Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 25, 2016

No, Seymour Hersh, the shish kebab does not favor Sharia law

Filed under: Jihadists,journalism,Syria — louisproyect @ 4:17 pm

As it happens, on the same day I posted my article “Taking the Baathist Garbage Out”, Seymour Hersh gave an interview on RT.com (naturally) with the customary “regime change” warnings.

Pay careful attention to 4:15 in the Youtube clip below where Hersh refers darkly to American support for “moderate” rebel groups aligned with the dreaded Sharm al-Sharma that actually was in favor of Sharia law and expelling all Christians and Alawites from Syria.

As it happens, there is no such group and the closest anything comes to this garbled formulation is something called shawarma, a kind of shish kebab popular in the Middle East.

Shawarma on pita bread: no threat to Alawites

Instead, he was speaking about Ahrar ash-Sham, a group that was brought up in the course of a podcast interview of Robert Ford by Stephen Sackur of the BBC. Ford had been ambassador to Syria but was unhappy with the White House’s failure to arm the rebels adequately. This failure led to the rapid growth of ISIS that had an abundant supply of powerful weapons it had seized in Iraq after the Shiite-dominate military had fled Anbar province.

Ford was put on the defensive by Sackur, who tried to smear the “moderate” Syrian rebels by pointing out that they were often involved with Ahrar ash-Sham in joint military actions against the Syrian army. Ford stood his ground pointing out that while insisting on a pluralist post-Assad society in Syria, he distinguished between ISIS and al-Nusra on one side and Ahrar ash-Sham on the other.

As it happens, the leaders of Ahrar ash-Sham were among the Islamist prisoners released by Bashar al-Assad in 2011 in order to unleash the sectarian dynamic that would endear him to people like Hersh, Cockburn, Fisk et al. They preferred the clean-shaven man in a necktie even though his regime would cause Suharto or Pinochet to look benign by comparison. Most of Ahrar ash-Sham’s funding comes from Qatar and Kuwait with the USA not only having zero connections to them, but going so far as to consider designating them as a terrorist group.

In a perfect world, groups such as Ahrar ash-Sham would play a much more minor role in the Syrian struggle. It has gained a foothold for obvious reasons:

  1. When the Syrian version of the Arab Spring commenced, Assad set in motion the killing machine that would force his victims to take up arms if only to protect neighborhoods from marauding bands of pro-regime gangs that were raping, torturing and killing civilians. These very localized self-defense militias came under pressure to get heavier weaponry after the Baathists began using tanks, heavy artillery and air power in a scorched earth campaign against Aleppo, Homs, and the suburbs of Damascus. In order to procure weapons, it was necessary to approach states such as Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey—all of which had an Islamist agenda. The net result was that the peaceful and democratic process that had begun in the Spring of 2011 was forced into the background even if it has not disappeared. As Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami point out, there are 400 democratically elected councils in Syria today that adhere to the original vision of 2011.
  2. The Syrian countryside, which is the heartland of the revolution, is socially conservative. Poor people, as is the case in just about every underdeveloped country, tend to be religious. Islamist groups therefore operate in relatively fertile ground. For people like Seymour Hersh, this is anathema. Sharia law, cries of “Alluah Akbar” on the battleground, beards, etc. are far more frightening than a barrel bomb or a sarin gas attack (Hersh made an appearance today on the dreadful Democracy Now radio show repeating his canard that the rebels gassed their own families in East Ghouta 3 years ago.)

Based on this litmus test, the logical choice would be to support Israel against Hamas, a group that was spawned by the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza. If you are terrified by Ahrar ash-Sham, you might as well be terrified of Hamas who at least understood what side was worth supporting in Syria:

Leaders of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas turned publicly against their long-time ally President Bashar al-Assad of Syria on Friday, endorsing the revolt aimed at overthrowing his dynastic rule.

The policy shift deprives Assad of one of his few remaining Sunni Muslim supporters in the Arab world and deepens his international isolation. It was announced in Hamas speeches at Friday prayers in Cairo and a rally in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas went public after nearly a year of equivocating as Assad’s army, largely led by fellow members of the president’s Alawite sect, has crushed mainly Sunni protesters and rebels.

In a Middle East split along sectarian lines between Shi’ite and Sunni Islam, the public abandonment of Assad casts immediate questions over Hamas’s future ties with its principal backer Iran, which has stuck by its ally Assad, as well as with Iran’s fellow Shi’ite allies in Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.

“I salute all the nations of the Arab Spring and I salute the heroic people of Syria who are striving for freedom, democracy and reform,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, visiting Egypt from the Gaza Strip, told thousands of Friday worshippers at Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque.

“We are marching towards Syria, with millions of martyrs,” chanted worshippers at al-Azhar, home to one of the Sunni world’s highest seats of learning. “No Hezbollah and no Iran.

“The Syrian revolution is an Arab revolution.”


  1. Well, the shawarma may not favour Sharia law as Hersh believes, but I’ve heard in good authority that Sharia law favours the shawarma. Therefore we need a campaign to boycott this sharia food. In Australia, there have been a number of organisations already campaigning against the imposition of Sharia law in Australia, and some specifically campaign against halal food. Clearly we can see the outlines of a broad united front.

    Comment by mkaradjis — April 26, 2016 @ 12:05 am

  2. “Most of Ahrar ash-Sham’s funding comes from Qatar and Kuwait with the USA not only having zero connections to them, but going so far as to consider designating them as a terrorist group.” Not only that – what these Assadists continually ignore is that the US has not only bombed ISIS, indeed has not only also bombed Nusra (probably about 40 times), but has also bombed Ahrar al-Sham several times, and sometimes even non-Islamist rebels. It is extraordinary that this “anti-imperialist” discourse has continually tried to associate the US with the very groups it bombs, suggesting the UUS supports the groups it bombs in order to overthrow Assad – yet the only armed forces it has never bombed in Syria (aside from the separate case of the YPG) have been Assad’s forces and his Iranian/Iraqi/Hezbollah allies.

    Comment by mkaradjis — April 27, 2016 @ 7:15 am

  3. That’s called blackmail.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 27, 2016 @ 9:51 pm

  4. It is also just gossip. The headline and article are different. Iran is “reportedly” “seeking” to get Hamas to join the fighting, someone reportedly said Hamas “would” join in etc. Meanwhile, here is what Hamas is saying about Iran: Senior Hamas official calls Iranians liars says they haven’t provided any aid since 2009

    Comment by mkaradjis — April 27, 2016 @ 11:55 pm

  5. One of the slogans that were voiced by the millions of Iranians demonstrating against the brazen theft of their votes in the 2009 sham ‘elections’ was: “Not Ghaza, Not Lebanon, I give my life for Iran!” This slogan raised concerns and the ire of some among the western left.

    On the face of it, it looks nationalistic and lacking in solidarity with the oppressed in Palestine. But, it only looks so if you don’t have the context. Back in 2009, I had to provide apologetic explanations to those inquiring about the uncomfortable connotations this slogan was acquiring, when transported across geo-political and cultural borders.

    But, in fact, the slogan was a pithy double critique of the pretensions of the Islamic Republic’s public pronouncements of support for the Palestinians, while in fact they, for example, did everything they could, while Arafat was alive, to isolate and denigrate him.

    [Whatever you have to say about his compromises, and all that, Arafat stood by his people and died (murdered, I believe) alongside his people. He was a symbol of the Palestinian struggle, and with all his faults, he died a good man in my book. But, that’s another thing.]

    The double critique compressed into that slogan, addressed to the Iranian regime, when fully explicated, runs something like this:

    “First off, we see through your sinister attempt at manipulation of the Palestinian cause, when in fact just like all the Arab reactionary regimes who express support for Palestinians, all you do is manipulate that conflict for your own expansionist objectives in the region.

    “Second, the People of Palestine and Lebanon deserve better, and if we’re going to do anything about it, it starts right here at home. The task at hand is to overthrow this reactionary regional force, and we’ll give our lives to reclaim a more just Iran!”

    That movement was crushed, of course, but all the social contradictions that gave rise to it have multiplied. As for the real actors in the Palestinian struggle, the Palestinian people most likely know best about being used as pawns of reactionary regimes as well as imperialists, so let’s hope that Hamas has learned its lesson. The pessimism of the intellect may prove us otherwise, though.

    Comment by Reza — April 28, 2016 @ 1:57 am

  6. He must be talking about Ahrar al-Sham but he can’t be a well-informed commentator if he has so much trouble recalling their name.

    Comment by Jason Pike — April 30, 2016 @ 6:45 pm

  7. He says Gdaffi was secular?

    Comment by Jason Pike — April 30, 2016 @ 6:58 pm

  8. Reblogged this on elamy4palestine.

    Comment by elamy4palestine — June 29, 2017 @ 8:13 am

  9. […] like Raymond Hinnebusch’s 2001 “Syria: Revolution from Above” to blog articles, including one of mine. Hensman makes sure to reference the other side in the debate, including Iran’s Press TV and […]

    Pingback by On the Rhetoric of Anti-Imperialism - open mind news — September 14, 2018 @ 8:53 pm

  10. […] is a supposed expert on Syria who once referred to Ahrar al-Sham as Sharm al-Sharma. As his critics pointed out, Hersh appeared to be confusing the name of a major component of the anti-Assad opposition with […]

    Pingback by Seymour Hersh and massacres — the degeneration of a respected journalist – Bob's Stuff — March 28, 2021 @ 2:52 pm

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