Saturday, 9 August 2014

Rebels intend to continue tit-for-tat shelling of Damascus

 ' “The rebels are trying to aim at military targets in Damascus,” said the Islam Army leader, speaking from Douma, a town northeast of the capital held by the rebels and regularly targeted by regime warplanes.'

 Spot the difference. Spot the news story not heavily covered.

Now ain't the time for your tears

 Bashar al-Assad killed 1500 people, on the night of August 21st 2013, with sarin gas in Volcano rockets, fired by his troops into the Eastern suburbs of Damascus. A lot of the dead were children, because their smaller lungs could less resist asphyxiation, and because their parents had got them to sleep closer to the ground, for fear that they would die from the relentless conventional shelling of civilians by Assad’s forces.

 I remember seeing one report of a possible attack that night. Within a day or so pictures of the victims appeared on our screens. That they had no conventional wounds, but were dying in their droves, made it obvious that this was a chemical attack. Still the news reported it as a claim made by activists, with the Syrian government claiming first that no attack had occurred, then that they had found weapons in a tunnel with Islamic terrorists that they had captured. This followed the [pattern of the entire conflict. Far from there being a Western conspiracy to besmirch Assad, the media gave his excuse for murder parity of esteem. In 2011 when his forces were shooting down demonstrators outside mosques, the claim that he was fighting terrorism was met with an editorial line that we don’t know who the opposition is. When his forces were carrying out massacres like that in Houla in 2012, the lie machine gave an alternative narrative whereby the rebels had done it themselves, and the media told us that nothing is certain in the fog of war. No matter that the Assad narrative was exposed again as a lie, the news cycle moved on without a care. After Marie Colvin was killed reporting the constant shelling of civilian areas by the régime, it became difficult to report the opposition story, and most of the reporting came from those who accepted Assad’s hospitality and largely or entirely gave his version, like Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk and Jeremy Bowen.

 At the time of the sarin attack I didn’t think the lies that important to deconstruct, as they were so thin. I waited to see if anyone from the attack site challenged the idea that Assad was responsible, one thing that would indicate that any other suspect was remotely plausible, and nobody ever did. There are a number of other ways those with a knowledge of the situation on the ground could see it would be impossible for the rebels to have committed the crime, from the impossibility of one group sneaking into Damascus to fire the weapon without other fighters or civilians knowing or caring, to the absurdity of Islamic extremists carrying out false flag attacks on Muslims to get the West to intervene.

 But the genocide deniers are not working from knowledge, but as much ignorance as they can muster. Like Holocaust denial, it isn’t really purposed for itself, but to achieve a political objective, to deny the threat of the real perpetrator. In some ways Holocaust denial is more offensive, it’s designed to rehabilitate the Nazis, while today’s version is more so that its practitioners can be smartarses who can think themselves superior for seeing through the justification for another Middle East war. In some ways it is worse, the Holocaust was 70 years ago, you could see Assad’s chemical attack on your TV.
Some of the excuses for reasoning were pitiful. Tariq Ali wrote on his blog at the London Review of Books, “Cui prodest? as the Romans used to inquire. Who profits? Clearly, not the Syrian regime.” Of course it did. It frightened more opposition civilians to flight, it reinforced the belief that Assad could survive, it shifted the world’s attention to how to stop the US from intervening.

 Which it was never going to do. Since the First World War there have been laws against the use of chemical weapons, and so the international community is forced to pay attention in some manner. If you deny such massacres as this, it isn’t going to stop humanitarian imperialists using massacres as an excuse for American intervention, it will rehabilitate American power as the seeming only way to stop them. The alternative, that the Syrian people be given the means to stop the massacres and remove the cause, never gets on the table, if the racist belief that those struggling against Assad are all crazy jihadis who will kill you as soon as look at you prevails. Far from the opposition being a sectarian force well-funded by Turkey and the Gulf, the Free Syrian Army and other moderate brigades were the only people in the region suffering from a lack of arms, because the truth is that they have no imperial sponsor. Their weakness has allowed Islamists to fill the gap, especially those like ISIS who merely parasite on the revolution and spent no time fighting Assad. 

 So because he had to be seen to do something, Obama declared red lines, and promised there would be action against Assad if he continued to violate them, especially by using “a whole bunch of chemical weapons”. When he did that, when the US proclaimed itself convinced that he had, nothing was done. Obama went to Congress to pass the buck, without any firm proposal as to how the US would respond, allowing the most lurid tales as to what would transpire to be circulated, and nothing was done. John McCain was one of the few to propose practical steps to fight Assad, giving anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to the FSA and bombing Assad’s airfields, and he was portrayed as a dangerous warmonger for it.

 There will be demonstrations in a couple of weeks around the world to commemorate the worst massacre of the worst genocide of the 21st Century. They will be small demonstrations, because Syrians have largely been abandoned by the world. The idea that we should avoid this issue because the Western leaders are constantly inciting against Assad, and they are the bigger enemy, is a sick joke to Syrians. They have faced three years of terror, of constantly hearing of the murder of their fellow Syrians by the government, of fear that they or their relatives could always be next. They have learned to hate the Russians and Iranians who have assisted in the rape of their country. They have looked on with bemusement and anger as they are told that they are just a proxy in an American backed sectarian war, and that they need to be protected from an American attack. 

 If you have been demonstrating over Gaza, and don’t like pro-Israelis asking what about Syria, go to one of the vigils this August, and you will be able to ask them why they don’t demonstrate against massacres in Gaza or in Syria. If you can’t make it to a demonstration find some way of letting it be known that you mourn for the people of the Eastern Ghouta. Now is the time for your tears.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Airstrikes in Iraq, But Why Not Syria

"The administration—again, reflecting the president’s skepticism that anything useful can be done militarily to mitigate slaughter or promote transition in Syria—has been quick to deny that the Assad regime’s impressive portfolio of war crimes and crimes against humanity adds up to genocide. It is as if genocide—even if it involves 10,000 people—provides more of a humanitarian intervention mandate than mere mass homicide, even if it involves multiples of 10,000. One suspects the administration has used the “it’s not genocide” argument more to evade the “Never Again” dictum than to downplay the extent of the Assad regime’s depredations."
Image result for ‘Shameless’ HSBC shuts Syrian refugees’ bank accounts in Britain

‘Shameless’ HSBC shuts Syrian
refugees’ bank accounts in Britain

“This is stabbing Syrians in the back. The sanctions are against the Government, not the people of Syria.”
They wouldn't be the first.

poster for 23 August demo Trafalgar Square/Downing Street for the anniversary of the gas attack. Bring a flower to mourn Syria's dead. Organisers please arrive with banners and flags by 1.30 pm latest

Idleb countryside : a Big demonstration to step down the regime 8-8-2014

Chemical attack? What chemical attack? Sorry it is alleged and cannot be verified

 "On July, 11 Syrian born Welsh resident Alisar Iram wrote: They think if we kill us we die." *
 She died recently, but left us a number of writings, including this piece about the irrationality of believing that rebels might have staged the chemical attack in Damascus last August.

 "How can these images help the Ghouta and the people of the Ghouta since the media refuses to acknowledge the responsibility of the regime and claims that the responsibility rests equally with both sides or that, against all established military convictions, the rebels might have done it to themselves. Was it a mass suicide then? And why should the Jihadists choose an area outside the control of Assad instead of choosing Assad controlled areas? It seems that the rebels have acquired very mysteriously invisible jets that can launch missiles with chemical warheads or it seems that they have reached such a high level of sophistication that they can manufacture long distance surface-to-surface missiles or super rockets carrying chemical war heads that can cover the Eastern and the Western Ghoutas alike, hitting the areas where they fight from and where their families live. Suppose the Nusra Front is behind it. If they have such capabilities why not launch chemical attacks against the army barracks of Assad scattered all around the Ghouta?"

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Isis consolidates

LRB Cover

Patrick Cockburn

 I've just seen this bullshit promoted by Alex Callinicos, demonstrating that Alex knows bugger all about Syria. The Free Syrian Army was the only rebel force until people realised that the US was spending its time preventing them from getting heavy weapons through Turkey or Jordan, and so people drifted towards the Islamists. Now the US has belated made a promise of substantial funding at some point in the future, but haven't delivered. The anti-tank weapons that have been delivered have made substantial differences to the brigades supplied in Idlib and elsewhere. Aymeen al-Tamimi I once had a polite conversation with when he was blogging at the pro-Israel Harry's Place, he's recently been getting into trouble for encouraging supporters of ISIS to get his opponent's twitter accounts suspended. What "Western diplomats admit" is their policy of hoping the Syrian revolution will go away. If there was anything like the level of weaponry provided to the opposition that Russia and Iran supply to Assad, he would have fallen long ago. Even the basic supply of anti-aircraft weaponry would stop the strategy of creating refugees by barrel bombing. But instead of this Cockburn wants us to co-operate with Assad in the hope will now fight the Islamic State. Cockburn repeats the claim that all the evidence of mutual toleration between the régime and ISIS is just a conspiracy theory. I wouldn't expect any socialist to be promoting this trash.

 "Like the Shia leaders in Baghdad, the US and its allies have responded to the rise of Isis by descending into fantasy. They pretend they are fostering a ‘third force’ of moderate Syrian rebels to fight both Assad and Isis, though in private Western diplomats admit this group doesn’t really exist outside a few beleaguered pockets. Aymenn al-Tamimi confirms that this Western-backed opposition ‘is getting weaker and weaker’; he believes supplying them with more weapons won’t make much difference."

Conspiracy theory playbook

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad during the signing ceremony in the Moscow


"The first car bombing of the revolution was in the Kafarsouseh district of Damascus in late December 2011, and was either carried out or facilitated by the regime as a way of reifying its propaganda about its fight against “terrorists,” not peaceful protestors. But consider how Syrian state media covered this car bombing within minutes of its occurrence. As Hanin Ghaddar, the managing editor of NOW, screen-captured at the time, the female anchor on Addounia was able to report with a straight face the “arrest of the terrorists who blew themselves up today.”
The purpose of propaganda isn’t to convince you that a lie is true; it’s to preoccupy you with debating or debunking the lie, the better to keep the truth hidden. Conspiracy theories, which proliferate even under the most democratic of circumstances, metastasize when undemocratic regimes offer the slightest encouragement – and they always do.
But what Putin and Assad understand is that even respectable sources of information, such as mainstream Western news organizations, are duty-bound to relay “both sides of the story,” however superficially absurd one side may be. In this way do CNN, the BBC and The New York Times get conscripted as unwitting agents of influence in the dissemination of all manner of nonsense about the origins of protest movements, chemical weapons attacks, or murder of civilians aboard commercial airliners."
Rescue workers and civilians inspect the rubble of a destroyed building following an airstrike reportedly by government forces on the Bustan Al-Qasr neighborhood of Aleppo on June 7, 2014. (Karam Al-Masri/AFP/Getty Images)

Aleppo’s Real-Life Soap Opera"They chose their subject matter, said Hadi, because of the shortfalls of the international media’s reporting on Syria. The government’s draconian restrictions on the movement of foreign journalists inside the country, coupled with the increasing dangers of reporting in the rebel-held areas, mean that the plight of the ordinary people who remain in the opposition-controlled quarters of Aleppo is barely being reported any more."

Syria Speaks: an evening of resistance and celebration at the 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival

Syria Speaks: an evening of resistance and celebration at the 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival‘We hope this event won’t just be about tragedy but will highlight the resilience, humour and strength of Syrian art, even in these most challenging times,’ says Van Winkle. ‘There’s no uniform style of “uprising literature”. All those presenting work have reacted and responded to events in different ways, and whilst there are huge amounts of suffering taking place in Syria right now, the people and families experiencing this are expressing themselves in various ways. We hope this will be a celebration of people.’

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Turning our backs on Syrian atrocities

"The Syrian conflict will be remembered as a strategic watershed for American foreign policy. When the rebellion was a broad, non-radical uprising — the dead in Caesar’s photos — President Obama did almost nothing to help. When radical groups gained momentum, it became an excuse for further inaction, because America didn’t want to create jihadists. We got the jihadists anyway, who are now causing regional havoc. At every stage, Obama defended his policy with false choices and flanking attacks on straw men: Any critics of his minimalism wanted Marines in Damascus. And when he eventually adopted the policy recommended by many of his critics — aid to the responsible rebels — it was very late. Obama has consistently complained about American powerlessness in Syria and, through risk aversion and delay, has ensured that powerlessness."

Image result for Remember Syria? Some fear world losing interest in deadly conflict

Remember Syria? Some fear world losing interest in deadly conflictDid the world ever care? Was the struggle in Syria ever at the front of the minds of the international community, or just ways of avoiding any responsibility for it?
"There is a real concern that the daily slaughter being perpetuated by the Assad regime has suddenly become accepted by the international community as the new normal."

Monday, 4 August 2014

Gaza resistance

The killing is not over but is Israel losing
the battle to crush Gaza?

John Rees' bullshit of the day:
"In Syria the Western courting and promotion of the Free Syrian Army helped to destabilise the original Syrian rising against Assad and created the vacuum into which Gulf State backed ISIS forces then stepped."

Stand By Me

 A hundred years ago today, the German Socialist Party fraction in the Reichstag voted in favour of war credits to support the German war effort in the world war just starting. We see a lot on the TV at the moment about how men died doing their duty, not so much on how it was an imperialist slaughter. I think there are parallels in the way much of the Left has betrayed the principle of internationalism in abandoning the Syrian revolution to its fate, and misidentifying the problem there.

 Though we might start with a couple of differences. Firstly, the ideologically committed left has nothing like the influence it did a hundred years ago. Then its actions shaped the world, now it's important to get this right, not for the world's sake, but for the sake of the left. Already you can see the Syria conflict being thrown in the face of those who only choose to demonstrate over Gaza. I saw Abdel Bari Atwan being taunted about this on Dateline a couple of weeks ago, and thought it would be so much easier for him if he'd attended one demonstration in favour of the revolution in Syria. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, not due to the machinations of the Emir of Qatar and John McCain, but because of Assad's army and bands of thugs and Iranians and Hezbollah killing Syrians with Russian munitions from Russian vehicles. If you as an individual didn't protest against these things in the last year, fine, you had other priorities in your politics. But if you are a political tendency that didn't bother to protest against those things, it will be thrown in your face from now until Kingdom Come. And it will only get worse as the horrors of Assad's war to destroy Syria become more public. If you don't know what the Caesar photos are about, find out. If you know what they are, but think their mention moralism or a hoax emanating from the Pentagon, there is a dustbin of history for such conspiracy theorists which can be an interesting place, and I hope you enjoy it. But nobody will take your politics seriously when you can't even acknowledge a tyranny or the revolution against it.

 The second difference is that World War One was an inter-imperialist conflict. Syria is not. The demonstrators of 2011 and the Free Syrian Army are not unconnected groups, the latter funded by the US and Saudi Arabia to spread their influence in the region. The FSA was formed spontaneously to defend the demonstrations for freedom against the snipers of the régime, and grew with the desertions of those soldiers no longer prepared to kill for Assad. To compare it to exile groups trained and implanted by the CIA or the Pentagon is just to slander, and such a lie makes everything else said subject to disbelief.

 The people who say we should ignore the Syrian conflict because our rulers demonise Assad are telling another whopper. I remember when this really did happen. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, the papers were full of stories claiming he was a new Hitler, so that a war could be justified the return the region to a Western favoured reactionary monarchy, with a load of Iraqis slaughtered in the process. In 2003 there wasn't quite so much of that, the argument was more about the WMDs that he supposedly had, it being more of an after the event fallback justification that he was a bad man anyway. There has been very little of this with Syria, to put it mildly. Most of the concern has been at the scale of the humanitarian need, not with putting the blame on Assad. Obama proclaimed red lines that Assad couldn't cross, and then Assad kills a whole bunch of people with chemical weapons, and nothing is done. And the now reactionary sections of the left congratulate itself for stopping a war that was never going to happen, while they do nothing to support the victims of the war actually going on in Syria.Because the US is not invested in the Syrian opposition. There is the possibility of the intersection between their professed commitment to freedom, and the Syrian need for weapons to defend themselves. Any more voices in the public sphere ion favour of that would have helped, would help now. But those saying we have to stop Western meddling in Syria let our governments off the hook. You wouldn't have said in Russia in the 70s that the problem in Nicaragua was your government supplying arms to the FSLN. Or that you shouldn't have demonstrated against the Vietnam War in Russia in the 60s because the main enemy is at home. The Syrian conflict is a revolution in a country allied to the US' rivals. Of course they will make some propaganda over it, will provide minimal support to the political opposition, so that they will maximise their influence in a post-revolutionary Syria. But they have stopped heavy weapons going to the rebels rather than sent them. Even the weaponry sent by Saudi Arabia and Qatar has been nothing in comparison to that provided by Russia and Iran to Assad, and it is the lack not the excess that concerns Syrians still fleeing or dying from daily barrel bomb attacks.

 Those who formed the Communist International after World War One also rejected a middle group, those like Kautsky, who had suggested international mediation rather than revolution was the way to stop war. I think that Chomsky somewhere attacks those national security liberals who opposed the Vietnam War because it was bad for the US, rather than because Vietnamese were being killed into the millions. So there is also a comparison with those like the Stop The War Coalition, who desire Russia and China to restrain the US over Syria, and have generally argued against Britain's wars on the patriotic basis of their damage to the country. But I'm thinking there is more of those who equate the fight against Assad with the rejection of foreign intervention on behalf of the revolution. Despite this being the position of some revolutionaries in Syria, I think it has little appeal for most Syrians, as it simply doesn't reflect their experience. And so while it will not be found out as quickly as the outright opposition to the Syrian revolution, it will also be found out as an inadequate response.

 This is not to say that the answer is for the USAF to flatten Damascus, most obviously because that was never going to be the question. I remember someone telling me last year that all bombing is indiscriminate. It's not true. Hannan Ashrawi of the PLO was on the TV the other day, pointing out that the Israeli army cannot be excused for hitting schools in Gaza 'by accident' when it can take out individuals from an F-16. When a government is fighting a war of choice, it tends to achieve military objectives first, and accept collateral damage as a byproduct. It creates the impression of an out-of-control process that can only be stopped by the surrender of the other side. When the US was trying to do as little as possible to fulfil its humanitarian obligations, Obama goes to Congress to ask that it decide, but not spell out what would happen if it went for action, allowing the opponents of action to paint a lurid picture of being dragged into a quagmire on the side of al-Qaida, and the administration was off the hook. So if they had bombed some airfields, there is no mechanism by which that would have translated into a rerun of the Iraq invasion. It might have meant fewer bombs would have been dropped, discriminately, to force the people out of any area that Assad cannot control.

 The revolutionary left is much smaller than it once was, and those getting Syria right seem to be a handful. Which is a shame, as it may be that only a socialist society with its common ownership of the means of production can provide an alternative to a a capitalist world whose daily exploitation constantly intensifies inequality and distress with crisis and wars. Those handful are a motley bunch, and its hard to imagine most of them in the same organisations as any of the others. But for now I see their agreement over Syria as more important than any other differences, as it is only those really focused on solidarity with the Syrian people who are going to be worth a damn in the future.
Atheist protest at White House

The stigma of being an atheist in the USI just had an idea. All the leftists who spend their time having a go at Richard Dawkins, why not challenge him on how his views fit the situation in Syria? You could ask if he thinks a secular autocrat is preferable to Islamically influenced rebels; or if at the least we should reject these jihadis until they swear they are fighting only for a secular godless state. Oh I forget, that's what you all think.
If you want to protest that you are a supporter of the Syrian revolution, the whole revolution against Assad not just those parts that express themselves in the language of proletarian internationalism, then I apologise for the imputation of opinions you do not hold, something leftists do to Dawkins a lot; and conflating your views with those of others, which Dawkins may be doing to those with religious beliefs. I remember a radio programme years ago where it was mentioned that it's always been more dangerous to declare yourself an atheist in America than a communist. There are apparently no members of Congress prepared to declare they have no religious belief.

Image result for 10,000 Bodies: Inside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's Crackdown

10,000 Bodies: Inside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's Crackdown“On the one hand, it’s going to illustrate perhaps better than anything heretofore the absolute horror of what’s going on. On the other side, it raises the inevitable question: What are we actually doing about it?”