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Aussies Present Dissenting Voices re Syria. Are they blowing in the wind?

February 14, 2012

(all images on Australians for Syria blog by SD)

Australians have made efforts to voice their dissent to the single, simplistic narrative in regard to Syria which has dominated media reporting and commentary.  Below are articles, images and links to views of some Aussies who have tried to make a stand against the established line.  Modern day Cassandras?

Published on newmatilda.com (http://newmatilda.com)


Letter to The AGE March 12, 2011  http://www.theage.com.au/national/letters/albert-park-protest-group-bullied-20110312-1brvv.html

Restore listening posts
AS FORMER colleagues of Robert Bowker (Comment, 7/3) we support his call for more adequate Australian representation in the Middle East. Following the closure of two posts (Algiers and Damascus) it has become obvious that Australia does not maintain a network of missions able to provide a real-time picture of events in the region. It is particularly anomalous that the small staff of the mission in Cairo has the responsibility for an arc of countries stretching from Syria to Tunisia and extending south to the Sudan.
Under the Howard and Rudd governments, our links with the Arab world were downplayed, except for the advancement of our commercial links in the Gulf or ensuring support of our military presence in Iraq. Foreign Minister Rudd’s recent visits to the region appear to be the start of a reversal of this trend.
Australia’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council only underlines the fact, obvious to most Arab countries, that Australia has neglected this region. It is time to return to the policy of maintaining a wider range of listening posts to inform a broader assessment of Australian interests. The return of an embassy to Damascus, highlighted by Dr Bowker, is particularly crucial given that country’s historic role as a hinge on which the affairs of the region turn.

Former Syrian ambassadors Ross Burns, Ray Spurr, Jim Dollimore, Janet Gardiner and Robert Newton

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17 Feb 2012

Blindness On The Road To Damascus  by Fiona Hill 

Dr Fiona Hill is an anthropologist who runs Almanar Consultancy, assisting clients who want to know more about the Arab countries. Her special expertise is in Syria and Saudi Arabia.

As the calls for President Assad to step down get louder, including from Australia, evidence on the ground suggests that Syrians want elections, not international intervention, writes Fiona Hill

The Syrian Embassy in Canberra was attacked and ransacked earlier this month by a gang of 40 men who stole property and intimidated staff. We still await Canberra’s denouncement of the crime and a statement about failing public security.

Australia has refused diplomatic relations with Syria since well before the current Syrian unrest — much against the best advice of several former Australian diplomats who served there (See “Restore Listening Posts” letter to the editor.)

Kevin Rudd continues to demand that President Bashar Al Assad stand down. Yet a recent poll commissioned out of Qatar finds, despite its best attempts to obfuscate the fact, that a majority of Syrian citizens actually might want the President to stay.

What has caused Australia’s estrangement of the city that our 4th Light Horse was first to liberate in WWI? Why does Australia shun the opportunity to again be at the forefront of effective and sustainable political change in Syria?

Two weeks ago I was in Syria for the second time since the unrest began last March, except this time I stayed in the north of the country. Friends in Syria were adamant that to travel south to Damascus through central Syria — the only practicable way to get there when domestic flights are full, as they now routinely are — was to court danger, even death from the fallout of attacks and counter-attacks launched by militant gangs and government forces. Several Syrians I met on the flight into Aleppo agreed — apart from one woman returning to Idlib who told me “Idlib is entirely normal”. She would not be drawn on this remarkable assessment.

Armed rebels in Homs and Idlib have destroyed power stations, gas and oil pipelines, government buildings, trains, bridges, and any property that lies between them and their Syrian government targets, and have bombed civilian and police buses. All Syrians appear to know this, but the report by the Head of the Arab League Observer Mission deployed throughout Syria’s provinces from 24 December 2011 to 18 January 2012 — available in English since 27 January 2012 — affirms it. The report was discussed by Joseph Wakim in New Matilda this week.

The Arab League report states also that the militia of Homs reported explosions and deaths by government forces that were found to be false, that the French journalist killed in Homs was the victim of an opposition mortar shell, and that “food was in short supply owing to the blockade imposed by armed groups, which were believed to include some 3000 individuals”. The report states that, according to the Governor of Homs, all attempts by religious figures and city notables to calm the situation have failed.

I questioned young men who had served with the military in Ma’aret Numan, Homs, and Idlib — some of the hottest spots of the conflict. Their military service is over now and I assured them anonymity. They told me that their units had been under strict instructions to hold fire at all times. Some of their fellow soldiers had been killed and several others wounded, yet they had to await direct orders before they returned fire, even when fired upon. I suggested to them that this cannot be true in all cases, but they just shrugged. The Arab League report also cites evidence of this approach by the government.

I interviewed Sunni, Shia, and Christian Syrians face-to-face in the north and by phone around the country, expecting bitterness towards the government. To a person they were enraged and despondent by turns — unsurprising in a bitter cold winter where heating fuel, electricity, and benzene are scarce, thanks to the activities of the armed opposition. I found less anger with the government — although there is plenty of that — as with the anarchy and fear being spread in Homs, Idlib, Zabadani and Damascus countryside.

My survey is skewed because I could not find any opposition to interview. But it is known that the Syrian National Council (SNC) and Free Syria Army (FSA) reject outright anything other than regime change on their terms. For them, dialogue with the Syrian government to negotiate a transition of power is impossible.

The Syrians with whom I spoke say they believe that the SNC and the FSA, and their ideological and material supporters from outside Syria, have derailed the political reform that would otherwise be well progressed.

Newly formed political parties are now officially licensed. Last week a multifaith and multidisciplinary committee of male and female experts presented a revised Draft Constitution to the Syrian Cabinet. This Draft Constitution can now go to Referendum, after which general elections can be called.

Such a measured and sustainable political reform process is precisely what Syrians believe the Qatar-Saudi-US-Israel-Australia alliance wish to avoid as they build a case for international intervention.

While the opposition fighters in rebel towns and villages fail to propose a coherent political message beyond revenge and wresting power, the capital Damascus, the provincial towns of Aleppo and Raqqa, the Mediterranean coastal towns, and the major Arab and Kurdish tribes — in other words, the greater part of the country — appear to remain unconvinced by the SNC and FSA.

The Arab League report states that democracy protests are unhindered by government forces, but can the SNC and FSA and their material and ideological supporters outside Syria give citizens confidence to engage in the political reform process without fear of intimidation or even, as has been reported from Damascus lately, assassination by unknown killers?

Popular Sunni leaders, Imam Qaradawi (Qatar) and Imam Arour (Saudi Arabia), and now Al Qaeda leader, Sheikh Ayman Al Zawahiri, openly promote a “jihad” that demands killing of non-Sunnis in Syria.

The FSA is responsible for a series of bombings of civic buildings and key infrastructure that have caused civilian deaths and injury, including the recent bombing in Aleppo, the northern provincial city famously, and to many irritatingly, loyal to the government.

Yet Canberra continues to back the unpopular SNC and FSA and the Australian media provides airtime to the multinational “Syrian” opposition in whose rhetoric revenge and hatred are foremost. If there is a political alternative of any description being discussed, Syrians are telling me they cannot hear it.

Four weeks ago, a young Syrian whom I consider my “nephew” was kidnapped outside Homs while traveling on an ordinary civilian bus. He was held for nine days in a room with 18 other captives and given four options: join the rebel army to kill government and non-Sunni Syrians, blow up utilities and other civic properties, pay a ransom to be released, or be killed on the spot.

Are these the best choices the SNC and FSA offer Syrians?

Australians were once heroes to Syria. Many wonder what has caused chronic blindness this time on our road to Damascus.


Source URL: http://newmatilda.com/2012/02/17/blindness-road-damascus

Links:
[1] http://www.theage.com.au/national/letters/albert-park-protest-group-bullied-20110312-1brvv.html
[2] http://www.thedohadebates.com/news/item/index.asp?n=14312
[3] http://www.box.com/s/2r41chgottatq4yier7n
[4] http://newmatilda.com/2012/02/15/imposed-regime-change-not-answer
[5] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npK3Rpk0HMs&feature=youtube_gdata_player


15 Feb 2012

Imposed Regime Change Is Not The Answer  by Joseph Wakim

Source URL: http://newmatilda.com/2012/02/15/imposed-regime-change-not-answer

Joseph Wakim OAM is the founder of the Australian Arabic Council and a former Multicultural Affairs Commissioner

There’s a fundamental problem with the Arab League’s move to oust the Syrian president, writes Joseph Wakim. It does not fit with the findings of its own observer mission

There was a fundamental problem with the Arab League’s UN Security Council proposal that the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, step down: it was not borne out of its own Observer Mission report.

The proposal was tabled by the only Arab state in the UNSC, Morocco, and also asks for a national unity government within two months. Such proposals suggest that there is growing faith in the opposition parties and less faith in the Syrian president.

While imposed regime change fits neatly into the Arab Spring narrative, the gap between the Observer Mission report and the failed UNSC resolution is as wide as the Arabian Gulf.

The Observer Mission covered the period from 24 December to 18 January, and their report is available online in English for anyone with a serious interest in the facts. The mission comprised 166 individuals from 13 Arab countries, including civilian and military experts, NGOs and human rights organisations. The observers were divided into 15 groups covering 20 cities, giving daily reports to their 24-hour operations room in Damascus.

Clause 13 paints a dark picture of the city of Homs, reporting: “an escalation in violence perpetuated by armed groups in the city… instances of kidnapping … sabotage of Government and civilian facilities … food was in short supply owing to the blockade imposed by armed groups”.

Clause 26 extends this to Dera’a, where the Mission observed “armed groups committing acts of violence against Government forces, resulting in death and injury among their ranks … armed groups were using flares and armour-piercing projectiles … Government forces responded to attacks against their personnel with force.”

Clause 27 covers Hama and Idlib, where the observers witnessed “acts of violence being committed against Government forces and civilians … bombing of a civilian bus … bombing of a train carrying diesel oil … a police bus blown up … small bridges were also bombed”.

The report notes media exaggeration of numbers of people killed. Moreover, the total number reported to the western media does not discern between pro and anti government fatalities, so it has been wrongly assumed that the Syrian Government is the killing machine.

Clause 35 confirms that the Government had honoured its commitment to grant amnesty for crimes perpetuated from 15 March 2011 by “periodically releasing detainees”.

Clause 44 reports that a “French journalist was killed by opposition mortar shells”, although the opposition condemned and blamed the government.

Clause 54 notes legitimate concerns by the observers regarding their own safety given “the unavailability of armoured vehicles and protection vests”, and that 22 left the mission prematurely.

Clause 71 expresses concern regarding an “armed entity that is not mentioned in the protocol”, and also regarding the “excessive use of force by the Syrian Government forces in response to protests … demanding the fall of the regime”.

Clause 74 confirms that “the citizens believe the crisis should be resolved peacefully through Arab mediation alone, without international intervention”.

With this body of evidence from the authorised personnel, based on first hand and eyewitness accounts, the Qatar-led call for the president to step down is not only illogical but shows gross misreading of the situation. President Assad is a product of the ruling Baath Party, not the other way around. Rallies in Syria are testament to his personal popularity, and any forced ousting by the sponsored opposition militia will unleash a civil war.

Russia and China have been accused of abusing their veto power as permanent members of the UNSC in pursuit of a selfish national agenda rather than global humanitarian agenda, as was intended by the United Nations.

Where were these noisy critics when the United States threatened to abuse its veto power to support Israel in blocking the Palestinian bid for statehood status last year?

Two wrongs never made a right, and Assad has failed to win any friends with his litany of conspiracy theories and excuses for failing to implement civil reforms in a timely manner.

Sanctions are ineffective for an Arab republic that is highly self-sufficient.

Suspension from the Arab League is ineffective when most of the Gulf states are Sunni monarchies who scoff at the Syrian Alawite elite as un-Islamic. It is also highly hypocritical to be judged by these states whose respective human rights record with women, Christians and minorities is conveniently ignored.

The Observer Mission expresses repeated concerns over the “armed entities” who provoke the Syrian Government who in turn use excessive force. The circuit breaker is surely border control to stop the flow of armour, mercenaries and extremist clerics, followed by a timetable for implementing all the enacted reforms such as multi-party elections.


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The Drum on ABC News 24   http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/3827746.html#

 

14 FEBRUARY 2 0 1 2

 

FIONA HILL

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is ‘disgusted’ at thestance taken by Russia and China against foreign military intervention in Syria.

But clearly ‘Madame Clinton’, as many Syrians enjoy calling her, has not made time to read the report by the Head of the Arab League (AL) Observer Mission that was deployed throughout Syria’s provinces from December 24, 2011 to January 18, 2012.

It seems our media have not read it either, even though it was publicly released in English over two weeks ago.

Russia and China’s conviction that a mediated domestic political process and cessation of violence by all perpetrators in Syria is a far more sustainable course of action and is completely affirmed by the AL Report.

I have just returned from Syria. Like so many who care about what happens there, I went because I wanted to see, listen, ask questions, overhear conversations, watch dedicated 24-hour television propaganda channels (both for and against the government), read graffiti, and experience what sort of realities Syrians are now creating for themselves. There are daily flights out of the UAE. My flight was full.

I also went to Syria specifically to dig out all the details of my adoptive nephew’s kidnapping by opposition ‘forces’ a couple of weeks earlier.

The 18-year-old is in the first months of his obligatory military service and was returning back to his military posting after a short leave pass home, riding a civilian bus between a provincial town near his home and Damascus. The bus was stopped outside Homs by what appeared to be a security roadblock. Eight heavily armed men in military uniform boarded the bus and demanded that those serving in the military raise their hands. My nephew did so, along with a few others. They were taken off the bus, blindfolded, put in cars and driven away.

Two days later the kidnappers called the young man’s family, using his mobile phone, and berated them for letting their son ‘fight for Assad’ instead of fighting against the government and doing his Muslim duty. The family begged for mercy. The phone hung up. An excruciating six days later another call came advising that for a 500,000 Syrian Pound ransom (currently about $8,000), they could collect him.

The heavily armed kidnappers had kept 18 captives in one room and provided food and bedding. Each day of his nine-day confinement, an imam had spoken to the detainees about religious duty. Ultimately my nephew, a Sunni Muslim, had been given four choices – fight with his captors against the government and kill as many police, soldiers, security agents, and non-Muslims (i.e. non-Sunnis) as possible; take ammunition supplied by them to destroy key infrastructure and wreak havoc; pay a substantial ransom; or be killed on the spot.

The young man’s family were able to gather the ransom payment from each household of their tribe and next morning two of his uncles set off to collect him – one unashamed to say he was sick with fear, the other well known for fearing God alone. On their way they advised the local police and security forces of their mission, who in turn advised that if they succeeded in getting the young man back alive, they should take him home for a few days to rest before surrendering him to the military police.

After his jubilant but short homecoming, the military security took him and detained him for interrogation. Almost three weeks later he was released back to his military posting. Out of the fire into the frying pan.

It is a freezing cold winter in Syria. While scrupulously rationed by the government, heating fuel is in short supply because opportunists are hoarding it to sell on the black market. Electricity is cut off several hours a day and night due to sabotage of power stations. Fuel for vehicles is in chronic short supply due to criminal destruction of oil pipelines and the bombing of diesel-carrying vehicles. The AL Observer Mission report details this, and more.

Local Syrian TV stations broadcast propaganda for government (‘Suria Baladna’) and for ‘opposition’ (‘Suria AlSha’ab’). The AL report is critical of both but singles out the innumerable fabrications and exaggerations of the opposition for particular comment (for a summary of both see here).

Meanwhile the prejudicial language and aggressive stances of the US, Britain, France, Australia, and Qatar raises questions for Syrians as to what the end game might be, and why Syrians are paying for an international desire to isolate Iran (see Aisling Byrne’s comment).

Syria’s National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change readily joined other political and human rights activists in cooperating with the AL Observer Mission, but they reject any contact with the expatriate Syrian National Council or the Syrian Free Army of alleged defectors from the Syrian security forces that is fed with arms via Lebanon and given refuge in Turkey.

Massive reform of the political process is non-controversial in Syrians’ conversation, but I could not find any Syrian with anything positive to say about these two entities touted by the Western world as the best instruments for political reform in Syria.

“Why would any country invite expatriates to form government?” Syrians kept asking me with exasperation. “Why would any civilian population put their faith in defected fighters with no discernible political platform?”

I spoke to Sunnis, Shias, and Christians, to Kurds, Arabs, Circassians, Assyrians and Armenians. While many pointedly complimented the apparent good character of the president (referred to at such times as ‘Dr Bashar Al Assad’) all readily expressed in detail their disgust at poor governance for too long. In the street, in shared taxi vans, in cafes, markets, and private homes the Syrians are not afraid to talk politics any more.

Indeed they seemed particularly anxious to do so. But their mood is pessimistic.

“Whatever revolution there was is now destroyed by armed criminals and their

masters,” sighed a Sunni man wearily.

“What are your so-called Christian leaders in Australia thinking?” shrieked a Christian woman in a candlelit Aleppo home. “Don’t they realise our freedoms in Syria are the envy of other Arab countries – and impossible in Qatar?! If Bashar (Al Assad) goes, we will be lambs to the slaughter.” “Would Mme Clinton be so sure of herself if her nephew was kidnapped like this?” asked another Christian in Damascus. “Because, you know, he would not get those four choices.”

Fiona Hill (PhD Anthropology) runs her own independent consultancy assisting

Australians’ interaction with the Arab region.

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Truth about Syria: Crazy Men in Grey Suits  by Dr Jeremy Salt, 12/1/12

Below is an excerpt from Jeremy Salt’s article.

The west is on the hunt for another war in the Middle East. This is the essence of the campaign against Syria. Iran is being provoked every other day. This week another nuclear scientist was assassinated. The clear intention is to goad Iran into retaliating, providing the pretext for the armed attack that many in Israel and the US want. There is no question that Syria needs to reform but anyone who thinks that the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are campaigning against Syria for the cause of reform is living in a dream world.  Every wild accusation made by activists and dutifully reported by the media is grist to their mill. They don’t want the violence to end. They want it continue until the Syrian government is destroyed, and they have the resources to keep this going virtually endlessly. If they take the plunge and launch an open attack on Syria or Iran they are likely to trigger off a regional war and, in the view of some, a global war. In their grey suits and pastel ties, these people are as crazy as any fascist in a brown uniform. 

Jeremy Salt teaches the history of the modern Middle East in the Department of Political science, Bilkent University, Ankara. He previously taught at Bogazici (Bosporus) University in Istanbul and the University of Melbourne. His publications include The Unmaking of the Middle East: A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (University of California Press, 2008). He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

http://palestinechronicle.com/view_article_details.php?id=17384

http://palestinechronicle.com/view_article_details.php?id=17293 (Link to previous article on Syria by Dr J. Salt: ‘Human Rights’ and the Road to Hell: Libya and Now Syria?)

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Syrians care more about overdue policy reform than ousting their president 

Joseph Wakim

August 18, 2011

An excerpt from Opinion (Sydney Morning Herald)

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/sweet-victory-without-the-war-20110817-1iy1j.html#ixzz1mioIHzHo

Do you want to eat the grapes, or to kill the vineyard’s guard? This rhetorical Arabic question addresses a disconnect between the means and the end. It is an apt metaphor for Syria’s crossroads and future.

Is the end game to dethrone yet another Arab leader, or ensure that its citizens gain human rights?

We already know from Iraq that toppling the leader of a pluralistic secular state unleashes sectarian militias, tribal warfare and al-Qaeda insurgents competing for control in a state that has become dangerously chaotic.

Do we wish the same anarchy for the Syrian people?

The resulting Iraqi parliament is created on the basis of delicate ethno-sectarian quotas. The ongoing human cost of this regime change has been horrific, with desperate asylum seekers floating to our shores and 1.4 million seeking refuge in Syria – a secular ”sanctuary”. Apart from Iraqis, Syria has been a safe haven to many minority groups such as Jews, Kurds, Ismailis, Druze, Palestinians and Christians.

Syria has the potential to change its policies without removing its president. Unlike Tunisia, Egypt and Libya – where presidents were unwilling and unable to implement dialogue and reform – Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has ratified his reform package, but will implement it only if the ”chaos” subsides, creating a vicious circle.

Joseph Wakim is founder of the Australian Arabic Council and a former Victorian multicultural affairs commissioner.

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Iraq and Syria through a refugee’s eyes 

Interview with Joseph, an Iraqi Christian who fled Iraq for Syria, where he spent more than 2 years becoming arriving in Australia in 2006.  4 November 2011, Melbourne.

http://pool.abc.net.au/media/iraq-and-syria-through-refugees-eyes

A summary of the interview:

Question: What do you think is happening in Syria?

Joseph: I lived in Syria from 2004 and 2006.  I totally disagree with what is happening in Syria. There are agendas behind it (the ‘revolution’).  As someone from Iraq, I can feel what America did to Iraq and I can see, in a different ‘layer’, the same thing is happening again in Syria.  I think people who haven’t been to Syria can go today and check how safe it is for Christians, at least, to have their freedom to use their churches and have activities.  (Joseph mentioned after the interview that Christians celebrate Christmas in Syria in the regular way, with Christmas trees and decorations etc.  This was generally something you couldn’t do in Iraq so he valued that freedom to do so in Syria.)

I am 100% sure that if something happens to Syria and the regime falls, there will be chaos, like Iraq, but perhaps worse, it is more dangerous, because of the different ethnic groups.  There is a lot of pressure from countries in the region, and America is pushing so hard to “get things wrong there”.  I am very sad about what has been happening there.

Question: How honest is the Australian media’s reporting of events in Syria, in your view?

Joseph:  They only look from outside; there is nothing from inside.  I think if they go there and they go to the many areas in Damascus, they will see a different ‘face’, 100%.  There are always people against the government, but that doesn’t mean the government should ‘fall down’ because of those people.   I don’t agree that a government that has been there for 40 years should fall down in 20 days or 6 months.  It takes ages.  The Syrian government, with all the corruption that is within the government, is still happy to work together with the people to build up a better type of policy there.  But the (media outside Syria don’t see this); It is always “10 people killed”.  Well in Iraq, thousands of people were killed; in Palestine, thousands of people were killed.  Why doesn’t anyone care about Palestinian people?

Question: A lot of people think that the Syrian president is a “brutal dictator”.  You come from Iraq, so how would you compare him with Saddam Hussein?

Joseph:  Well, firstly, he is a doctor. Secondly, he studied in Europe and he is very open to other cultures. (He is better than his father.)  Saddam Hussein was a dictator; I’m 100% sure.  Bashar al-Assad knows how to represent his country. I don’t believe he is a dictator. I think he is doing the right thing. He is trying to control what is happening.  He is a person who opened the doors in Syria for  a million Iraqis, better than Jordan, better than Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, and better than Iran. So that is why I totally disagree with what they say.

Mark Davis, SBS Dateline reporter and presenter, recently did visit Damascus and spoke to people there.

http://www.sbs.com.au/dateline/story/comments/id/601369/n/Syria-s-Uprisi…

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Syria: questions must be asked and answered

By Susan Dirgham after a visit to Damascus in April 2011

http://pool.abc.net.au/media/syria-questions-must-be-asked-and-answered

To develop a concerned and responsible understanding of what is happening in Syria today, questions that generally aren’t being posed must be.

1. The prominent Egyptian Islamic scholar, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, a cleric with a huge following in the Middle East and North Africa and with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, has recently called on Sunni Muslims to rebel against the “Alawite regime” in Syria, “for Arabs to support protesters in Syria”. Two chants of demonstrators in Daraa have been, “No Hezbollah. No Iran. Syria for Muslims (read “Sunnis”)”, and “Send Christians to Beirut and kill Alawis.”  Syrian friends (mostly Sunnis but some Alawis and Christians as well – if that is relevant) have told me soldiers are being killed in cold blood, government workers as well. One friend who lives on the outskirts of Damascus rang me Easter Sunday to tell me that soldiers had been killed – targeted and shot – in his area and in the nearby military hospital.  The brother-in-law of a friend was shot and killed in his car along with his two children and nephew.  He wasn’t a “human rights activist”; he was an army officer. Are such killings related to Qaradawi’s call?

2. Arms are in the hands of many Syrian civilians. (Apparently, armed non-Syrians have also been arrested.) I learnt when I was in Damascus last weekend that there is a lot of confusion as to who is killling demonstrators. One young man I met witnessed a small demonstration in an outlying Damascus suburb at which two people were killed and several injured, but he said no one he spoke to there could say who had shot them. It was a mystery.  After the initial problem in Daraa, the President ordered soldiers not to shoot unless they were shot at first. Why do the mainstream western and Arab media keep insisting that the situation is straight-forward: i.e. that the regime is killing peaceful demonstrators?  I understand there is a newspaper that is being distributed freely in Kuwait. It presents what it purports to be the side of the demonstrators and demonises the Syrian ‘regime’.  Who is behind that and why is such a black and white picture being presented?

3. A vast majority of Syrians support President al-Assad and the reforms he has introduced. University students are not involved in the demonstrations in Damascus; it is mainly people from the very poor, outlying suburbs that are involved in the small demonstrations. The reforms are significant and are having an obvious effect on what the Syrian media is presenting and on the talk in the street, for example. Why don’t demonstrators give the reforms a chance? How can continued chaos in the country guarantee a better outcome?

4. Syria is the only country which has taken a consistently firm stand against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, the wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Since 1967, Israel has occupied Syrian land against international law and in defiance of UN resolutions. What are the implications of this? It has been well documented for at least 7 years that powerful people in the United States, people with strong links to Israel, want to “target” Syria – to destablise the country. Most Syrians say Israel and America, with help from some friends such as Saad Hariri, are behind the current troubles. Could they have a point?  (Or do “we” in the west always know best? Do “we” display wisdom and sophistication when we scoff at such “conspiracy theories” and when we infer we are much more sophisticated and knowing than the majority of people in Syria?)

5. For most Syrians, Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya TV, and BBC Arabic news have been discredited. At least four Al-Jazeera reporters have resigned in protest at the way the station is presenting the situation in Syria. There is no effort being put into presenting more than one side of the story and there is credible evidence of the presentation of fake phone calls from “witnesses” claiming to be in Syria as well as dodgy video footage purportedly from Syria. A male nurse in Damascus was found by his colleagues to be making calls to Al-Jazeera from the hospital roof, claiming he was a witness in Daraa (news on Syrian TV – 2/5/2011).  Wikileaks has recently presented proof that the US has been funding a Syrian opposition group abroad. If the US is targeting Syria how best would it use mainstream media and social networking sites to support its game-plan? What devious strategies might have been devised in operation rooms over the past 7 years?

6. If people are intent on overthrowing what they view as an Alawi regime (it is not!), and they are successful, what might the consequences be? Many people in Syria and Lebanan believe it would inevitably lead to a civil war as bloody and messy as Lebanon’s and Iraq’s. Who would benefit from that, or rather, who would imagine they could benefit from that?

7. Syria is the most secular society in the Middle East, yet in the western media there is virtually no regard given to this and to the threat from extremists. The Christian community in Damascus supports the President and the reforms.  There was much written and spoken about the fear that the Muslim Brotherhood would take control of the demonstrations in Egypt.  Why isn’t this given the attention it is due in the news about Syria?

8. Many years ago, I was a peaceful protester against Australia’s participation in the Vietnam war and I was arrested once when I handed out leaflets urging young men not to register for national service. I remember being in the minority and we protesters were not given very much respect by the mainstream society or media.  People who marched in demonstrations then were a motley lot; there were people who wore Stalin or Mao badges; people who threw bricks through windows and got aggressive in confrontations with the police.  Now, in regard to Syria, why is so much credence given to people who speak to the western media or Al-Jazeera etc and who claim they are human rights activists or peaceful demonstrators?  Of course there are genuine human rights activists and many many genuine peaceful demonstrators, but it is not as straight forward as the presentation in the western and mainstream Arabic media.  Have the warnings of Orwell and Graham Greene been forgotten (” ref: The Quiet American”)?  Have we been lulled into a confident belief that we can’t trust the propaganda from Syria, but we can trust our own on this issue?  Can we be confident that we can damn Syrian TV as if there could be no intelligent, responsible people working on Syrian TV programs?  I watched a lot of Syrian TV over Easter and was impressed by what I saw, and Syrian friends say they are impressed by the changes; the changes are considerable and meaningful.  But of course everything has to be questioned – always.  Why is the narrative presented in our news media so simplistic and so seldom questioned?

9. I have Syrian Australian friends who migrated here and whose children are trapped to some extent in a socially conservative time-lock their parents have maintained because like people in most migrant communities their parents have hung onto the social tenets they brought with them and haven’t ‘moved on’ as people back in Syria have.   Is it possible that some people with Syrian backgrounds in Australia, the US and Europe are trapped in a political time-lock of sorts? (This may offend some readers.  But it is a question worth considering, I believe.  I don’t have an answer to it.)

My local Lebanese Australian greengrocer considers these are key questions and has responses to all of them.  Why aren’t they questions being presented in the western media?

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