaned about scrounging asylum-seekers. In the U.S., the talk is of fences and guns.

I went to Syria a couple of times before all this latest, terrible violence started. I loved Damascus and found it cosmopolitan. But friends tell me that I have lived too long in cities outside the orbit of globalization and so am not so easily disturbed by the lack of ubiquitous brand-named simulacra. At some places in Aleppo, I thought I was in Los Angeles except their version of Chateau Marmont was considerably older (people lived in the Aleppo citadel in the middle of the 3rd millennium BC). On the way between the two main cities, though, Homs and Hama were different. They had to be. It was convenient for Western powers to look away from the 1982 Hama Massacre. There is a hotel bar in Hama that does martinis on the graves of many thousands killed. Western powers did the same in 1990’s Algeria, when perhaps 200,000 were killed after Salafists were democratically elected. In Hama, Bashar Al-Assad’s father crushed Salafist insurrection.

How did the poorer areas of Homs and Hama keep together? However efficient the civil service and secret police structures of Homs and Hama were going to be, the present, fragile Arabesque of communities was always going to be temporary in world history. Western sanctions and bureaucratic corruption sped things up. But the great catalyst was widening inequality catalysed by neoliberal “reformist” elements in Bashar Al-Assad’s government, often with the best intentions. Returning Syrian students who have studied business management and economics in the West are not exactly what you want when it comes to transforming the Syrian economy. They looked at me like I was a Breshnev dinosaur when I expressed even a doubt about privatization as a panacea. It is one of the profoundest questions of our time and in the context of international capitalism’s worst crises has greater torque: how do developing nations reform their bureaucratic state systems without unleashing apocalyptic forces born of increased inequality?

But NGOs tend not to get funding to answer questions like this. And so poverty and Salafism proliferate. As for those manufacturing the bamboozled main narrative in the West, they concentrate on supposed existential, external, threats. One day it is that nation, the next it is this. One day it is this whistleblower, the next it is that. But external threats to U.S. interests (the interests of U.S. citizens) may well come from asymmetric Salafists, as they did on 9/11. Some of them populate the ranks of Syria’s insurgents.

Real change within the U.S. – as in Syria – will come from gruesome strategic errors in their capitals combined with the will of the people. If policymakers in NATO countries are really itchy to intervene somewhere, maybe they should covertly support anti-Salafist rebels. How about funding the ones struggling against the governments of the Arab League, the organization that sponsored the anti-Syrian UN resolution? But you’ll never hear them considering covert aid for the resistance movement in Bahrain – or coming to the aid of the peaceful protestors that are currently being gunned down amidst the oil-rich fields of Eastern Saudi Arabia.

AFSHIN RATTANSI runs Alternate Reality Productions Ltd. One of its commissions is Double Standards, a political satire show for Press TV, broadcast every Saturday at 2230 GMT. Shows can be accessed via He can be reached via

Afshin Rattansi is host of RT’s award-winning Going Underground news and current affairs show broadcast around the world. He will be joining Julian Assange on the eve of the referendum for a live webcast from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London as well as a special edition of Going Underground on Saturday.

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