Tag Archives: Middle East

Aleppo: The truth that the western media refuses to report

andrewashdowncofeAndrew Ashdown is a Church of England priest studying Christian-Muslim relations in Syria. In the last few days he has visited East Aleppo. This is the report of his visit to the area yesterday (14th December) that he published on his facebook page. Photos by Andrew Ashdown

idp8

This morning we visited the main IDP Registration centre at Jibrin, for Internally Displaced Persons from East Aleppo. They are registered here for humanitarian reasons and access to services, before they go either to relatives in other parts of Syria if they have them (many do), or to other reception centres where they are provided with accommodation, food and other services. During the past two weeks they have registered 95,000 refugees, but estimate there may be a further 10,000 who have not registered. There were thousands of people there who have arrived within the last couple of days. Let me make clear that we visited in a taxi without Government or Army accompaniment, and without prior notice. We were not expected.

idp10The Centre is well organised. The Syrian Red Crescent have tents available that offer information about all social welfare facilities available, and offer free medical attention. In cases of emergency, ambulances are on hand to transport patients to hospital. Free food is being distributed by the Syrian Red Crescent and the Syrian Army, and we saw a convoy of Russian lorries providing aid. There is also a Russian field hospital on site which offers immediate medical treatment.

The sense of relief amongst the thousands of refugees is palpable.idp16 All were keen to talk, and we interviewed several who had arrived only yesterday and today. They all said the same thing. They said that they had been living in fear. They reported that the fighters have been telling everyone that the Syrian Army would kill anyone who fled to the West, but had killed many themselves who tried to leave – men, women and children. One woman broke down in tears as she told how one of her sons was killed by the rebels a few days ago, and another kidnapped. They also killed anyone who showed signs of supporting the Government. The refugees said that the ‘rebels’ told them that only those who support them are “true Muslims”, and that everyone else are ‘infidels’ and deserve to die.

idp3They told us they had been given very little food: that any aid that reached the area was mostly refused to them or sold at exorbitant prices. Likewise, most had been given no medical treatment. (A doctor who has been working with the refugees for weeks told me last night that in an area recently liberated, a warehouse filled with brand new internationally branded medicines had been discovered.) Most of the refugees said they had had members of their families killed by the rebels and consistently spoke of widespread murder, torture, rape and kidnap by the rebels. They said if anyone left their homes, their properties and belongings were confiscated and stolen.

idp23One old man in a wheelchair who was being given free treatment in the Russian Field Hospital said he had been given no treatment for three years despite asking. He said: “Thank God we are free. We now have food. We can now live our lives. God bless the Syrian Army.” They all said they were glad to be out and to be free. All the refugees without exception were visibly without exception clearly profoundly relieved and happy to be free. One woman said: “This is heaven compared to what we have been living.” We asked if the Syrian Army had ill-treated anyone. They said never. One woman said: “They helped us to escape and they provide us with food and assistance.”

idp5

I therefore have two key questions:

1. It is now only the Syrian Red Crescent, the Syrian Army, and the Russians who are providing humanitarian aid to the tens of thousands who have fled East Aleppo. Why are none of the international agencies offering to help them now?

2.  Why is it, given that stories about massacres by the Syrian Army are headline news worldwide, and several international media units are in Aleppo, that there is not one international media agency actually at the Registration Centre talking to the refugees themselves? We were the only ones there. Here are people who have lived through it who are keen to talk, yet the media take at face value unverifiable claims by highly dubious sources. The collapse of any form of reliable investigative journalism in a context of global significance is utterly shocking.

cnnbilalaq1
CNN’s favourite ‘independent film maker’ American Jihadist and Al Qaeda member Bilal Abdul Kareem, interviewing Sheikh Abdullah Muhaysini, leader of Jaish al Fatah: Saudi educated and funded, child suicide bomber trainer, judge and executioner of apostates, Chief Head-Chopper and mass murderer.

Today the agreement for 4000 fighters to leave Aleppo is reported to have collapsed after the fighters had refused to fulfil the agreement. (I don’t know the details, but think about it… There is no reason on earth why the Syrian Government would want this agreement, which would involve the complete liberation of the city, to fail!) It is reported that the fighters refused to leave or let the civilians do so.

The refusal of the western media to report objectively, or to seekidp2 informed information from the thousands of civilians from East Aleppo who are keen to share their stories, whilst granting full credibility to terrorists without any on the ground verifiable information on their claims, is nothing short of obscene.

Everything that I have seen and heard in Aleppo; from civilians in East and West from all communities, and from talking with doctors, faith communities and with Army people as well, and witnessing and risking bombardments on both sides, convinces me that the reports in the western media are twisted fabrications of the horrors that are happening in ‘rebel’ controlled areas. And still, the media refuses to listen to the witness of the people themselves.

aleppochurchmosque

Postscript: Christmas is coming in Syria. In a country and a city in which people of all faiths are free to worship; where mosques and Churches stand side by side; and where Christmas music is playing in cafes and restaurants. And yet the world is mourning the defeat in Aleppo of extremists who destroy Christian and Muslim places of worship, and slaughter any who do not follow their obscene ideology.

aleppochurch

Interventionism versus Democracy

iraq_8-years1

Watching the recent BBC 2 three part documentary series on The Iraq War I was reminded of the old proverb ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’ and its alternative form ‘hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works’.  Asked by Bush to comment on the situation on the ground in Iraq in 2006 his Special Adviser Meghan O’Sullivan replied ‘It’s hell Mr President’. The programme demonstrated the hubris of Western interventionists in the Middle East.

It is worth looking at where Iraq stands today in relation to ten years ago at the beginning of the Iraq War. A sectarian autocrat Nouri Maliki holds the reins of power. One dictator Saddam has been replaced with another Maliki at a cost of 170,000 lives. The U.S. was searching for a strongman it could entrust with leading post-Saddam Iraq. The U.S. settled on Maliki who went along with the Americans as it suited his interests using U.S. firepower to consolidate his powerbase.

obama_nourialmaliki

In 2011 following U.S. withdrawal Maliki’s party, drawn from the majority Shia community, was defeated in free elections by the non-sectarian, mixed Sunni and Shia, al-Iraqiya coalition. Al-Iraqiya secured 2 more seats than Maliki’s party in the new parliament. Maliki refused to accept the result and demanded a recount. The recount confirmed the original outcome.  Forced to compromise he accepted a power-sharing arrangement which he subsequently reneged on. He had no intention of ceding power. Instead he accused his putative coalition partners and political adversaries of ‘terrorism’, a catch-all phrase and embarked on a campaign of repression all the while paying lip-service to ‘democracy’.

The consequences have been predictable. Recent months have witnessed a resurgence of sectarian violence reminiscent of the worst days of internecine warfare in 2006 and 2007. In April this year alone 700 Iraqis died in sectarian violence the worst month for five years. Maliki hasn’t a democratic bone in his body. You would think that Western apologists for overseas intervention or ‘humanitarian imperialism’ would have learned a few lessons.

A general view shows damaged buildings and debris in Deir al-Zor

The clamour for military action in Syria against Assad is still strong despite the parliamentary vote vetoing Cameron’s proposals. Labour has said that they do not oppose military action in principle. Miliband merely opposed the timescale. A principled opposition to Western militarism needs to be upheld.

 

Western double standards can be seen at play in relation to the recent government massacres of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Egypt. The principle of respecting election results is central to any concept of democracy. History is littered with examples of the democratic will of the people being usurped by not only tyrants and dictators but by those who pass themselves off as liberals and democrats. In Ireland in 1918 the democratic outcome of the people’s vote for an independent parliament, the First Dail Eireann, was not recognised by the British government and a bloody War of Independence and Civil War ensued.

In Argentina in 1966 a military coup overthrew a populist, radical administration and the military junta banned the right to strike and reversed progressive labour laws. The Argentine military junta foreshadowed the regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile seven years later in 1973 following the U.S. sponsored coup that deposed the progressive, democratically elected President Salvador Allende who paid with his life for his commitment to democracy and the people.

g9510.20_Morsi.coverThese are reasons why the democratically expressed choice of the Egyptian people, the government of Mohammed Morsi, should have been defended against the military. Many on the left either remained silent or supported the military coup. Tony Blair did the latter which speaks volumes as Blair is an illiberal liberal and a dictatorial democrat.  The Muslim Brotherhood could have been opposed politically and ideologically by the people, on the streets, by organising grass-roots opposition to any anti-democratic or regressive measures that the Muslim Brotherhood proposed such as curbs on free speech and freedom of expression. However, inviting the army in to act on the people’s behalf was a catastrophic mistake. The result was predictable: hundreds of unarmed protesters massacred. Military juntas and democracy do not go hand in hand.

The situation in Egypt contains echoes of Algeria in the early 1990’s. There Islamists in the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won a majority vote in democratic elections. The incumbent party refused to recognise the popular will, cancelled the vote and a military regime was installed backed by the elites and professional classes. The FIS party was banned and thousands of its members arrested. A decade long civil war ensued with tens of thousands of fatalities.

It is the people’s choice to elect who they wish. It is their democratic right to elect nationalists, Marxists or Islamists. Every new regional crisis or affront to human decency such as Assad’s alleged chemical weapons use in Syria is met with the same response by the do-gooders: ‘We must do something’ and ‘This time it will be different.’  For genuine supporters of progressive politics, for real democrats and humanitarians the lesson remains the same: Western involvement makes matters worse. It is for the people of sovereign states to determine their own destinies free of foreign interference. Western powers should stay out of the Middle East.

HAL

Twitter: @michael_hal

Suicide Terror and the ‘Politics of Pity’

Regular TAL contributor HAL addresses some of the issues around the recent terror attacks in Boston and Woolwich.

Woolwich-attack-1

In the 1970’s and 1980’s the word terrorism was ubiquitous in daily news reports. The epithet ‘terrorist’ was a dirty word used to smear your enemy. The language of terrorism was used as part of the propaganda war between adversaries. In the fascinating recent documentary ‘The Gatekeepers’ about Shin Bet, the Israeli internal intelligence agency, one of the former heads of the organisation, Yuval Diskin, describes his Palestinian adversary at the time as a ‘terrorist’ but pointed out that ‘of course to him I was also a terrorist’ and repeated the old adage that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. However the old definitions no longer apply. Today terrorism is different.

In the past groups like the PLO and IRA were amenable to negotiation. They possessed a set of clearly defined political demands. They had an agenda and a goal and their use of violence was part of a calculated strategy. The armed struggle was not nihilistic or aimless.

woolwich_adebowaleHowever as seen on 9/11 and on 7/7 and more recently in Woolwich and Boston nihilistic modern day terrorism is an immature and wrong-headed protest: the terrorist holds up a mirror to society and says this is you. You are responsible for the terrorist atrocity. It is an abdication of responsibility. A case of ‘Now look what you made me do!’ Furthermore as the scholar Faisal Devji observed the act of martyrdom occurs as a media spectacle (1).

It is the case that the mainstream narrative is lacking and there is of course much hypocrisy associated with Western values. One thing the West could learn is that you cannot spread Enlightenment values and democratic ideals in the Muslim world (or anywhere else for that matter) through the barrel of a gun. However, the indiscriminate targeting of public events and supposedly symbolic targets by ‘self-starting’ terrorists is nihilism. There is no strategy or point. The deed is the point, the act of terror the end in itself.

The robust response is not to overreact, not to treat such incidents as a mortal blow against civilization. A twofold response is necessary. In the first instance we need to place the terrorist atrocity in perspective, to deal with it on a security and law and order level and not induce a state of panic which is what the perpetrators of terrorist action seek. The second longer term response involves an honest debate on the direction and values of society. It cannot all be about security.

Various security responses have been proposed such as starving the terrorists of the ‘oxygen of publicity’. This is an ineffective short-term measure. It invites the next act to be more spectacular and bloodier still to have the desired impact. The Woolwich murder was not an ordinary crime. What in effect amounted to a summary public execution was deliberately conducted in a gruesome, brutal manner to cause shock and outrage. Yes it was a senseless act devoid of political meaning but the assailants did not seek to escape. They were not motivated by monetary gain or a pathological need for respect or status nor were they staking a claim to territory. The assailants reportedly made a suicidal charge at armed police before they were shot and injured.

woolwich2One of the suspects Michael Adebolajo was a Muslim convert. He was born in Lambeth and raised a devout Catholic in a stable family environment. Like the Boston bombers the Woolwich killers were Western educated. Their actions could be viewed as an extreme example of the ‘politics of pity’, a deranged and misguided empathy with the suffering of overseas victims of Western militarism.

Historian Faisal Devji in his 2005 book ‘Landscapes of the Jihad’ examines the idea of the ‘politics of pity’. He quotes a poem an al-Qaeda member composed in honour of one of the suicide bombers who destroyed the American embassy in Nairobi: ‘Your good action caused flags to fly at half-mast, and your chaste face smashed idols/ You said goodbye to lions and their young cubs and strode through a door where you were an imam/ Finding other courses of endeavour crowded, you selected a course where there was no crowd/ With high resolve you looked with disdain on death and defeated the massive army of infidelity and doubt’ (2). Suicide terrorist or sacred martyr depending on your point of view yet the passage resonates with spiritual energy. It is religious and visionary.

boston-bombHowever, this is not a satisfactory explanation either of what motivates the vengeful and destructive impulses of modern day jihadists. The Boston and Woolwich killers plunged themselves as well as countless others into a nightmare. The Boston brothers had the opportunity of pursuing the American Dream. Yet they rejected it. The Woolwich duo spurned any attempt to pursue a fulfilling life. These are questions which cannot easily be dismissed as simple narcissism and everyday criminality. There is evidently a deep alienation and atomisation corroding the social fabric of Western societies.

There was an ideological motivation behind the attacks of 9/11 and 7/7 and the recent ones in Woolwich and Boston albeit a deeply flawed one. Suicide terrorism should be viewed and countered in the context of ideology and beliefs. Suicide is the ultimate act of nihilism. However invest it with political symbolism, dress it up as a political statement and it acquires meaning, it becomes part of a narrative. It becomes potent and glorious rather than meaningless and empty. It becomes spectacular rather than banal. This is the hallmark of modern day individual terrorism. This is what needs to be countered but is Western democracy up to the task?

(934)

(1) Devji, F. (2005) ‘Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity’, Hurst & Company, London

(2) Devji, F. (2005) ‘Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity’, Hurst & Company, London

HAL

Twitter: @michael_hal