Creative Community for Peace in Letter to Jose Feliciano: Healing with Music in Colonial Times, Building Bridges Over the Bodies of the Oppressed

Right: Jose Feliciano Left: Steve Schnur

Jose Feliciano is scheduled to perform in apartheid Israel on October 10, at Nokia Stadium. Already he’s being sent messages professing liberal language of equality and harmony for all, by that elite club for the endless cycle of war profiteering, whitewashing and violence, otherwise known as “Creative Community for Peace” (CCfP). Creative Community for Peace is a specialist in apartheid PR. They’re mere existence is about diverting attention from Israel’s systematic daily war crimes against the Palestinian population under its control, by abusing the word “Peace” and shooting the messenger- Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists (BDS), who connect the dots between Israel’s image of itself and the reality of its erasure of the Palestinian narrative and people.

Unfortunately, Jose Feliciano, for the time being, endorses the “Creative Community for Peace” statement that has been sent to him, and has posted it on the website. Continue reading “Creative Community for Peace in Letter to Jose Feliciano: Healing with Music in Colonial Times, Building Bridges Over the Bodies of the Oppressed”

Letter to John Baron MP

john baronBehind the scenes at Newsnight, John Baron MP said to me, “If you put your emotions aside, for the sake of containment, wouldn’t it be better if Assad won?” I wrote him the following response. As he hasn’t responded, I’m making it public. (To John Baron’s credit, he was one of the few Tories to oppose the invasion of Iraq and the occupation of Afghanistan).

We met at the BBC Newsnight debate on Syria. I think you gave me a card, which I promptly lost. I hope you find this message.

I’m taking the liberty of sending you my latest article concerning sectarian readings of the Syrian situation (my other stuff is on the same blog) as well as something by the secular intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh which presents a case better than I could.

As for your question, wouldn’t it be better for containment if Assad were to win? here’s a slightly fuller answer.

Assad can’t win completely, even with continuing solid support from Russia, Iran and Iran’s Iraqi and Lebanese clients, because the opposition has numbers on its side (and secondarily because Saudi weapons will continue to come in). If things go on as they are, a much more likely medium term result is the splintering of the country into zones of destabilisation:

1. a regime/Alawi zone between Damascus and the coast bridged by Homs, which will involve a massive ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from the Homs area (the regime has already burnt the land registry) and probably from the coastal cities too. The blowback from this probable future may well catalyse the sectarian mass slaughter of civilians which hasn’t yet happened from the opposition’s side. As I said in the green room, Assad’s rump state would be in effect Iran’s state (as opposed to Iran’s ally, which Syria was before 2011), beholden to Iran, because it’s Iran and its clients who are directing the regime fightback now. The risk is high that Iran will use Syria as a proxy front for its war with Israel in the same way that Syria once used Lebanon. And while Iran already ‘has’ Lebanon, Hizbullah is forced to deal with other groups in Lebanese politics. Control of a straightforward military/sectarian dictatorship, and a bigger country, is much more of a prize for Iran. I’m no friend of Israel, but America and Britain generally are, so it’s surprising to see all concerned ignoring the emergence of a greater strategic threat to the status quo than Iran’s nuclear programme (if they actually believe their rhetoric of Iran posing a threat to Israel).

Continue reading “Letter to John Baron MP”

Politics not Theology

DSCI0206This was published by the National. If you’d prefer to read my tense choices, before the subediting process, read this version here.

I live in Scotland, where I am witness to the continuing legacy of Protestant-Catholic communal hatred, despite the theological indifference and general irreligiosity of the populace.

The hatred is most commonly activated by the Rangers-Celtic football game. (In his great novel “Kieron Smith, Boy”, James Kelman brings it viscerally alive through the mouth of a Glaswegian child.) It is manifest too in Orange Order marches and schoolyard slurs. It intersects with the gang violence of the ‘schemes’. Most of the time, of course, it’s absent, or it emerges as friendly competitiveness rather than actual conflict, but you can bet your last communion wafer that it would blossom into something much fiercer if, in the event of political crisis, a divide-and-rule tyrant were to send Catholic militia in to pacify restive Protestant areas, or vice versa.

Like Scotland’s sectarians, Syria’s Alawis are usually largely secular and ignorant of their own theology (at least they were – a war-driven religious revival is touching them as well as the Sunnis). Over the last four decades Alawi religious scholars have been assassinated or otherwise silenced by the Assad regime as it sought to render the community entirely dependent on the Ba‘athist state. Most Alawis (by no means all) continue to support Assad because they have no other community leadership. Add to this that many have relatives working in the security forces, and so fear a loss of privileges and even violent revenge when the regime falls. Alawis also remember their historical marginalisation by the Sunni majority, and therefore fear majority rule.

As in Iraq, Palestine-Israel, or Northern Ireland, the conflict in Syria is not about theology but about group fears and resentments. Ultimately, it’s about power. Communal tensions are the result not of ancient enmities but of contemporary political machinations. And nothing is fixed in time. Syria’s supposedly ‘Sunni rebellion’ (which contains activists and fighters of all sects) becomes more or less Islamist in response to rapidly-changing political realities. A few months ago, for example, Islamist black flags dominated demonstrations in Raqqa, in the east of the country; now Raqqa’s demonstrations are as likely to protest Jabhat an-Nusra, the extremist militia which nominally controls the city, as the regime. This isn’t an Islamist rebellion but a popular revolution. As in Egypt, if the Islamists oppress the people or fail to deliver, they too will be revolted against.

Continue reading “Politics not Theology”

Journey to Kafranbel

This account of my trip into Syria’s partially liberated Idlib province was published by the Guardian.

DSCI0172To cross the border I had to climb a wall three times my height. It was the most frightening part of my trip into liberated Syria.

At Atmeh camp (where I’d been working, just inside Syria on the Turkish border) there’s no passport control but only a gap in the barbed wire. On the day of our journey, however, the Free Syrian Army and PKK-linked Kurds were facing off nearby and the Turkish authorities blocked access as a result. This meant we had to go through the official border at Bab al-Hawa. Two of our party possessed Syrian passports, and were waved through. Two of us didn’t, and so were smuggled across by Kurdish teenagers.

We skirted a deserted shack which our escorts pretended was a policeman’s house. One disappeared for a while, pretending to pay an expensive bribe. Our winding path led through a red-soiled olive grove, far away from the border post, but then wound back towards it, and to the wall. I could see the backs of soldiers through the trees, smoking not patrolling.

There were no security cameras. The boys told me they’d taken Chechens across like this.

At wallside a whispered negotiation ensued. We soon haggled a price for their service. The next part was more difficult – They wanted us to scale the wall into what was obviously still the Turkish border post.

I looked at my fellow smugglee. “Do you believe this?” I asked in English.

“I don’t know. Talk to them some more.”

So it went on, until at last Abdullah, one of our hosts inside Syria, phoned to advise me to do as the boys said.

So I climbed too fast for vertigo to strike, scissored my legs over the railings, dropped onto concrete, rolled, picked myself up, then endeavoured to walk across the neatly-trimmed lawn with a nonchalant but entitled and entirely legal air. I strolled through the airconditioned duty free zone and rejoined my companions to wait for the bus through no-man’s-land. (No private cars have been allowed here since a car bombing in February killed thirteen). Sitting in front of me on the bus: a fattish version of Che Guevara, in curls, beard and black beret, but with nogodbutgod printed on the beret.

Continue reading “Journey to Kafranbel”