Friday, 15 December 2017

Comrade Corbyn supports Russian imperialism in Syria

Comrade Corbyn supports Russian imperialism in Syria

 Sam Charles Hamad:

 "Under the heavy blizzard of issues surrounding the Brexit negotiations engulfing the UK over the past few weeks, Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party has endorsed what is surely its most brazen policy of outright support for 'President Assad'.

 'President Assad' - this is precisely how Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry refers to the unelected tyrant of a rump state, responsible for murder, torture, rape and ethnic cleansing on a genocidal scale.

 Thornberry was addressing and, to some extent, lambasting British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for the UK's refusal to throw its weight behind the Astana 'peace process', which is largely seen as a fig leaf for Russian and Iranian hegemony over Syria.

 The UK government supports the UN-mediated, Syrian opposition-supported Geneva process, which, however imperfect, keeps up the demand that Assad must leave power.

 What ought to concern those who understand the pro-Assad political context of Astana isn't that the Labour Party, which has a very good chance of forming the next government, is blindly endorsing Astana as a means of mere party-political contrarianism, but that it too fully understands the political context.

 In her statement to Johnson, Thornberry asked very clearly - is the UK willing to accept a deal that would see Iranian militias leave the country and allow 'President Assad' to remain in power?

 Moreover, is the UK willing to accept the full withdrawal of 'all coalition forces', and international aid for Assad to 'reconstruct' the country?

 Only a week or so before Thornberry's public questions, the BBC's Panorama put out a documentary with the sensationalist, Islamophobic dog-whistling, gutter tabloid title 'The Jihadis You Pay For'.

 The programme made the dubious case that UK funding for the Free Syrian Police (FSP) - a voluntary organisation that provides unarmed security for civilians in Syria who live in liberated areas of the country - was somehow falling into the hands of the eponymous jihadists, including the al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front.

 Simultaneous with their campaigns of genocidal terror against any aspect of Free Syria, it has long been the tactic of the Assad regime, Iran and Russia - often through formal and informal propagandists on their behalf - to perpetuate narratives that de-legitimise the pillars and institutions of the revolution.

 We saw the same with the attacks against the White Helmets, including almost identical claims that they were aiding or were themselves 'jihadists'.

 These groups are targeted precisely because they are not what their detractors claim, but rather because they show the world that Syrians exist beyond the Islamophobic stereotypes of menacing, destructive 'jihadists' and Assad's absurd but effective propaganda paradigm of 'jihadi chaos' vs 'secular tyrannical order'.

 While the propaganda campaign to delegitimise the White Helmets was unsuccessful, it was not the case for the FSP.

 Despite extensive denials from the British charity that runs the aid project, as well as from the groups that run the Free Syrian Police, in addition to a catalogue of evidence that contradicts Panorama's claims, the British government caved to the sensationalism and resulting political pressure and suspended aid to the FSP.

 Corbyn's Labour led the charge, with the leader himself reproducing all the usual pro-Assad tropes, saying that UK aid destined for an Al Qaeda affiliate was "yet another blow to Britain's reputation" on the world stage.

 He also went on to connect the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the millions of Syrian refugees and internally displaced with the British government's alleged will to "support sectarian division rather than humanitarian need".

 This is how Corbyn describes an unarmed force of volunteers set up to provide security to Syrians who live free of Assad - as 'sectarians'. Combined with his Shadow Foreign Secretary's comments pressuring the British government to monetarily support 'President Assad', one need not be an expert on Syria to understand what exactly Corbyn's policy is here.

 Somehow, by some gross, obscure distortion, supporting groups like the FSP is 'sectarian' and has led to the humanitarian and refugee crisis in Syria (not once has Corbyn condemned what's happening in Ghouta or any Assad-Iran-Russia besieged area of Syria), but apparently aiding 'President Assad' is not.

 And only the most deluded or vicious propagandists for Assad's war can claim to be ignorant when knowing exactly what it the logistics are behind Labour's will to see 'President Assad to remain in power'.

 For those who are genuinely unsure, it means what we witnessed when pro-Assad forces destroyed, captured and ethnically cleansed Free Aleppo last year. Or when they did the exact same in Homs, or what they're trying to do so viciously right now in East Ghouta.

 It means precisely what Assad and Iran's war effort has been since 2012, not to return Syria to the status quo ante bellum, but to ethnically cleanse areas of Syria that had been previously liberated by the rebels or that had non-compliant, pro-revolutionary civilian populations. Corbyn will never mention it, but this is the real reason for the vast refugee crisis.

 Indeed, Corbyn cares about none of these realities; instead, he opts for endorsing the crude propaganda shared by Iran, Russia and the Syrian regime.

 Labour says that 'President Assad' can remain in power in exchange for 'Iranian militias' leaving the country, but the fundamental duplicity that lurks behind this superficially reasonable demand is that Assad can only remain in power with the backing of these Iranian militias.

 In other words, despite dangling the carrot of peace by referencing the Russian-dominated Astana process and talking about bringing the war to an end, Labour are simply outlining a position that better enables Assad to smash the Syrian revolution with the stick of genocidal, imperialist war and tyrannical revanchism.

 As Assad's vicious apparatuses of tyranny were already moving in and doing what they do best - raping, murdering, torturing and cleansing civilians, something that has continued with brutal consistency - Corbyn was defending The Morning Star, for whom he occaionally writes, for describing this as a 'liberation'.

 As Russia and Assad's air forces bombed the city into oblivion, his Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was on TV advertising the ethnic cleansing of Homs as a solution to the crisis of Aleppo and blaming the brutal bombardment on the alleged presence of '900 Jihadis'.

 This is the 'peace' Labour speak of when they attach it to the triumph of 'President Assad'.

 When Labour speak so recklessly of 'reconstruction' through international aid, again attached to the triumph of Assad, they conceal the fact, to quote the academic and Syria expert Jean-Pierre Filiu in an interview with Al-Jumhuriya, that "for Assad, 'reconstruction' is the continuation of its merciless war against its own people… using other means."

 Filiu makes the further point that 'reconstruction' for Assad is completely determined by Russian and Iranian imperialism, with firms from both countries exploiting the destruction they caused.

 This is a crucial point. Labour, by completely ignoring Geneva and supporting Russia's Astana process, are simply endorsing Russian imperial hegemony over Syria. As with the elements of the US' goals in Iraq, the Russian endgame in Syria has been to aid in the destruction of the country and then serve as the imperialist arbiter for its 'reconstruction'.

 As with the US and Iraqi oil contracts, Russia will be the main force handing out contracts for all areas of reconstruction, to its allies in China, Europe and possibly even South America. It will have a major geopolitical and economic foothold in the Middle East, far beyond some neglected naval bases. In this sense, it is classic imperialism.

 And this is precisely what Corbyn's Labour support and it's no surprise, given Corbyn's own ideological trajectory on this question.

 This is after all a man who was chair of the at-times openly pro-Assad Stop the War Coalition, as well as someone who used his position as a backbench MP to oppose all and any kind of aid to Syrian revolutionary forces.

 This is a man who only mentioned Assad's gassing to death of Syrians at Khan Sheikhoun to oppose the US airstrike on the base from which the gas was launched. And even then, he maliciously cast doubt on whether Assad was the perpetrator.

 Corbyn and his key allies have served as informal lobbyists for both Iran and Russia. In every area where Russian imperialism exists, it has found an ally in Corbyn and members of his leadership team.

 In this respect, Labour's policy makes depressing sense.

 Corbyn's politics are determined by an amalgamation of Labourism and Stalinism - he views Russian imperialism, and all forces deemed to be opposed to US imperialism, as worthy of support.

 It's no surprise that the party he leads supports defunding and delegitimising those groups that resist Assad's tyranny, and seeks to aid the forces that are smashing Free Syria and ruthlessly exploiting the ocean of misery and blood they have created."

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Regime and ISIS aren't fighting each other

'Hama : Regime and ISIS aren't fighting each other but are attacking the Opposition instead. Red arrows are Regime black ones are ISIS.'

'I married my husband in a Syrian prison - then he disappeared'

 'It is March 2012 in Damascus. Noura Ghazi Safadi is waiting for her fiancĂ©, Bassel, 34, to come home. They are about to book party arrangements for their wedding, in two weeks’ time. But he does not arrive.

 “It was a sign that he had been arrested. This is normal in Syria. I cannot describe how much I suffered. It was painful,” says the Syrian human rights lawyer, now 36.

 Bassel Khartabil Safadi had been arrested by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, whose prisons are notorious for torture and execution, but have been largely forgotten throughout the seven-year long conflict.

 Noura's husband was taken in what she describes as a "kidnap" style arrest. "There are no reasons for detentions in Syria. There are... no arrest warrants, nothing to tell families or to that person that they were [going] to arrest him, why they arrest him and where, [or] who they are," she says.

 "I cannot describe how much I suffered. It was painful. I was just thinking about the wedding. It was one of the most painful and difficult periods in my life."

 Noura eventually learnt that Bassel had been detained in Adra prison, a notorious institution, north of the Syrian capital. In the first week of 2013, they eventually married on one of her brief visits to see him.

 "It was perfect. I wore a blue dress because Bassel asked me to," Noura remembers.

 The wedding took place over two prison visits: the first time, Noura and Bassel exchanged vows, between the metal bars that separated them, in whispers, so the prison guards would not notice. "My parents and his parents were with me, and he was behind bars. So we just exchanged the marriage speech," she explains.

 On the second visit, Noura was accompanied by her uncle, a lawyer, and the marriage was officially approved.

 “It was amazing. I did it in prison. Can you imagine? I challenged all the circumstances, all the bars, all the guards and everything and I married Bassel,” Noura says.

 But, little more than two years later, her husband disappeared. Noura’s face falls, as she recalls the last time she set eyes on him.

 “I saw him for my birthday in September 2015. Three days after this visit he called me to tell me ‘they came to take me’. But I don’t know who.”

 Bassel, a software programmer for international companies such as Creative Commons and Firefox, was taken to a military field court and charged with being a threat to state security, a common accusation thrown at anyone who opposes Assad’s dictatorship.

 He was executed shortly after, although Noura had not been able to confirm his death until this August.

 She “collapsed” for a month, as she describes it, matter-of-factly. She still does not know what has happened to her husband’s remains.

 The UN has described “inhuman living conditions” in Syria's detention facilities, where the international body believes the crimes against humanity of “extermination, murder, rape or other forms of sexual violence, torture, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts” have taken place.

 Last year, Amnesty International said that Syrian authorities were committing torture on a "massive scale" in government prisons including beatings, electric shocks, rape and psychological abuse that amount to crimes against humanity.

 Noura refuses to let Bassel’s death crush her. If anything, it propels her forward. “My aim now is to try to prevent any detainee in Syria having Bassel’s fate”, she explains. “I don’t just sit and wish. I do.”

 She is part of Families for Freedom, established this year as the first female-led advocacy group for Syrian detainees and their relatives. With most of the 85,000 people currently disappeared in the country male, it is women who bear the burden of their absence.

 They have campaigned in European cities, including Geneva - a base for Syria peace negotiations - and last month visited London. The trip saw them take a red London bus to Parliament Square, covered in photographs of those people missing in Syrian prisons. In place of display adverts, it read: “Freedom for the detainees”.

 But the agony of losing their loved ones is not the only challenge facing these women - ordinary teachers, mothers and university graduates - some of whom had previously been detained themselves.

 Making their voices heard in a male-dominated society is a daily struggle. The fight to make women’s voices heard is, says Families for Freedom member Amina Kholani, “a revolution against tyranny and against tradition.” A history graduate and mother of three, Kholani herself spent six months detained in a Syrian government jail with her husband before becoming an activist.

 “Women who make their voices heard are very few. We live in an eastern society - it looks like the society in the Middle Ages in Europe, where [women don’t] have that much encouragement or ability to speak”, she told a meeting at the Houses of Parliament, hosted by Baroness Hodgson of Abinger, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women, Peace and Security. “We have to break the tradition and talk about it.”

 A few weeks later, Amina discovered that her brother Mohammed, arrested in 2013, had died in detention.

 With news of deaths announced all too frequently, Families for Freedom wants the British government to work with other European countries to pressure the Syrian regime and its ally Russia to allow international human rights monitors unfettered access to detention facilities, and to allow aid organisations in to provide medicine and food.

 There are powerful, immediate reasons why the UK should care about the issues of disappearance and detention. “We know that this migrant surge has affected the UK and Europe more broadly”, says James Sadri, director at The Syria Campaign, a human rights group that supported Families for Freedom during the UK visit.

 “The vast majority of these refugees want to go home, but we know that they will not return to Syria until they know they can do that safely. This requires an end to the conflict and an end to the programme of mass detention carried out primarily by the Assad regime.”

 “We want to talk with all the governments who are involved,” says Noura. “Especially in Syrian human rights.” '

The couple at their engagement party in October 2011

Monday, 11 December 2017

Stories Of Syria's Uprising, And Its Backyard Funerals, In 'Gardens Speak'

 'Tania El Khoury splits her time between London and Beirut, where she helped found an artists' collective. Three years ago, moved by stories she was hearing about the Syrian uprising, she created an interactive work called "Gardens Speak." It grew out of an image she saw of a mother digging a grave for her son in her home garden because public funerals had become too dangerous.

 "I didn't know that this was happening," El Khoury says. "And I started to collect these stories and interviews. And this is when I had the idea that gardens can now speak all of these stories that [have] been buried in them."

 One grave tells the story of a man identified as Abdel Wahid. He tells visitors — lying down with their heads close to his tombstone — that after taking part in protests against President Bashar Assad's regime, he was detained and tortured. When he was released, he joined the resistance.

 "I don't know how," his testimony reads. "But I don't care about anything other than taking part in the revolution.

 "The army had intensified its attack. I ran quickly. I was in such a hurry that I wore my T-shirt backwards. I carried my rifle. And then before I could use it, I was shot 10 times from afar."

 "Gardens Speak" was first mounted in Lebanon in 2014 — in Arabic. Since then, it's been translated to English, French and Italian, and traveled widely. It opened in Miami Beach two days after the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration's ban on travel from six predominantly Muslim countries to go forward.

 That gives new perspective to stories like those of Abdel Wahid, whose family buried him quietly, out of sight in their home garden.

 "They put me under the pomegranate tree my mother planted for me," his testimony reads. "There were no other noises than the sound of shelling and soil falling on me, bit by bit." '