To Michael Brissenden, c/o the ABC

Below is a comment written in response to Michael Brissenden’s article on the ABC The Drum page (18 Nov 2015): The reporting on Paris was justified (and no, Beirut wasn’t ignored)

In his article, Mr Brissenden explains why the ABC has given so much attention to the bombing in Paris, in comparison to the attention it gives terrorism in the Middle East.  He writes,

Beirut’s problems are sectarian; they’re political – influenced by decades of conflict and by its geography. That is what makes it a target for terrorism. Paris is a target for terrorism because it’s cosmopolitan – an incarnation of the great liberal ideals that underpin Western democracy. An attack on Paris is an attack on those ideals and no doubt the reason we respond more strongly. That’s not to say the suffering or the story in Beirut is any less valid, but it is certainly more frequent.


Before car bombs and mortars began to disturb the lives of people in Damascus, reportedly the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, I lived there long enough to feel at home.   I got to know its people, music, architecture and its history – to some extent at least. (My grandfather had been an Anzac in the 8th Light Horse, so he had also taken the road to Damascus and entered its famed gates.) For me, Syria was a remarkable place to live. It is perhaps the only country in the world where Christmas, Easter and the Eid festivals are national holidays. For women, it is like an oasis in the Middle East. Mainstream Islam in Syria is not aligned to the Islam of Saudi Arabia or Qatar, two states that have been funding insurgents in Syria. Hence, there are no religious police and women are almost as involved in public life as men. They have basically the same freedoms as women in Australia.


I taught at the British Council in Damascus for two years, so met hundreds of Syrian women and men in the classrooms of the Council in that period. They were a sophisticated people. Some knew more about Australian music than I did. But unlike Australia, I came across no cynicism towards religion. Syrians were a people with a faith. And they were not shy to use the word ‘love’ or to feel united by the love they felt for their country, nothing jingoistic or aggressive. It was if they felt they were custodians of an ancient civilization and it was their responsibility to cherish it and protect it.


The countries which have given political and financial support to insurgency included France, the US, the UK, countries which all had a role to play in undermining the efforts of the Syrian people to gain independence last century. Around 90 years ago, France bombed Damascus, destroying an ancient part of the old city and killing many. In 1945, it bombed Damascus again, this time killing up to 500 people in 48 hours. The CIA organized its first successful military coup in Syria and in the 1950s, both the UK and the US worked to overthrow the Syrian government through covert actions. Syrians have reason to remain suspicious of the intentions of ‘western civilization’.


If only we had been better informed about the suffering of Syrians at the hands of terrorists over the past four years, perhaps we would have done more to condemn those who have allowed the terror to reach the scale it has. Google “Adra” and “Latakia” and “massacre” to learn about the brutal killings of hundreds of Syrians, unnoticed by the ABC.

Susan Dirgham