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Letter to Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister

January 19, 2012

Although this letter (actually emailed to Mr Rudd) was written in November 2011, the message is as relevant today as it was then.

All images on this page are of people who have attended Melbourne rallies in support of peaceful reform in secular Syria.

14 November 2011

Dear Foreign Affairs Minister,

I believe this is an important moment in our history when there is a chance for individuals to shape world events.  This may sound like hyperbole, but millions of Syrians would agree with me.

Last night, I watched Syrian television and saw hundreds of thousands of people in streets across Syria rallying to support the president and to oppose the Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria from the League, a decision which could presage foreign intervention in Syria and so a brutal, bloody war that could have a body count exceeding both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Reporters went into the crowds and interviewed people, including many women, those with hijabs and those without (a reminder that Syria is a secular society and women are free to dress as they like).  The people were united in their defiance of the Arab League and their belief that the League’s decision was illegal as it was not a unanimous one; neither Iraq nor Lebanon supported it. They were also united in their determination to resist any attempt by NATO or other forces to interfere in Syrian affairs. They were people I recognized: I met hundreds of Syrians in classrooms at the British Council in Damascus.

While Syrians were showing their support for their president (not their support a brutal regime), a reporter on Al-Jazeera was interviewing an “activist” Mohamad Abdel Mageed  who was claiming that the Syrian government was forcing those employed in the public sector to protest the Arab League’s decision.

Last week, Phillip Adams interviewed Robert Fisk on Late Night Live.  Robert Fisk had recently returned from Damascus. He reported on the funeral of young soldiers, killed by snipers, and thought it credible that over 1,150 soldiers have been killed in Syria since March.

Meanwhile, an Amnesty International report published in the last week gives little credence to the killings of soldiers since the beginning of the crisis, and suggests that soldiers have only been targeted in recent weeks, and justifiably.

Amnesty (and most of our media reports) also avoids giving attention to the terror that civilians have suffered in Syria at the hands of militia. Killings, abductions and torture have been reported for many months, but the public outside Syria is barely aware of this.

I interviewed a Syrian Australian who experienced the fear that has gripped people across Syria.  She related how doctors in Homs were fainting at the sight of the mutilated bodies and body parts brought to the hospital.

Yesterday, a friend sent me the following article with a plea for people to pray for the Christian community in Syria, particularly in Homs, where they are being terrorized by extremists.

Miranda Devine and Fr Paul Stenhouse have alerted us to the danger of extremists in Syria.

The decision of the Arab League was pushed by oil rich Qatar and Saudi Arabia.  Qatar is home to Al-Jazeera and extremist imam Qaradawi, said to be one of the most influential imams in the Middle East, and someone who has been calling for the overthrow of the heretical regime in Damascus since March (if not earlier).  To know what the people in Syria are facing, one must know Qaradawi and other extremists making similar, sometimes more grotesque, calls for armed conflict in Syria.  (This site provides some information about Qaradawi and his connection to Qatar and the Syrian opposition)

In a recent article on Afghanistan, Michelle Grattan writes, “As distinct from the support at its start, the Afghanistan conflict is now a war that belongs to the politicians, not to the Australian people. But there is no political path to turn sharpening public concern about it into real pressure on the government.”

Syrian people tell me they fear another “Afghanistan” in their country. While our soldiers make sacrifices to help the nation building in Afghanistan, Syrians fear their nation will be torn apart by war brought to their door by outsiders.

I pray that you can give this matter attention before you speak to President Obama this week.  I have cc-ed a long list of people (I wish it could be longer); many people on the list, I do not know and have had no contact with.  However, I believe the Australian public should be aware of a possible  decades long conflict looming in Syria; if war does eventuate there, it will have repercussions on our shores. Already, there are divisions within the Arabic community in Australia and radical elements are feeling empowered.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a hero of yours. This is another moment in history for heroes.
Kind regards,


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Images of Aussie supporters of peaceful reform in Syria

One Comment
  1. The publication of Patrick Cockburn’s article, cited below, by the Independent last Sunday, hinted at some winds of change in the media presentation of the Syrian conflict. Robert Fisk has long been their Middle East commentator, and not one very sympathetic to the Assad dynasty or Syria’s relationship with Lebanon; he has however been quite outspoken in criticism of the US and Israel. His visit to Damascus late last year should have caused some of his usual readers to think whether the news they were reading about “the murderous regime” might not be reliable; in particular his observation that the enormous number of Syrian security forces killed suggested other armed elements were at work.
    For some months now, the Guardian in the UK has joined with Al Jazeera in presenting a highly one-sided view of the conflict, accepting the allegations of the exile opposition movement, and linked activist groups inside Syria. It has accepted such claims, often funneled through the man known as the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights”, with little attempt at verification. The excuses are familiar – “sources cannot be indentified for their safety”, or “access to foreign journalists is heavily restricted”. At the same time these media refer to the statements of the Syrian government, even about deaths of their own soldiers, as “claims”, and then try to shed doubt and suspicion on these also.
    A recent particularly obnoxious example of this behaviour was over the apparent suicide bombing near the centre of Damascus. When such a bombing occurs, in any country in the world, that country’s government will claim it was the act of ‘terrorists’, and while many things are blamed on this class of individual, in this case it is indisputable. Only such individuals are prepared to die for their beliefs; governments simply don’t do suicide bombings. Yet almost unbelievably, while distraught Syrians were still nursing their dead, the Guardian was spreading the idea that the Assad government was possibly responsible for this murderous act in a usually civilised and peaceful city.

    Despite its adoption of a position identical to that of the Cameron government in the UK, there are clearly still journalists at the Guardian taking a completely different view. Several days ago Jonathan Steele wrote an article to match the significance of Cockburn’s :

    The essence of Steele’s article is a poll run by Qatar on the support for President Assad. It found that 55% of Syrians supported their president, which was highly inconvenient for Qatar; as one of the chief instigators of action to depose Assad, they surely sought to find support for regime change. And so the poll results were simply ignored, by all the Western media. Not everyone is happy with them being brought to light, and this is not surprising – the whole basis on which the move for “democracy through regime change” in Syria is based is that “the people” support it, and they clearly do not. Those supporting such action are in a minority within Syria, and a minority with a very different agenda – the West’s agenda.

    As an addendum to this, I have just received notice of a protest in the UK by the Stop the War coalition, to be held outside the US embassy in London next week:


    The first major protest against an attack on Iran and Syria is scheduled for next Saturday, January 28, outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square, London.
    The prospect of a new war in the Middle East is growing. As well as tightening sanctions, covert operations, assassinations and cyber attacks on Iran there is clear evidence of hostile US troop movements in to the region. The right in the US is pushing hard for intervention and these kind of provocations could spark war at any time. Meanwhile calls for intervention in Syria are getting louder and, as Jonathan Steele reported in the Guardian this week, there is a NATO backed military build up on Syria’s borders too.

    We need to start mobilising the anti-war majority now to swing the argument away from war. We are asking our supporters to do everything possible to publicise this protest and organise other protests and meetings locally.

    Invite friends on Facebook – Tweet to spread the word –!/STWuk

    For more information or to help organise in youyr area please phone the office on 0207 801 2768.

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