Thursday, November 21, 2013

When propaganda advocacy trumps scholarship: Thomas Pierret actually proclaims the secularism of the Saudi regime

Thomas Pierret is one of the most knowledgeable scholars on Syria.  He is very well-trained in his field, and has a command of his subject.  Yet, in the last two years, he has allowed his propaganda passions for the Saudi- and Qatari-funded Syrian opposition groups to influence his judgement on matters related to Syria.  Look at this outrageous passage here:  "Concerns for domestic stability, and more particularly distrust of political Islamic movements (including politicized Salafis), also encouraged Saudi Arabia (as well as Jordan, after months of hesitation due to fear of Syrian retaliation and of political change in the region) to support the least Islamist, and generally least sectarian, segments of the opposition. Among the opposition abroad, Riyadh tried to counterbalance the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood by supporting a coalition of former Baathists (Riyad Hijab, Mustafa al-Asad), secular intellectuals (led by Christian opposition leader Michel Kilo), tribal chiefs (Ahmad al-Jarba), and secular-leaning representatives of the Free Syrian Army (Luay Miqdad)."  My response? Well, 1) Thomas knows Arabic and should have noticed that anti-Shi`ite rhetoric of the Saudi regime has in fact increased over time and not decreased.  2) His evidence for the secularism of Saudi policies is in fact just silly: just because Saudi intelligence hired Michel Kilu or the Luay Muqdad of the Fee Syrian Army does not make the regime secular.  This fundamentally sectarian regime has never shied away from hiring, recruiting, and buying off leftists, communists, socialists, fundamentalists, Nazis, rightists, Salafis and whoever else might be useful for their cause.  There is a tiny communist gang in Lebanon which is funded by the Saudi intelligence service: does that make the Saudi regime communist?  Better evidence for the argument, please. 3) Thomas failed to note that Saudi policies toward the Syrian opposition are largely motivated by competition with Qatar and the recruitment by Bandar of Michel Kilu was basically an attempt to take away elements of the opposition from Qatar.  It is part of the competition between the two dynasties and this game played out in Lebanon as well.  4) Saudi Arabia had funded the Contras in Nicaragua in the past, because the US requested such funding.  What does that mean? That there was a shared ideology between the House of Saud and the Contras of Nicaragua?  5) It is rather sad to see a fine scholar being swayed in his judgement by the propaganda agenda of the Syrian exile opposition.  Lastly, when I read this I could not help but remember this section From Thomas Pierret's rigorious and well-researched book, Religion and State in Syria  (where the author's arguments are far less unreasonable than in his recent pronouncements on Syria):  "Sheikh Ahmad Mouaz Al-Khatib has not only been incredibly helpful and generous, but he also taught me much about human values"--this about the Qatari-controlled Islamist preacher who railed during the years more against Facebook and masturbation than against the Asad regime, and who had praised Saddam Husayn for "standing up to the Jews".  Enough said.

PS It is hilarious that Thomas bragged about Saudi support for Lu'ayy Al-Muqdad who is largely known for his inconsistent and contradictory statements in Arab media, and who has been known to deny his own denials.  This is a man (Muqdad) who is known as the sidekick of Lebanese MP, `Uqab Saqr (a man who is only known as the side-kick of Sa`d Hariri--who in turn is only known to be the side-kick of Prince `Abdul-`Aziz bin Fahd).  Secular bunch alright.