Syrian Opposition Voices Supporting Peaceful Political Change

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Images of Syrians taken before and since the start of the crisis can remind people of what is at stake in Syria. (Images taken by the editor of Socrates and Syria in Syria and from Syrian TV.)


When western politicians, journalists or commentators use the term ‘opposition’ in relation to Syria, in most cases they are referring to a militarised ‘opposition’ or an external opposition which supports one or many of the armed groups operating in Syria.  These groups depend heavily on foreign fighters and funding.


However, there are Syrian opposition figures who eschew violence and this is despite the fact that some have been political prisoners for years, if not decades.

Russia Today reporter Oksana Boyko interviewed a dissident who had spent 14 years in prison.  The interview took place in Damascus in  August 2012.   The report was titled “Syria rebels just hostages in hands of allies”. 

The dissident explains that he had concluded he could not support an armed revolt because such a revolt would lead to the destruction of Syria, not to democracy.


While in Damascus with an international peace delegation in May 2013, I interviewed a group of activists from “Third Current” who expressed their support for Haythem Manna.

Haytham Manna is a prominent opposition figure who now operates outside Syria and who also doesn’t support the militarised opposition.

This is a summary of points “Third Current” members made in that interview. (The audio interview can be accessed below.)

‘Third Current’ is not a political party; they are a group whose aim is to help resolve the crisis in a peaceful way.

They recognise the Syrian army as a national army, and not ‘Assad’s army’.

They recognise that the collapse of the national army, despite its mistakes, would result in the collapse of the country and state, similar to (or worse than) Iraq.

They say they have three guiding principles:

  1. They are against violence.
  2. They are against the Islamisation of the political system
  3. They are against interference by outside armed forces.

The Third Current members reject the idea that the crisis is simply a minority Alawite regime fighting a Sunni majority; Syria has more than 40 sects and religions, so it is more complex than labelling it a conflict between sects; also the army and security forces are composed of various sects as much as any bureaucratic institution.

They recognise that since the crisis, the real power in Syria has returned to a ‘ruling class’ or ‘old guard’ made up of the president, high-level officers in the army and security forces, and some big business-people. The Prime Minister and government do not ‘govern’ Syria.

They argue that if the president had dealt with the crisis differently from the beginning, the current situation might now be better. His initial popularity has waned as his promises haven’t materialised.

What the Third Current members want from the president and regime is to:

  • Allow true political practice (at present, the opposition is treated in a tokenistic way by the media and regime)
  • Separate civil authority and religion (“We don’t want political parties based on religion”).

Coalition of Doha replacement ‘government’

The Third Current members argue that:

  • the Coalition of Doha has little support in Syria
  • some of the opposition/Coalition ‘government’ members are largely unknown in Syria (and that they shouldn’t be speaking on the people’s behalf)
  • some of the opposition/Coalition ‘government’ members are ex-Security forces personnel and/or spies (and so are not wanted as a replacement government)


The Third Current members seem to distrust the USA:

  • they are allies of Israel who is “our first enemy“
  • years ago Kissinger said, ‘Syria must be destroyed from the inside’

Extract from an interview with Haytham Manna, published 30 June 2012.

……. in terms of vision, I launched the fundamental trinity, as I named it, so as not to lose our compass. The trinity is: no to foreign intervention; no to arming and violence; and no to sectarianism. Many people accused me of being heartless, telling me that I was being too theoretical. But then the political movements adopted this approach [of the fundamental trinity]. This was the case even with the Muslim Brotherhood in the early stage [of the uprising]. I had been on a television show with the poet Rawi, wherein he stated that, “we adopt this trinity.” But then they changed their position; many people changed their position. Initially, Ghalyoun and everyone else adopted this trinity.

We held firm to this trinity for two reasons. The first has to do with the national question, which is a very sensitive issue in Syria, and has been the case since we were children. We have a battle before us. The term “natural Syria” is one that six-year-old children hear [as they grow up]. “Natural Syria” extends all the way to Gaza. This is how we were educated. It was not meant in the sense that Palestine should be occupied or incorporated. Rather, it was meant in the sense that an affront to the Palestinian cause was considered a dagger in the Syrian and Arab causes. It was therefore not possible to coldly deal with the [Palestine] subject, or to act as it if one had nothing to do with it. The second reason is the issue of the Golan Heights. Until today, we have one million displaced persons from the Golan Heights. The West and the entire world are sacrificing them, and for what, approximately eighteen thousand illegal settlers? This is an [ongoing] war crime. The settling of a population under conditions of occupation is a war crime. And there is international silence and complicity in this issue. We also have the issue of Lebanon. For example, I have a sister who was not politicized prior to the uprising but is now. She gave her home to a family from the south [of Lebanon] and went to Dar’a. She did not ask them who and what is in the house because it was her duty. For her, the resistance is part of her existence and culture; therefore, you cannot separate the simple regular citizen from these basic rights, because the rights of individuals and the rights of peoples are interrelated. This is part of their collective memory.

Particular individuals, groups, and media outlets have certainly played a role in destroying this consciousness. Just as an example, and only three weeks after the start of the uprising, Al-Arabiyya was giving airtime to several Syrian individuals that were claiming that Hizballah elements were fighting in Dar’a [on the side of the army]. I mean, come on. We all know each other and what is going on. We know the Lebanese and the Syrians. They even started talking about snipers that do not know how to speak Arabic because they were coming from Iran and elsewhere. This was the beginning of the insertion of the regional [struggle] into the Syrian mobilization. This went on to such a degree that people who were supportive of the resistance, as well as opposed to both authoritarianism and corruption in Syria, were now against the resistance.

There was now a separation between the civic and the national. This was a separation that was advanced by organized media, various regional factions, and a number of Syrians. One way or another, they succeeded in creating a situation wherein resistance and rejection were considered nothing more than tools at the disposal of the regime for the purpose of bolstering its nationalist credentials. This is with the full knowledge that Hamas does not need the Syrian regime for the purpose of legitimacy in Palestine nor does Hizballah need Syria for the purpose of legitimacy in Lebanon. Hizballah does not legitimate itself from outside of Lebanon, for its first source of legitimacy is Lebanese, and only secondarily can one speak of supporting elements [like the Syrian regime].

Consequently, the first battle for the National Coordinating Movement upon its inception was the combining of the civic and the national. We are not the enemies of resistance— the situation is quite the opposite. If the authoritarian regime supplied the resistance with offices, then we must supply it with bases. This is the first point. The second point—a very important one—is that we are waging our struggle on the basis of good relations with neighboring states without prejudice. Therefore, we are not here to replace Iran with Turkey or Turkey with Iran. We have a neighborhood forced on us by circumstances beyond our control. You can change your wife by divorcing her, but you cannot change your neighbor. It is therefore important to have good neighborly relations that are balanced across all. We are not here to wage a war on behalf of anyone. We are not revolutionaries at the beck-and-call of this or that project. If the West sabotages the Iranian nuclear issue, then it will not be by means of the Syrian citizen or the Syrian martyr. The Syrian martyr is not going [out into the streets] for the sake of stopping the Iranian nuclear program. The Syrian martyr is going [out into the streets] in order to bring down the authoritarian regime. There can be no confusion or mixing between these two goals. Proxy wars through the Syrian people will be at the expense of the Syrian revolution.

This was our program and the battle is difficult. This is why the media was incredibly focused on the presence of foreigners—but what foreigners? When we look closer we find people coming from al-Ramadi in Iraq, whether they are Iraqis or Saudis carrying Iraqi papers. We even find Libyans and people from other parts of the Gulf. We found corpses of Egyptians and the Maghreb. Unfortunately, the door into Syria was opened for Islamists and Jihadists. All of this, while the talk is about Iranian infiltrators and Hizballah fighters inside Syria.

One issue is that we are opposed to any non-Syrian presence in Syria, irrespective of from where it may come. We are asking for the opposite: border control. We are asking that all Arabs and non-Arabs that are on Syrian soil leave the country safely because we are going to struggle so that they have no legal protection in the event that they do not know the land, do not abide by a cease-fire if one were to occur, and do not submit to a political settlement should one be reached. They are therefore a fuel in the sparking and spreading of violence. They must leave the country. As I have said numerous times, go home and return from where you came. You are harming the Syrian revolution and you do not have a role to play in it. The evidence of this is that we know who is responsible for most of the explosions that have occurred, in which most of the victims were from the Syrian people.

A second issue is the need for a balanced Syrian policy. We will not cut off relations with Russia or China in order to become prisoners to relations with the United States. No, we will have balanced foreign relations and balanced economic relations. If the Japanese cadres are the better ones in terms of technological advancement in Syria, then we will collaborate with Japan. No one will tell us whether we have the right to do so or not. This is a very fundamental issue.

The primary locus of the success of the civilian democratic Syrian revolution is in the sovereignty of it decision-making. It is important that it possess a sovereign decision-making capacity. We must not sacrifice our independence so that we can determine whom we deal with and how. If this first form of independence holds, then it is possible for the second form of independence to succeed. If we sacrifice the first form, then we will pay the price for [forgoing] both [forms of independence].

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Syria: Christians and Rebels in Homs; The UN; Baroness Amos; NGOs

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Images of the people the world mostly ignores – the people of Syria not promoting a war against their state and society.  Images taken from Syrian TV since the start of the crisis.

May 2015

In an audio interview with the editor of “Socrates and Syria”, Irish anti-war activist Alan Lonergan discussed a number of issues.  He focused particularly on the so-called revolution in Homs. 

Alan notes that Western journalists (for example BBC’s Paul Wood) who illegally entered Syria in early 2012 to present the ‘revolution’  through the eyes of militants did not report on the expulsion of 50,000 to 80,000 Christian Syrians from Homs and the taking over of their homes by ‘revolutionaries’.

Alan points out that although only about one quarter of Syrian refugees live in UN refugee camps it is particular refugees in these camps who to a large extend determine the story of Syria as it is presented by mainstream media outlets, some NGOs and prominent individuals such as Angelina Jolie.

Alan also discussed the role of the UN with particular attention given to Baroness Valerie Amos, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.  Alan explains that Baroness Amos had been in Tony Blair’s cabinet and had taken on the role of International Development Secretary after Clare Short resigned in protest over the Iraq war. (Ref: BBC Profile of Valerie Amos)  Baroness Amos actively supported Tony Blair’s push for the war against Iraq.

(Baroness Amos) canvassed African leaders in the run-up to the war in Iraq, travelling to Cameroon, Angola and Guinea to urge them to support the United States and Britain in the United Nations Security Council.

Interview with Alan Lonergan:

A. Christians and rebels in Homs, Syria 

B. On the limited and distorted view visiting refugee camps may give.  Camps used for R&R by fighters. 

C. The Role of the UN and Baroness Valerie Amos in the conflict

D. The support some NGOs have provided the rebel cause in Syria 

(For more information about the expulsion of Christians in Homs, please see an article by Alan Lonergan in “Oriental Review” presented at the bottom of this page.)


Much positive attention has been given the ‘revolution’ in Homs by mainstream reporters, for example BBC’s Paul Wood and French American writer Jonathan Littell, were both in Homs with rebels in February 2012.  Journalist Marie Colvin and photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in Homs on 22 February 2012.  These writers gave little to no attention to the expulsion of Christians in Homs.

Also, there have been at least two major documentaries produced by Syrian exiles, whose focus has been on the ‘revolution’ in Homs and its crackdown.  These are “The Return to Homs” and “Silvered Water“.

Danny Abdul Dayem, a young British man who travelled to Homs to support the ‘revolution’ and was a voice for the ‘revolution’ in the western mainstream media, spoke with Dr Mahmoud Al-Aqraa at ‘a fund-raising charity dinner’ in London in October 2011. Present at the meeting was another member of the House of Lords, Baroness Pola Uddin.

At the fundraising function, Dr Al-Akraa, reportedly a trustee of the charity “Hand in Hand for Syria”says (2:40), “Brothers and sisters, something very important. Al-ḥamdu lillāh (Thanks and praise to God), Muslim Brotherhood coming back”.


Focusing on Five Elements to the Story (only) 

  1.  Khaled Abu Saleh – the ‘activist’ who in a video pointed to Marie Colvin’s body in Homs –  has been caught on video staging situations to incriminate the Syrian army.

a. Khaled Abu Saleh is introduced on this webpage – “A Closer Look On Syria”

b. Khaled Abu Saleh preparing to be interviewed by Al-Jazeera makes sure there are suitable sound effects and the ‘right’ thing is said.

(Note: many Al-Jazeera reporters resigned in protest over its partisan reporting on Syria. Ali Hashem who resigned in early 2012 was very outspoken about the political bias of AJ and media in general – his resignation came not long after Marie Colvin’s death, but some other reporters resigned almost at the beginning of the troubles in Syria, most notably Ghassan bin Jeddo, who claimed that Al-Jazeera had become “an operation room for incitement and mobilisation”.)

c. This German video highlights different footage of Khaled Abu Saleh including him (2:34) allegedly pointing to the bodies of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik.

(Note there is not much apparent damage to the building or buildings in the street.

d. Khaled Abu Saleh speaks at a ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting. (in Arabic)

e.  Khaled Abu Saleh interviews Richard Engelabout his kidnapping when Engel was claiming he had been kidnapped by pro-government Shiite militia trained by Iran, this was despite the fact that NBC, the media outlet he worked with, knew that couldn’t have been true and most reporters in the region had reason to doubt the truth of it,as we know now. 

f. A sympathetic profile of Khaled Abu Saleh on Al-Jazeera before Colvin’s death.

g. A critical look at Danny,the Syrian British who worked with Khaled and who was also caught on camera preparing lines and sound effects for an interview  (on CNN).  Danny was seen by Avaaz as one of Avaaz’s brave citizen journalists.

Danny is interviewed in “Homs: Journey into Hell”, a BBC documentary presented by Paul Wood, who was in Homs with the rebels in February 2012.  Danny says, We’d rather die under missiles, under bullet fire and we’re free. We’ll never go back to the way we lived. Never. (27:37).

h. Quite a long video collage highlighting footage with Khaled Abu Saleh and Danny.

  1. What different anti-government armed groups were prepared to do to receive sympathetic coverage and to damn the Syrian government.

a. Alex Thomson, Channel 4 reporter in Syria in 2012 who reported in early June 2012, not too long after Marie Colvin’s death:

I’m quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian Army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus.

Thomson writes that an Arab League monitor had the same experience,

“@alextomo I read your piece “set up to be shot in no mans land”, I can relate as I had that same experience in Al Zabadani during our tour.”

That was from Nawaf al Thani, who is a human rights lawyer and a member of the Arab League Observer mission to Syria earlier this year.

It has to make you wonder who else has had this experience when attempting to find out what is going on in rebel-held Syria.

In a war where they slit the throats of toddlers back to the spine, what’s the big deal in sending a van full of journalists into the killing zone?

It was nothing personal.

b. Analyst and journalist, Sharmine Narwani,  wrote “Hollywood in Homsand Idlib?”in March 2012, around 3 weeks after Marie Colvin’s death.  It makes the point that the militarised opposition relied a lot on lies and she concludes that the government could not have been deliberately slaughtering civilians in Homs as claimed by rebels. She references an article by Stratfor

Stratfor said that too. The risk analysis group argues that allegations of massacres against civilians were unlikely because the “regime has calibrated its crackdowns to avoid just such a scenario. Regime forces,” Stratfor argues, “have been careful to avoid the high casualty numbers that could lead to an intervention based on humanitarian grounds.”

For me, the events in Homs in February confirmed rather than contradicted this view. The general media narrative was very certain: there was a widescale civilian massacre in Baba Amr caused by relentless, indiscriminate shelling by government forces that pounded the neighborhood for weeks.

The videos pouring out of the besieged city were incriminating in the extreme. Black smoke plumes from shelling choked the city, piled up bodies spoke of brutal slaughter; the sound of mass wailing was only interrupted by explosions, gunfire and cries of “Allahu Akbar.”

But when it was over, we learned a few things. Contrary to reports during the “siege,” there were only a few thousand civilians in Baba Amr at the time – all others had already evacuated the area. The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) and its local partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), had been administering assistance at nine separate points in Homs for the duration. They would not enter the neighborhoods of Baba Amr and Insha’at because of continuing violence on “both sides.”

The armed opposition fighters holed up in Homs during that month were, therefore, unlikely to be there in a purely “protective” capacity. As American journalist Nir Rosen points out, what happened in Homs on February 3 was a government response to direct and repeated “provocation:”

In the article, Sharmine Narwani reported on the tactics of insurgents when taking over a residential area, and their use of IEDs

There was no random shelling, they were slowly moving into neighborhoods, starting from the east and southern.

The militants had seeded IEDs (improvised explosive devices, basically remote detonated landmines) across the city, one of them was under my uncles balcony , who now lost half his home, his living room got bigger and has a panoramic view.

They had set up machine gun nests on a few mosques and communication towers.

c. A major massacre in Houla, not far from the Homs, was committed by insurgents so as to blame the Syrian government, according to some serious commentators, including  John Rosenthal who wrote two articles iThe Nation on this.  And Congressman Ron Paul spoke in The House of Reps about the massacre, saying,

Falsely blaming the Assad government for a so-called massacre perpetrated by a violent warring rebel faction is nothing more than war propaganda. 

Covert help given insurgents by foreign special forces 

a. An Israeli outlet claims that British, Qatari and Special Ops forces were on the ground with insurgents in Homs– in the same month as Marie Colvin’s death

b. An article in Huffington Post UK reports just a couple of weeks after Colvin’s death

CIA, Mossad and Blackwater agents are involved in military violence in the Homs district, an Arab news agency exclusively reports. …

“The significance of the security operation in Homs is due to the high expectations that regional and international sides had from the armed gangs in Baba Amr … they wanted Homs to be turned into a new Benghazi.”

c. Alex Thomson from Channel 4 reported on the Wikileaks cable that supported the claims that therewere foreign special forces on the ground before Colvin was killed.

d. The Telegraph Thirteen French officers ‘captured by Syrian Army’

5 March 2012

Thirteen French officers have been captured by Syrian forces according to the Lebanon-based Daily Star newspaper, the first mainstream media outlet to report on rumours of Western troops on the ground.

  1. Background to that time in Syria.
a. Al Qaeda’s Zawahiri calls for war to oust Syria’s Assad  February 12, 2012

b.   Some conclusions from the Arab League Observers (Khaled Abu Saleh met them and presumably made claims to them.)

The Fourth Media, 1st Feb 2012

The report of the Observers mission that was concluded on January 19, noted several important observations.(1)

1. The mission noted that there were false reports being made of explosions or violence and when the observers went to the location, they found that the reports were unfounded.

2. The mission found that media accounts were exaggerated about the nature of incidents or numbers of people killed in incidents and protests.

3. There were discrepancies in the lists the Mission received of people in detention. Names were repeated, or information was missing or inaccurate about detainees.

4. The Mission observed armed groups committing acts of violence against Government forces, resulting in the death and injury of the forces being attacked. Some of the armed groups were using flares and armour-piercing projectiles.

c.  McCain calls for safe zones and arming the Syrian opposition 

d.  50,000 Christians forced to flee Homs by Islamists 

e.  Increasing numbers of soldiers and police are being killed and suicide bombings becoming more common in Syria   Ref for Feb 2012

f.  A mother grieving over the death of her son, 9 year-old Sari Saoud.  Sari was killed at the end of Nov 2011 in Homs by armed men after the army had left the area where his family lived and it was taken over by armed men.  His killing was reported on Al Jazeera and the Syrian army blamed for it.  This is an interview with Sari’s mother on Syrian TV.

g. This is footage of one of many pro-government rallies.  This footage comes from rallies held on 2 December 2011 and begin with a rally in Homs – note that there are many young women, some wearing hijabs, some not.

h.  Imam who condemned the armed groups is assassinated in Damascus.  RT Report with interviews of people at his funeral.  16 February 2012

i. Observations written in January 2012 of Dutch priest Father Frans van der Lugt who stayed on in Homs until his killing by a gunman in 2014

“From the start the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.”

In September 2011 he wrote: “From the start there has been the problem of the armed groups, which are also part of the opposition…The opposition of the street is much stronger than any other opposition. And this opposition is armed and frequently employs brutality and violence, only in order then to blame the government.”


  1. Were any of the foreign journalists in Homs reporting on the ‘revolution’ around Feb 2012 working for British or French intelligence services? 

This is a question which possibly will never be answered; however, there is good reason to raise it.

Leading German Journalist Admits CIA ‘Bribed’ Him and Other Leaders of the Western ‘Press’

Posted on October 7, 2014 by Eric Zuesse.

Udo Ulfkotte, a former editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (which is one of Germany’s largest newspapers), has decided to go public about the corruption of himself and the rest of the Western ‘news’ media, because he finds that this corruption is bringing Europe too close to a nuclear war against Russia, which he concludes the U.S. aristocracy that controls the CIA wants to bring about, or else to bring closer to the brink.


Whose rights do the international organizations protect in Syria?

By Alan Lonergan   8 April 2014 (Oriental

Any institution or organisation is only as good as the sum of its parts and this is also true for the United Nations. Many who have suffered at the hands of sectarian rebels in Syria have wondered at the behaviour of U.N. and certain western human rights organisations in their coverage of events. The vast majority of displaced Syrians are inside Syria. Estimated at between 5 and 6 million, most have fled to government areas to find safety from rebels. Outside Syria there are 2 million plus refugees. Hundreds of thousands of them have bypassed the U.N. refusing to seek their assistance or have anything to do with them after what they have seen happen in their country.

The U.N. and the Christians of Homs Diocese

In late March 2012 the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and their Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos visited the city of Homs, Syria. In the preceding months Homs had witnesses the single largest act of ethno-religious cleansing in Syria. Approximately 80,000 Christians were forced out of the old city neighbourhoods by western backed rebels. Between 130,000 and 150,000 Christians were forced to flee the general area. It is impossible for the U.N. not to have been aware of what had happened to the Christian community in the city and yet Valerie Amos said nothing, nor did the international media. On the 21st of March 2012 the Vatican’s Pontifical Missions News Service, Fides, reported as follows “In Homs there is “an ongoing ethnic cleansing of Christians”, being carried out by some Islamist members of the “Brigade Faruq”. So says a note sent to Fides by some sources in the Syrian Orthodox Church, which includes 60% of Christians in Syria. Militant armed Islamists – says the note – have managed to expel 90% of Christians in Homs and confiscated their homes by force. According to Orthodox Metropolitan sources, the militants went door to door in the neighbourhoods of Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan, forcing Christians to flee, without giving them the chance to take their belongings. In the “Faruq Brigade”, note other sources, there seems to be armed elements of various Wahhabi groups and mercenaries from Libya and Iraq.”

Five months after her visit to Homs, U.N. official Valerie Amos was attending a U.N. press conference at which she was questioned by a New York based Lebanese reporter Nizar Abboud, about a rebel siege on a Syrian Christian village called Riblah, in the diocese of Homs. Her exact response is as follows:

“On the issue of Christian communities, there is actually very little information. We have some information about two places, one that Christians from a town called Qusayr have moved because of threats and taunts and we also have examples of a backlash against Christians, not only in Qusayr but also another enclave of about 30 villages west of the city of Homs but I am not sure of the specific example that you have been given but those are the ones that I have been advised on”.


Is it possible that she or the U.N. have “very little information”? Reports from the Vatican as to what was happening in the diocese were numerous but perhaps the U.N. like the western media preferred to ignore them as they highlighted an issue they would rather not face up to.  It is difficult to believe that several months after her visit to Homs she still remains oblivious to the largest act of ethno-religious cleansing to take place in Syria. In her response she references the town of Qusayr but completely downplays the reality of what took place there. In Qusayr, a third of the town’s residents were Christian, approximately 9,000.

Over time thousands of the town’s Christians and Muslims escaped the conflict that had engulfed them, fleeing rebels and the counter attacks from the Syrian army. The Christians did not “move” because of “taunts and threats” they were victimised and some were the subject of targeted killings. They fled for their lives and the last 1,000 Christians remaining in the town were forcibly expelled by a direct order of rebel commander,  Abdel Salam Harba. In her response, she also mentions an “enclave of about 30 villages west of the city of Homs and together with the events in Qusayr uses the term “backlash” to describe what has happened. The word itself implies that the Christians did something that provoked a reaction or “backlash” against them, when in fact they were innocent civilian victims of attacks, motivated by a sectarian rebel agenda that victimised anyone, Muslim, Christian or Druze, who did not agree with it.

A rebel in the old city of Homs, where 80,000 Christians were forced out. He poses with a machine gun in one hand and a processional cross in the other; he is wearing part of the funeral vestments of a Syriac Orthodox priest. In this image he is seen leaning against the funeral hearse of St. Joseph’s Syriac Orthodox Parish. It is said that the rebels in the area used the hearse to transport weapons around the district.

The enclave west of Homs referenced in passing by Ms. Amos is actually an area of 40 Christian villages called the Wadi al Nasara (the Valley of the Christians). It’s normal population is about 150,000 but during the course of this conflict that has swollen to 250,000, as Christians have fled there from other areas to find safety in numbers. The region has not been spared and has been subject to rebel bombings, suicide bombing attacks, kidnappings, random killings and other atrocities.

In late June 2013 the Syrian government forces succeeded in retaking the town of Qusayr. One of the stories that came to light after the town was freed was that of a 15 year old Christian girl. In the chaos and confusion of what was happening in the town the previous year she got separated from her parents and was taken captive by the rebels.  She was raped by 15 different men over 15 days and became psychologically destabilized and was eventually killed by the rebels.

Valerie Amos is a former British Labour party government minister and baroness in the House of Lords. In March 2003, when Labour party minister Clare Short resigned her post in protest at Tony Blair and the Iraq war it was Amos who took over as Minister for International Development at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Amos canvassed African leaders in the run-up to the war on Iraq, visiting Cameroon, Angola and Guinea in a bid to sell the Anglo-American stance. At the time Pope John Paul II tried his best to prevent the war on Iraq. Today we know that that war was fought under false pretences and a knock on effect of the death, devastation and instability that ensued was the rise of an extremism which brought about the destruction of the Iraqi Christian community. In 2003 there were approximately 1.5 million native Christians in Iraq. Today they number only a few hundred thousand, many of whom are internally displaced. The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Iraq recently revealed that in the last ten years the number of Chaldean Catholic churches operating in Iraq has dropped from 300 to 57. Over the last 3 years Syria Christians have feared that under the false pretence of a western backed “Arab Spring” they will suffer the same fate as their Iraqi brothers and sisters. The Chaldean Catholic primate of Syria, Bishop Antoine Audo, said in his 2014 Lenten address: “Until the war began, Syria was one of the last remaining strongholds for Christianity in the Middle East. We have 45 churches in Aleppo. But now our faith is in mortal danger, in danger of being brought to ‘extinction, the same pattern we’ve seen in neighbouring Iraq.


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Syria: An Open Letter to the American People by Mairead Maguire

By Mairead Maguire
Nobel Peace Laureate

My dear friends,

As a teenager living in Belfast, I admired the American Peace Movement and many prominent figures within it. Fifty years later, two of the most inspiring people still remembered across the world are Americans: Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day.

American peace activists and civil rights workers were imprisoned, some killed. But a generation spoke and sang about love.

Like Mahatma Gandhi in India, the Berrigan Brothers in the Peace Movement and the American Civil Rights Movement show us that the path to freedom and equality is a peaceful one. This journey of transformation in the pursuit of peace and justice is a constant challenge to the entrenched powers which thrive on hatred and war; acting as a constant challenge to blind prejudice and the lies that are necessary for war.

In making this journey of love we must always acknowledge that those we regard as enemies are fellow human beings and we are called to love them . If we don’t, when do the killing fields stop?

I first came to you from Northern Ireland to speak to you about what was happening in my country. I was met with great kindness in America. Now I write to you to about Syria.

We must not allow a war to go on for decades, as many did in regards to Ireland. We must have the foresight to stand up for peace, nonviolence and reconciliation now, before the suffering is entrenched and before prejudices and lies seep deeply into the consciousness of a new generation, acting as seeds for more yet more war.

I write to you to ask your help for the people of Syria. All the people of Syria deserve your attention. Like you, they want the opportunity to live, love and labour in support of their children’s dreams. With your efforts we can make it a bright future in a peaceful and prosperous country where love will conquer all.

The people of Syria are a diverse people, a courageous and generous people with a proud history of tolerance. Over many centuries, their country has welcomed millions of disparate people seeking refuge just as the United States has done.

I visited Syria in May 2013. Despite the on-going violence, I found it to be a land of hope. I met tribal and religious leaders, political dissidents and grieving parents and widows. In Syria, there are millions of ordinary folk risking their lives for a peaceful, reconciled and united Syria they can all love.

Mother Agnes Mariam, one of the leaders of the Mussalaha (reconciliation) Movement in Syria, is on a speaking tour of America this November. Mother Agnes Mariam has sat at a table with the prime minister of Syria has and has eaten olives with a rebel leader. And recently she risked her life to negotiate the safe passage of thousands of civilians and of many fighters from a conflict zone.

Your heroes, the heroes we all uphold, show us bridges of nonviolence and peace must be built between people. War stems from hatred and lies. Peace requires courage, wisdom, and love. And foresight.

Mother Agnes is bringing to America a universal message your country knows well. She presents it through the story of Syria. I encourage you to hear the story of Syria.


Mairead Maguire

Peace in Syria: Speech by Mairead Maguire in Warsaw, Poland. Oct.2013

Dear Friends,

In May, 2013 I led a 16 person peace delegation into Syria at the invitation of Mussalaha National Movement in what we witnessed happening inside Syria was not fairly depicted in the International media which was not reporting gross violations against international law and humanitarian international law by foreign countries and fighters that are using a proxy war for the purpose of Regime change and geo-strategical benefits. We would remind those foreign governments who are training and funding foreign fighters that it is illegal under United Nations Charter to arm forces to topple elected governments. During our visit we witnessed that the civilian population was and still is, suffering the invasion of thousands of foreign fighters from many countries, who are fuelling insecurity, death, chaos, and destruction everywhere. The ongoing tension in Syria is fuelled by sectarian violent Islamic ideology that pushes  Rebels to the most cruel acts of barbarism against their opponents.  This invasion of Syria by outside forces has caused one of the greatest humanitarian crises since World War Two.  Over l00,000 people dead, thousands internally displaced and over a million refugees fleeing Syria into surrounding countries. It is important that the UN and all international bodies, and host countries,  continue to give as much help to the Syrian refugees who lives have been shattered by this ongoing humanitarian tragedy.

We lament the international media propaganda coverage of the Syrian crisis that did not report the truth of what was happening in Syria, but rather gave a false narrative of the true situation inside Syria.  We lament that Syria has been weakened by so much violence of insurgency groups and has been led down the path of sectarian violence instigated by the west and some gulf states. The media has a responsibility to expose the information warfare that is being carried out, through fake videos, lies, and propaganda, and are using the suffering of the Syrian people, in a most cruel form to appeal to the emotions of international community in an attempt to get further support in funding and arms and try to force the world community to military intervention. However, in spite of the information war being carry out by rebels and some proxy human rights groups many people around the world remembering Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya, don’t trust the simplistic narrative being fed to them by mainstream media are saying no to military intervention and yes to supporting the reconciliation and peace movement and political dialogue as a way to solving the conflict.

We support the courage of the High Commission for Human Rights for its endeavour to conduct fact finding mission to unveil the terrible reality of the Syrian crisis and help prevent the ongoing ethnic, religious and political cleansing that is happening in this country in the name of freedom and democracy.

The Syrian state should not be dismantled and the economic sanctions that are causing much suffering to the people of Syria should be lifted immediately. No outside military intervention or support for militants should be allowed.  The International community should put pressure on those countries who are fuelling terror to stop and should encourage all parties toattend the Geneva II peace conference to give the Syrian people the right to self-determination through legal elections without foreign interference to achieve an honourable transformation towards a peaceful future and participation in the free democratic world. We applaud the work of the chemical weapons team to destroy Syrian chemical weapons, and we hope it will work for the destruction of all chemical weapons, including Israel’s. The continued negotiations, which should include Syria and regional governments, should be fully supported by the west. This will include talking to President Assad’s Government and opposition forces in order to reach a negotiated settlement. The issue is not who talks to who, but how quickly can all parties to the conflict, talk together in order to save lives and save Syria from being further destroyed and divided. We encourage all those who are using violence to stop and to participate in peaceful dialogue now to save Syria.

There is a growing recognition that there will not be a military and paramilitary solution to the Syrian conflict or the Middle East conflict, but only through dialogue and negotiation can peace be reached.

We pay tribute to the great work of so many of the religious leaders, both Muslim and Christian, and to many in the Syrian Civil society who in spite of so much suffering have continued to bravely work for an end to violence and engage in dialogue with everyone.

We would encourage  people to give support to Mother Agnes Mariam and the Mussalaha national movement in Syria working with all the componentsof the Syrian society for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation as a preparation for a final political settlement for the people of Syria.


Peace, Salaam,

Mairead Maguire

Nobel peace laureate

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Comments and Questions for Prime Minister Rudd on Twitter: 28 August 2013

Kevin Rudd pushes for action on Syria after the apparent use of chemical weapons

By accepting the word of the US that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons and needs to be ‘punished’, can it be claimed that the PM is deferring to a more powerful ally’s war policies and effectively following the orders of a ‘superior’?

How well informed is the prime minister about Syria?  It is extremely difficult to get an audience with the PM to know this. (I tried at a fund-raising dinner in Sunshine on 24 August, without success.)   So one has to turn to Twitter.

NB: John Curtin is referenced in one question as the Prime Minister presented a biography of Curtin to George Bush when the US president visited Australia.  I mention Dietrich Bonhoeffer because Kevin Rudd wrote an article about Bonhoeffer in The Monthly before he became prime minister.   Both are men Kevin Rudd greatly admires.

NB: Not all US political figures support military action against Syria.  There are defiant public figures in America!

Kucinich: Syria strike would turn US into ‘al Qaeda’s air force’


Comments and Questions to PM Rudd on Twitter

Kevin RuddVerified account@KRuddMP

Spoke to President Obama about mass murders in Syria. Human tragedy can’t continue. KRudd 

10:07 AM – 27 Aug 13

Tweet text

Reply to @KRuddMP

Image will appear as a link

  1. Troy Bramston@TroyBramston 27 Aug

Kirribilli? RT “@KRuddMP: Spoke to President Obama about mass murders in Syria. Human tragedy can’t continue. KRudd 


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 3h

@KRuddMP 1. Nuremberg Principle IV states: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not ….


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 3h

@KRuddMP 2. “..relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him” #Syria #USwar


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 3h

@KRuddMP Responses of Christian leaders in Syria and Lebanon to current crisis: … … Christians, sold by the West for oil.


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 3h

@KRuddMP Massacre in Lattakia early August. Hundreds killed in most horrific ways. Many kidnapped. West is silent … …


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 3h

@KRuddMP US,UK,France want to strike Syria on basis of claims of extremist Islamist fighters. Oz gives them credence? … …


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 2h

@KRuddMP Has PM researched crisis in Syria? Would value your response to this research by AMRIS: … 


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 2h

@KRuddMP If Australian govt follows ‘superior orders’ of Pres Obama and condones attack on Syria,who is culpable? …


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 2h

@KRuddMP PM John Curtin stood up to Churchill during war. … Will an Oz leader display his courage: stand up to US?


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 2h

@KRuddMP “Al-Qaeda” has a history of using chemical weapons in Iraq +possibly Syria. … Shouldn’t this be noted by you?


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 2h

@KRuddMP Extremists calls for jihad agst Alawi Muslims led to massacres. … Will you + govt condemn these massacres?


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 2h

@KRuddMP A sheik who is a member of SNC which Oz govt recognizes incites sectarian hatred and murder: … #superiororders


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 2h

@KRuddMP To determine who’s responsible for chemical attack,ask a forensic psychologist to look at images+videos. eg Where are mothers?


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 2h

@KRuddMP Before you determine that Islamist militias showing pics of kids to world tell the truth,check who they are: …


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 2h

@KRuddMP Iraq War was based on lies. Will US,Saudi Arabia,Brits etc work harder to get it right this time? … #Syria


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 1h

@TroyBramston @KRuddMP When you say ‘human tragedy can’t continue’, will it mean Oz will push for Geneva 2,diplomacy? … 


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 1h

@TroyBramston @KRuddMP US fighting on side of Al-Qaeda in Syria … Australia, too? Superior orders?


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 1h

@TroyBramston @KRuddMP Sheik on Al-Jazeera said OK to kill 1/3 of Syrians if it leads to toppling of govt … … #genocide


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 1h

@TroyBramston @KRuddMP When you refer to ‘mass murders’,are you referring to those committed by followers of Qaradawi … …


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 1h

@TroyBramston @KRuddMP Should we now think of Nuremberg defense,”Superior orders” … +Bonhoeffer …


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 55m

@TroyBramston @KRuddMP Christian voices in Syria not heard in West:  ‘rebel’ voices are: …


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 51m

@TroyBramston @KRuddMP Christian voices in Syria for peace: … ‘rebel’ voices trusted by Oz? …


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 49m

@TroyBramston @KRuddMP Many ‘rebels’ are fighting for a world caliphate starting in Damascus. … What wld St Paul think?


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 39m

@TroyBramston @KRuddMP Investigation into 14/2/2005 bombing in Beirut is ongoing. … US knows after a week govt did it?


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 35m

@TroyBramston @KRuddMP Qaradawi’s fatwa: ‘civilians’ legitimate targets in #Syria … What atrocities has this permitted?


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 32m

@TroyBramston @KRuddMP Syrian reverend presents ‘open letter to Obama’ … He lives in Aleppo,speaks Arabic.We know more?


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 29m

@TroyBramston @KRuddMP Before govt supports Obama’s war on Syria,listen to pple in Syria. … History will judge us.


  1. Susan Dirgham@SusanDirgham 3m

@KRuddMP @AlboMP Oz govt says all the way with Obama in war on Syria … No research,no diplomacy? … 


5:21 PM – 28 Aug 13 · Details



Superior orders, often known as the Nuremberg defense, lawful orders or by the German phrase “Befehl ist Befehl” (“Orders are Orders”), is a plea in a court of law that a soldier not be held guilty for actions which were ordered by a superior officer.[1] The superior orders plea is similar to the doctrine of respondeat superior in tort law where a superior is held liable for the actions of a subordinate.[2] Some legal scholars and war crimes tribunals will correlate the plea to the doctrine of respondeat superior; whereas others will distinguish the plea from the doctrine of respondeat superior.

The superior orders plea is often regarded as the complement to command responsibility.[3]

One of the most noted uses of this plea, or “defense,” was by the accused in the 1945–46 Nuremberg Trials, such that it is also called the “Nuremberg defense”. The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the main victorious Allied forces of World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany. It was during these trials, under the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal which set them up, that the defense of superior orders was no longer considered enough to escape punishment; but merely enough to lessen punishment.[4]

Historically, the plea of superior orders has been used both before and after the Nuremberg Trials, with a notable lack of consistency in various rulings.

Apart from the specific plea of Superior Orders, discussions about how the general concept of superior orders ought to be used, or ought not to be used, have taken place in various arguments, rulings and Statutes that have not necessarily been part of “after the fact” war crimes trials, strictly speaking. Nevertheless these discussions and related events help us understand the evolution of the specific plea of superior orders and the history of its usage.

Nuremberg Trials after World War II

See also: Nuremberg Trials

In 1945 and 1946, during the Nuremberg Trials the issue of superior orders again arose. Before the end of World War II, the Allies suspected such a defense might be employed, and issued the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal (IMT), which specifically stated that following an unlawful order is not a valid defense against charges of war crimes.

Thus, under Nuremberg Principle IV, “defense of superior orders” is not a defense for war crimes, although it might influence a sentencing authority to lessen the penalty. Nuremberg Principle IV states:

“The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”

During the Nuremberg trials, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Jodl and other defendants unsuccessfully used the defense.

(Before the trials, there was little consensus amongst the Allies as to what was to be done with the Nazi war prisoners. Winston Churchill was inclined to have the leaders ‘executed as outlaws’.[14] The Soviets desired trials, but wished there to be a presumption of guilt, as opposed to the procedural presumption of innocence that accompanies most western criminal trials.[15])

The “Nuremberg Defense”

These trials gained so much attention that the “superior orders defense” has subsequently become interchangeable with the label, “Nuremberg defense”. This is a legal defense that essentially states that the defendant was “only following orders” (“Befehl ist Befehl”, literally “an order is an order”) and is therefore not responsible for his or her crimes. Colloquially “Befehl ist Befehl” is known as “orders are orders”.

However, U.S. General Telford Taylor, who had served as Chief Counsel for the United States during the Nuremberg trials, employed the term “Nuremberg defense” in a different sense. He applied it not to the defense offered by the Nuremberg defendants, but to a justification put forward by those who refused to take part in military action (specifically America’s involvement in the Vietnam War) that they believed to be criminal.[16] Used in this way, “Nuremberg defense” refers not to the position that “an order is an order”, but rather to the opposing (and rebutting) view that only lawful orders are binding. (This latter use of the term has apparently fallen into disuse, perhaps in part as a result of the United States’ subsequent abolition of the draft.)

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Syria: A Perspective For Peace


Students at a vigil speak to a Syrian TV reporter following the missile attack on Damascus Uni that killed 15 students, March 2013 (Syrian TV, 29/3/13)


Sheikh Ramadan al-Buti, the highly-regarded Islamic scholar and Imam of Omayyad Mosque, Damascus, who was killed along with 50 or so of his students in a suicide bombing during a prayer session and lesson in a Damascus mosque.

The following is a talk prepared by Nina Haidar and Susan Dirgham.  It was presented to the Unitarian Church in Melbourne on 14 April and also to a Rotary group in Melbourne on 15 April.  It was written with great respect for the people of Syria and with a focus on the need for a search for the truth in war in order for there to be peace.



The first thing to say about the story of Syria is that it is a human story, so it involves all the human qualities and motivations evident since the beginning of history, such as greed, revenge, hate, envy, treachery, fear…. but also loyalty, heroism, nobility, compassion, faith and love.  The Syrian people are displaying heaps of those last qualities. But there is nothing black and white about people, about politics, especially not about war, though William Hague, John McCain, some in our government and the media want us to think otherwise.

Syria has experienced invasions and war for millennia and so the people of Syria have perhaps inherited a better understanding of invasion and treachery than most people, as well as found the strength to overcome them. Their heroes are noble figures such as Saladin, who defeated the Crusaders, and who displayed courage and chivalry on the battlefield, according to even the accounts of Christians of the time. In the 21st century Saladin is still revered in Syria, where he is buried.

And another hero for many, who is remembered and honoured in Syria still, is St Paul who according to early accounts had his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, and who walked down streets that still exist in Damascus.  The very roots of Christianity are in Syria.  Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, is still used in some church services in Syria, and is retained by the people in some villages near Damascus.

There is also a story that Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) viewed Damascus from the mountain road; it appeared as an enchanting oasis on the horizon. The prophet decided not to enter the city and is supposed to have said, “Man should only enter Paradise once”.

Syrians share a love and reverence for their homeland and together they can embrace a fortitude that enables them to survive and recover even stronger than before.

I speak about Syrians, but if you have been paying attention to the mainstream news on Syria, you might be thinking in terms of Sunnis, Shias, Alawis, Christians, terrorists, Shabiha, Assad loyalists, jihadists etc etc. That fragmented Syria is not the Syria I know; it is not the Syria, which is fighting so tenaciously to survive. It fights to stop a war that is aimed at bringing Syria to its knees.

Syria is fighting to resist imperial power and the dictates of its super-rich Gulf neighbours.  It is also fighting to maintain its place in the Middle East, as a strong, independent voice.

It is a war funded by states that do not respect the soul or history of Syria, as all they seem to understand is the power of obscene wealth, extremist ideology and the power of the gun.

The Syria as it is often described and presented in the western media is a manufactured Syria, one that is being created so the real Syria can be torn apart.

That tearing apart of Syria would be stopped, if we knew, and respected Syrians, as we respect ourselves.  We must listen to Syrians, imagine their fears, know their courage, and understand their story. The war in Syria has been sponsored from the beginning by outside powers. Fatwas against the Syrian government had been issued from Qatar and Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the crisis there. The war could not have begun if there had not been so many lies, so much rhetoric, if extremism had been condemned, if fighters and weapons had not been able to cross borders and if diplomacy and investigations had been insisted on by strong voices in the West.


Syria has about the same population as Australia, and, like Australia, it is a secular society. Because it has a very diverse population it must be secular to guarantee social cohesion and equality among the different religious and ethnic groups.

The most holy days for Muslims and Christians are national holidays, so Christmas and Easter are holidays for all Syrians as is Eid.  The call to prayer in Syria can be heard as church bells toll.

That diversity is cherished in Syria.  And Syrians have good reason to have a sense of pride in their country. Uniting 23 million people with different creeds and ethnic backgrounds around one flag is a huge achievement.


It has probably been noted by most of you that Syrian women have been virtually ignored by our media. This is because the situation of women in Syria cannot be used to justify a NATO war against Syria as it was in Afghanistan.

Syrian women enjoy basically the same opportunities in regard to education and career as western women.  At universities, there would be as many women as men, and the classes are mixed.  There is none of the segregation you have in the Gulf countries. It should also be noted that there are no religious police in Syria. Syrian women have the freedom to dress as they choose.  It is a woman’s choice to cover if she is Muslim. So a mother may choose to wear a hijab and her daughter chooses not to. Pre-war, it was never unusual to see young women walking alone in the street without fear, and to see young unmarried couples holding hands.  These basic rights and social freedoms which help determine a good life are threatened by this war.


Instead of seeing images of Syrian women in the streets of Damascus; what dominates our media are images of armed men, whom some western journalists call ‘revolutionaries’. The fact that the strongest fighting force in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, is affiliated with Al-Qaeda was hardly mentioned.  The fact that because of this so called revolution, Syrians have experienced horrific suicide bombings like those experienced by Australians in Bali was hardly mentioned. Some Western journalists choose to enter Syria illegally to embed with Islamist militias, while others such as Alex Thomson for Channel 4, who report from Damascus, have another story to tell.  Thomson’s latest report concerns the deliberate targeting of foreign and local journalists by so-called freedom fighters, and the irony of this.

So some western reporters present the point of view of the militias, but not the views of women in the streets of Aleppo or Damascus after a terror attack.  Is this because we are not meant to hear women in hijabs curse Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or America?

The standard narrative presented by the media is that it is a civil war between the Alawi minority and the oppressed Sunni majority. So it doesn’t help the selling of this war if we see Sunni, Christian, Alawi and Shia women yelling out their opposition to NATO and Gulf states. Furthermore, it doesn’t help the selling of this war if we are told that the Minister for Defence, and other key ministers such as the Foreign minister, the information minister and the minister for interior affairs are Sunni, and the majority of officers and soldiers are Sunni. For people in Syria, they are Syrian, so there is no conversation about their background, just a conversation about their performance.


Religion of any sort when combined with politics can create a deadly mix, which explains the determination of most Syrians to keep their country secular. This was critical to Syria’s successful emergence as a modern state. Because it is such a diverse society, religion could be used to tear the society apart, which is what the enemies of Syria aim to do.  Religion can be used to justify the most shocking crimes.  For example, in December 2011 Ammar Baloush a Damascus university medical student killed two classmates and wounded three others during an exam. All his victims belonged to minorities. Baloush now fights with a rebel group.

Other states in the Middle East such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar rely on religion to maintain power.  As always, religion (or tribal loyalties) can be used to divide and conquer. Here we are not talking about the religion at the heart of Judaism or Islam, which are religions essentially of love and peace.  But we are talking about interpretations of these religions. Forces with money and power distort their original, pure messages.

But we mustn’t pretend that the West doesn’t have a dominant religion. American exceptionalism: the belief that the US – and by extension for many, the West – is best and has an almost God-given right to police the world almost equates to a religion.  Other imperial powers, such as the Roman Empire would have had a similar ‘religion’.  This is Hillary Clinton’s and John McCain’s faith.  It is still not clear if it is President Obama’s.

As I have mentioned, the countries which are funding and supporting the armed groups in Syria depend on religion for their survival.  The Saudi family depend on the Wahhabi school of Islam and Salafism, while the family in power in Qatar depends on the Muslim Brotherhood. These were not schools of Islam introduced by the Prophet Mohammad.  Just as US exceptionalism didn’t exist 300 years ago, neither did these interpretations of Islam.

The war in Syria is not a Sunni versus Shia war.  It’s a proxy war being waged on the ground between representatives of extremist branches of Islam (sponsored by countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia) and ‘moderate’ Muslims, in other words mainstream Muslims together with Christians and other faiths.

Young men (and a few women) are being incited to commit the most heinous crimes by extremist clerics. There is torture, beheadings, mutilations, the gouging out of eyes, the cutting off of genitals, the rape of women and children, even girls as young as four, as well as many other atrocities.

The so called revolution sanctions these atrocities.  Sheikh Adnan Arour, an infamous cleric who is based in Saudi Arabia is regularly on satellite TV encouraging his followers to kill people who oppose the revolution. For example in 2011, he encouraged the targeting of minorities, particularly members of the Alawi community who do not support the revolution. He said their bodies would be minced and fed to the dogs. It’s this kind of incitement to violence which leads his followers to commit such atrocities. Late last year, there was a report in The Australian of a young Christian man who was beheaded and his body fed to dogs.

Based in Qatar is Egyptian Sheikh Qaradawi, the most prominent cleric in the Middle East, and a friend, reputedly, of the Qatari royal family. In 2011 Qaradawi stated that if it was necessary to kill a third of the Syrian population to topple the ‘heretical’ regime, then so be it.  More recently, he has said on Al-Jazeera that it is OK to kill civilians and religious scholars who support the regime.  But civilians have been killed by Islamism extremists since the beginning of the revolution. Almost two years ago, on 17 April 2011, three children were killed in Homs by armed men. They were targeted presumably because they were in a car with an off-duty army officer.  We know that in campaigns of terror the normal rules of war are ignored.

So Qatar and Saudi Arabia by funding and arming militias and supporting extremist clerics are hugely committed to the destruction of the secular Syrian State and to the killing of millions of people in the process. We in Australia must ask ourselves, do we condone or condemn calls for genocide.


The war against Syria is attracting thousands of jihadists and mercenaries from countries such as Tunisia, Libya, Britain, Belgium, Somalia, Iraq, Chechnya and even Australia. Many of them support an Islamic caliphate.  That means they are dreaming of a utopia in which Islam is the state religion. The Islamic utopia planned for the world is another version of other utopias that have claimed millions of victims.

Those leaving Australia for jihad or a so called ‘revolution’ in Syria are going not only because extremist clerics urge them to go.  There are credible reports that Qatar pays recruiters $3,000 for every person they recruit to travel to Syria to support the militias in their fight against the Syrian State. So that is one other tragic element of this war: there are foreigners going to Syria believing they are going there to save Syrians from a heretical secular regime, while people in Syria curse them for their part in the war against them and their country.

The foreign powers that want them to keep streaming into Syria to fight their proxy war have to create reasons for them to go. So massacres are being committed, lies are being told.  Extreme shock and horror has to be created to motivate people to leave their family in Australia to fight in a country most do not have family ties with and have never visited.

War is always a terrible terrible mess built on lies, death and destruction.

Fighters may also be going to Syria because of the stories of Syrian expatriates who falsify events and distort the history of Syria. Perhaps they do this because they are stuck in an old Syria and they are reliving old fights, remembering their old wounds and bitter defeats. Or perhaps they have family loyalties to a father or an uncle that was victimised or killed in Syria many decades ago and while most people in Syria have moved on, they are stuck in a past that distorts the present.


The mainstream media as well as institutions such as Amnesty International and even the United Nations have encouraged the view that Syrians need to be saved from the president. “Assad has to go” is even a mantra on the lips of people who wouldn’t know where Syria is.

Like Chinese whispers, reports on Syria are often based on reports, on Syria, based on reports by people who have never entered Syria and who have only interviewed supporters of the armed opposition. They are not based on the reality of Syria.  People assume they are getting the truth when they access Al-Jazeera, not realizing this media outlet is owned by the emir of Qatar, and is very much a player in the propaganda war. Syrian TV is censored by the Arab League and some Western governments so they can continue to distort the reality on the ground and the voices of Syrians.

It is 10 years since the beginning of the war in Iraq and we are now awake to the lies and distortions presented to us in order for that war to occur.  The same thing is happening now; otherwise the war in Syria couldn’t occur.


Another key element of the war relates to resources.  Questions not being asked include: who is going to exploit the huge gas reserves recently discovered off the coast of Syria?  Who is going to dominate the European gas market?  Will it be the US, Britain and France with support from Turkey and Gulf allies – Saudi Arabia and Qatar?  Or will it be Russia together with Iran and Syria, and China in the background?  Will this be America’s century or Russia’s and China’s? If this were a James Bond movie, we might be on the side of the West, MI6 and the CIA.  But it is not a movie and millions of people’s lives are at stake.  Our values are at stake here too.

Some leaders, such as William Hague, may think they are protecting the economies of their countries by pursuing a war in Syria, by playing with truth and by condoning terror.  But in what ways can anyone’s interests be enhanced by the destruction of a society and by the murder of millions of people?  In what ways can the interests of the world be enhanced by the encouragement of ignorance, conformity, and extremism, as well as the sponsorship of terror?

Are Western governments defending the values we cherish most as humans or the interests of huge corporations?  If they are presenting the interests of corporations that lack a moral compass, where will this take humanity?


There are many Australians who are connected to the some of the tens of thousands killed in Syria.

We must not forget the families and communities behind every victim. They all deserve the truth.  Peace can come to Syria but it can’t be lasting unless everyone’s grief is respected.  Most importantly, what mustn’t be forgotten is the value of peace.

April 2013

Susan Dirgham and Nina Haidar,

Members of AMRIS


In regard to understanding events in Syria, it is impossible to present a definitive reference list.  However, it is hoped this very incomplete list below can encourage further research.  Few journalists working for the mainstream media have the power, the resources, the time to investigate Syria and present a full, honest picture of events there. It is necessary, therefore, if there is to be a committed push for peace in Syria and the region that others research Syria.


Alex Thomson’s blog:

Video interview with Ammar Baloush, who killed 2 medical students on 27 December 2011 at Damascus University and later joined the ‘rebels’:

Images of Syrian women:

Images of Syrians before the crisis:

ABC report on the speaking of Aramaic in Syria:

Video of Sheikh Adnan Arour declaring what can happen to people who do not support ‘us’:

Sheikh Qaradawi justifying the killing of civilians and (religious) scholars who support the Syria government:

Speech by Grand Mufti of Syria in October 2011 after the assassination of his son and his son’s history professor (the Mufti refers to Qaradawi’s condoning the killing of 1/3 of the Syrian population if it leads to the toppling of the regime):

Article: “Moderate ‘Shami’ Islam vs Wahhabism: Shiek Mohamad Saeed Ramadan Al Bouti Finally Pays for his Anti-Salafism Stances”

On Qatar and its wealth and what it does with it:

A video interview with analyst Aisling Byrne about the media war being waged against Syria:

Alastair Crooke, “Straining Credibility” refers to the information war:

Documentary: Manufacturing Dissent, produced by journalists Lizzie Phelan and Mostafa Afzalzadeh


Support shown for an Islamic Caliphate, the killing of Christians and Alawis  

Amnesty International’s silence in response to reports of the killing of civilians by Islamist militias in April 2011:

Reference to the murders of three young teenagers in Homs on 17 April 2011:

This site presents investigations into massacres and killings in Syria:

John Rosenthal’s analysis of the Houla massacre contradicts initial claims by commentators and governments in the West:

ASIO tracks young Australians in Syria:


It is difficult (impossible?) to find any serious analysis in the Western mainstream media in regard to the geopolitical and economic reasons for the war against Syria.  However, these are links to articles on the Internet by European analysts:

William Engdahl:  “The bizarre conflict over Cyprus and Greece, as well as Syria, have more than a little to do with the new gas wars geopolitical”

Christof Lehmann: “The dynamics of the crisis in Syria”

Robert Fisk’s respectful interview with Osama Bin Laden in 1993 refers to the recruiting of foreign fighters for the war in Afghanistan:


There are ABC radio and television interviewers who show some independence in their approach to Syria and make serious attempts to look at the war in Syria in an objective, in-depth way.  However, there does seem to be an ABC editorial approach to Syria which is extremely biased and not at all in-depth.  This is represented on the ABC online Syria news page, unlike virtually all other country news pages, there are thumbnail links to articles on this.

There is a thumbnail link to an article about the First Lady of Syria which is dated March 21 2012.  The writer is anonymous but he or she or they have a clear point of view:  “For ordinary Syrians, Ms Assad is now a hate figure.”

There is another thumbnail link on the ABC homepage: “Timeline: Syria and the Assads”, which is dated 9 March 2012. (Ben Atherton is the author.)  The timeline is very simplistic and biased; its main purpose seems to be to damn the “Assad regime”, not to present a fair and objective view of Syrian history, nor to update readers on events in Syria and the main players in the crisis.  For example, there is no mention of suicide bombs, of the role of Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the conflict, of foreign jihadists crossing into Syria from Turkey, of the chilling chant heard at demonstrations since March 2011 (“Send Christians to Beirut; Send Alawis to their grave”), of the calls of extremist clerics to target civilians who do not support the ‘revolution’, of the role of groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.  There is no reference at all to what reliable observers such as Mother Agnes Mariam describe as the hijacking of the reform movement by Islamist extremists.  Instead of a reference to an academic text such as Patrick Seale’s “Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East”, the writer relies on Wikipedia and mainstream media, and the only recent image included is one which promotes the point of view of the armed opposition.  The ABC timeline effectively promotes war against the “Assad regime”, which millions in Syria would view as war against their secular society and them.

First Lady with parents of children and teachers killed in war

Asma Al-Asad, First Lady of Syria with mothers of ‘martyrs’ (Syrian TV, March 2103)


The relative of a victim of a car bomb.


People in the street after deaths and destruction caused by a car bomb (Syrian TV, April 2012)


The president attends end of Ramadan Eid service in mosque with Mufti of Syria, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Minister for Religious Affairs, other Sunni government ministers. (Syrian TV, August 2012)

syrian tv announcer

Newsreader on Syrian TV; image of a leader of Lebanese Salafists calling for a jihad against Syria, early 2012 (note: image of jihadist added to original image)


Emir of Qatar (on the right) (Image taken from Syrian TV)


Whirling Dervish, Damascus 2009


Young women at a restaurant in the old city, Damascus. 2010.

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IMG_9883What you may not know about Syria:

The peaceful movement for reform in Syria has been hijacked by extremists and the violence of a ‘third force’.  Massacres have been organized by this force and blamed on the government before critical meetings in the UN.

Qatar, which hosts a US naval base, wants to undercut the price of Russian natural gas in Europe (which is facing an economic crisis); to do this, it must be able to pipe it across Syria very cheaply.

The Annan Peace Plan and Geneva Statement which detail pathways for a political solution have been agreed to in writing but not in practice by countries which include the U.S., the UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey.

Extremist clerics have issued fatwas against Syria.  Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, a cleric based in Qatar with a Muslim Brotherhood background, declared on Al-Jazeera last year, “It is OK to kill 1/3 of the Syrian population if it leads to the toppling of the heretical regime”. Sheik Adnan Arour has said on a Saudi satellite channel that those who support the ‘regime’ can be killed and their bodies chopped up and fed to the dogs.

Numerous Moratorium size rallies supporting peaceful reform have been held across Syria, but rarely reported in the west. Terror bombs keep people away from such rallies today.

Historic reforms have been instituted in Syria. Various political parties are represented in the government. The constitution forbids parties to be based on religion or tribe.  The president can only serve two terms.

Christian and Muslim festivals are public holidays in Syria. The Islam practiced in Syria has roots in the Sufi tradition.

Saudi Arabia, where Wahhabism dominates, and Qatar, which supports the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafism, have aggressive stands on secular politics in the ME. Most ‘rebels’ in Syria are Wahhabi, Salafi, and/or MB extremists.  They earn salaries, with funds coming from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Turkish PM’s party, and through Saad Hariri in Lebanon.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Homs, Aleppo and Idlib, cities close to the border, have been forced from their homes by ‘rebels’, many of them foreign fighters from Libya, Lebanon, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Britain, France, even Australia (as reported in the media). Imams and priests who publicly support peace, professors, teachers, specialists, doctors, journalists, relatives of politicians, public servants, and children have been brutally killed.

Hospitals, ambulances, churches, mosques, schools, souqs, factories, pipe lines and utilities, and ancient sites are being destroyed; communities impoverished, and men are being forced into joining the FSA (on a salary) or are killed.

The war against Syria is an ‘information and humanitarian’ war, well-illustrated by the story of Sari Souad.  Sari was shot in the street in Homs in 2011. His mother relates how men rushed to pick up the critically wounded boy. She chased them. They took Sari into a house and laid him on the floor, then took video footage of Sari’s mother screaming over the body and promptly sent it to Al-Jazeera; the AJ report claimed Sari had been shot by soldiers.  In fact, Sari’s mother explained there had been no soldiers in the area; that was the problem.  AL and the “Syrian Observatory of Human Rights”, an unregistered body run by a Syrian expatriate in the UK, are widely quoted in the western media.

Syrian Australians have reported the killings of innocent civilians by ‘rebels’ to Amnesty, but AI refused to report the cases. The director of Amnesty US is Suzanne Nossel, a former US State Department official.  Robert Ford, ex-US ambassador to Syria who has been accused of organizing death squads, was a guest at an Amnesty conference.

Syrian satellite channels have been censored by the U.S. and the Arab League (dominated by Saudi Arabia and Qatar).

Amnesty, the UN and western media have relied very much on the claims of ‘rebels’ or refugees who support the armed opposition.  Yet, western reporters have been granted Syrian visas.


References to be added.

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Janine di Giovanni; a war reporter’s human touch

Below is a comment sent to ABC’s Late Night Live team in response to an interview with French war reporter Janine di Giovanni.   Ms di Giovanni refers to Syrian society before the war.  The images aim to present a glimpse of that.

Friends in music shopIMG_1240IMG_5981IMG_5991IMG_5993IMG_5999IMG_6021IMG_6027IMG_6043IMG_6069MediaPlaying cardsSophisticatedA nun and visitor in Seidnayya, Syria

It is clear Janine de Giovanni understands the human cost of war, and I assume she understands the machinations of war, but she plays very safe. There is reference to Syria before the war (a beautiful multi-ethnic, multi-faith, modern society), but no clear reference to those who are trying to destroy that society and the means by which they are doing it.
When will people who are in the know condemn those who supply the weapons to the ‘rebels’ and pay people to fight, to kill.  And condemn those who stir up the darkest things in the human soul in order for people to carry out murder, believing they are justified to kill innocent people from a particular religious or ethnic group who do not share their beliefs, as the Nazis felt justified to kill innocent people.
Janine quotes someone in Bosnia: “In the name of God, do something to help us.”  This is the call people who support the Syrian armed opposition (=Islamist extremists,foreign jihadists, mercenaries?) make to the world.  It is often reported.  But the same call from the civilians and opposition in Syria who want peace and want to maintain their secular society is not heard in the western media.  Even Janine doesn’t report it, at least not clearly enough to be heard so it is heeded.
It is very easy to dissemble and lie for war.  War propaganda has a formula; it’s usually successful when followed. The people who push it are paid professionals. Simply demonise a leader and a group, present statistics and make accusations – the standard ones.  When necessary, create the evidence. On the other hand, to find the truth is hard work. Fatigue, despair and loneliness can strike the people who search for it.   A close friend from Sarajevo, a highly intelligent woman who was affected very personally by the war, is still trying to make sense of the war and the destruction of that multi-ethnic society, and she still suffers.  I interviewed her about it:
I would love to hear Janine take a clear stand against the  war in Syria.  To tell us what can be done for peace in Syria. Mother Agnes, whom you have interviewed, presented 10 Points towards Peace and Reconciliation, practical steps that can be taken for peace, against war.
Do reporters stay in their job, do they keep receiving awards, by being ‘balanced’?  By not challenging the stand of western governments? By denying us truths that might force peace that greater powers do not want?  Janine’s work is undeniably political, but could she maintain her distinguished career if she got Political?
Janine says she is fuelled by rage.  Rage about ‘injustice’ and ‘human suffering’.  Then she tells us about terrible torture. But of whom by who? And what was the point of telling us that if we don’t hear the whole story, build up the big picture?  The big picture as far as war is concerned always takes us to Peace.  If we have the chance to see and understand it.  How will telling us there is torture of someone by someone stop the war?  Janine presents herself  as a humanitarian, and in her heart and private life I am sure she is. But in her professional life, in my mind, she is an attractive, sophisticated human face to the machinery of war.
Susan Dirgham
3 December 2012
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