The Australian Anglican Syria delegation with Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch
January, 2017 – our Australian delegation had a wonderful time visiting the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus.
While there, I had the privilege of interviewing his grace, Ignatius Aphrem II – the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. Three minutes into the interview all the lights went out and we sat in complete darkness. The Patriarch continued with his dialogue uninterrupted. These people are so used to power outages that they don’t allow them to interfere with their routine.
The other highlight for me was meeting Father Jack, who was so concise and articulate in his wisdom that I had to ask him to say a few words to the camera.
Peace … kids whose families escaped terror in eastern Aleppo (Pic courtesy Abraham Williams)
RISING US political star Tulsi Gabbard has been linked to Nazis and labelled a “dictator’s stooge” after daring to promote a peace agenda for war-ravaged Syria.
The Hawaiian Congresswoman set off a firestorm when she advocated a break with the regime change doctrine at the heart of modern US foreign policy, after an eight-day trip to Lebanon and Syria.
US media, mainstream and new, liberal and conservative, joined forces to heap vitriol on Gabbard and question her motives.
The positions advocated by the first Samoan-born member of Congress should have come as little surprise.
Gabbard, a Democrat and an Iraq veteran with two tours of duty under her belt, the second as a platoon commander, is a long-time critic of regime change – in Syria and elsewhere.
As far back as 2012, Gabbard said she had opposed the war in Iraq – “we should never have gone there in the first place” – and urged President Obama to get US troops out of Afghanistan “as quickly and safely as possible”.
She opposed the bill that gave Obama the green light to pour $1.15b worth of arms into Saudi Arabia and publicly accused the US ally of bank-rolling Islamic terror around the world.
In 2013, she was one of only three members of Congress to vote against a bill that sought to condemn the Syrian Government for crimes against humanity. The veteran lashed the proposed legislation as a “War Bill – a thinly-veiled attempt to use humanitarianism as a justification for overthrowing the Syrian Government”.
Last year, in turning her back on a senior role in the Democratic Party national organisation to endorse Bernie Sanders’ bid for the White House, Gabbard cited the Vermont Senator’s “more prudent approach to military involvement abroad”.
And, in December, Gabbard introduced her own Stop Arming Terrorists Act to, “prohibit US Government funds from being used to directly or indirectly support terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, ISIS or those working with them”.
However, it was Gabbard’s decision to walk the anti-war walk during eight days in Syria where she met a range of locals, from President Bashar al-Assad to refugees and protest leaders, that tipped US media over the edge.
The Daily Beast set the tone with a frenzied 2000 word attack under the headline Tulsi Gabbard’s fascist escort to Syria.
Alex Rowell, Tim Mak and Michael Weiss started off gently enough, introducing Gabbard as a “self-styled progressive” but, by the end of a rambling opening paragraph she was undertaking “a disgraceful reputation-laundering tour of a bloody dictatorship”.
By the third paragraph, in the absence of any hard evidence, they had her consorting with Nazis, anti-Semites and terrorists.
To be fair, that story was basically a beat-up of the Washington Post original that set the Gabbard witch hunt alight.
Without resorting to Nazi colour, columnist Josh Rogin had a crack at the Congresswoman and her integrity under the banner How Tulsi Gabbard became Assad’s mouthpiece in Washington.
He lashed her trip as a “propaganda tour” and, basically, argued that, knowingly or otherwise, she had become a dupe for a murderer’s propaganda campaign.
“The actual source of the funding for the trip is murky, too,” he wrote. “But there’s no doubt the Assad regime facilitated it.”
The whole thing sat on his contention that, on the kindest interpretation, Gabbard had misled about who paid for the delegation she had travelled with.
Rogin made this clear in a Twitter link he posted to his story on January 29 – Exclusive: The Group Rep Tulsi Gabbard Said Paid For Her Syria Trip Hasn’t Existed in Years
Trouble was the columnist had made a massive cock-up. Instead of checking on the bona fides of AACCESS, the Arab American group behind the visit, he had beavered through the paperwork of ACCESS.
Nearly a week after the storm broke, the Washington Post published a correction conceding it had “misspelled” the name of the group “and incorrectly stated that the organisation no longer exists”.
By then, a version of the story written, it seemed, more in sorrow than anger had appeared in the Hawaiian Maui Times under the comparatively restrained headline What was Rep. Tulsi Gabbard thinking when she went to Syria?
News Ltd’s Weekly Standard didn’t hold back in its assessment of her character, while a headline in the allegedly left-leaning, Daily Kos announced Rep Tulsi Gabbard has turned into a stooge for Syria’s dictator. The website then urged Democrats to challenge her nomination.
Noah Rothman, writing for Comment magazine, decided to go right off the deep end. He kicked off Tulsi Gabbard’s Disaster in Damascus with a salute to the methods of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
“The simplest way to identify Russian sympathisers is to probe them on the matter of military interventionism,” he wrote. “They may appear principled in their suspicion toward American force projection but are nowhere near as apprehensive about Russian muscle-flexing – even in the same theatre of operations. That describes the foreign policy views of Hawaii Congresswoman and favourite of the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, Tulsi Gabbard.”
Obviously, Noah doesn’t do nuance or objectivity, but still … her ‘feting of the land-hungry Russian autocrat’ … ‘useful idiocy’, and, ‘craven prostration before Russia’s vassals’ probably had some readers wondering what this woman had really been up to or, for that matter, whether, maybe, she had got off at the wrong airport.
It was almost a relief when Rothman had her back in Damascus for “a propagandistic sojourn to the lair of a genocidal dictator” even if was just over-wrought repitition of his earlier claim about her “ill-conceived visit to the Syrian capital to meet with the blood-soaked dictator Bashar al-Assad.”
Gabbard did meet Bashar al-Assad in Syria. She also met figures from the original protest movement, displaced families, religious leaders, a 14-year-old girl who had been beaten and raped and a boy who had been tortured by “rebels” .
But none of that mattered to her media foes. What did, it seems, is that she came away adamant that America was on the wrong track, that there are, in fact, no differences between “moderate rebels”, al Qaeda and ISIS – they are all the same.
More first hand information on the Congresswoman’s trip is available here
RISING Democratic Party star Tulsi Gabbard has lobbed a pigeon among the cats of the US foreign policy establishment with a secret “fact-finding” trip to Syria.
The claws came out after the Hawaiian Congresswoman’s office conceded she had met several Syrian Government officials before flying out of Damascus on January 18.
Independently, news agency AFP reported the delegation she was on had also visited parts of Aleppo held captive by Islamic extremists until late last month.
The Atlantic magazine immediately branded her “the GOP’s favourite Democrat” and suggested the visit might have breached the Logan Act, which, apparently, makes it unlawful for “unauthorised” Americans to visit countries in dispute with the US.
Gabbard’s office cited security concerns for refusing to comment on whether or not she had met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during her visit, according to the US magazine Foreign Policy which broke the story.
“She felt it was important to meet with a number of individuals and groups, including religious leaders, humanitarian workers, refugees, government and community leaders,” Foreign Policy quoted a Gabbard spokesperson as saying.
The ‘neither confirm nor deny’ stance is being widely interpreted as confirmation the Congresswoman did, in fact, take the opportunity to meet with the Syrian leader.
This could be a significant development as Gabbard was one of the first politicians Donald Trump sounded out, from either party, after winning the US presidential college vote, sparking suggestions she could be in line for a senior cabinet post.
There is now speculation that her “private” Syrian visit might have been made, formally or informally, on behalf of the new administration
Gabbard’s November meeting with Trump followed years of campaigning against US involvement in what she calls “interventionist, regime change warfare”.
Gabbard has also been a consistent and outspoken critic of Salafist Islam.
American commentators suggest those positions were strongly influenced by her experiences on two tours of duty in Iraq with US armed forces.
“If Assad is removed and overthrown, ISIS, al Qaeda, al Nusra – these Islamic extremist groups will go straight in and take over all of Syria.”
In December, she introduced the Stop Arming Terrorist Act into Congress, which would make it unlawful for the US to continue arming and funding Sunni terrorist groups trying to overthrow the government in Damascus.
Gabbard’s uncompromising positions on Syria and the Middle East have attracted harsh criticism from supporters of the traditional Republican-Democratic order. Middle East expert and professional think tanker, Charles Lister, has dismissed her an “Assad apologist”.
But the surfing congresswoman has spent the past 12 months making political waves.
Her tete a tete with Trump was not the only spanner she biffed into the works of the Democratic Party establishment, last year. In February, she sensationally quit her role as deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee so she could champion Bernie Sanders’ tilt at the presidency.
She was one of three people who formally nominated Sanders as her party’s candidate at it’s national convention in July.
Who the heck is Tulsi?
Tulsi Gabbard might be an American career politician but she is not your standard model – oh no. Here are 10 things that make her stand out from that crowd.
She is, amongst other things …
— a 35-year-old female — a vegetarian — a surfer — the first Samoan-born member of the US Congress — the first Hindu elected to the US Congress — a veteran of two tours of duty to Iraq with the US military and a serving Major in the
Hawaiian National Guard
Pic credit – The Veteran
— a former opponent of same sex marriage who became a co-sponsor of the US
Respect for Marriage Act — an environmentalist whose congressional campaign was endorsed by the
— a leading campaigner against the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) which, she said, would have boosted Wall St at the expense of workers and the environment
Sources for this article included Reuters, AFP, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, Vogue and, of course, Wikipedia
Father Dave and the team with the Grand Mufti of Syria – January 2017
Father Dave has just returned from a moving visit to war-ravaged Syria. One of the hard lessons he learned is that, in the face of aggressive, ‘takfiri’ Islam, Australians might need to rethink their attitudes to religious tolerance.
DIVINE Service in a Greek Orthodox church is always a special experience, but this year’s New Year’s Day service in the Mariamite cathedral in Damascus was unlike anything I had experienced.
It wasn’t the singing, the liturgy and the colour that was so unique. It was the appearance of the Grand Mufti of Syria, who joined the celebration about half way through the service!
There are no parallels to this in the ecclesiastical universe in which I live. It’s not that we don’t, from time to time, have guests from other religious traditions attending our worship services, though this is rare enough. It was the way the Mufti entered the church unannounced, half way through the service, and made himself at home!
He didn’t partake of the Eucharist, of course, but in every other way the Mufti just blended into the congregation. He seemed very much at home in the church, and the congregation seemed to be very comfortable with him and his entourage of Sheikhs (distinctive in their flowing gowns and turbans).
The Mufti and the Archbishop took turns addressing the congregation at the end of the service. Both spoke of the importance of their religious communities working together in the rebuilding of Syria, and of our common belief in a God of love. At the end of their speeches, the two embraced warmly, and then got on with their days!
As I say, the Syrian model of religious cooperation is without parallel in the Australian context. Meetings between different faith groups, in my experience, are generally nervous affairs. Participants do their best to conceal their suspicions of the ‘other’, with Christians regularly over-compensating by pretending that we have favourite verses in the Qur’an that we then try to recite and invariably get wrong!
Christians and Muslims in Syria have had thousands of years to get used to one another, and it shows! In the old city of Damascus, you regularly find ancient mosques and churches that were built side by side, and in some cases, such as with the grand Omayyad Mosque in Damascus, you find a mosque that used to be a church, still enshrining specifically Christian relics within its walls, where Christians are welcome to come and pray.
None of this is to suggest that Christianity and Islam have been blended together in Syria, as if the two religions had lost their distinctive identities and dogmas. Far from it! This was something that the clerics I spoke to (both Christian and Muslim) were very insistent on.
“In my country, we normally try to foster religious harmony by downplaying our differences”, I said. “No, No!”, said Father Toufic of Maaloula. “This is not the way!”
“Love is the only way”, he said. “Where there is no love, we fear difference. When we have love, I can love you despite the fact that you are different, and I can help you to love me, despite the fact that I am different!”
Toufic‘s words were simple and yet profound, and particularly so given the painful history his parish had experienced.
In September 2013, Jabhat Al Nusra had overrun the little Christian village of Maaloula. They had murdered the three men at the entrance gate who had refused to convert to Islam. They shot and killed and kidnapped, and committed all kinds of atrocities against the people of Maaloula until the town was eventually retaken by the Syrian Arab Army some months later.
Of course, the people of Maaloula did not blame Islam as such for their misery. They knew that the Islam of Jabhat Al-Nusra was in no way representative of the broader religion of the country. The problem in Maaloula’s case though was that it had been one of the handful of Muslim families in the village that had betrayed them and helped Jabhat Al-Nusra launch their initial attack!
It was with this in mind that I had asked Father Toufic how his parish had managed to go on living in harmony alongside these Muslim families, despite their history. Toufic answered, as I’ve outlined above, in terms of love, but he went further.
“We must live with them and, more than this, we must live for them! This is our mission as the church! If we cannot do this, then who are we? We are not the church!”
What I saw in Father Toufic and in his beautiful community was something of an archetype for the rest of the globe. Here was a community that had experienced the most terrible kinds of inter-religious violence and yet they were moving forward together in harmony, not by overlooking differences or by denying the past but by holding fast to their fundamental religious values!
Maaloula is, of course, about as extreme an example of a relationship breakdown between religious communities as you can get. Most Syrians have never experienced these sorts of difficulties (despite all media narratives to the contrary). There are some very visible Islamic militants, of course, but these ‘takfiri’ (as they are popularly termed there) are very much on the periphery of Syrian society. They are not considered to be real Muslims at all by most Syrian members of the mosque community, and the government is very clear in its denunciation of all forms of militant Islam.
This again is where Syria stands in sharp contrast to Australia and to all Western/European countries. Syria has an official ‘Ministry of Religious Affairs’ that encourages the development of various religious groups within the country. However, the Ministry has very clearly defined boundaries as to what is an acceptable form of religion and what is not, and the Islam of the takfiri (associated normally with the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia) is completely and explicitly excluded.
I spent some time in dialogue with the head of the Ministry of Religious Affairs – himself a Sheikh with a doctorate in theology behind him. I said to him “our government generally tries to minimise the influence of religious groups in Australian society, but where religion is given a voice, we try to give every group an equal say.”
“This is a big mistake”, the Minister said. “We have been dealing with religious extremism for a lot longer than you and we have learnt that freedom of religion can only be exercised within clearly defined boundaries”. He then added rather ominously, “your time is yet to come”.
I came away from that meeting with a series of official publications produced by the Ministry, including a weighty hardback book, written by the Minister himself, entitled “The Intellectual and Ideological Basics of Combating the Extremism and Takfiri Terrorism of so-called Political Islam” The other thing I took away from that meeting was a realisation that we in Australia need to learn from the Syrian experience if we are going to weather the storm ahead!
The only politically enshrined religious ideal we have in our country is ‘tolerance’, which plays out as a sort of insipid recognition of the validity of all religious traditions. This seems to have worked for us thus far, when the worst religious violence we’ve experienced was a long-distance battle between Catholics and Protestants over the occupation of Ireland. With the birth of Islamic State and other takfiri groups though, the stakes have been raised significantly higher. It’s time we rethought our approach.
The Syrian model offers us a different way forward altogether – one of encouraging religion and religious diversity, but within clearly defined boundaries, and those boundaries exclude all forms of Wahhabi Islam.
For the reality is that Wahhabism has never been more popular in Australia than it is right now! Money has been pouring in from Saudi Arabia for some years now and the effects are starting to take hold. My fear is that the premonition of the Syrian Minister of Religious Affairs – that ‘our time is yet to come’ is entirely correct, and that we will be in no way prepared to meet the challenge when our time comes.
I long for the day when the Grand Mufti of Australia will walk comfortably into one of our Cathedrals on New Years’ Day and embrace the Bishop, and I do believe that this could one day happen. Even so, I expect that a lot of hard thinking and hard work on the part of our political and religious leaders will need to take place first.
New Year … worship and fellowship with sisters and brothers from the Orthodox Church in Damascus
As the latest ceasefire settled across Syria’s killing fields, Father Dave and several other Australians of goodwill, were in the air. He put these thoughts together as a new Damascus year struggled to kick clear of the shadows of dark years past.
AT FIRST glance, Damascus doesn’t appear all that different from any other major city. The girls are as pretty as ever and the streets are full of cars, noise and teeming life. Kids are everywhere.
The guy I share the elevator with smiles and greets me. We could be anywhere, though the semi-automatic weapon across his shoulder is a clue that all is not well in this part of our world.
In truth, the Syrian people continue to push forward with life, but six years of bloody violence has taken a toll. It has wearied the body and soul of the nation. Jobs are scarce and wages are ridiculously low, and now this damned water shortage is making people ill as well as frustrated.
From what I’ve heard, it was the US-supported ‘moderate’ rebels who poisoned Damascus’ water supply – mixing diesel in with the drinking water.
‘Don’t buy food from the street stalls, my friend warns me. He is recovering from what he says is the worst case of food poisoning he has ever experienced. Without clean water, food is no longer being prepared hygienically.
Of course, I’m privileged. I have choice of being able to eat at nice restaurants and there are some very nice restaurants still doing business in this city. And, I can restrict my drinking to bottled water.
The only inconvenience I experience is drinking my coffee from disposable cups because there is no longer enough clean water to wash the crockery.
Most people in my own country wouldn’t know these problems existed. Understandably, we have been conditioned to only think of the tragedy of this war in terms of battlefield casualties.
A war like this, however, a war that continues to get dragged out as the US and its allies maintain a flow of weapons to an ever-shrinking group of ‘rebels’ – well, a war like this damages everybody, eventually.
“We just want the fighting to stop and for life to return to normal,” that’s what I hear Syrian people saying, over and over again.
In fact, that’s all I’ve heard from the Syrians I know for the last five years. It seems it is only us foreigners who want to keep the fire burning because, apparently, we haven’t achieved our goals in Syria yet.
Perhaps it’s time that we put our goals to one side and gave the Syrian people a break!
Subtle as a sledge hammer … you could be reading Britain’s Sun or an ABC news digest but this is Middle East Monitor‘s breaking news for December 19, 2016. And, to be fair, there are subtle cultural variations
FATHERS in Eastern Aleppo are asking religious scholars if it is cool to kill their daughters before they are “captured and raped by Assad, Hezbollah, and Iranian militias”, Middle East Monitors reports.
The publication, sometimes accused of links with the Muslim Brotherhood, selects and republishes material from across the region. The tasty titbit above came from publications in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
It is crude war propaganda that appeals to the cultural and religious views, some would say prejudices, of its readers.
It is different from the war propaganda being hammered out by mainstream western news sources but only very superficially.
This story was repackaged for western audiences where, generally speaking, most readers no longer agree that religious scholars should have the right to decide whether women live or die.
It ran, just like the Middle East Monitor version, as an “our enemy is a beast story”, devoid of facts or any obvious checking. And, as a general editorial rule, the more heinous or extreme the accusation, the more rigorous fact-checking should be.
“Scores of Aleppo women commit suicide to avoid being brutally raped by Assad’s troops,” the headline in Britain’s always dubious Express newspaper announced.
The Mirror and News Corp publications, including the notorious Sun, followed suit. Even Marie Claire gave it a run though not quite as breathlessly.
American newspapers and websites absolutely loved it. The New York Times, Vice, Daily Beast and something called the Christian Post were all over it like a rash.
Note the subtle cultural differences, though. In the enlightened west, brave independent women were given agency over their own deaths. Empowering stuff, no doubt.
But it was essentially the same story, published on the same day with the same lack of ethical standards for the same obvious reasons.
The other big difference between Islamist-oriented publications and their western allies, other than not much, is the international tastes they satisfy.
In the west, courtesy of 99 years of cold war demagoguery, it is Russia and Vladimir Putin, who are the undisputed targets of most associated vitriol.
In the Arabian Gulf, however, Vlad barely gets a mention. Instead, it is region’s non-Arab power, Iran, and its leadership who cop endless sprays of venom.
On December 17, 2016, Middle East Monitors top five news stories, in order, were these…
— Daughters ask fathers to kill them before being raped by Assad forces
— Iran threatens Bahrain, Yemen with ‘Islamic conquest’
— Britain’s largest student union endorses BDS
— Last messages from Aleppo as Syria regime massacres women and children
— Tell the truth about Iran’s bloodletting in Syria
Amongst a herd of similar beasts roaming Middle East Monitor’s well stocked opinion pages, lurked some close relations … Time to make Syria ungovernable for the terrorist Assad … As death rains down on Aleppo, why are western countries so reluctant to act? … The ‘let them bleed’ doctrine in Syria … Iran’s attempted genocide of the Sunni Arabs … Violence is everywhere and Iran must take the blame
On the same day, the sometimes liberal, British Independent newspaper was quoting former Foreign Secretary and Labour Party luminary, David Miliband as announcing, from a comfortable spot in the UK no doubt, “house-to-house murder” was being carried out in Aleppo.
Miliband was speaking on behalf of a US “aid agency” that has added him to the payroll.
It is no wonder that two of the Independent’s best journalists, and most respected foreign correspondents, Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn, were moved to again warn colleagues about their coverage of Syria.
Irish-born Cockburn was the Financial Times’ Middle East and Moscow correspondent before joining the Independent in 1990. He specialises in Iraqi and Syrian issues and was one of the first westerners to forecast the rise of DAESH.
For what it is worth, Beirut-based Arab speaker Fisk has been voted British International Journalist of the Year seven times and has been honoured by Amnesty International for his work. For half a century he has interviewed trouble makers and history makers across the Middle East, including Osama bin Laden and Hafez al-Assad.
Neither Fisk nor Cockburn can be described as even moderately pro-Bashar al-Assad, far from it. But they know the region and its history. More importantly, they know their trade and its ethics.
Both are worried by the endless stream of bullshit being flushed out of Syria.
Cockburn goes further, arguing the media’s willingness to uncritically adopt partisan Syrian activists as preferred news sources is a grevious mistake. It will, he warns, lead to independent journalists being kidnapped and murdered more often.
Faking it … no satisfaction for media in terrorist defeat.- Global Research illustration
AS SYRIAN loyalists danced in the streets of newly-liberated Aleppo, western propaganda unleashed a chorus of anger from every shiny weapon in its high-tech arsenal.
The big guns – Al Jazeera, the BBC, CNN, Fox News, even Australia’s ABC – lined up and fired in unison.
With scarcely a dissenting opinion, over endless hours they agreed – the final battle in a grinding four-year war to liberate one of the world’s great cities from terrorist control had been a disaster.
In their anger, those channels and many of their print colleagues, reached for the crudest clubs, forged way back before the modern weapons of satellite television and 24-hour news were even thought of.
They lashed out with the ugliest fear-mongering – sex, race and culture-based hostility – barely altered from the template set down by their imperial predecessors hundreds of years earlier.
In the first 24 hours after the Syrian Arab Army, its Russian and Iranian allies, appeared to have ended the seige that had claimed thousands of lives, there were stories – all unsourced – of reprisal killings, innocent women and children being slaughtered in their homes, concentration camps opening and, of course, rape and all manner of sexual brutality.
The BBC, generally one of the most staid, kicked off with the announcement that, according to the United Nations, Syrian troops had been entering private homes and killing women and children on the spot. Eighty two innocents, it reported, had been shot on sight.
Later, it turned out, a UN department had reported receiving an unverified report to that effect from an unidentified source.
It all came together in a piece on a US news site which quoted an un-named person as saying he, personally, knew at least 20 women in Aleppo who had committed suicide rather than face being raped by rampaging government forces.
No names, no locations, nothing verifiable you understand. Just sub-human beasts doing what sub-human beasts are want to do.
By the morning of Thursday, December 15, contributor after contributor was lining up on Al Jazeera to pour venom over key rebel sponsors including the United States, Gulf countries and the West in general, for failing to wade into Aleppo with all guns blazing.
Basically, even at that late stage, they were imploring the US to use its military might to invade.
The other news outlets might not have taken that extreme final step but all made it clear that the rebels of Aleppo were their good guys.
From the ABC’s raw correspondents to the hard-heads of American and British broadcasting, they wore their rebel colours on their sleeves and used their media roles to cheerlead right to the bitterest of ends.
Here’s a simple question for each and every one of those media outlets – why not explain to your watchers, listeners and readers who the “rebels” in Aleppo really were?
While we are waiting for their responses, our readers can do some research of their own. It won’t take much digging to give you a pretty fair idea of the people the western media are rooting for.
According to US sources, including intelligence agencies and the Washington Post newspaper, the largest, or most militarily important rebel group in Aleppo was Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, previous know as the Al-Nusra Front and, before that, al-Qaeda in Syria, or, al-Queda in the Levant.
Other “rebel’ groups and factions, amidst the constantly shifting alliances, included …
Running scared … after four years of ‘rebel’ control, thousands are pouring out of Aleppo .-pic SANA
SUDDENLY, late in the Syrian day, one mainstream western news outlet is taking baby steps towards honouring the claim in its title.
The Independent’s Robert Fisk has joined colleague, Patrick Cockburn, in calling bullshit on key elements of the propaganda narrative being exported from Syria’s killing fields.
Significantly, Fisk and Cockburn are not newbies cutting their teeth in the Middle East. They are two of the most experienced and widely respected foreign correspondents in the business who, between them, have seen more wars than can be good for anyone.
Unlike many reporters filling our papers and airwaves they do not limit themselves to re-packaging the latest claims of partisan contacts garnered from social media or international satellite calls. In fact, they have both condemned the practice and the quality of information it delivers.
Fisk and Cockburn are not always right, far from it. But their narratives are sifted through decades of hard-earned subject knowledge.
This week Fisk, in his own inimitable way, skewered the central lie at the heart of the whole western deceit on Syria – rebels in Aleppo are not, he contends, unalloyed good guys who deserve all the love, money and weapons we can shower on them.
“No-one doubts that foreigners are fighting alongside Jabhat al-Nusra/Al-Qaeda and the Salafist Ahrar al-Sham and other groups around the city,” Fisk writes.
“But, oddly, that’s not what we call them. We refer to them as ‘rebels’ – as if they were the Maquis fighting in the French resistance or Partisans freeing Yugoslavia from the Nazis or, indeed, the insurgents of Warsaw struggling for freedom from the German SS.
End of the road … Deir Ezzor was the final destination for hundreds of thousands of Armenians marched into the dessert by Ottoman forces. In 1991, the Armenian Genocide Memorial – church, museum, archive centre, monument and Friendship Wall – was opened in their memory. It was blown up by DAESH terrorists in 2014 – Pic.- Creative Commons
TERRORISTS are driving Syrians out of their seventh-largest city as they prepare to make a last desperate stand at Deir Ezzor.
Multiple sources, including the Wall St Journal, jihadi websites and American commanders, suggest the dire military situation facing DAESH is behind its move to prioritise the border city over the de facto capital of its caliphate, Raqqa.
Deir Ezzor is home to the last foot bridge between Iraq and Syria where fleeing ISIS troops can move between their former strongholds, Raqqa and Mosul.
More importantly, militants admit, it is adjacent to important oil and agriculture centres. Right now, they concede, those economic opportunities trump the symbolic importance of clinging onto Raqqa.
The Wall St Journal reports terrorists and their families are being bussed into Deir Ezzor from Mosul, in the north, and Raqqa in the south. They are driving out families and occupying their homes, claiming the locals had ties with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In a blow to the anti-Assad narrative being run in the West, the Wall St Journal candidly admits Deir Azzor is also important to the terrorists as a base for their chemical weapons.
“The group has used chemical weapons effectively against civilians and often poorly-equipped local forces the US relies on to combat Islamic State,” the Journal says. It attributes this intelligence to “Western officials”.
This concession weakens the often-repeated claim that ‘Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people’ bolstering the counter-argument, that it has been rebel forces responsible for their use.
That position, of course, was given credence by December, 2013 findings of the UN Mission to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in the Syrian Arab Republic.
It found “credible evidence” that on at least four occasions, between March and August 2013, chemical weapons had been used against Syrian soldiers and, in at least three specific cases, also against civilians.
Significantly, the UN report suggested, rebels had chemical weapons, the will and capacity to use them at the time of the alleged Ghouta attack, still widely cited as final proof of the unmitigated bastardry of the government in Damascus.
Somehow, amidst all the invasion calls and threats of war crimes tribunals, the 2013 UN report signed by Head of Mission Professor Ake Sellstrom and World Health Organisation (WHO) representative, Dr Maurizio Barbeschi, appears to have slipped the collective media memory.
Its point, though, was inadvertently reinforced by several media outlets, including Australia’s ABC, who reported the discovery of abandoned ISIS chemical weapons, in the build-up to the western attack on Mosul.
The DAESH move to bolster Deir Ezzor, in preference to Raqqa, has strategic significance.
Some parties, certainly Syria and its supporters, had been concerned the US and its allies were trying to tie them up in Aleppo while Raqqa was reinforced and transformed into an alternative power centre to Damascus.
That worry may be receding but another looms large on the horizon – a possible carve out of eastern Syria that would allow the US and its allies, most actively Ankara, to establish a Salafist semi-state from Raqqa right up to Mosul and across to the Turkish border.
Deir Ezzor, and its population, have been terrorist targets since DAESH (Islamic State) and Jabhat al-Nusrah (Al Qaeda) launched attacks in 2o14. Variously known, amongst other things, as Deir ez-Zor, Deir Al-Zor, Deir-al-Zour and Deir Ezzour, the border city …
— is 480 km northeast of Damascus on the banks of the Euphrates River
— the hub of a sheep and crop farming region
— the nearest population centre to developing oilfields
— according to the 2004 census, was home to 211,000 people
— was the site of the spectacular Armenian Genocide Memorial Church, built in 1990 and consecrated in May, 1991
— had its supply lines cut by DAESH terrorists in mid-2015
— has received fuel and food aid from Russian, Syrian and the World Food Program air drops
— lost two key bridges – al-Asharah and al-Mayadin – to US airstrikes in September, 2016
What are you looking at? … one of Aeschylus’ classics deals with, Circe, the ancient Goddess of Sorcery
In war, truth is the first casualty
THE QUOTE above is generally attributed to a Greek bloke called Aeschylus, a dramatist churning out blockbusters a good 500 years before Jesus Christ walked the earth. In the American age, however, credit more often goes to Senator Hiram Johnson who put it like this – ‘the first casualty, when war comes, is truth’.
Either way, the western media seems determined to use Syrian events to prove the sentiment as relevant today as it may have been 2500 blood-soaked years ago.
Nowhere is that clearer than in some of the material being served up by ABC Television news.
Many of the national broadcaster’s reports amount to little more than propaganda but the ABC is not alone in this.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been butchered in developing countries over recent decades as media outlets run party lines conceived in Washington, London and Canberra.
The Gulf of Tonkin false flag operation, swallowed and regurgitated whole by most US media, helped generate enthusiasm for President Lyndon Johnston’s full scale invasion of Vietnam.
That orgy of killing went on for a decade. Well over a million service personnel perished, including 58,000 Americans and 500 Australians but, according to a 1995 Vietnamese Government estimate, the war cost nearly two million civilians their lives.
The pivotal incident in the Gulf of Tonkin, in which the US destroyer Maddox was allegedly shot up by Vietnamese attackers, turned out to be a cock and bull story.
“The overwhelming body of (military) reports, if used, would have told the story that no attack had happened,” a US National Security Agency (NSA) historian later wrote.
While the US Navy conceded it had become “clear that North Vietnamese naval forces did not attack Maddox and Turner Joy that night”.
Fast forward nearly 50 years to media cheerleading for George Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard’s drive to war in Iraq.
Western journalists found a chancer called Chalabi and raised him to the status of super source. Ethics and basic professional standards flew out the window as Ahmed Chalabi beat his own personal war drum.
The New York Times was one of the earliest and worst offenders, failing to subject Chalabi and his many stories to any level of scrutiny. It preferred the hopelessly conflicted Iraqi politician to seasoned UN weapons inspectors, including Hans Blix and American Scott Ritter.
The paper took the US Government’s Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) talking points and popularised them.
As the war talk sharpened, it raised the propaganda stakes. Allegations about a mobile weapons lab were attributed to an un-named Iraqi engineer, while a bizarre story about plans to weaponise a virulent strain of smallpox found its way into Melbourne’s Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.
Three years after the mainstream media went to work on Iraq, it was left to specialist UK medical publication, The Lancet, to count the cost.
It said the Bush-Blair-Howard adventure had cost 654,000 Iraqis their lives. Of those deaths, it estimated, 601,000 were directly “due to violence, the most common cause being gunfire”.
Over the border, it seems, another chapter in the sordid story of war propaganda is being written.
Descriptions of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces indiscriminately slaughtering helpless people in Aleppo are all the rage in newsrooms that choose to virtually ignore claims by UN officials that rebels are preventing civilians from leaving the war zone, experienced British journalist Patrick Cockburn points out.
Beirut-based Cockburn warns readers, listeners and viewers to be wary about the stories coming out of Syria and the dodgy sources generating them.
January, 2017 – our Australian delegation had a wonderful time visiting the Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus. While there, I had the privilege of interviewing his grace, Ignatius Aphrem II – the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. Three minutes into the interview all the lights went out and we sat in complete darkness. The Patriarch Read More
RISING US political star Tulsi Gabbard has been linked to Nazis and labelled a “dictator’s stooge” after daring to promote a peace agenda for war-ravaged Syria. The Hawaiian Congresswoman set off a firestorm when she advocated a break with the regime change doctrine at the heart of modern US foreign policy, after an eight-day trip Read More
RISING Democratic Party star Tulsi Gabbard has lobbed a pigeon among the cats of the US foreign policy establishment with a secret “fact-finding” trip to Syria. The claws came out after the Hawaiian Congresswoman’s office conceded she had met several Syrian Government officials before flying out of Damascus on January 18. Independently, news agency AFP Read More
Father Dave has just returned from a moving visit to war-ravaged Syria. One of the hard lessons he learned is that, in the face of aggressive, ‘takfiri’ Islam, Australians might need to rethink their attitudes to religious tolerance. DIVINE Service in a Greek Orthodox church is always a special experience, but this year’s New Year’s Read More
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