Saturday, 20 August 2016

Syrian Genocide Memorial Day

 Tomorrow, the civilised people of the world will mark Syrian Genocide Memorial Day. I hope that you will be among them. In the future, I expect many people will be guilt-tripped into marking this day. Schoolchildren will be forced to remember the facts, to look at the pictures, to wonder how we can have been so callous to watch a people massacred before our eyes.
 It is three years since Bashar al-Assad fired rockets full of sarin gas into two rebel-held neighbourhoods of Damascus. 1500 people died, many of them children, because they were sleeping on the ground floor of their homes for fear they would not survive a bomb attack by Assad on the upper floors. It is the worst single massacre of this century.
 Someone asked on TV the other day, as Assad continues day-by-day to attack defenceless people with chlorine gas, why we are more concerned about death by chemical weapons than other sorts of murder. In a better world we wouldn't be. But it is one of the worst excesses of criminal war fighting, an identifiable weapon that cannot be used discriminately, and something any just world must have prohibitions against.
 This was also why it was President Obama's alibi for doing nothing to protect the Syrian people. In 2012 he declared it was a red line if Assad used a whole bunch of chemical weapons, presumably thinking that Assad would use all other methods to kill people, and he would be off the hook. But Assad's rule is never going to be stable again, and every time his grip on power is threatened, he needs to up the ante, to make people scared that this would turn into a confrontation between him and the United States. So he used a whole bunch of chemical weapons, and President Obama did nothing.
 And the use of chemical weapons were the occasion for the greatest lie of the century, that it wasn't Assad, but the rebels who used chemical weapons. There has grown up a media industry, some for the political benefit of Russia and Iran, some seemingly for the smug contrariness, that went into overdrive to cast doubt upon the victims of these chemical attacks. The same sort of invention as Holocaust denial, the creation of spurious doubt, the invention of alternative scenarios, the deliberate ignorance of what the victims had to say, but rather being the province of just a few fascist cranks, widespread among those who think themselves in some way progressive. Along with a constant stream of other lies about the Syrian revolution, that it is a NATO invasion, that it is all for Israel's benefit, that the rebels are the same as ISIS and are just as bad, and so on. These lies will come back to haunt us.
 There is a article in the Daily Mail three days ago, with an appropriately hysterical headline, "Former prisoners held in Assad's Syrian jails reveal how guards made the men rape one another to avoid execution… and regularly tortured or beat them to death".* Only it isn't hysteria, it's the truth. And when nobody has an interest in covering for Assad's crimes, when no-one has an interest in pretending the real crime would be to try and stop it, they will look for everyone on the left who said we should be Pharisees rather than Good Samaritans. And every word uttered by those left wing politicians who said the real problem was the rebels and our funding of them, will be used as evidence that the left are in love with genocidal dictatorship, and even those of us who have stood in solidarity will not escape the backlash.
 Please mark Syrian Genocide Memorial Day tomorrow. Please do not share articles by genocide deniers like Sam Kriss, Tariq Ali and Ray McGovern, just to mention a few I have seen recently. Please support those who would propose action that would stop Assad committing genocide, and oppose those who do not. And then you can tell kids in the future that you stood against Assad's genocide when it counted, while it was still going on, and while there were people who could be saved.

What parents in Aleppo tell their children about war

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 'I try very hard to explain to my kids, especially those who were born after the war began, what is going on around them, but it's not easy. So I spin tales about battles in the neighborhood between right and wrong and tell them about our revolution and our demands for freedom.

 I told them about the demonstrations that swept the streets demanding (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad go, and how he and his army came with tanks and warplanes so more than half of the people fled.

 After five years of war, children are not surprised by the sound of the planes. Some of them scream in fear and some of them cry and some of them laugh. They bombard me with a stream of questions. Who is bombing? And why? And how long they will continue? Where do the planes come from and who pilots them?

 My daughter, who is five years old, was born in this war and does not know anything about normal life. She is used to seeing the streets in ruins, full of debris; houses without walls or ceilings; and trees broken or burned. She has never once asked to go to a park or a playground or the theater, because all of that ended in Aleppo before her birth. All she knows is that people are dying because of the bombing. She cannot even understand a natural death. When one of the neighbors passed away she asked if he died because of the shelling. I said no. Then barrel bombs? I said no. Then shrapnel? I said no. So she sat, puzzled, and asked, "Then how did he die?" It was difficult to explain to her how people normally die.

 My oldest son, Ibrahim, who is 10 years old, was injured in the legs and abdomen and it almost cost him his life. To this day he fears every strange sound or loud noise, whether it's a plane or a motorcycle or a speeding car. Every sound for him appears to be caused by the bombing he was exposed to. He once jumped from the motorcycle I was driving when he heard a loud sound and thought he was being bombed again.

 A single hour does not pass without me communicating with my family so I may be reassured of their safety. Existence in Aleppo means that you are always in danger. When my son nearly lost his life and his legs, he had only gone to a shop on our street. The shop was hit by an airstrike while Ibrahim was there. I learned that the raid targeted our neighborhood. I hurried home and learned that Ibrahim did not return from the store. I continued to search for more than an hour, under the rubble of collapsed walls but was unable to find him. Then we started to search the local hospitals where we found him in the emergency department.

 I could not believe I found him alive. He was lying covered with dust mixed with blood that filled the wounds on his body and wounds on his legs and abdomen. A few hours after he entered the operating room, he was out of critical condition and began waking up from the anesthesia. He was crying and repeating unintelligible sentences. We tried to console him, to tell him it's OK and tell him he's a hero to overcome this ordeal. When he woke up totally he did not ask me who bombed him -- he knows quite well that it was the Assad regime. He did not know why and did not care. He had seen many children before in his same situation. 

 He was only concerned with the fate of his leg because he could not feel it. He didn't dare ask the question because he was scared we would answer, "Yes, they amputated your leg." We tried to convince him this was not true, that he would not lose his leg, that it was fine. He wouldn't accept it. The only solution was to take a picture of his leg on my mobile and show it to him so that he could be sure it was OK.'

Friday, 19 August 2016

Amid deafening silence, growing screams for no-fly zone in Syria

 Words will not stop Assad and Russia’s bombs from killing us,” Hamood Jneid, a local from Kafranbel, Syria tells Al Arabiya English, adding that the Syrians blame “anyone” who has the authority to stop the killing and doesn’t. According to Jneid, most people in his village, Kafranbel, point fingers at America, which has done “absolutely nothing” and used only “meaningless words” despite the atrocities being committed by Assad and Russia. Jneid and the residents of the village are not the only ones bitter about the international community not creating safe buffer zones in Syria.

 “Why us? Why is it our children that are dying? Why do children anywhere else in the word have the right to live, and our children are being killed? All this, because we demanded our freedom?” he lamented.

 Khaled Salame, an aid worker from northwestern Syria, said that he can’t understand how an army can kill its own people. Salame explained how he watched Russian jets fly over the village of Saraqeb, Idlib, on Monday and drop “several” bombs. He said he can’t get “the screams of children and women out of his head”.
 “I felt hysterical. The hardest thing is to see an old man running around and crying like a child… I’m used to seeing children cry, not old grown men,” he said.
 Mostafa Saroot, a photographer with Aleppo’s Media Center, and the man behind the shocking footage, expresses his puzzlement towards the popularity of this single shot, since pictures like this are coming out every day.
 “There are dozens of Omrans every day in Aleppo, I wish they would implement a no fly zone so children can keep safe.”
 The dazed, dusted, and bloodied face of Omran is only a minuscule window into the horror, atrocities, and nightmare of Allepo. With 400,000+ death and millions more displaced, Syrian conflict has stretched on for years.
 “Our children are becoming mentally disturbed,” Saroot continues. “Omran’s silence spoke for the all the Syrians suffering.” Shrouded head to toe in a blanket of dust and caked on ruble and debris, Omran was captured in a dead end, numb daze, his reaction to his own bloodied face chillingly indifferent and anesthetized.
 “I hope this picture reaches the UN and the international community and they understand that our children have developed psychological problems due to the heavy bombardment on Aleppo,” he said.
 US President Barrack Obama ruled out a no-fly zone over Syria for several factors, calling it “counterproductive” since ISIS does not have planes and carries out attacks on the ground. US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said even if there were areas in Syria where planes could not fly over it, the killing would not stop, because ISIS would still be able to carry out massacres. He also mentioned that a no-fly zone would require an “enormous” amount of US resources, when America’s main focus is to wipe out ISIS.
 “A no fly zone might create some additional ability to manage some of the refugee flows and brush back some of the Syrian regime’s air attacks on civilians, but frankly that violence could just manifest itself in different ways on the ground or migrate to different areas,” Rhodes said in a podcast on “The Axe Files”.
 Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, senior political adviser, government relations director, and strategist for the Syrian American Council in Washington DC, said that not only would a no-fly zone in Syria “stem the flow of refugees by protecting civilians” but also “increase” the possibility of a political solution by proving to the Syrian regime that Assad “cannot” win militarily. He said he believes the only backlash is the risk of “increased US-Russia tensions”.
 According to Ghanem, top ex-US generals have told him that such a solution would be feasible, in spite of Russia’s heavy involvement, and that Obama’s decision to abstain is “political”.
“Most likely, at the start of his administration, President Obama was motivated mainly by the desire to avoid another Iraq. But once Iran got seriously involved on the regime side, Obama likely felt the need to avoid targeting Assad in order to preserve the nuclear deal,” he explained.
 Mohammed said he believes a “no-fly zone would tilt the scales in favor of moderation and stability in opposition-controlled areas while providing Syrians with a chance to build up a real alternative to Assad's dictatorship.”
 Ghanem says that the constant air raids on obvious civilian targets are “designed” to create havoc in opposition areas, preventing a real alternative to Assad and to create conditions “so desperate that extremism is a natural reaction for many”.
 Shiyam Galyon, a Syrian-American writer and researcher has been advocating a no-fly zone for a long time.

“So many people around the world want to stand in solidarity with Syria. And that’s great: The Syrian revolution is based on principles that no doubt will elicit solidarity from anyone who values human and civil rights. However, when people are being brutalized, I no longer want to stand in solidarity with them. For those people, I will shout loudly for intervention,” Galyon said. She says that is why it is vital for anyone who believes in freedom and dignity to “shout for a no-fly zone”.
 Earlier this month, children in besieged Aleppo were hailed “little heroes” all over the media after they burnt tires to create “no-fly zones” by raising smoke to confuse the planes bombing them, hospitals, and markets.
 “When Aleppo’s children burned tires to blacken the sky, they proved that there is a clear Syrian will for a no-fly zone. That children in a war zone did more to avert planes coming to bomb them than the international community ever did is a sign that they are dysfunctional,” Galyon said.'

Let us be clear

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Loubna Mrie:

'I have long shunned away from the immensely frustrating practice of sharing videos of atrocities from Syria, particularly ones produced by western news outlets. ًThese videos have not only grown more abundant and grotesque over the years, but also, with the vast majority of them showing the aftermath of airstrikes against civilian structures in the opposition-held areas, they present an indisputable evidence for who is responsible for the killing: The regime and its allies.
 The other side does not have an air force.
 Yet, commentary in the videos and underneath them never fails to divert attention from this very obvious fact. Generic talk of "war is bad", with endless variants, runs amok, almost always neglecting to name the actual criminal involved. Worse yet, many use this very same footage--sincerely or maliciously, it hardly matters--to advance their own misplaced agendas.
 So, just in case this is not obvious, let us be clear:
 The vast majority of suffering in Syria is NOT a direct or indirect byproduct of the 2003 intervention in Iraq, as much as you hate and hated that war.
 It is NOT a case of "America needs to stop bombing Muslims," as true as this could be elsewhere.
 It is NOT because the Saudi state exports Wahhabism, as terrible said state and ideology are.
 It is NOT because Turkish AKP has turned its back as Jihadists trickled through the border in 2013, as appalling and narrow-sighted you might think that was.
 It is NOT because global warming led to a drought in pre-war Syria, catalyzing an economic and political crisis, as sexy and convenient this theory seems.
 It is NOT because of ISIS, who is responsible for but a small fraction of the death and destruction that has befallen Syria, and for an even much smaller fraction of the country's recent history, as much as you might be horrified by their actions and tempted to blame it all on that magnet of resentment.
 And, most certainly, it is NOT because of any one state, not the least the US, having the wrong refugee policy. The US has admitted less than 10,000 refugees as of date, which is less than 0.1% of all people displaced in Syria, and, with the wildest improvement imaginable, would not hit 1%, as much as democrats and progressives think it easy to score points against Trump et al on this issue and feel better about their stance on Syria.
 Important as any one issue of the above may be, to blame Syria on any or all of them is wrong and intellectually lazy, if not offensive.
 Rather, what is happening in Syria is first and foremost the doing of a brutal, totalitarian government, simply put--and simply it should be. The Syrian air force has been operational for the last 4 years, on a daily basis. It has targeted hospitals, vegetable markets, bakery lines, gas stations, and schools, on purpose, and repeatedly. It is directly overseen and micromanaged by the Commander of the Armed Forces, who also happens to be the sitting president of Syria. He also has the "rights" to dissolve the Syrian parliament and control the highest judiciary body in the country, based on a constitution first put in place by his dear father. He, like his father, was "elected" by 99% of the vote for the longest presidential term on earth. Over the past half-decade, he has overseen the collective punishment and destruction of one of the most beautiful countries on earth, primarily because he has not been able to reign it into submission. In the process, he has instigated a war that killed half a million humans and displaced more people than in WWI. His name is Bashar al Assad, and he wants you to talk about everything and everyone but what HE did.
 Please do not help him.'

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

How the BBC silences Free Syrians

  By changing sentences from active to passive, so perpetrators and victims are replaced by an unfortunate conflict.

 Mohammed: "Because of the rockets that Bashar al-Assad, and the Russians, and their allies, are throwing over our Free City of Aleppo."
 BBC subtitles: "There are barrel bombs and rockets."

 Wissam: "The rĂ©gime/Russia are targetting every hospital, and all neighbourhoods."
 BBC subtitles: "Hospitals are being targetted."

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Sunday, 14 August 2016

Former detainees recount torture and organ harvesting in Syria's prisons

 'Omar al-Shogre was 17 when they came for him. Omar would spend the rest of his adolescence in a total of 11 Syrian prisons, facing torture from a multitude of men belonging to the government’s elaborate, sinister security apparatus. "I could drink their blood."

 In Tartus he was tortured with electrocution – to his neck, arms, legs, and genitals. On another occasion, prisoners were force-fed salt before being offered water as a relief from the thirst. But their penises were then tied up, preventing them from urinating and causing intense kidney pain.

 Omar began to know the meaning of hunger: the prisoners often went without food for days; when it came it was a few potatoes and eggs, often covered in blood or mould. “It continued for months,” Omar said. “People were crying from hunger.” There was always extra torture on celebratory days, such as the Muslim festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, and Mother’s Day. Torture parties, Omar called them.

 Prisoners came from many backgrounds and nationalities. They shared skills, professions and languages. They taught themselves how to divide their tiny food rations with threads from the military uniforms they were forced to wear, and how to kill the lice that crawled over their bodies. Omar recalled two fellow inmates with particular warmth: Bara’a Manieh from rural Damascus, was a natural leader, and “always happy”. Radwan al-Eisa from Hama became a close friend.
 But over time both were taken away by officers and had their toes burnt off with acid and their eyes pulled out. Neither one was seen alive again.
 Omar’s final prison was the notorious Sednaya jail, north of Damascus. One of his many "duties" was helping to dispose of the corpses of dead inmates. He once saw a room full of bodies, with none of the usual signs of torture. Instead, there were large wounds where their hearts, livers and kidneys once were.
 Organ harvesting appeared to be taking place on a large scale.
 Yehia Rashid al-Salim from Palmyra can still feel the pain of the beatings. Yehia was subjected to the “al-Shabah” torture method: a prisoner’s hands are shackled and he is suspended from the ceiling of his cell, feet centimetres from the floor. Then he is beaten.
 He was then transferred to the military police branch in the city of Homs, and then to the notorious “Palestine Branch” prison in Damascus, where he was tortured three or four times a day. Life inside the cell was “revolting”. People were forced to remain naked and infectious diseases spread quickly. Tuberculosis, lice and scabies caused infections and death on an almost daily basis.
 “The jailer would enter and ask how many dead there were that day,” Yehia said. “We put the bodies by the door of the cell, where they were taken to an unknown location.”
 The lucky prisoners died, Yehia says, because death was a blessed escape. “I wish death upon the detainees at every turn. It is an escape from torment and pain, from the hunger and oppression and humiliation and torment and humiliation, from everything inside.”
 Yehia ended up in Idomeni camp, the makeshift city home to 10,000 refugees on the Greece-Macedonia border that was closed down in May.

“There are scars and marks on my back to the present day. I wish to show the violations of this criminal regime. Until now I have not had the opportunity. I want the world to see what is happening: the Assad regime's violations against detainees.”

More than 12,500 people have died under torture in prisons in the past five years, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. The government of Bashar al-Assad is responsible for 99 per cent of those victims, according to a special report that the monitoring group released in June. The group accuses the Syrian government of denying torture and blaming arrests made on al-Qaeda and other militant groups.
 The group's chairman, Fadel Abdul Ghani, said: “We are still waiting for the free world to take the next stop in order to protect humanity in Syria, now that this mechanism is exposed.” '