Anti-Shiism, Western Media, the Islamic State and Blatant Lies: A Response to John Bundock and Co., and an Open Letter to Everyone Else
by Haidar Sumeri - Medium.comAnti-Shiism may not be a concept that the general public is familiar with, but its roots have been ingrained in the Muslim world for centuries and in the Western world after the late 1970's. With the overthrowing of the American and British established Iranian Shah and creation of the Islamic Republic, anti-Shiite rhetoric began to take centre stage in Western press. While negative attitudes towards institutions such as the Iranian government or groups such as Hezbollah may certainly have their justifications, this carelessness has been extended to all Shiites, and has created a general indifference to Shiite suffering.
“Western institutions and even Western government and foreign policy is dominated by anti-Shiism”
Anti-Shiite sentiment and news is propagated by multiple groups, all of which have surprisingly independent motives, but all of whom united by their anti-Shiite positions. This translates into anti-Shiite rhetoric being established as the prevalent narrative in media across the world. Whether it is coming from conservative think-tanks or anti-Shiite governments, the outcome is that elements such as Western press, Western institutions and even Western government and foreign policy is dominated by anti-Shiism.
This sort of anti-Shiism is so blatant among these institutions — and given that there is no powerful independent group to challenge them — that the institutions with an anti-Shiite bias no longer care to even hide it. Perhaps one of the most significant examples is when Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch since 1993, tweeted in July of 2014 that the so-called Islamic State “tried not to alienate [the] local population, unlike [the Prime Minister of Iraq] and his violent, sectarian repression.” Of course, the Islamic State had already began acts that amount to genocide, as well as the slavery of thousands of Yezidi women and girls, wanton murder of thousands of civilians, the implementation of a harsh Sharia law which has LGBTQ people thrown off multi-story buildings, accusations of theft resulting in limb amputation, and special taxes for non-Muslims (which were then followed with ethnic cleansing of the Assyrian and Chaldean communities). No Washington Post article was created to condemn Ken Roth’s tweet. It didn't make a FOX News segment, heck, it didn't even make it to The Daily Mail.
Although Twitter posts are almost always public, certain journalists, analysts and personalities — as well as those who want to be one of the aforementioned — begin to take off their mask. Just like Kenneth Roth, although on an even more extreme scale, we begin to see the faces of the people who publish our media. Names such as Robert Caruso — a writer for the Daily Beast, The Hill, Boston Globe and others — who write articles on foreign policy, participate in think-tanks and provide information as experts, begin to rear an ugly side.
While Caruso discusses and debates the United States’ policies towards Syria on MSNBC, Caruso — with his mask lifted — posts horrific tweets of how he will “enjoy” seeing a Syrian woman’s “beloved Syria torn apart with violence.” Going back to 2013, Caruso’s tweets mentioned things such as how he does not care for the plight of the Syrian people, and how he believes the United States “should let them suffer.” Caruso’s tweets even included suggesting he is “at peace” with a situation where the people in someone’s hometown would be raped and the town pillaged. In one instance against me specifically, he called me a “rejectionist” — an English translation of the Arabic anti-Shiite slur of rafidha used by groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda to demean and justify attacking Shiites — somewhat akin in usage to the word “apostate.” Reider Visser, a Norwegian historian and fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, mentioned that Caruso’s anti-Shiite language is alarming and emphasized that there is no other plausible English interpretation for Caruso’s remark of “rejectionist” other than rafida.
This form of anti-Shiite bullying even extended to telling me that Shiites are haram — or “sinful” — using the same nomenclature used by the Islamic State and Al Qaeda to justify their car bombs targeting civilians, detonating Mosques (with people in them), forced displacement, deportation and acts of murder on such a mass scale that they border — if not fulfill — the United Nations requirements for the classification of “genocide.” Caruso then continued on to detail how the United States is at war with Shiites — not just with countries such as Iran or groups like Hezbollah, but with all Shiites. This is the person discussing and debating foreign policy on American media, and acting as an expert for TV stations on American foreign policy.
“Referencing the old adage of “birds of a feather,” it seems that most of these anti-Shiites tend to group themselves — and defend themselves — as a single unit”
Caruso is but a single name in a sea of anti-Shiite journalists, analysts and personalities who slowly reveal themselves on Twitter. Surprisingly, referencing the old adage of “birds of a feather,” it seems that most of these anti-Shiites tend to group themselves — and defend themselves — as a single unit. Another of these names is Michael Weiss, a writer for Foreign Policy, the Daily beast, NOW Lebanon and the editor and founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Interpreter. Reading through Michael Weiss’ Twitter feed you cannot help but get an anti-Shiite sentiment — mostly because almost all of his Tweets revolve around how anything to do with Shiites is a problem. A close associate of Caruso and often supporting and sharing Caruso’s articles, in the same Tweet mentioned above where Caruso called Shiites “haram,” Weiss, rather than criticize his colleague for such a vile statement, began to attack users who felt that Caruso’s tweet was inappropriate. In one such incident, Weiss captured a screenshot of a user commenting on Caruso’s dehumanizing statement and began to attack that person’s character, completely ignoring that his colleague had just used language used by takfiris such as Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
In one instance, Weiss attacked Michael Knights, an analyst for the Washington Institute with almost 20 years of experience in Iraqi political analysis, for retweeting me being patriotic. After being attacked by the likes of Caruso and co for so long, I tweeted that “I have nothing to hide. I’m a passionate supporter of the [full-time] Iraqi armed forces [and volunteer soldiers]. No hidden agenda. They’re my people and I love them.” Innocent enough to most, however, Weiss captured a screenshot of Knights sharing my tweet and commented that it is “sad and alarming” that he shared the Tweet of a “champion” of “terrorist organizations.” Feeding into Caruso’s anti-Shiite remarks, after I expressed that I loved our soldiers that are dying everyday to liberate our lands, Weiss suggests that I am actually a supporter of terrorism. Interestingly enough, on that same tweet, a Twitter user questioned Weiss for his retweeting of Caruso and received no response.
Weiss’ anti-Shiism and attempts to control the predominant narrative was not born out of the blue; Weiss was the Executive Director of an organization called Just Journalism — a lobby focused “on how Israel and Middle East issues are reported in the UK media.” Just as you would expect, the lobby was created in the pursuit of furthering a pro-Israeli agenda in U.K media, and that’s more or less all it did. It has received scathing criticism in the past — and rightfully so — for its overt Neocon slant. Possibly nobody was better able to comment on Just Journalism other than Adel Darwish, a former director of the lobby group. One quote from his statement about resigning from Just Journalism stands out above the others:
In fact neutrality was very much at the heart of the dispute between myself and the chairwoman of the board (the lady who founded the organisation) as I insisted on neutrality from the start. I wanted the organisation to develop to deal with news coverage of the Middle East in general, and become a source of information and a think tank for the media dealing with the Middle East.
Therefore when the lady holding the purse of the organisation and I had different agenda and different aims, I resigned as from 31 December 2008.
Also for the same reason respected columnist Nick Cohen whom I persuaded to join the Advisory Board has also resigned along with Dr Tarek Heggy, a very prominent Egyptian born international thinker.
Weiss wasn't just affiliated with one Israeli-focused lobby and think-tank, however, as you’ll quickly find that his resume is actually filled with such groups. One group in particular is the Henry Jackson Society, where Weiss served as the Communications Director. One does not need to dig very deep to see this group’s disgustingly anti-Iranian and anti-Shiite (as well as generally Islamaphobic) background, a rap sheet that even includes establishing front groups to create panic and irrational, emotional responses to what literally amounts to falsified Islamaphobic propaganda. Not without irony, Weiss published a paper ‘analyzing’ the tactics of Russian disinformation, commenting on how Russian disinformation tactics seek to “sow confusion via conspiracy theories and proliferate falsehoods.” The irony is, of course, that that is exactly what Weiss has been doing — professionally — for over a decade. Who better to analyze it then him? I guess that is one area where he actually has earned the title of “expert.” And his attacks on myself and others sing to his experience.
This is the person who is writing your media, and the one who has assembled a group of like-minded individuals to drive his anti-Shiite narrative. When asked to make a wish before blowing out his birthday candles, Michael Weiss probably wished to have been the pen Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu used to show the world where Iran was up to on his cartoon bomb diagram. This is the person who you’re supposed to take seriously for at least a somewhat impartial analysis of the Middle East, let alone Iran or Shiites in general.
Shiite groups in Iraq are somewhat under-appreciated by Western journalists and analysts, however. While they may get some attention after some of these groups expressed support or shared leadership with that of the Lebanese Hezbollah — a group that receives a lot more eyes — the amount of analysts out there is far and few inbetween and, thanks to the blatant anti-Shiite stance of the media indicated above, there is a very large market for such an analyst to enter and continue the status quo. One such analyst, a friend of the aforementioned people, is Phillip Smyth — a researcher at the University of Maryland focused on Shiite militias. Phillip Smyth is the go-to ‘expert’ for multiple news outlets, news stations, publications and is also a common participant of various panels. One of the most “echo chamber” Middle East analysts on Twitter — that is, those who block anyone and everyone who does not agree with what they say verbatim — Smyth is perhaps the most interesting. Walking the fine line between Bibi-style fear mongering and some sort of Bay Area-style hipsterism, Smyth has been promoting the idea that Iran’s foreign policy involves some sort of anti-American, anti-Israeli Islamic caliphate spanning from Iran to Lebanon and beyond.
One such slide that Smyth presented earlier this year in a talk of his (shown above) branded every Shiite militia as submissive to Iran and acting as the arm of Iran’s alleged imperialistic goals. The slide suggested that Shiites have fabricated the idea that they are experiencing an existential threat in Iraq and Syria — that it was all a manufactured plot, and also suggests that Shiite militias accuse all moderate Sunni rebels of being takfiris (those who accuse others of disbelief, used interchangeably with words like Salafist, Wahhabi or extremist) in a way to undermine their credibility. Never mind that almost all alledgly-moderate anti-government Sunni militia leadership in Syria have almost completely been absorbed into larger extremist groups like Islamic State, and even before being absorbed they worked with, endorsed, defended and even praised extremist groups including both Jabhat al Nusra (al-Qaeda’s official wing in Syria) and the Islamic State. This even includes the leader of Liwa al-Islam, or the Islamic Front, who also acts as the defacto leader of the allegedly ‘moderate’ rebel union called Liwa al-Sham, or Levant Front, calling for foreign fighters to travel to Syria to join Liwa al-Islam, so they can “fight in the ranks of the Sunni [branch of Islam against the apostates and non-Muslims],” or, more specifically, against the Shiites. But there is no existential threat, and the so-called moderates are not out to attack Shiites. This is what Smyth wants to convince the world.
“In their ‘purely strategic’ assault on Nubl and Zahraa, the ‘moderates’ ended up losing control of the last supply line to Aleppo”
Another member of the anti-Shiite analyst circle embedded with those above also attempts to push the ‘moderate’ Syrian rebel narrative, however, with significantly less success. Kyle W. Orton is a “blogger” who has somewhat less shame than Smyth: while Smyth recognizes that the Shiite militias he talks about are not actually composed of Iranians, Orton skips that and considers them to be — literally — Iranian forces. But his apologism for groups like Jabhat al-Nusra is what really sets him apart from some of the others: in a Tweet earlier this year discussing the an assault on the Syrian Shiite villages of Nubl and Zahraa in Aleppo, Orton candidly mentions how it’s actually being performed by Jabhat al-Nusra as an act of “pure strategy, not sectarianism.” The fact that Nubl and Zahraa are predominantly Shiite towns that have been under siege by Jabhat al-Nusra and co. for two years doesn't seem to phase him, nor do the calls by Jabhat al-Nusra on how they want to “stomp [Shiites] with their shoes” and offer “no mercy.”
Perhaps the most interesting element of Orton’s comment, however, is that in their ‘purely strategic’ assault on Nubl and Zahraa, the ‘moderates’ of Aleppo ended up losing control of the contested last insurgent supply line to Aleppo. If this was strategy, then it was literally the worst strategy in the Syrian conflict so far. Or it was sectarianism. I guess we’ll never really know, right? But then again, what should be expected from the ‘analyst’ who considers it “a slur” to “suggest that Israel would even consider indiscriminate attacks on civilians.” It’s a bit of a shame that that is, alongside the wanton destruction of infrastructure, literally what the Dahiya doctrine is about, and what Bibi has more or less admitted to on camera. It’s no surprise that he has a blatant anti-Shiite slant, and it comes from his obsessive support for Israel. Further, his neoconservative Israeli slant follows the same path as Weiss’ in that both eventually convert into anti-Iranian and anti-Shiite sentiment.
Weiss, along with Smyth, Orton and various others unmentioned, however, have decided to go the extra step. In an attempt to attack my credibility, they seem to have recruited a friend of theirs — UPS driver assistant John Bundock — to begin his pseudo-analyst career by slandering me and various others on the Lebanese right-wing publication, NOW Media, which Weiss edits. In a somewhat ironic move of accusing the Shiite militias of being Iranian proxies that further alleged Iranian ideology, the anti-Shiite band have formed and created their own proxies to further their own alarmist anti-Shiite ideology and attack anyone who challenges their narrative.
Bundock dedicated an entire paragraph to me — as well as a plethora of links to various Twitter posts of mine — showing how I am apparently an IRGC propagandist, that I “harass genuine experts on militant groups” by commenting on Smyth’s conspiracy theory of Shiites literally infiltrating Western media, that I am sectarian, and that I apparently created a fake Twitter account to mislead people about alleged war crimes by Shiite militias. The account in question is @SunniTribes, and it seems to focus on Sunni tribal militias, their movements, their statements, and similar. This conspiracy theory was formed by a Kurdish ultra-nationalist — someone who cheers for Islamic State victories against Iraqi forces. Using a screenshot of the @SunniTribes Twitter account and screenshots of my response to him and his allegation that Shiite militias were responsible for what was portrayed in the photographs, he used Twitter time stamps on his screenshots to try to somehow weave a conspiracy theory that I was behind the @SunniTribes Twitter account, had reposted the photographs with amended descriptions, and then used that to disprove his claim that Shiite militias were behind what was depicted.
“It seems that if anybody — even award winning journalists — do not conform to blatantly anti-Shiite rhetoric, then they are slandered.”
That’s it. Apparently, because I referenced that Tweet, it was enough proof for Weiss, Smyth and co. to encourage Bundock to write an article about it on NOW Media. Others attacked in the article were Hala Jaber, an award winning journalist for The Sunday Times, calling her a “stenographer-propagandist for the Assad regime and Hezbollah.” It seems that if anybody — even award winning journalists — do not conform to blatantly anti-Shiite rhetoric, then they are slandered by this circle of anti-Shiite “experts.” Because I have been retweeted by the U.S State Department’s Think Again, Turn Away Twitter account on completely unrelated matters, it apparently has shaken the aforementioned people enough to try to slam the U.S State Department for doing so. But if it’s a matter of guilt by association, then we haven’t even reached the apex of this anti-Shiite group.
One surprising element that seems to have united most anti-Shiite Twitter users — including all of the aforementioned — was their overt support for the Twitter-Jihadist “Shami Witness” — perhaps the most well-known and highest-followed Islamic State supporter on social media — who was eventually unmasked by Channel 4 as an Indian man named Mehdi Masroor Biswas and arrested by the Indian police force for waging war, inciting terrorism, and providing support to terrorists.
Most of the members of the anti-Shiite Twitter circle — including Weiss, Smyth, Orton, and Bundock — played a large role in Biswas’ notoriety, encouraging their followers to follow him and recommending his content. Smyth’s affiliation with Biswas was probably the most interesting, given that Smyth was depending on Biswas to provide him with anti-Shiite content and being visibly upset when Biswas would forget to include Smyth in his postings. This blatant tunnel vision taken on by the anti-Shiites — where they live in a feedback loop of accepting and depending on any anti-Shiite source regardless of their motives , having a confirmation bias in their analysis, and attacking people’s character when they can’t attack their content — is largely the bane of what they do.
“What they were actually defending, recommending and disseminating was Biswas’ anti-Shiite, pro-Islamist rhetoric.”
A typical defense by these names regarding the incident with Biswas has been along the lines of ‘we defended, recommended and worked with Biswas before he came out as an overt Islamic State supporter, and then ceased our support afterwards’ — is fair, except for the fact that what they were actually defending, recommending and disseminating was Biswas’ anti-Shiite, pro-Islamist rhetoric that didn't change after he declared his support for the Islamic State. If we were to mirror this situation with antisemitic publication, the argument would come across as ‘we recommended, disseminated and depended on him for antisemitic content before we knew he was a Nazi’ — it doesn't really change anything, but given that they were depending on such a person (and the fact that they appear to share the same perspective as such a person) is telling. Personally, I’d find it extremely uncomfortable if I ever see myself sharing opinions with extremists of any sort.
But that is if we accepted the excuse as being fair. If we rejected it and considered it unfair, then the argument is that Biswas was openly supporting, defending and disseminating the Islamic State and Islamic State propaganda in 2013 while names like Smyth were still endorsing him. Since Twitter time stamps were used in ‘exposing’ me, here are some time stamps that Smyth and co. might enjoy.
- 13th November, 2013: General Twitter users have started to pay attention to Biswas’ Islamic State leanings, and Biswas tries to defend himself by saying he is not a “blind supporter.” At this stage, there is no doubt of who Biswas is and what he supports.
- 15th November, 2013: Smyth thanks Biswas for the shout out, and encourages his followers to follow Biswas.
- 15th November, 2013: Biswas links to a video of Jabhat al-Nusra exectuing a Shiite fighter, and Smyth is upset at him for not mentioning him in the post.
When I began posting tweets, it had much less to do with providing information to a large audience and I was much more concerned with informing my friends and family with what was happening in Iraq. After spending — literally — hundreds of hours researching what was happening in Iraq, I managed to identify reliable sources on Twitter and other social media, internet forums, and Iraqi media, and began to disseminate that to my followers on Twitter — saving them the hassle of doing it themselves. Being someone who does not support Muslim extremism of any sort, who does not support sectarianism, and believes that there are democratic avenues to resolve most issues, I am unable to relate to most Syrian rebel groups or the Iraqi insurgency in Iraq, which until August 2014 was being reported on as an “Iraqi revolution.” Even names mentioned above, such as Weiss, tried to suggest that Shiites were responsible for their own massacre — attempting to incriminate Iran as being the mastermind behind the Islamic State. Oh, and it includes a reference to Smyth’s work too, feeding back into the anti-Shiite feedback loop.
I am a Shiite. I am an Iraqi. There is no single group on this planet who has as much to lose from the Islamic State as myself. Christian men are asked to pay jizya or leave, Yezidi men are given the opportunity to “repent” and convert, but Shiite men are actively hunted out, tortured, and executed with no other option on the table. Even the choice to convert — as disgusting as it is — is not offered. What makes it worse, however, is that the rest of the world seems to go on a victim blaming tangent of how Shiites should be held responsible for their own oppression. Throughout this conflict, I have maintained my position: I am not anti-Sunni, I am anti-sectarianism, I am anti-exploitation, anti-oppression and anti-destruction.
Expecting me to support blatant lies said about my people and the people who are defending us from the worst of the worst is at best an insult, and at worst a disgusting act of covert support for the Islamic State. 20-something year old Shiites — no different than me, no different than you, each with their own goals, dreams, friends, hobbies and interests — from Southern Iraq have been called to Central and Western Iraq for their help. They don’t make it home, instead returning in body bags. Nobody cares for them: some call them Jihadists, some call them sectarian and genocidal, and some even refuse to accept that they are Iraqis and just call them Iranians instead. But they go anyway, and they give up their lives to make other people’s lives better. Iranian influence in Iraq is not because of an Iraqi desire, it is because of a lack of any other friends. It seems that in 2015, the Iranians are the only ones who are not reducing the people fighting for Iraq to mere gangsters and thugs, motivated by nothing other than blood lust and religious imperialism. Expecting me and tens of millions of other Iraqis — including Sunnis — to be upset at Iran when they were the only country who came to our aid when we needed it is delusional.
But I digress.
In the timeless words of Steven Nabil, an Assyrian Iraqi American that has embedded himself with Iraqi forces and works with Iraqi IDPs: ننتصر او ننتصر — “We will prevail or we will prevail.” There is no other option for the Iraqi people. And neoconservative think-tanks, anti-Shiite analysts, or Islamic State fighters will not be able to break us or our spirits.
I’ll leave this on a quote from Bundock himself, when he was trying to defend the so-called moderates in Syria from criticism about them working with the Al Qaeda in Syria group, or Jabhat al-Nusra:
“we better stop having sketchy allies while protecting our families; some whitey will be pissed”. - Said no one.
Haidar Sumeri - Updates/analysis on the security situation in Iraq. Middle East geopolitics. Iraqi separatist. IG: iraqiarmedforces.