Jonathan Cook: the Blog from Nazareth -

Propaganda veiled as informed commentary

Two appalling propagandistic commentaries on Syria in the Guardian in one day.

The first is by art critic Jonathan Jones on Bashar Assad’s Instagram account. Assad is assailed for the banality of his and his regime’s evil. Pictures of his wife as do-gooder, as death and destruction rage all around, are “shameless and grotesque”.

It’s too simplistic to describe these images as ‘propaganda’. Propaganda for whom? Can the regime really think pictures of Asma al-Assad meeting the people will efface dead bodies, blasted cities and homeless children? It can only appear monstrous to outsiders to see this myth of a sanitised Syria promoted by a government at war with a large part of its own people.

And yet when do we ever see a similar cynicism in our mainstream media directed at the grovelling photo-shoots of Obama, Michelle and the kids – the perfect American family – as the US president rains down death in Yemen through his drone program, or backs wars of aggression in Libya, Afghanistan or Syria?

Is there something less banal or meaningful about the kind of evil that our own leaders inflict on the people of the globe?

For a bit of perspective, it is worth reading Jones’ words below while thinking not of Assad but of Obama, Bush and Blair:

The smiling fantasy of Assad’s Instagram is blandly psychotic. It reveals a terrible gulf between reality and the ruler’s fictional self-image. Banality may not be in itself a proof of evil. But in the psychology these pictures reveal, what lies are not possible? The mind that can believe in these pictures might easily order a war crime then go home to kiss his beloved wife.

The other commentary is by the execrable neocon historian Niall Ferguson (by appointment to the British Colonial Office). Ferguson is one of those establishment courtiers whose job is to sell us myths about our imperial past, designed to ensure we feel a rosy glow about our history. Memoricide achieved, he then has a sideline in selling us continuing war crimes against the Third World as the glorious proof of our superior civilisation. On this occasion, he’s peddling a military attack on Syria.

The mendacity of his article is underscored by the fact that he cites opposition to an attack as evidence of the moral failings of the left (Obama’s supposed dithering is a further proof!), conveniently ignoring the fact that opposition enjoys a wide consensus in Britain and elsewhere. It has noting at all to do with the left.

There is also an incoherence to his argument that should have ruled out its publication. He believes US military “intervention” should take place because it would be a “force for good” in Syria, and that delay and Obama’s lack of leadership have encouraged the disintegration of Syria as a unified state. Or as Ferguson puts it: “the less the US does, the more rapidly the region changes, as the various actors jostle for position in a post-American Middle East. Syria today is in the process of being partitioned.”

He cites as evidence the experience of Iraq, which has broken up into Shia, Sunni and Kurdish fiefdoms. What he fails to point out is that the collapse of Iraq as a state occurred precisely because we “intervened” militarily. So how exactly will doing the same in Syria now change the current dynamic of the weakening of Middle Eastern states?

Ferguson has nothing more to say on the matter. And that’s because his role is not to understand history but to promote a self-serving narrative that advances the interests of western elites.

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