In Response to Assad’s Bombs

April 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

The heroic citizens of Aleppo respond to the Assad regime’s latest barrel bomb attack, which killed over thirty civilians this morning. Over a hundred Syrians are still being killed every day. In Arabic – but it needs no translation.

Angelina Jolie meets Syria refugees

March 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie visits Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

Stephen Hawking gives Syria his voice

March 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

A powerful statement by legendary physicist Stephen Hawking. Another effective awareness-raising campaign by Save the Children.

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The Syria Test

March 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

Two weeks back on Radio Open Source I debated Prof. Stephen Walt of Harvard on intervention in Syria. It was 3 am for me, so I wasn’t as coherent or articulate as I’d have liked to be.

With Iraq and Afghanistan bleeding in our rear-view mirror, is there a case still to be made for American intervention with anything more than words in Syria’s miserable meltdown? The news and pictures from Syria are perfectly awful – sarin gas against civilians succeeded by barrel bombs on Aleppo, millions of Syrians on the run, all varieties of torture, targeting of children and doctors, a death toll in two-and-a-half years of warfare approaching 150,000, and no end in sight. But is there anything like a constructive case for American intervention?

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The Salam School

March 8, 2014 § 2 Comments

DSCI0221This was published at the National.

Syria is my father’s country, where I spent an important part of my young adulthood, where my son was born. Living there was inspiration for my first novel (though it’s set mainly in London). In fact, I fell in love with the country – with its enormous cultural and historical heritage, its climatic extremes, and its warm and endlessly diverse people. Of course there were moments – for example, visiting a broken man who’d been released after 22 years imprisonment for a ‘political offense’ – when I felt like getting the next plane out. And before too long I did move on, because a stagnant dictatorship was no place to build a future.

Then in 2011 the revolution erupted. This instant of hope was followed by a counter-revolutionary repression of unprecedented ferocity. How to respond? For a long time I wrote and spoke to anyone who would listen on one theme: the necessity of funding and arming the Free Army – civilian volunteers and defectors from Bashaar al-Assad’s military. Nobody did arm them, not seriously, and as a result the Free Army lost influence and Islamist factions filled the gap. Assad’s calculated manipulation of sectarian fears and hatreds produced a Sunni backlash. Al-Qa’ida franchises set up emirates near the Turkish border, and the West increasingly understood the Syrian drama not as a battle for freedom, but as a security issue. In illustration of this fact, I was stopped at Edinburgh airport as I started my most recent trip to the Turkish-Syrian border, in December, and questioned under the UK’s Terrorism Act. “Which side do you support?” they asked me. I explained there are many sides now, but the question seemed to be either/or: either the regime or the jihad – and support for the (genocidal) regime was the answer which ticked the ‘no further threat’ box.

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No Revolution is Perfect

March 8, 2014 § 2 Comments

Palestinian Youth Perspectives on Syria, Palestine and a Liberated Arab Region

by Loubna Qatami

                In December of 2010, Palestinian youth of the world watched anxiously, and participated in, the monumental dawn of the Arab revolutions. Many Palestinian young people, despite our inclination to be suspect of any emerging forces and rapid power shifts occurring, instinctively supported the political earthquake as the means of rupturing decade’s long neo-colonial structures. We joined our brothers and sisters in Tunisia, in Egypt and across the Arab world, in some cases symbolically and other cases literally, in the fight against their repressive regimes.  Palestinians are a transnational people, deeply immersed in the disadvantages of being placeless and refugees. We are subject to the repression of those regimes not only by living under them but by their corroboration with the Zionist entity consequentially resulting in our people’s long exile and occupation. Support for the revolutions means standing with our brothers and sisters across the Arab world who suffer from the same systems from which we suffer, dictatorships structurally aligned with Zionism working to stifle movements of dissent as a liberatory catalyst in our region.

December 2010 began a new era in which the face of existing power structures was obliterated. Yet, to some degree, a remaking of our part of the world became a grab for power to whoever has the most force and swiftness. In some cases, quick institutionalization through processes of Western-adopted “democracy” bolstered opposition entities into a position of “power” with limited opportunities to change realities on the ground. Rather, opposition entities were obliged to inherit the former regimes. Neo-liberalism rendered the new governments disadvantaged in their ability to yield real change on the ground for lack of economic autonomy, stability and resources. A turn to Western imperialist allies thus played a critical role in appropriating the aspirations of the masses which had deposed the former dictatorships. Still, the emerging new leaderships cannot be absolved of the partnerships they are choosing which contradict the aspirations of the people and concede on the political principles which had ultimately bolstered their position of power in the first place.

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‘Shocking’ scenes in besieged Syrian refugee camp

February 27, 2014 § 1 Comment

The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees spoke Tuesday of the “shocking” conditions he had seen inside a Syrian Yarmouk camp which has been under siege and bombardment for months.

For more on Yarmouk see All That Was Left of Yarmouk: Notes to an Accomplice by Talal Alyan.

The Syria Test

February 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

Residents wait to receive food aid distributed at the besieged al-Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus on January 31, 2014. (UNRWA)

Residents wait to receive food aid distributed at the besieged al-Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus on January 31, 2014. (UNRWA)

Tonight I’ll be joining Stephen Walt on the wonderful Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon to debate the crisis in Syria. I rarely disagree with Steve on anything but on Syria our views diverge. Steve is a formidable interlocutor and Chris is a radio legend who knows how to cut to the heart of a subject. I am hoping that today’s debate leads to greater clarity. Here’s from Chris’s introduction:

The nightmare in Syria has slipped off the front page. Yet civilians are still dying by the hundreds every day. Thousands are dead and millions more displaced across Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq. Petroleum “barrel bombs” have replaced sarin gas and the specter of al-Qaeda seems to hover over it all.

We’ve been there before, debating how to respond to a humanitarian crisis halfway across the world. Vietnam in the ’70s, Beirut in the ’80s, Kuwait and Bosnia in the ’90s, and of course Iraq and Afghanistan. Four months ago, Syria looked like the next in that series, with destroyers sailing to the Gulf and Tomahawk missiles armed and ready to fire. Were we right to breathe a sigh of relief, or was non-intervention a worse course than risking another quagmire?

What should we have done, what can we still do, and is it too late to pass the test in Syria?

Razan Zaitouneh: Eclipsed Jasmine

February 20, 2014 § 1 Comment

A short film about Syrian human rights activist Razan Zaitouneh, a revolutionary heroine now abducted, probably by Jaish al-Islam. Contributions from writer Samar Yazbek and activist Razan Ghazzawi.

Healthcare as a weapon in Assad’s war

February 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

My eloquent and courageous friend Dr. Rola Hallam on ways to end Assad’s war.

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