Archbishop calls on Sydney’s Anglicans to do whatever it takes to support Syrian refugees

It is encouraging indeed to see the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, put out a strong call to his flock to respond not only with prayers but with practical assistance and with hospitality to the anticipated influx of Syrian refugees. Equally encouraging is Dr Davies’ clear rejection of the proposal to favour the applications of Christian over Muslim asylum seekers.

In the following article that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald the Archbishop is careful to avoid criticising the Australian government for the decision to participate in US-led bombing missions within Syria, even though this is likely to increase the flow of refugees from the country. With the government’s decision though now open to review since the change in leadership, we may yet hope that Dr Davies will extend his influence here too and address the causes of this immense human tragedy as well as the symptoms.

Father Dave

Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies

Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies


Open the door widely to Syrian refugees

A little boy, drowned at sea and washed up on a Turkish beach has shaken and galvanised a response from the nations of the Western world to the plight of Syria’s refugees. That it has taken so long for the sort of action that is being considered now is shameful. Nevertheless, the fact that our public discourse has turned so emphatically towards the need to make a real and lasting impact in the lives of those displaced by the Syrian conflict is very welcome and I applaud the government’s decision to expand the refugee program.

At times like this, we must all act within our spheres of influence to raise awareness, build understanding, and work to ensure that our own good intentions have real and practical expression.

Australian Christians feel a particular heartache at the fact that those we consider as family, our brothers and sisters in Christ, have been singled out for persecution in Syria and Northern Iraq. Nevertheless, we would be very reluctant to see an expanded refugee program that uses religion as a discriminating factor. This is antithetical to the love of God for all people and the unmerited and non-discriminatory grace and mercy that is at the heart of the Christian gospel.

The parable of the Good Samaritan is an incendiary critique of discrimination based on race, ethnicity and religion. Listening to the story for the first time, many would have been incensed that Jesus had used the word “good” to describe a despised Samaritan. Yet it never crosses the Samaritan’s mind in the story to ask about the religion or background of the man he finds beaten and dying on the side of the road. His response is immediate, generous and unquestioning.

As for who should or should not be included in an increased number of refugees from Syria, it makes no sense to be discriminatory. Some minority groups have been specifically and systematically targeted by Islamic State. These include, but are certainly not limited to Christians. There are also Yazidis, Druze and Mandeans targeted, along with Shiite Muslims. IS show little fear or favour and even Sunni Muslims who do not share their view of the world are just as likely to bear the brunt of their displeasure.

Our ability to show love and mercy and provide a warm welcome to anyone in distress, regardless of their faith, must serve as a counterpoint to the brutality of IS. Our response needs to be immediate, generous and unquestioning regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.

To this end, I have called upon Sydney Anglicans in parishes all across our diocese, not only to pray for these victims of persecution, but to step up and be prepared to do whatever is within their power to provide a warm and generous welcome, coupled with practical assistance, to ensure that those who come to find safety in Australia are afforded the best possible chance to make a new start and benefit as fully as possible from the peace, freedom and opportunity that far too often we take for granted.

I have asked our diocesan organisations – our schools, our retirement villages, our youth division and its college – to assist in any way they can with funds, goods in kind, educational support, personal support, language classes, and accommodation.

Anglicare has disaster recovery volunteers already trained to assist with the reception of those needing immediate assistance upon arrival. Anglicare’s hamper-packing and second-hand clothing warehouse is available to provide food and clothing. Our Youthworks ministry through its college and campsites is looking to offer medium-term accommodation for up to 150 refugees and short-term accommodation for up to another 250 refugees as well. I have already received offers of accommodation from across our parishes as well.

We are also looking to working as effectively as possible in a co-ordinated manner alongside other non-government organisations and government agencies.

You can read the full article here

You can donate to the Archbishop’s Syrian Refugee Crisis Appeal here

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Mairead Maguire appeals to UK government to talk to Syrian Government

Another prophetic all from dear Mairead:

meeting up with Mairead Maguire in Tehran

with Maired in Tehran in 2014


Nobel Peace Laureate, Mairead Maguire, today called upon the UK Government to move from military proposals, such as bombing in Syria, to humanitarian solutions in tackling one of the greatest tragedies of human suffering, to face Europe since the Second World War, i.e. the refugee crisis.  The arrival of thousands of refugees and migrants from middle east and African countries into Europe, many of whom have died on the journey, forces us to ask ‘how can they be helped immediately’,? Why are they fleeing their countries,? and how can the root cause of the problem be solved.?  Bombing of Syria, as proposed by the UK Prime Minister will only force more refugees to flee Syria taking extraordinary risks with their lives in order to find some security and safety from their war-torn lands.

Maguire said:  ‘The UK Government has a moral responsibility to the refugees fleeing in fear across Europe.  They are the victims of wars, invasions and occupations of their own countries.   Successive British Governments have spent billions on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, plus a covert intervention in Syria.   Such policies have resulted in the destruction of infrastructure across the Middle East and the growth of terrorism in the regions.   We need to oppose wars and the training by countries such as UK and USA and others,  of allegedly ‘moderate ‘rebels, who once trained are turning their guns on the civilians who oppose their brutality and violence.  They must stop the arms trade which is resulting in the arming of violent militants who are turning their arms against civilian populations.

The UK Government needs to implement an urgent and massive increase in relocation and resettlement of refugees that shares responsibility across the EU and reunite families.  Provide financial and technical support to countries on the frontline of the crisis such as Greece, Hungary, etc.

Enter into dialogue with the Syrian Government, and all Parties to the conflict, in order to find a solution to the refugee and overall Syrian Conflict.   Support citizen to citizen diplomacy within Syria, and all those working for peace and reconciliation in Syria and all Middle Eastern  countries, and lift the economic sanctions to improve the conditions within Syria and encourage citizens to stay and help re- build Syria.  Only when people feel safe and there is peace and stability in their own countries can we expect they will remain (and many return) to their homeland, as opposed to being stuck in refugee camps, for decades, such as the people of Sudan, Palestinians, etc.,

It is time to acknowledge, apologize and make reparation, for the damage done by UK USA and some Western Countries, Foreign Policies upon countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, and acknowledge there will not be a military or a paramilitary solution to these deep and increasingly dangerous conflicts.

A start in the right direction can be made by working with partners across EU and UN in applying Policies based on compassion and empathy for those whose lives have been devasted by misguided Policies of militarism, and war.

Mairead Maguire  Nobel Peace Laureate…

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Syrian crisis requires friendship, not aggression

The following article was officially co-authored by Professor Tim Anderson and myself (though it was largely Tim’s work with some tweaking from me). Tim and I were together in Syria for the latter part of July though we had come with slightly different agendas. He and his team were focused on visiting hospitals and humanitarian work. Jake Najjar and I were boxing with young people and working with the Sports Federation. Even so, together we all made a great team.

The surprising thing about this article is that none of the major papers we approached would publish it! It is hardly a radical piece and yet it seems that most mainline media are currently too scared to publish anything that departs from the government-endorsed narrative! That narrative insists that Syria is in its death throes and that we’ll be doing the Syrian people a favour if we start bombing ISIS for them and force a change of government while we’re at it! This is NOT the sort of help the Syrian people are looking for.

Father Dave

Tim Anderson and Father Dave with the Grand Mufti and friends

Tim Anderson and Father Dave and their teams meet with the Grand Mufti of Syria

Syrian crisis requires friendship, not aggression
by Father David Smith and Dr Tim Anderson

Our visit to war-torn Syria, last month, reinforced our belief that the Syrian people need our friendship and direct person-to-person contact, rather than any contribution to the further violence through participation in a ‘regime change’ operation.

We have visited Syria several times during the crisis, as guests of both government agencies and religious and higher education groups. We always pay our own way to Syria. Last month we were hosted by the Syrian Institute of Sport, allowing us to visit sports facilities and hundreds of young people in Damascus, Tartus and Latakia. We also contributed funds to hospitals and relief agencies in Damascus and Sweida and met with government and religious leaders.

We saw thousands of young people engaged in Syria’s very large sports facilities, including numerous disabled athletes who were participating in a Special Olympics. We visited art schools and saw a functioning and caring health system – despite the ‘rebel’ attacks on so many of Syria’s hospitals. We know that there are millions of Syrian children attending school and hundreds of thousands in their large (and mostly fee-free) universities. In short, despite the war, a functioning state ensures that everyday life goes on, though it can hardly be called ‘normal’. Every family is losing loved ones in this bloody conflict.

Army checkpoints are frequent and rigorous, with queues of Syrians showing remarkable patience. They know the military presence benefits everyone’s security. There is often a cordial exchange at the checkpoints; Syrians do not view the soldiers with fear; most have family members in the army or in one of the various army-linked militia. These are prominent in Sweida, Latakia, the Kurdish areas and Yarmouk, a southern suburb of Damascus which once housed 150,000 Palestinians.

The Palestinians from Yarmouk are now dispersed in various parts of Damascus, as with most other displaced people in and around the capital. We visited one group at a school on the outskirts of Yarmouk, distributing boxing equipment and soccer balls to the children, and passing on some much-needed cash to the families.  That ‘camp’, and the entire perimeter of Yarmouk, is controlled by the Syrian Army which only allows the Palestinian militia loyal to Syria to enter this zone, which still has elements of ISIS and Jabhat al Nusra, and whose population has shrunk to less than 10% its former size.

In the north, the Mayor of Latakia told us that the population of that province has shot up from 1.3 million to three million. Displaced people from Aleppo, Idlib and other northern areas affected by the incursions of Takfiri groups (sectarian terrorists streaming in from Turkey) are housed throughout the province. Only one percent of those people are housed in institutions such as Latakia’s large sports centre. Most are in free or cheap government housing, with family and friends, renting or in small businesses.

Unemployment, shortages and power blackouts plague the country. The ‘rebels’ regularly attack power plants. In the south, Sweida has been hosting 130,000 displaced families from the Daraa area, doubling the population of that province. Damascus holds the greater part of the 5 or 6 million internally displaced people, and the government and army organise their care.

Syrians tend to refer to all the armed groups as just Daesh (the Arabic acronym for ISIS) or ‘mercenaries’, making little distinction between their various brand names. All The Muslim Brotherhood backed groups (‘moderate rebels’), the Islamic Front, Jabhat al Nusra and Daesh all have the same sectarian ideology, seem to share the mostly US supplied weapons, and alternately cooperate and squabble amongst each. They all commit similar atrocities, often blaming them on the Syrian Army.

Despite the recent Islamist offensives in Idlib, Daraa and Palmyra, the security situation in most populated areas remains firmly in the hands of the Syrian Army. We were able to travel from Sweida in the south to Homs, Tartus and Latakia in the north, with only one small security-related detour. That was not possible 18 months ago.

Armed groups do have a presence in much of the country but, contrary to many western reports, probably control less than 10% of the populated areas. They are embedded in the northern parts of Aleppo and the eastern parts of Damascus, wreaking havoc by sniping, mortaring and car bombs, but generally gaining no new ground.

The fact that Syrian planes and artillery have not flattened these hold-out areas gives the lie to the claim that the Syrian Army carries out indiscriminate attacks. The war is being fought on the ground, building to building, and with many army casualties. We visited some of these soldiers in hospital, in 2013 and again last month. These are the victims the western media ignores.

Many Syrians we spoke to said they wished the government would flatten ghost towns like Jobar, Douma and North Aleppo, saying that the only civilians left there after two or three years are the families of and collaborators with the extremist groups.

After more than four years of foreign backed terrorism, often wrongly called ‘civil war’, it should be clear that overthrow of the Syrian government will not happen unless the US initiates some massive new escalation. We have to believe that a diplomatic solution is not only possible but far less costly.

Is it too much to hope that the Australian Government could take some independent steps to normalise relations, without waiting for Washington’s permission? Australia could re-establish normal diplomatic relations, abandon the war propaganda, drop the economic sanctions that only harm civilians who are already struggling, and normalise economic and social exchange.

Father David Smith is a Sydney-based Anglican Parish Priest. Dr Tim Anderson is a Senior lecturer in Political Economy at the University of Sydney.

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Declassified documents expose US support for ISIS and nobody cares!

The Western narrative used to justify the destruction of Syria looks increasingly brittle and self-contradictory as it evolves with time. This latest batch of declassified documents expose US hypocrisy on two important issues:

Firstly, contrary to all official US pronouncements, it is beyond dispute now that the US government knew (at least from early 2012) that ‘moderate’ secular rebels were not the major force working against the Assad government. On the contrary, the US had been knowingly siding with Islamic extremists from the very beginning!

Secondly, the rise of ISIS did not come as a shock to the US and take them by surprise. On the contrary, US intelligence services had predicted exactly what was going to happen some years before the storm broke. This did not affect US policy, with arms and money pouring in to support the rebel cause, even though US intelligence knew that this would all contribute to the ISIS nightmare.

Perhaps the most shocking thing of all though is that nobody seems to care about these revelations! Certainly nobody in power is apologising, and the mainline media in the US is focusing on what is surely a side-issue in the declassified documents, related to the 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi. Meanwhile the Neo-cons are busy rolling out a new spin – claiming that the entire jihadist catastrophe is due to the President’s failure to give proper support to the ‘moderate Syrian rebels’ when he could have, even though it should be obvious to everyone now that these ‘moderates’ never existed!

I don’t know what this says about our world. I suppose for most Americans and for most Australians this nightmare is on the other side of the world and so we don’t get too worked up about it. Eventually though the chickens come home to roost.

Father Dave

ISIS-US-SupportUS intelligence knew who were the major players in 2012 and it was not the so-called ‘moderates’
ISIS-US-Support02ISIS’ declaration of an Islamic State was fully anticipated two years before it happened.

an excerpt from The Jacobin

How the US Helped ISIS by David Mizner

A recently declassified US military intelligence document is further evidence of US complicity. Formerly classified as “secret,” an August 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report was among a batch of documents obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch.

The mainstream press and Republican politicians have focused on other documents in the collection: those related to the 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Largely overlooked is this document, which contradicts the official narrative not just about the rise of ISIS but also the makeup of the opposition in Syria and its relationship with foreign backers.

“The August 5, 2012 DIA report confirms much of what Assad has been saying all along about his opponents both inside and outside Syria,” says “terrorism analyst” Max Abrams.

The report concerns a period in time when the escalating violence in Iraq had ceased to be a prominent topic in the US press and when its coverage of the war in Syria — mirroring the discussion in Washington — focused on the Assad government, not the forces aligned against it. This may be hard to imagine now that ISIS has become the US government’s favorite monster, but during these months President Obama and his team gave major speeches on Syria that didn’t even mention the group.

Even after ISIS took Fallujah in January 2014, discussion of the group in establishment outlets was scarce. It wasn’t until later in 2014 — after continued battlefield victories and heavily publicized beheadings of westerners — that Islamic State became Public Enemy Number 1.

American officials claimed the ascendancy of ISIS had caught American intelligence by surprise. Yet in the 2012 report — which was circulated widely through the US government — the DIA foresaw the creation of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria. It also said that Islamic State of Iraq could “return to its old pockets in Mosul and Ramadi” and declare an “Islamic state” in western Iraq and eastern Syria.

More than that, the report says the creation of an Islamic state was precisely the goal of the foreign governments that support the opposition:

If the situation unravels there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor) and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).

The document previously identifies, in a slightly different context, “supporting powers” as “Western countries, the Gulf States, and Turkey.” Even if one interprets the document to exclude the United States from the “supporting powers” — indeed, why would its intelligence agency tell the US government what its policy was? — it reveals that at least as early as 2012, the United States knew that its client states sought the creation of an “Islamic state.” Two years would pass before the United States offered its peep of performance protest.

More broadly, the United States participated in a war against the Syrian government that turned Islamic State of Iraq into a regional power encompassing — and devastating — large parts of two countries. Such an outcome was predictable — and indeed predicted by the US government itself.

While American politicians and pundits have blamed the ascendance of ISIS on former Iraqi president Nouri al-Maliki and Assad — or on the removal of American troops from Iraq — the DIA report reminds us that the key event in the rise of ISIS was the corresponding rise of the insurgency in Syria. Brad Hoff of the Levant Report, the first journalist to analyze the DIA report, says it shows that “A nascent Islamic State became a reality only with the rise of the Syrian insurgency . . . there is no mention of U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq as a catalyst.”

Maliki warned that the war in Syria could engulf Iraq, yet the United States and its allies kept supporting the insurgency. The American bombing of ISIS, relatively light and sporadic, has only intensified the belief of many Iraqis that the United States doesn’t want to defeat the group.

According to the official storyline, the US has sought to weaken ISIS in Syria by supporting “moderate” rebels. (President Obama has faced constant criticism for not arming opposition groups in Syria despite constantly arming opposition groups.)

The decision of the US to train its own force was an acknowledgement that it’d been unable to find moderate groups to support. Former US Ambassador Robert Ford has admitted as much, saying that “for a long time, we have looked the other way” as US-backed groups worked with al-Qaeda’s affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq spinoff al-Nusra Front. Many “moderate” rebels — “entire CIA-backed rebel units” — have joined al-Nusra Front and ISIS. Earlier this year, the main US-backed group, Harakat al-Hazm, couldn’t beat al-Nusra Front — so it joined them.

The 2012 DIA document confirms that reactionaries dominated the opposition from early on. “The Salafist, The Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” it says. It also notes that “AQI supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning.”

This is the long-obscured truth that the DIA report underscores: that after the initial stage of the war in Syria, simply to support the war on the Syrian government was to help ISIS.

read the full article here

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Those who kill in the name of God do not know God

Traditional wisdom says that a fish rots from the head down. In other words, when a government or other organisation is dysfunctional the problem can generally be traced back to those at the top. The opposite must also be true – that when the head has integrity and wisdom, vitality and strength has to flow down to the rest of the body, and if that’s the case then the ongoing presence of Syria’s Mufti – Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun – bodes well for the rest of Syria.

I realise that many people label the Mufti as a hypocrite and a man of violence. I can only assume that those who make such accusations have never met him.

I still remember back in 1986 when my friend Mordechai Vanunu first published the truth about Israel’s secret nuclear-weapons factory, hidden under the Negev desert. There was no shortage of media commentators at the time who were depicting Morde, not only as a traitor but as a sophisticated foreign spy! Obviously these people did not know the man who was a part of my church – someone I shared meals with and prayed with.

I feel the same way about the Mufti. I have met him on quite a few occasions now, I have shared a meal with him and I have spoken with him at length. I am not easily fooled as to the character of a man and believe that the Mufti is exactly as he presents himself – a man who is full of love for all people and whose great desire for his country is for healing and reconciliation.

Dr Hassoun’s behaviour after the murder of his son, Saria, should have removed any doubts people had about his character. No one fakes their feelings at the funeral of their child, and the Mufti preached forgiveness during his son’s eulogy!

Dr Hassoun offered forgiveness to those who had killed his boy and appealed to them to put down their weapons and re-join their country. And lest anyone think we was somehow deranged by grief at the time, the Mufti stayed true to his offer when, a year later, two of the killers were caught. He went to the court and offered them forgiveness in person, and asked the judge to forgive them too!

The character and integrity of the man cannot be doubted, and indeed his love and integrity shine through in the interview he did with me. Further, his words humble me as a Christian.

Consistent with the teachings of Jesus, the Mufti refuses to hate anybody, but prays for his enemies (Matthew 5:44).

Rather than dehumanise his enemies, he speaks of them as being ‘patients’ for whom he is responsible, echoing the sentiments of Jesus when he was challenged over His open attitude towards sinners – “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Luke 5:31).

And likewise the statement of the Mufti that I have taken as a title to this article – “those who kill in the name of God do not know God” – echoes the teachings of the Apostle John who wrote “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”

When the disciples looked to Jesus for an example of how a good Jew should live he told them a story, but it wasn’t a story about a good Jew but about a good Samaritan – a man from a different race and religion altogether! If today’s followers of Jesus want to know what a good Christian looks like, I don’t think they need to look any further than Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun – the good Mufti!

Father Dave


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Maaloula and Saydnaya – flowers of Syrian youth and beauty

We visited Maaloula and Saydnaya on the same day – two Christian villages only a short drive north of Damascus

Maaloula is one of the few places on earth where Aramaic is still spoken – the language that Jesus spoke – and it’s home to a very ancient church and monastery. Presumably that’s why it was targeted by the rebels.

They came bursting in through a pass in the mountains and captured three men on duty. They ordered the men to convert to Islam. The men refused and were beheaded on the spot. We laid flowers at the place where they fell.

They captured the monastery and used it as a headquarters. Worship areas were desecrated and they took all the icons, defacing those that couldn’t be stolen. No one knows where the icons are now – quite likely in private collections in Europe. A priest there said to me that they were more concerned about the nuns who were kidnapped – “the real icons of Maaloula”.

The Syrian Arab Army retook Maaloula. A priest showed me a window in the top of the monastery that had been used by a rebel sniper. He added “he himself was snippered”. I wasn’t sure what he meant at first and then he showed me the splashes of blood around the window-frame.

It was all very raw and recent. The blood was still on the walls, burnt Christmas decorations were still on the floor of the chapel, many of the houses had been reduced to rubble. There was also extensive graffiti. Someone translated one offering for me – “we grow closer to God by cutting off heads!”

A friend who was with me that day said he’d visited Maaloula earlier, just after it had been liberated by the army before Christmas. He told me how he’d asked some of the kids then what they expected Santa to bring them. One boy apparently replied “I just want my friends back”.

Amidst all that pain though there was still enormous beauty. The highlight of my time in Maaloula was standing in the sanctuary of the chapel while one of the woman sang the Lord’s prayer for us in Aramaic!

What was also encouraging was the smell of fresh plaster and paint in many of the houses. And on our way out we passed a long line of teenagers walking towards the town, all dressed in blue overalls! They were the volunteer repair team, armed with an impressive array of picks and other building tools.

The striking thing about Saydnaya, where we went next, was that the town was teeming with children, and yet they weren’t simply playing causally in the streets!

There was a line of about 100 children and adults saluting us as we arrived, and there was a brass band playing, with dozens of boys and girls banging drums and playing trumpets!  We couldn’t stay and listen to the band though as we were being hurried along to church. Apparently they’d been waiting for us!

All the children that hadn’t been saluting or playing an instrument in the square must have been in one of the choirs we subsequently heard. There was a choir singing in the church and another one started in the square outside the church as the service finished! They sung hymns of faith interspersed with patriotic songs.

The church service itself was beautiful, but there was real pain being experienced there too.  The service centered around a presentation of a number of large icons that were being given out to parents whose children had recently died (mainly as soldiers in the Syrian Arab Army). There were about 40 icons given out! The congregation clapped each time an icon was handed out but the recipients weren’t smiling.

One encouraging aspect of that ritual to me was that the Islamic Sheikh of Saydnaya was one of the dignitaries handing out icons to the bereaved – standing up the front of the church mingled in with the priests and nuns. Clearly this was not about Christianity vs. Islam. It was about the people of Saydnaya vs. those who wanted to destroy their village.

As the choirs finished their anthems, a brass band (again made up entirely of children) struck up a stirring tune and led the way to the place where we were having dinner.

All the children were in a uniform of one sort or another – choristers and band members and saluters alike! I don’t know if they were Scouts or Guides uniforms or whether it was the uniform of the Saydnaya militia. Even so, those kids looked formidable, and I reckon that if the men of Saydnaya are anything like their children they will be a force to be reckoned with!

And they may very well need to employ that force very soon! With the fall of Idlib to the north, there is very little between them and the rebels now.

Indeed, there is very little between either of these magical places and the rebels now. Maaloula has already experienced occupation by Jabhat Al Nusra and they know what they are capable of. Saydnaya has the appearance of being far more ready to repel an attack, and its position in the mountains makes it a natural fortress. Even so, the numbers that come against them could be completely overwhelming.

I pray for these people every day. Each of these towns was like a little oasis of youthful beauty and life in the middle of the Syrian desert! May God protect all the beautiful children of Maaloula and Saydnaya, and their parents. God have mercy on them all!

Welcome to Maaloula!
Singing the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic
One of the many wonderful choirs of Saydnaya

click the thumbnail to watch the videos

Father Dave Smith

Parish priest, community worker, martial arts master, pro boxer, author, father of four.…

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What’s really going on in Yarmouk?

I thought it might prove difficult to get to Yarmouk. My God, it’s hard enough to get into Syria at the moment!

At first I thought we weren’t even going to make it out of Sydney! As soon as the airport authorities saw the word ‘Syria’ on our exit visas we were handed over to the counter-terrorism unit! Even so, we eventually got out of the country, made it smoothly through Beirut airport and then to the Syrian border by taxi, where we found, to our delight, that our visas had been approved. A short drive further and we were at the beautiful Dama Rose hotel, and you wouldn’t know that you were at the centre of a nation-wide war (except for the 40 or so checkpoints that we had to pass through to get there).

I announced our intention to get to Yarmouk right away to the people I thought might be able arrange something, and various phone calls were made. Even so, it wasn’t till we met with the Minister for Tourism the next day (a man whose portfolio sadly leaves him with time on his hands) that the right connections were made and plans were put in place.

Yarmouk is only a few kilometres south of Damascus. It was once a thriving centre of colour and life with a vibrant market that made it much more than just a Palestinian enclave. Over the last four years though it has been the centre of so much violence and death that it is now the most festering wound on the ailing Syrian body. And perhaps the most tragic dimension of Yarmouk at the moment is the way the suffering of these people is being manipulated to provide a new rationale for Western military intervention.

The dominant narrative at the moment is that ISIS, by lodging themselves in Yarmouk, are on the doorstep of the Presidential palace, threatening to take over Damascus! The Assad government, in response, is throwing everything it has at Yarmouk (including its notorious ‘barrel bombs’), killing rebels and civilians alike, in a desperate attempt to stave off the inevitable. The only hope for the poor people of Yarmouk (so the narrative goes) is to send in the Marines!

Of course the Marines don’t have a great track record when it comes to solving other peoples’ problems, especially in the Middle-East (think Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, …). Even so, if the people of Yarmouk are suffering at the hands of a reckless government in its death throes, can we really expect our benign super-powers to sit on their hands?

My thought was that I needed to get to Yarmouk to see for myself what was going on, and we got there.

We got to within about 300 meters of the border anyway, where the Syrian military made sure we stopped. We could see the front line from where we were but, as our guides pointed out, this meant that ISIS snipers could see us too, and so we soon moved off from the main entrance road and entered a school on the government controlled side of the border where a number of Yarmouk residents were being housed as well as schooled.

We spent our first few hours there teaching the children to box. I appreciate that most people would see that as a crazy thing to do but the kids certainly enjoyed themselves. There was lots of laughter and cheering as young and old put on the gloves and learnt how to throw punches against the pads without hurting their hands (which is not as easy as some think).

After we’d exhausted ourselves playing we sat down with the Principal of the school and some of the elders of the camp and talked, while enjoying the obligatory coffee that always accompanies such meetings.

From our day at Yarmouk, and through subsequent discussions with local Palestinians and with others in Damascus who knew what they were talking about, I came to some pretty firm conclusions about the situation in Yarmouk and, as I expected, the truth is pretty much the reverse of what we’re being told.

The Syrian Arab Army are not the chief villains in this drama. On the contrary, the Yarmouk residents that we met were being housed and fed by that army, and the children that we saw treated the army men like benign uncles. Indeed, when one of the officers who was with us put on the gloves and started throwing punches, all the children started cheering for him!

This is what I’d expected to find, as I’d spent time in a similar encampment for displaced persons from Yarmouk almost exactly 12 months earlier. There again we’d met hundreds of children, all of whom had been relocated to safe places by the army, and we’d taught them to box.

So let’s be clear on a few points:

  • Firstly, Syrian Army never enters Yarmouk. This isn’t contested by anyone on the ground. The army may work inside Yarmouk through their proxies in the Palestinian militia but army personnel never enter the camp themselves.
  • Likewise, the army does not shell Yarmouk. Clearly the Assad government does not want to be remembered for murdering Palestinians.
  • Finally (and predictably) those who are fleeing Yarmouk are running in the direction of the Syrian army in order to escape ISIS. They aren’t running to ISIS in order to escape the Syrian army. And the army is finding shelter and protection for the fleeing residents.

This is not to say that every Palestinian loves the Syrian army or the Assad government. Indeed, one Palestinian man I spoke to swore that the army had deliberately shelled ISIS in such a way as to force them into Yarmouk! “Why would they do that?” I asked? “In order to bring ISIS into contact with their other great enemy, Hamas, so that they would destroy each other”.

Whether or not that guy was right, his analysis highlights the absurdity of the other side of the media narrative. ISIS are not threatening the Presidential palace from Yarmouk. On the contrary, whether by design or by good fortune, the Syrian army is probably quite pleased to have ISIS in Yarmouk.

There are apparently only around 2000 ISIS militants in Yarmouk in total, and even with superior weapons (being channeled in from Qatar) it seems that they can still be contained by the Palestinian factions opposing them, let alone the Syrian army who have been containing rebels within Yarmouk for a number of years now. The residents have paid a terrible price for that, but the strategy has certainly been effective in protecting the capital.

And so the big lie needs to be turned on its head. The people of Yarmouk are not suffering at the hands of the Syrian army. They are suffering, but the Syrian Arab Army is probably the best friend they have at the moment.

And the army is not about to be overrun by ISIS troops streaming out of Yarmouk. That’s not to say that the army isn’t in trouble. Indeed, they have real problems to deal with in Aleppo and Idlib, but Yarmouk is a relatively minor headache.

In truth, I’m not sure what more can be done for the people of Yarmouk or for the Syrian army. One thing I am sure about though is that we don’t need the Marines, or any more foreign military intervention in Syria. Indeed, the further away our military stays the better are the chances for the people of Yarmouk and for the country as a whole.

Welcome to Yarmouk!
Boxing with the kids of Yarmouk (1)
Boxing with the kids of Yarmouk (2)

click the thumbnail to watch the videos

Father Dave Smith

Parish priest, community worker, martial arts master, pro boxer, author, father of four.…

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ISIS shows its true colours in Yarmouk! They are the enemy of the Palestinian people.

Father Dave with refugees from Yarmouk (April 2014)

Father Dave with Palestinian refugees from Yarmouk (April 2014)

ISIS has shown its true colours! They are the enemies of the Palestinian people!

Commentators around the world are appalled at the ISIS take-over of Yarmouk refugee camp, still home to around 18,000 Palestinians, and supposedly only a 10-minute bus ride from central Damascus.

The stories of brutal beheadings and other atrocities being committed by ISIS troops in Yarmouk are already emerging, along with concerns that this strategic battlefield success may empower the ISIS recruitment drive as they seem to be on the Syrian President’s doorstep. My reckoning though is that the attack on Yarmouk may have the opposite effect, and could  spell the beginning of the end for ISIS!

From a military perspective, the takeover of Yarmouk is no great threat to Damascus. When I was in Damascus in 2013 there were rebel forces on the edge of the city at multiple points.  They didn’t break through then and there’s no reason to assume that ISIS are going to succeed now where comparable forces have failed. Yarmouk itself has indeed been disputed territory for a number of years now which is why the Syrian Army sealed it off. This resulted in terrible suffering for the civilians remaining in Yarmouk but it simultaneously proved effective in stopping the advance of rebels into the capital.

Where the assault on Yarmouk could rebound negatively for ISIS is in the PR department.

The success of ISIS depends on their success in recruiting angry young Muslim men to their cause. There are no shortage of angry young Muslims around the world, of course, and this for very good reason. The US and its allies, including my country (Australia), have been on a murderous rampage across the Muslim world for more than twenty years, killing as many as 3.3 million Iraqis by some people’s reckoning, along with countless Afghans, Libyans, Syrians, etc. Mr Obama has indeed bombed no less than seven majority-Muslim countries since he took office! No wonder countless Muslim men and women feel angry, and no wonder so many young men are ready to fight for the one man who is standing up to the bloodthirsty West in the name of Allah!

Al Baghdadi has indeed succeeded in uniting many Muslim people under his banner. Even so, there is one other cause that resonates even more deeply with Muslim people everywhere. For the last generation there has been one thing that every Muslim in the world – from Iran to Yemen to Somalia to Indonesia – has in common. Every Muslim on the planet is opposed to the Palestinian Occupation! Support for the suffering Palestinian people is a fundamental part of what it means to be a Muslim in the 21st century, and now ISIS has started butchering Palestinians!

I don’t think we should underestimate the impact this may have worldwide on the ISIS recruitment drive. ISIS has shown itself to be the enemy of the Palestinian people!

I appreciate, of course, that relations between Palestinians and the Syrian government have also been strained in recent years, but it has always been a minority of Palestinians in Syria that are opposed to the Syrian government. Palestinian refugees receive full citizenship rights in Syria (unlike in Lebanon and Jordan) and many are open in their support of the Assad government. When  Khaled Meshaal and the Hamas leadership moved their headquarters from Damascus to Doha in 2012, this was not a reflection of broad Palestinian dissatisfaction with the Syrian government, but rather a reflection of the non-Palestinian forces controlling Hamas – namely, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Despite 2013 reports that Hamas was training rebel forces opposing the Syrian government, there has been no ongoing enmity between Palestinians and Bashar Al Assad. On the contrary, what we have seen in the last few days has been open cooperation between the Syrian Arab Army and Palestinian militias seeking to defend Yarmouk from ISIS, who are the real enemy!

ISIS has shown its true colours in the assault on Yarmouk. These people are not warriors of Allah, fighting to establish a holy state. They are brutal mercenaries, ready to sacrifice the lives of countless beleaguered Palestinians – men, women and children alike – for the sake of gaining a more strategic military position against the Syrian government.

The current humanitarian crisis in Yarmouk gives the Syrian government a significant opportunity to show itself to be a true friend and protector of the Palestinian people.  To an extent this is already happening (even though it is barely being reported).  Refugees fleeing in the direction of the Syrian Arab Army are being relocated to shelters, away from the fighting. We can only pray that this continues and that all civilians can extract themselves from the firing line.

ISIS, of course, are not going to want to let go of their human shields. Even so, the longer they use Palestinians as human shields, the more they betray their identity as Muslims!

Father Dave

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Video proof: NATO secretly supports and supplies Islamic State!

The proof is in! Islamic State is being maintained via an ongoing convoy of supplies trucked across from Turkey on a daily basis!

Germany’s international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle (DW), broke the news through the video report published below. Turkish trucking companies transport food, steel and cement are across the Turkish/Syrian border each day, passing them on to middle-men who then take the supplies to Raqqa – the base of ISIS operations!

As mentioned in my earlier article, it is ridiculous to think that Islamic State are supporting themselves through income from banks they rob or oil refineries they take over. They are not recognised as a state by anyone and hence they have no trading partners, and can’t possibly support their army on the strength of black-market oil sales. They flourish only because they continue to be supplied by foreign backers. Now we have seen those supply lines in operation!

I don’t know why it hasn’t struck most commentators as a little odd that the USA, with their history of harsh sanctions against Iraq, Syria and Iran, made no attempt at all at putting sanctions in place against Al Baghdadi and his crew. And from what we see from the DW report, there is nothing particularly clandestine about the operation. The supply convoys are evidently functioning with full knowledge of the Turkish government, and so presumably with the knowledge of Turkey’s NATO allies.

If the USA were really serious about stopping Islamic State, surely the first thing they would be to stop them being supplied. This would require a small amount of logistical and diplomatic work, of course, but only a tiny fraction of the effort required to keep an army in the field.

The question needs to be asked at the highest level – why is the USA spending billions of dollars to fight a war against Al Baghdadi’s army when all it needs to do is cut their supply lines? I think I can make an educated guess as to the answer to that question but the fact that nobody is asking that question suggests that nobody really wants to know the answer!

Father Dave


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Syria is like a hunted animal, being slowly killed one American arrow at a time

The following article is written by my friend, Declan Hayes – a passionate Irishman. I was with Declan in Damascus in April of this year. He has been back to Syria twice since then and spent the bulk of his time meeting with ordinary individuals and families on the front line, and doing his best to contribute to the rebuilding of the country.

Declan is an academic by trade – a lecturer in finance at the University of Southampton – and hence not the most obvious character to be playing a key role in the rebuilding of Syria, and yet it tends to be the Good Lord’s pattern to choose the most unlikely characters to spearhead His work.

Declan introduces his article as follows:

“The comments that follow are based on my experiences and observations from the last month which I spent in government-controlled Syria, in particular, from my time in Damascus, Ma’lulah, Saydnaya, Latakia and Kasab where I saw at first-hand the results of the terrorist war of attrition the Syrian rebels, Turkey and their Western allies are waging against the Syrian people.”

Declan’s article is long and it is a hard read as it will likely bring a tear to your eye. But I would encourage you to read it through to the end. Our Western governments need to know what they are involved in in Syria and if no one speaks out then the killing will continue unabated.

Father Dave

Dr Declan Hayes

Dr Declan Hayes

Syria is like a hunted animal, being slowly killed one American arrow at a time. In Syria’s north east, the Islamic State forces, obviously trained, supported and supplied by their regional allies, Turkey in particular, inflict heavy losses on the outgunned Syrian Arab Army forces. In the north, roving bands of Western armed and funded “moderate” gangs, aided and assisted by Turkey, plunder isolated Christian communities at will, slaughtering the inhabitants and, crucially, ripping the heart out of these communities.

Across the border, in Turkey, Western aid, most of it channeled through the terrorist Syrian Muslim Brotherhood organization, is given to the Islamic bands who control the refugee camps; some of the aid is given to the families of the fighters, more is given to opportunistic entrepreneurs and the rest is sent to the “moderate” Islamic fighters across the border in Syria to help them rid areas contiguous to Turkey of all non-Sunni minorities. All of this is designed to dismember Syria and to divide it, like ancient Gaul and modern Iraq, into three dysfunctional but malleable pieces, all the better to control and exploit it.

Aleppo, the industrial heartland of Syria, has been stripped of its factories, which have been sold as war booty in Turkey. Scores of civilians remain missing, sold, no doubt in Raqaa to Turks or Saudis who are not too particular how they acquire their non-Sunni sex slaves whom they regard as sub-humans.

Across the border, Lebanese soldiers are kidnaped by American-trained rebels and are beheaded so that Lebanon, which stands at the edge of the Syrian abyss, might also be devoured by the sectarian fires all of Syria’s armed rebels, along with their foreign mercenaries and the foreign powers, which fund them, stoke.

In the north, the mothers of Tartous and Latakia continue to bury their sons, who die in the uniforms of the Syria Arab Army, defending their families from the unspeakable fate Obama’s moderate rebels have decreed for them and which was visited in person to the mothers of Latakia in August 2013 by suspected war criminal and White House darling General Sam Idriss, when his moderate rebels kidnapped hundreds of women and children and slaughtered entire villages for no other crime than being moderate in their beliefs.  Syria’s Christians, meanwhile, their churches ransacked, scour the world, looking for a refuge, any refuge, from the fate that the West has decreed for them and for Lebanon’s Christians by the hands of the moderate Syrian rebels, who delight only in death and destruction, pillage and rape.

To the south, Israeli artillery units give covering fire to moderate rebels as they over-run Druze villages and behead their elders. In the outskirts of Damascus, the story is not much different. The moderate rebels shell residential communities on a daily basis and, when the Syrian Army counter-attacks, the West condemns them for defending their homeland against foreign rebels and mercenaries who brook no resistance, who countenance no contrary opinion and who execute all who are not fully subservient to them and their sectarian, slaughter campaign.

Syria’s true opposition, meanwhile, are numbed into inertia by all of this. This group, which includes opposition MPs, doctors working in Syria’s hospitals, as well as voluntary and church workers, cannot understand why Syria’s most sectarian forces, the extremist and ultra-sectarian Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in particular, are the darlings of the West. Though they can point to countless atrocities committed by these embittered thugs, they cannot understand why the John Kerry continues not only to wine and dine them but also allows them to continue their criminal enterprises.

This is not to say that they do not comprehend what the Pentagon has in store for Syria and her people; with Iraq just over the border, no one could fail to understand that the entire region is being fashioned to the design of the obnoxious regime of Saudi Arabia, which beheads far more people than do their Islamic State proxies and which suppresses freedom of expression in Bahrain with the same gusto than do the moderate rebels in Syria.

They know that the rebels could not function without the help of Saudi Arabia and Turkey and that their help is, in turn, conditional on the United States and the human rights groups she controls turning a blind eye to their crimes. They know all that but they cannot understand why the West wants to sacrifice them on the altar of Saudi Arabia’s ugly obscurantism. They cannot understand why Turkey is allowed to collude in blatant war crimes against the civilians of Kasab, Idlib and Aleppo and why the West also colludes in the final solution of extermination that is their lot.

The West’s leaders could be a part of the solution and not the problem if they wished. First off, they could immediately criminalize the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and prosecute those involved in its charity racketeering. Next off, they could investigate the role of Turkey’s leaders in the vast number of atrocities that have their paw prints indelibly embedded in them and take appropriate action against them and the Turkish state. Next, it could send fact-finding delegations to Damascus to get a feel for life under perpetual mortar fire, fortified by the West’s sanctions.

They could do all that and more but they do not want to because they want Syria destroyed and her people pauperized and impoverished. The moderate rebels have driven Syria’s farmers off their lands, they have stripped bare the factories of Aleppo, America’s green light has allowed them to hire armies of rapacious Chechen mercenaries and pay them three times as much in a day than Syrian soldiers can hope to earn in a month. That is the White House way.

These rebels and mercenaries are not harbingers of freedom but tools of Saudi conquest and oppression. Their policies, in as much as they have any, regarding women, minorities, religious, sexual or racial tolerance mirror those of the totalitarian Saudi state, which outlaws Christianity, persecutes most minority Muslim faiths, crushes civil dissent in Bahrain, funds terror and  obscurantist ideologies worldwide and brooks absolutely no dissent to its obnoxious rule. The ISIS apple does not fall far from the Saudi tree.

Although the West’s leaders, for whom the mercenary end seems to justify the mercenary means, knows all of this and more, they still shame-facedly pose as honest brokers and as some kind of guardian angels to the region’s minorities and moderate Sunnis, even as they and their allies supply weapons of death to the jihadists who are slaughtering them and cleansing them from their ancestral homes.

The Western media’s idea that there are moderate rebels in Syria is likewise utterly contemptible. War has always radicalized and brought out the worst, not the best in humans. The rule of the bomb and the bullet is the antithesis of reason and all the more so when the West is determined to divide the region on confessional lines. Arming Syrian Sunnis, ostensibly because they are the majority, is, of course, a recipe for sectarian slaughter, as is the dictatorship of the majority premise it is based on. It is to accentuate, rather than to mitigate the region’s fault lines and to let out the dogs of war on an unimaginable scale. It is to ensure minorities have no rights, unless they can be corralled into their own Bantustan, complete with the types of ephemeral rights and mountains of obligations West Bank Palestinians are all too familiar with.

Though all of that may seem unimaginable to most ordinary people, it is the game plan on The Road to Persia. The illegal, opportunistic and ill-thought out sanctions on and war in Iraq directly caused the deaths of over a million children, the infamous collateral damage to that war that now barely warrant a footnote from those who comment on it. A million dead Iraqi children, forgotten by all as if they never existed and never had simple dreams, pleasures, pastimes, hopes and aspirations like the rest of us.

As in Iraq, so shall it be in Syria, which is being dismembered into confessional mini states as part of the Road to Persia project for, although the fog of war might make it hard to say who is currently winning the war, the ordinary people of Syria are definitely its big losers. Not only are their sons being captured and beheaded by the Chechen and Tunisian mercenaries plaguing their land but America’s sanctions, which play the good cop to the bad Chechen cop, continue to destroy their quality of life. Many of Syria’s most vulnerable, the old and the very young, have to beg for scraps from the tables of pavement cafes, where the diners are often little better off than themselves. The Syrian soldiers look like they have not slept in a year and middle-class and middle-aged families have to elect to let their parents and children die rather than give them what, for us, would be routine surgery.

Syria resembles Byzantium in its death throes. The Armenian town of Kasab has had scores of its inhabitants beheaded, and its old folk taken as hostages to Turkey where they were paraded, like the war trophies they were, in front of the American ambassador. I met an English teacher there who used to get her simple kicks by singing and playing the organ in church. Her church is now gutted and the organ split into smithereens after the rebels made a propaganda video about it. Her school has been torched as have all the books and other primitive instruments of learning it was home to. The school children have even had their teddy bears stolen by the rebels and they are quite rightly fearful about their futures, if, indeed, they have one. Conversation in Kasab is not about Real Madrid or Barcelona, Cher or Kim Karadashian but is mostly about how the rebels looted every single home, how they scrawled their messages of hate on every single wall and what neighbours were tortured and murdered and where and why.

The why is the easy part. The Armenians of Kasab were butchered and their village dismembered to let them and the uncaring world know that Turkey can repeat this exercise any time it sees fit. Those Armenians who have returned are thinking of leaving again and wondering is there any port in the world that will give them refuge from the Saudi-funded storm overwhelming them.

Kasab’s children are a nice lot, as children usually are. They know the score, as we say in Ireland and it shows in their nervous twitches. They hear the nearby shelling, the machine gun fire and the artillery and they see the wounded Syrian soldiers being evacuated. Because they know that they too might have to be again evacuated, they have been uprooted, their childhoods sacrificed on the altar of America’s ruthless foreign policy.

Although the old folk who were taken as hostages to Turkey for the amusement of the American ambassador or who had stay behind under the occupation also know the score, most of them put on a brave face and recount how they defied their oppressors in big or little ways. Samuel Polodian recounts how he traded cigarettes for sardines with the Chechen commander who billeted in his house and George Kortmosian tells similar tales, as does 95 year old Joseph Saghjian, who Turkey filmed, for propaganda purposes, along with Soughmon, his 85 year old brother, being helped off the bus in Turkey by their kidnappers. Though Dikranuhi Mangigian, who is 91 and who could not be evacuated because America’s sanctions deprives her of the medicines necessary to keep her legs mobile, recounts how she pretended she could only speak Armenian and not Arabic to her oppressor, Papken Djourian has no such tales of valour. He and his wife had to watch as the moderate rebels executed Kevork, their only son, in front of them, let his body rot in the son for three days and then dump it, like the carcass of a dog, in a hole in their apple orchard before evacuating them with Turkish complicity across their border for their safety and for the amusement of the American ambassador and his pretty wife, both of whom cared not a whit for their plight.

I took a lift from Kasab to Latakia on the back of a pick-up truck with Syrian soldiers fresh from killing al Nusra foreigners and eager to go back and kill more. Though we joked and laughed about the usual things soldiers joke and laugh about, I did notice the soldier opposite me, in between the jokes, kissing and caressing the muzzle of this AK47. He is no doubt keeping the last bullet for himself, which, all in all, is probably sensible enough, even if the old ladies who met some of them in Latakia would prefer that bullet through their ancient skulls rather than the attentions of the moderate rebels, who enjoy gang raping their female captives and, in the case of the Afghans, their much younger male captives as well.

Latakia itself is, along with Tartous, enjoying something of an economic boom as those who flee rebel-held areas, flock to those and other safe havens and cause knock-on economic benefits in housing and other sectors. Tourism also booms there as Syrians, unable to go abroad, opt for stay-at-home holidays. The funeral industry is also booming as recruits from those areas are bearing the heaviest brunt in Syria’s war against the criminal elements ravaging it.

The funeral industry is also booming in Damascus, most notably but by no means exclusively in the Christian and Druze enclave of Jaramana. It is no means exceptional for these exclusively civilian neighbourhoods to get 20 and more rockets lobbed into them in a single afternoon and, in this respect, Jaramana is to Syria what Malta was the Allies during World War 2. It has been bombed and rocketed every single day for the last three years, ever since the war to dismember Syria began. Deaths, injuries and multiple funerals are now an everyday occurrence there as these innocent folk have been abandoned by the West to the non-existent mercies of the Syrian rebels in all their inter-changing hues and alliances of convenience.

Though the Syrian air force has now entered the fray, continually bombing the rebel front lines of nearby Jobar from whence most of the deadliest rockets and mortars come, they cannot deliver a knockout blow. Hamas have taught the rebels and their supporting mercenaries how to make impenetrable tunnels and Western technology and Syrian slaves have allowed them multiply and cause mayhem in places such as Adra which are as diverse as Syria herself.

The coalition waged against Syria have left little to chance. They are confident of victory. Their allies and proxies are kidnapping and chasing UN soldiers from the Golan Heights, they are wresting large swathes of land from the central Syrian government under one flag of convenience or another and uncertainty, the spectre of death and the stench of permanent stagnation haunt the rest of Syria. This can be easily seen in the Aramaic-speaking town of Ma’lulah, where the priceless icons have been looted, the churches destroyed, the children traumatized beyond recovery, the community destroyed and, like Kasab, the entire place abandoned by Westerners, Christians in particular, who should be helping them keep the faith. It is a war crime repeated the length and breadth of Syria.

The nearby all-Christian city of Saydnaya seems the exception that proves the rule. This city is dominated by a Greek orthodox convent the same way Italy’s Monte Cassino dominates its surrounds. Though these nuns are guardians to priceless icons, an icon of the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus painted by St Luke the Evangelist taking pride of place amongst them, one wonders, if like those artifacts of Monte Casino, these too will be rescued or if they will follow those of Ma’lulah into the underground markets of Turkey, France and the USA.

Although we cannot be sure about what will happen to the icons, we can be pretty sure what will happen to the town’s Christian defenders, an eclectic mixture of semi-professional soldiers and civilians determined to fight and die for their homeland. They are, quite simply, doomed. There will be no salvation for them when the Pontius Pilate West allows the moderate rebels and their extremist partners regroup. Saydnaya is not Monte Cassino. It is not defended by battle-hardened German paratroopers but by a ragtag group of lightly (and sometimes not so lightly) armed patriotic locals who have not received the training and materiel the USA and her allies have extended to their enemies.

Although they are doomed, these “Cross worshippers”  are, like untold millions of their compatriots, determined to die with their boots on, faithful to their religion, to their culture and to their homeland until the inevitable, inescapable and extremely ugly end. One wonders what will follow their demise and the wasteland that will be Syria, and if the victorious warlords who inherit it, will, in time, allow narcissistic Western tourists potter around in the ruins and tut-tut about its “tragic” fate.

Perhaps the Pope in Rome will offer a Mass for the repose of the souls of those Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic soldiers who die with an AK47 in one hand and their rosary beads in the other. Perhaps religious charities will raise a few bob on their backs and give some of it to those who manage to escape the fate that America has in store for them.

I know nothing of all of that. All I know is I met a bunch of lovely people in Saydnaya. I think of a little girl who proudly carried aloft an icon of Mary around for the entire procession on 8th September. I see the faces of the Greek Orthodox nuns who carried their icons on that procession as nuns before them have done since time immemorial. I see the faces of the young refugees from Ma’lulah the nuns house and can all too easily imagine their futures, blighted beyond repair by America’s machinations. I recall a very intelligent boy who gave me fascinating insights into the area on the convent’s roof and how we admired that convent, its view, its history and its culture and lamented how those America pays to attack it regard the convent as nothing more than a fortress to be stocked by their cohorts who are infinitely more ruthless than even Hitler’s Monte Casino paratroopers were.

The picture I see is very bleak, bleaker perhaps than the betrayal and subsequent fall of Byzantium. It is a picture of betrayal, of death and mass executions, of simple people being sold in slave markets and sacrificed for the interests of some of the world’s most repugnant regimes, Turkey and Saudi Arabia being pre-eminent amongst them.

This deliverance of the decent people of Iraq and Syria to their enemies is one of the most shocking and disgusting crimes of modern times and all of those, without exception, who colluded in this crime are at least as guilty as those who collaborated with Hitler’s SS when they committed their equally heinous crimes.  The fact that an almost defenceless people stand, in their homeland, on one side and, on the other, Western governments and civil and religious organisations arm, fund, clothe, protect and promote those foreigners and local Quislings and ne’er do wells who wish to wrest it from them, does not reflect well on anybody of authority in the West. Should Syria survive, should she and civilization itself come through these trials, it will be no thanks at all to those Western regimes and institutions who have cosied up to the world’s most reactionary, most despicable and obscurantist regimes who have put the entire people of Syria on the wrack for the pettiest and most venal of reasons. Nor will it be some sort of celestial miracle, delivered from on high for some obtuse reason or other. Rather, it will be a tribute to the courage, bravery and humanity of all of those alluded to here: the soldiers, mothers and civilians of Syria who, though abandoned by the world, managed to persevere. For my part, I am happy to have seen that light of humanity shine in the Darkness of the West, even if the Darkness still does not and never will comprehend it. It is enough.

Dr Declan Hayes made three trips to Syria this year. He is helping organize a three-day conference in Damascus, beginning April 24th 2015, tentatively called: Syria: Between Destruction and Reconstruction to mark the murder of all Syria’s innocents and to help plot a way forward out of the morass. He may be reached at…


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