Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 11, 2015

Is Europe exporting jihadists to Syria?

Filed under: journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:20 pm

Max Ajl: he thinks so

So does he

It should be patently obvious at this point that a large-scale propaganda offensive on behalf of the Baathist killing machine is taking place. Just as the August 2013 sarin gas attack in East Ghouta prompted a tsunami of articles warning about Obama’s “red line”, two years later we are witnessing the same phenomenon around the refugee crisis. In the hundreds of thousands of words from the “anti-imperialist” left, you can find virtually none that puts the blame where it properly belongs—at the doorstep of the bloodstained despot in Damascus.

In a Telesur article titled “Can Images of Refugees Speak?”, Jacobin editorial board member Max Ajl draws from the same dubious Washington Post article that fellow propagandists Patrick Higgins and Adam Johnson relied upon to make the case that an American “war on Syria” is to blame for the refugee crisis.

However, Ajl goes one bold step further in bending the facts—or maybe breaking them—to suit his ideological aims. He advises his readers that the dreaded terrorists who poured into Syria to join ISIS from Europe were not acting on their own. They amounted to agents of European governments:

However, some remedies might be called for. It is Europe which freely exports reactionaries to Syria [emphasis added], something it could consider ceasing.

According to the most conservative numbers from the Brookings Institute, at the very least over 900 French foreign fighters have invaded Syria. Over 650 Belgians, 500 from the United Kingdom, and at least 300 from Germany as well. Europol estimates an overall sum of perhaps 5,000. They are likely not joining the leftist Kurdish militia.

I paused over this passage and wondered what Ajl had in mind. Was he saying that the European security forces were lining up fanatics to go build the caliphate that is beheading Christians? I tried to imagine a cop at the airport security gate in Orly spotting a guy in black fatigues with a turban on his head and a beard down to his belly-button. After he pulls him aside for interrogation, the guy shows him an official letter from the Direction générale de la sécurité intérieure stating that he had been cleared to wreak havoc in Syria. After seeing this, the cop pats him on the back and sends him on his way.

After I posted a brief note about Ajl’s foolishness on Facebook, Dick Gregory (a British socialist and not the elderly Black comedian) referred me to another article that claimed Europe was exporting terrorists alongside BMW automobiles and Pinot Noir. This time it was Tariq Ali writing for the chichi London Review of Books, a periodical that mixes learned essays on Gothic cathedrals with long and tendentious defenses of the Baathist killing machine.

Written in Short Cuts last January, Ali’s article was an attempt to sum up the Charlie Hebdo killings that he linked to jihadists traveling to the Middle East from France and elsewhere. Apparently, they got clearance at the airport just as Ajl believes:

They sought comfort in the mosque. Here they were radicalised by waiting hardliners for whom the West’s war on terror had become a golden opportunity to recruit and hegemonise the young, both in the Muslim world and in the ghettoes of Europe and North America. Sent first to Iraq to kill Americans and more recently to Syria (with the connivance of the French state?) [emphasis added] to topple Assad, such young men were taught how to use weapons effectively.

Leaving aside the question of how you “hegemonize the young”, a most infelicitous formulation, you have to admire Ali’s journalistic sleight of hand mastered over decades writing opinion pieces in the liberal British press. The use of passive voices in “Sent first to Iraq” and “taught how to use weapons” glosses over the identity of who abetted the jihadists. Was it a mosque somewhere or was it the French security forces? And look how clever Ali is by putting a question mark after “with the connivance of the French state”. This sort of rhetorical question gives him the wriggle room necessary to answer someone like me by saying that it is only a possibility. I suppose the Murdoch press might have influenced Tariq Ali with formulations such as “Do police have good reasons to fear Black youth?” or “Do Europeans have the right to defend their way of life against refugees from the Middle East?” (Zizek apparently takes the second rhetorical question to heart.)

I wrote Ali a note that challenged him on this matter:

Hey, Tariq

Max Ajl, the Jacobin editorial board member largely responsible for their Baathist propaganda, has a piece in Telesur that has this peculiar formulation with respect to how Europe is to blame for ISIS: “It is Europe which freely exports reactionaries to Syria, something it could consider ceasing. According to the most conservative numbers from the Brookings Institute, at the very least over 900 French foreign fighters have invaded Syria.”

I found it odd that a country that bans the hijab in public schools is at the same time “freely” exporting jihadists. This would make a great topic for an enterprising investigative journalist to take on–someone like Seymour Hersh. But then again Hersh seems more interested these days in shoring up Bashar al-Assad in the LRB.

Speaking of the LRB, just after I posted something about all this on FB a friend brought my attention to something you wrote in LRB, the august journal targeting serious and thoughtful people: “Sent first to Iraq to kill Americans and more recently to Syria (with the connivance of the French state?) to topple Assad, such young men were taught how to use weapons effectively.”

That is really quite a clever device you used to make it sound like Europe was “freely” exporting jihadists but you are seasoned enough as a propagandist to put a question mark after “the connivance of the French state”.

Too bad that people like you, Patrick Cockburn, Charles Glass, David Bromwich and other A-List journalists and intellectuals care so little about digging beneath the surface. Cockburn, Glass and Bromwich can at least be understood as being a bit too close to ruling class institutions like the Independent newspaper, ABC news, and Yale.

What’s your excuse?

Tariq wrote me back a most outraged note that did not bother to defend his yellow journalism: “You were a pathetic sectarian when you stood up and denounced the NLR’s ‘sell-out’ when we relaunched. You’re still pathetic with your stupid conspiracies and denunciations. So go screw yourself and don’t bother me again.“

Odd that he would bring up my criticism from 15 years ago of NLR’s Perry Anderson writing that Francis Fukuyama had more interesting things to say than most Marxists. He really knows how to reopen an old wound. I suppose that Ali would prefer that the unwashed masses take everything that the NLR prints to be the gospel truth. No thanks.


  1. My question to you being an engellian marxist of the 21st century is why do you have it for the Assad regime. Yes I have known how totalitarian they have been especially during Assad senior regime. One cannot fathom how you can keep on going against 1 a sovereign country 2 a secular country which be it under Assad senior or junior all religious denominations are not persecuted. 3 If he is so evil then why has and their is plenty of evidence out their ,YPG and all religious denominations of the syrian state now backing this evil despot. Is his regime any worse than the Isreali regime who has been living in an apartheid mentality since they first started carving up land in Palestine since the turn of the century yes I know Isreale was created in 1948 4 The majority of the armed forces are sunni muslims. 5 Do you deny the fact that the neocons strategy is to balkanise the middle east in order to have further geo political strategic advantages over say China and Russia and get the real prize Iran. Why do you hate Assad so much it really puzzle me. I have followed you and found a lot of your narratives really mind opening but this thing you have for the Assad regime really gets me.. Syria has been going thru a major drought now going on to 12 years it has effected the rural community heavily . Under Assads father the army were absalutely brutal in Syria let alone occupied lebanon. Had we not had any of this can you imagine what the Gladio ops in Turkey would have managed in those two countries alone. Further more we are wintnessing the effects of a destabalised Syria in Lebanon as we speak., another CIA color revolution. So please enlighten me fellow marxist. I know you will cause some of the stuff I have read of urs u let it all hang out. My reference in particular is ur latest article in counterpunch and of course your present article which I am commenting on. This is where I get my hammer and sickle in a nought why do we in the left keep constantly attacking oureselves and insulting eachother when the real threat to life and humanity is neo-liberal economics and neo-conservative politics. Surely attacking Tariq Ali really takes the cake, hit against the machine not the critiques of the machine just because they do not fit your narrative. Humbleness humility and integrity will be your forte . One thing is for certain since the events of 9/11 the geopolitics has been and still is of total balkanization of those regions we have evidence of this with the late Yugoslavia and Ukraine and the middle-east so are you an agent of the fifth column CIA LOOL jokes a side . I guess you dont agree with Thierry Meyssan . I think he has abit more in depth analysis on the middle east and the farce that is playing out their since 9/11

    Comment by falcemartello — September 14, 2015 @ 8:27 am

  2. Congratulations. You win the prize. I have never seen so many “anti-imperialist” talking points packed into a comment on my blog before. You leave me speechless.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 14, 2015 @ 12:18 pm

  3. Assad fell in line with neoliberal economics, falcemartello, a long time ago. And “geopolitics” is a term that anti-imperialists use ad naseum rather than analysis of class. Are you sure you’re a Marxist?

    Comment by Joshua — September 15, 2015 @ 12:23 am

  4. `Yes I am an anti imperialist but u havent answered my question. I gather u are not an anti imperialist ? My engellian background is of the Italian variety My grandfather was one of the original Gramscians in the Italian movement hence well versed on hegemonic power since he was one of the first political philosophers to speak of such , the only difference is that the mussolinian concept of the corporate state which is well in progress an in fruition as we speak in the western sphere of the world has adopted Gramsci hegemonic theories. What I can gather is you want Assad out and so does the GCC in the west for geo political gains not for any humanitarian or altruistic reasons. Hence. Isreal is a great bastion of goodness and they are rightious, which is a phallacy and blatent lie they personify the exact opposite of pluralism and decency, fascist around the world hold the Telaviv regime in high regards this is coming from an Italian semite like myself. Please explain if u like or not . It really makes no difference . But cing you have left a comment section and u have invited (some sort of debate with in ur blog I was really curious to hear from u . .

    Comment by falcemartello — September 15, 2015 @ 12:27 am

  5. Analysis of class Yes I am well aware of Assad falling in line with geopolitics. But with regards to class how does one go about it when all theories of class structures are of western cultural norms. U cant use old paradigms that were constructed over a century ago in a industrial western world way. We in the west are a minority. China India and the middle east and south america with their indigenious people should not have to fit western style paradigm. The issue of clas should be redifineed and not be from what has been well documented by western philosephers. Why do u question my leftist credential . Is it becuase I have seventies soviet concept to my arguments, does that make less engellian than u or not a marxist at all. Marxism was based on internationalism if I’m not mistaken.

    Comment by falcemartello — September 15, 2015 @ 12:37 am

  6. U cant use old paradigms that were constructed over a century ago in a industrial western world way.

    Well, this blog is called Unrepentant Marxist for a reason.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 15, 2015 @ 12:49 am

  7. […] Assuming that Ajl is smart enough to have become accepted into a school as prestigious as Cornell, how could he come up with something so inarticulate as “the left isn’t doing this on Syria”? What is this supposed to mean? Doing this? Doing what? If he wanted to accurately describe what people like me have been writing, the words would have been: “The majority of the left has been writing propaganda for Assad”. For example, in a Telesur article Ajl wrote in 2015, he claims that “it is Europe which freely exports reactionaries to Syria.” At the time I responded: […]

    Pingback by Young Assadist academics nursing their wounds | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist — December 2, 2017 @ 8:53 pm

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