Thursday, December 20, 2012

A new low for AbuKhalil

[Originally posted at NOW]

The experience of reading the blog of As’ad AbuKhalil, the self-styled “Angry Arab”, belongs in the same category as visiting the dentist: sometimes tedious; often torturous; but always necessary, because the battle to keep the Left free of its sinister – and downright crackpot – strains demands constant vigilance and labour.

Fortunately, it’s been easier than usual to discredit the Professor’s howling gusts of intellectual dishonesty this week. Indeed, in that curious fashion one also sees in such other unstable persons as Mel Gibson and Glenn Beck, it almost feels like he wants to get caught.

I’m referring of course to his groan-inducing claim that the kidnapping of NBC’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, who was released on Tuesday, was orchestrated by the Free Syrian Army, in contradiction to Engel’s own testimony that the perpetrators were “shabbiha” militants “loyal to President Bashar al-Assad”.

In a series of posts, AbuKhalil cites “a knowledgeable Western journalist” (regular readers of his will know how hilarious this is) in addition to a blog called “Moon of Alabama”, which runs a sideshow in Darfur genocide denial, to conclude that “this entire captivity was set up by FSA to paint themselves in good light and to stigmatize their sectarian enemies […] This is one of many manufactured and fake operations produced by the fabricators of the Free Syrian Army.”

In his latest post, he modifies slightly without retracting the overall claim: “I received a message from a Western journalist in Syria. He tells me that the Free Syrian Army now admits that Mr. Engel was indeed kidnapped by a Sunni armed group but that the hostages were later sold to a Shi`ite armed group.”

I managed to get in touch with someone personally involved in Engel’s rescue attempt, who asked not to be named, who said: “That claim is incorrect. It is accurate that the NBC team was kidnapped by a different gang before being handed over to the group that kept them hostage. But the group that originally captured them was a criminal group, not an FSA unit or a jihadi unit associated with the opposition.”

Even if we didn’t know this, consider what AbuKhalil was asking us to believe: that the FSA killed three of its own men for a media stunt (Engel says one rebel with whom he was embedded at the time of the ambush was “executed […] on the spot”, and two kidnappers – who are the FSA, according to AbuKhalil – were also killed during his release).

He also asks us to believe that the FSA, acting as Shiite militants, stayed in character 24 hours a day for five days, even when talking privately in Arabic among themselves, despite not knowing that Engel understands and speaks Arabic (as AbuKhalil admits with some embarrassment that he does very well).

Stewing in fury as these thoughts thundered around my head, it occurred to me that for all his professed opposition to Assad, there has scarcely been one regime atrocity which AbuKhalil hasn’t tried, by a combination of spurious journalism and junk conspiracy theory, to blame on the FSA. See, for instance, his series of posts on the Houla massacre. A peculiar kind of “speaking truth to power”, is it not, to systematically assume the worst about the outgunned rebels, while giving the benefit of the doubt to the blood-drenched dictatorship?

No wonder Syrians themselves have a different name for him on Twitter…

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