The figure of Mother Agnes-Mariam will be recognizable to anyone familiar with the record of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the early 1990s. Never happier than when hysterically decrying the unbounded barbarism of Bashar al-Assad’s opponents, the Carmelite nun has made her name by both fabricating rebel atrocities and imputing real ones carried out by the regime, such as the 2012 Houla massacre, to the opposition. Among her more memorable recent stunts has been her claim that the videos of the aftermath of the regime’s chemical weapons attacks in East Ghouta two months ago were faked. Much more seriously, she has been accused by the widow of the late French journalist Gilles Jacquier, killed in Homs last year, of personal complicity in a regime-orchestrated plot to murder him. Not since Mother Teresa herself has anyone better exemplified Orwell’s injunction that the saintly are to be judged guilty until proven innocent.
Not that any of this stopped Agnes from being invited last week on a coast-to-coast speaking tour of the United States by, of all people, a pro-Palestine activist. Paul Larudee is a founder of the Free Gaza Movement, whose aid boats famously challenged Israel’s naval blockade of the Strip’s waters, and is also involved with the International Solidarity Movement, which carries out non-violent activism in the West Bank. One might have thought a man with such a background would take a dim view of a regime that now air-strikes Palestinian refugee camps. But Larudee has found a new calling, and recently started a nonprofit called the Syria Solidarity Movement (which, like the “Hands Off Syria” slogans, would be more accurately worded if ‘Syria’ were replaced with ‘Assad’), whose website appears to double as a clearinghouse for the latest Press TV and Russia Today reports. It is this organization that brought Agnes, whom Larudee describes as “charismatic,” to America’s shores on Thursday.
How did this happen? The answer lies in Larudee’s first meeting with Agnes, during a trip to Lebanon and Syria in May sponsored by an outfit called Musalaha (“reconciliation”), of which the nun is a leading organizer. Along with eighteen other Western personalities, including Irish Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire (who describes Agnes as “a modern hero of peace”), Larudee spent a week meeting refugees, religious leaders, and officials from both the Syrian and Lebanese governments – including, according to one report, Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun. (One wonders if the General floated his party’s longstanding proposal to expel Palestinian refugees from Lebanon.) Indeed, Musalaha’s president is none other than Dr Hassan Yaacoub, a card-carrying member of the Hezbollah-aligned FPM bloc.
Accordingly, while in more unguarded moments Larudee asserts that Musalaha “has the trust of most Syrians,” he elsewhere admits that it “is ostensibly non-political, but there is no such thing in Syria today […] it exists with the approval of the Assad regime, which means that there are inherent limits to its range of activity.” The reader is free to believe this affiliation had nothing to do with the universally pro-regime opinions espoused by the refugees from Qusayr and elsewhere Larudee met, which he summarizes as follows:
“Whatever the faults of the Assad regime […] it is the only thing preventing the utter destruction of Syria.”
I’ve met Qusayr refugees without Aounist politicians by my side who told a rather different story, but perhaps that’s just how the cookie crumbles. In any event, the refugees evidently made an impression on Larudee, who in a Counterpunch essay developed what they told him into a general defense of dictatorship:
“Sometimes the only choice is between an autocratic regime that is pro-Western and one that pursues an independent course. The U.S. will attempt to coerce or overthrow any independent-minded government, but an autocratic regime has a better chance of resisting because its repressive apparatus will crush dissidence before it has a chance to breathe.”
In other words, any tyranny, no matter how absolute, is better than being allies with America (never mind here that Assad was in fact a willing, if duplicitous, partner in Bush’s War on Terror). Rarely does one see enthusiasm for totalitarianism articulated so candidly. By now it comes as no surprise that Larudee’s frequent calls to end “foreign intervention” make reference neither to the undisguised invasion of Syria by Hezbollah, nor the massive and vital assistance given the regime by the Party of God’s backers in Iran (his country of birth, incidentally). Larudee prefers to blame Syria’s carnage on the West, which we learned last month has trained a grand total of 50 opposition fighters to date. That such a man presents himself as a courageous speaker of truth to power is bad enough. That he does so in partnership with a propagandist and accomplice of a mass murderer is an insult, not only to Syrians, but also to Palestinians, whose noblest of causes deserves far more honorable an advocate.