Tag Archives: Truth

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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Is it cold in his shadow? – An Appreciation of Vol. Brendan Hughes

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By Mark Hayes

A short time ago I was asked by TAL’s editor if I would consider writing a short piece about Brendan Hughes. As readers of TAL will doubtless be aware Brendan Hughes figures prominently in the narrative of modern Irish Republicanism, and much has already been said and written about him. What else, I pondered, might usefully be added to the wealth of material that already exists? Moreover, there is a sense in which the effort to recollect causes much more pain than pleasure. Why inflict more discomfort by revisiting the past? Perhaps it would be far better to press on without glancing backwards.

As it turns out Talman posited the question at precisely the right time because recent events have made remembering an obligation for anyone who claims to profess adherence to the Republican creed. It is not the gradual and insidious elision from principled armed resistance to pragmatic parliamentary politics that has precipitated my desire to comment, although that particular, sorry story is shameful enough – it has been the careless vitriol recently directed toward Brendan himself by people who should know better. The leader of Sinn Fein, not content with presiding over the somnambulant drift of his party into the arms of the British state, recently saw fit to describe Brendan Hughes as a “liar”. Indeed, certain individuals via contributions to social networks and assorted websites (I will not dignify them with a name) have even suggested that Volunteer Brendan Hughes was an informer! A perfect moment, therefore, to reflect on the personality of the man himself.

I will not dwell on the biographical detail of Brendan Hughes’ life and the contribution he made in the effort to free Ireland from imperialism and oppression. That information is a matter of fact and public record. Not even the pro-Unionist “Republicans” ensconced safely in Stormont could seriously cast doubt on his credentials as an armed volunteer. The people of west Belfast and across the occupied north were well aware that if even half of the folk-tales were true about Brendan, then he was a volunteer to be reckoned with, and to be remembered in the same breath as Bobby Sands. This is not the substance of my modest intervention. I am writing to tell you something of the man I knew, who stayed in my house, who laughed with us, debated with us, and the man whose coffin I helped carry around the narrow streets of Belfast. I considered the “Dark” a good friend and comrade.

Yet we need to be brutally clear and honest in our assessment – Brendan was a man with faults and frailties, and he wrestled with his conscience over decisions that would have destroyed lesser men. He made mistakes too, as all human beings have. The crucial point, however, is that Brendan would have recognised those weaknesses and acknowledged them. It may seem slightly odd to emphasise this observation. Why would I focus upon this aspect of his character, when there are so many tales to be told about fighting “Brits” and attacking the forces of the state? I could recount many, and a few would provide ample evidence to confirm the old aphorism that fact is far stranger than fiction. Many of these incidents and events have been recorded for posterity for the benefit of future generations. So why not make an icon of a man who, as much as anyone, is deserving of retrospective veneration? Why not allow the reputation of Brendan Hughes the IRA Commander to evolve into another cult of the Republican soldier? There are several inter-related reasons why great care should be taken over how his legacy is handled.

Firstly, Brendan would not have wanted a celebration of his deeds. He was clearly aware that the manipulation of commemorations could serve a variety of purposes, not all of which would be endorsed by those who were being commemorated. Moreover, turning “the Dark” into a “fallen soldier” to be worshipped as such would seriously diminish and distort the nature of the politics which underpinned his contribution to the Republican struggle.

Politics should take priority in any account of Brendan Hughes. “Darkie” was an unreconstructed and unrepentant class warrior, and as such he did not fight for a utopian united Ireland as some kind of mystical national entity which would somehow automatically resolve all social, political and economic contradictions. Che Guevara mattered much more than Cuchalain and “the Dark” had his eyes focused firmly on a further horizon, his vision fixed – the Republic would be egalitarian or it would be lost. People may not be aware that one of Brendan’s bitterest disputes with Sinn Fein was about the pay of building workers in Belfast. The fate of ordinary working class people, Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter, formed the very epicentre of his perspective on the world. Securing a living wage, decent housing and quality healthcare for everyone were the focus of his attention, rather than the misty and maudlin fixations of “mother Ireland”. Portraying Brendan as anything other than a man of the people would be a gross distortion of historical reality, and a sad betrayal of his political legacy. He believed in ordinary people, and he belonged to them alone.

Secondly, Brendan Hughes knew that violence should only ever be tactic (not a principle), and the glorification of war is, at best, unseemly. Brendan was a gentle man, despite having a righteous temper, and would only ever countenance the use of an armed strategy in the service of the noblest ideals, against the rich and powerful. He would never have sanctioned the use of violence to intimidate the weak, unlike some who have used the epithet “soldier” or “freedom fighter” to obscure the evil essence of their malevolent misdeeds. Brendan Hughes was not a bully. It might also be added, nevertheless, that Brendan would never have traded the right to resist as a bargaining chip in a tawdry compromise with the bitterest of political enemies. Brendan may have been a reluctant soldier, but he was not a fool.

The other related point of identifying and emphasising very clearly Brendan’s own capacity for critical self-reflection is this – he was an honest man. If he made a mistake he was prepared to acknowledge it. In that sense he had the humility of a fallible human being trying, as we all are, to do what is best in onerous circumstances. He also accepted other people as they were, with all their faults, and was hugely generous in giving his time and consideration to others. He was never arrogant or self-obsessed, and incredibly diffident – despite the fact that he had very little to be modest about. Brendan was generous, decent and honourable. This is why the accusation of deliberate duplicity is so utterly grotesque – the very word “liar” as applied to “Darkie” Hughes should choke those who have the temerity to deploy it against him. Men who have compromised, conceded the moral high ground and capitulated to the enemy now make accusations that would never, ever have been made to Brendan’s face. Such accusations are a desperate and despicable ploy to destroy the reputation of a principled political adversary. The suggestion that Brendan’s so-called “demons” somehow invalidate his ideological perspective is not only specious, it is the work of the most unscrupulous gombeens, a cheap and spurious knave’s trick designed to deflect attention from his legitimate critique of Sinn Fein. But the political ideas expressed by Brendan will not be marginalised by the self-serving insinuations of those mercenaries who are now content to administer British rule on behalf of businessmen and bankers. If the firing squad in Kilmainham jail could not silence James Connolly, then the political assassins who now take aim at the reputation of “Darkie” Hughes will have to think again.

In many ways now, as the consensus constructed around Sinn Fein’s “peace strategy” begins to crumble, the people who perpetrate this foul calumny are more to be pitied than scorned. Their project is being progressively dismantled. Nevertheless, those people who remain committed to the path of pro-Union constitutionalism should seriously reflect on the nature of a leadership which is willing to do such a wretched dis-service to the memory of a good man. Of course those who have led the strategy have far too much to lose by retracting their vile revisionism. To concede that the calculated character assassination of Hughes is morally reprehensible would cast considerable doubt on the rest of the story they have cynically concocted to justify their discredited political strategy. Feeble men – it must be cold for them, standing there in his shadow.

When I think of Brendan I recognise neither the “warrior” icon of Republican mythology, nor the cruel misrepresentations cast by his political opponents. I remember a person of the utmost integrity, but also an activist full of passion for the pursuit of a political ideal that some of us steadfastly refuse to relinquish. His enemies will never be able to degrade his reputation because, to paraphrase Bobby Sands, they can call him whatever they want – the people call him a man!

And I would take the opportunity to make one final point to the politically motivated purveyors of half-truth and crass distortion – if you take issue with him, then you take issue with us all. We will not be silent, because the “wee Dark” still walks among us…

 Mark Hayes – November 9 2013