“If people really knew, the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know, and can’t know.” Lloyd George, Dec 1917 “Truth is the first casualty of war,” Aeschylus
PEACE, NOT TERROR AND WAR, FOR SYRIA
Armed intervention is being threatened against Syria, almost the only truly secular country left in the Middle East. Yet, since March/April 2011, Syrians have faced ongoing terror and violence fomented by extremist clerics. There have been many innocent victims of this terror, some of them the relatives or friends of Australians.
It is critical that the Australian media present the truth about Syria. Much of the following is not presented in our media.
- Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, women have been victims of it. Syria is a secular country, where women enjoy much the same freedoms and opportunities as women in Australia. But their freedom to move around independently has been seriously curtailed since March ‘11 because of the deteriorating security situation and the criminality of people intent on overthrowing the government through violent means. In Syria today, women’s lives and rights are threatened by terror and the misogyny of extremists.
- Since 2003, Syria has accepted about 1.4 million Iraqis refugees, many of them Christians. If there is foreign intervention in Syria, there will be millions of refugees fleeing Syria. To where?
- In our media, the discourse on Syria includes a lot of references to the religious identity of people. This is not a wise or healthy thing. It doesn’t help us to understand the true nature of Syrian politics and society today, and it can encourage friction between different religions and Muslim sects within Australia.
- The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has introduced historic political reforms which will guarantee democracy and the continuation of the secular state, as well as laws related to freedom of the press. Already, many Syrian Australians have noticed a radical improvement in the reports and programs on Syrian satellite TV. Peace is required for the government to be able to implement all the political reforms.
- Since the beginning of the crisis, many Syrians believe there is a media war being waged against Syria. For example, Al-Jazeera, now owned by the emir of Qatar and influenced by the US administration (the US has a base in Qatar) has presented a lot of fabricated footage. With this and other footage, the station has worked hard to stir up a revolt in Syria. The head of the Al-Jazeera Beirut office resigned in protest against the station in April. He said Al-Jazeera was waging “a smear campaign” against Syria. The UK’s Telegraph presents articles which damn the Syrian government by someone with a pseudonym quoting unknown sources. Even The Guardian generally presents misinformation and bias regarding Syria. The few excellent reports on Syria get swamped by the 24/7 reports which present the same clichés and usually rely on anonymous sources.
- Attention must be given to the extremist clerics who have issued fatwas against the ‘heretical’ Syrian government since the beginning of the crisis. The most famous of these is Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi who is based in Qatar and broadcasts his sermons on Al-Jazeera. He has encouraged violence and killing to achieve the downfall of the Syrian government and president. One of the early chants heard at so-called democracy demonstrations was, “Send Christians to Lebanon; Send Alawis to their graves”.
- Soldiers and security members have been targeted by ‘armed men’ since almost the beginning of the crisis in Syria. It is estimated that over 2,000 soldiers and security personnel have been killed in Syria in the past 10 months. Many of these killings have been extremely brutal. On April 17, 2011, one officer who was off-duty was killed along with his two sons and nephew and their bodies were mutilated. People in the Syrian Australian community know stories of bodies being cut up and left in bags at the front of the family home or at the door of a church. A 9 year-old, Sari Saoud, was shot in the street in Homs in November 2011. He was shot by armed men, but Al-Jazeera claimed he was killed by soldiers.
- Much of the information about the alleged killings of civilians sourced by the media comes from ‘The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’. This ‘observatory’ is apparently the work of one man, Rami Abdulrahim, a shadowy figure reputed to have links with the Muslim Brotherhood. He only presents claims related to human rights abuses allegedly committed by government forces, most of which would be impossible to verify. If the ABC informs us that 20 people were killed in Syria yesterday, it may be because Rami has told a reporter who told another reporter who wrote a report, which the ABC picked up.
- In regard to Syria, Amnesty International has become a key political player. It has only presented the alleged atrocities of the government, not those which were the result of the violence of Islamic extremists or mercenaries. It has yet to condemn the fatwas of extremist clerics calling for the violent overthrow of the Syrian Government. The recent appointment of Suzanne Nossel as the new Executive Director of Amnesty International USA strongly suggests Amnesty is a political tool of the US administration, her former employer.
- In regard to the UN, Navi Pillay, the UN’s top Human Rights official, claimed in December 2011 that 5,000 people had been killed in Syria, including 300 children, with the blame for most of these killings being placed on the Syrian government. Few in the Syrian Australian community would accept these findings. The UN report must be examined to see if its research has been rigorous, if there is evidence of efforts being made to verify sources and stories, if there is reference to the fatwas issued by powerful clerics, and if there is a serious attempt to catalogue the killings of soldiers and civilians by militia since the beginning of the crisis. Many lies were dressed up as truth in the lead up to the war in Iraq and presented by people in authority to the UN. Much the same is happening today to support a war against Syria.
- Countries which support Syria include Lebanon and Iraq (Arab League members), as well as Brazil, India, South Africa, Russia and China. The Arab League is currently dominated by the oil-rich allies of the US, namely Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which many claim corrupted the voting process and disregarded normal procedures in regard to Syria’s suspension from the League. Huge rallies in cities & towns across Syria have condemned the AL’s decisions on Syria. Hundreds of thousands of Syrians from the different religions and sects have come out regularly to condemn the AL and foreign interference. They are crowds of everyday people, and like people in any country they cherish freedom and peace, but their images are rarely presented in our media.
- People’s reasons for supporting the President Bashar al-Assad president might include a belief that –
- his rule has transformed Syria in the last 10 years in regard to economic reforms & social freedoms
- he has introduced historic political reforms
- he is open-minded, honest and represents those who want an end to corruption
- he is not likely to be corrupted by the oil-rich elite of the ME or by religious extremists
- he has stood up to Israel which still occupies Syria’s Golan Heights with strength and dignity and has been a willing partner in peace talks
- he is articulate and principled; he doesn’t rely on political rhetoric or depend on an ideology to form his views
- his rule unites Syrians of all religious and ethnic backgrounds
NB: Syria has ‘baggage’ that comes from its place in the world and bloody conflicts in the region over the last century. It is not a lucky country. Problems it faces include: the security apparatus; Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights for the past 45 years; economic problems caused by sanctions imposed by the US; a huge refugee population; and religious extremism in the wider region. To adequately address such problems requires years of hard, dedicated work by the people of Syria. No one can come to power, wave a magic wand and make the problems disappear.
IMAGES OF SYRIANS
When people in the West speak about Syria, they often speak with no experience of travel or work in the country. They don’t know the people they are making assertions about and whose fate they may be helping to determine. These are some more images of Syrians I have taken on recent trips to Damascus. I can’t give any names because they were all strangers who were very willing to have their photos taken.