Like the majority of people in the UK, us lot at Shiraz don’t have much time for Anthony Blair Esq, and wish he’d shut up (even – as on Brexit – when he’s making broadly the right noises). But, just for once, we applaud his decision to make a statement on an issue of public concern.
Illustration: Martin Rowson (Guardian)
Yesterday, The Daily Mail could scarcely contain its fury, accusing the Blair government of releasing and then paying compensation, to Jamal al-Harith, the British ISIS fighter who blew himself up in Iraq on Monday.
But in a strongly worded statement, Blair has hit back, noting that the £1 million compensation al-Harith received for his treatment in Guantanamo Bay was paid out not by Labour, but by David Cameron’s Tories in 2010, and that the campaign for al-Harith’s release was led by … the Daily Mail !
Blair’s statement reads:
“I would not normally respond to daily stories about events which happened during my time in office but on this occasion I will do so, given the utter hypocrisy with which this story is being covered.
The Daily Mail is running a story entitled ‘Still Think He Wasn’t A Danger, Mr Blair? Fury at Labour government’s £1m compensation for innocent Brit’, regarding news a former Guantanamo Bay detainee launched a suicide attack on behalf of ISIS this week.
It is correct that Jamal al-Harith was released from Guantanamo Bay at the request of the British government in 2004. This followed a massive media and parliamentary campaign, led by the Daily Mail, the very paper that is now supposedly so outraged at his release and strongly supported by the then Conservative opposition.
The Mail headline shortly after he was released after months of their campaigning was ‘Freedom At Last for Guantanamo Britons‘.
They then quoted with approval various human rights activists saying ‘clearly by what’s happened they’re not bad guys, they are entirely innocent.’”
Above left: yesterday’s Mail; right: the Mail when al-Harith was released
Blair went on to say when al-Harith’s release was announced ‘in very measured terms’ in 2004, ‘Conservative MPs reacted by strongly criticising not the release but why it had taken so long’.
“The fact is that this was always a very difficult situation where any government would have to balance proper concern for civil liberties with desire to protect our security, and we were likely to be attacked whatever course we took.
The reason it did take a long time for their release was precisely the anxiety over their true affiliations. […]
But those who demanded their release should not be allowed to get away with now telling us that it is a scandal that it happened.”
On this – if nothing else – we’re with you Blair. Keep stickin’ it to Dacre and those lying hypocritical scumbags at the Mail.
Our person in Stoke, Phil Burton-Cartledge, on his blog All That is Solid, reports:
Coming away from The Sentinel-sponsored by-election hustings at Staffordshire University, I spotted a blood moon hanging low over Stoke. For whom did this augur an ill omen? For Gareth Snell and the Labour Party, or Paul Nuttall and the United Kingdom Independence Party? If what happens at hustings matters, I’d have to say it doesn’t bode well for our Tranmere playin’, PhD totin’, compulsive fibbin’ UKIP leader. It’s not that Nuttall was totally dreadful from a presentation point of view, apart from a catastrophic gaffe at the end, but that he commanded hardly a presence. For the hustings was effectively the Gareth show, with Jack Brereton of the Tories as the supporting act. Nuttall played little more than a walk-on part and had to compete with the also-rans for attention. If he is a national figure, which he kept reminding us, then it’s a position achieved in the absence of discernible talent and charisma.
Mick Temple, on hand to offer the expert perspective opened proceedings with the observation that the Stoke Central by-election is perhaps the most important in modern political history. What happens here will have repercussions for two major political parties. For Labour, not only would losing put a question over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, it raises the issue of if it can’t no longer win in its heartlands, where can it win? For UKIP, losing means there is effectively no point to the party any more. Win and there is a possibility it can become the new party of the working class.
With the scene set, Martin Tideswell of The Sentinel invited candidates to make a 60 second stump. Nuttall began by arguing that the message he’s getting from the doorstep is one of change, and he can deliver it. As a national figure he has the clout to get things done, and this would be because if Stoke changes from the capital of Brexit to the capital of change, it would scare the establishment. Godfrey Davies of the Christian People’s Alliance stated the he was standing against the liberal agenda that had brought calamity to our country – concentrating on Christian values is the only way forward. The LibDems’ Zulfiqar Ali said he was the only candidate opposed to hard Brexit, and wanted the people to have a say on the outcome of negotiations. More money for the NHS would be nice, too. Gareth for Labour stated his local credentials and said his priority would be to campaign for homes, and fight for the Brexit the Potteries deserves and not what London would condescend to dish out. Jack Brereton for the Tories said he was responsible for delivering £500m in investment in the city, including 1,000 new jobs on the Ceramic Valley development. He also stated – as if saying it made it true – that Theresa May had a plan that would make a success for Brexit. The Incredible Flying Brick of the Official Monster Raving Loonies began by saying this was his fourth by-election and, to much hilarity, read the BNP speech on the table next to him. Adam Colclough said things about being local and working together, and the BNP’s David Furniss said he was the only true Brexit candidate as his dobbins of a party had been against the EU since 1982.
It was evident from the first question that this was going to be a tetchy, bad-tempered meeting, and so it proved: readers interested in the full thing can watch the recording here. And there were flash points and moments of interest aplenty. The first full-on scrap came over the NHS and the integration of adult social care, which everyone agreed would be a very fine thing (though the BNP still managed to get a line in about immigrants). Very quickly it became an argument between Gareth and Jack, while egged on by Tories in the audience shouting PFI (do they know it was a Major policy, and has carried on under the present government?). What really got the Tory blood boiling was the obvious evidence – as noted by Gareth – that private contractors and quiet privatisation have and continue to undermine the NHS. An audience member used the opportunity to challenge Nuttall on his comments regarding nurse training and his belief they don’t need degrees. He hadn’t changed his mind, he replied, as there shouldn’t be any nurses who are “too posh to wash”. Scrapping degrees would save £3bn, which along with abandoning HS2 and stripping back foreign aid would supply ample cash for the NHS. Needless to say, this didn’t go down particularly well with health workers present.
A question aimed at economic development and directed at Gareth asked how we can get good quality jobs in Stoke, and how would having yet another Labour MP help? He replied that we need to work at moving government departments out of London to spread the benefits of public spending on these organisations. It also means thinking smart and partnering with Birmingham and Manchester to ensure the belated regionalisation the government favours partly accrues to the city as well. In short, we need someone who will get stuck in who isn’t going to Westminster to cheer lead the Prime Minister or further their own career. For his part, Jack replied that there are 1,500 more people employed in Stoke than was the case in 2010, and he repeated himself about the Ceramic Valley development. One thing he neglected to mention that these “new jobs” are merely a relocation of Bet365’s HQ from Festival Park nearby, which was a development prepped under the previous Labour council. Though I’m sure in good time the Tory-run council will have some achievements of their own they can talk up. It’s also worth noting that at an earlier hustings at Stoke Sixth Form College that Jack made his opposition to moving departments to Stoke known on the grounds that local people “didn’t have the skills”, and this from the champion of inward investment! On local economic development, all Nuttall could do was moan about HS2 and argue for the abolition of fees for “STEM cell subjects [sic]”. By far the most intriguing response was delivered courtesy of Godfrey Davies. To regenerate the city he intends to “bring the Kingdom of God to Stoke”, and that will provide its own blessings. Indeed.
Naturally, the issue of Gareth’s sexist tweets came up. Rather than trying to wriggle and lie as a, I don’t know, a Paul Nuttall might, he took it head on. He condemned his previous comments and said he did a lot of growing up in his 20s, and since then as Newcastle Borough Council leader he made the decision to increase funding for sexual violence and domestic violence support services, which benefited some of the borough’s most vulnerable women. As a trade unionist he’d helped organise low paid women and had marched shoulder-to-shoulder with his sisters.
There were more ding dongs over EU migrants in Britain after Brexit, whether a Remain-voting MP can represent a Leave constituency, on tuition fees and deindustrialisation. And then came Nuttall’s clanger. He was asked if a 10 year old child soldier of Islamic State was suspected of harbouring knowledge about a terror attack, would he order a member of the armed forces to waterboard them. Nuttall replied that if there was a suspect with information about a dirty bomb set to go off in London, Liverpool and, just remembering where he was, Stoke, then yes he would. Gareth quickly interjected with a “you’ve basically said you would waterboard a 10 year old”, to which all chaos broke loose. Above the din, Nuttall was stupid enough to shout he knew the evidence was that waterboarding doesn’t work, but would do it anyway.
I am increasingly of the mind that hustings don’t really serve any discernible purpose. At the beginning of the evening, Martin Tideswell asked who of the 60 or so present were actually Stoke Central residents voting on 23rd February. About half the hands went up, and looking at those who did about half of them were Labour, another five or six UKIP, and a handful of Tories and others apiece. It was what you call a public meeting without the public, a dialogue of people with no interest in having a dialogue. Yet it served a purpose. There is a recording available for all to view in which the ineptitude of Paul Nuttall is laid bare. This so-called national figure was not only bested by his Labour opponent who has had nowhere near as much media exposure than he, but by the also-ran Tory too. If there is any justice, he’ll get a drubbing so bad that the name ‘Paul Nuttall’ will be one remembered only by geeks and politics historians five years hence. Come to Stoke and help make sure this happens.
From Avaaz (6 Dec):
The UN just announced Aleppo is fast becoming ‘one giant graveyard’ and residents risk ‘extermination’. Not one of our governments is in there saving lives, but an extraordinary group of Syrians are: The White Helmets.
73,530 lives in fact. That’s how many people they have saved, rushing to the scene of bombings to pull people from the rubble and carry them to safety.
What’s amazing is these heroes are just ordinary people — bakers, teachers, tailors — who felt they couldn’t stand by, and threw themselves right into the line of fire. For their bravery, they were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and the $1 million of critical funding it comes with — but they lost!
Forget the Nobel Prize — together we have the power to give the White Helmets the recognition they deserve and the funding they desperately need.
Avaaz will send them 100% of funds raised — let’s give hope to these heroes, and a country in need:
For their heroic efforts, White Helmets volunteers are often targeted — Russian and Syrian regime planes bomb civilians, then circle back to bomb the rescue workers who scramble to help.
It’s just a part of the picture of horror that’s rocked Syria for almost six years and killed as many as 470,000 people. It’s become harder and harder to stop — and has turned into the greatest shame of our generation.
As the conflict continues to spiral, the White Helmets are doing work that no one else can, or will. They’re standing up as heroes while the world watches and fails to stop the conflict. But they’re constantly struggling to keep their work going.
If enough of us pitch in a few pounds or dollars, we can replace equipment they’ve lost in the bombings, buy tools to pull concrete slabs off people buried in the rubble, and provide medical care for the wounded. Let’s help them get their people’s million — join in now:
The White Helmets aren’t from an international aid organization, and they need every dollar they can get. They’re succeeding where the rest of the world is failing — in giving hope to millions of Syrians. Our community can join them, and keep up the fight for a safe, peaceful future in Syria.
Danny, Ricken, Mais, Alice, Spyro, Nataliya, Nick, and the rest of the Avaaz team
Who are the White Helmets? (The Atlantic)
Syria’s White Helmets Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize (Al Jazeera)
How the White Helmets of Syria Are Being Hunted in a Devastated Aleppo (Al Jazeera)
Syria’s White Helmets (The Daily Beast)
Avaaz is a 44-million-person global campaign network that works to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people shape global decision-making. (“Avaaz” means “voice” or “song” in many languages.) Avaaz members live in every nation of the world; our team is spread across 18 countries on 6 continents and operates in 17 languages. Learn about some of Avaaz’s biggest campaigns here, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.
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Above: incitement to hatred
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
Statement introduced by Alex Rowell, October 12, 2016
A statement signed by over 120 Palestinians condemns “whitewashing” of Syrian regime by “activists whom we once respected”
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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.
Sara Khan is the Director of Inspire, http://www.wewillinspire.com, and author of ‘The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism’ (Saqi Books, 2016)
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Five weapons Putin and Assad are using in Aleppo
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.
Today, Tuesday, the United Nations suspended all aid convoys across Syria, including to Madaya which has been denied food and medical aid for months, and is suffering an outbreak of meningitis.
Also on Monday, Assad regime 4th Division forces at checkpoints were accused of spoiling food aid for the besieged town of Moadamiyeh.
Monday’s aid delivery to besieged Talbiseh was followed by pro Assad air attacks that killed at least three people and injured fifteen.
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.
Syria Solidarity UK
Rethink Rebuild Society
Syrian Association of Yorkshire
UN Aid Convoy Hit By Airstrike, Head Of Syrian Red Crescent Killed; Drone Footage Shows Convoy Before Attack
UN suspends aid convoys in Syria after hit, ICRC warns on impact
Homs: 15 killed, wounded in regime air strikes on Talbiseh
Syrian Arab Republic – 2016 UN Inter-Agency Operations as of 31 August 2016 (PDF)
Showing 107 World Food Programme airdrops to regime held Deir Ezzor and 82 World Food Programme airlifts to Quamishli, and zero airdrops or airlifts to opposition held areas under siege.
House of Commons adjournment debate on civilians in Syria, 12 October 2015
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.
Read more (PDF)
Total silence and inactivity from …
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Reblogged from The Syrian Intifada:
By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 23, 2016
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.
The ground offensive is spearheaded, as usual, by Iraqi Shi’a jihadists who were imported by, and are under the command of, the Iranian theocracy. More than one-hundred airstrikes have been launched, and a similar number of civilians massacred. Two centres for the White Helmets have also been hit. There isn’t even time for interviews between the airstrikes.
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.
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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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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
5. Dr. Munther, Orthopedics
6. Dr. Abu Mohammad, General Surgeon
7. Dr. Abu Abdo, General Surgeon
8. Dr. Abd Al Rahman, Urologic Resident
9. Dr. Abu Tareq, ER Doctor
10. Dr. Farida, OBGYN
11. Dr. Hatem, Hospital Director
12. Dr. Usama, Pediatrician
13. Dr. Abu Zubeir, Pediatrician
14. Dr. Abu Maryam, Pediatric Surgeon
15. Dr. Abo Bakr, Neurologist
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