A Critique of Joshua LandisJuly 31, 2012
This is a response to a recent talk on C-SPAN by professor Joshua Landis of Oklahoma University. Before beginning this critique, I would like to note that I have a good deal of respect for the work of professor Landis. He is an important voice in the American media to help us understand the complex realities in Syria and the Middle East. His is a well-rounded and grounded perspective on this volatile and contentious terrain. I am going to explore the omissions (not entirely his fault) and blind spots that were present in his presentation on the current situation in Syria. I do highly recommend that you watch the lecture. It is refreshing to hear someone speak about American foreign policy in a clear and relatively un-biased manner, especially in a media landscape where we have a constant barrage of lies, distortions and sociopathic perspectives presented to us as ‘reality’ on Western and Qatari news programs. Our understanding of Syria and the region would be diminished if we did not have professor Landis sharing his views with us.
You can watch his talk here: Syria and Middle East Security
Rights of Women
One important issue that was missing from his talk (and is missing in almost all discussions on Syria) is the threat to the rights of women if the Assad regime falls. This is no small issue. One thing that surprised me during my visit to Syria is how Western it was compared to other Arab and Muslim countries in the region. Women’s dress is not restricted in Syria and they play a very important public role in society when compared to other Arab countries. Muslim fundamentalists and suicide bombers in Syria do have a Sharia Law agenda that they want to impose on the country. This is not theory. All one has to do is look to neighboring Iraq to see the deterioration of women’s rights in the post-Saddam era. Women used to wear miniskirts, show their hair and walk without fear in Baghdad. Now the situation has completely reversed. Women are forced to cover and are expected to stay at home. If they do not abide by this social practice, they are publicly shamed, and, in more extreme forms of Sharia justice, are raped and murdered.
An Iraqi friend told me that when he returned to Baghdad after the war he was stunned that women were no longer even comfortable speaking to him in public for fear of being thought of as whores. His experience of the status of women in public before the war was the polar opposite of the reality that one is now faced with in Iraq.
One should also note that the situation in neighboring Turkey has taken a turn for the worse in recent years under the Sunni AKP government. The rate of violence against women has sky-rocketed. Wives, fiances and girlfriends have been murdered by their male partners at a rate that is 1400 percent higher than 7 years ago. This is the same AKP government that is supplying their Sunni rebel ‘brothers’ in Syria with weapons.
There is a severe lack of discourse about what the consequences are for women if and when the Assad regime falls in Syria. It is clear why the Muslim extremists working in concert with Al-Qaeda in Syria do not talk about women in their fight for ‘democracy’. Women for them are marginal, servile and functional creatures who are to be neither seen nor heard in public life.
Christians, Kurds and Minorities
In the question and answer period after Mr. Landis’ you will note that there is a Syrian Christian man asking a question about the rights and status of Christians in Syria after a Sunni extremist takeover of the country. He is very concerned about this issue and he has good reason to be. Since the beginning of the so-called ‘revolution’ there have been many incidents of rebels killing Christians and bombing churches all over Syria. The chant of the fighters has been: “The Alawite and Christians to Beirut!” The intentions can’t be made any clearer. Nobody will be safe in Syria after Assad except orthodox Sunni Muslims. Mr. Landis made this very clear to the Christian man when he said that the solution for Turkey was ethnic cleansing. The reason there is no problem in Turkey with Christians is because there are no more Christians. They used to be 20% of the population. Those who were not killed or deported were forced to convert to Islam. All that is left of Christianity in Turkey are ancient Christian sites that are advertised to attract tourists to the country. Istanbul, which is still the seat of the Eastern Orthodox Church, barely tolerates what is left of the Christian community there. The Church has virtually no sovereignty and is at the mercy of the government and its flock has dwindled to almost nothing, when compared to its vibrant past.
If ethnic cleansing and forced conversion has been Turkey’s solution for diversity, take a look at the other country that is supplying weapons and Islamist fighters to topple Assad: Saudi Arabia. There is no country in the world that as intolerant and anti-democratic as Saudi Arabia. Churches are illegal in that country. Women are literally blacked-out in the public sphere in dress. Saudi is also the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. Women are subservient to men in the name of extreme Islam and Bedouin tradition. If Turkey and Saudi are the main suppliers of weapons and training of the rebels in Syria, one needs to reflect on what kind of culture is intended to be put in place after the fall of the secular and tolerant regime that is currently hanging on to power.
The Kurdish issue is an extremely volatile issue in Syria. Assad extended greater freedoms and autonomy to the Kurds via political reforms passed after the initial protests had begun. The Kurdish leadership in Syria has already openly stated that if Syria is attacked by Turkey, they will fight on the side of Assad. This issue presents potentially grave consequences of blowback for Turkey. In recent days the Turkish Prime Minister stated that Turkey may need to invade northeastern Syria to crush the Kurds there if they get too powerful. This would mean that Turkey would be fighting its war with the Kurds on three fronts. It is already battling a guerrilla insurgency within its borders and regularly attacks Kurds in northern Iraq.
Hillary Clinton regularly acknowledges that the United States is providing ‘non-lethal’ support to the rebels. There is no such thing as ‘non-lethal’ support. The U.S. claims to be supplying material logistical support and training. That is lethal support. They are training people to kill other people and giving them the logistical means to do so. But to claim that the Americans limit themselves to these forms of support is disingenuous. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are two very close allies of the U.S. Saudi is America’s biggest customer in weapons and military hardware. The Turkish military is trained and armed by America. The weapons come from America, go to Turkey and Saudi and end up in the hands of militant Islamic fighters in Syria. This is not an attempt to make a connection between America and weapons on the ground in Syria. This is the actual flow-chart of weapons from origin to destination: From America to Syria.
It is in this area where Mr. Landis must seriously be taken to task. When he spoke about his shock when dealing with the Chinese about geo-political concerns in the region, one must wonder what planet he is living on. He claimed that America was helping the ‘good guys’ and China was helping the ‘bad guys’.* One needs to merely look at the public record on the history of the region and the world to find where Washington’s sympathies lie. The best place to access this history is William Blum’s website: Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II.
If we focus on the Middle East we can find an atrocious record of war, sabotage, coup d’etats, mass-murder, assassinations and the creation of failed states as a result of American foreign policy of global hegemony.
America claims to promote democracy. In 1953 America and Britain overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh in order to attempt to regain control of Iran and its oil. The backlash against this criminal action led to the totalitarian theocratic state that is today’s Iran. America also backed and armed Saddam Hussein to try to destroy Iran in hopes that it would again become subservient to the West. The Iran-Iraq war claimed the lives of over a half a million people. Then when Iraq was perceived to no longer to be in line with Washington’s agenda, it was coaxed into invading Kuwait by U.S. ambassador April Glaspie. America then began a series of invasions into Iraq that resulted in a disastrous occupation of a destroyed nation that is has now become a failed state in which sectarian violence is completely out of control to this day. Millions of people have been killed as a result of American policy in Iraq over the past 20 years. So one must question Mr. Landis’ instruments of measuring who are the ‘good guys’ and who are the ‘bad guys’ in the Middle East.
And then there is the backing of the Taliban and the creation of Al-Qaeda by the United States before September 11, 2001. This was done in order to conduct a proxy war (like in Syria today) to defeat the Soviet Union. And then there is the U.S. support of Israel against the Palestinians. The ‘good guy’ Israel has flouted almost every international law on human rights to continue its genocidal policy against the Palestinians. Our ‘good guy’ in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak is finally in prison for crimes against his own people. And lastly, there is America’s unwavering support of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The treatment of women in these countries is patently atrocious. And these countries have been the most brutal and intransigent in their response to the uprisings within their borders that have been inspired by the Arab spring. Suffice to say, that there is no moral high ground on which the United States can stand in the Middle East. In fact, one can easily find a multitude of cases that should be brought to the International Criminal Court so that those responsible for the mass-murder of people and the destruction of entire countries can finally face justice.
When Mr. Landis goes abroad representing the U.S. government and supporting its policies, let us remember what agenda he is pushing forward. In General Wesley Clark’s 2003 book Winning Modern Wars he wrote that in November 2001 he had visited the Pentagon and was completely stunned when he came across a list of countries that were to have their governments overthrown by the United States. That list included: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan and Somalia.
So when you turn on the evening news and see the chaos, killing and destruction, you will now understand what a work in progress looks like.
*Addendum: After reading this critique, Mr. Landis informed me that the comments he made regarding ‘backing the good guys’ were made with tongue firmly in cheek. He said that he doesn’t believe it for one minute…
Further reading and video: