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.”
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.