A Child’s Innocence and the Dogs of War

A 7-year-old girl from Eastern Aleppo has become a lightning rod for pro-regime and pro-Kremlin trolls after tweeting about life under the bombs in Aleppo

by Amr Salahi

In the past two months seven year old Bana Al-Abed has drawn global attention for her tweets from besieged East Aleppo, which is today under ferocious assault from Russia and regime forces, aided by Iraqi, Lebanese and Iranian militias. Hundreds of people have been killed in the past week, and according to her Twitter account, Bana’s house was destroyed on November 27. She has also seen other people, including one of her friends, killed.

Bana’s account, twitter.com/AlabedBana, was managed by her mother, Fatemah, and before it was shut down on December 4, it had 199,000 followers. The identities of Bana and her mother were verified by Twitter and the account had received a great deal of supportive interaction. Harry Potter author JK Rowling sent Bana electronic copies of her books on learning that she was a fan.

However, this seven year old girl whose life is at constant risk from airstrikes and artillery fire has been subjected to constant abuse from supporters of Russia and the Assad regime. The trolling attacks on Bana’s account come in various forms, ranging from crude death threats to accusations of forgery. Another account (twitter.com/alabed_banana) has even been set up to caricature it.

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Robert Fisk’s crimes against journalism

Bullets and bombs it seems aren’t the only things doctors in Syria have to fear; they also have to endure the poisoned pens of regime friendly journalists.

A version of this article first appeared on The New Arab. It has since been updated with three case studies of Fisk’s journalistic malpractices. 

The Syrian war has been deadly for healthcare services. Physicians for Human Rights (P4HR) has recorded 382 attacks on medical facilities of which 344 were carried out by the regime and Russia; they were also responsible for 703 of the 757 medical personnel killed in the war. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both condemned their targeting of hospitals “as a strategy of war”.

In its report to the UN Human Rights Council last September, the Independent Commission of Inquiry into Syria wrote that the “pattern of attacks [by pro-regime forces], and in particular the repeated bombardments, strongly suggests that there has been deliberate and systematic targeting of hospitals and other medical facilities during this reporting period”.

The report adds: “Perhaps nowhere has the government assault on medical care been felt more strongly than in the opposition-controlled areas of Aleppo city and governorate, where at least 20 hospitals and clinics have reportedly been destroyed since January. By October 7, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) had recorded “at least 23 attacks on eastern Aleppo’s eight remaining hospitals since the siege began in July”.

In this context when one of Britain’s more celebrated war correspondents—a person known for his acerbic diatribes against docile western journalists—enters Aleppo and sees a destroyed ambulance righteous fury is sure to erupt. And Fisk doesn’t disappoint. There is the familiar bombast of superlatives. Things are “ghostly”, “ghastly”, “frightening”, and “horribly relevant”.

But it is the object of Fisk’s fury that is a surprise. Fisk is not angry at an ambulance being bombed. Indeed, he heavily implies that the bombing was merited. Fisk devotes much of the article to implicating the Scottish charity that donated the ambulance. In his curious legal brief against medical aid, Fisk’s allies are not facts but suggestion, insinuation and innuendo. His method is insidious and part of a pattern. It merits closer scrutiny.

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Workings of the Myth

How stereotyping abets ISIS and the authoritarian state

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Aftermath of Iraqi Army’s battle with ISIS

by Bente Scheller

Brussels, Paris, Istanbul, Baghdad, Nice: The attacks in recent months have claimed the lives of hundreds of people. Whether the so-called “Islamic State” (Daesh/ISIS) admits to being responsible for the attacks or whether investigations reveal its delinquency is of secondary importance: in the words of Achim Rohde, ISIS has become the regularly reappearing “enemy of humanity” (Rohde, 2016).[1] Several levels come together in the assessment of the risk that this enemy—as its predecessor al-Qaida before it— poses to Western societies: a fundamental fear trickles into everyday life, a fear of a hardly calculable force that arbitrarily accepts civilian victims and explicitly targets them; and that fear melds with Islamophobia and racism. This amalgam ensures that the fight against terrorism is oftentimes defined by populist responses that detract from practical political decision, decisions that are not always easy to promulgate.

The lack of a widely accepted definition of terrorism leaves it open to subjective interpretation. Right-wing movements invariably mobilize against the unassimilable  “other”. The more alien and violent the depiction of the “other”, the easier it becomes to distance oneself and to construct one’s own moral superiority by demonising the “other”.

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Glenn Greenwald’s Sympathy for the Devil

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After five years of equivocation on Syria, Glenn Greenwald has finally taken a stance. He is attacking Syria’s leading dissident who spent 16 years in Assad’s notorious prisons for his left-wing politics, whose two brothers were abducted by ISIS, and whose wife was disappeared three years ago.

Greenwald’s charge? That Yassin al Haj Saleh doesn’t mention Obama in his criticisms; and that in an interview with The Intercept Saleh accuses most leftists of being Assad sympathisers without naming them.

Does Yassin omit Obama in his criticisms?

“Nothing could diminish the despicable crime the Obama administration has committed against Syria and its population. And history will not forget this for a long time. ”

Yes, those are Yassin’s words. He has never been shy to indict the Obama or the rest of the world.

Does Yassin criticise leftists without naming them?

Yassin names and shames them where necessary. But when he is talking about general trends he has no obligation.

But let me oblige Greenwald and name one prominent leftist who is objectively pro-Assad: Glenn Greenwald.

Sorry Glenn, but that common throat clearing preamble—”Of course Assad is bad but…”—will give you only limited protection when you devote your entire time to maligning and attacking the regime’s opponents.

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Aleppo in a Time of Monsters

For the US, there is no categorical imperative against genocide. “Never again” is retrospective grandstanding.

During the Siege of Sarajevo in 1994, when a Bosnian Serb mortar shell landed in a marketplace, killing 68 and wounding 144, US president Bill Clinton, who had campaigned on a promise of “never again” to genocide, threw up his arms. “Until those folks get tired of killing each other over there, bad things will continue to happen,” he said.

Two decades later, confronted with indiscriminate bombings in Aleppo and a starvation siege in Madaya, Barack Obama waxed similarly fatalistic. “The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation”; this, he said, was “rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.”

There are no conflicts in the Middle East that date back millennia. The conflict in Syria is just over five years old. Nothing about it is fixed. In its scope and its intensity, in its balance of forces and its cast of characters, the conflict has constantly evolved. The only thing that has remained static, however, is the international response.

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The Syrian volunteers who rush to bombed buildings to save victims

PBS News Hour on the White Helmets. (Please ensure that this year the Nobel Peace Prize goes to real heroes).

Once tailors, bakers, pharmacists, some 3,000 ordinary Syrians are now the unwitting heroes of the Syrian war. Nicknamed “the White Helmets,” members of the Syrian Civil Defense work under the harshest conditions to claw through the remains of buildings flattened by barrel bombs, the Syrian regime’s weapon of choice. Special correspondent Marcia Biggs reports from Turkey.