“Syria: The Faces behind 5 Years of Crisis” – a Critique


Images above: Syria, photos taken from 2004 to 2010


Syria: Images for War or Peace?

On Tuesday 15 March 2016, an online exhibition of photographs was launched at the Australian Parliament, Canberra.  Photographs in the exhibition include some taken by Sam Tarling, a young American who has crossed into Syria via Turkey to embed with insurgents.  Image below by Sam Tarling is from The Telegraph (UK).

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 4.49.56 pm

Below is an image by Sam Tarling included in the Parliament House exhibition.

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 4.53.28 pm

Sam Tarling’s images of insurgents in Syria have been published in various mainstream publications.   Images of insurgents in Syria dominate the mainstream media in Australia.  One journalist who has broken that pattern is Luke Waters who reported for SBS from Damascus and interviewed a Syrian soldier.


According to a blurb on the Sydney Morning Herald website (13 March 2016),


The personal stories of the mothers, fathers and children behind the incomprehensible number of deaths and displacements from the Syria crisis will bring the true impact of the conflict home for Australians following the launch of a hard-hitting online photography exhibition in Parliament House, Canberra on Tuesday.


The Sydney Morning Herald presents 14 of the images in the Parliament House exhibition. Some are images taken in territory occupied and controlled by insurgents, while others show refugees facing dire circumstances. Images of the general public in government-controlled secular Syria are not included in the 14 images, nor are there any images, such as those below, which present the brutality of insurgents toward the civilian population.


Images above are screenshots taken from a video showing Jabhat al-Nusra insurgents executing a woman for adultery in a town in Idlib.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Images above: Screenshots taken from a video showing women and children abducted by armed groups who attacked villages in Latakia in August 2013, massacring 200 people or more. See Human Rights Watch report: “You can still see their blood“. 

A report on the freeing of some of the hostages 9 months later points to the brutality of the insurgents involved.

Incredulously, according to another freed child, the fighters gouged out the eyes of one of the abducted children who was not part of the deal. The child said, “After that, we knew nothing about him.”


Does the exhibition at Parliament House bring home ‘the true impact of the conflict’?

Human suffering and the destruction of war are conveyed in the 14 images which advertise the exhibition, certainly. However, the photos convey little of what is at stake in the war for the Syrian nation and its people as a whole.


In the years leading up to the crisis, Syria was going places. It was a resolutely independent country and Syrian women, who gained the vote in 1949, played key roles in the country’s advance.


There are no religious police in Syria (except today in so-called ‘liberated’ zones). Hence, before the crisis Syrian women enjoyed the same basic freedoms and equalities as men, a key determiner for a country’s development. Unlike women in Saudi Arabia (a champion of ‘rebels’ in Syria), they could dress freely; go out alone; attend co-ed schools and universities; and work alongside men. Before the crisis, young Syrian women were debating whether women should agitate for the sexual freedoms enjoyed by men. Women in Syria were proving they did not need assistance to ‘free’ them.


Syria’s two major cities, Damascus and Aleppo are reportedly the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Across Syria, ancient buildings of worship, Roman and Greek columns and amphitheaters, fortified castles, and cobbled lanes hold the spirit, struggles and beauty of human history. Syrians are the proud custodians of this.


As a Mediterranean and desert country, over millennia Syria’s cities have brought together people from disparate communities and foreign shores. It is significant that not only are the Eid Festivals public holidays, but Christmas and Easter are, also. Syrians couldn’t more appropriately celebrate the richness of their country.


To understand Syria from a distance, a good place to start would be to listen to the Lebanese diva Fairouz, whose gentle, lyrical and heart-felt songs are typically played every morning in homes across Syria. Music, dance, history, architecture, landscape, food, mannerisms, language, story telling, art, poetry, sayings, festivals, family bonds, manners and responsibilities, and much more unite to some extent or other the people of Syria.


Yet, few people outside Syria appreciate what is truly at stake in the war against this secular state and its devout, openhearted people.  Despite the politicisation of casualty lists related to the war and so their unreliability, there is little doubt that tens of thousands of Syrian soldiers have died fighting for their country’s survival.


The freedoms Syrian women enjoy and the inclusive nature of Syrian society, its richness, are not evident in these images taken from the online exhibition at the Australian Parliament. The norms of public interaction that unite Syrians and help determine their loyalty to the very best in their society and nation are not evident.


Images, War and Peace


During the Vietnam War, images were used to promote peace. However, in regard to Syria, images and videos presented to a mainstream audience in the west have most often, wittingly or unwittingly, promoted ongoing war against the secular state and terror against the people.


Alastair Crooke, a Middle East analyst and former MI6 agent and diplomat, has explained in an article the role of the ‘information war’ today. In wars today more than ever, there are ‘information masters’ and ‘information victims’. (Ref: “Straining Credibility”). After the alleged chemical weapons attack in Damascus on 21 August 2013, images of young children lying on a hospital floor, apparently killed in the attack, were streamed around the world. There were no mothers, fathers or grandparents by the children, either dead or grieving. The display of the bodies of children allegedly proved that the ‘brutal Assad regime’ was ‘killing its own people’. Yet, since that attack, highly regarded scientists, investigative journalists, former US intelligence agents, and opposition Turkish MPs have contended that ‘rebels’ were most likely responsible for the attack. It was a false flag meant to draw the US and its allies into direct military action against the Syrian army.


The children had presumably been abducted and so were considered expendable.


War inevitably breeds brutality. However, despite terrorist attacks and massacres, images and claims against the ‘regime’ tend to dominate our mainstream media and so silence effective condemnation of terror and political violence in Syria. These claims regularly surface in the lead up to peace talks. Thus, the chilling ‘Caesar’ photographs of hundreds of bodies allegedly of detainees tortured and executed by the ‘regime’ are exhibited again and again in case the world forgets how brutal the ‘Assad regime’ is. Yet, a critical examination of these claims and images calls into question the integrity of those who promote them.


The 5 years of crisis in Syria gives cause for a photographic exhibition of Syrian faces to be hard-hitting. An exhibition of integrity could lead us to rethink our assumptions particularly if it points to what is truly at stake in Syria. Does the exhibition in Parliament House do this?



Today, Syrians have two basic choices:

  1. They can support their national army, with a majority of its soldiers being Sunni Muslims, reflecting the demographic makeup of the country. (The Syrian Prime Minister is Sunni Muslim, as are most government ministers, including the Defence Minister and the Foreign Minister. “The two most powerful intelligence chiefs, Ali Mamlouk and Mohammad Dib Zaitoun, have remained loyal to the Syrian government—and are both Sunnis from influential families” Ref: The National Interest, Why Assad’s Army Has Not Defected.)




  1. They can support armed groups attacking the Syrian Army and police. ‘Rebel’ groups are comprised of tens of thousands of foreign fighters and are backed by countries that Syrians have reason to view as historic enemies, namely France, Britain, Israel, and the US. (In 1949, the CIA orchestrated its first successful military coup in Syria, and the US has been involved in covert action ever since in Syria.) Armed groups are more directed supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, At different times these armed groups cooperate. For example, a couple of weeks before the alleged chemical attack in Damascus, about 20 different armed groups were involved in a coordinated attack on villages in Latakia. Around 200 people were killed and about the same number abducted, mostly women and children. It has been alleged that these children were abducted to become props in a very dirty war game.


Question: If you could put yourself in the shoes of a Syrian man or woman, who would you support and why?


Images below: Faces of Syrians since the start of the crisis – taken from Syrian satellite TV 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Comment submitted to ABC’s “Rear Vision”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Images: Children of Syria, taken before and after the start of the crisis (some are refugees from Yarmouk, Damascus, who were photographed by the writer in Lebanon, May 2013).  


In a follow-up email to Derryn Hinch (after my original one published on this blog), I wrote the following:

A couple of years ago, I had an argument with my oldest brother.  Like you, he declared that ‘Assad has to go’.   I wrote an article about the argument and in it I referred to one of the most prominent sheiks in the ME, Sheik Yousef Qaradawi.  He is seen as a spiritual guide for the Muslim Brotherhood.  Anyway, Qaradawi apparently said in 2011, ‘It is ok to kill 1/3 of Syrian people if it leads to the overthrow of the heretical regime’.

I was in the audience of the first SBS Insight program they did on Syria.  And I quoted what Sheik Qaradawi said.  The people in the audience who supported the militarised opposition didn’t dispute it.  I had thought that if Australians knew that there is support for the killing of 7 million Syrians based on their religious beliefs and/or their support for the secular state then we would wake up and do something about that.  But life is never so simple.  The machinery that determines war is as powerful as ever.

There is talk in the media about how we can prevent the radicalization of young Muslim Australians.  I just wish their parents had a clear message for them.

For example, if only their parents would say “you don’t kill people because their religious beliefs are different from yours.  And most importantly, don’t believe everything you read in the media about the war in Syria.”  If only their parents would say, “the people of Syria – from Sunnis to Christians to Alawites to Druze – are being killed because the US, the UK, France, Turkey, and other traditional enemies of Syria want to destroy the country.  Those doing the killing believe they can use the US foreign policy as a stepping-stone to building a Caliphate in the ME.  But don’t think fighting for a Caliphate will bring an end to the killing. It won’t. You can’t kill your brothers and sisters in Syria and expect to establish a Caliphate of any worth at all.”

Unfortunately, if we don’t get some straight talk (and genuine debate on Syria in our mainstream media), the radicalization of our young men and women can only continue.


Over many years, the ABC Radio National program ‘Rear Vision’ has presented some thoughtful, well-researched work. However, in regards to Syria, for more than four years journalists and ‘experts’ haven’t strayed too far from one basic narrative: “Assad, a brutal dictator, is killing his own people”. It is rare for any ‘expert’ interviewed in the mainstream media to deviate from the western orthodoxy on Syria. The claims of others are presented as truths and repeated, so we forget they are claims only. But this dumbing down and distortion of truths are not in Australia’s interests.

Below is an edited version of a comment I submitted to ‘Rear Vision’ following their program, Iran’s nuclear deal, broadcast on 8 November 2015. I am very grateful to the ‘Rear Vision’ team for publishing it.


I am always deeply disturbed when sectarian terms are used to describe ME countries and to explain allegiances.  Is it so simple?  Is it factually correct?  And isn’t such talk ugly; doesn’t it inflame hatred and tension? Isn’t this the whole point of it?

For example, you mention that Iran supports “President Bashar al-Assad and the Alawites”, which implies Alawites are in control of the government in Syria. However, a careful examination could disprove this.  For example, most of the government ministers are not Alawite, they are Sunni, which reflects the demographic make-up of the country.  The Defence Minister, Foreign Minister, Prime Minister and Vice-Presidents are Sunni. (The previous defence minister was Christian.) The main intelligence chief who is also the president’s intelligence advisor is Sunni. The president’s media advisor (a woman) is Alawite, but the president’s wife is Sunni, and on television the president can be seen in mosques praying with Sunni members of his government. Also, the army is dominated by Sunnis – it must be since it is a conscript army. The leading Baath Party official is Sunni.  And the business class is dominated by Sunnis, as it naturally should be considering they make up the majority in the country.

If we have the right to create these labels for governments and countries a long way from Australia, can we go a bit further with the labelling?  So can we start talking about the Jewish government in Israel? Or the Wahhabi governments in Saudi Arabia and Qatar?  Or is it the Saudi government in Saudi Arabia?  And closer to home, can we refer to our Catholic government (since our two most recent PMs are Catholic and the former PM’s advisor was Catholic and party head was Catholic) or is it the Anglo-Saxon government? I grew up in the 1950s in a country town, so I witnessed how ugly divisions between religious sects could get in Australia.

Shouldn’t we really be going a lot deeper and thinking more about international law, sovereign countries,  support for development and good governance in countries without interference or covert activities aimed at bringing down governments and subjugating countries? (BTW the first successful CIA orchestrated military coup was in 1949 in Syria– refer to Miles Copeland, one of the agents.)  At the moment we seem to allow our allegiances to foreign ‘friends’ to take us on their road, one that foments ugly sectarian divisions for more war.

In June last year, Michael Oren, the (Jewish?) former Israeli ambassador to the US, declared in an interview that  (quoting from ‘The Atlantic’, 27 June 2014) ‘when it comes to militant Islam in the Middle East, even after the rise of ISIS, “the lesser evil is the Sunnis over the Shias.” Sunnis may carry out suicide bombings and international terrorist attacks (as America learned on 9/11), but Shias from Tehran to Beirut wield far more hard military power and pose a much larger threat to Israel.”

And so Michael Oren’s conclusion? “Do not make a pact with Iran.”

In asserting that the Shias of Tehran posed a greater threat to Israel, Oren acknowledged the ‘evil’ of ISIS, saying, “They’ve just taken out 1700 former Iraqi soldiers and shot them in a field.”

However, he alleged,  “They’re fighting against the proxy with Iran that’s complicit in the murder of 160,000 people in Syria. Just do the math..” 

Unfortunately, ‘math’ can be politicized and used as a weapon of war.

Oren is presumably claiming the Syrian government was responsible for these 160,000 deaths, the total number of people reportedly killed in the war in Syria at that point. (Ref: Robert Olson’s article, “The tragedies of the civil war in Syria”)

But if Wikipedia can be trusted, around a third of that number were pro-government forces. 

Cynical alliances in war can lead to the censoring of hard truths.

In September 2013,  the Obama government claimed the Syrian government was responsible for the deaths of more than 1,400 civilians in a chemical weapons attack in Damascus on 21 August 2013.  (The videos and images shown of the ‘victims’ indicated a large number were children.)

But a study undertaken by MIT Professor Ted Postol and former weapons inspector Richard Lloyd seriously challenges the mainstream narrative on the chemical attack. Their study concludes that ‘rebels’ most probably fired the munitions carrying chemical weapons.

More recently, Turkish opposition MPs have claimed the sarin used in the ‘attack’ was procured in Turkey and delivered to ‘terrorists’.  So the attack was presumably a false flag.

In another scientific study, a retired US pharmacologist, Dr Denis O’Brien, who scrutinised videos showing victims of the chemical attack, concluded that the victims didn’t display symptoms of sarin poisoning. He noted other irregularities in regards to matching the claims of the US State Department, ‘activists’ and ‘rebels’ with the evidence presented.

Finally Dr O’Brien poses the question: who were the victims? If the chemical attack was staged, then victims also had to be procured before the setting up of the ‘attack’. Dr O’Brien suggests they may have included Alawite children abducted from their villages in Latakia just a couple of weeks before the alleged chemical attack.  According to a Human Rights Watch report published in October 2013, from 160 to 200 people were massacred and around 200 people were kidnapped, including many children.  Harrowing accounts of the survivors are presented in the HRW report, but this massacre was barely reported in the mainstream media.  HRW lists the “opposition” groups involved in the massacre; they range from the Islamic State to Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra.  (There have been attempts in the United States to bring the last two groups out from the cold. See here and here. )

From wars in living memory, we know humankind is capable of hidden evils.  For genocide to be committed, an ethnic or religious group normally must be objectified and demonised over some time. This can happen when we lose touch with the human reality.

Michael Oren declared, “from Israel’s perspective, if there has got to be an evil that’s going to prevail, let the Sunni evil prevail.”

Who benefits from such cynicism, from a lack of objective analysis and from the use of labels that sow hatred among the various Muslim communities?

How can alliances being formed in the Middle East hold when they are so cynical and manipulative?  In the meantime, millions of lives are impacted.

Considering the make-up of our own communities, this blind hatred and this twisted logic will have an impact on Australia, too.

Below: Slideshow presenting images taken in Syria (mostly Damascus) before the crisis.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

To Derryn Hinch: Yes, stand up against the Killing Fields in Syria. But research Syria first.

Above: The writer at demonstrations in Melbourne, early 1970s

A Syrian in Damascus takes sides: he expresses support for the Syrian government rather than ‘terrorists’.


Few people in the west would be aware of the calls for genocide heard in corners of the Middle East and the support given ‘Takfiris‘.  Today, even prominent Al-Jazeera hosts can incite hatred towards more than 2 million Alawis in Syria, as seen in this program broadcast in May 2015.

The above video made by insurgents towards end of 2012 or beginning of 2013 shows Takfiris in a town in northern Syria.


On November 3 2015,  The AGE, one of two leading local newspapers in Melbourne, published a comment piece by Derryn Hinch, “Bashar al-Assad: Australia must not help keep this murderer in charge”.  Derryn is a veteran broadcaster / commentator who is known to take strong stands on issues and has even gone to prison for his principles. He is a maverick, a rebel. However, his article written after his return from a recent trip to Cambodia places him broadly in mainstream Australia since most people have accepted the mantra from the mainstream media that “Assad is a brutal dictator and he has to go”. In the comment piece, Derryn compares President Assad to Pol Pot.  Below is an email I wrote to Derryn in response.


Dear Derryn,

I hope you are prepared to take an elderly anti-war activist seriously as I would love to meet up with you to discuss Syria.  I sent you a couple of tweets today after reading your article in The AGE, so if you have read them, you will have some idea of my point of view.

In recent years, I have also likened the war in Syria to the Khmer Rouge killing fields in Cambodia, but my take on Syria is very different to yours. The Khmer Rouge had an ideology.  They believed it gave them the license to kill those who didn’t agree with them, and intellectuals were one of their main targets. Some believe that the works of Chairman Mao Zedong inspired Pol Pot, at least to some extent.  I taught in China towards the end of the Cultural Revolution.  A woman I was quite close to had been a leader of a Red Guard faction in the 1960s.  Apparently, she once killed a ‘a capitalist roader’ at a political meeting.  She used a pair of shears.  An ideology or doctrine can condone such barbaric behaviour towards individuals or groups placed outside its ‘laws’ .

I lived in Damascus for two years and taught students at the British Council there.  For me, classrooms in Syria were very similar to the ESL classrooms I am used to in Australia.  The students were a joy to teach.  They were sophisticated, well-informed and warm and welcoming.  There was no hateful ideology being espoused. Their text books came from the UK and some knew much more about Australian music than I did. However, there was a fear that Syria would be targeted by the US and its allies in the near future.

Syria had been presented as a member of the ‘Axis of Evil’.  While living in Damascus, I couldn’t imagine Syria becoming another Iraq: there was so much reason to hope for Syria’s future. For example, there were as many women as men in my classrooms.  They were ambitious and committed to careers and so to taking their country forward. (Women had the freedom to dress as they liked in the Damascus I knew, so the fashion in the classrooms was not dissimilar to the fashion I see in the Melbourne CBD.)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Images: Taken before 2011, before the crisis in Syria.

Since 2011, there have been Takfiris (a large percentage of them are non-Syrian) killing in Syria as the Khmer Rouge did in Cambodia. They have an ‘ideology’.  Their terror is truly something to fear if you live in Syria and you are not a follower.  But it is rare for our mainstream media to print stories from the point of view of their victims.  Instead we rely on a single narrative and on slogans: Assad is a brutal dictator; he has to go, and the anonymous ‘moderate rebels’  are the goodies.

If you are interested in researching Syria, I can recommend writers and articles, for example the following:

“The Magician’s Diversion: Bleeding Syria to Death”  by Australian academic Dr Jeremy Salt

“The Descent into Holy War”  by British journalist Patrick Cockburn writing for The Independent

Also, I would highly recommend you check the report by MIT’s Prof Ted Postol and former UN weapons inspector Richard Lloyd. They have written a report that challenges the claim that Assad used chemical weapons against his people – that he had crossed Obama’s ‘red line’.   That is on the reference list I think I may have tweeted you. Please check also the report by Dr Denis O’Brien, a retired US pharmacologist – the link is in the reference list. Dr O’Brien studied all the videos and images that related to the chemical attack in Damascus. He raises critical questions that throw serious doubt on the claims of John Kerry. Lies and ruses could have heated up the war in Syria even further.

Ted Postol answered one of his online critics in a letter you can find at this link   In the letter, he writes of “the scandalous failure of due diligence by the Western mainstream media.”   The war against Syria has been perhaps more than any other war before it an information war.

I hope there is a chance to meet up with you and discuss my concerns.  I hope you understand you are siding with the neo-cons in Washington, the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Muslim Brotherhood followers in the Syrian diaspora, adherents of al-Nusra / Al-Qaeda, the former Israeli ambassador to Washington who claims ‘ISIS is the lesser evil’, and one of the most hawkish Americans – Senator John McCain?  And while you do that, you are completely ignoring the hundreds of progressive young Syrians I met in classrooms, the people who were focused on education and taking their country forward.  Such people are some of the first victims of a killing field.

My grandfather was in the 8th Light Horse, so was in Damascus in 1918 when T.E. Lawrence was there.  Because of that Anzac connection I have with Syria, I wrote an article titled, Anzacs and war – Considering a Syrian Perspective.  The historic perspective Syrians have is rarely given thought in the west.  Syrians are a strong, independent people who love their country and who are very proud of it; they would never tolerate a leader such as the one you describe in your article.

By asking you to consider the perspective of the Syrian people, including those millions who support their president, I am not asking you to accept a doctrine similar to the Khmer Rouge’s.  Quite the contrary. I believe it is time for people in Australia to raise their voices against such ‘revolutionary’ belief systems that lead to the horrors of a killing field in Syria.

Many people in Australia may fear that criticising jihadis in Syria might be seen as raising their voice against Islam.  It is not. The majority of members of parliament in Syria are Sunni Muslim, as are the majority of soldiers in the regular army.  The Islam I encountered in Syria was a beautiful religion. It embraced differences. It did not sanction the killing of ‘the other’.  In Damascus, Christmas decorations could be seen sold alongside decorations for the Eid festival.

To stop the killing fields in Syria, we must not only raise our voices against the doctrines that lead jihadis to go to Syria to hate and kill, but we must raise them also against the manipulation of the news in Australia which prevents us from hearing the voices of the victims of the killing fields  If we don’t hear them now, when will we hear them?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Images taken from Syrian TV in 2012 and 2013 (mostly)

I am asking you to consider the perspective of the general population in Syria, people who just want to send their kids to school so they can study to fulfil their dreams to become engineers, doctors or teachers, etc. And people who want to be free, without fear, to believe what they believe.

Kind regards,


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Above: Images I captured in Syria before the killing fields
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Response to Dr Michael Fullilove’s first Boyer Lecture, 2015

Dirgham_S_3 Dirgham_S_5-001 IMG_4260 Luftan PS Esta and Rehab1-001

Images above:  Muslim women in Melbourne


 The 21st century is not the time to dissemble; it is not the time to be partisan without regard to history, without regard to the facts, and without regard to the best of human values in all peoples.  Australia is not the predominantly Anglo-Saxon society it was; it is no longer appropriate to have an uncritical loyalty to the US or the UK based on a common language and aspects of our heritage, traditions and history we have in common. etc.
This reference by Dr Fullilove to post-war history would be a perfect time to note that the first successful military coup orchestrated by the CIA was in Syria in March 1949.  Truman was president then, Acheson his Secretary of State. It toppled an elected government and ushered in years of instability.
Deane Hinton, a State Department political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus at the time of the coup, declared, “I want to go on record as saying that this is the stupidest, most irresponsible action a diplomatic mission like ours could get itself involved in, and that we’ve started a series of these things that will never end.”
Ernesto J. Sanchez writes in an article titled, ‘Washington’s Long History in Syria’,
“During the Cold War’s early years, the United States tried to overthrow the Syrian government in one of the most sustained covert-operations campaigns ever conducted.”
Also, in this lecture, without specific mention of MH-17, Michael Fullilove asserts Vladimir Putin’s proxies shot  aircraft out of the sky.  Where are the facts for this assertion?  Dr Fullilove is presumably alluding to MH-17, yet no investigation has attributed blame for the shooting down of the plane. As veteran US investigative reporter Robert Parry reminds us in his articles, what forces shot down MH-17 remains very contentious.  Is Dr Fullilove referencing the claims of the US Secretary of State?
It is a dangerous world we live in.  We shouldn’t be flying blind. If we choose ever to be partisan it should be the best of common human values and a rigorous search for the truth that guide us.
Below: Images of Syrians before the crisis

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Letter to ABC: Matt Brown Report on Syria Breaches Code of Practice

Formal Complaint to Audience and Consumer Affairs, Australian Broadcasting Commission, 

Program: ABC, Radio National, AM

Date: 18/9/2014

Title: Mixed Response from Syrian rebels to American-led war on IS

Presenter: Chris Uhlmann    Reporter: Matt Brown


25 September 2014

Dear Audience and Consumer Affairs,

The above-mentioned AM program breaches the ABC Code of Practice in regards to AccuracyImpartiality and Diversity of Perspectives.


The United States with support from Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, has begun airstrikes on Syria, ostensibly to target IS forces. To enter the airspace of Syria without the authorization of the Syrian government is an illegal act. Also, last week the American Congress voted to train and arm ‘moderate Syrian rebels’. These rebels are fighting both the Islamic State and the Syrian government, and there is reason to believe they see the Syrian government as their principal target. Under international law, it is illegal for countries to fund and supply weapons to insurgents intent on overthrowing the government of a sovereign state.

The Australian government will have enormous pressure on it from the U.S. Administration to support their military actions in Syria. It is, therefore, imperative that Australians are as well-informed as they can possibly be about the war in Syria and the so-called moderate rebels that America and its allies are arming.  Decisions which will determine the history of the 21st century are being made.

What is more, the conflict in Syria impacts on communities in Australia and on people’s sense of security and well-being. We can all be disorientated by the mixed messages and the hatred stirred up in biased, imprudent reports and commentaries on the war. It should be the responsibility of the ABC, our national broadcaster, to inform us fully and impartially on Syria and the region. However, its Middle East correspondent, Matt Brown, is not doing this.


In his report on AM (18 September 2014) Matt Brown presented a biased portrayal of ‘moderate’ rebels in Syria. He described the rebels as ‘moderate’, as if their being moderate was a fact, not an opinion.

Furthermore, emotive expressions that could elicit sympathy for the rebels were used. These included, concernhopecongratulatedthankful, and a welcome gesture.

There was no suggestion that these rebels might be opportunists, who happily wear the label ‘moderate’ today as it entitles them to receive military hardware from the U.S. and its allies, but who have aligned with terrorist groups, including ISIL, at times in the conflict when it suited them. Also, in coming days, months and years, there are already signs they will choose Al-Qaeda affiliated groups over the U.S. and their allies. .

Unlike Brown, BBC’s Jeremy Bowen expresses serious reservations about ‘moderate’ rebels.

I have met many FSA fighters and they do have moderate views, certainly in comparison with jihadist groups. But the fighters are often religious and see no problem with building up alliances with the jihadists against a common enemy. Fighters also move from one group to another.

Also, it’s been reported that the family of Steven Sotloff, one of the American journalists beheaded by ISIL, accused ‘moderate rebels’ of selling Steven to the extremists.

Does a ‘moderate’ rebel kill differently to an ‘extremist’ rebel?

Ahmad Al-Rahal, a ‘moderate rebel’ introduced in the AM report, declared in an interview in March 2014,

There is no sectarianism in this revolution. Syria only has two sects: that of the regime and that of the revolution.

It is difficult to see how such a crude uncompromising approach to a ‘revolution’ differs from the Khmer Rouge’s, whose ideology was just as black and white and led to the killing fields in Cambodia. It is therefore shocking that Brown reports on Al-Rahal totally uncritically.

Given the lethal qualities of the ‘revolution’ in Syria and its attraction to young Muslim Australians, the ABC has a heavy responsibility to both the general public in Syria and in Australia to ensure ‘rebels’ in Syria, no matter what their name-tag today, are neither glamorized nor sanitized by ABC journalists.

The other ‘moderate’ rebel commander Brown introduces to the AM audience is Jamal Al Maa’arufe (also spelt ‘Ma’ruf’ and ‘Maruf). Currently, Maa’arufe is said to head a coalition of insurgent groups called the Syrian Revolutionaries’ Front.  Dr As’ad AbuKhalil, a professor of political science at California State University has written the following about Jamal Maa’arufe on his blog, Angry Arab:

A Syrian leader of rebel thugs, Jamal Ma`ruf, having been groomed by Saudi intelligence, announces in the media that he is now ready and willing to fight ISIS.  Let me translate: he has just received a large supply of weapons and cash from American and Saudi intelligence. Let the thuggery begin.


Although rebels control quite a large area in Syria, the majority of Syrians still choose to live in government controlled cities and towns. These people include up to two million Syrian Christians as well as Muslims of all sects who do not support a militarized opposition or an Islamised political system, similar to Saudi Arabia’s or Iran’s. Yet, their voices are not heard in this AM report. It is as if they do not exist, yet they are people Australians would feel great empathy for if only we knew their stories and views.

Ironically perhaps, James Foley, the American journalist whose beheading became part of the pretext for U.S. military strikes on Syria, did diligently seek the views of civilians in Aleppo who were critical of the Free Syrian Army, supposedly moderate rebels. This may have cost him his life. In an October 2012 article titled Syria: Rebels losing support among civilians in Aleppo, Foley wrote,

The rebels in Aleppo are predominantly from the countryside, further alienating them from the urban crowd that once lived here peacefully, in relative economic comfort and with little interference from the authoritarian government of President Bashar al-Assad.

“The terrorism here in Syria is spreading, and the government has to do something about it,” said Mohamed Kabal, a 21-year-old university student.

Foley also presented the perspective of a disillusioned rebel.

He said he’s seen civilians executed after rebels recklessly accuse them of being mercenaries for the regime.

“I saw one beaten to death,” he said. “The FSA didn’t check their facts, and now he’s dead. I know the man. He was 46. He has five children.”

Unlike some media outlets, such as the BBCChannel 4, and the Telegraph, the ABC has not sent a reporter into government controlled cities to seek a diversity of perspectives in regards to the war. The ABC has maintained it hasn’t been able to get a visa for a reporter. But this is no excuse for the lack of balance in Matt Brown’s report. In June, tens of thousands of Syrians in Lebanon voted in the Syrian presidential election. Brown could travel to Beirut to seek out their views.


In 2011, on an ABC community webpage, there was an account of the violence and terror then being committed by armed gangs across Syria. However, despite challenges, the mainstream narrative on the crisis in Syria has been consistent: a minority sect is oppressing the Sunni majority and a brutal dictator is killing his own people. Matt Brown promotes it in this AM report, as do print journalistsNGOshuman rights organizations, even UN bodies.  When prominent Malaysian peace activist, Dr Chandra Muzaffar, writes on what might attract young Muslim men the rebel cause in Syria, we in Australia should pay heed. He is a ‘moderate’ Muslim exploring truths.

Unfortunately, through repetition, the narrative has become a ‘truth’ people are emotionally attached to. Hence, although a well-regarded M.I.T. professora doctor in pharmacologya US intelligence experta veteran investigative journalist; have all challenged the claim that Assad used chemical weapons against his people in August 2013, ABC presenter Waleed Aly can still insist Assad did, without thinking it necessary to substantiate the accusation.

So Matt Brown’s recent AM report continues the tradition of this narrative. It begins with a discussion of the Sunni IS forces and ends with damnation of the ‘torture chambers’ of Bashar Al-Assad, who, as Brown says, is the ‘main target’ of ‘moderate’ rebels. (NB: Alternative sources question the ‘Caesar’ claims of ‘torture chambers’, but a mainstream journalist is highly unlikely to be instructed to probe deeply once a convenient ‘truth’ is embedded.)

In the report, rebel claims are presented without challenge by Brown,thus, they easily become ‘truths’. So Jamal Al Maa’arufe speaks about the fight against the “unjust Bashar’s illegitimate state”. Belief that the Syrian state is illegitimate may be what prompts rebels to brutally murder state employees, including bakerspost office workersdoctors and teachers. But how can a state that has been represented in the U.N. since its inception be ‘illegitimate’?

Brown says a government airstrike ‘reportedly’ killed Jamal Al Maa’arufe’s wife and daughter. Brown acknowledges it is a claim. However, apart from this AM report, a tweet and a Facebook entry, It is very hard to find support on the internet for it. An article in SYRIA: direct, reports on the airstrike, but it claims  Maa’arufe’s deputy was killed; there is no mention of family members. Already Brown presents a sympathetic portrait of rebel leader Al Maa’arufe.  Suggesting that he has lost his wife and daughter in a government airstrike further reinforces that portrayal. That may be the purpose of it.  as to repeat what seems to be merely a little chatter on the internet seems irresponsible journalism, especially when the stakes are so high when there is misinformation presented on Syria, high for the people of Syria and the region, and high for Australians, as we are now learning.


Unchallenged rebel slogans, misinformation and distortions can only further entice young Muslim Australians to Syria to fight the ‘Alawi dictatorship of Bashar Al Assad’, as James Carleton described it on RN Breakfast (22/9/14) in clear contradiction of the true demographics, which are that the Syrian government, army, and business elite are dominated by Sunni Muslims. Young Australian Muslims who aspire to becoming martyrs in Syria or Australia can inadvertently become the victims of lies.

Syria is a conflict we all contribute to if we do not demand the highest standards of reporting.  Not only do we risk being victims of our own naivety and gullibility, but by ignoring the voices and suffering of millions of Syrians – people like us – we compromise our basic beliefs and values, and we risk being complicit in heinous crimes.


Ms Susan Dirgham

National Coordinator of “Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria”

Syria rally feb 89 2014

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Media Bias | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Comments and Letters to the Australian Media regarding Syria





On 29 July 2012 01:23, Susan Dirgham <susan.dirgham51@gmail.com> submitted a comment to ABC “Insiders“:
On 3 June, Stephen Smith said on ABC “Insiders” that “the United States’ presence in the Asia Pacific has been a force for ‘peace and stability and prosperity since the end of World War 2.” 
There would be millions of people in Iraq and Afghanistan who would believe that the US has brought anything but peace, stability and prosperity to the Middle East.  
And now in Syria, there are Islamist militia groups trying to overthrow the secular government there.  The fighters are principally armed and funded by US allies in the region – Saudi Arabia and Qatar – but recently the US has announced it will also fund the fighters as well as continue the support it has been giving them. (NB: It is reported that the CIA has been training fighters.) 
Fatwas were issued against the secular Syrian government by extremist clerics as early as March 2011, and one of the most prominent clerics in the ME, Sheik Qaradawi, apparently said on Al-Jazeera later in 2011 that it is ok to kill 1/3 of the population of Syria if it leads to the overthrow of the ‘heretical regime’. These are rarely referred to in the western media and have never been condemned by the US or Australian governments, nor by Amnesty International or the UN. 
Jihadists from around the world are travelling into Syria to spread terror and destabilise the country, and while the complexity of the situation in Syria is not being reported, people within the Australian Muslim communities are being radicalised and are sending money to support the fighters.  Many of the militia groups are aligned with Al-Qaeda and Salafi jihadists. 
Islamist fighters intent on spreading chaos and causing disharmony between the different communities in Syria have forced tens of thousands of Christian Syrians from their homes in Homs. Many in the Syrian Australian community can tell of stories of the terror and fear these fighters spread in Syria through the most brutal killings and torture etc. 
The killing of these extremist groups didn’t just begin in recent months.  The uncle of a Melbourne man was killed along with his two friends (all of them farmers on their way to sell their produce at a market) by Islamist fighters in April last year.  Also, two young teenage nephews of a good friend of mine were killed along with their cousin and father on 17 April 2011 by armed men in Homs. Just a couple of months ago, the brother of a Melbourne man was killed in Homs because he had refused to leave the city when threatened by Islamist fighters. The father of a Hobart friend of mine was abducted a couple of months before Christmas in Homs. Relatives of a Melbourne friend were killed three weeks ago as they drove to Homs for shopping. 
Because Syria is a secular country, the army represents all communities so it remains mostly united. I met hundreds of well-educated, sophisticated Syrians in the classrooms of the British Council in Damascus, where I worked for two years. I believe that for most Syrians, reform is very welcome and overdue, but war is not seen as the instrument to bring about that reform. I would say that for the majority of Syrians (particularly the women), the Wahhabi brand of Islam that Saudi Arabia and Qatar follow would be as unwelcome in their country as it would be in Australia. 
It was reported in the US last year that the US ambassador to Syria was recruiting death squads in Syria. Whether this is true of not, from the perspective of most Syrians, the US is not bringing peace, stability and prosperity to their country. 
Should Australia be concerned that we are closely aligned with a country which condones the use of terror in a sovereign country and which supports the funding and arming of Islamist fighters?  If the US has no scruples when it chooses to attack and destroy a country, should we be aligned with it?  Might Australia one day be sending Australian soldiers to fight a war alongside Al-Qaeda in Syria?  
If America is abusing its power in the world and so not bringing peace, stability and prosperity to regions, is Australia able to take a courageous stand against it?  Is it in our interests to find the courage needed to work hard for peace rather than war? What will the repercussions be for Australia if we do not take a very well informed, independent and principled stand regarding peace and war in Syria, particularly when that war is emboldening radical Islam both in the ME and Australia?  
(Note: there is a correction to a typing mistake which was in the comment submitted to “insiders”)
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Email Correspondence with Senator Bob Brown’s Office re Syria

From: Susan Dirgham

Sent: Friday, 9 March 2012 12:39 PM
To: ………………………(List includes Senator Bob Brown)
Subject: FYI re Syria

Dear All,

Hope you have a chance to consider the implications of these articles in regard to Syria.
Kind regards,


Email from Senator Brown’s office on 20 March 2012 15:30

Dear Susan

Thank you for your e-mail and for drawing our attention to this material.

For your information I have attached copies of Hansard records of occasions on which Senator Brown has recently either asked questions or moved motions related to current events in Syria. You can find these at  http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;adv=yes;orderBy=customrank;page=0;query=syria%20Dataset%3Ahansards,hansards80%20Decade%3A%222010s%22%20Party%3A%22ag%22;rec=3;resCount=Default , http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;adv=yes;orderBy=customrank;page=0;query=syria%20Dataset%3Ahansards,hansards80%20Decade%3A%222010s%22%20Party%3A%22ag%22;rec=2;resCount=Default and http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;adv=yes;orderBy=customrank;page=0;query=syria%20Dataset%3Ahansards,hansards80%20Decade%3A%222010s%22%20Party%3A%22ag%22;rec=0;resCount=Default respectively.


John Dodd

Office of Senator Bob Brown


26 March 2012

To: John Dodd, Office of Senator Bob Brown

Dear John,
Thank you for your response to the email I directed to Senator Brown. I am sorry it has taken so long for me to find an opportunity to respond to your email.
I’ve read Senator Brown’s questions to Senator Conroy and also his call for President Assad to step down. My response is that Senator Brown is extraordinarily misinformed in regard to Syria. It greatly saddens me because I have supported Senator Brown’s stands on Iraq and and have respected his courage in publicly standing up to two US presidents. I expected similar courage to be shown by Senator Brown in regard to the US ‘game plan’ for Syria.
For my understanding of what is occuring in Syria, you can go to the report I wrote after a visit there in April ’11, as well as the flyer that was handed out at a rally in Hobart in January this year.
And for more analysis, I would direct anyone to the extensive reference lists on <australiansforsyria.wordpress.com>.

I believe Senator Brown may be misinformed about Syria for a combination of reasons which would include the following:
1.  Trust in Syrians who have knocked on the doors of MPs, such as Colleen Hartland’s.
Last year, I attended a meeting of the local “Syrian opposition” held in Brunswick Town Hall. Victorian Greens MP Colleen Hartland attended the meeting as a guest speaker. I took notes at the meeting.  This is what I noted Ms Hartland said to the meeting.  (I will be paraphrasing much of what she said, but you would be able to check with her regarding the message. There were several other interested observers present at the meeting, including Dr Fiona Hill who spoke to Ms Hartland during the meeting, I believe.)
Ms Hartland encouraged those at the meeting to get their message to politicians and the media. She said the best way to do that was to
  • send a 2 page briefer with links to books etc
  • ask for a meeting with politicians
  • have 2-3 people attend meetings, making sure there is a woman included
  • work with all political parties
  • write letters to politicians, not ‘formulaic letters’ but personal ones
  • create your own media; use digital media, social media
  • form friendships with politicians (Ms Hartland explained that she has been befriended by two or three men whom she knows are ‘trustworthy’ so if she wants information about Syria she can rely on them and pass on the information to others who want to know what is happening in Syria
  • the more personal you make the story, the more the local member will try to help you
  • tell your story; don’t get caught up in what the ‘others’ are doing.
2.  Trust in the opinions of individual journalists such as Robert Fisk re Syria.

In regard to Robert Fisk’s writing on Syria, I would like to refer you to a comment I wrote after a recent Late Night Live interview of George Joffe: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/george-joffe/3889230#comments
 I am not a fan of Robert Fisk though, like most of his ‘fans’, I support his blanket condemnation of the US and UK etc war in Iraq; his condemnation of Israeli policies re Palestine and Lebanon; as well as his strong criticism of Tony Blair and George Bush.

However, in regard to Syria and Lebanon over the years his writing has often been very cryptic as well as unpredictable in regard to which ‘angle’ he will take. He, like Joffe, can also mislead by making very general, authoritative-sounding statements without presenting support for them and without presenting the wider context. And like Joffe, he usually omits key elements to a situation; you need to dig deep in his writing to put the pieces he does provide together. He may be able to say to you, “But I wrote about the problem of the Salafi jihadists in northern Lebanon in an article last year”; however, he has not given updates and told us of the violence and terror the Salafis are responsible for in Lebanon and Syria now. Yet, for Lebanese and Syrians, the Salafis are among the critical players in the continuing terror in Syria and the armed conflict that has occurred in northern Lebanon in recent months.

In my opinion, he is influenced by Walid Jumblatt, someone whom Fisk has written about his “favourite nihilist (and dinner host)”. Jumblatt, the Druze ‘warlord’,is notorious for switching sides in a very opportunistic manner. Some months ago he publicly supported Syria; now he supports the Saudi Lebanese political figure Saad Hariri, whom many people in Syria have included on their list of people to blame for the funding of militia and smuggling of weapons into Syria. One can only wonder why Jumblatt is a yo-yo in regard to his political affiliations. If Fisk is indeed a close friend and Jumblatt perhaps a ‘stringer’, Jumblatt’s fickleness would make writing on Syria and Lebanon extremely difficult. Blair and Bush etc are always easy, reliable targets, but Syria and Lebanon are constantly changing pictures … painted by whom? Not the majority of Syrian people who strive for peace, security and reform – the whole package without the interference or the dissembling of outsiders.

I am guilty here of making statements without offering support. But there is support for them, and it can be found at http://australiansforsyria.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/march-2012-updates/

It is hard work to discover what is happening on the ground in Syria. But for many reasons that work calls out to be done.

P.S. re Jumblatt and Hariri, you might be amused by this skit on Lebanese TV. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4F6lXMFa04M

3.   Trust in Al-Jazeera reporting of the crisis in Syria.
Ref: March Updates on <australiansforsyria.wordpress.com>

RUSSIA TODAY  14 March 2012  Video interview with former Al-Jazeera reporter.


‘No independent journalism anymore’ – ex-Al Jazeera reporter

Television channels have turned into political parties, pushing the agenda for some outside forces, former Al Jazeera correspondent in Beirut, Ali Hashem, told RT. Hashem has come in spotlight after resigning from the television citing its bias.

In emails leaked by Syrian hackers, Ali Hashem vented his anger over Al Jazeera’s one-sided coverage of Syria and its refusal to cover the events in Bahrain. In an exclusive interview with RT, the former Beirut correspondent Hashem refrained from discussing his resignation, but stressed that these days, independent media is a myth. ….

THE REAL NEWS  March 20, 2012


Al Jazeera Journalist Explains Resignation over Syria and Bahrain Coverage

Ali Hashem: Al Jazeera has become a “media war machine” and is “committing journalistic suicide”

(Video interview with Ali Hashem)

RUSSIA TODAY  12 March 2012


Al Jazeera exodus: Channel losing staff over ‘bias’

Key staff from Al Jazeera’s Beirut Bureau have resigned citing “bias” in the channel’s stance on the conflict in Syria.

Bureau Managing Director Hassan Shaaban reportedly quit last week, after his correspondent and producer had walked out in protest.

A source told the Lebanese paper Al Akhbar that Al Jazeera’s Beirut correspondent Ali Hashem had quit over the channel’s stance on covering events in Syria. “… his position [which] changed after the station refused to show photos he had taken of armed fighters clashing with the Syrian Army in Wadi Khaled. Instead [Al Jazeera] lambasted him as a shabeeh [implying a regime loyalist],” a source told Lebanese press.

Ali Hashem was also infuriated by Al Jazeera’s refusal to cover a crackdown by the King of Bahrain while twisting its Syria angle. “[In Bahrain], we were seeing pictures of a people being butchered by the ‘Gulf’s oppression machine’, and for Al Jazeera, silence was the name of the game,” he said.…..

5.  Trust in Amnesty’s stand on Syria.
  • Franklin Lamb, “Amnesty International’s Flawed Libyan and Syrian ‘Hospitals Investigation”, Opinion Maker, Oct 2011


 Ref: http://www.amnesty.org.au/crisis/comments/28055/   Please see comments on Amnesty Australia page.  Members of Australians for Syria have met Amnesty Australia officers in Melbourne and Amnesty Australia has sent a report to the Amnesty London office but the London office has yet to publish and condemn any of the atrocities of the militia against individuals, nor has Amnesty condemned the fatwas of extremist clerics or the call of Shiek Qaradawi on Al-Jazeera to his followers to destroy the ‘heretical’ Syrian government even if it means 1/3 of the population are killed.
John, I trust that the above is helpful.  It would be good to see the Greens develop a much greater understanding of the crisis facing the Syrian people.  There are Syrian Australians in Senator Brown’s electorate whom I am sure would be happy to meet him to discuss Syria and to tell him personal stories of how their families have been affected by the terrror in Syria. They have spoken to Mr Wilkie, however, I believe they have avoided Senator Brown because of his strident stand on Syria up to now (though I have tried to inform his office).  But I don’t think the ‘stories’ themselves are sufficient. Ms Hartland’s stand on Syria shows the problem with a simple reliance on a few stories.  Research is needed and there must be regard for the bigger picture, including that of  the fate of the 22 million Syrians who confront terror and fear on a daily basis.
Kind regards,


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments