Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 14, 2015

A resource guide for understanding Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:21 pm

Daraa, Syria — where the struggle began

I was prompted to post this article for two reasons. When I was discussing Syria with a very old friend the other day, it soon became apparent that the dominant narrative largely shaped his views on the war, namely that Bashar al-Assad was a “lesser evil”. He was preoccupied with ISIS but when I pointed out to him that the vast portions of eastern Syria that it controlled were thinly populated, he seemed surprised. There are two cities (Raqqa, Deir al-Zour) each having 220,000 or so residents but Palmyra, the third and most infamous, only has around 7000. Most of the conflict is in the west of the country where ISIS is not much of a presence. Of course, I only knew this because I try to keep abreast of Syrian politics on a daily basis. So, to help him get up to speed, I thought I would pull together a list of websites I consult.

Although I can hardly describe him as a friend, it occurred to me that John Wight could use such a list as well since he posted a comment on my blog the other day that supposedly proved that the Sunnis supported Assad. When I clicked the link in his comment, I was directed to the West Point Anti-Terrorism Center. I wrote my “idiot’s guide to ‘anti-imperialism’” in jest but apparently Wight was recommending such a resource in earnest. I advised him to read the Middle East Research and Information Project instead, a journal written from a left perspective. Although I doubt that he will bother, my inclusion of that website and others will surely prove useful to those trying to understand Syria in terms other than as a conspiracy hatched in CIA headquarters.

I should add that I took an initial stab at providing such a resource in 2013: http://louisproyect.org/2013/09/16/a-guide-for-the-perplexed-on-syria/

News and information

These are websites that are most useful for getting a complete picture on what is happening in the country. Clearly their views are similar to my own, but they are far more scrupulous than what you get from RT.com in my opinion. And even if they are just the other side of the coin of RT.com, you at least owe to yourself to check in on them fairly regularly to get both sides in the debate. After all, I can’t help but be bombarded by the pro-Assad POV that I run into on a daily basis as I look at CounterPunch, Salon.com, Jacobin, the Nation, ZNet and just about every other high-profile voice on the left.


Vice is a major news outlet that started out as a kind of underground Internet newspaper but has developed into a major operation that has attracted investors like the Disney Corporation and Hearst. You can get a feel for the kind of information you get there from this video report on the FSA in Idlib province: https://news.vice.com/video/the-battle-for-syrias-south-full-length


This is an aggregation of news from major newspapers around the world that are chosen by Paul Woodward who describes himself as a bricoleur, which one dictionary describes as “someone who continually invents his own strategies for comprehending reality.” Typically, you will find articles such as “Iran and Hezbollah losing senior commanders in Syria at a rapid rate” (http://warincontext.org/2015/10/14/iran-and-hezbollah-losing-senior-commanders-in-syria-at-a-rapid-rate/).


Scott Lucas describes his website as “Daily news and analysis about Syria, Iran, the wider Middle East, US and Russian foreign policy.” Lucas describes himself as “a professional journalist and Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham, where he has worked since 1989. A specialist in US and British foreign policy, he has written and edited seven books, more than 30 major articles, and a radio documentary and co-directed the 2007 film Laban!.” 4.


Despite its title, this website is fairly dispassionate. Lara Setrakian, who “spent five years in the Middle East reporting for television, radio and digital platforms for ABC News, Bloomberg Television, the International Herald Tribune, Business Insider and Monocle magazine”, is a co-founder. It has a daily executive summary that is pretty useful.


This is a newspaper with a strong Islamist orientation that identifies with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Considering its support for Hamas, it is interesting that it has condemned Russian intervention in Syria. I suspect that if Hamas was not depending on Iranian funds, it would still be supporting the revolt against Assad.


This is a well-funded newspaper based in Washington, DC that supposedly has Baathist loyalties. Even if that is generally true, I find useful articles there such as “Don’t underestimate Free Syrian Army” (http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/10/syria-fsa-isis-media-coverage-palmyra-101-divison.html).

Scholarly analysis


Juan Cole is pretty bad most days but necessary to follow since he reflects the liberal consensus on Syria. For all of the talk about how the USA is about to start WWIII, Cole hews pretty closely to the Obama minimalist approach.


Bassam Haddad, a professor at George Mason University, started this. He wrote a good article on Syria some years ago (http://www.merip.org/mer/mer262/syrian-regimes-business-backbone) but has largely washed his hands of the struggle there because it does not match up to his ideal of gradual change based on a “Yemen” strategy—ie., Assadism without Assad.


Landis, like the two above, is very cool to the Syrian militias. He wrote an op-ed piece in the NYT before the Arab Spring broke out urging that the Sunnis be kept in line in Syria. Despite this, the site is a useful source of information and analysis, particularly from Aron Lund.


Radicals launched the Middle East Research and Information Project in 1971 in the same spirit as other New Left projects such as URPE or Science for the People. It is essential reading on Syria. A February article (http://www.merip.org/mero/mero022412) by Peter Harling and Sarah Birke is most useful:

Throughout the crisis, the regime has proven more sectarian, unaccountable and vicious than ever. Obsessed with the challenge posed by peaceful protests, its mukhabarat security services — almost none of whose members have been put on trial as promised — have hunted non-violent progressive activists, often with more zeal than shown toward criminal gangs and armed groups. The mukhabarat have recruited thugs and criminals — the more extreme, venal and subservient elements of society — into an army of proxies known across the country as shabbiha. It has tried to intimidate protesters through gruesome tactics. An emblematic case for the opposition is Hamza al-Khatib, a 14-year old from Dir‘a whose battered and castrated corpse was returned to his family a month after he was taken. (The regime never denied the boy had been arrested and killed, but had forensic experts explain on television that he was in fact a professional rapist operating within a jihadi network.) Asad has gradually shed all pretense of being a national leader, speaking instead as the head of one camp determined to vanquish the other.


Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel are involved with the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver. Since both are opposed to the Baathist dictatorship, you can expect to find useful resources there especially on the question of human rights.



This is the website of Idrees Ahmed, the Pakistani author of “The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War”. Like the lucky few who had their heads screwed on right, he had the ability to see Syria as the victim of outside intervention but from Iran, Russia and Hizbollah. His website is essential.


This is the blog of Joseph Daher, a Syrian living in exile in Switzerland whose politics are Trotskyist but not dogmatically so. I have heard him speak about Syria over Skype at Left Forums that you see on my Vimeo channel: https://vimeo.com/130671622.


Michael Karadjis is a member of the Socialist Alliance in Australia and a deeply informed commentator on events taking place in Syria. He is especially good at analyzing the bourgeois press in order to sort out the truth from the Baathist propaganda as his latest article on the Russian-Israeli connection should bear out: https://mkaradjis.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/the-israel-russia-axis-of-resistance-its-place-in-regional-geopolitics/


Clay Claiborne was the person who turned me around on Syria, convincing me to drop my plague on both your houses orientation. He is an African-American computer expert who was part of the New Left in the 1960s and is still going strong.


Charles Davis is a journalist based in Los Angeles who had the distinction of being one of the few opponents of the Baathist dictatorship to have been published on CounterPunch. I strongly recommend a look at his article that appears there today: http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/10/14/anti-imperialism-2-0-selective-sympathies-dubious-friends/. While you are there, make a contribution to CounterPunch that has just started its yearly fund drive. Good for them to publish mavericks like Charles and me.

This is not an exhaustive list. Please recommend any others that come to mind in the comments section.


  1. http://ypgrojava.com/en/

    Comment by tony — October 14, 2015 @ 9:46 pm

  2. I just learned of this one today: http://syriadirect.org/

    Syria Direct a non-profit journalism organization that produces timely, credible coverage of Syria while training highly talented, aspiring Syrian and American journalists in professional news-gathering and accurate, in-depth reporting.

    Founded in 2013, Syria Direct publishes original news reports, interviews with key players, and newsworthy photographs and videos from inside Syria along with a daily newsletter.

    Our reporters pinpoint key military developments and track the country’s shifting politics, province by province, to explain events as they unfold, placing a particular focus on the individuals driving events on the ground.

    Throughout the editorial process, we emphasize the tenets of professional journalism, from identifying sources and checking facts to providing balanced, well-rounded reporting on contentious issues. This reporting appears on our website and social media, and is regularly published in USA Today and other international media outlets.

    Our commitment is to use the highest journalistic standards for Syrians to tell their own story, to set the news agenda and inculcate principles of independent, critical thinking with integrity.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 14, 2015 @ 10:34 pm

  3. If you’re going to do a post like this it helps to get your facts straight. Vice started as a print magazine with the backing of the Canadian government. It is now owned in part by Rupert Murdock.

    Comment by Saphi — October 14, 2015 @ 11:42 pm

  4. “If you’re going to do a post like this it helps to get your facts straight. Vice started as a print magazine with the backing of the Canadian government. It is now owned in part by Rupert Murdock.”

    There’s no doubt that the Unrepentant Narcissist gets his facts straight – from the mouth of James Murdoch and Stephen Harper.

    The man, as well as being a narcissist, is obviously a bit thick.

    Comment by Noram — October 15, 2015 @ 7:31 am

  5. Syrian Observer: http://syrianobserver.com/EN/News

    Comment by mkaradjis — October 15, 2015 @ 1:09 pm

  6. I am surprised to see there is very little in the above resources that include those who are actually doing the fighting! Couldn’t you have linked to ISIS twitter account or something?

    Also there are far too many Western sources.

    “almost none of whose members have been put on trial as promised — have hunted non-violent progressive activists,”

    This is puppet talk for “the government should hunt down the non progressive forces (we will tell you who they are) and decimate them will all urgency. Meanwhile get on with the job of building a Middle class who can live comfortably off the backs of those who survive our pogrom.”

    This is basically the position of Proyect.

    Comment by Simon Provertier — October 15, 2015 @ 3:54 pm

  7. To add to the resource list:

    Syria Solidarity Movement (the UK organisation, not to be confused with the Ba’athist US organisation of the same name

    Some blogs of its activists:
    Brian Slocock: https://magpie68.wordpress.com/
    Lelia al-Shami: https://leilashami.wordpress.com/

    Can I also plug my resource page on Syrian Kurdistan:
    Leila Shrooms:

    Comment by bobfrombrockley — October 16, 2015 @ 4:06 pm

  8. On Twitter, I find George@ArtWendeley brilliant. I think he was brought up in East Germany and he hates repressive regimes.

    Comment by Matthew Jackson — October 17, 2015 @ 12:03 am

  9. I fully endorse Bob’s recommendations of magpie68 and leilashami blogs, excellent (btw, you did not give an address for Leila Shroms, also excellent: the site seems to have closed down, but her wonderful articles are available if you google them at other sites). I would add the wonderful blog of Omar Sabour, the appropriately named Eternal Spring: https://eternispring.wordpress.com/ .For daily blow by blow stuff, can’t go past https://malcolmxtreme.wordpress.com/. Random Shelling, by Palestinian Budhour Hassan https://budourhassan.wordpress.com/ excellent combining Palestinian and Syrian resistance. Tahrir-ICN another excellent site https://tahriricn.wordpress.com/. We write what we like http://wewritewhatwelike.com/ less regular, but also has excellent stuff. For facebook sites, I’d recommend ‘Freedom for Syria and all peoples’ run by Ruth Riegler: https://www.facebook.com/groups/OccupySyria.

    Comment by mkaradjis — October 17, 2015 @ 2:28 am

  10. What is Russia up to in Syria? A Kurdish perspective

    Comment by Tony — October 17, 2015 @ 5:10 am

  11. And if we’re talking about twitter sites, https://twitter.com/Malcolmite

    Comment by mkaradjis — October 17, 2015 @ 6:44 am

  12. At this point it’s obvious who the main players are. They aren’t any good guys, sorry.

    If you find the ‘rebels’ so lovely go over and give them some technical assistance. I’m sure they will appreciate it and you will find out how tolerant they are.

    Comment by jay — October 17, 2015 @ 3:40 pm

  13. Jay, thank you for elevating the conversation here. You might want to expand on your comment and submit it to Socialist Register. I’ll put in a good word to Leo Panitch for you.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 17, 2015 @ 4:28 pm

  14. From a Syrian friend in Syria: “The image is from the Great Mosque (or the Umayyad Mosque) in Damascus, not as the caption says “Daraa, Syria — where the struggle began”. The people could be mostly pro government, as I never heard of any anti government mob or ‘revolution’ that took place in that mosque in old Damascus at any time in the Syrian crisis.” If cannot get the pic right…

    Comment by Marls — October 18, 2015 @ 9:16 am

  15. “Thanks” for the input. I meant to include an image from Daraa, which I will now do. Meanwhile, the BBC referred to the image as indicating a protest against Assad in Damascus. I guess that’s before his gorillas began shooting people indiscriminately.


    Comment by louisproyect — October 18, 2015 @ 2:21 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: