A Dirty Business: The Attack on Michael Weiss

Richard Silverstein, a blogger, has written a hit piece. This description, which may seem at first intemperate, is entirely merited. The article Silverstein wrote, which was published on a fringe website, The Unz Review, a week ago, has little in the way of a narrative thread. Its genesis can be attributed, one can safely assume, to Silverstein’s hatred of one man: Michael Weiss, a writer and journalist, co-author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, and an editor at The Daily Beast. Weiss is seen to represent something Silverstein hates – a slightly intangible collection of leftist, Zionist, ‘neoconservative’ (of which more later) and other positions, including, apparently, Weiss’ pledged support for ‘socialize[d] healthcare’.

His hatred for Weiss firmly established, all Silverstein needed to do was to find a subject upon which he could prop his pre-existing enmity. He appears to have found one, something which has aroused attention from some, as well as supportive messages from Julian Assange of WikiLeaks; Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, who called it a ‘MUST READ’; and a whole host of passive endorsements in the form of retweets from Glenn Greenwald, Reza Aslan and so on. The subject Silverstein claims to elucidate is the emergence of an ‘Iran-U.S. Hardline Nexus That Led [an] Iranian-American to Evin Prison’. It’s a strong claim, and one which dissolves, like a sugar cube dropped into a warm beverage, upon coming into contact with reality.

Hate is the correct word here, and it is an operative one. Without Silverstein’s hatred of Weiss, the piece would not exist. It holds no independent merit; it seems to contain little in the way of truth, and nothing in the way of worthwhile analysis.

This is one of a species of pieces, commonly (but not exclusively) written by those on the far-Left of the political spectrum, which see in every connection a suspicious interaction, consider every association the precursor to nefarious activity, and view every insinuation, no matter how tired or nebulous, as worth repeating.

To take the first of those three, there is frequent reference made to the late Christopher Hitchens, a bête noir of the far-Left whom Weiss knew more than five years ago. Here the mere mention of Hitchens’ name is enough to tar Weiss in the eyes of many readers; and that is enough to make it worth doing. (That the man has been dead for half a decade – and could not, therefore, have any bearing on a whole host of contemporary events – does not matter; the insinuation of ideological alignment is enough.) It also is noticeable that when discussing The Interpreter, a website covering Russia and its actions in neighbouring Ukraine and latterly Syria which Weiss edits, Silverstein exhibits staggering paranoia. He invokes the Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, like any good conspiracy theorist, who is painted as some kind of shadowy figure, potentially a ‘hidden hand’ behind The Interpreter, which is portrayed as some kind of anti-Russian psy-op in translation journal form. This is laughable stuff. But simple and quotidian and placid truths do not interest the righteous; and any mad theory is preferable to them.

The latter aspect (the propensity for insinuation) is notable; it becomes essential when considering the case of Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American who is now incarcerated in Iran indefinitely and for an unknown reason. A piece for The Daily Beast, a publication for which Weiss works, took Namazi as its focus, and that was that: this apparent coincidence was enough to give Silverstein a hook, which was what he devised, making especial use of all the necessary sly winks and nods. The implication of Silverstein’s long-winded and conspiracist digression on this subject is that Weiss, and by extension The Daily Beast more broadly, is in some way to blame for what has happened to the Iranian. This is nonsense, and it is dangerous nonsense to boot.

The people responsible for the imprisonment of Namazi – a man whose fate Silverstein uses to attack Weiss and company – can be found within the confines of the Iranian government. Weiss, as a solitary man – and an American and a critic of the Iranian regime at that – cannot reasonably be expected to have affected this particular outcome. And, to put this matter to bed, he had nothing to do with the aforesaid story in the first place (unless Alex Rowell, who said so in his write-up for NOW News, is in on the conspiracy, too, Richard).

The sort of people who write pieces of this nature – and then share them among themselves on social media with affixed captions like ‘Important piece on the awful neo-con Michael Weiss’ and ‘All roads lead to this. Pass it on.’ – also have an unhealthy obsession with writing at unnecessary length. (This piece, if it is nothing else, represents an exemplar of this particular trend. It weighs in at a tedious and self-indulgent 6,200 words.) Perhaps part of it has something to do with demonstrating that such people can sustain a thought for that many paragraphs – though it must be noted that this piece is no more a coherent thought than I am the Ayatollah Khamenei, and also that the recitation of dogma, which such pieces inevitably end up comprising, is hardly a task which lends itself to brevity.

And dogma of this kind can be nasty. To Silverstein’s mind, everyone who supports the Syrian people in the face of repression by the barbarous coalition defending the Assad regime is a mere servant of American imperial interests. Hence his comment which compares Weiss to a medieval ‘court Jew’, whose ‘dashing exploits in combat zones and intellectual panache’ can be of use to the rich and powerful in ‘advanc[ing] their own political and financial interests’. This is particularly unpleasant – not least because of the host of deeply anti-Semitic myths and rumours associated with Jews (‘court’ or otherwise) in the Middle Ages, which was also a time of immense social repression for Jews in Europe. That association ought to be enough for someone with decency to avoid using the spectre of court Jews past to accuse another of a Jewish background, by crude innuendo, of being ingratiating, of serving only the powerful. And let us not forget the anti-Semitic hint of usury which hangs over such petty parallels.

Add in the fact that the word ‘neoconservative’ – and its shorter, sharper derivation ‘neocon’ – has become both shorthand for any perceived political villain and a nasty substitute for ‘Jew’ as and when necessary, and it becomes apparent that there is a rather unpleasant undertone to this piece and others like it. (When someone employs the word ‘neocon’ derogatively, read: ‘Jew’. More often than not, you’ll be able to grasp their unsavoury implications.)

That such a piece as this has met with the apparent approval of so many – on the nominal Left and the far-Right (as can be attested by all the Jill Stein and V for Vendetta mask avatars whose owners shared this screed on Twitter) – is testament to how low they will stoop and how enthusiastically they will do so. All dirt is good; any dirt – even of the imagined kind – is enough; and the lowest possible motives are likely to be the correct ones – especially in the case of perceived enemies, among whom Weiss, rather oddly, finds himself numbered.

As Rowell surmises, this is ‘a grotesque attack’. It is a thoroughly dirty business, and Silverstein, despite the temporary popularity he has found by bashing Weiss, may well come to regret such a sordid assault disguised as legitimate enquiry.