Syria Controversy: Who Supports Assad in the Civil War?
Editor’s note: Reports of a chemical attack in Syria have generated conflicting claims about what happened and who was responsible. The April 7 event is still under investigation. On April 19, Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatzar wrote a column titled “Why Are Some on the Left Falling for Fake News on Syria?” Truthdig contributor Max Blumenthal questioned her analysis. Below is Kolhatkar’s response. You can read Blumenthal’s take here.
Max Blumenthal asserted that I made a “sweeping characterization” in my column about fake news in the Syrian civil war. But I was careful to say that the propensity to back Bashar Assad, the dictator of Syria, is seen only in “some sectors of the left,” which is accurate. Judging by the many emails I received from progressives grateful for my column, I am happy to confirm that only some on the left take this pro-Assad position. Others, like me, are disturbed by the pro-Assad trend.
I admit my one mistake was to miss the fact that The Guardian reporters, whose article I cited, were not in Douma. Their bylines clearly noted that they were reporting from Istanbul and Beirut. I take full responsibility for that oversight and asked Truthdig editors to publish a correction, which they did.
Whether The Guardian’s reporters are “notorious sympathizers” of Assad’s opposition is not relevant. Robert Fisk, whose flawed reporting I cited, might well be an ardent supporter of Assad, which I also did not mention. The merit of the reporting is what is at stake, rather than the reporters’ sympathies. In fact, The Guardian reporters based their writing on interviews with the head of an aid organization operating inside Syria who has been in contact with medics fleeing Douma. The Guardian also spoke to medics who wished to remain anonymous, and I have no reason to doubt the paper’s reportage. Most critically, they interviewed a survivor of the attack who spoke on the record.
Regarding a report by The Associated Press, its reporter corroborated that a chemical attack had occurred and reported noticing a “strange smell.” The witness who accused the rebel group of carrying out the attack mentioned an intact gas cylinder, which is likely the same one The Guardian cited in its interviews with survivors and medics—a cylinder, “of the type used by the Syrian military.”
Indeed, on-the-ground reports were contradictory, but how did multiple reporters corroborate a chemical attack with medics, survivors and witnesses, while Fisk only managed to meet people who claimed no chemical attack had taken place?
That is the point I was making. Pro-Assad sympathizers have used Fisk’s report to demolish any and all claims of government responsibility for the attack, as have those who claim no attack occurred at all. In fact, Fisk’s report does not even mention the gas cylinder, which both The Guardian and AP cite, because no chemicals existed whatsoever in Fisk’s version of the story.
The main point of my column is intact: There are a lot of questionable reports about Syria, which some members of the American left are desperate to validate to maintain the lie that Syria’s brutal dictator is neither brutal nor a dictator. My conclusion is that defending Assad need not be a precondition to opposing U.S. militarism in Syria.
We need to get beyond the battle over Assad’s crimes to unite against U.S. militarism, but unfortunately, pro-Assad sentiment undermines the left’s credibility on this issue.