How should the world protect Syria’s children?

On 27th November Intelligence Squared  is hosting a special debate with Save the Children: ‘How should the world protect Syria’s Children?“. The debate will take place at London’s Royal Institute of British Architects. We encourage Pulsers to attend.

The debate will be livestreamed around the world from 7pm-8.30pm UK Time, and the panel includes:

  • Mikhail Kasyanov, former Russian Prime Minister;
  • Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children;
  • Dr Rola Hallam, the British-Syrian doctor and war-zone medic who was recently involved in BBC’s Panorama documentary, ‘Saving Syria’s Children’;
  • Lord Mark Malloch Brown, former UK government minister (2007 – 2009) and United Nations Deputy Secretary-General (2006)
  • Paul Conroy, World-renowned photojournalist and war-photographer
  • Jon Sopel, award-winning BBC News presenter and correspondent who will chair.
For more information about the debate, including the panel, click here .

A Response to Another Insult

from Nablus, Palestine, in solidarity with revolutionary Syria
from Nablus, Palestine, in solidarity with revolutionary Syria

Someone called Asa Winstanley has addressed (yet another) ignorant insult to the revolutionary Syrian people. In order to make his inane points, Winstanley has to ignore facts (like Russian and Iranian intervention, and the continuing activity of grass roots protestors and organisers) and invent others. Sam Charles Hamad makes the following astute comment:

When it comes to the Syrian revolution, Asa Winstanley is completely discrediting himself. It’s somewhat of a small tragedy to behold – witnessing some of these so-called ‘pro-Palestine’ activists reveal that they couldn’t actually care less about the lives of Arabs (including, most tellingly, Palestinians in Yarmouk, who have been the victim of constant bombardment by Assad’s air force and artillery, not to mention a regime-imposed blockade which pushed them to the brink of starvation). The Arab spring, and in particular the revolution in Syria, has revealed that much of those who consider themselves to be ‘pro-Palestinian’ are in actuality only ‘pro-Palestinian’ if it is Israel that is doing the killing, torturing, maiming, imprisoning and blockading – if the perpetrator is a regime such as Assad’s, which is bafflingly seen as being fundamentally antagonistic to Israel, or at least its continued existence is somehow imagined to be advantageous to the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation and domination, they either completely ignore it or are actively willing to apologise for it. This thoroughly inadequate and contradictory reaction of some on the left to the Syrian revolution, and, more generally, the reaction of some of those involved in causes associated with Arabs, fits almost perfectly into this latent orientalist perspective of the Arab as some sort of idealised figure of resistance against the west; or as a constant victim of the west; or, in the case of Syria, as a faceless, passive entity who has absolutely no right to resist or rise against this tyrannical regime that somehow falls into what is so inaccurately thought of as the camp of ‘anti-imperialism’.

And Nader Atassi, at his indispensable Darth Nader blog, takes on Winstanley’s assertions point by point. Nader’s piece is worth reading right to the end for its combined realism and optimism in regard to Syria.

Journalist Asa Winstanley has written an article titled “Syria: the revolution that never was,” for Middle East Monitor. The following is a critique to a few of the claims Winstanley makes in the article. I decided to respond to this article in particular because I believe it contains many erroneous assertions that are frequently used to disparage the Syrian uprising, and thus this is a response and critique of those assertions and the substance of the article in general.

“To say Syria is now a disaster is a massive understatement. This is a sectarian civil war which could continue for a decade if the regime’s enemies, led by the brutal Saudi tyranny, continue to wage their proxy war on the country.

What is being implied in this statement is that if the people engaging in armed struggle against the regime were to put down their weapons, the “sectarian civil war” would cease. I’m not sure how Winstanley concludes this, but it seems to be based on an optimistic view of the regime and to place the responsibility of the war almost totally on the “regime’s enemies.” I firmly believe that intervention by reactionary forces on the side of the opposition (Saudi Arabia, Qatar) has done great harm to Syria and the Syrian uprising in general, but nevertheless, to state that the onus is entirely on them to end this war is to imply that the regime is somewhat innocent, which I believe is ludicrous.

Continue reading “A Response to Another Insult”

Damascus: the First Days of the Revolution

For many months into the Syrian revolution the dominant narrative (outside Syria), promoted by Syria Comment and other such sources, held that the inhabitants of inner Damascus were loyal to the regime, or at least fearful of change. This perceptive and moving talk by Ella Wind takes the wind out of the sails of that myth. Unlike the Tariq Alis and David Bromwiches of the chattering West, Ella clearly knows Damascus and Damascenes very well indeed. She describes the rapid politicisation of her friends, many of whom went on to become revolutionary organisers, and also talks about revolutionary heroes from the Christian community, such as film-maker Basel Shehadeh and our beloved Pere Paolo, last seen in Raqqa, presumed kidnapped by the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham.

Beyond the Sunni/ Alawi Dichotomy

Nader Atassi (of the great Darth Nader blog) takes on the twin myths that the Syrian regime is Alawi and that the revolution is Sunni. To divide and rule, the Assad regime has cleverly exploited sectarian tensions for decades. (A great Syrian blogger of previous years, Karfan – or ‘Disgusted’ – described the regime’s repression of the Alawi community and its religion here – a must read.)

Syria: Global Designs and Local Democracy

Leftist academic Yasser Munif (who happens to be the son of the great novelist – exiled from Saudi Arabia – Abdul Rahman Munif) goes beyond binary idiocy and orientalist generalisation to explain the role of global powers in Syria, as well as the local democracy he saw at work in Menbij, a town in Aleppo province in liberated Syria.

Open Letter to the Stop the War Coalition

agnesNews recently broke that the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) invited Mother Superior Agnès Mariam de la Croix to speak at its November 30 International Anti-War Conference. Fellow guests included MPs Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn and journalists Owen Jones and Jeremy Scahill.

Responding to a firestorm of protest, Jones and Scahill vowed to boycott the event if the Syrian-based nun spoke alongside them. Eventually she decided to “withdraw” from the conference and StWC issued a statement without explanation. Nor did it divulge why anyone would object to a Syrian cleric’s participation in an ostensibly pro-peace event.

Here are some reasons why we consider Mother Agnès-Mariam’s inclusion in an anti-war event to be a “red line” for opponents of conflict. Despite contrary claims, she is a partisan to—rather than a neutral observer of—the war in Syria.

Mother Agnès claimed that the Syrian opposition faked films of Bashar al-Assad’s 21 August 2013 sarin-gas attack on Ghouta in the suburbs of Damascus. In her 50-page dossier on the horrible events of that fateful morning, she wrote that the dead, gassed children documented in those videos “seem mostly sleeping” and “under anaesthesia.”

According to Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, a Jesuit priest exiled by the Assad regime for speaking out against its suppression of peaceful protests and currently a prisoner of al-Qa’ida’s Syrian affiliate, ISIS, Mother Agnes “has been consistent in assuming and spreading the lies of the regime, and promoting it through the power of her religious persona. She knows how to cover up the brutality of the regime”.

Moreover, Syrian Christians for Peace have denounced Mother Agnès for claiming there had never been a single peaceful demonstration in Syria. The also accused her of failing to disburse any of the money she raised in the name of their beleaguered community. They have asked “that she be excommunicated and prevented from speaking in the name of the Order of Carmelites.”

Having a massacre denier and apologist for war criminals like Mother Agnès speak alongside respected journalists such as Jeremy Scahill and Owen Jones is not only an insult to them and their principles. It is also, more insidiously, a means of exploiting their credibility and moral authority to bolster hers, both of which are non-existent.  No journalist should be sharing a platform with Agnès when she stands accused of being complicit in the death of French journalist Gilles Jacquier by his widow and a colleague who accompanied him into Homs during the trip arranged by Mother Agnès in January 2012.

Given that her UK speaking tour is still scheduled to last from the 21st to 30th November we, the undersigned, feel compelled to express our profound and principled objections to those who give a platform to a woman condemned by Syrian pro-peace Christians for greasing the skids of the regime’s war machine.


Continue reading “Open Letter to the Stop the War Coalition”