Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 03, 2013

Is Ideology Irreversible?

The Sunday Times had an interview with the Syrian President Assad. A full transcript liberated from the paywall is available here.

The whole interview, in which Assad is unlike his opponents again very rational and logical, is recommended reading. I found one passage especially interesting:

Sunday Times: How threatening is Al-Qaeda now?

President Assad: Threatening by ideology more than the killing. The killing is dangerous, of course, but what is irreversible is the ideology; that is dangerous and we have been warning of this for many years even before the conflict; we have been dealing with these ideologies since the late seventies. We were the first in the region to deal with such terrorists who have been assuming the mantle of Islam.

Is that highlighted part correct? Is an ideology, once it has taken ground in some people, really irreversible?

Assad seems to be somewhat wrong with that. I am not aware of many communists these days, indeed I wish there would be more. So communism faded over time as did several other ideologies. But the Jihadi ideology (we need a better word for this) seems to be still on the rise, supported by the Gulf monarchies and used as a proxy force by the "west". That is what makes it dangerous. Its inherent growth momentum would probably be nil without such support.

Posted by b on March 3, 2013 at 17:56 UTC | Permalink


Nobody really knows what communism is - yet. When merchant capitalism began to spread its tentacles from Europe in the late Middle Ages, nobody at the time knew what it was either.

Posted by: ruralito | Mar 3 2013 18:10 utc | 1

I think what he is referring to is the fundamentalist ideology... It can be quite attractive to the poor and uneducated... Because its stated purpose is to reject everything the modern world is and harks back to a period of Islamic history which was "pure" and "unspoiled"

The power of this message is in its simplicity... Basically - everything wrong with Islam today is brought about by impurities added to it across the centuries and this deviation can be corrected by simply going back to the ways of "our good predecessors" or Alsalaf Alsalih I.e. Salafist/Wahhabi for short.

I guess some one can write a thesis about its political aspects... As it goes back to the first Saudi attempt to take over the Arabian Peninsula and beyond in the 18th century and their pact with Mohamed bin Abdulwahab...

Posted by: OAB | Mar 3 2013 18:14 utc | 2

cf The Merchant of Prato

Posted by: ruralito | Mar 3 2013 18:21 utc | 3

Who knows?.

Posted by: Daniel Rich | Mar 3 2013 18:37 utc | 4

perhaps if you view the hatred that develops when organized religions clash and how it lingers is what he is talking about. such as the bad feeling between christianity and islam going back at least to the crusades and the cleansing of islam from southern europe during the inquisition.

it is even more local than that, though there are of course other factors in play, but most people view the turmoil in northern ireland as being purely between catholics and protestants.

creating divisions between different groups is a tactic that has been used successfully for a long long time...divide and conquer

Posted by: dan of steele | Mar 3 2013 18:41 utc | 5

Interesting developments in Syria... It seems both sides are trying to take as much territory as possible?! Fighting flaring in almost all regions...

Also interesting, the FSA expended a lot in men and material to capture the Police Academy outside of Aleppo, some reports saying 200 dead and upwards. And it seemed that they were trying to close the last major road in government hands. According to the same reports, fighting is still ongoing, so it's difficult to say, but it seems they have captured it. Unfortunately, the government has grabbed for the road south out of Aleppo airport to secure their supply lines.

Also fighting in Ar Raqqah with major assaults on government held positions from several appears the Kurds have made a deal with the FSA... Probably something along te lines of don't attack us and we won't attack you... Just stay out of the way. The Syrian Kurds seem to be taking advise from Barzani... I hope they don't live to regret it.

In the West the government has tried to take advantage of fighting to the east to roll back some of the rebel position around Latakia,

In the South, things seem to have lulled inthe latest "final assault on Damascus" but if the rebels are trying to capture at least one city ie Ar Raqqah, they will need to keep the army occupied in the south.. Expect a new renewed assault within the next few days.

To the southeast, the most interesting thing is the Iraqi forces attacking or at least shelling real positions at the Yorabia border point...

It's getting expensive for all sides now... And the stakes are going higher... The Turks are either going to win big or fail miserably, at least their consolation prize could be entrance Ito Europe...

Posted by: OAB | Mar 3 2013 18:50 utc | 6

Yes, religion and ideology make the jihadists the premiere shock troops to bring down empires and tyrants who don’t kowtow to Washington DC. It worked with the Soviet Union and Kaddafi; maybe with Assad. Still the ultimate goal, Iran, is beyond their reach since the Mullahs have religious ideologues of their own, Revolutionary Guards.

Other than war profits, one does not see the purpose of the war lovers in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the USA. The only possible outcome is a regional jihad between Sunnis and Shiites, closing of the Straits of Hormuz and the collapse of the Western economy.

Then there is no reason or rhyme why the Western Governments from Athens to DC are imposing Austerity on their citizens when is proven to depress the economy and ultimately costs more than the government saved in spending. This must be another case of ideology triumphant over reality.

Posted by: VietnamVet | Mar 3 2013 19:30 utc | 7

re 6

The Turks ..., at least their consolation prize could be entrance Ito Europe...

I'm surprised people are still pulling out that old chestnut. It's an American fantasy. The Turks aren't interested any more.

Posted by: alexno | Mar 3 2013 19:44 utc | 8


Yeah, the militant backers are trying to strengthen their hand ready for impending negotiations by forcing another push. As Kerry put it, the aim is to "shift the balance of power on the ground".

But that elusive tipping point we've been hearing about for nearly a year might now have been reached...

Posted by: Pat Bateman | Mar 3 2013 19:46 utc | 9

"The whole interview, in which Assad is unlike his opponents again very rational and logical, is recommended reading...."

Posted by: David | Mar 3 2013 20:15 utc | 10

I think the mistake is that most confuse it with an ideology (here it is Assad). It is in essence not an ideology (like socialism or communism) but a religion. In this case orthodox Islam or Wahabism (Sunni orthodox if you will) (state religion of Saudi Arabia) is what it concerns! Jihad is just one of the five pillars of Islam. Sufi Islam has Jihad as well though they see it as a spiritual war. (as for shiite and alawite and the ahmadiya (spelling?!) I don't really know how they view jihad).

"Is that highlighted part correct? Is an ideology, once it has taken ground in some people, really irreversible?"

Yes! I really do think so. Take Afghanistan and Chechenya for example. Though they were (sunni) muslim countries before the mass export of jihadists. After the war wahabism took root in the population. It is very difficult to drive out and would be a process of a couple of generations though possible if the extremist clerics (mostly sent there from the gulf states) would be expelled.

OAB #2 just hit the nail on the head with the analysis of it's "power/lure".

Posted by: Gehenna | Mar 3 2013 20:59 utc | 11

My answer wasn't completely clear in #11.

What I mean to say is that the religious sect can take root but it can be removed as well. These people have been brainwashed and undoing that would take a considerable amount of effort. Irreversible? Not entirely but very difficult in my opinion.

Posted by: Gehenna | Mar 3 2013 21:03 utc | 12

Hey Jawbone
ty for stopping by and yes the election story is macabre
it appears to me that NATO is attempting to set up a parallel government for Syria, same as was done in Libya
The election is being held in Turkey
If they can get them installed in Northern Syria the no fly zone will be next.
Election in Aleppo could Show Syria a way Forward??

Thinking about an older post at my place, the one that made mention of the big 'humanitarian push' coming this month, March.

To get "aid" into Syria.......

An interesting development was that Iraq had moved to close border crossings and their had been clashes between Iraq soldiers and NATO rebels ruining Syria.
Is Iraq concerned about a NATO proxy governing in Northern Syria?
What will that mean for stability in Iraq?
Can't be good

Posted by: Penny | Mar 3 2013 21:35 utc | 13

Ideology can only be discussed and reasoned with educated, smart people, NOT with fanatics (regardless if its wahabbi, atheists or anyone else). Thats what Assad is talking about. His main enemies are "NATO akbar" psychos, who are hell bend to destroy or die in the process, you cant reason with them, what to speak of convincing them to change their ideology.

In other words, judging by the context, Assad is spot on here as well. My favorite quote from his speech was "arsonists cant be firefighter", that was brilliant.

Posted by: Harry | Mar 3 2013 22:05 utc | 14

Speaking of ideology and the demonization of anyone we don't care for, the interview by George Stephanopoulos of Dennis Rodman regarding his tete a tete with Kim Jong Un was nothing short of embarrassing.....

Posted by: georgeg | Mar 3 2013 23:21 utc | 15

While ideology may not be irreversible, people heavily indoctrinated in something find it very difficult to change. Especially if the indoctrination is heavily imposed during their first 5 years of life. Most people retain the core indoctrination, even though they drop, or alter, their views of much of the ideology surrounding it later.

"But the Jihadi ideology (we need a better word for this) seems to be still on the rise, supported by the Gulf monarchies and used as a proxy force by the "west". That is what makes it dangerous. Its inherent growth momentum would probably be nil without such support."

The beginning of the harnessing of the fundamentalist Christian right to Israeli interests was begun by zionists shortly before the same was applied to Muslims. Zionists needed a larger share of the more conservative Republican American types, as of the 60's at least half of Americans still at least occasionally went to church. The zionists pretty much had the Democrats under their wing at that time, so in order to get the sort of clout they wanted, they bought up some of the more influential preachers, and backed some new ones. This is why, ludicrous as the Christian right is to most Americans, they were never seriously challenged or exposed by the zionist msm, who essentially gave the movement a free ride and did a lot to promote it.

I suspect the way Muslims were corrupted was a very similar method, change to suit the cultural circumstances. Once it became clear the process worked, zionists figured out what would work against the Muslim proples. Which branches of the religion would be most susceptible to co-optation and corruption. In this, Israweli experience was no doubt invaluable, and they likely lead in the policy making around recruiting Muslim terrorism to the zionist cause. It should also be remembered that the American establishment had long history of corruption one group so they could be used as a front to attack another. This was used extensively in S.E Asian wars the Americans conducted there. But Americans didn't have a lot of experience operating with Arabs, like the Israelis do, or also, even the British do, so the Israeli-Americans used British and especially the Israelis, for on the ground work and to control these operations.

Posted by: вот так | Mar 4 2013 1:10 utc | 16

".. Still the ultimate goal, Iran, is beyond their reach since the Mullahs have religious ideologues of their own, Revolutionary Guards."

Somewhere in Washington or London a smug neo-con is getting excited at the prospect of a muslim armaggedon in which the Saudi sponsored wahhabis end up, in eastern Iraq, fighting the Iranian backed shi'ites.

Just as, 70 odd years ago, they dreamed of Nazis and Communists wiping each other out and leaving the world safe for "democracy."

It is often forgotten that the C18th Saudi forces which sacked Mecca and Medina also wrecked Karbala. My guess is that the war in Iraq is just about to move into its final and bloodiest phase.

Posted by: bevin | Mar 4 2013 3:05 utc | 17

jihad is a boon to the US war machine....fighters for tuppence, ready to kill and die, convinced their cause is 'righteous'(a feature of semitic religions) and so many of them that US can save a great deal of money as well as popular reactions at home from use of US troops

Posted by: brian | Mar 4 2013 7:33 utc | 18

Interesting developments in Syria... It seems both sides are trying to take as much territory as possible?! Fighting flaring in almost all regions...

Posted by: OAB | Mar 3, 2013 1:50:50 PM | 6

both sides? on one side is the govt and people of syria....on the other are the US israeli saudi qatari backed band o religious mercenaries from saudi qatar turkey UK OZ libya egypt afghanistan etc ...and they call this a 'civil' war!

Posted by: brian | Mar 4 2013 7:45 utc | 19

Posted by: Gehenna | Mar 3, 2013 3:59:48 PM | 11
some good points, but the 5 pillars of islam are:

charitable giving
fasting during the month of Ramadan (sawm)
the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj) at least once in a lifetime.

jihad is seen as a 6th pillar by certain muslims

Posted by: brian | Mar 4 2013 7:47 utc | 20

religion is close to irreversible as it is the way an otherwise confusing world is explained to children. it is hard wired to the deep parts of the human brain and will be revoked in times of crises.

Guess who wrote this

Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.

Tip: Both grandfathers were Rabbis.

Posted by: somebody | Mar 4 2013 8:11 utc | 21

I don't even think it's necessarily an ideological thing when it comes to the Jihadis in Libya or Syria. The most influential factor, I'd guess, is the "transnational" Idea in the islamist stance. But there are many empoverished young male guys in every islamic country. Give them some money and a passage, tell them to go to XY and take what they can loot... and they'll go there and take what they can. Mercenaries will always find a cause to justify their fighting, be it islam, communism or "freedom". You can even do this in the "1st" world, think of the french foreign legion e.g.
I don't think there'd be as many Jihadi fighters if they'd only fight for ideology.

Posted by: peter radiator | Mar 4 2013 8:44 utc | 22

I think both oppressor and oppressed need an ideology to justify their stance and to unite and embolden their respective peoples in pursuit of their goals. Their outlooks are actually 'ideological' to the extent they acknowledge and counter the opposition's. If and when the oppressor/oppressed relation is resolved the respective 'ideologies' become 'cultural beliefs' or 'outlooks' or something not so ... often literally ... loaded. If the underlying irritant that gave rise to the 'ideology' is not resolved ... the ideology will remain 'irreversible'.

Posted by: john francis lee | Mar 4 2013 11:31 utc | 23

@ b [#0],

Q: A full transcript liberated from the paywall...

R: Thanks. Appreciated. If only Assad would act and talk like the madman he's made out to be...

Posted by: Daniel Rich | Mar 4 2013 12:05 utc | 24

"Is an ideology, once it has taken ground in some people, really irreversible? "

Almost always.

Ideology is mind control, once patterns/rituals are set in, particularly in childhood they are tough to break free of.

How many people here are still voting for the parties their parents voted for?
Or following the religion of their parents?
Keeping up the same 'traditions'
Celebrating societal 'holidays'
This is ritualization of belief.
Breaking free is tough and requires thinking about oneself in an entirely different way

Posted by: Penny | Mar 4 2013 12:36 utc | 25

ideologies are reversible, even in the most extreme cases so i cannot fully agree with him. but in principle i think he is right because altering a persons ideology or belief system, especially when it represents a movement can take generations. even an individual who seeks to change themselves from within, for example if i wanted with all my heart to be saved by jesus, to be a believer..could i? i don't think so. i always say the heart has it's own clock. it would be like willing oneself not to be in love anymore. if that was a simple or controllable thing people would not have to suffer from broken hearts.

and an ideological fanatic does not see himself as such. someone deeply entrenched in a religious ideology needs an awakening of sorts, and that is not easily predictable or controllable. some things are more predictable, like transformation after experiencing severe trauma.

anyway, i do not think you can simply will an ideological reversal either on oneself or ones foes. in that regard the ideology 'assuming the mantle of Islam' is more of a danger to syria than the killing.

Posted by: annie | Mar 4 2013 12:44 utc | 26

actually its my bet that the jihadists aren't 'supported' by the gulf monarchies at all, rather they are given a bunch of guns and money to go fight in somebody elses country rather than upsetting the fat emir's apple cart

Posted by: heath | Mar 4 2013 12:52 utc | 27

Penny @ 14=3 -- Were I a Shiite in Iraq, especially a Shiite politician or other leader, I would be worried about the US et al re-invading in order to bring "peace and rule of law" --or some such pablum-- to that country. It would be part of the US move to wipe out Shia ruled nations.

Since the US left it in such great shape...and the current pols there have not been as pliant as the US desires.

Posted by: jawbone | Mar 4 2013 21:41 utc | 28

Posted by: brian | Mar 4, 2013 2:47:51 AM | 20
I stand corrected! Thanks for clearing that up.

Posted by: heath | Mar 4, 2013 7:52:45 AM | 27
It is perfectly clear that most funding comes from the gulf states. Even articles explaining why the FSA failed miserably so far because the filthy rich emirs and sheiks would finance only those groups with evidence of their advances which resulted only in attacks which looked spectacular on youtube but had ZERO strategical value. That was their money milking machine (besides all the abductions and extortion scams from the Syrian population).

Posted by: jawbone | Mar 4, 2013 4:41:22 PM | 28
Another factor to consider is that Jabhat al Nusra (the ones Iraq bombed at that border crossing are either affiliated with or none other than the same terrorists Iraq fought a bloody war with. I'm talking about Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and/or the Islamic State of Iraq.

Since the majority in Iraq is Shia there is no love lost between them and any Al Qaeda franchises. Not after all the bloodshed Iraq went through and is still (occasionally) going through.

I always wondered why Iraq is not stopping the support flights from Iran as Turkey has done. I'm sure the pressure from the US would be tremendous.

Posted by: Gehenna | Mar 4 2013 22:47 utc | 29

"Is an ideology, once it has taken ground in some people, really irreversible?"

I think that we adopt ideologies partly based on our emotional needs: we choose (consciously or unconsciously) ideologies that fit those preexisting emotional needs.

So my first answer to the question about the reversibility of ideology would be that it depends on the emotional needs that contributed to its adoption.

Let's take a strict form of pacifism as an example, i.e. an ideology that prohibits us to fight even in self-defense.

This ideology apparently satisfies people who feel to a high degree the need to "open up" to the world, so much so as to be willing to sacrifice their animal instinct to defend themselves. I think that it is very likely that this ideology can change easily, and i have in mind what was referred to by another commenter as "traumatic experience": If the pacifist in question loses a beloved one because of an unjust physical attack, she is liable (i think) to reconsider her ideology.

But ideologies which satisfy our need to dominate cannot be that amenable to reconsideration. If my basic emotional need is to dominate no matter how much violence i have to inflict in order to achieve this domination, and i come to internalize an ideology that is offered to me by my culture and which happens to serve my need for domination, then i doubt that a single traumatic experience can alter this ideology. I think it's going to take a series of traumas, not just one, to make me willing to reconsider.

I haven't really thought about the matter, i am just musing and i wrote down my immediate intuitions that the reversibility question triggered.

Posted by: dion | Mar 4 2013 23:36 utc | 30

Does anyone know whether Victoria Nuland is out on vacation or has Kerry replaced her with Patrick Ventrell?

Posted by: Rusty Pipes | Mar 5 2013 6:14 utc | 31

In an individual anything is reversible. But in a more general sense, there is no unringing a bell - so Assad is right in that way. Once an ideology is out there it can always be accessed and acted upon. It may no longer be very popular, like Communism, but try as you might, it cannot be eradicated.

@ 14 Harry - "NATO Akbar" LOL! Have not heard that before. Maybe someone should copyright it and make some t-shirts and stickers.

Posted by: J. Bradley | Mar 5 2013 6:31 utc | 32


"Were I a Shiite in Iraq, especially a Shiite politician or other leader, I would be worried about the US et al re-invading in order to bring "peace and rule of law" --or some such pablum-- to that country"

It appears that the deck is being stacked to make that outcome achievable

I think about msm reporting that the Syrian crisis could spread and engulf the whole region.....

By design

btw: how did you like the replay of statues being pulled down?
As it was in Iraq, so it is in Syria
Have the pics up at my place
It's likely intentional, the same propaganda psyop because it is one the western audience is already familiar with.
So it will stick in the mind- like a good psy-op should
It also connects Syria to Iraq, as did the scud allegations, for perception management purposes
Therefore when NATO, with the US leading from behind, has to go back to Iraq- the msm audience is already prepped for that "necessity" via the creation of a narrative that will be useful in the near future.

Posted by: Penny | Mar 5 2013 11:55 utc | 33

Were I a Shiite in Iraq, especially a Shiite politician or other leader, I would be worried about the US et al re-invading in order to bring "peace and rule of law" --or some such pablum-- to that country.

I would be very surprised if al-Maliki was afraid of that. There's not a chance of it happening.

More likely Maliki could be concerned about Gulf funding of al-Qa'ida in Iraq. But even then, does it make him lose sleep? The bombs blowing up Shi'a keep him in power.

Posted by: alexno | Mar 5 2013 16:00 utc | 34

A very romantic story from Syria: "A secret bakery, run by the Free Syrian Army, is helping to feed people in the Syrian city of Aleppo. With scarce fuel supplies, much of the industry in Syria's largest city has shut down. However one bakery, which has resorted to operating in secret, is continuing to supply residents with fresh bread and is helping to quell the growing food shortage in the city":

Posted by: Lena | Mar 6 2013 8:07 utc | 35

Lena - 35

LOL, Guardian is so Israel.

Posted by: вот так | Mar 6 2013 17:54 utc | 36

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