Committees, Councils and Cultural Production

Omar Aziz
Omar Aziz

In this presentation on Syria – in green Seattle’s public library  – Leila al-Shami talks about Razan Zeitouneh, founder of the Local Coordination Committees, and Omar Aziz, the anarchist who first thought of building local councils. And I talk about the revolution’s cultural and media achievements. Interesting questions from the audience afterwards.

Syria’s Medical and Humanitarian Nightmare: Interview with Dr. Zaher Sahloul

Since their days as medical school classmates, Bashar al-Assad and Zaher Sahloul have followed rather different paths: one became a war criminal; the other, a humanitarian advocate.

Dr. Sahloul is the immediate past president of and a senior advisor to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), a humanitarian and advocacy organization that provides medical relief to Syrians and Syrian refugees. Last year, SAMS served 2.5 million patients in five different countries. (The organization’s vital work is featured in the recent documentary film 50 Feet from Syriawhich is available on Netflix.)

Dr. Sahloul is also the founder of the American Relief Coalition for Syria, a coalition of 14 US-based humanitarian organizations working in Syria. He is an Associate Clinical Professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and is a practicing physician in pulmonary and critical care medicine. He has written about the medical and humanitarian crisis in Syria for Foreign Policy and the Huffington Post, among other outlets.

I conducted this interview with Dr. Sahloul for the Middle East Dialogues series produced by the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies on April 26 — less than 48 hours before the Assad regime’s airstrike on the MSF-supported pediatric hospital in Aleppo that killed dozens of patients and doctors, including one of the city’s last remaining pediatricians.

Go here to volunteer with the Syrian American Medical Society (you do not need to be a doctor or medical professional) and here to donate to the organization.

In Syria, Rebuilding Bombed Hospitals Is an Act of Resistance

Re-posted from Truthout

Saturday, 14 May 2016

By Charles Davis, Truthout | Report

Charles-Davis-Truthout
Buildings destroyed by fire in Damascus, Syria, April 24, 2016. Five years after the conflict began, Syrians are crowdsourcing money online to rebuild and fortify bombed hospitals. (Photo: Declan Walsh / The New York Times)

The horror of the conflict in Syria, which began in March 2011, can be measured with statistics: over 400,000 people dead; half the population displaced; the life expectancy of a newborn child dropping from 76 years in 2011 to under 56 years in 2016. But the grotesque absurdity of this revolution turned civil war is perhaps best captured by the fact that today Syrians are forced to crowdsource money online to rebuild and fortify bombed hospitals.

“In our worst dreams — in our worst nightmares — we never thought we would have to fortify hospitals.”

Continue reading “In Syria, Rebuilding Bombed Hospitals Is an Act of Resistance”

A Farewell to Veterans for Peace

Re-posted from Andy Berman: Threads of My Time, the blog of longtime antiwar activist and Veterans for Peace member Andy Berman

A Farewell to Arms: Till We Meet Again

By Andy Berman

May 11, 2016

Farewell-to-ArmsTill-We-Meet-Again

Preface:

As a longstanding member of Veterans for Peace, I often contributed to internal online VFP discussion groups over the last few years.  With Syria the bloodiest war on the planet, and thus a topic that nominally should be high on VFP’s agenda, I often wrote about developments in Syria.

My contributions frequently clashed with the self-identified “anti-imperialists” in VFP who blame the Syria conflict entirely on the United States and either defend or ignore the criminal role of Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah in Syria.

While my prose was always exceedingly civil, I was relentlessly attacked by a handful of angry and disturbed VFP members using extremely vile personal diatribe against me. Continue reading “A Farewell to Veterans for Peace”

On the Brian Lehrer Show

Amreeka March-May 2016 033In New York (what an astounding city), Leila and I were interviewed by Brian Lehrer for his show on WNYC. We talked about Syria’s failing ceasefire, the illusory Damascus Spring, Assad’s collaboration with George W Bush, the history of the Baath, and Obama’s deals with Iran and Russia. A couple of listeners called in with questions – one about the sectarian element.

You can listen to the interview here.

Iraq’s Forgotten Uprising

iraq protestThis was published at al-Araby al-Jadeed/ the New Arab. The texts referred to are Ali Issa’s Against All Odds: Voices of Popular Struggle in Iraq, and Sam Charles Hamad’s essay ‘The Rise of Daesh in Syria’, found in Khiyana: Daesh, the Left, and the Unmaking of the Syrian Revolution.

A great deal has been written on the factors behind the rise of ISIS, or Daesh, in Iraq and Syria. Too much of the commentary focuses on abstracts – Islam in total, or Gulf-Wahhabi expansionism, or a vaguely stated American imperialism – according to whichever axe the author wishes to grind. And too much describes a simple split in these societies, and therefore a binary choice, between different forms of sectarian authoritarianism – in Iraq it’s either ISIS or the US and Iranian-backed government’s Shia militias; in Syria it’s either ISIS or the Russian and Iranian-backed Assad regime forces.

To take this representation seriously, we must force ourselves to ignore the very real third option – the non-sectarian struggle against the tyrannical authoritarianism of all states involved, whether Iraqi, Syrian or ‘Islamic’. Hundreds of democratic councils survive in Syria’s liberated areas, alongside a free media, women’s centres, and a host of civil society initiatives. In Iraq too, though it holds no land, there is a potential alternative, at least a gleam of light. The Iraqi state’s attempt to smother this gleam is an immediate and regularly overlooked cause of ISIS’s ascendance.

Continue reading “Iraq’s Forgotten Uprising”

Burning Country at the Middle East Institute

Someone in New York sneered and said Washington was a sterile city, but I liked DC a lot during our two-day visit. The centre is full of people from everywhere, lobbying, plotting and misgoverning. The rest of the city has a mainly black population. We stayed with wonderful people, ate good food, and the sun was shining, the trees in bloom. I met my niece, lots of lovely Syrians, and some great Arab thinkers at the Tahrir Institute, most notably Hassan Hassan. The Museum of the American Indian is worth a visit too.

At the Middle East Institute our talk was chaired by the scholar Charles Lister, author of the indispensable book The Syrian Jihad. Here Leila talks about the aspects of the Syrian revolution rendered invisible by Western commentary, and I talk about what’s stopping us seeing: ideological assumptions, and the fact of war. Q and A afterwards.