It’s Time for Activists to Stop Defending Dictators
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
The credibility of people’s movements across the world — and of the left itself — is at stake.
This opinion piece was written by OZY reporter Mat Nashed.
In the early afternoon of Dec. 3, Iranian state television acknowledged that government forces had gunned down protesters in multiple cities. The violence came as a response to a nationwide demonstration that was triggered by a sudden hike in gas prices. Yet despite Tehran’s confession, notable personalities in the United States rushed to the regime’s defense.
Intellectuals and activists — including Angela Davis — signed an online letter that argued the Iranian protests were part of an American conspiracy designed to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran. The letter also accused protesters of acting as U.S. “cheerleaders and native informants” without providing a shred of evidence to support the claim. The letter echoed Tehran’s pretext for its deadly crackdown.
More than a week later, on Dec. 17, Amnesty International reported that the civilian death toll in the country reached 304. Thousands of Iranians were also reportedly detained, putting many at risk of being tortured and sentenced to death.
With International Solidarity Day now upon us, it’s clear the world needs much more of it.
Facts haven’t stopped a growing number of Americans from citing “alternative facts” to justify the state-sanctioned killings of civilians in faraway conflicts.
Over the past several years, a growing number of self-described activists have fervently defended repressive regimes against civilian uprisings. Rather than rely on facts, they raise doubt about the facts placed in front of them. Eyewitness testimonies, video footage and reports from the ground are often dismissed as “fake news.” By discrediting local uprisings in different parts of the world, they’re borrowing from the playbook of both authoritarian and overtly democratic regimes. Whether it’s China accusing protesters in Hong Kong of doing America’s bidding, India labeling opponents of its Hindu nationalist government as Pakistan-backed plants or the U.S. painting all communists as Soviet spies in an earlier era, the strategy is the same: delegitimize opponents by portraying them as foreign agents, or worse.
The Syrian war is a case in point. Over the course of the conflict, Russia has tried to undermine public trust in reputable publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian and The Washington Post. At the heart of Moscow’s propaganda campaign is an attack on the Syria Civil Defense — a group of volunteer rescue workers known more commonly as the White Helmets — which has been slandered as an affiliate of al-Qaida. Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has also employed this pretext to secure backing from Western activists to target rescue workers.
By now, the simple fact that the Assad regime has carried out mass killings shouldn’t be up for debate. Leaked photos have revealed the grotesque slaughter taking place in Syrian prisons, while countless investigations have unveiled the regime’s deliberate targeting of hospitals, schools and bakeries since early 2013.
In fact, Syria may be the most documented war in modern history. Still, facts haven’t stopped a growing number of Americans from citing “alternative facts” to justify the state-sanctioned killings of civilians in faraway conflicts. That worrisome trend resembles a world that George Orwell warned about in his futuristic novel 1984.
“The party told you to reject all the evidence of your eyes and ears,” Orwell wrote in his groundbreaking book.
The party that Orwell was referring to was an all-knowing and encompassing totalitarian government. But the above quote best represents the increasing number of American personalities who uncritically digest the propaganda of despotic governments that ostensibly oppose U.S imperialism.
Look no further than Max Blumenthal, an American writer who has been at the heart of the propaganda campaign against the White Helmets.
His book on Syria, The Management of Savagery, has been meticulously critiqued and dismissed by a range of Syria observers and experts. The Times Literary Supplement even concluded that the book was riddled with so many fabrications that a complete review of it would require a short book in itself.
Still, Blumenthal was recently invited onto the Rolling Stone podcast Useful Idiots to promote his work. Media outlets are by all means free to choose whom they want as guests on their shows. Yet during the Rolling Stone interview with Blumenthal, no questions about the context of his reporting were raised, nor was a single fabrication from his book challenged.
The result: Iranian and Syrian perspectives are drowned out when Western activists tell protesters what their positions to their respective regimes should be. Of course, no population can be reduced to holding a single opinion, nor can any conflict be summed up in a single testimony. That said, speaking to people directly affected by state repression is the only way to gain insight into the hopes and fears of those involved — or swept up — in mass uprisings.
After all, solidarity begins by acknowledging the human experience and grievances of others rather than dismissing them to impose our own political views.