Syria, Corporate Media Lies, and the True Face of Imperialism: An Interview with Richard Medhurst
If independent media want to be a real counterweight to establishment media, they must challenge the status quo in its entirety.
“The question isn’t why am I cursing and angry, the question is why isn’t everyone else?”
Youtube is the second largest search engine worldwide and has become a popular platform for progressives and the left to conduct political education and debate. Few voices on the platform, however, meaningfully engage the questions of war, white supremacy, and U.S. imperialism. That cannot be said of Richard Medhurst, who is the subject of the following interview.
Danny Haiphong: Can you please tell readers of the Black Agenda Report a little about your background and the history behind your YouTube show?
Richard Medhurst: My name is Richard Thomas Medhurst. I was born in Damascus, Syria in 1992. My mother (Syrian) and father (British) served in United Nations Peacekeeping and Observation Missions in Angola, Lebanon, Syria, India, Pakistan (Kashmir), meaning we moved around a lot. They were among the UN Peacekeepers awarded the 1988 Nobel Peace Prize. Their work and these experiences directly shaped my life and outlook on international affairs. Additionally, I was lucky to have a good education – my entire high school education was completed in French and I am fluent in four languages: English, French, Arabic and German.
I started my show in late 2019 to cover US politics and international relations. There are a number of great indie channels out there that I admire, but not many cover foreign policy. Even fewer cover foreign policy from an anti-imperialist viewpoint.
I think one of the reasons people gravitate towards my channel is due to its explicit nature. I don’t have time to sugarcoat war crimes, murder and corruption. The question isn’t why am I cursing and angry, the question is why isn’t everyone else? I can also put on a blazer, speak in a high register BBC accent. There is nothing nice about politics. This is a vile, nasty business filled with suffering and anguish.
They’re too afraid to talk about Syria because YouTube will demonetize them. Fuck that. That’s pathetic. You’ll see them call out Israel’s barbarism against Palestinians once in a blue moon, and that’s it. They want to play it safe while also pretending to be an alternative to indie media. That’s unacceptable.
Danny Haiphong: You are very critical of the corporate media on your show. What role can independent media play in countering the narratives presented in mainstream news outlets?
Richard Medhurst: They should grow a spine. A lot of people in independent media do good work, but I’m tired of hearing “lefties” either completely ignore foreign policy or repeat CIA talking points about the Global South. You cannot be an American journalist or pundit, and then proceed to ignore international politics when your country dictates world affairs. Foreign policy is not a backburner issue, it is the issue.
Anyone can say “I support universal healthcare and a wage increase”. There’s nothing brave or controversial about catching up to the rest of the industrialized world. But how many will expose and stand up to American imperialism? Or the Zionist occupation in Palestine? How many will call out the Western-backed coup in Syria? The UK’s theft of Venezuelan gold? A handful, at best.
If independent media want to be a real counterweight to establishment media, they must challenge the status quo in its entirety. Many will advocate for Medicare For All, a Green New Deal -- things that are already mainstream -- but won’t touch anything else because they’re afraid of catching flak.
They’ll talk a bit about racial inequality, they’ll mention Palestine once in a while, but they won’t challenge US hegemony and imperialism when it matters.
“How many will expose and stand up to American imperialism? Or the Zionist occupation in Palestine?”
They must bring up the uncomfortable topics that no one wants to bring up. Repeating “end the wars” is not enough. What about economic sanctions that kill civilians? What about defunding the military? Talking about police brutality, racial inequality, the oppression of African Americans only when it’s trending on Twitter is not enough. This continued silence on Western imperialism is not only journalistic malpractice, but also ignorant.
A lot of these pundits have grown too comfortable arguing with conservatives online about healthcare, while burying their heads in the sand about everything else, specifically foreign policy. I don’t need someone pretending to be a leftist on YouTube to repeat the same nonsense I heard from Dick Cheney. I expect and demand better from people in leftist independent media.
They need a rude awakening and that’s why I’m here.
Danny Haiphong: Syria has not been subject to the same news coverage as in past years. Why is it so important to defend Syria right now?
Richard Medhurst: They’re silent because the United States lost its war on Syria.
The US and their allies have been trying to conquer Syria since 2011 to advance their imperialist agenda. One of their tools was to wage a war of disinformation, using the mainstream media to spread lies, provoke outrage, and sway international opinion in favor of regime change.
The mainstream media have never met a war they didn’t like. Whatever Uncle Sam says, they repeat. The New York Times and CNNbeat the war drums for Iraq and they did the same for Syria.
Simultaneously, the US covertly funded and armed opposition groups inside Syria; so-called “moderate rebels” who then turn out to be affiliated with Al Qaeda and 50 other flavors of Jihad.
They also tried to provoke international outrage by claiming that Syria used chemical weapons, which of course turned out to be nonsense. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons published falsified reports and suppressed its own scientists to implicate the Syrian government. They are another international body controlled by Washington and their reputation is essentially tarnished and all credibility gone.
“The New York Times and CNN beat the war drums for Iraq and they did the same for Syria.”
The Syrian army has now recaptured most of the country. Only Idlib remains as the last major terrorist stronghold. Syria had been a self-sufficient country since the 1990s, producing its own wheat, cotton and more. Syria also has oil, which before the war accounted for 25% of all government revenue. The US knows this and is illegally occupying Syria’s oil fields to cut off revenue. US helicopters have begun burning down Syria’s wheat fields to starve the Syrian population -- a blatant war crime. Since their tricks haven’t worked, they have turned to sanctions (economic terrorism) in order to starve off Syria. It’s not about regime change anymore, it’s about burning the country down -- literally.
The new Caesar Act also just came into effect. This US law imposes new sanctions on Syria and anyone who deals with the country. The real aim here isn’t to punish Assad, it’s to prevent Syria from rebuilding.
These sanctions are evil and only hurt the civilian population. Independent media have a moral obligation to call out and expose these atrocities.
Danny Haiphong: What do you find most troubling about the mainstream media’s coverage of the recent mass demonstrations in the United States?
Richard Medhurst: The mainstream media is a tool, an arm of the establishment and ruling elites. When the ruling elites feel threatened, they send the police and military to crack skulls and keep the workers in line. When it really counts, there is no free speech or first amendment. If you criticize America or the foundations upon which it was built (slavery, settler colonialism, genocide), then there is no first amendment for you.
The media pretends to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter but constantly uses negative language and framing to delegitimize them. This is done on purpose. The media and their corporate puppet masters need the police to keep the population in line and maintain the status quo.
It doesn’t matter if protestors are peaceful or not, the police will always be violent. We’ve all seen the videos of indiscriminate beatings, teargassing, etc. even when protestors are kneeling or are simply bystanders.
When Colin Kaepernick was taking a knee, the media called him “disruptive” and “unpatriotic”. And now when people are out in the streets protesting, they’re also called “disruptive” and “unpatriotic." These are typical oppressor tactics. No matter if you are peaceful or not, they will always try to paint you as the aggressor.
“When it really counts, there is no free speech or first amendment.”
Notice also how the media will always try to divert attention to material and capital wealth. They’ll talk about windows being smashed, or a store that was burned down. This is part of the conditioning to make people value material wealth over human life. They want you to be more outraged over a Target store than George Floyd's murder. They want you to believe that corporations are more valuable than people. This is a sickness. This is capitalism.
Pay attention to the language used and choice of words. They constantly say that George Floyd was “killed,” when in fact he was murdered in cold blood – all on camera. Breonna Taylor was shot eight times in her apartment while sleeping, but they just say she was “killed.” They tone down the language on purpose in order to protect the police.
Even if you were to play devil’s advocate, and claim that protestors are allegedly being violent, and supposedly looting – this pales in comparison to the injustices committed against African Americans. Over 400 years of slavery, of torture, of killing and persecution. The looting of Africa itself – an entire continent ravaged by colonialism.
Black men are also being lynched just weeks apart, and the police are immediately dubbing them as suicides to cover up the murders and avoid further protests. Black men are still being lynched in 2020 and the mainstream media have said absolutely nothing. This is inadmissible and fucking outrageous. The media are complicit with white supremacy, with murder, and directly enabling the oppression of African Americans every single minute by refusing to do their jobs and hold the authorities accountable.
Danny Haiphong: Some of the most-watched segments of your show involve scathing critiques of the Democratic Party. Can you please share some of your (uncensored) reflections with our readers?
Richard Medhurst: There is no real Left in America. The Democratic Party is not a workers’ party, nor is it a leftist party. Anywhere else in the world they would be a right-wing party. Moreover, what you have in the United States is a one-party system where the two factions – Republicans and Democrats – come together to fuck over the working class. They appear to be at odds with each other on a handful of issues. However, when it comes to maintaining the interests of the American empire through war, sanctions, bailouts and corporate handouts -- miraculously they seem to agree with each other and “reach across the aisle.” Their sole purpose is to serve the oligarchs to whom they’ve prostituted themselves, and to give people the illusion of choice. This way they can pacify the working class and prevent revolt.
Those who call themselves “progressives” but tell you to vote for a racist warmonger like Joe Biden are nothing but crypto-neoliberal bastards and must be exposed as such. It’s usually white, upper middle-class people saying this, who’ve obviously never seen nor been on the receiving end of neoliberal policies (crime bill, more wars, outsourcing of jobs, etc.).
Moreover, the Progressives Caucus within the Democratic party is a joke. They have no agenda; every member votes a different way and they refuse to form an actual resistance against the neoliberal crooks running the party or call out their leadership. They’re not interested in standing up for workers, they’re interested in preserving their careers.
“Those who call themselves ‘progressives’ but tell you to vote for a racist warmonger like Joe Biden are nothing but crypto-neoliberal bastards.”
This notion that you can reform the Democratic party by electing more progressives is complete horse shit. They’re basically telling you to wait another 50 years and die without healthcare for them to maybe get enough people in the party, who will be coopted by the neoliberal establishment anyway. This is preposterous and insulting. You don’t reform the Democratic party, the Democratic party reforms you. Washington D.C. does not allow revolutionaries or well-intentioned rookies to thrive. It blunts them, absorbs them into the party and molds them to remove their teeth.
Capitol Hill is a sideshow to distract people from Wall Street, where all the real decisions are made. Lawmakers don’t control Wall Street; it’s the other way around. Many people recognize this, yet are dying to pursue electoral politics, as if it were some kind of entertainment or sport. And in many ways, it is a spectacle. It’s designed to distract and pacify the masses while they get away with murder.
The only thing that gets things done is direct action. I was yelling about this since the beginning, and lo and behold here it is. The protests happening now led to George Floyd’s killers being arrested. Rayshard Brook’s killers were arrested. The Minneapolis police department has been overhauled. Direct action got these things done, not politicians.
Danny Haiphong: Your social commentary is consistently rooted in an anti-capitalist and anti-imperial framework. What books and/or experiences radicalized you to adopt these political commitments?
Richard Medhurst: I haven’t seen my family in Syria in over ten years because of a war started by imperialists and multinational corporations. I think that would piss anyone off.
I have been all over the Global South and I’m no stranger to former colonies. I’ve seen firsthand the poverty that they are condemned to after centuries of plundering by former European colonies. I was born in Syria, which used to be a French mandate. Before that it was occupied by the Ottomans for 400 years. When the British and French decided to carve up Syria, they set the entire region on fire and plunged it into chaos that lasts to this very day.
Destroying Arab nationalism and unity has always been a priority for the West because they fear our strength. It is therefore every Syrian and every Arab’s duty to be anti-imperialist. Imperialism is a cancer that has plagued the Middle East and Africa for centuries, and we must unite to resist it.
Understanding history, particularly colonialism and the Cold War, is crucial in order to grasp what is going on today. I cannot stress this enough.
When you learn of how the European empires plundered Africa’s resources, committed genocide, and engaged in slavery, it makes me angry. They teach you in school that colonialism came to an end in 1945, yet many Western powers still maintain oppressive neo-colonial ties with their former colonies and bully them into submission.
When the European powers began crumbling after 1945, America picked up where they left off. The United States perpetuates the same imperialism, rooted in white supremacy and American exceptionalism, while hiding under the label of a supposed democracy.
I grew up seeing Colin Powell lie at the UN about WMDs that didn’t exist. I saw the entire world change after 9/11, with everyone treating Arabs like terrorists.
How anyone can read about these atrocities and not be anti-imperialist is beyond me.
Danny Haiphong: How can readers of the Black Agenda Report support your work?
Richard Medhurst: You can help support my work by subscribing to my channel on YouTube and by following me on twitter.
Youtube - youtube.com/richardmedhurst
Twitter - twitter.com/papichulomin
You can also support the show financially by signing up on Patreon, endorsing me on Rokfin, or by contributing a one-time donation on PayPal.
Patreon - patreon.com/papichulomin
Rokfin - rokfin.com/richardmedhurst
Paypal - paypal.me/papichulomin
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News--From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror (Skyhorse Publishing). He can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @spiritofho, and on Youtube at The Left Lens with Danny Haiphong.
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