From Syria Solidarity UK (posted 28th April):
The killing of Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz
Via The Syria Campaign on Facebook
I am Dr Hatem, the director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo.
Last night, 27 staff and patients were killed in an airstrike on Al Quds Hospital nearby. My friend Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz (pictured), the city’s most qualified paediatrician, was killed in the attack.
He used to work at our Children’s Hospital during the day and then he’d go to Al Quds Hospital to attend to emergencies overnight.
Dr Maaz and I used to spend six hours a day together. He was friendly, kind and he used to joke a lot with the whole staff. He was the loveliest doctor in our hospital.
I’m in Turkey now, and he was supposed to visit his family here after I returned to Aleppo. He hadn’t seen them in four months.
Dr Maaz stayed in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world, because of his devotion to his patients. Hospitals are often targeted by government and Russian air forces.
Days before Dr Maaz’s life was taken, an airstrike hit only 200 metres away from our hospital. When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them.
Like so many others, Dr Maaz was killed for saving lives. Today we remember Dr Maaz’s humanity and his bravery. Please share his story so others may know what medics in Aleppo and across Syria are facing.
The situation today is critical – Aleppo may soon come under siege. We need the world to be watching.
Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts,
March With Medics Under Fire
Saturday 7th May at 2pm, Trafalgar Square, London.
Facebook event page.
The truth about the Hillsborough disaster and the police cover-up (aided by The Sun) has gradually emerged over the years since 1989, but today’s inquest verdict of Unlawful Killing is a brilliant vindication and a tribute to the families’ resolute campaigning. The blog Guy Debord’s Cat carried this article in September 2012, as the truth became undeniable:
Liverpool is a unique city in many ways. It is a city that is divided by football but also united by it. My family is like a lot of Scouse families: we’re split between the red and the blue halves of the city’s footballing divide. I’m a Liverpool supporter, so was my grandfather, my mum and one of my aunts who’d married a Kopite. The others, my uncles (one of whom played for Tranmere) and aunt, are/were Toffees. You’d always find Blues and Reds at Prenton Park on Friday nights to watch Tranmere Rovers before going to their respective side’s matches the following day. What other city would you find supporters from rival sides getting on so well? Only in Liverpool. Hillsborough affected not just the city of Liverpool but the rest of Merseyside.
It was 1989 and I was in the final year of my undergraduate degree at Newcastle Poly. I’d gone to the Student Union bar with some of my friends with the intention of watching a cracking tie. Within minutes of the kick-off it was obvious that something wasn’t right, the camera had panned to the Leppings Lane stand and we could see people clambering over the bars at that end of the ground. After a lot of end-to-end action, police and officials appeared on the pitch and the match was stopped. Within minutes we got the news that people were being crushed to death. I started sobbing; it was uncontrolled sobbing. I told my mates that I could have been there. I could have been one of those supporters who’d been crushed. I felt the unfolding tragedy. I can still feel it today.
In the days that followed, stories emerged in the press that pointed the finger of blame, not at the police’s lack of crowd management skills, but at the fans. The Sun, as we know, was the worst of the lot, with its editor, Kelvin Mackenzie, standing by its front page splash.
Mackenzie was unrepentant. In the years following Hillsborough and the subsequent Taylor Report, he repeated his version of the ‘truth’ on each and every occasion when he has been asked to retract his lies. To this day, no one on Merseyside buys The Sun. Mackenzie has apologized but it’s 23 years too late. We don’t want his apology. He can go to hell.
Today, the truth behind that tragic day has been revealed when documents were released which includes letters of complaint to the Press Council , the local press agency story from which The Sun’s ‘truth’ was derived (Tory MP Irvine Patnick was also a source), the coroner’s reports and the shocking revelations that 41 of the 96 victims could have survived and the 3.15pm inquest cut off point that sealed the fate of the unfortunates.
Thatcher also believed the lies told her by a senior office of the Merseyside Constabulary. Many documents and CCTV footage have mysteriously disappeared leaving plenty of unanswered questions. What was Bernard Ingham’s role in all of this? As Thatcher’s press secretary, Ingham was a master practitioner of journalism’s dark arts. He accepted the police’s version of events and went on record as saying,
“You can’t get away from what you were told,” Ingham said. “We talked to a lot of people; I am not sure if it was the chief constable. That was the impression I gathered: there were a lot of tanked-up people outside.”
Ingham was asked about the Taylor report and said rather tellingly,
“I think the police are a very easy target.”
We now have the truth about what happened on 15 April, 1989. What we now need is for those responsible, and I include The Sun and Kelvin Mackenzie for their smear campaign, to face justice. The liar Patnick should also be stripped of his knighthood.
Then perhaps we can get some proper closure.
Justice for the 96!
Don’t buy The Sun!
This is genuinely moving: please read the family’s statement, and then the information about anti-Ahmadi prejudice in both Pakistan and the UK:
Asad Shah ‘met everyone with the utmost kindness’ Credit: SWNS
Religion, colour and creed were irrelevant to the friendly shopkeeper (an Ahmadi Muslim) who died in an attack outside his store after wishing his customers happy Easter, his family has said.
In a moving tribute to 40-year-old Asad Shah, his family said they had been devastated by the loss of a “brilliant” man who recognised “that the differences between people are vastly outweighed by our similarities”:
Asad Shah family statement following death in Shawlands
(released on behalf of the family by Police Scotland, 30 March 2016)
On Thursday evening (24th March), a beloved husband, son, brother and everyone’s friend, Asad Shah, was taken away from us by an incomprehensible act. We are devastated by this loss.
A person’s religion, ethnicity, race, gender or socioeconomic background never mattered to Asad. He met everyone with the utmost kindness and respect because those are just some of the many common threads that exist across every faith in our world. He was a brilliant man, recognising that the differences between people are vastly outweighed by our similarities. And he didn’t just talk about this, he lived it each and every day, in his beloved community of Shawlands and his country of Scotland.
If there was to be any consolation from this needless tragedy, it came in the form of the spontaneous and deeply moving response by the good people of Shawlands, Glasgow and beyond. As a family, we would like to express our deepest gratitude to all who have organised and participated in the street vigils, online petitions and messages. You have moved us beyond words and helped us start healing sooner than we thought possible. You were Asad’s family as much as we are and we will always remain with you.
One of our brightest lights has been extinguished but our love for all mankind and hope for a better world in which we can all live in peace and harmony, as so emphatically embodied by Asad, will endure and prevail. Asad left us a tremendous gift and we must continue to honour that gift by loving and taking care of one another.
We will not be making any further comments on this tragedy and ask everyone, especially the media, to allow us the privacy we need to grieve and heal away from the public eye.
With deepest appreciation,
The Shah Family
As the news of his barbarity began to come through, I found myself lost for words and incapable of writing anything worthy of the subject. I reproduce below, a post from Comrade Coatesy:
Dozens of Children were amongst the dead.
A Taliban splinter group says it carried out a suicide attack on a park in Lahore, Pakistan, which killed more than 70 people, including children.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar said it had targeted Christians celebrating Easter, though police have said they are still investigating the claim.
There were scenes of carnage as parents searched for children amid the debris.
Pakistan’s president condemned the attack, and the regional government has announced three days of mourning.
At least 300 people were injured, with officials saying they expected the death toll to rise.
All major hospitals in the area were put on an emergency footing after the blast, early on Sunday evening.
A faction of the Pakistani Taliban, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, claimed responsibility for the explosion, saying it was targeted at Christians celebrating Easter. A spokesman for the group, Ehsanullah Ehsan, told the Guardian: “We have carried out this attack to target the Christians who were celebrating Easter. Also this is a message to the Pakistani prime minister that we have arrived in Punjab [the ruling party’s home province].”
Pakistan church bomb: Christians mourn 85 killed in Peshawar suicide attack
Pakistan’s worst-ever attack on beleaguered Christians prompts warning by bishop for future of minority in Muslim countries.
In Pakistan, 1.5% of the population are Christian. Pakistani law mandates that “blasphemies” of the Qur’an are to be met with punishment. At least a dozen Christians have been given death sentences, and half a dozen murdered after being accused of violating blasphemy laws. In 2005, 80 Christians were behind bars due to these laws.
Ayub Masih, a Christian, was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in 1998. He was accused by a neighbor of stating that he supported British writer Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses. Lower appeals courts upheld the conviction. However, before the Pakistan Supreme Court, his lawyer was able to prove that the accuser had used the conviction to force Masih’s family off their land and then acquired control of the property. Masih has been released.
In October 2001, gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on a Protestant congregation in the Punjab, killing 18 people. The identities of the gunmen are unknown. Officials think it might be a banned Islamic group.
In March 2002, five people were killed in an attack on a church in Islamabad, including an American schoolgirl and her mother.
In August 2002, masked gunmen stormed a Christian missionary school for foreigners in Islamabad; six people were killed and three injured. None of those killed were children of foreign missionaries.
In August 2002, grenades were thrown at a church in the grounds of a Christian hospital in north-west Pakistan, near Islamabad, killing three nurses.
On 25 September 2002, two terrorists entered the “Peace and Justice Institute”, Karachi, where they separated Muslims from the Christians, and then murdered seven Christians by shooting them in the head. All of the victims were Pakistani Christians. Karachi police chief Tariq Jamil said the victims had their hands tied and their mouths had been covered with tape.
In December 2002, three young girls were killed when a hand grenade was thrown into a church near Lahore on Christmas Day.
In November 2005, 3,000 militant Islamists attacked Christians in Sangla Hill in Pakistan and destroyed Roman Catholic, Salvation Army and United Presbyterian churches. The attack was over allegations of violation of blasphemy laws by a Pakistani Christian named Yousaf Masih. The attacks were widely condemned by some political parties in Pakistan.
On 5 June 2006, a Pakistani Christian, Nasir Ashraf, was assaulted for the “sin” of using public drinking water facilities near Lahore.
One year later, in August 2007, a Christian missionary couple, Rev. Arif and Kathleen Khan, were gunned down by militant Islamists in Islamabad. Pakistani police believed that the murders was committed by a member of Khan’s parish over alleged sexual harassment by Khan. This assertion is widely doubted by Khan’s family as well as by Pakistani Christians.
In August 2009, six Christians, including four women and a child, were burnt alive by Muslim militants and a church set ablaze in Gojra, Pakistan when violence broke out after alleged desecration of a Qur’an in a wedding ceremony by Christians.
On 8 November 2010, a Christian woman from Punjab Province, Asia Noreen Bibi, was sentenced to death by hanging for violating Pakistan’s blasphemy law. The accusation stemmed from a 2009 incident in which Bibi became involved in a religious argument after offering water to thirsty Muslim farm workers. The workers later claimed that she had blasphemed the Muhammed. As of 8 April 2011, Bibi is in solitary confinement. Her family has fled. No one in Pakistan convicted of blasphemy has ever been executed. A cleric has offered $5,800 to anyone who kills her.
On 2 March 2011, the only Christian minister in the Pakistan government was shot dead. Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Minorities, was in his car along with his niece. Around 50 bullets struck the car. Over 10 bullets hit Bhatti. Before his death, he had publicly stated that he was not afraid of the Taliban’s threats and was willing to die for his faith and beliefs. He was targeted for opposing the anti-free speech “blasphemy” law, which punishes insulting Islam or its Prophet. A fundamentalist Muslim group claimed responsibility.
On 27 March 2016, a suicide bomber from a Pakistani Taliban faction killed at least 60 people and injured 300 others in an attack at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore, Pakistan, and the group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it intentionally targeted Christians celebrating Easter Sunday.
Putin arrives to speak at a meeting in the Grand Kremlin Palace
Commentators in the mainstream media generally seem unclear about Putin’s strategic objective in Syria – some even claim he hasn’t really got one. Putin, they say, is a brilliant tactician but a poor strategist: keeping the west guessing by springing surprises (as in Eastern Ukraine) is an end in itself, but he has no long-term game plan.
Julian Borger, in a quite well-informed piece in yesterday’s Guardian subscribes to this view, noting that
“What appears to be unfolding goes beyond stabilising Bashar al-Assad’s regime. It looks like an effort, in coordination with Syrian and Iranian-backed ground troops, to inflict a lasting military defeat on the rebel coalition which had succeeded in carving out a growing patch of territory in the north-east.
“Although conducted under the banner of a campaign against Islamic State, the evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of Russian targets have been non-Isis groups, some of them supported by the US, others by Turkey and the Gulf states”
This, you would have thought, gives us a very strong clue as to what Putin’s objective is, but Borger doesn’t seem to see it, concluding his piece thus:
“Putin’s mastery of surprise has put him in the driving seat, but there is little sign so far he knows where he’s going.”
Oh no? I should have thought it’s obvious: destroy the democratic non-Isis opposition forces so that the only significant forces in Syria are Assad and ISIS, thus facing the west with a stark choice, based upon the facts on the ground, as created by Russian imperialism: Assad or Isis? And to fight Isis, you’ll have to do a deal with me, on my terms. It has been reported by a credible source that to achieve this end, Putin has been boosting Isis by encouraging radicalised Russian Muslims to travel to Syria
Mark Leonard, in the current New Statesman spells it out in an excellent article that’s not yet available online (I’ll provide a link when it is). Here’s a key section:
Vladamir Putin’s military intervention is is less about defeating Isis than about establishing himself as the ultimate counter-revolutionary leader.
There is a parallel between Putin’s plans for Syria and the long war he fought in Chechnya from 1999 to 2009. The first war in Chechnya, from 1994 to 1996, was between a moderate, largely secular opposition and the Russian state.
In order to win the second conflict, however, the Kremlin started to marginalise the moderates – starting with the legitimate president Aslan Maskhadov – while at the same time helping the factions that did not obey Maskhadov, and which committed kidnappings and were linked to the Middle East. Then, after the 9/11 attacks, Putin sold the Chechnya war to the west as “a common struggle with Islamic terrorism.” In Syria, a similar dynamic was already in motion – Islamist groups having gained the upper hand over the moderate rebels of the Free Syrian Army who helped launch the revolution in 2011 – but now Putin is accelerating it, using familiar tactics.
Russian planes have been targeting all of the anti-Assad groups to ensure that there is no strong, non-ISIS opposition. At the same time it appears as though Moscow has been actively helping Isis to swell its ranks. A report in the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta claimed that officers of Putin’s FSB (state security) have encouraged radicalised Muslims from Russia, and particularly the North Caucasus, to go to Syria, opening a “green channel” for travel that has made it possible for at least 2,400 fighters to make the journey (another 2,600 jihadis from central Asia are also believed to be in Syria). The newspaper claims that Russian agents are actively handing out special passports to jihadis to make it easier for them to travel.
As for Putin’s underlying -“philosophical” if you like – motivation, Leonard is equally clear and (for me, at least) convincing:
His biggest fear, I think, is not of colour revolutions in Damascus, nor even in Kyiv. It is of one taking place in Moscow. Putin is still haunted by the winter protests of 2012 that were provoked by his return to the Kremlin as president for a third term.
Much of his foreign policy since has been driven by this experience. In February 2014, when Yanukovych was hounded into exile by protesters in Ukraine, Putin feared he could be vulnerable. If his Syrian gamble does pay off, it might just force the west to realise the benefits of autocratic stability.
NB: this confirms my analysis: ‘Isis seizes ground from Aleppo rebels under cover of Russian airstrikes’.
Paul Canning: ‘Russia painting Crimea’s Tatars as ‘ISIS supporters”
From Social Europe:
See also, contributions attempting to analyse the problems and present solutions.: http://www.socialeurope.eu/focus/europes-refugee-crisis/
March 1939: German-Jewish refugee children arrive at Southampton on the US liner Manhattan as part of the Kindertransport programme(Fox Photos/Getty Images)
October 1950: Latvian refugees arrive in Penzance after escaping from a Baltic port(Fox Photos/Getty Images)
November 1956: The first of 2,500 Hungarian refugees offered settlement in Britain arrive at Blackbushe airport in Hampshire(Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
September 1971: Vietnamese war orphans travel on a coach on their way from London Airport (Heathrow) to the Pestalozzi Children’s Village in Sussex(Central Press/Getty Images)
October 1978: A group of Vietnamese boat people hold a large banner saying, “Our Gratitude to Elisabeth II and the English people for hospitality to the Vietnamese refugees”(Colin Davey/Evening Standard/Getty Images)
April 1999: Well-wishers wait to greet Kosovar refugees at Leeds Bradford airport(Reuters)
September 2015: Syrian boy lies dead in the surf near Bodrum, Turkey (Reuters)
David Cameron: “I don’t think there is an answer that can be achieved simply by taking more and more refugees” (see: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/02/david-cameron-migration-crisis-will-not-be-solved-by-uk-taking-in-more-refugees)
By Alan Theasby
RIP Charles Kennedy 1959-2015
I’m not a fan, but there is a lot Labour could learn from him.
When he took the boring “centre right” LibDems by the scruff of the neck and carved out a position as an independent “radical” party to the left of New Labour (at least to appearances), the result was a massive electoral swing in 2005, and LibDems were still seen by many as “left of Labour” in 2010 (how many thousands left in disgust at their role in the Coalition?)
When the LibDems presented radical, left politics – against the Iraq War, for EMA, against tuition fees, even anti-cuts to some extent – they got lots of support.
In Scotland the SNP is posing “left” and taking advantage of Scottish Labour’s abysmal policies: cuts, attacks on Unite union, and in bed with the Tories in “Better Together” etc. No wonder they swept the board, it’s a total indictment of Blairism and the likes of Jim Murphy!
In England the Greens are taking up the mantle that the LibDems had until 2010; this has not yet translated into votes but that’s a serious posibility if Labour contimues on its current “middle of the road/neither owt nor nowt” course or moves even further rightwards.
Lots of activists & “lefties” I know have massive illusions in the SNP & Greens, and write off the Labour Party as dead. I disagree on both counts: the SNP & Greens can pose as “left” under the Tories and with a Labour Party looking to “middle England”/ the “middle classes” (etc), but I have no illusions in them; and (although I like the word “Pasokification” – and now “Pascotification”) this is not Greece and Labour has deep roots unlike PASOK, and thewre is no sign in Britain of anytrhing like Syriza (which did not spring from nowhere but was created through splits & fusions in the existing strong Greek Communist Party, left union activists and other left groups).
So what do others think? Given that there is not even a vaguely left candidate for Leader, will Labour become a pathetic rump – or can it recover? Meanwhile, it’s come to something, hasn’t it, when the record of a former SDP’er and leader of the Lib Dems, is much braver and more left-wing than any candidate for leader of the Labour Party?
JD adds: and, at a human level, a thought from Gaby Hinsliff in today’s Graun:
All those people getting cheap laughs on social media out of Kennedy’s last erratic performance on the BBC’s Question Time, or rejoicing in his defeat on election night, were just a visible example of a culture which not only stigmatises people with mental health problems but treats public figures – politicians or otherwise – as if they were somehow less than human. If Charles Kennedy’s death leads one or two to pause before unleashing mob scorn or fury, if it prompts an ounce more compassion for people whose lives might well be more complicated than they look – well, a fine liberal legacy that would be.
Above: Brown and Blair
Gordon Brown is in many respects a tragic figure: a man who lived and breathed politics, but when he finally achieved his burning ambition, blew it in spectacular fashion.
He also has had some real tragedy in his personal life.
By most accounts, a brooding, resentful character and (according to some) a bit of a bully, he can also (again, according to some) be very entertaining in private and is very loyal to his friends. Compared to his erstwhile friend, the superficial chancer Tony Blair, Brown is a deep and thoughtful character. In contrast to the lightweight and eclectic Blair, he is a man of the labour movement. – which makes his role in creating the foul aberration that was New Labour somehow more treacherous than that of the ideologically footloose semi-Tory Blair.
Brown’s splendid role towards the end of the Scottish referendum campaign gave us a momentary glimpse of just what a principled and passionate figure he could have been. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a traitor even to the reformist tradition in which he stands, but part of me can’t help liking him and even feels some pity for him. Perhaps, away from mainstream politics he’ll make some amends for New Labour and do some worthwhile campaigning on issues like girls’ rights, that are clearly very important to him and his wife Sarah. I certainly hope so, because I really want to like and respect him.