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The Left must support the Syrian uprising!

The UN is hardly perfect. But it’s sometimes all we have, in terms of a worldwide vehicle for international diplomacy and for governments to make clear what they believe in, what they will stand for, and what they will not stand for; and so it is encouraging to see the overwhelming majority of the UN states in the General Assembly, as well as in the Security Council, backing resolutions that make quite clear the world’s horror at what Assad and his minions are doing in Syria.

It’s sad, contrariwise, to see some on the ‘Left’ and in the ‘Peace Movement’ backing the stance of the ultra-authoritarian regimes in Moscow and Beijing, against the vast majority of world opinion, and effectively going soft on Bashar Assad’s murderous, corrupt and fascistic ‘government’ in Syria.

I’m referring, for instance, to the latest output from Medialens. They have failed to offer any solidarity to the heroic uprising that is the Arab Spring, while subtly trying to minimize the sense that there is a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria being perpetuated by the Assad junta, including playing down the casualty figures in Syria (except for those casualty figures being caused by the Free Syrian Army).

In Part 2 of their article, Medialens’s main sources on Syria consist of articles by Robert Dreyfuss and Aisling Byrne.

At one point in the Dreyfuss article, which Medialens cites favourably, he says:

‘Let me add that I agree 100 per cent with Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister: “There are some in the West who have given evaluations of the vote on Syria in the United Nations Security Council that sound, I would say, indecent and perhaps on the verge of hysterical.”’

So Medialens, via Dreyfuss, lines up beside the quasi-totalitarian rulers of Russia (which has (not) incidentally an unbelievably dismal state of media freedom) against the brave revolutionaries of the Arab Spring in Syria. People like Medialens and those they cite are doing a brilliant job of discrediting ‘the Left’ and anti-imperialism.

The really crucial moment in Dreyfuss’s article is where he says that the casualty figures in Syria are ‘wildly exaggerated’. The figures for individual nights of bombing may be. But the overall figures are likely to be a serious underestimate, because of the very high number of ‘disappeared’; and because the UN has effectively given up trying to count, due to the dire state of communications in Syria – a country where the government is torturing, assaulting and murdering so many of its own people.

Byrne, meanwhile, alleges that claims of casualties caused in Syria are as dubious as claims of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam’s Iraq. This is gob-smacking, and an incredible insult to the families of the many thousands tortured, disappeared and executed in Syria. Byrne uses the difficulty of getting 100 per cent reliable information out of Syria – a difficulty caused by the Syrian ‘government’ itself! – as an excuse for not believing that anything like the horror story that is emerging clearly from Syria is really happening. She also cites and horribly over-interprets a dubious ‘poll’ (in any case: how would one reliably poll people in a police-state where the internet is constantly spied upon?) that purported to show that a majority of Syrians still support Assad, as further ‘evidence’.

So Byrne and Dreyfuss are informing MediaLens’s ‘critique’ of the Western media on Syria. This is what leads them to make remarks like the following on alleged Western media bias in reporting on Syria: that the casualty estimates there are only worth anything if we trust ‘unsubstantiated reports from ‘activists’ in Syria. Notice the scare-quoting of the word ‘activist’. MediaLens clearly hope to imply that these brave people demonstrating and struggling against systematic brutalization at the hands of torture and heavy weapons are in fact… what? Completely biased? Even ‘terrorists’? (As Assad claims.)

As for the word ‘unsubstantiated’: is MediaLens insisting that one should not believe the Syrian people, and should trust Assad’s government instead? Or is MediaLens, like Byrne, simply tacitly using the fact that the Assad ‘government’ bans all journalists not embedded with the ‘government’ as an excuse for thinking that NO reports of casualties in Syria should be believed?

Whatever MediaLens had in mind when writing these words, their effect is clear: to lessen the credibility of the Syrian revolution, and tacitly to increase the credibility of Assad’s black propaganda. This, apparently, is what being in favour of ‘peace’ or being on ‘the Left’ has come to: a mission to discredit the heroes of the Arab Spring in Syria and to offer succour to those (Putin, totalitarian China, and above all the war-criminal regime of Bashar Assad) who are responsible for killing and torturing them.

Sloppy sourcing and dogmatic prejudice are contributing to suffocating the authentic revolution in Syria. I am not referring to the corporate media; I am referring to those on the Left who ought to know better.

The simple fact that the Syrian regime will not allow the media in (except on utterly compromised terms) ought to impress us all deeply and make those genuinely interested in a better media landscape support the Syrian revolution. But MediaLens and their fellow-travellers do not seem to care about this. They are not moved by the pitiful lack of freedom of the press permitted in Syria.

We ought to be internationalists. We ought to be with the Arab Spring. We ought to unmask the lies of Assad, not belittle the desperate efforts of those he is trying to crush to get the truth out of Syria.

Dr Rupert Read is Reader in the UEA School of Philosophy, Chair of the Green House thinktank, and East of England Green Party Co-ordinator.

[An earlier version of this article first appeared on Open Democracy]

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