Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 14, 2019

Fact-checking Max Blumenthal

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 1:04 am

clown blumenthal


I have discovered that the quotation is annotated but, unlike any book I’ve ever seen from a reputable publisher, it is not indicated by a number that can be tied back to the footnote or endnote. Instead you go to the end of the book and you get something like this:

Screen Shot 2019-04-17 at 7.18.55 PM

The quotation in question is at p. 160 and references a Kevork Almasian who Blumenthal describes as someone not making a secret of his support for the Syrian government, the understatement of the century. I probably underestimated the depths to which Blumenthal had stooped since Almasian’s Youtube channel is filled with links to Vanessa Beeley et al. This is a sample video:

By comparison, Stephen Gowans is the gold standard of Syrian analysis since at least his references are to the NY Times and other established outlets–even if they are out of context. It is impossible to establish how much of a base Anas al-Ayrout had in Baniyas since you cannot gauge the number of people listening to his speech. I imagine that every town in Syria that rose up against the government had Islamists but the only indication that can be found describing it as under an Islamist pall stems from Almasian’s obviously pro-regime video editing.

Earlier this evening I received a bootleg copy of Max Blumenthal’s new Verso book “The Management of Savagery” and turned immediately to chapter six, which is about the Syrian revolution. Without wasting any time, Blumenthal smears the revolution as a Salafist assault on religious tolerance on the first page:

On March 18, 2011, in the town of Baniyas, an area with a mixed population of Sunnis and Alawites near the loyalist city of Tartous, within wider protests, a Sunni crowd gathered to make their demands clear. From a balcony atop a mosque, Anas al-Ayrout, a hard-line Salafist cleric, belted out the list of dictates: “We demand, first, banning [gender] mixed schools!” Ayrout bellowed into a megaphone, sending gales of applause through the all-male crowd. After calling for improving local electricity, the preacher demanded that the government “re-allow women wearing niqab [full face covering] to teach in schools.” The ultra-conservative religious demands were followed by calls that were familiar to reformist demonstrations: release political prisoners and cease arresting protesters.

The first question I had was the provenance of the quote. Since it was not footnoted, I had to spend some time trying to track down where and when Anas al-Ayrout “belted out” a list of dictates. The first step was to Google the words being quoted.

No luck. Try for yourself.

The next step was to consult Nexis-Uni. As a Columbia University retiree, I have access to this global database of newspapers. Nothing remotely resembling this quote turned up.

Obviously, if you are intent on making a serious case that the revolt against Assad was Salafist from the get-go rather than a clown show, you’d make an effort to either footnote the quote or to at least indicate where it can be found. But Blumenthal obviously had something else on his agenda, namely to defame a movement that in its infancy was all about democracy rather than theocracy.

This is the kind of journalism I would expect from Stephen Gowans or Tim Anderson but I would not expect Verso to publish their garbage. Evidently, it is Blumenthal’s garbage that they want to foist on the market. Does Verso have a fact-checker? I would think that a publisher that aspires to be the first place a serious left scholar would seek out might take more care in vetting the text that comes their way. Now, it is true that Tariq Ali puts forth the same kind of shoddy, fact-free statements on Syria but isn’t there anybody at Verso that has some scruples?

Maybe they wanted to make a fast buck because Blumenthal has a reputation on the left, even if it is mostly tarnished beyond repair at this point. Perhaps word will get out to the Verso management that this new book has hardly taken the USA by storm as indicated by the attendance at a recent Blumenthal reading. (I believe the gentleman in the pink shirt asleep in the back row is Ron Unz.)



  1. It is poor journalism or scholarship to not have a citation for what’s clearly an important alleged piece of evidence. But anyway if this Anas al-Ayrout character did say this or similar it’s hardly proof that Salafism was the dominant current in the early days. In fact a quick google looking for what he might have said, with the string “Anas al-Ayrout” brings up this passage from a pro-revolution study, ehich suppports the contention that organised political Salafism was a current from the beginning, but wasn’t dominant until some time later due to regime manipulation as well as reactionary Arab regime interference:

    “The first thing the intelligence agencies did following the demonstrations in Baniyas was to spread rumors. At first, the rumors were based on the demands of the Sheikh Anas Ayrout, a revolutionary leader in the city, claiming that the salafists and religious leaders were leading the protests in order to establish an Islamic caliphate. This propelled the sectarian rumors, which were coupled with rumors surrounding the incidents where two regime soldiers were killed on the Baniyas Bridge, and rumors about German, Israeli, and U.S. weapon caches being found in the city.”

    Click to access Baniyas_en.pdf

    Comment by Nick Fredman — April 14, 2019 @ 1:42 am

  2. I meant the string “Anas al-Ayrount Narch 11 2011”

    Comment by Nick Fredman — April 14, 2019 @ 1:43 am

  3. “isn’t there anybody at Verso that has some scruples?”

    Indeed, that is the question. All these years of slaughter, torture warehouses, half a million incinerated by a coalition of butchers, and this is how Verso wants to makes it money?

    Comment by Reza — April 14, 2019 @ 2:00 am

  4. “and this is how Verso wants to makes it money?” should be: “and this is how Verso wants to make its money?”

    Comment by Reza — April 14, 2019 @ 2:04 am

  5. “New” Left Review my foot! It’s gotten old.

    This kind of defamatory horse manure put out about Syria is not merely an ugly and ultimate insult against the Syrian people (apologies to horses, and their manure, which is very enriching for the soil; does wonders for fruit trees).

    This human shit by Blumenthal is Orientalist to its core. Just check the language: “Ayrout BELLOWED into a megaphone.” As a verb, ‘bellow’ applies to humans AND animals. What a word choice!

    Does not Blumenthal bellow through Verso?

    But, worse yet, this is exactly the kind of the ugliest of Stalinist twisted-ness that the founders of NLR were trying to negate and combat, when they started back in 1960. Congratulations to Verso! The father figure they hated in their youth is what they are turning into. Marxist phenomenologists can string together the iconographic etymology of this forever cycle (of turning into the father you hated) at some point, I guess. But, it’s definitely pretty old human thing that needs to be resolved. It keeps taking our people and benefiting the powerful.

    Comment by Reza — April 14, 2019 @ 3:15 am

  6. I’ve been told based on an attack on 10 Apr 2011 in Baniyas which killed govt. soldiers that the protests in Syria were never peaceful (nevermind that protesters in Baniyas were also killed that day). Yet when anyone claims foreign jihadists began the Syrian conflict, this is what they’re asking us to accept: Paramilitaries with no heavy armor were able to infiltrate Syria, capture most of its territory and cause the largest refugee crisis since WWII while Assad is guilty of nothing except fighting a situation he was helpless to prevent.

    There’s also this nutty tweet:

    “ISIS is the group that Israel provided air cover and support for in Syria.”

    The logic here, I’m guessing, is that bombing Iranian targets in Syria = support for ISIS. Yet could that really have undermined the US campaign against them? And does that mean the US supports Assad, Russia and Iran by bombing ISIS? I posited the question to him and no response.

    Comment by andrew r — April 14, 2019 @ 4:41 am

  7. Did you churn out this garbage on a quick trip to the shitter? You didn’t debunk Max Blumenthal nor fact check him. You couldn’t google search his quote? Oh no! You have zero rebuttal to his work. What a grand expose you’ve got here on your ability to Photoshop a Blumenthal picture. You’ve got nothing because his reports on Venezuela, Israel, Syria & Russiatards has been rock solid.

    Comment by Bill — April 14, 2019 @ 5:04 pm

  8. Louis, the funds from Qatar flowed quickly after the revolt first erupted in SW Syria, and Sunni militias including Al Ahrir Al Sham and Al Queda soon after. The losses of territory the gvt suffered were not due in 2011-12 from some mythical “democratic” secular force.

    Whether the prescher you wuote existed or not is immaterial to the Islamist nature of the forces that came close to toppling Assad. We owe Russia big for its sacrifices in WW2 and in Syria.

    I dont think fact checkers were needed in the Russian Civil War where the Reds did commit atrocities but you know, wars arent clean and laws of wars are a fevered delusion.

    Comment by Sttephen — April 14, 2019 @ 5:47 pm

  9. The US and its allies took the demos of spring 2011 into an Islamist led military tegime change nightmare very soon into the Syrian civil unrest.


    Comment by Stephen — April 14, 2019 @ 6:08 pm

  10. You couldn’t google search his quote?

    You fucking idiot. What do you think the Google snapshot above is? I tried every which way to find something remotely resembling what Blumenthal attributed to al-Ayrout. Nothing came up. Why don’t you take the trouble to track it down, you lazy piece of shit Stalinist troll.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 14, 2019 @ 9:32 pm

  11. Whether the prescher you wuote existed or not is immaterial to the Islamist nature of the forces that came close to toppling Assad.

    Yeah, well. Who knows? I was interested in one thing and one thing only. And that was whether Blumenthal was writing fact or fiction. If he was half the investigative journalist he thinks he is, he would have found an incriminating quote that was documented. That’s what I’d expect from Seymour Hersh, at least from 40 years ago.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 14, 2019 @ 9:35 pm

  12. The US and its allies took the demos of spring 2011 into an Islamist led military tegime change nightmare very soon into the Syrian civil unrest.

    Are all you Assadist trolls so developmentally disabled that you cant spell-check your shit before posting it? When you wrote “tegime”, didn’t you notice that a red underline appeared beneath it? Why don’t you go back and finish high school before participating here?

    Comment by louisproyect — April 14, 2019 @ 9:40 pm

  13. This just came to my attentionhttps://www.thoughtco.com/who-are-the-syrian-rebels-2353573

    Comment by Stephen — April 14, 2019 @ 11:36 pm

  14. Those in the know probably are taking this for granted, but it sounds like a comedown to me for a bestselling author to move from Hachette to Verso Books. The new tome doesn’t sound like a bestseller to me. I think young Max has hit the skids and is flailing–maybe NLR have hopes of a big success, but I think this could end in tears for MB and Verso both.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — April 16, 2019 @ 12:35 am

  15. ‘Are all you Assadist trolls so developmentally disabled that you cant spell-check your shit before posting it? ‘

    Dear Louis, this is absolutely disgraceful. You may as well have put the ‘R” word in there. I’m not commenting on your argument against Assadists, just the use of this disgraceful language. The “R” word is as bad as the ‘N” word
    It’s an insult to all people with Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities. Do you think they don’t have feelings, ideas and humanity?
    Please be more careful with your words, I’m really amazed you would write that, at a time when people with DID issues are being raised and demanding attention and a hearing, not just a the butt of your insults.

    And this: ‘Why don’t you go back and finish high school before participating here’

    So you now have educational requirements for people to comment on your blog? Many people didn’t do well or finish high school, but that doesn’t mean our ideas aren’t important,
    In any worthwhile socialist society we won’t be looked down like capitalist society does today. It’s just elitist crap and I’m tired (throughout my longish life) of people who think they know everything and think they have more of a say in how society (or organization) needs to be run because they can quote what Lenin or Marx said on any particular day.
    I await your retribution, but keep the peace,

    Comment by Paul — April 17, 2019 @ 3:13 am

  16. And just incase you are unsure, Louis,
    When Is It Okay to Say the R-Word?

    Comment by Paul — April 17, 2019 @ 3:23 am

  17. Funny–Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Phyllis Wheatley, Mary Anning, and Malcolm X all lacked high-school educations but could express themselves perfectly in written and spoken English.

    May Angelou had honorary doctorates and taught in universities but was a high-school dropout.

    Why is it suddenly required to take seriously the word-salad produced by people who expect recognition merely for existing and opening their mouths? Among other things, this is a disease common among elite and supposedly educated young white people, many of whom are all but functionally illiterate, Wharton School or no Wharton School.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — April 17, 2019 @ 4:56 pm

  18. May Angelou –>Maya Angelou

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — April 17, 2019 @ 4:58 pm

  19. Louis, I really thought you’d be gracious enough to give some kind of an apology for your ablest remark
    Of course you should take on Assadist’s, but not at the expense of insulting remarks associating Assadists with people with IDD.
    The last four years of my working life I was employed supporting adults with IDD, and it really was startling to see the disdain, disrespect and insults when I was out in the community with them.
    One of my clients told me of how when he was in high school, other students would follow him and make fun of him. Do you think his feelings weren’t hurt? After many years he still clearly remembered these cruel comments. So when someone like you can use a widely read(?) platform and make such a comment, it seems to be saying such comments doesn’t really matter. After all, it’s only a word, isn’t it?

    Once a month, I’d take the guys to a dance for people with IDD, put on by the local Parks and Recreation department of the city I live in. There were a couple of hundred of people with their support staff or family who would have a grand time, with no one complaining about their behavior, noise or wheelchairs. They would not normally be welcomed elsewhere.
    And your comments leads one to believe that they are not welcome on your blog either.
    And I just wonder if you’d welcome them in a socialist society.
    My vision of a socialist society would be a welcoming society for it’s citizens regardless of their capabilities.
    There is a saying among those with IDD; ‘Nothing about us without us,’ so in a socialist society people with IDD would have a REAL say in socialist society we’d like to build.

    If you don’t want to reply here, Louis, you can just send me an email and just tell me to F off. I don’t mind, I rarely put comments on blogs, but your insensitivity really pushed me into action.
    Thank you

    Comment by Paul — April 22, 2019 @ 5:14 am

  20. Yes there is evidence that there was a genuine resistance to that brutal Baathist Assad regime. There is also genuine evidence that the US, Qatar, Turkey, Isreal, Saudi Arabia, etc… took over the movement in the most brutal possible ways. Assad is ultimately responsible by adapting neoliberal economic policies that benefited himself and the surrounding elite and alienated him from a already suffering working class. However nothing would have been gained by letting the regime fall and the country falling into the hands of non Syrians. If you can’t see how much worst Libya is, for which Qaddafi is equally responsible and guilty of your are either incredible naive or an idiot.

    Not finding a quote on Google’s very biased search engines is a stupid and lazy way to fact check.

    A real progressive does not takes sides when both sides are bad. We merely defend principles like defending national sovereignty of native people irrespective of how bad that native ruling class is. Its better than having a divided country ruled by foreigners.

    When an armed resistance by the masses occur all progressives can without reservations support such a movement. Movements guided by principles of nonviolence are either incredibly naive and stupid or outright manipulations by capitalists whether domestic or foreign or both.

    I am very suspicious by the initial civil movement precisely for these reasons. But I reserve judgement not having enough reliable data. Although hindsight has proved just how unproductive and wasteful in human lives were all the Arab Spring movements.

    Comment by Richard Allen — April 28, 2019 @ 5:51 am

  21. A real progressive does not takes sides when both sides are bad. We merely defend principles like defending national sovereignty of native people irrespective of how bad that native ruling class is.


    Love the royal we. A sure sign that the person using it has spent many years reading the Spartacist newspaper and might even have been treated for delusions of grandeur by a psychotherapist.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 28, 2019 @ 12:27 pm

  22. By Shaykh Anas’s reckoning, another issue had enraged the conservative town of Baniyas: coeducation. The government had decreed mixed schooling, but the town had resented that break with tradition. The rape of a student by a classmate had the town bristling. To the conservative Sunni community, the regime was bent on °alienating’. the believers from their culture and religion. There was no shortage of grievances: the government had fired schoolteachers for donning the head cover, and the lines were sharply drawn here, when this khatib came forth with his sermon.

    Chapter 10
    The Syrian Rebellion By Fouad Ajami
    Hoover Press, 1 Sep 2013

    Comment by Peter Piaktow — November 18, 2019 @ 7:12 pm

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