By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 25, 2016
Originally published at The International Business Times, republished by The Syrian Intifada
This week, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed what everyone already suspected: the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad had lied repeatedly about its adherence to a deal worked out in 2013, under which it would surrender its chemical weapons of mass destruction (CWMD).
The Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with peaceful protests. By the end of the year, the Assad regime’s unrestrained brutality—which saw the murder of 5,000 people—provoked a militarised response as the population took up arms to defend itself.
Throughout 2012 the Assad regime escalated its response: artillery levelled sections of ancient cities like Homs, helicopter gunships were employed, fighter jets bombed urban centres, and Scud missiles—designed for inter-state warfare—were deployed internally, against civilians.
This strategy of collective punishment and mass-displacement as a means to suppress the uprising culminated with the Assad regime unleashing chemical weapons against civilians, probably first doing so in December 2012.
President Obama said in August 2012: “A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised. That would change my calculus.” In December 2012, Obama reiterated the threat, saying the use of CWMD would bring “consequences”.
But Assad repeatedly used nerve agents and other CWMD over the next six months, without consequence. In June 2013, the US publicly stated that Assad had used CWMD and the “consequence” would be the first provision of “military support” to the rebellion. But this lethal aid only started arriving in September 2013—after a massive CWMD attack.
On 21 August 2013, the Assad regime used sarin nerve agent to massacre more than 1,400 people in the Damascus suburbs of Ghouta. President Obama was set to launch a round of airstrikes—the French had prepared jets to join the attack—against Assad’s military and unconventional weapons sites when the matter was halted, put to a vote in Congress, and then abandoned completely for a “deal” with Russia, which in the administration’s telling meant Assad surrendered the CWMD he had heretofore denied possessing in exchange for the strikes being called off.
The reality was rather different. Obama had never intended to enforce his “red line”—it was a bluff that got called. Additionally, Obama had begun secret talks with Iran on the nuclear deal and from late 2012 Tehran had effectively taken control in regime-held areas of Syria. A conflict with Iran in Syria might derail the President’s legacy project.
The president’s signalling, therefore, was not that he would use force unless Assad gave up his CWMD: the stated aim was to punish Assad and uphold an international norm. The signal instead was that the President would take any available option to avoid doing what he did not want to, and Moscow provided the decommissioning of Assad’s stockpiles as a fig leaf.
Assad was made a partner in disarmament, extending him some legitimacy, as the Russians had wanted. The West was made complicit in campaigns of atrocity that were passed off as the regime “taking steps to secure” the exit routes for the CWMD, and Assad was, despite all reassurances to the contrary, handed “a license to kill with conventional weapons“. The effect on the moderate and Western-supported rebels was “devastating,” and radicalism on all sides was given a boost.
For this extreme price, Assad was not even disarmed of his CWMD—a sideshow in terms of what was inflicting the casualties. In June 2014, all declared CWMD was removed. This was, said President Obama, a demonstration that “the use of these abhorrent weapons has consequences”.
That October, OPCW found four secret CWMD facilities, one of them a production site. By summer 2015 it was clear in open-source that Assad had retained some CWMD, and US intelligence confirmed this in early 2016. Meanwhile, Assad began the routine use of alternate chemical weapons against Syrians, notably chlorine. A separate, simultaneous OPCW investigation has documented eight of these atrocities by the regime.
There have been no consequence for Assad trading sarin for chlorine—nor for the barrel bombs, incendiary weapons, starvation sieges, airstrikes, and use of death squads that have destroyed a country and ignited a region-wide war that has killed half-a-million people.
When asked about his decision to stand back from military strikes against Assad in 2013, President Obama said he was “very proud of this moment”. The US has all-but abandoned the stated regime-change policy, and is instead inching ever-closer to an accommodation that keeps Assad in place. The Russians managed, via their intervention, to turn the peace process inside-out: from a means of transitioning Assad out to a discussion about the terms on which he could stay.
That process was jointly killed earlier this year by Assad and al-Qaeda making the ceasefire untenable. But without an alteration in the balance-of-power on the ground in favour of the mainstream armed opposition, the terms of the discussion will remain the regime’s whenever the next round takes place.
The failure to punish Assad at the time for the Ghouta chemical massacre has done irreparable harm to one of the few international norms left, contributed beyond calculation to the radicalisation of Syria and the rise of anti-Western sentiments, and the course of events since has underlined the lesson that such criminality pays. It is now widely agreed—even by parts of the Turkish government, probably the most hawkishly anti-Assad—that Assad will to have some role in a “transition”. The contrast to the autocrats who were not prepared to kill on this scale and thus fell from power is stark.
It can also be guaranteed that just as Assad strung out the disarmament process so that he was always necessary—eternally disarming and never quite disarmed—any transition in Syria overseen by the dictator will be one in which Assad is always going and never actually gone.
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The man accused of murdering Jo Cox gave his name in court as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. As he (allegedly) shot and stabbed the MP to death he cried “Britain First” or “Put Britain First”.
It is now established that he had links with the far-right. It seems very likely that he is mentally ill. We do not know to what extent the anti-Europe campaign fuelled his murderous hatred, but those of who believe that political rhetoric inevitably has practical consequences are obliged to point out that the poisonous, racist campaign for Brexit has created precisely the political context for murderous violence of this kind. Just a few hours before the murder, Farage unveiled a poster showing Syrian refugees fleeing to Slovenia as though this was a threat to the UK: a clear incitement to racial hatred:
I’m not Owen Jones’s biggest fan, but on this occasion I can completely understand his anger and frustration at the refusal of Sky News presenter Mark Longhurst to recognise this as a homophobic attack. Longhurst told him “you cannot say this is a worse attack than what happened in Paris”, which Jones did not say. Eventually, Jones walked out, and good for him:
The US Socialist Worker (no longer related to the UK organisation/paper of the same name) at least makes an attempt at a serious analysis, but is not entirely coherent and verges, towards the end, on a version of “blow-back”.
Donald Trump is all too predictable … and loathsome.
Owen Jones explains himself at greater length here
Leave.EU has wasted no time in cashing in:
Above: the remnants of one of the pubs immediately after the blast
From Syria Solidarity UK (posted 28th April):
The killing of Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz
Via The Syria Campaign on Facebook
I am Dr Hatem, the director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo.
Last night, 27 staff and patients were killed in an airstrike on Al Quds Hospital nearby. My friend Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz (pictured), the city’s most qualified paediatrician, was killed in the attack.
He used to work at our Children’s Hospital during the day and then he’d go to Al Quds Hospital to attend to emergencies overnight.
Dr Maaz and I used to spend six hours a day together. He was friendly, kind and he used to joke a lot with the whole staff. He was the loveliest doctor in our hospital.
I’m in Turkey now, and he was supposed to visit his family here after I returned to Aleppo. He hadn’t seen them in four months.
Dr Maaz stayed in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world, because of his devotion to his patients. Hospitals are often targeted by government and Russian air forces.
Days before Dr Maaz’s life was taken, an airstrike hit only 200 metres away from our hospital. When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them.
Like so many others, Dr Maaz was killed for saving lives. Today we remember Dr Maaz’s humanity and his bravery. Please share his story so others may know what medics in Aleppo and across Syria are facing.
The situation today is critical – Aleppo may soon come under siege. We need the world to be watching.
Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts,
March With Medics Under Fire
Saturday 7th May at 2pm, Trafalgar Square, London.
Facebook event page.
Above: Johnson’s lies on the EU exposed by fellow Tory Andrew Tyrie
The liar, cheat, hypocrite and malevolent clown Boris Johnson has done something many observers would have thought impossible: taken the Tory campaign against Labour’s Sadiq Kahn in London down to new depths of filth, thinly-disguised racism and mendacity.
The Tory candidate, Zac Goldsmith has put out a leaflet calling Khan “radical and divisive”, obviously with the implication that Khan is linked to radical Islamism and perhaps even to terrorism. In another leaflet, directly mailed to people Goldsmith’s team considered likely to be of Indian or Sri Lankan backgrounds (based on their names), Goldsmith has suggested that Khan would tax “family jewellery”.
In fact, Khan is a socially liberal Muslim who has been outspoken in his support for gay rights (including gay marriage), womens’ rights and opposition to anti-Semitism. He has even criticised the present Labour leadership for (in his view) not tackling anti-Semitism with sufficient vigour.
And yet Johnson, writing in today’s Daily Telegraph has the audacity to try to brand Khan an anti-Semite by association: there are some anti-Semites in the Labour Party and Khan is a member of the Labour Party – ipso facto Khan is an anti-Semite, or at least tainted with it. Johnson does, in fact, begrudgingly acknowledge that Khan has spoken out against anti-Semitism in the Party (or, as Johnson puts it, has “belatedly admitted that Labour is afflicted with anti-Semitism”) before going on to accuse Khan of “sharing platforms with some of the most backward and sectarian forces in Islam” … without mentioning the fact that Khan has often used those platforms to criticise such people to their faces.
Oh yes, Johnson mentions that one of the Islamists Khan shared a platform with, Sulaiman Ghani, has “denounced gays.” Johnson, it seems, is a great defender of gay rights. These days. According to himself.
Tory ex-MP Matthew Parris (who has been openly gay for many years) recently (March 26) wrote a scathing attack on Johnson, in The Times (unfortunately, Murdoch’s pay-wall prevents me from linking to it beyond the opening sentences, here). Parris begins his piece thus:
Parody is now extinct. Boris Johnson has killed the distinction between reality and satire. Remember the Tory who as a wannabe MP called Labour’s repeal of Section 28 “appalling”, who joked about “tank-topped bum-boys”, who sneakily rowed back from homophobia by asking “what’s not to like?” about gays who leave the field of available women clear for straight men? He is now urging gay men to vote Leave because, he says, some Eastern European countries have legislation that represses them
“It was us” he burbles on a new Out & Proud video, “the British people, that created [an] environment of happiness and contentment for LGBT people. It may well have been us. It ruddy well wasn’t him. But now, even into gay saunas creeps the smell of his damp tweed.
Parris’ entire piece is well worth reading and sometime in the future I may well risk the wrath of Murdoch’s lawyers by republishing the whole thing. But for now, I’ll content myself with republishing the transcript (again, brought to us courtesy of Parris in The Times) of Johnson giving his criminal friend Darius Guppy the details of a journalist Guppy wanted beaten up. Johnson was concerned about how badly the journalist would be injured, because the assault might be linked to himself:
Johnson: “I really want to know …”
Guppy: “I guarantee you he will not be seriously hurt.”
Johnson: “How badly will he…”
Guppy [interrupting]: “He will not have a broken limb or broken arm, he will not be put into intensive care or anything like that. He’ll probably get a couple of black eyes and a cracked rib or something.”
Johnson: “Cracked rib? If I get trouble, if I get…I got this bloody number for you. OK Darrie. I said I’d do it. I’ll do it. Don’t worry.”
And this creature, Boris Johnson, has the nerve to write that Sadiq Khan is unfit to be Mayor of London because he, Khan, is – on the basis of no evidence whatsoever from Johnson – “pandering to the extremists”! Johnson is not (as even some on the left seem to think) an amusing buffoon: he’s a filthy, racist hypocrite and scumbag.
Above: from the Guardian’s front page today
The ‘Panama Papers’ is without doubt the biggest and most important story (so far) of the century, and Shiraz will be keeping a sharp eye, in particular, on how Putin’s fans and apologists on the supposed “left” deal with it. The Mossack Fonseca documents were initially passed to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The fact is that the Guardian is just one among 109 media organisations in 76 countries that have helped break the story – which makes this message from Deputy Editor Paul Johnson a bit of a damn cheek. I don’t think I’ll be sending them any money just yet:
The “Panama Papers” is the biggest leak in history: 11.5m documents – which would take one person 27 years to read – describing in the finest detail, for the first time, how rivers of money are moved around the world, hidden from sight by secret offshore banking operations.
The scale of the story is staggering: inside those papers 113,000 shell companies were discovered – helping hundreds of national leaders, politicians, celebrities and business people hide their money.
If the scale of the leak was enormous, the journalistic effort to bring it to full exposure was just as big: 370 journalists from 70 different countries worked in an unprecedented scale of co-operation. At the Guardian, we had five journalists dedicated to the investigation for six months, in conditions of tight secrecy, working through the dozens of stories and an exhaustive legal process.
Readers can support such journalism by making a financial contribution to the Guardian. Make a contribution here.
Today’s investigation has created a much-needed worldwide debate about tax and fairness. There are another four days of stories to come. We think they are of vital public importance. We hope you agree.
Thank you for your support and for reading the Guardian.
Deputy Editor, Guardian News and Media
I’ve refrained from commenting on Trapped until now because I’m biased: it’s jointly written by a friend and comrade, Clive Bradley. But I think I can muster enough objectivety to now confidently assert that this is top class stuff even by the high standards of the Nordic noir dramas that have been shown to such acclaim on UK TV ever since The Killing hit our screens in 2011.
As it’s still possible to catch up with the first eight episodes on BBC iPlayer (you have until 13 March to see the first two) I won’t go into any detail about the plot. Suffice to say it has several of the usual features – a flawed but sympathetic cop attempting to solve some gruesome murders while simultaneously having to deal with less than competent and/or hostile colleagues and a tortured private life. In addition, there’s one sub-plot involving the captain of a Danish car-ferry and two trafficked Nigerian sisters, plus a second involving local politics and a land deal with a Chinese consortium.
And it’s all set in a remote Icelandic fishing village cut off by a blizzard. As Les Hearn notes in his review in Solidarity, “a dominant character in the drama, sometimes it seems, the dominant character, is nature.” I’ve felt it necessary to keep warm with a bottle of Whyte & MacKay’s finest while watching the first eight episodes, and will ensure a bottle is to hand for the final episode on BBC4 this coming Saturday at 9pm. I recommend you do the same.
Today (6th February) is International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM. To mark this important occasion, and to support the aims of anti-FGM campaigners throughout the world, Shiraz Socialist republishes the following:
FEMINIST STATEMENT ON THE NAMING & ABOLITION OF FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION (2013)
Patriarchal oppression is the bedrock of female genital mutilation (FGM) and related harmful traditional practices.
The aim of this Statement is to gather support, from concerned citizens and from people directly working to abolish FGM, for research, dialogue and activism which derives from such an understanding. To that end we insist, for instance, that FGM be correctly named – as specifically ‘mutilation’ and not, in formal discourse, by any evasive or softening euphemism.
PLEASE ADD YOUR NAME HERE TO THE FEMINIST STATEMENT ON FGM
1. Female genital mutilation (FGM) in all its forms is cruelty and abuse. The United Nations has decreed it a fundamental violation of human rights [a].
2. FGM is practised in many parts of the world. The World Health Organisation estimates that some 140 million girls and women now alive have undergone this mutilation, with around 3 million more experiencing it every year [b].
140 million is however a very conservative figure and the total including e.g. Indonesia [c], the Middle East and diaspora destinations is likely to be much higher.
3. FGM, like other traditional practices which harm women and girls [d], is done from fear in many guises, at the instigation behind the scenes of powerful people who stand to benefit from it, for themselves [e].
4. The proper, and necessary, response to FGM is to treat it, wherever it occurs, as a very serious, sometimes deadly, crime. There is substantive evidence to suggest this approach, allied with appropriate education and support, is the most effective way of stopping FGM [f].
5. It is essential to acknowledge that African women leaders themselves, in joint statements [g], have decreed that FGM should in all formal discussion be called ‘mutilation’, and not by any other euphemistic term. It is deeply disrespectful of those brave women – and also extremely unhelpful – to ignore their judgement and advice.
6. We are concerned simply and solely with the essential protection from FGM, everywhere, of defenceless children, irrespective of whether the intended FGM operators are traditional practitioners or, in the modern contemporary sense, medically trained [h] .
(NB Necessarily, our concern further extends, in some communities, to the protection of women subject to involuntary FGM, e.g. when their marriages are arranged, after childbirth or after criminal abduction.)
7. We believe that all women and girls who have experienced FGM are entitled, as and if or when they wish, to skilled reconstructive or other surgery and /or additional medical and personal support, free of charge, as part of reparation for this crime.
8. There are many people with different skills and insights who can and should contribute to the work of abolishing / eliminating / eradicating FGM; each of us has a part to play.
It is however fundamentally important to recognise unreservedly, and to hear, the centrally critical contribution of women with direct experience of this harmful traditional practice who are seeking to eliminate FGM.
28 August 2013
[a] United Nations (2012): Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilations (24 September), United Nations bans female genital mutilation (20 December) & Sources of international human rights law on Female Genital Mutilation
[b] World Health Organisation (2013): Factsheet 241: Female Genital Mutilation and UNICEF (23 July, 2013) Despite overwhelming opposition, millions of girls at risk of genital mutilation
[c] See for example this Research Report: Female Circumcision in Indonesia – Extent, Implications and Possible Interventions to Uphold Women’s Health Rights (Jakarta, 2003)
[d] Which must also be abolished, see e.g. World Health Organisation website page: Female genital mutilation (FGM) and harmful practices
[e] Feminist Europa. Review of Books. Vol. 9, No 1, 2009 / Vol. 10, No 1, 2010 (Tobe Levin, p.69) and To Stop Female Genital Mutilation In The UK, Follow (And Invest) The Money (Hilary Burrage, 28 Feb., 2013)
[f] Thomson Reuters Foundation (22 July 2013), Thirty million girls at risk of FGM despite decline in support – UN
[g] Regional Conference on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children in Africa organised by the Inter-African Committee (IAC) on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, 19-24 November 1990, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and later reaffirmed in Mali in 2005 .
[h] World Health Organisation (2010): Global strategy to stop health-care providers from performing female genital mutilation
~ ~ ~
Now please add your name and thoughts via Support The Statement On FGM .
The instigators and authors of this Statement are listed here.
For information on the reasons and rationale for this Statement please see Statement Background. An account of how it came about can be found here.
We welcome support from everyone, women and men, black and white, academics, activists in the field, professional practitioners, political representatives, policy makers or simply concerned citizens of the world.
Please choose as many as you wish of the options which follow to let us know about your engagement with our Statement, and why it is important to you.
1. SUPPORT the Statement publicly, via the Change.org e-petition:
FGM researchers and policy makers across the international community: Support the Feminist Statement on Female Genital Mutilation – and also forward the e-petition elsewhere if you can, please;
and / or
2. JOIN THE DISCUSSION on this website, here about how to move the FGM agenda forward – feel free to also add your website / Twitter etc info for all to see, if you’d like to publicize them as well; everyone is invited to do this!
and / or
3. REGISTER YOUR INTEREST in future involvement privately, here.
This is for activists, researchers etc: your name will not be made public if you choose only to do this, but we will know you are supportive and that we may contact you again.
Please note that
1. all posts on this website are moderated, and only posters who we believe give their real names will have their support published;
2. whilst we recognise and are also opposed to male genital harm, this Statement concerns specifically gender-related harm to women and girls. We will therefore publish only Comments which are directly on-topic (but if your website or Twitter handle also reflects male-gendered concerns, :-) that’s probably not a problem).
The names of some initial supporters of the Statement can be seen on the Statement Signatories Page.
Many thanks indeed for your support and engagement; we look forward to hearing from you!
_ _ _
See also: Hilary Burrage : author of
Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Ashgate, 2015)
> Hilary Burrage has written the most definitive book ever on FGM. An invaluable tool to help eradicate it worldwide. A personal triumph. (The Guardian)
Dave K writes:
Readers may have seen interviews with Katy Morgan-Davies who escaped from the Brixton Maoist cult of “Comrade Bala”. Her story is horrifying and she is also very impressive in her own right. However though there isn’t much on this in the interview she obviously sees the links between the violence and abuse in the cult and its political worship of Stalinist leaders. It’s also heartening to learn that rather then rejecting politics (which would be entirely understandable) she has joined the Labour Party.
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