Assad’s Confused Apologists: Academics in The Times

Political subterfuge, manipulation, and lies are standard fare for the corporate media. And of course, the usual targets of such anti-democratic output are those who question the legitimacy of our increasingly tottering capitalist status-quo.

Let’s be clear, the rabid attacks upon Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party by the billionaire-classes’ corrupt press are an attempt to undermine his determination to fight to represent the needs of the many instead of the capitalist few. It is for this reason too that the Blairites — who still dominate the leadership of the Parliamentary Labour Party — stand united with the ruling-class. Indeed, the desperate vitriol undergirding the ongoing Tory/Blairite attacks upon Corbyn and his supporters reminds me of the unrelenting propaganda campaign that was unleashed upon Liverpool’s socialist-led Council during the 1980s by both Labour (mis)leaders and the corporate press (as outlined in Liverpool: A City that Dared to Fight).

As in the 1980s, Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is at the forefront of waging the information war against the British working-class. Nothing changes on that front at least, and earlier this month The Sunday Times took their conspiratorial journalism to a new low with their frontpage feature story (read: smear) titled “Exposed: Corbyn’s hate factory” (April 1) which mangled truth and portrayed Corbyn and his supporters as raving anti-Semites.

Now with Corbyn’s vocal opposition to the government’s bombing of Syria, the Murdoch press and their Blairite supporters have been keen to launch yet another attack upon the left.

But as always, rather than launch a frontal attack against Corbyn’s inspiring arguments for social change, the capitalist press simply fixates on portraying Corbyn and his socialist friends as being duplicitous enemies of the British state. Substantive politics are to be ignored at all costs, just in case the public get wind of the emancipatory potential of the socialist ideas that are now being talked about by increasing numbers of people.

Last weekend’s front-page in The Times, “Apologists for Assad hold senior positions in British universities” (April 14), provides another example of such distortions on the part of the corporate media. The air strikes had just begun and the Murdoch-press unleashed all barrels upon a group of largely unknown academics who happened to be opposed to the British government’s warmongering. But there was a reason for this choice of target. As rather than focus on the anti-war arguments being put forward by Corbyn, and by most of the public for that matter, The Times attacked a tiny group of deluded intellectuals so they could draw a direct connection between those who oppose the bombing of Syria and proponents of pro-Assad propaganda.

times front page larger

The conspiratorial notions put forward by the academic clique that has organised themselves as the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (SPM) do of course deserve criticism, but the timing of Murdoch’s attacks has nothing to do with promoting a democratic public debate on this matter, and everything to do with smearing all anti-war activists as being useful idiots for Assad. Here the focus of The Times’ article(s) centred around the group’s idiotic belief that the White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group in Syria, are actually terrorists working alongside AlQaeda, and that President Assad had not actually carried out the recent chemical attack that led to the air strikes by the British/French/American forces.

But this isn’t the first time that members of this Working Group have boosted such pro-Assad conspiracies, as earlier this year, Tara McCormack, a leading member of the group based at the University of Leicester, tweeted the following comment:

“It is also an established fact that a) the White Helmets are basically Al Q (they provide most of the reporting from Jihadi held areas and b) that hospitals are used as bases by these groups.” (February 5, 2018)

Such pro-Assad propaganda does not materialise out of nothing, and members of the Working Group lean heavily upon the writings of leading libertarian conspiracy theorists like Vanessa Beeley. For those who don’t know, Beeley is an Assad regime propagandist who is counted as an associate editor for 21st Century Wire — a website closely associated with Alex Jones’ notorious US-based conspiracy outlet, InfoWars.

Tara McCormack also happens to be a longstanding contributor to the libertarian magazine Spiked Online – a magazine which has more in common with The Times than with any forces on the left of political spectrum. Indeed, as highlighted on an independent investigative wiki page, Spiked was previously run by Times columnist Mick Hume, and “is part of the libertarian anti-environmental” group which has the Orwellian name, the Living Marxism Network (which bears no relation to any Marxist ideas that I am familiar with, and I am a Marxist). To get a flavour of typical fare published in Spiked, recent articles not only dismiss the existence of a pay-gap between men and women, but also rail against “Jeremy Corbyn’s cult of youth” over his pledge to promote free bus travel.

Either way, we are where we are, and Tara McCormack and her friends unfortunately choose to present themselves to the public as being situated on the political left. This presents a problem for genuine socialist activists who are trying to concretely organise (in the real world) against all imperialist warmongers and against Assad’s brutal regime. The willingness of some academics to promote right-wing fictions within so-called left-wing circles gives the Tory press an easy way to paint the entire left as being Assad-loving conspiracy theorists. Such dangerous delusions are a tragic response by some on the left to slip into believing that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

With no hint of irony, McCormack recently tweeted a blog post titled “Delegitimising the British left” (April 19) which was written by the Guardian commentator Owen Jones. In his post, Jones points out how unfounded attacks by both Tories and Blairite against all socialists is “deeply and profoundly sinister” and should be seen as “an attempt to delegitimise the left as a political force.” No doubt McCormack feeling aggrieved by the recent attacks upon her pro-Assad tendencies felt especially able to identify with Jones’ opening sentence which warned of attempts dismiss the left “as irrational deluded cultists”.

McCormack clearly doesn’t see how her own ill-informed actions vis-à-vis Syria make it easy for the right-wing press to caricature the entire left as “irrational cultists”. Nevermind the fact that Spiked, the magazine McCormack has spent the last thirteen years writing for, is a major contributing force towards such toxic attacks on the left.

Spiked deputy editor Tom Slater concluded a recent article by suggesting that Corbynistas’ “display an incredible authoritarian streak” with Corbyn and supporters “reflect[ing] a strange sort of thin-skinned Stalinism-lite that would pose a real threat to liberty.” Or take another recent article, “Labour: the new Mosleyites?,” which was published by Spiked editor-at-large Mick Hume which stated “that Corbyn’s party poses more of a threat to freedom in Britain today than any fringe fascist grouplet.” “They are the political wing of an elitist alliance against free speech,” the former Times columnist concluded.

Few would deny that Corbyn is by any means perfect, but what he represents is the opening of new democratic vistas in Britain, offering up a long-awaited opportunity for the collective forces of the working-class to once again make their presence felt in politics. One can only hope that enquiring conspiracists like McCormack might do us all a favour and stop promoting the types of dangerous lies about the Syrian bloodbath that would find a more willing home within the conspiratorial political world inhabited by Donald Trump and The Times than they are within the Labour movement.

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