The individual who murdered Jo Cox a week before the EU referendum shouted “Britain First” and similar slogans as he snuffed out her life. In court, when asked his name he replied “Death to Traitors.” We now know that in the bag he carried during the attack there was a leaflet about the referendum (from the ‘Remain’ side, but quite obviously not because that’s the side he supported).
Jo Cox was, of course, a well-known ‘Remain’ campaigner and had also been outspoken in demanding that the UK did more for Syrian refugees. She was murdered on the very day that Farage unveiled his notorious ‘Breaking Point’ poster.
At the time of the slaughter, it was pretty obvious that the killer was a ultra nationalist, driven into action by the extreme nativist and anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Farage/Banks wing of the Leave campaign (which the likes of Johnson and Stuart were, of course, quite happy to go along with). But the Remain side pulled our punches on this – mainly, I suspect, because it felt distasteful to seem to be making political capital out of a human tragedy. Even Shiraz Socialist was hesitant about making the link in plain language. The likes of the SWP and Morning Star, usually quick off the mark in pointing out that politicians’ racist language (eg Cameron’s use of the word “swarm”) can have practical consequences in the streets, avoided pointing the finger – for the obvious reason that they found themselves on the same side as Farage, Johnson and Stuart, however different their motives may have been
But now it can be said – indeed, must be said: although the killer is a far from being a typical ‘Leave’ voter (he is a neo- Nazi and may well be mentally ill), he was undooubtably stirred into action when he was by the ‘Leave’ campaign. In the wise words of Alex Massie (one of the few journalists to make the link at the time, though he stopped short of holding Farage personally responsible):
When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’
When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.
Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen
A statement signed by over 120 Palestinians condemns “whitewashing” of Syrian regime by “activists whom we once respected”
Above: the Free Syria and Palestinian flags painted on the wall in the West Bank
Eulogizing the late Samir Kassir forty days after his 2 June, 2005, assassination, the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish lauded the Lebanese-Palestinian-Syrian writer’s wide-ranging “liberation project,” which he said encompassed everything from “the child’s right to question his father, to the woman’s right to divorce her husband, to […] the poet’s right to shed the strictures of rhyme, to […] the right of citizens to change their ruler, to the right of the individual and society to resist both despotism and occupation simultaneously”(italics added).
This was, on one level, an obvious nod to Kassir’s extraordinarily courageous opposition to the Bashar al-Assad regime that cost him his life (“Was it for this that Samir Kassir deserved to be killed?” Darwish then asked rhetorically). It was also, however, consistent with the argument Darwish and other democratic Arab leftists had been making since at least the early 1970s; namely, that long-term liberation necessitated a fight against Arab dictatorships no less than Israeli occupiers.
It’s this crucial chiaroscuro that tends to get missed by the sort of self-styled leftist in the West whose only real use for Darwish and other Palestinians is one-dimensional. In their designated roles imagined as eliminationist anti-Zionist fanatics (the same distortion, ironically, made by the toxic Israeli right-wingers who liken Darwish to Hitler), Arabs are ultimately no more than cameos and extras in a story that has no time for their suffering – not even the slaughter of 500,000 Syrians – if it can’t be made, as Trump might put it, to be about America First.
Not surprisingly, a number of Palestinians happen to not much enjoy their misfortune being appropriated in this fashion. A pair of articles published last weekend by the renowned American Israel critic Max Blumenthal – in which he portrayed the Syrian first-aid volunteers known as The White Helmets, who’ve pulled tens of thousands of civilians from the rubble left by Syrian and Russian air strikes (including the famous shell-shocked 5-year-old, Omran Daqneesh), as sinister agents of American neoconservatism – was evidently a last straw for some. In a new statement titled ‘On The Allies We’re Not Proud Of: A Palestinian Response to Troubling Discourse on Syria,’ over 120 Palestinian signatories state they are “concerned by some of the discourse that has emerged from progressive circles with regards to the ongoing crisis in Syria.”
Calling the “Syrian revolution […] a natural response to 40 years of authoritarian rule,” they directly address Blumenthal by dismissing as “nonsense” the “notion that just because an organization is receiving foreign aid, it must follow then that that organization is partaking in some shadowy Western-backed conspiracy.”
In perhaps their most interesting reflection, they say they regret their past “tendency to heroize those who advocate on behalf of the Palestinian struggle, and we fear that some members of our community may have prioritized the celebrity status of these individuals over the respect and support we owe to those Syrians affected most directly by the war.” They conclude they have “no choice left but to cease working with these activists whom we once respected,” and “encourage others who are guided by similar principles to do the same.”
The full statement (which one hopes will also be published in Arabic) is reproduced below:
We, the undersigned Palestinians, write to affirm our commitment to the amplification of Syrian voices as they endure slaughter and displacement at the hands of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. We are motivated by our deep belief that oppression, in all of its manifestations, should be the primary concern of anyone committed to our collective liberation. Our vision of liberation includes the emancipation of all oppressed peoples, regardless of whether or not their struggles fit neatly into outdated geopolitical frameworks.
We are concerned by some of the discourse that has emerged from progressive circles with regards to the ongoing crisis in Syria. In particular, we are embarrassed by the ways in which some individuals known for their work on Palestine have failed to account for some crucial context in their analysis of Syria.
The Syrian revolution was in fact a natural response to 40 years of authoritarian rule. The Assad regime, with the support of its foreign financial and military backers, is attempting to preserve its power at the expense of the millions of Syrians whom the regime has exiled, imprisoned, and massacred. We believe that minimizing this context in any discussion of Syria dismisses the value of Syrian self-determination and undermines the legitimacy of their uprising.
We also believe that an important consequence of all foreign interventions, including those purportedly done on behalf of the uprising, has been the setback of the original demands of revolution. The revolution is a victim, not a product, of these interventions. It is imperative for any analysis of Syria to recognize this fundamental premise. We cannot erase the agency of Syrians struggling for liberation, no matter how many players are actively working against them.
Though we maintain that the phenomenon of foreign aid demands thorough critique, we are concerned by the ways in which foreign aid has been weaponized to cast suspicion on Syrian humanitarian efforts. Foreign aid is not unique to Syria; it is prevalent in Palestine as well. We reject the notion that just because an organization is receiving foreign aid, it must follow then that that organization is partaking in some shadowy Western-backed conspiracy. Such nonsense has the effect of both undermining humanitarian efforts while simultaneously whitewashing the very crimes against humanity that necessitated the aid in the first place.
Furthermore, we object to the casual adoption of “war on terror” language. Enemies of liberation have historically used this rhetoric to target humanitarians, organizers, and community members. From Muhammad Salah to the Midwest 23 to the Holy Land Five, our community is all too familiar with the very real consequence of employing a “war on terror” framework. Therefore, we reject a discourse that perpetuates these old tactics and peddles harmful and unwarranted suspicion against Syrians.
Along these lines, it is our position that any discussion of Syria that neglects the central role of Bashar Al-Assad and his regime in the destruction of Syria directly contradicts the principles of solidarity by which we abide. We have reflected on our own tendency to heroize those who advocate on behalf of the Palestinian struggle, and we fear that some members of our community may have prioritized the celebrity status of these individuals over the respect and support we owe to those Syrians affected most directly by the war, as well as those living in the diaspora whose voices have been dismissed as they have watched their homeland be destroyed.
We will no longer entertain individuals who fail to acknowledge the immediate concerns of besieged Syrians in their analysis. Despite reaching out to some of these individuals, they have shown an unwillingness to reflect on the impact of their analysis. We regret that we have no choice left but to cease working with these activists whom we once respected.
We would like to encourage others who are guided by similar principles to do the same.
LOUISE RAW writes on the lessons to be learnt from the feminist and anti-extremist campaigner’s new book, The Battle for British Islam. This article first appeared in the Morning Star and is republished with Louise’s permission:
SARA Khan is as fascinating a figure as she is polarising. A fiercely intelligent woman, she is glamorous and charismatic but also an “ordinary” overworked thirty-something Mum of two who organises meetings around the school run. Debrett’s last year listed her as one of the 500 most influential people in Britain.
Her work defending women and opposing extremism has — as is depressingly the way of things these days — attracted as much abuse as it has accolades.
You don’t, I hope, need me to tell you that being a woman with a public opinion, always a dangerous business, has become more so with the advent of social media.
Those people who might once have shouted “Bitch!” at the telly and left it at that now can and often do go much further.
Khan is a particular lightning rod, as a Muslim who opposes Islamism — by which she means the politicisation of Islam, which she believes to be directly antipathetic to the religion’s tenets — as well as Islamophobia, and will work with the government on both.
If that wasn’t enough, she is also a feminist who is unafraid to call out abuses against women in her religion and anyone else’s. Cue the sound of a thousand internet trolls rushing to their keyboards, steam pouring from their ears.
Khan has had to involve police in threats against her, and to consider her security arrangements.
What is particularly frustrating and pertinent to Star readers is that she’s been attacked by the left as much as the right, and by other feminists.
Khan talks little about the impact of her work on her life, and complains even less. She is careful not to centre herself, but the suffering of her Muslim sisters, in interviews.
This made certain lines in the introduction of her new book, The Battle for British Islam, stand out for me all the more.
Khan co-founded Inspire, the anti-Islamist charity with a particular focus on women, and for many years ran it as a kitchen table enterprise from her home. She assumed those on the left would be natural allies and supporters.
What she found instead was what she calls a “painful rejection.” She has been called a sell-out and an informant.
And within her own religion, she and her young children have been condemned as apostates. Despite remaining a Muslim, she’s been repeatedly called an Islamophobe.
I can corroborate the latter. Khan was a speaker at the 2014 Matchwomen’s Festival, and was angrily accused of “whipping up Islamaphobia” in the Q and A that followed.
Khan’s defence was spirited, though when I spoke to her afterwards she was unflustered, I suppose because she is so used to it.
Both as a feminist and the person who’d invited her to speak, I found it mortifying.
Criticism is valid, but the intemperate rejection of a Muslim woman’s viewpoint, and by white British women, seemed to me problematic.
I felt that those who intended to support Muslims by challenging her risked, ironically, sounding rather imperial: “The white people have decided you’re not a proper Muslim!” Disappointingly, it also derailed the discussion between Khan and the majority of audience members who were enthusiastic at the chance to hear from a Muslim woman who was willing to advise on so many issues, including how to engage with Muslim students without pandering to either Islamism or Islamophobia.
That kind of open dialogue is rare, for many reasons.
Even more discombobulatingly, I know and like both of Khan’s critics and respect their views on feminism in general.
The complexities of the experience opened my eyes to the political minefield Khan herself walks through every day of her campaigning life. She has attracted even more flak for her support for the notorious Prevent programme, established in the wake of 9/11 to tackle radicalisation in the UK.
Again, activists within the NUS and NUT have what seem like valid criticisms of the way the programme operates, both in its original and relaunched forms.
Khan argues in her book, however, that much of the criticism is ill-founded and based on media distortions, or deliberately orchestrated by Islamist groups.
In evidence she breaks down the infamous “terrorist house” incident, in which a schoolboy was supposedly referred to Prevent in December 2015 because he misspelt “terraced” in an essay describing his home and family life.
On the face of it, a great story illustrating laughably out-of-touch and heavy-handed jobsworths doing more harm than good. In fact, the story has been completely debunked — but this scarcely made the press. The boy in question was never referred to Prevent, but to Child Services, because he had written about the violence he experienced at home, including the piteous line: “I hate when my uncle beats me.”
Reading Khan’s book, it’s impossible to feel that determined response to those who would and do radicalise British children isn’t needed. She points out that in some areas, the majority of Prevent referrals are in fact over far-right extremism.
As ever, women are particularly vulnerable, bearing the brunt of anti-Muslim attacks, and targeted by Islamists online.
Khan’s book opens with the story of Muneera, a schoolgirl whose mother became ill when she was 13.
As a result, Muneera spent more time left to her own devices, and found online stories about Isis — she’d never previously heard of the organisation.
She tweeted an interest in them and was astonished by the response.
She was immediately “love-bombed” by waves of seemingly like-minded, supportive new friends, girls and boys her own age, who were either curious too, or eager to tell her more about the wonderful world she could inhabit if she joined Isis.
She later described the lies she was told in words that touchingly evoke the young girl that she was: it would be an “Islamic Disneyland,” where she could “live like a princess.”
One of her new friends was a 14-year-old boy later convicted of inciting others to commit terrorist acts. An extraordinary character apparently obsessed with extreme violence, his own classmates called him “the terrorist,” and didn’t think he was joking when he talked about cutting off their teachers’ heads.
The reality for girls who do join Isis is, of course, not paradise but a hell of brutality and misogyny.
Khan quotes one nauseating line from the handbook given to Isis fighters concerning the slave women and girls given to them to rape — literally bought and sold in slave auctions: “It is permitted to have intercourse with a female slave who hasn’t reached puberty.”
Had Muneera reached Isis, her passport would have been burned and she would have been married to a fighter. She didn’t get that far and today believes Channel, the arm of Prevent that works to help children like her before they have committed any offence, saved her.
She is angry about the way she was deceived and the time stolen from her childhood as she worked to get her life back on track.
The great value of Khan’s book is as a guide for the perplexed, taking the reader clearly and in readable fashion through the rise of Islamism and Salafism, and delineating the point at which she feels the left took a wrong term on Islamism.
She cites an influential 1994 pamphlet written by Chris Harman of the SWP urging Marxists to enter a form of scorpion dance with Islamism and not reject it outright as a form of fascism.
In spite of appearances and its hatred of the left, women’s rights and secularism, Islamism (argued Harman) was not akin to nazism but more like Argentinian Peronism.
We all saw this play out as a predictable disaster, not least because it was founded on the risky assumption that the leading partner in the “dance” would be the left and not Islamists: “[In] an almost patronising way, it was assumed that the poor, oppressed Muslims could be steered by degrees from Islamism to socialism,” says Khan.
It didn’t work, it was never going to work, and it should never have been tried given the complete betrayal of women necessary to stomach, let alone support, Islamist extremism.
Khan’s book is an eloquent and necessary exposition of the state we’re currently in, and a plea for understanding and unity in the fight against extremism — whether it’s the far-right or Islamism which is so against our interests, and should be so alien to socialism done properly. It is essential reading for feminists and lefties — who should, of course, always be one and the same.
Photo: Injured being treated in Aleppo, 25 September 2016, via @HadiAlabdallah.
From a call with Aleppo local council yesterday: SyriaUK:How are you?
Aleppo Council: This situation is the worst we have ever seen, a never ending nightmare, shelling is non-stop throughout the night when there’s no electricity or lights, people are unable to sleep. We also get shelled in the day, but less frequently.The bunker buster missiles used are causing massive shock waves; some buildings are collapsing without being targeted due to the effects of shock waves. These missiles are particularly designed to target underground shelters, so people have nowhere to hide. We woke up yesterday to a building that fell purely because of shock waves, forty people died.
To make matters worse, we are under siege, the markets are empty and we have nothing at all.
How can we help? What would you like us to do?
The whole world knows about what is going on in Aleppo, it is no secret. There was a special UN session about Aleppo today and world leaders kept rehashing the same lines. We know they do not care and will do nothing, but maybe if the general public are aware they would pressure their governments to do something. Make them aware how many types of bombs and missiles are being used against us. We are being shelled with five different types of bombs and missiles: napalm; phosphorous; cluster; barrel bombs; and bunker buster bombs.
SYRIAN GROUPS IN THE UK CALL FOR AIRCRAFT TRACKING, AIRDROPS, AND A NO-BOMBING ZONE
On Monday night an air attack by pro Assad forces destroyed a Red Crescent aid convoy and killed at least 12 people including Omar Barakat, Red Crescent director in Orem al-Kubra, Aleppo province.
The convoy had travelled from regime held territory into opposition territory so was known to the regime. A video released by the Russian Ministry of Defence prior to the attack appears to show that the aid convoy was under Russian drone surveillance at some point before it was hit by an airstrike.
Both Russia and the Assad regime have denied responsibility.
The only area to receive UN aid today Tuesday was regime-held Deir Ezzor by World Food Programme airdrop. Deir Ezzor has received regular airdrops for months now (107 WFP airdrops up to 31 August) while no opposition held area has received a single one despite a UK-proposed and ISSG-agreed deadline of 1 June for airdrops and air bridges to several besieged communities.
The events around yesterday’s aid convoy bombing show the need for aircraft tracking, airdrops, and a no-bombing zone in Syria.
ON AIRCRAFT TRACKING, we have recently been briefing Foreign Office and DfID officials on this option. The UK has the ability to track flights from Assad regime and Russian air bases in Syria at a distance of 400 km. Tracking and publicly reporting aircraft responsible for attacks on civilians would begin to bring a measure of accountability for breaches of UN resolutions, and would help identify command responsibility for potential war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The need for this is clearly illustrated by Russian and Assad regime denials over yesterday’s aid convoy bombing.
ON AIRDROPS, the UK has the experience and the capacity to airdrop food and medical aid to besieged communities from its bases in Cyprus. The UK has the military might to deter attacks on its aircraft. Suitable partners on the ground are available through UOSSM, Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations, and others to coordinate drop zones and aid distribution.
ON A NO-BOMBING ZONE, it is approaching a year now since Jo Cox set out the case in Parliament for ‘deterring the indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilians in Syria through the willingness to consider the prudent and limited use of force.’
A no-bombing zone does not require boots on the ground; does not require air patrols in Syrian airspace; does not require bombing Syrian air defences; does not require coming into armed conflict with Russia.
A no-bombing zone requires giving the Assad regime an ultimatum to stop air attacks against civilians, and then answering any subsequent air attacks with carefully targeted strikes against Assad regime military assets. It is a measured, proportionate proposal to save countless lives and open the door to peace.
We have heard the ‘no military solution’ mantra repeated about Syria for over five years. We need a political solution, but diplomacy without pressure has failed again and again to deliver a political solution, and all that time the Assad regime backed by Russia has continued military action against Syria’s civilian population, driving people to flee and destroying any hope for an inclusive political settlement.
It is time to learn from over five years of failure and act to end the killing in Syria.
The UK has the ability to track flights from Assad regime and Russian air bases in Syria at a distance of 400 km. Tracking and publicly reporting aircraft responsible for attacks on civilians would begin to bring a measure of accountability for breaches of UN resolutions, and would help identify command responsibility for potential war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The deeply problematic attempted Syrian ceasefire agreement between the United States and Russia last week never really took hold and was finally torn asunder on Monday by Russia and the regime of Bashar al-Assad blitzing an aid convoy and launching massive, indiscriminate aerial attacks on rebel-held areas in Aleppo. Last night, the pro-Assad coalition commenced a renewed assault on Aleppo actually as the parties met to discuss putting the ceasefire back online.
It had been surreal that it was the U.S. insisting that “The ceasefire is not dead”. What it exposed was the lack of Western will to restrain the Assad regime, which al-Qaeda, especially, is exploiting, offering its services in the fight against Assad, and building a sustainable presence in Syria that will threaten the West for many years to come.
A Misconceived Ceasefire
The agreement between the U.S. and Russia, and its attendant political process, were inherently misconceived, strengthening Assad, whose murderous policies have—quite deliberately—provided the ideal context for the growth of extremist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
The ceasefire had been intended to last seven days, during which regime jets would cease murdering civilians and attacking mainstream armed opposition groups, and there would be free access for humanitarian supplies. After this “sustained” period of calm the U.S. and Russia would launch joint airstrikes against al-Qaeda in Syria, the recently rebranded Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS).
The proposal—if it worked to the letter—would have eliminated an important part of the insurgency. Since the agreement contained no provision for bolstering mainstream rebels and no mechanism to prevent or punish the regime for anything, there was nothing to stop the pro-regime coalition from continuing to commit atrocities as JFS was degraded, nor making military gains against a weakened insurgency once JFS was gone.
While JFS’s destruction would have neutralized the insurrection as a strategic threat to the regime, it would not have brought peace. It would have removed all incentive for the regime to negotiate a political settlement, yet the regime’s chronic capacity problems would have left it unable to pacify the whole country. In these conditions, the most radical insurgent forces, who would be the ones prepared to fight on, would have been strengthened, condemning Syria to a permanent war in which terrorists could find haven.
The eradicate-JFS-without-replacing-its-capabilities part of the plan was understandably rejected by the Syrian opposition, which officially accepted the ceasefire element of the U.S.-Russia deal. Unfortunately even the ceasefire provisions never came to pass. Around 150 people were killed by the pro-Assad coalition during the ceasefire and not a single aid delivery was permitted to any of the regime-besieged areas.
On Monday, an aid convoy of eighteen trucks finally did move over the Turkish border into Aleppo, loaded with aid for 78,000 people. It was obliterated by Russian jets, who had been tracking it for at least two hours, its contents destroyed, and thirty-one civilians and staff killed. Indiscriminate bombing of rebel-held areas all over Aleppo also recommenced, bringing the ceasefire in any real world sense to an end.
Russia Directs the Political Process
By the time the political process began in December 2015, the Russian intervention had altered the balance of power so the regime was ascendant, and enabled the Russians to subvert the whole process, transforming it from one about the terms of Assad’s departure to the terms of his continuation in power. The U.S. was pushing for a unity government between the regime, with Assad still at the helm, and the rebels that turned its guns on the Islamic State. For the rebels this was surrender by another name.
The attempted ceasefire in February was preceded by a lessening of support for the rebellion as the U.S. and allies lived up to their obligation to de-escalate. The pro-regime coalition used this as cover to advance against Aleppo City, cutting off its supply lines to Turkey. The pro-regime then ostensibly accepted the ceasefire, using the rebels’ restraint to consolidate their gains, while continuing to prepare further offensives and to brazenly continue assaults in key strategic zones. The ceasefire irretrievably collapsed in May when al-Qaeda led a full-scale counter-offensive in Aleppo, but in reality the ceasefire had been over in all-but-name for many weeks because of the pro-regime coalition’s continued attacks.
This time around the ceasefire was once again on de facto Russian terms and the regime faced no threat of enforceable sanction for violations of the agreement. It has also been evident for several weeks that the regime was building up for an offensive in Aleppo and the only question in Moscow about the ceasefire was whether the pro-regime coalition needed the fiction of one to allow preparations to be completed, or had no further need of this smokescreen and were able to conduct the offensive. The answer is now in.
From around midday yesterday, in Aleppo, the pro-Assad coalition commenced its heaviest wave of airstrikes for months. One resident said it was “as if the [Russian and Assad regime] planes are trying to compensate for all the days they didn’t drop bombs”. Last night the Assad regime announced a full-scale offensive as Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting with his Russian counterpart. Kerry is said to have found out about this from one of the wire services. Since then the gates of hell have opened.
Since al-Qaeda argued, from the beginning, that the political process was a conspiracy against the revolution, which would cajole the rebels into joining an interim government that served Western counter-terrorism priorities but had no care for the people and would leave them under Assad’s heel, they have come out of this period with a lot of credibility.
Al-Qaeda has adopted a strategy of embedding itself into the rebellion, making itself militarily necessary for the opposition and thereby shielding its jihadist agenda behind revolutionary actors whose only intention is to topple a regime that threatens them and their families. The Western refusal to empower the mainstream rebellion allowed al-Qaeda the space to do this and to make decoupling its own fate from the rebellion more difficult. The attempted ceasefires have made this worse by providing cover for regime advances that consciously weaken the moderate rebels, increasing the dependency, in an effort to make the conflict binary between the regime and the jihadists. With the rebranding—the supposed “split” from al-Qaeda—being baptised by breaking the siege of Aleppo, which the U.S. said it was powerless to do, and modifications in behaviour on the ground, al-Qaeda is even winning over former sceptics.
It’s a sad fact that Western policy has failed to defend a single Syrian inside Syria from murder by its outlaw government and its foreign life-support system, nor shown any willingness to work toward the only viable solution for security and peace: the removal of the Assad regime. A peace settlement from here is only viable if the West is willing to confront the Assad regime, to forcefully limit its ability to commit mass-murder and to change battlefield dynamics against it. The continued Western fiction that the ceasefire remains or can be revived or is the “only show in town,” as Boris Johnson put it, is a clear statement that the West has no such will, and has taken the decision to continue on a path whose results are now known.
Allowing Assad free rein, as current policy does, protracts the war. The regime and its supporters have no intention of abiding by conditions that limit their capacity to subdue the insurgency, but they are unable to complete that task. What the pro-regime coalition can do is continue with their chosen tactics in the attempt, collective punishment and mass-displacement, which leave a desperate population amenable to appeals from anybody who can help. Al-Qaeda will continue to fill this void for as long as it is allowed to.
By fostering a vanguardist co-dependency, taking on the population’s concerns as its own and working toward them, al-Qaeda is able to use that population to protect itself and to push its ideology among them, working toward socializing people into its vision of an Islamic state and co-opting the rebellion. Leaving al-Qaeda as the only viable actor for protecting civilians from the Assad regime and its allies is creating a dangerously durable future base for Islamist terrorism.
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.
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.
Devastation at M2 hospital in Aleppo after government air strikes (@aboali_majed)
The few doctors remaining in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo have written an open letter to US President Barack Obama begging him to intervene against the war crimes being committed by the Assad regime and its sponsor, Putin. It is not clear whether the doctors are calling for a diplomatic or military intervention.
Last month, the Syrian Army took control of the last road into the city with the help of Russian air strikes.
Most of the doctors who remain in the city have urged Mr Obama to intervene and create a zone to Aleppo’s east which is protected from airstrikes.
They have also called for “international action to ensure Aleppo is never besieged again”.
The letter in full:
Dear President Obama,
We are 15 of the last doctors serving the remaining 300,000 citizens of eastern Aleppo. Regime troops have sought to surround and blockade the entire east of the city. Their losses have meant that a trickle of food has made its way into eastern Aleppo for the first time in weeks. Whether we live or die seems to be dependent on the ebbs and flows of the battlefield.
We have seen no effort on behalf of the United States to lift the siege or even use its influence to push the parties to protect civilians.
For five years, we have faced death from above on a daily basis. But we now face death from all around. For five years, we have borne witness as countless patients, friends and colleagues suffered violent, tormented deaths. For five years, the world has stood by and remarked how ‘complicated’ Syria is, while doing little to protect us. Recent offers of evacuation from the regime and Russia have sounded like thinly-veiled threats to residents – flee now or face annihilation ?
Last month, there were 42 attacks on medical facilities in Syria, 15 of which were hospitals in which we work. Right now, there is an attack on a medical facility every 17 hours. At this rate, our medical services in Aleppo could be completely destroyed in a month, leaving 300,000 people to die.
What pains us most, as doctors, is choosing who will live and who will die. Young children are sometimes brought into our emergency rooms so badly injured that we have to prioritize those with better chances, or simply don’t have the equipment to help them. Two weeks ago, four newborn babies gasping for air suffocated to death after a blast cut the oxygen supply to their incubators. Gasping for air, their lives ended before they had really begun.
Despite the horror, we choose to be here. We took a pledge to help those in need.
Our dedication to this pledge is absolute. Some of us were visiting our families when we heard the city was being besieged. So we rushed back – some on foot because the roads were too dangerous. Because without us even more of our friends and neighbors will die. We have a duty to remain and help.
Continued US inaction to protect the civilians of Syria means that our plight is being wilfully tolerated by those in the international corridors of power. The burden of responsibility for the crimes of the Syrian government and its Russian ally must therefore be shared by those, including the United States, who allow them to continue.
Unless a permanent lifeline to Aleppo is opened it will be only a matter of time until we are again surrounded by regime troops, hunger takes hold and hospitals’ supplies run completely dry. Death has seemed increasingly inescapable. We do not need to tell you that the systematic targeting of hospitals by Syrian regime and Russian warplanes is a war crime. We do not need to tell you that they are committing atrocities in Aleppo.
We do not need tears or sympathy or even prayers, we need your action. Prove that you are the friend of Syrians.
1. Dr. Abu Al Baraa, Pediatrician
2. Dr. Abu Tiem, Pediatrician
3. Dr. Hamza, Manager
4. Dr. Yahya, Pediatrician and head of Nutrition Program
The Israeli Olympians murdered at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. (Danny Ayalon Youtube Channel)
After forty-four years the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has held an official memorial for the eleven Israeli athletes killed at the 1972 Games in Munich.
In the early hours of 5 September, Palestinian terroists from the Black September group clambered over security fences at the Olympic Village, made their way to the Israelis’ quarters and took a group of them hostage.
The terrorists, who murdered two of the Israeli athletes, demanded the release of more than 200 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. It ended with a botched rescue attempt by German police in which all nine of the remaining hostages, and a policeman, were killed.
Ankie Spitzer, widow of Andre, one of the victims, says she has asked for a minute of silence ever since the 1976 Games.
The request was turned down, and she says she was told it was “because then there were 21 Arab delegations and if they [the IOC] would do a memorial all these delegations would boycott, and they would go home”. There have been other “excuses” since.
Now, after years of campaigning, Ankie Spitzer and the other victims’ relatives have the consolation of a memorial ceremony in the athletes’ village in Rio, where a memorial stone was be unveiled.
The Olympic historian, Jules Boykoff, author of the recently-released Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics, says part of the explanation for the delay was “a guiding fiction that the IOC has long clung to – that politics and sports don’t mix”.
Below, Eric Lee in an article first published in 2012, recalls the response of the American SWP (not connected with the British organisation of the same name):
This may be news to some, but what is today commonplace was once quite rare. I’m referring to anti-Semitism on the far Left — and am reminded of what some of us saw as a turning point back in 1972.
For a quarter of a century following the defeat of Nazi Germany, anti-Semites everywhere were laying low — especially in the West. The Soviet leadership was growing increasingly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel, and anti-Semitism was rife in the Arab world, but in countries like the USA, it was quite rare for Jew-hatred to be expressed openly. And certainly not on the Left.
So while there were various degrees of criticism of Israel — especially of Israel’s brand-new occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Sinai and the Golan Heights — these took place at a time when anti-Semitism remained taboo.
That’s why the Munich massacre of that year — and particularly the reaction of America’s largest far Left group to it — was such a shock.
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) was then still riding on a wave of support following its successful leadership of a large part of the anti-war movement during the Vietnam years — a war that was still raging. Its youth section, the Young Socialist Alliance, was strong on many college campuses. And it was still at that time pretty much an orthodox Trotskyist organization, though was later to drift.
When 11 Israeli athletes were killed following the attack by Black September terrorists, most political activists either grieved or denounced the terrorists. Some would have criticized the botched German government attempt to rescue them.
But not the SWP.
In its weekly newspaper The Militant, the SWP ran an article on the “real victims of the Munich massacre”. And the real victims, in their eyes, were not the 11 innocent Israelis, but … the Palestinians.
An editorial in “The Militant” following the Munich massacre labelled the world outcry as a “hypocritical roar of indignation” whose purpose really was “to make the criminal look like the victim” and said the massacre itself was merely a mistake in tactics.
Those of us who were in the Socialist Party, at that time still under the ideological leadership of Max Shachtman, were shocked at the SWP’s stance.
Our youth section, the Young Peoples Socialist League (YPSL) produced a flyer for distribution at SWP and YSA events where we bluntly accused our former comrades of having crossed the line from criticism of Israel to hatred of the Jewish state — and of Jews.
The SWP was shocked at the allegation and responded by publishing a series of articles in “The Militant” defending their record in the fight against anti-Semitism, going back to the Second World War.
Looking back at that today, it strikes me what an innocent time that was.
Today, if a group on the Left is accused of anti-Semitism it rarely goes to the lengths that the SWP of 1972 went to defend themselves.
Accusations of Jew-hatred are today greeted with a shrug.
What was so shocking 40 years ago — that a socialist organisation would identify somehow with a brutal terrorist attack on innocent people if those people happen to be Jewish — is commonplace now.
In the decades that followed the Munich massacre, the SWP drifted away from Trotskyism and lost nearly all of its members, leaving only a tiny organisation left, bereft of all influence.
Hightime to right a shared legacy of failure on Syria.
Reasons for the UK’s narrow vote to leave the EU are many. One is Syria: Both the Leave campaign and UKIP connected fears over immigration to the Syrian crisis. Assad’s war against Syria’s population has created the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.
In or out of the EU, we have a duty to care for refugees. We also need to understand that this refugee crisis is not caused by EU rules on free movement; it’s caused by the failure of world leaders, including Britain’s leaders, to stop Assad.
Inaction has consequences. At every point when world leaders failed to act against Assad, the impact of the Syrian crisis on the world increased. The failure of British Government and Opposition leaders on the EU vote is in part a consequence of their failure on Syria, but this story doesn’t end with today’s result. Without action, Syria’s crisis will continue to impact on us all.
Leaders failed to act in October 2011 when Syrians took to the streets calling for a no-fly zone.
By the end of 2011 there were 8,000 Syrian refugees in the region.
Leaders failed to act in 2012 when journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik were killed reporting from the horror of besieged Homs.
By the end of 2012, there were nearly half a million Syrian refugees.
Leaders failed to act in 2013 when the Assad regime massacred as many as 1,700 civilians in one morning with chemical weapons. That August, there were 1.8 million registered Syrian refugees.
Also in 2013, the UK failed to act when the Free Syrian Army faced attacks by ISIS forces infiltrating from Iraq. Instead of strengthening the FSA to withstand this new threat, UK MPs denied moderate forces the means to defend themselves.
By the end of 2013, there were 2.3 million registered Syrian refugees.
Leaders failed to act in 2014 as the Assad regime ignored UN resolutions on barrel bombing, on torturing and besieging civilians. Diplomacy without military pressure only emboldened Assad to continue the slaughter.
By the end of 2014, there were 3.7 million Syrian refugees.
Leaders failed to act in 2015 as Russia joined Assad in bombing hospitals, humanitarian aid convoys, and rescue workers, and Syrians were denied any means to defend themselves.
By the end of 2015, there were over 4.5 million Syrian refugees.
Now the UK Government is failing to act as Assad breaks ceasefire agreements and breaks deadlines on letting aid into besieged communities. The UK has failed to deliver on airdrops. The UK has failed to apply serious pressure to stop Assad’s bombs.
There are now 4.8 million Syrian refugees in the region. There are many millions more displaced inside Syria. Just over a million Syrians have applied for asylum in Europe, but that is a fraction of the total who have fled their homes.
The refugee crisis is just one impact of Assad’s war on Syrians. Voting to leave the European Union won’t insulate Britain from further effects of Syria’s man-made disaster. This crisis can’t be contained and must be brought to an end, and it can only end with the end of Assad.
Act now. Break the sieges. Stop the bombs. Stop the torture. Stop Assad.
Also well worth reading: The Forces besieging Aleppo are counting on our indifference by Natalie Nougayrèdehere
Click this link to sign the petition “Publish the identity of aircraft used to bomb hospitals in Syria”: On 29 July, unidentified aircraft bombed a maternity hospital in Syria supported by Save the Children. As part of the Coalition against Daesh, the UK has data on military aircraft flights in Syria. Where data can identify aircraft used to bomb hospitals, the UK should publish their identity. Click this link to sign the petition: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/163507/sponsors/6aWOOhfAYS8h4xNCgH
Two attackers killed a priest and seriously wounded at least one other hostage in a church in northern France on Tuesday before they were shot dead by police. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.
The two assailants entered the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, during mass, taking the priest and four other people hostage, including two nuns.
Police said the men killed the priest, named as 84-year-old Jacques Hamel, by slitting his throat.
An interior ministry spokesperson said a second hostage was “between life and death”.
Le Monde says that the local Muslim leadership immediately reacted by showing their love and friendship to the victim and all those affected.
Le président du Conseil régional du culte musulman de Haute-Normandie, en charge de la mosquée de Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, inaugurée en 2000 sur une parcelle de terrain offerte par la paroisse catholique, s’est dit « effaré par le décès de [son] ami ». « C’est quelqu’un qui a donné sa vie aux autres. On est abasourdis à la mosquée », a-t-il ajouté. Le prêtre et l’imam faisaient partie d’un comité interconfessionnel depuis dix-huit mois. « Nous discutions de religion et de savoir-vivre ensemble », a précisé Mohammed Karabila.
The President of the Haute-Normandie Regional Council of Muslims, which oversees the Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray Mosque, built on a plot of land offered by the Catholic parish, has said he was “in agony” at the death of his friend. “He was somebody who devoted his life to others. At the mosque we are utterly devastated” he added. For a year and a half the Priest and the Imam had both been part of an inter-faith committee. Mohammed Karabila talked of their activity, “We discussed our faith and how we can get good community relations.”
I cite Geoffrey Hill above because the attack on a early day mass immediately made me think of seeing a priest celebrating Morning prayers in a place the poet wrote about, the ancient St Michael the Archangel – ‘In Framlingham Church’. *
It was a weekday morning about five years ago and there was only a handful of people there.
But it was solemn and of great dignity.
Goodness is far more important than anything else.
* Both in: Geoffrey Hill, Broken Hierarchies. Poems. 1952 – 2012. Oxford. 2013.