Tag Archives: Syria

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


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.”


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.

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.


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.


The people of the Middle East need solidarity not pity…


By Hal

The solution to the crisis in the Middle East today is not more European involvement but less. The ‘We must do something’ mentality says Europe must be proactive in taking sides in Middle Eastern conflicts on behalf of causes identified as progressive. For example against Assad and in support of the Palestinians against Israel. But this is wrong. Western involvement in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and elsewhere has exacerbated and prolonged regional conflicts. The longer Western political activists meddle in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the less likely an enduring political solution will be found. A solution can only be found by the adversaries themselves free of outside interference. Playing to an outside audience prolongs local conflicts.

United-Nations-Libya-VoteCompassion is not the equivalent of solidarity. The politics of pity exhibited by Western educated Muslim youth cum jihadi converts is emulated by handwringing liberal do-gooders demanding something must be done to alleviate suffering in the Middle East. The actions of both jihadi converts and liberal interventionists have had destructive consequences. Jihadists joining Isis are no more dangerous or pernicious than the humanitarian interventionists and their quasi-religious zeal to rid the world of bad guys.

Traditionally the vast majority of politically minded Celtic fans and FFAA1supporters of Irish freedom were also committed advocates of the Palestinian cause. But things have changed in the Middle East just as surely as they have changed in Ireland. In the 70’s and 80’s when the PLO and its offshoots were fighting against Israel and its Western backers as part of a wider anti-imperialist struggle expressing solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for liberation and self-determination was a progressive step. The West used Israel as a proxy in pursuing its interests in the Middle East in the context of the Cold War and against Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran.

Today it seems that America and the West no longer know where its interests lie in the Middle East. Western meddling has made matters worse. The Middle East is unravelling before the eyes of the West and Western governments are powerless to stop it. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies are bombing Yemen into the Dark Ages to prevent the Shia Houthi’s taking power. UAE crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed declared that “we will press ahead until we purge Yemen of the scum”. Despotism is alive and kicking. However, it is not our responsibility to take sides in the internecine warfare between Shia and Sunnis. Patrick Cockburn in his book ‘Rise of Islamic State: Isis and the New Sunni Revolution’ traces the involvement of the Western backed oil rich Gulf States in the formation of Isis and the sponsorship of Sunni terrorism across the Middle East.

In this wider context the best thing anti-imperialists and progressives can do is to adopt a position of non-interference or the principle of ‘Do No Harm’.

The Palestinian liberation movement no longer exists. The cynical Hamas government in the Gaza Strip has not been a good servant of its people. The Palestinians need to break free from the straitjacket of perpetual victimhood. Similarly Israelis’ defensiveness and sense of victimhood does them no favours. It is a zero sum game. In Ireland Sinn Fein always refused to engage in what Martin McGuinness called ‘whatabouttery’ or ‘the politics of the last atrocity’. Focusing on alleged war crimes either by Israel or Hamas doesn’t contribute to breaking the cycle of violence. During the war in Ireland demands for Sinn Fein to condemn the latest IRA bombing didn’t move the situation forward. Similarly demands for reparations at The Treaty of Versailles crippled the new democratic German government in the Weimar Republic and created a legacy of bitterness which contributed to the rise of fascism. History tells us you reap what you sow.

liberalswelcomeWe should be aware of promoting a politics that feeds into a system of retribution. That is not to say you should not express your support for justice or freedom for the Palestinians or any other oppressed group. But it is equally important to recognise what has changed in the world today. There is a correlation between Western born or home grown Islamic fundamentalists and their eagerness to fight in foreign wars and self-styled Western liberals and humanitarian interventionists eager to ‘do something’ and topple foreign tyrants. The laptop bombardiers have a lot to answer for. The refugee crisis spilling out of the Middle East and North Africa is in large part a consequence of the destabilisation of the entire region brought about by the Western invasion of Iraq.

IS-FlagSunni militants are a local response to Shia expansionism in Iraq and Syria and now Yemen. Western intervention in the Middle East has exacerbated the bloody conflict between Shia and Sunni. It is an old slogan but it is one that is worth repeating: Hands Off the Middle East! Only today this message needs to be aimed not at old fashioned Western imperialists but at the new crusaders for global justice, the interfering moral authoritarians who arrogantly believe it is within their power to change the world for the better by invading and bombing foreign countries and deposing their governments.

Twitter: @michael_hal


Interventionism versus Democracy


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.


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.


Twitter: @michael_hal