Martin Bashir interviews family of drone strike survivors
Here is the deceased’s grand daughter Nabila talking about the murder:
On October 24, 2012, a drone strike hit and killed Rafiq ur Rehman’s mother who was tending vegetables in the garden.
For the first time ever, on October 29, 2013, Rafiq ur Rehman, along with his two children, will testify before Congress and share their story with the American public in a briefing called by Representative Alan Grayson (FL-09).
Tanqeed is an experiment in critical reflection. It is a quarterly e-zine that publishes long form journalism and essays that analyze contemporary Pakistan and South Asia. Four issues appear per year, including essays, reporting and multimedia work published in-between each issue. It aims to dissect a range of issues without falling into a narrative of hopelessness. And it is developing a conversation that is multi-lingual: Tanqeed’s issues are published in English and Urdu.
Tanqeed boasts a great stable of writers including novelist Mohamed Hanif and Pulse co-editor Muhammad Idrees Ahmad. Tanqeed is currently appealing for funds. Donations of five or ten dollars (or more, of course) will be gratefully received. You can donate here.
Earlier this month, the British street artist Banksy produced a video on Syria that attracted over five million viewers in three days. At a time of intensifying state repression, the target of Bansky’s satire was not the regime in Damascus but its opponents. By contrast, the most watched video from the chemical attack in August, showing a traumatized young survivor, managed only half a million hits in over a month.
Six weeks after the attacks on Ghouta that killed hundreds of civilians, regime forces have choked off food supplies to the targeted neighborhoods. Survivors of the chemical attack are now facing the threat of starvation. Children have been reduced to eating leaves; and clerics have issued fatwas allowing people to eat cats and dogs.
The belated discovery of the Syrian conflict by “anti-imperialists” after the US government threatened war inspired impassioned commentary. The strangulation of its vulnerable population has occasioned silence. But dog whistles from issue-surfing provocateurs like Banksy are unexceptional; they merit closer scrutiny when they come from respected essayists like David Bromwich.
In a recent front-page article for the London Review of Books, Bromwich identifies many rogues in the Syrian drama: Barack Obama, John Kerry, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, “the jihadists”. But conspicuously absent is Assad’s Baathist regime. Vladimir Putin is the closest Bromwich admits to a hero. The Syrian people are denied even a cameo.
As the Syrian playwright Saadallah Wannous wrote, “What we see now is not the end of history.” The processes playing out in the Arab world today will take decades to reach their conclusions, so extreme pessimism is as unwise as wild optimism. Nevertheless, at this stage it seems that the most comprehensively defeated of the Arab revolutions is not Syria nor Libya but Egypt, where genuine popular frustration with Muslim Brotherhood incompetence was so cleverly exploited by the military and its business class and Saudi backers (very many supposed ‘secular’, ‘liberal’ and ‘leftist’ Egyptians fell headlong into the trap). The coup solidified a junta in power which has destroyed democracy and the chances of democracy for the foreseeable future, slaughtered and imprisoned supporters of the country’s first elected president, appointed Mubarak-era army officials to governorships of the provinces, revalorised the security services, intensified the siege of Gaza, unleashed a savagely xenophobic campaign scapegoating Palestinians and Syrian refugees, and promoted a cult of personality around the figure of General Sisi. The panegyric below comes from the pen of someone called Lubna Abdel Aziz, and was published in the state-owned Al-Ahram Weekly. It could have come from a German newspaper of the late 1930s.
He stands straight and tall, impeccably attired and starched from head to toe. His freshly washed countenance and youthful zeal shield a Herculean strength and nerves of steel. He wears the feathers of a dove but has the piercing eyes of a hawk. During our thousand days of darkness, dozens of potential leaders pranced and boasted, to no avail. The leader of the people should combine a love of country, a deep faith in God and the desire to serve the nation’s will.
Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s name lit up the darkness. He was called upon at a supreme moment in history; a kind of mysterious rendez-vous with destiny. He was a hero like no other! He aroused attention without exhausting it. Nothing that touched the common run of mortals made any impression on him. All in all, he is but a common man, with an almost aristocratic aura of a nobleman. Composed and cool, Al-Sisi is everyman’s man, with a sort of serene majesty on his brow. He is the chosen leader of the people because he is willing to be their servant.
Let the deaf, dumb and blind media and governments of the West say what they will, Al-Sisi submitted to the will of 33 million Egyptians in the street and 50 million in their homes, crying for salvation. The people led — Al-Sisi followed.
What the West cannot comprehend is the warm affinity between people and army in Egypt, which has endured for centuries. Gamal Abdel-Nasser is a recent example, even when he ruled with the firm grip of a military dictator.
Whatever else is going on in the rest of this vast universe, this much is certain — Al-Sisi has captured the imagination of all Egyptians, if not all the world.
He popped out of nowhere — almost — and his secret ingredient was hope. Napoleon Bonaparte once said “a leader deals with hope”, and the brand of hope that Al-Sisi deals, breathed new life into our withering, perishing dreams.
Are heroes born, made or chosen? Perhaps, all of the above. William Shakespeare believed, “some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Our hero may be the latter, for he sought nothing, yet emerged unexpectedly, admired and beloved, and in full army regalia, smoothly assumed the role he was born for.
First published at Foreign Policy, the great Syrian journalist Amal Hanano describes her visit to Kafranbel last June (I was honoured to accompany her), and the revolutionary town’s changing strategy in the face of global indifference to (or orientalist misrepresentation of) the Syrian people’s struggle. “Many activists inside and outside Syria,” she writes, “realize that there is no longer a reason to convince the world to action. No one is coming to save Syria.”
KAFRANBEL, Syria — The Syrian revolution’s heart — not yet ravished by the regime or Islamist extremists — beats on in the northern town of Kafranbel, where a group of dedicated activists has captured the world’s attention through witty posters and banners that reflect the state of the revolt since spring 2011. And even as the Syrian narrative has increasingly focused on the extremists or an international plan to dismantle the Assad regime’s chemical stockpiles, the artists of Kafranbel have been engaged in their own struggle — to win back the support of residents of their own town.
The 40-year-old Raed Faris and his partner, 33-year-old Ahmad Jalal, are the creative duo behind the banners. Faris — a tall man with a booming laugh — writes the banners, while Jalal, quiet and shy, draws the cartoons. Together, they spend their time brainstorming, researching, and connecting with others on how to display Syria’s tragedy to the world.
The banners express sophisticated geopolitical analysis in the simplest of forms. They are often inspired by iconic pop culture references: Faris and Jalal have used a Pink Floyd album cover, the Titanic movie poster, and even The Lord of the Rings to describe what is happening in Syria. No side in the crisis was spared — not the Syrian regime and its allies, not the Western powers and the United Nations, not the exiled Syrian opposition, and not even the radical jihadists who eventually came to live among the activists.
Kafranbel’s messages traveled the world. A large collection of the posters and banners was smuggled out of Syria to protect them from being destroyed, and they were displayed as exhibitions across the United States and Europe. One poignant banner — carried in front of the White House last spring on the second anniversary of the revolution — adapted and adopted Martin Luther King Jr.’s timeless words: “I have a dream, let freedom ring from Kafranbel.”
Banners like this one — along with the famous response to the Boston Marathon bombing — drove home the universal and historic nature of the Syrian struggle. Kafranbel’s artists consistently made these connections to show that Syria’s war was not an event isolated by time or geography.
What made Kafranbel’s messages unique was their relentless insistence to reach out to the world. The banners expressed empathy and solidarity: “You are not alone; we suffer with you.” But another message was always embedded: “Do not leave us alone. Do not forget about us.”
But the world read the banners, and did nothing. Eventually, Kafranbel — and by extension, Syria — were disappointed by their global audience.
Human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh bemoans the West’s indifference to Assad’s crimes, its focus on chemical weapons but not on the starving children in the areas besieged by Assadist forces, and its failure to arm the Free Army. This was first published at The Damascus Bureau.
Why does the West insist on dealing with our dead and injured as if they were less valuable than a Westerner – and as if our casualties don’t even deserve respect or compassion?
After the chemical massacre in Syria’s two Ghoutas, we believed that the world would, at last, take our interests into account in one way or another. We did not believe that, upon seeing hundreds of dead children, the international community would act only in favour of its narrow interests.
The chemical massacre was a milestone, not only in the Syrian revolution, but also in the Syrians’ consciousness and minds.
I witnessed the massacre myself. I saw the bodies of men, women and children in the streets. I heard the mothers screaming when they found the bodies of their children among the dead
As a human rights activist who has always believed in the humanitarian principles of the United Nations, I can talk for hours about the psychological breakdown and the amount of humiliation I felt after the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 2118. This resolution implies that Bashar al-Assad will continue to rule Syria for at least one more year, with the international community’s acquiescence. The resolution also reveals the lie we have all been living regarding the human rights principles that have not been applied, not even in form, in Syria. If this is how I have been affected, how does the ordinary Syrian citizen, who has never believed our misleading slogans about human unity and equality, feel after suffering such discrimination and injustice?
The world goes further in disrespecting the sufferings of the Syrians by awarding the Nobel Peace Prize this year to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. This award shows the West has exchanged its moral ethical obligations for the legal ones.
Meanwhile Assad, the real criminal, is free because no one cares.
For a long time it’s been too late for a happy ending in Syria. The longer this process continues, the less we can hope for.
How do you fight a monster without becoming a monster? How, particularly when the monster’s chief strategy is to make a monster of you? How, when the world’s most powerful storytellers depict you as a monster? How, when monsters hiding behind human facades walk by blindly as you are tortured, raped, humiliated, maimed, murdered?
I don’t really know. I’d welcome a reading list, if anyone has one.
I know this monster must be fought, even if we become monsters while fighting it. I know we must fight both internally and externally. I know the greater and lesser jihads must be fought simultaneously.
At some point, somehow, this stage will be replaced by another. Most probably that stage like this one will be bumbled through blindly. Human beings seldom or never achieve control over their larger social movements. Still, it’s pleasant to imagine that Syrians will be able to defuse the sectarian tensions which have existed at least since ibn Taymiyyeh, which were immeasurably exacerbated by Sykes-Picot and the French occupation’s construction of an ‘army of minorities’, and then set afire by Assad’s gang and its allies. It’s good to hope too that a new constitution will guard against any party, clique or ideological police imposing its straitjacket on the plural people.
Beyond religion and politics, environmental factors should also be taken into account.
It’s interesting to note that Jared Diamond’s three factors of civilisational collapse (deforestation, soil erosion, water management problems) have been present in Syria since late Ottoman times, and rampant in the last couple of decades. People my age who grew up in Damascus remember that in their childhoods the Ghouta still consisted of orchards and streams, that summer temperatures almost never climbed above the mid to high thirties. You don’t have to be my age to remember the Barada as an actual river, rather than a layer of concrete and a few stinking pools. Wasn’t Damascus the city the Prophet refused to enter, fearing to sin by imagining himself prematurely in paradise? The dicatorship’s corruption (anyone with connections or money could build in the green zone) put paid to that. Stupidly grand development schemes repeated the pattern all over the country (Lake Assad, like Lake Nasser, was an environmental and social disaster – see Omar Amiralay’s film A Flood in Ba‘ath Land – a wonderful exercise in quiet irony). People’s lack of control over the public space meant they were alienated from it, and threw black plastic bags all over it (this explains the discrepancy between people’s spotlessly clean homes and the filth in the streets outside). Over the decade before the revolution erupted, a million climate change refugees, according to the UN, left the desertifying north east for the impoverished outskirts of Dera’a, Homs, Damascus and Aleppo. This, combined with the effects of Bashaar’s crony capitalism, provides the backdrop to the uprising. The revolutions to the west, and the monster’s extreme violence, provided the spark.