Time and again, Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and a favorite media source on Syria, has been wrong. As excellently detailed by Jamie Kirchick, he claimed that "Western accounts of the protest movement in Syria have been exaggerated"; he argued that "el-Assad himself seems to have been shocked by the level of violence used by Syria's security forces," as if the strong-handed ruler was totally unaware of the activities of the forces which were under the thumb of his very own brother; and he attacked critics of Vogue's embarrassing paean to Bashar Assad and his wife Asma.
Regarding Landis' unfortunate take on the Vogue fiasco, Kirchick wrote: "As with nearly everthing he writes, Landis was parroting the Syrian regime, in this case, its attempts to rouse populist anger against Israel as a means of distracting attention from its own failings."
The New York Times, which has quoted or cited Landis on Syria five times this year, has taken a liking to the professor. In an important story about vitriolic anti-Alawite hatred harbored by Syria's Sunni child refugees in Jordan, David Kirkpatrick relies on the oft-cited and oft-erroneous professor to falsely smear Israel with a gratuitous swipe. He writes:
The roots of the animosity toward the Alawites from members of Syria's Sunni Muslim majority, who make up about 75 percent of the population, run deep into history. During the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, the two groups lived in separate communities, and the Sunni majority so thoroughly marginalized Alawites that they were not even allowed to testify in court until after World War I.
Then, in a pattern repeated across the region, said Joshua Landis, a Syria scholar at the University of Oklahoma, French colonialists collaborated with the Alawite minority to control the conquered Syrian population — as colonialists did with Christians in Lebanon, Jews in Palestine and Sunni Muslims in Iraq. After Syria's independence from France, the military eventually took control of the country, putting Alawites in top government positions, much to the resentment of the Sunni majority.
How exactly did the Zionists collaborate with British to control the conquered Palestinian Arab population? Can the professor provide even one tiny example about how the British colluded with the new Israeli leadership to control Palestinian Arabs?
Nevermind. While facts have never been Landis' strength, he still puts up a good show standing up for Assad. He goes on to write: "Now the Alawites believe -- possibly correctly -- that the Sunnis are going to try to kill them, and that is why the Alawite army now is killing Sunnis in this beastly way."
In 2011, Landis could get away with saying that Assad's slaughter of his own citizens was really not as bad as the press says, or that Assad himself was not involved. In 2012, that no longer flies. But you have to give the guy credit. His message has evolved. Landis now acknowledges the regime's brutality, but insists forces outside Assad's control -- like colonial intervention -- have forced Assad's hand. Why examine Assad's own role in fanning sectarian hatred when you can manufacture the flimsiest excuse to drag in Israel?