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Issue #1775      May 3, 2017

Taking Issue – Rob Gowland

The moral clarity of a media rant

Murdoch’s tabloid rag The Daily Telegraph really got its knickers in a twist on April 11 when well-known progressive academic Tim Anderson used social media to contradict the capitalist mass media line that the Syrian government had launched a deadly attack on its own people with poison gas.

Syria’s President, Bashar al Assad.

The story that Bashar al Assad’s government had used Sarin gas in an attack on civilians including children surfaced very conveniently just as the US campaign to remove the Assad government was in need of an urgent propaganda boost. The Syrian Army was systematically pushing the remnants of Al-Qaeda and Daesh/ISIS out of the last parts of the country they still occupied. Simultaneously, also being sent packing was that US invention, “the Free Syrian Army,” whose ranks are full of special forces personnel and other “volunteers” from Chechnya, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and (many believe) also from Britain and the US. US propagandists are wont to call this artificially created terrorist grouping, whose sole reason for existence is to expedite the regime change that Washington so fervently desires in Damascus, “moderate rebels” to differentiate them from the fanatics of Daesh/ISIS.

At the rate they’re going, the Al Assad government’s army and their Russian allies would soon liberate the whole of Syria from the terrorists leaving the US and Turkey to devise a new strategy for gaining control of Syria. How fortuitous that the Assad government allegedly chose that moment to attack its own people with deadly Sarin gas. That the UN had previously supervised the removal of all chemical agents from the Syrian government forces was an inconvenient fact easily ignored by Murdoch’s media pundits.

They preferred to run with the well-orchestrated campaign – originating with Western intelligence services – that boldly alleged that the Syrian government had used the poison gas and declared President Al Assad a “brutal dictator” who apparently sought to strengthen his hold on power by slaughtering his own people! The Western media was flooded with graphic photos of the innocent victims of the gas attack, as “evidence” of just how evil the Assad regime is.

The rogue warmonger currently occupying the White House responded predictably, seizing the opportunity to demonstrate the USA’s power: 59 cruise missiles were fired off from US warships in the Mediterranean to obliterate a Syrian air-force base. The slaughter of so many Syrian military personnel no doubt gladdened the hearts of Daesh/ISIS and the other anti Assad terrorists.

Anderson, a lecturer at Sydney Uni, had the temerity to go on social media to deny the veracity of the Murdoch-approved version of events in Syria and the Telegraph’s journos dutifully went on the attack. The very fact that Anderson didn’t agree with the official Trump line was sufficient for the paper’s story to carry the pejorative label “Sydney Uni Shocker”, followed by a huge front-page headline declaring Dr Aderson a “Sarin Gasbag”, and a smaller one calling Syria’s President Assad a “tyrant”. (A popularly elected tyrant, that’s certainly a novel idea!)

The Tele left no stone unturned in its effort to pour scorn on Tim Anderson’s expression of dissent. The story, written by Kylar Loussikian, actually led off with the fact that Sydney University was “backing” Anderson, as though that was so outrageous it was newsworthy in its own right. Dr Anderson was identified early in the article as someone “who was charged but fully acquitted of the 1978 Sydney Hilton bombing and now earns $130,000 a year as a political lecturer”, a curious juxtaposition of bits of unrelated information clearly intended to cast doubt on the reliability of his opinion.

The article could have explained – but didn’t bother to – that it is widely believed in progressive circles that the “the Hilton bomber” was in fact ASIO itself. The clumsy attempt to fit up Tim Anderson for the terrorist act failed dismally, but that didn’t stop Loussikian from making sure his readers knew that Dr Anderson had been charged with it. Although he acknowledged that Dr Anderson was “fully acquitted” of the bombing, it was still clearly a smear, intended to leave a lingering doubt. After all, how many honest, innocent people get charged with placing a bomb outside a posh Sydney pub where a high-level conference was taking place and killing a council worker, eh?

The article was accompanied by a photo of a casually-dressed (and very un-academic-looking Anderson) next to a photo of a small child victim of the gas attack the White House (and the Tele) is determined to blame on the Syrian government.

Dr Anderson’s assertion that President Assad’s government was not responsible for the gas attack that the Trump Administration used as the pretext for radically increasing its overt military action against the Syrian army was labeled a “bizarre rant” by the Tele while Liberal Party politician, Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham, according to the same paper, “demanded an investigation into the rant”. Birmingham sought to justify his stance with this gem: “Although universities are places where ideas should be contested, that’s no excuse for being an apologist for [the Syrian government]”: ideas are free to be contested as long as they’re our ideas.

Simon Birmingham’s blatant attempt to curtail academic free speech did not go down well in academic circles, a Sydney University spokesperson noting that “Dr Anderson was simply commenting on his area of expertise”. But, of course, in the Tele’s universe, questioning the veracity of US propaganda is tantamount to heresy, no matter what your area of expertise.

Loussikian’s article went on to describe Dr Anderson as a “former Hindu sectist” and a “Fidel Castro-loving fan of Venezuelan socialist Hugo Chávez”. In a rather convoluted sentence, Loussikian also observed that “Dr Anderson … has repeatedly supported positions consistent with Russian and Syrian talking points on the [Syrian] conflict.” A remarkably McCarthyist-sounding approach to intellectual freedom.

As his example of this pro-Russian/pro-Syrian bias, Loussikian cites Anderson’s agreement with President Assad’s assessment of the White Helmets as a front for Daesh/ISIS. Loussikian calls this widely discredited outfit a “humanitarian group” but his view is no longer shared by most people. He is also outraged by the fact that Doctor Anderson has publicly accused Israel of complicity in a US plan for a “New Middle East”.

What a shameful thing to suggest! As if those lovely people in the Pentagon and the State Department would countenance such a thing! Everyone knows that all they want is peace, don’t they? Oh, really, they don’t? Fancy that!

In right-wing circles, both here and in the US, to criticise Israel is to commit the ultimate sin. Despite its blatant racism, including its imposition of apartheid on the people of Palestine, and its frequent acts of aggression against its Arab neighbours, Israel is America’s favoured child, protected by a US veto at the UN and by US weapons in the Middle East. The Israel lobby – in Australia and in the US – is a powerful collection of companies and politicians with financial ties to the rogue state (yes that appellation properly belongs to Israel, not North Korea).

The Turnbull government, as you would expect, backs Donald Trump’s sabre rattling all the way, despite the very real danger it poses not just to world peace but to the very continuation of life on Earth. Attorney-General George Brandis told the Murdoch media that Trump authorising cruise-missile strikes on Syria was “a swift, just and proportionate response to the horrific chemical weapon attack by the Assad regime against its own people. It is disappointing that Dr Anderson cannot see the moral clarity of President Trump’s decision.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s national security adviser, Lieutenant-General HR McMaster boasted on TV that the US had the “twin goals” of defeating ISIS and removing President Assad from power. That President Assad is a democratically elected leader cuts no ice with US politicians if he won’t follow their direction. The new US Secretary of State, Trump nominee Rex Tillerson also boasted that “steps are under way” to organise a coalition to “remove” President Assad.

I think Tim Anderson sees the “moral clarity” of Trump’s (and Australia’s) position only too well. I’ll let Tim Anderson have the last word: “There is no doubt that a large majority of Syrians support Bashar al-Assad – and frankly, that’s all that matters.”

Next article – Poem – Union Maid

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