Adonis Diaries

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What Lebanese daily Al Akhbar has to do with Max Blumenthal?

Lebanon has a dozen dailies for barely 4 million people. People who cannot afford to buy a daily even for less than $1.5, and barely read anything.  Most of the dailies are selling for $75 cents and there are no takers.

Issuing a daily is a very expensive enterprise, in a country lacking public electricity and potable water…How these dailies cover their expenses?

Obviously, not from ads…Lebanon has a dozen banks and their subsidiaries of other businesses, and nothing else to display any kinds of ads that might generate sales or profits…

The dailies in Lebanon are directly funded by the oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Gulf Emirates, the US and the western States secret services…Particular stories and editorials are essentially paid for by the absolute monarchies and the superpowers having vested interest in keeping the pseudo State of Lebanon in a state of social and political destabilization…

The daily Al Akhbar is less than three years old, and funded mainly by Iran and Syria, just to exhibit another version of the stories and editorials.

Max Blumenthal wrote on June 20, under ” The right to resist is universal: A farewell to Al Akhbar and Assad’s apologists” (with slight editing):

“When I joined the fledgling Al Akhbar English website last fall, I was excited to contribute my writing on the Israel-Palestine situation and US foreign policy to a paper that I considered one of the most courageous publications in the Arab world.

At the time, the Syrian uprising had just begun, and apparently, so had the debates inside Al Akhbar, which reflected the discussions within the wider Lebanese Left.

Almost a year later, the results of the debate have become clear on the pages of the paper, where despite the presence of a few dissident voices, the apologia for Assad and his crimes has reached unbearable levels.

I learned of a major exodus of key staffers at Al Akhbar caused at least in part by disagreements with the newspaper leadership’s pro-Assad tendency.

The revelation helps explain why Al Akhbar English now prominently features the propaganda of Amal Saad Ghorayeb and the quasi-analysis of Sharmine Narwani, alongside editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin’s friendly advice for Bashar Assad…

 Ibrahim al-Amin’s is attempting to depict Bashar as an earnest reformer overwhelmed by events…

I considered responding on my blog to some of the more outlandish ravings published at Al Akhbar, but eventually decided my energy would be better spent on covering the topics I knew best — and which I could discuss with the authority of journalistic experience.

Ghorayeb’s daftest work to date: an attack on Arab Third Wayers (supporters of the anti-imperialist, anti-authoritarian political tendency) in which she asserted that “the real litmus of Arab intellectuals’ and activists’ commitment to the Palestinian cause is no longer their support for Palestinian rights, but rather, their support for the Assad leadership’s struggle against the imperialist-Zionist-Arab moderate axis’ onslaught against it.”

Ghorayeb’s rant, condemned by As’ad Abu Khalil (see link on note 2) as an “outrage,” was of a piece with the Syrian regime’s long record of exploiting the Palestinian struggle to advance its self-interests.

For me, it was the final straw. 

I was forced to conclude that, unless I was prepared to spend endless stores of energy jousting with Assad apologists, I was merely providing them cover by keeping my name and reputation associated with Al Akhbar. 

More importantly, I decided that if I kept quiet any longer, I would be betraying my principles and those of the people who have encouraged and inspired me over the years. There is simply no excuse for me to remain involved for another day with such a morally compromised outlet.

I can not disagree with anyone who claims that the United States and the Saudi royals aim to ratchet up their regional influence on the backs of the shabby Syrian National Council while Israel cheers on the sidelines.

Though it is far from certain whether these forces will realize a fraction of their goals, it is imperative to reject the foreign designs on Syria and Lebanon, just as authentic Syrian dissidents like Michel Kilo have done.

Yet the mere existence of Western meddling does not automatically make Assad a subaltern anti-imperial hero at the helm of a “frontline resisting state,” as Ghorayeb has sought to paint him. Nor does it offer any legitimate grounds for nickel-and-dime civilian casualty counts, blaming the victims of his regime, or hyping the Muslim Threat Factor to delegitimize the internal opposition.

Bashar Assad will be remembered as an authoritarian tyrant whose regime represented little more than the interests of a rich neoliberal business class and a fascistic security apparatus.

Those who have thrown their intellectual weight behind his campaign of brutality have cast the sincerity of their commitment to popular struggle and anti-imperial resistance into serious doubt.

By denying the Syrian people the right to revolution while supporting the Palestinian struggle, they are no less hypocritical than the Zionists who cynically celebrate the Syrian uprising while seeking to crush any iteration of Palestinian resistance. In my opinion, the right to resist tyranny is indivisible and universal. It can be denied to no one.

Throughout the past weeks, as my sense of anguish mounted, I have thought about the bravery of the Lebanese leftists who fought beside the Palestinian fedayeen at Sidon in 1976, halting the US-approved Syrian invasion of Lebanon, which Hafez al-Assad had designed in part to break the back of the Palestinian national cause.

And I recalled stories of the Lebanese activists who broke through the Syrian army’s blockade of Tal al Zataar to provide food and supplies to the Palestinian refugees defending their camp against imminent destruction (see note).

The long history of sacrifice and courage by the Lebanese and Syrian people in support of the Palestinian struggle — and in defiance of self-interested autocrats — crystallizes an important fact that should not have to be repeated: Palestine will never be free as long as the Arab world lives under the control of dictators.

At Al Akhbar English, Ghorayeb has attempted to advance the opposite argument: that supporting Assad regime is synonymous with support for the Palestinian struggle, and possibly more important. This is what prompted her to falsely claim that “Syrian officials do not meet with their Israeli counterparts,” ignoring the fact that Syrian and Israeli officials dined together at a 2007 commemoration for the Madrid peace talks, and that the Syrians offered the Israelis negotiations over the Golan Heights “without preconditions,” a position the regime maintained until as late as December 2009.

Outside of negotiations with Israel, it is unclear what concrete steps Syria’s government was willing to take to regain the Golan.

In the same column in which she praised the Assad regime for blocking Syrian access to Israeli websites, and for refusing to give interviews to Israeli reporters, she cited an Israeli professor and an article in the right-of-center Israeli news site, the Times of Israel, to support her points. Apparently the Syrian people must do as Assad says, but not as his apologists in Beirut do.

Besides exploiting the Palestinian cause, the Assad apologists have eagerly played the Al Qaeda card to stoke fears of an Islamic takeover of Syria.

Back in 2003, Assad accused the US of deliberately overestimating the strength of Al Qaeda in order to justify its so-called war on terror. Assad had said: “I cannot believe that bin Laden is the person able to outmaneuver the entire world. Is there really an entity called Al Qaeda? It was in Afghanistan, but is it there anymore?” 

But now, in a transparent bid for sympathy from the outside world, Assad insists that the Syrian armed opposition is controlled almost entirely by Al Qaeda-like jihadists who have come from abroad to place the country under Islamic control.

In his address to the Syrian People’s Assembly on June 3, the dictator tried to hammer the theme home by using the term “terrorists” or “terrorism” a whopping 43 times. That is a full ten times more than George W. Bush during his speech to Congress in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

Echoing Assad, Ghorayeb has referred to the Syrian army’s pornographically violent crackdowns on what by all accounts is still a mostly homegrown resistance as “the regime’s war against the foreign sponsored terrorists and insurrectionists,” calling for “a security solution to root [them] out.”

At the Al Akhbar’s Arabic site, Jean Aziz predicted a complete Salafi takeover of Syria if Assad falls. Meanwhile, Ibrahim al Amin claimed that the Syrian opposition “cop[ied] the modus operandi which was devised by the leadership of al-Qaeda,” then uncritically quoted an unnamed regime source who insisted that “a hardline majority of the armed groups have come to be led by non-Syrians.”  

Similarly, Narwani asserted that a shadowy 5000-man ultra-Islamist militia has been operating inside the city of Homs with “plans to declare an Islamic Caliphate in Syria” — Creeping Shariah! She based her remarkable assertion on a single conversation with an anonymous journalist.

In joining the Assad regime’s campaign to delegitimize the Syrian opposition by casting it as a bunch of irrational jihadis, Assad’s apologists have unwittingly adopted the “war on terror” lexicon introduced by George W. Bush, Ariel Sharon, and the neocon cabal after 9-11.

Not only have they invoked the scary specter of The Terrorists to justify morally indefensible acts of violent repression, like pro-Israel hasbarists, they have resorted to rhetorical sophistry to dismiss the regime’s atrocities as necessary evils, unfortunate accidents (what al-Amin called “mistakes”), or fabrications of the regime’s opponents.

I wonder, as I do with Zionist fanatics, if there is any limit to the carnage Assad’s apologists will tolerate in the name of the greater cause.

In the true spirit of the Israeli occupation, which refused to allow reporters into Gaza to document the horrors of Operation Cast Lead, and which has stripped journalists of their press credentials as punishment for their perceived “anti-Israel bias,” Narwani spent several thousand words breathlessly complaining about “Western journalists” who “head straight for the Syrian activist, the anti-regime demonstration, the man with the gun in a ‘hot spot.’”

Narawani’s justifications for keeping the foreign press corps away from the scene of Assad’s crimes were disturbingly similar to those of Danny Seaman, the Israeli Government Press Office director during Cast Lead, who said, “Any journalist who enters Gaza becomes a fig leaf and front for the Hamas terror organization, and I see no reason why we should help that.”

Narwani  attempted to spin the regime’s artillery assault on the neighborhood of Baba Amr. Her analysis  immediately reminded me of US military propaganda following the attack on the Iraqi city of Fallujah, a “shake-and-bake” artillery assault that included the firing of white phosphorous shells on a city center in order to, as Ghorayeb might have said, “root out” the terrorists.

Narwani wrote: “While the dominant narrative in the international media assumed an unprovoked army attack on a civilian population in Homs neighborhood, there remains little evidence to back this scenario, particularly after information emerged that the neighborhood was an armed opposition stronghold, most of the population had vacated the neighborhood in advance, and reports of activists exaggerating violence trickled out.”

Like the neocon chickenhawks who cheered on America’s invasion of Iraq from the offices of Washington’s American Enterprise Institute, none of Assad’s apologists appear to have done any journalistic fieldwork to support their opinions.

Ghorayeb and Narwani seem to have confined themselves to Beirut, where Ghorayeb consults the writings of V.I. Lenin and Paulo Freire to back up her hallucinatory portrayal of Assad as a subaltern freedom fighter, while Narwani cobbles together a scatter shot of YouTube clips and hearsay from journalists she hangs out with to justify the regime’s very own “war on terror.”

Al-Amin’s sourcing is even more dubious. In a column about supposed armed infiltration from Lebanon to Syria, for example, he cited “records of investigations with those detained for transporting and smuggling weapons and explosives…”

Perhaps al-Amin could clarify his cryptic language. In particular, he might explain whether he was referring to notes of interrogations of imprisoned opposition members that he received from regime sources. If so, can he confirm that these interrogations did not involve torture?

My issues with Al Akhbar are not limited to its opinion section.

A profile originally published at Al Akhbar’s Arabic site (later translated into English) of Bassel Shehadeh, the video journalist killed inside Homs, did not even bother to note that he was killed by the Syrian army — “bullets” were said to be the cause of his death. And it was the only coverage I could find about his death in the paper, which has too often presented events in Syria in curiously vague terms, especially when they concern the regime’s misdeeds.

According to a close friend of Shehadeh who was also covering the opposition in Homs and across Syria, “Bassel was an essential part of the Homs revolution. He was close to the leadership of the Homs resistance, and he lived on the front lines.”

Before he decided to return to Syria to support the uprising, Shehadeh was a Fulbright scholar studying at Syracuse University’s fine arts program. He put his studies on hold to train activists inside the besieged city of Homs, believing all along that his history of good luck in the midst of danger would somehow protect him from death.

As a Christian who fiercely rejected sectarianism, Shehadeh’s very presence shook the Syrian regime. After he was killed, the army shelled the Christian neighborhood of Hamidyeh to prevent his funeral, then a gang of shabbiha attacked a memorial service for him in Damascus that would have presented a rare display of Christian-Sunni solidarity. It was this sense of solidarity that appeared to threaten the regime the most. As Shehadeh’s mother reportedly said, “They feared him in life, and they feared him in death.”

A few years ago, while visiting the offices of the Nation Magazine, a publication I frequently write for, I reflected on what it might have been like to be working there during the 1930’s when its editorial leadership supported Stalin and willfully ignored his crimes.

What were the internal debates like, I wondered, and how would I have reacted? The past few weeks at Al Akhbar have brought those questions back into my thoughts, and they are no longer hypothetical. The paper’s opinion pages have become a playpen for dictator enablers, but unlike the 1930’s-era Nation Magazine, there is less excuse for their apologia.

Indeed, given the easy accessibility of online media produced by Syrian activists and journalists, there is no way for Assad’s apologists to claim they did not know about the regime’s crimes.

At this point, I have no excuse either. I am no longer a contributor to Al Akhbar. It is time to move on.” End of quote

May I assume that Max Blumenthal waited until the Zionist State government of Israel decided that Bashar of Syria has to go to desist participating in the discussions in the Lebanese daily Al Akhbar?

Note:  In the summer of 1976, Syrian and Christian militias surrounded and blockaded the Palestinian Tal al Zataar refugee camp in order to “ethnically cleanse foreigners” from East Beirut.  Hundreds of children died of hunger and thirst and when the camp surrendered after a month of total blockade, about two thousands residents were massacred in front of correspondents.

On July 13, 1976, the residents of Tal al Zataar camp, had dispatched an open letter to the World:

“Syrian weapons are being used – most unfortunately – against our camp, while the rulers of Damascus continue to repeat that they are here in Lebanon in order to defend our camp. This is a murderous lie, a lie which pains us more than anyone else…

But we wish to inform you that we will fight in defense of this camp with our bare hands if all our ammunition is spent and all our weapons are gone, and that we will tighten our belts so that hunger will not kill us. For we have taken a decision not to surrender and we shall not surrender…”

Apparently, the world was restricted to the US and the US administration was totally oblivious to crimes against humanity, as it is today, but forced to bow down under the strong beam projected by new audio-visual technologies available to people to editing and sending instant pictures and videos on social platforms

Note 2:


Left parties, progressive parties…: What’s that to do with Syria?


In the midst of the broad revolutionary protest movement, which is demanding freedom in Syria (Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia…) and which has faced terrifying repression that resulted in more than 1100 deaths and ten thousand of people detained in Syria, most of whom are members of the Syrian toiling class, peasants and workers, came the latest memorandum from the political bureau of the Lebanese Communist Party (issued on April 20, 2011), reminding the Syrian people who it has the right to “mobilize through all peaceful and democratic means for the sake of social, political, and economic reforms and the combating of corruption.”

Khalil Issa published an article “The Lebanese Left Fails in Syria” on the blog Jadaliyya and was translated into English by Hanna Petro. The original Arabic version of this article can be found here.

I will re-publish the article before commenting.  I had undertaken minor editing, abridging of a few paragraphs that seemed redundant. (Sentences in parentheses are mine).

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[Leftist march in Lebanon. Image from unknown archive.] [Leftist march in Lebanon. Image from unknown archive.]

“When the left loses all the material elements of its steadfastness, a result of its mistakes and of surrounding local pressures, it recourses to the political-ethical discourse as a principled stance on the basis of which to fight. Being a leftist is to side with justice against oppression, with the victim against the perpetrator (of crimes against humanity), with the (common people) against the exploiter. This is the moral position that keeps us leftists after the near death of the Lebanese left, as an organized political movement.

The memorandum failed to name any martyrs and murder victims in Syria, and “wishes that [the Syrian government] be quick in implementing all the reforms put forth by President Bashar al-Assad.”

The ambiguous position of the Communist party becomes more (striking) when its long speech describes “Syria confronting internal strife, which imperialist America and Israel strive towards in cooperation with some of the collaborating forces inside and outside of Syria, forces steeped in reactionary politics.”

What fitna [internal strife] is the Lebanese Communist Party referring to?

And why do we want to mention particularly the fitna, when the discourse should be against oppression, murder, and terrorism?  Have the national opposition members in Syria like Michel Kilo, Aref Dalila and Yasin al-Hajj Salih—who are all “comrades” by the way—suddenly become agents of the imperialist “circles?”  Or has the absurd fitna theory, which constitutes an offshoot of the “conspiracy theory”, becomes an alternative to all the positions that must be undertaken by a party supposed to be the “party of the people” par excellence?

The position of the Communist Party on what is happening in Syria is a failure on both the ethical and political levels.  Shouldn’t politics is supposed to be genuinely serving the interests of the oppressed classes?

It sound as if the Communist Party practically rejects the change demanded by the toiling class and the workers in Syria, as well as adopts the regime’s “external conspiracy” narrative.

All that remains for the comrades of the political bureau is to participate in the propaganda against the protesters, calling them “conspirators” or “armed gangs”:  The Secretary General Khalid Hadada confirmed the centrality of “the conspiracy against Syria” in an article of his in al-Safir newspaper (May 28th, 2011). If Hadada rejects the security solution in Syria, he also repudiates “attempted bullying by the outside.”

What dialogue is the Communist Party calling for? For example, Azmi Bishara, (a Palestinia/Israeli deputy revoked by the Israeli Knesset) says in one of his latest media appearances that “it is clear that there is dialogue. Unfortunately, only dialogue pertaining to reform, but there is an instigation to murder and shoot at those who demand reform.”

Many of the Lebanese leftists are convinced that what is happening in Syria is the doing of the “Salafis” or the “Anglo-Americo-Zionist-Saudi-Qatari” conspiracy.  This ever-present phobia of the Conspiracy mixes with a “secular sectarianism”.

Many leftists now repeat the repudiation by poets like Adonis and Safidi Yusuf of “the coming out of revolution from the mosque,” or that what is happening is nothing but a verse of “the West’s making.”

Secular sectarianism is inflating minority sensibilities, horrified by the cries of allahu akbar [Allah is great], and gives life to a sick elitism that does not see a sufficient “revolutionary consciousness” among the Syrian masses. This might reflect a class disdain expressed by a small bourgeois leadership towards workers and peasants who are being killed.

The Revolution is to be in accordance with the standard of a distressed left defined only by the discourse of “secularism.” How about “overthrowing sectarian regimes?”

Today, we have come to the presence of a “secular sectarian” Lebanese left, which has retired from its duties, vacillating between a Lebanese nationalist vision and an Arab nationalist position in the archaic sense of the word.

Most Lebanese left parties are intellectually lazy, politically coward, folkloric, carrying a vulgar Marxist discourse with an opportunistic tendency… They adopt  narratives of injustice starting with the “imperial West” and ending with lamentation over the “injustice” committed by the other Lebanese sectarian parties towards it. When the left does not question ready-made answers, it becomes a “religious” left.

“The Lebanese left is united with all the oppressed people of the world, with the exception of the Arab people. Maybe it is because those Arab people are still … “Muslim”, meaning they are not “secular” enough!”

There is a deeper problem facing leftists and communists on the theoretical level. It is the “freedom” called for by the crushed Arab masses from the Atlantic Ocean (Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria…) to the Arab/Iranian Gulf.  That used to be an expression of lost dignity because of regional regimes governing in a ‘local’ colonial fashion.

Is thinking of “Arab dignity” more important today than the endless pleas for analyses by the martyr Mahdi Amel or the economic determinism that Marxism itself has surpassed?  Many traditional communists consider the subject of “democracy” as a “bourgeois” issue. They ignore the fact that the right to vote, the right to express one’s opinion, and the right to form political parties was never a “liberal” gift, but something that came as a result of struggles fought out by the working class and the peasantry.

The loathing of political freedom by describing it as “bourgeois freedom” is at the root of positions that neglect the demands of the masses who want ‘dignity’ before anything else.

We are confronting three issues:

First, the secular sectarianism which was transformed into a politics of identity;

Second, the disease of elitism, which despises the struggling classes; and

Three, the absence of intellectual renewal because of repeat of deaf leftist prayers, which claim to answer every worry and complaint. We hope that the left will return to the left and the Communist Party to its communism. Circumstances indicate that hard times will befall on Lebanon, and we  need this new left.” End of article

I like the spirit of the article.  For the non-Lebanese readers, the left factions represented behind this article sided in the last two decades with governments representing mainly Saudi Arabia absolute monarchy interests in Lebanon and in the region, explicitly backed by the US.

The governments of the Hariri clan supported Bush Junior strategy in the July 2006 preemptive war by Israel on Lebanon: They demanded that Israel finish off the resistance movement in Lebanon (particularly Hezbollah).

These factions of the left have great animosity with the current government, which displaced the Hariri clan interests of monopolizing the economy in Lebanon…

Is the claim that “external conspiracy” irrelevant?

No State in the Middle-East is in any position of defying the interest of the 5 veto-powers in the UN (US, France, England, Russia, and China):  No State managed to establish any sustainable socio-political-economic structure to defy even powerful regional States.

For example, the western States and the US cajoled Qaddafi for 40 years: As Qaddafi decided to deny France and England substantial arms deals to the benefit of Russia, Qaddafi was to be deposed.

The negotiation with the US to keeping a large military contingent in Iraq has failed: Iran and Syria were blamed for the Iraqi defiance.

Syria regime of the Assad clan was extensively cajoled by France, the US, and Israel in the last three decades: actually, Syria was given mandated power over Lebanon since 1991.  Bashar al Assad was to be deposed…

Only Iran dared occasionally defy the western powers: it focused on self-sufficiency in military power…Even vast and powerful Turkey is relying on the US for its policies in the region…

As to what the left and secular movements could do in Syria, beside allying with the Baath Party and the Assad clan?  With the heavy support of the US, western States and Israel to the Assad regime, it is a winning strategy of the left to have maintained a level of secular spirit in Syria within the troubling conditions…

The balance of power after the Assad regime will lean toward the secular movements, thanks to the decades of sustaining any gain that could be snatched for establishing a secular movement…

What’s happening in Syria now?

The people in Homs have been virulent and demonstrating nightly against the regime. Why?

During late Hafez Assad, the socialist central government invested and funneled money into this major City. In the last five years, and the spread of liberal capitalism that pressured Syria to revise its economic and financial laws, the insiders in the central government and Assad clan opted to invest outside Syria, and in Damascus, and Aleppo.

Hama is virulent for two major reason:

First, Hama has been punished for over three decades from serious government investment related to the 1982 mass uprising. Hafez Assad decreed that: “Every Syrian who is found to be a member of Syria Moslem Brotherhood Party will be executed”.  Hafez was very consistent in his position and many Syrians were persecuted and hanged.

Second, Hama want revenge!

Why Damascus is not currently that excited for reform change?

First, as usual and historically, Sunnis in Damascus give priority to stability and security.

Second, merchant class in Damascus is still reaping the advantages of being resident of the Capital.  When the regime shows definite weaknesses, you can be sure that Damascus will take over and lead the “revolution”: They have to maintain and protect their interest, economically and politically.

The people in Aleppo wish that what is taking place is actually a terrible bad dream: They will wake up from just a nightmarish dream.

Aleppo is in a situation of “No Win”, regardless of which side to take.  If it sides with the government, Aleppo will suffer the most from a civil war because it is in the middle of the Sunni Kurds in the north and Sunni “Arabs” in the south.

There is an after Assad clan regime, and it will be secular, no matter what the scarecrow salafists factor is constantly brought out in media and political circles.




June 2023

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