Why it's OK to arm MODERATE jihadists in Syria

Father Dave

Father Dave

Twas bryllyg, and ye slythy toves
Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe:
All mimsy were ye borogoves;
And ye mome raths outgrabe.

(from Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’)

I must admit that I was a little confused when I first heard that Barack Obama was looking for another 500 million dollars to arm rebels in Syria. It didn’t make any sense! Then I realised that he only wanted to arm moderate jihadists. Thank God!

I mean … America has been leading the crusade against all forms of jihad and terror and Al Qaeda and all things radically Islamic, and while Uncle Sam’s ‘war on terror’ may have been a miserable failure in terms of decreasing the actual amount of terror in the world, at least we’ve always known who the good guys and the bad guys are, and I thought for a moment that Obama was going to arm those crazy extremists!

No! Thank God! It’s only the moderates that Obama is going to arm! The moderates are lovely people! They are an entirely different group from the extremists, and it’s only the extremists who are the bad guys!

Moderates don’t want to kill anybody, and if they do inadvertently kill somebody it’s because they didn’t get the chance to arrest the person and read them their rights first. Moderates prefer dialogue to violence and would sooner work things out with someone over a beer than have to shoot anybody! You won’t find moderate rebels eating the hearts of their enemies or … OH! You mean that heart-eating guy was one of the moderates?!

Here’s the truth people: the term ‘moderate’ when applied to the violence in Syria is a piece of meaningless fiction. Moderates live alongside the Jabberwocky, hidden somewhere in the borogoves!

I’m not even sure what the term ‘moderate’ is supposed to signify! I can’t imagine that it’s intended to mean that these people kill their enemies in a more moderate way – with a scouting knife perhaps rather than with a gun. It certainly doesn’t mean that they don’t commit atrocities. No party in the Syrian conflict has a squeaky-clean record in that regard. Is it meant to signify that these people make a principled distinction between civilians and combatants? Not a chance!

My guess is that the term ‘moderate’ is supposed to refer to the belief system of the killers in question. The ‘moderate’ rebels are the less ideologically driven fighters. While their ‘extremist’ counterparts are motivated by extreme religious zeal, moderate rebels kill people simply because it’s their job, or perhaps they do so out of love of country – a moderate love of country, at any rate.

I imagine that if I was an Armenian living in Kessab, I’d much sooner be murdered by someone who was going to kill me because he was being paid to do it rather than by some religious zealot who thought he was doing God’s will and …

Actually no … actually, I don’t think my killer’s motivation would make any difference to me at all, and I truly can’t see that it really makes a man more moderate if it’s his love of money that drives him to kill rather than a perverted love of God!

Besides this, I’ve spoken to a number of Syrians who actually fought with these extremists and each of the guys I spoke to had initially joined because they were poor and needed a job. I’m not at all convinced that all the religious extremists really hold extreme religious views. Conversely, I’ve got no reason to believe that there aren’t any number of extremely religious people amongst the moderates!

It’s all very confusing and the words do look increasingly meaningless. Indeed, from what I can work out, the only difference between the moderates and the extremists as identifiable groups is that the moderates are the group that the US and its allies support (at the moment) and the extremists are the ones that we don’t support.

The moderates are just as extreme in their violence as those we condemn and oppose, and I’m pretty sure that they are just as religious or irreligious as killers. The term ‘moderate’ then translates simply as ‘someone we support’, in contrast to the people of Syria who made it abundantly clear in their recent election that they don’t support the rebels at all – moderate or otherwise!

Perhaps the term ‘moderate’ is also meant to indicate that these fighters are friends to the US and her allies and will not turn and bite the hand that feeds them. If so, then we’re dealing with another fiction. Mr Obama would have to be completely stupid to believe that the jihadist rebels he supports today won’t turn on him tomorrow.

I don’t think Mr Obama is that stupid. Indeed, I think he knows full well that the moderates he supports today may become tomorrow’s extremists who will need to be targeted themselves by another group of moderates (who could quite possibly be today’s extremists if circumstances change)!

That’s it! I’m giving up on the term ‘moderate’. Instead I’m going to focus on making sense of the word ‘democracy’ as used in the sentence “Mr Obama is bringing democracy to Syria by overthrowing the candidate that 88% of the Syrian people voted for”.

No … I think I’ll go back to my poem:

Twas bryllyg, and ye slythy toves
Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe:
Democracy ye borogoves;
And moderate rebels outgrabe.

Father Dave
Parish Priest, Professional Boxer, Community Worker, Agitator
www.fatherdave.org…
www.prayersforsyria.com…
www.israelandpalestine.org…

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Is the violence in Syria and Iraq really sectarian?

We’ve been sold this line for a long time – that the violence raging across the Levant, most obviously in Syria and Iraq, is of a sectarian nature. It is Sunni against Shia, Muslims against fellow Muslims and non-Muslim minority religious groups, and as such is something we ‘Westerners’ can’t be expected to understand.

In Iraq’s case, this narrative has now been coupled with one suggesting that the US pulled out of Iraq too soon. If only US army had held its ground in Baghdad all would be joy and peace!

Both narratives are equally ridiculous!

As Mahdi Nazemroaya makes clear in the Mint News interview below, trying to understand political alliances and conflicts in the Levant along purely sectarian lines is entirely misleading. Iran, Syria and Hezbollah didn’t form an alliance because they all share a common faith. If it was all about religious tribalism how did Russia squeeze its way into the mix?

These countries are allies because they share common political goals. Conversely, those countries in the region who are working for their destruction (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel, etc.) do so to further their own political ambitions.

The sectarian whitewash is a propaganda technique aimed at masking the all too obvious motivating forces of money and power that are driving all the players in the region, from the US on down.

Perhaps one day soon the media will blame Australia’s treatment of refugees on the fact that it has a Catholic government.

Father Dave

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Iraq, ISIS and Syria – what’s going on?!

Father Dave in the Ommayad Mosque in Damascus

Father Dave in the Ommayad Mosque in Damascus

So many crazy things are happening in the hell that is flowing from Syria into Iraq at the moment that it’s hard to know what is going on. As Christians we need to make a meaningful response to all this bloodshed and violence but it’s so hard to know where to start. Let’s begin then by anchoring ourselves to one unambiguous truth – that the U.S. and NATO are NOT particularly concerned about what ISIS will do to Iraq, despite all rhetoric to the contrary.

Why can we start with this as our bedrock truth? Because the Lord Jesus gave us a guiding principle that allows us to cut through all the propaganda that clouds such issues: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). This is as true of countries as it is of individuals. It isn’t our rhetoric that indicates where our heart is. It’s our wallet!

If you want to know where the heart of the U.S. and NATO are don’t listen to their rhetoric. Rather, watch what they do and see where they invest their money! In the case of the ongoing violence across the Levant, there is no ambiguity. The U.S. has been continuing to pour money into their her allies in the region – Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and at least two out of three of the above are actively funding offshoots of Al Qaeda – ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra – and have been doing so for years!

Yes, there seems to have been a marked change in the policies of both NATO and the U.S. recently. While Britain had been portraying the ISIS team as the spiritual descendants of Robin Hood and his merry men engaged in ridding Sherwood Forrest of its evil prince, last week the Brits suddenly decided that ISIS was a terrorist organisation after all! Likewise, whereas the U.S. had been looking on happily as those merry rebels employed sophisticated American weaponry against Assad, now all the smiles have been replaced with looks of shock and horror as those weapons are turned upon Iraq!

But the shock is only apparent. The looks of horror are hollow. The rhetoric is empty. How do we know? Watch where they are putting their money! Are funds being withdrawn from ISIS’s main funding agencies? Are the Saudi’s being summoned to the Whitehouse to answer for their role in this new round of violence? Has anything of substance actually changed?

Some have suggested that this entire ISIS invasion has been orchestrated by the U.S. as another attempt to accomplish regime change in Syria. This is unlikely, I think. The U.S. no longer has the financial resources to roll out such an ingenious plan of destruction. Of course, even if ISIS’s latest movements were not supervised by the US they may have provided Washington with the opportunity to start reigning death on all the ISIS-controlled regions, including Syria. Happy days in the Whitehouse?

Well … I don’t think we are going to see the U.S. or NATO put troops on the ground any time soon. The outcry from their relative constituencies will be far too great to ignore and, again, who can afford this sort of foreign adventure at the moment? We may well see a token number of tomahawk missiles fired off in the general direction of ISIS and/or Assad – a sufficient number to satisfy the shareholders of the major arms manufacturers – but none of the major Western war-lords can manage another full-scale invasion right now.

Besides all this, regime change in Syria was never Obama’s end-game in the Levant any more than the defeat of ISIS is now. Iran was always the real target and this latest development may give the U.S. a direct shot at Iran!

For those who aren’t familiar with the war that’s been waged on Iran by the U.S. and her allies for the last 60-something years, here’s a bit of history:

  • In 1951 Mohammad Mosaddegh was elected Prime Minister of Iran and introduced a number of social reforms, including the nationalisation of the Iranian oil industry, formerly under the control of the British since 1913.
  • In 1953 M16 and the CIA organised a coup that removed the democratically elected government and installed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (the Shah) as Iran’s sole monarch. The Shah redirected control of Iran’s oil back to the Brits and the Americans.
  • The much-hated Shah was eventually overthrown in the Iranian revolution of 1979, establishing Iran as an Islamic state under the rule of Ayatollah Khomeini, resulting in the US and Britain once again losing control of their oil!

The history of the relationship between the U.S. and Iran since that time has been one of unrelenting aggression of the former to the latter. Sometimes this has been overt, as with U.S. support for Saddam Husain in the Iran-Iraq war (that cost over a million lives). Sometimes this has been covert, such as through CIA efforts to fan the flames of sectarian division between Sunni and Shia (with the fabulous results that are now plain for all to see). Always it has been economic, with sanctions having been in place since the first days of the Iranian revolution – sanctions that not only inhibit trade but prevent the sick from accessing medicines and teenagers from accessing Facebook!

Why has Iran always been such a hated enemy of the U.S. ever since the days when it was a model secular democracy? It’s all there in Matthew chapter 6. The Iranians have treasure, and lots of it, and the U.S. and NATO have always had their hearts set on it! Moreover, if left unmolested, Iran would quickly become the most powerful economic force in the Levant, and so it poses an economic threat (nb. ‘economic’ not ‘existential’) to America’s and NATO’s middle-eastern allies.

Understanding the economic threat posed by Iran to the traditional economic power-players of the region is the key to comprehending much of the violence that has taken place across the region over the last generation, and most obviously in the last three years. In truth, no one in the West would have been remotely interested in the antics of Bashar Al Assad had Syria not been Iran’s closest ally? Likewise Hezbollah’s activities in the region would have gone largely unnoticed had she not been Iran’s only other ally. Iran is the target. The rest are just the supporting cast, and this latest development with ISIS and Iraq opens up entirely new opportunities for US-Iranian violence!

But of course the rhetoric is all the other way. There is talk of Washington and Tehran working together! It seems that both great powers now have a common enemy and that circumstances have serendipitously pulled them together to fight against terrorism side-by-side. Don’t believe it!

I’ll wager that the U.S. is not going to support Iranian military incursions into Iraq except perhaps by clapping and cheering (in a very muted kind of way). I don’t think this new era of US-Iranian cooperation is going to cost the US partner anything. Conversely, we may see Iran bleed to death economically through involvement in another protracted war, with Washington mouthing regret while continuing to indirectly fuel the furnace!

Perhaps I’m wrong. I hope and pray that I’m wrong. I hope and pray that Iran and the U.S. and all the countries represented in NATO will enter a new era of cooperation and dialogue and friendship. If you listen to the rhetoric that seems to be highly likely. But I haven’t seen anyone take their hands off their wallets yet! Western money is still pouring into Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and through them into the pockets and cartridge-boxes of ISIS. Until I see a change in spending habits I’m not ready to believe in a change of heart.

Father Dave

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The Syrian people have spoken and they want to keep Assad!

Syrian Flag

I did not vote for Bashar Al-Assad.

I didn’t vote in the Syrian elections at all because I am not Syrian! If I had been Syrian I don’t know if I would have voted for Assad. I really didn’t take a close look at the persons running against him, and why would I? I’m not Syrian!

As an Australian, it’s none of my business to decide who runs Syria! Why can’t the rest of the non-Syrian world accept this simple fact – that who holds public office in Syria is not our decision? Moreover, the Syrian people have spoken unambiguously as to whom they want running their country. Assad scored roughly 90% of the vote!

To those who have labelled the election as farcical and illegitimate, a few pointers:

Firstly, the voter turnout was incredible! Apparently 72% of those who were able to vote did vote and, according to my friends who went to Syria as neutral observers of the election, there was no evidence of coercion or fraud.

Secondly, while those who voted from within Syria were all from government-controlled areas, that actually accounts for about 90% of all Syrians still living in Syria. Government forces now control all of the major cities. It’s only the outlying rural villages that are controlled by the rebels now.

Moreover, the six million Syrians who have been displaced – either internally or as refugees in Lebanon and Jordan – are almost all from rebel-controlled areas. Syrians aren’t fleeing government-controlled cities. They are fleeing from the rebel-controlled areas to the government-controlled cities.

Thirdly, the voter turnout in countries like Lebanon was extraordinary! Millions of refugees cast their vote, and they voted overwhelmingly for Assad!  The Western media had no explanation for this so they simply ignored it!

Of course those who refuse to accept the outcome of the election are not Syrians but are more likely to be Americans.

John Kerry said that the very idea of holding an election during a civil war was outrageous. I guess he was relying on the fact that there are now no Americans still living who can remember the re-election of Abraham Lincoln who won his second term right in the middle of the bloody US Civil War. I can’t imagine Kerry thinks that the non-participation of the Confederates in that election (almost all of whom would have voted against Lincoln) delegitimised it, even though Confederates made up one third of the total population!

In truth, I don’t think we can take the U.S.A. seriously any more as an arbitrator of electoral fairness (if we ever could). We’ve recently watched Washing give its imprimatur to sham elections in both Egypt and the Ukraine, where empty voting booths in both cases testified to the vacuous nature of these attempts to give respectability to governments that had seized power by military coup.

No. The response of the US to the Syrian election is entirely reminiscent of their response to the election of Hamas in Palestine in 2006. There was really no question that the results were fair and representative of the will of the people. The problem, so far as Washington was concerned, was simply that the people had elected the wrong candidate.

Of course the problem in the case of Syria is that there was no US-preferred candidate on the ballot papers! If things had been different and if Obama had been given the green light to carpet-bomb Damascus last year we would ended up with Syrians being given a choice between a handful of US puppets, with none of the key rebel groups (let alone Assad supporters) being allowed to participate!

So this is where we are up to in what we call the ‘War on Terror’, or was it the ‘Battle for Democracy and Freedom’, or was it the ‘Civilizing of the pagan world’? No … I think that last one was either the Nazis or the crusaders (or both). Either way, it’s the same rampaging machine of imperial violence that has cursed humanity in every age, wearing, as ever, that same transparent veil of self-righteous moralism.

How do we stop this machine of death? That’s the question! I’m not sure, but I am sure that one of the initial steps will be learning to respect the rights of a people to control who their own elected officials are and, in this case, this means respecting the fact that the Syrian people have chosen to stick with Bashar Al-Assad!

Father Dave

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Understanding the war in Syria – a sketch video

This is an engaging attempt to explain the violence in Syria, if a little simplistic. I would question it at two points.

Firstly, I’m not convinced that the Syrian war ever did start as a purely democratic uprising. I suspect that (as the Syrian government asserts) it was infiltrated from the start by forces whose interests had nothing to do with the advancement of democracy.

Secondly, I believe the US is more directly involved in the destruction of Syria than this presentation suggests. The well-attested existence of US military training camps in northern Jordan, for instance, suggests that the US has a very hands-on approach in supporting  the rebellion and was not just drawn into the conflict unwittingly through its association with Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Personally, I believe that the Syrian crisis is simply another manifestation of the long-term project of the US and its Gulf-State allies to maintain economic dominance of the region through weakening Iran and its allies. So called ‘terrorists’ have always been employed by Western powers when it suited them. US support for Al-Qaeda should not surprise us.

The Syrian war is complex indeed, at one level. At its basis though it is simply another chapter in the ongoing battle of Empire to maintain its money and power. And as ever, the poor and the vulnerable pay the price.

Father Dave

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Boxing in the streets of Syria

It’s been a long time in production but here it is – the video that I’ve been yearning to share with you since returning from our peace mission: “Boxing in the Streets of Syria”

My plan is to use this video as the basis of our recruitment drive to see if we can capture the imagination of some high-profile boxers from Australia and from around the world – capture their imagination to the extent that they will be drawn to join us in running boxing training camps for the young people of Syria! :)

As you’ll see from the video, we were very well received by the Syrian people, and the children of Syria were enthusiastic beyond words! Sol Egberime – Australia’s greatest Junior Welterweight fighter – was an absolute natural with these young people. At one point, as we finished a session with a group of boys in Latakia and got back into our bus, the entire troop of kids followed the bus chanting “Solomon, Solomon …”, which brought our young champion to tears!

Will you do me a favour please and share this video with everybody you know? The persons we are most hoping to reach are high-profile boxers, but even if you don’t know any fighters at all, it may be that some of those you send it to do know some boxers and will pass it on.

Father Dave

Boxing in the Streets of Syria

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Syria – every story has two sides

“Silver Water: Syria Self-Portrait” is a movie that recently debuted at the Cannes film festival in Paris – the only Arab film in the fest’s official selection.

The movie documents human-rights abuses allegedly carried out by Syrian government forces in the city of Homs. Lilly Martin – an American who has been living in Syria for more than 20 years – raises serious questions about both the movie and the way it is being received! Martin lives in Latakia – only two hours drive from Homs.

Martin doesn’t deny that government forces didn’t commit the atrocities highlighted in the movie. What she does contest though is that those fighting the Syrian government are any less guilty of similar crimes! Martin speaks with first-hand knowledge of rebel atrocities, but points out too that the Internet is rife with examples of crimes committed by FSA fighters, let alone the various takfiri forces!

Martin contests that a movie that only tells half the story is a propaganda movie! It may be entertaining and artistic, but if its effect is to move viewers towards wholesale support of the rebel forces in Syria then it needs to be recognised for what it is – a piece of propaganda.

Father Dave

peace activists greet us in Latakia

peace activists greet us in Latakia

source: www.opednews.com…

Where is the other half of this film? A critical look at the film reviews of “Silvered Water: Syria Self-Portrait”

A film about the war in Syria has been shown at the Cannes Film Festival. It was received with a standing ovation for the woman who shot the film in Homs, and the director who developed the film in Paris. Ossama Mohammed and Wiam Simav Bedirxan teamed up to produce a film about the war in Syria, shot in Homs by Wiam. Ossama had left Syria and was living in Paris, when Wiam contacted him from Homs, and the project began after their discussion of her videos of Homs.

Ossama Mohammed said he believed the Syrian regime wanted to destroy the story of each individual that opposed them and that his film could give them a voice. Ossama Muhammed is a well-known critic of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. He used his expertise in film to present his own personal attack on the Syrian regime. His work is not art, but it is pure political propaganda.

Film has been used as war propaganda many times. Johnny Rico wrote on the subject of war movies as propaganda, “Top War Films Used as Political Propaganda“.

“Sometimes it’s to give visual presence to an unknown story of war, or to simply viscerally entertain. But other times, it’s to push a political agenda and sway perspectives. Pushing propaganda is one of the cardinal violations of my rules for war films. In short, this film floods the viewer with all of these troubling narratives and horrific descriptions in the hopes of striking a strong emotional cord, without any accompanying explanation or nuance.”

I live in Syria. I have never left Syria. I have buried my friends and neighbors from 2011 to 2014. My own home in Latakia has been attacked; my summer cottage has been occupied and destroyed in Kassab. My neighbors in Ballouta and Kassab have been massacred and made homeless. My neighbors have been kidnapped and are still held and tortured. I am supporting a refugee family from Aleppo.

You will not see any of my personal experience in Syria told in this film. You will not see any of my neighbor’s experiences in Syria in this film. The film “Silvered Water: Syria Self-Portrait” is missing the other half of the film, in order to be a complete and whole picture about the Syrian war. This film shows you one side only. It shows a brutal regime, with a brutal military who torture, rape, maim and kill innocent civilians.

Where are the equal numbers of civilians tortured, raped, maimed and killed by the rebels, and their Al Qaeda affiliates? There are two deadly sides fighting in Syria, two killing machines in Syria. But, this film shows a two-sided war from one side only. For every war crime and atrocity committed by the Syrian government and the military, I can show and document an equal number of war crimes and atrocities by the rebels and their associates the Radical Islamic terrorists.

The innocent film audience will be moved, swayed and emotionally affected. They will come away from the film with a feeling of hatred and disgust at such a regime or military that could treat human beings in Syria with such viciousness. However, those innocent viewers do not understand the full picture. They have been handed half a film and told to make up their minds.

When will we see the other half of this film? When will all the Syrian people’s suffering be viewed equally? Why should some Syrian’s suffering be more important to watch than others? The director Ossama Mohammed found his perfect partner in the camera of Wiam Simav Bedirxan. Both partners had one political view and their combined efforts have produced a one-sided war-propaganda film about Syria, shot in Homs.

If anyone wants to re-construct the other half of this film, all they have to do is go towww.YouTube.com… and watch the hundreds of beheadings, eating of raw dead flesh and other war crimes committed, videoed and uploaded by the Free Syrian Army and their Radical Islamic affiliates. There are countless websites documenting the war crimes of the Free Syrian Army, and anyone can go through those documents by using www.google.com…. You can look for news articles and videos on Jibhat al Nusra, Islamic Front, Al Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. These are all the rebel fighting groups in Syria that are fighting the Syrian regime. The war crimes and atrocities are documented and videoed on the internet.

I will just give you just two examples of what the rebels have done to my own neighbors. On the night of August 13, 2013, in the village of Ballouta, they entered the homes of sleeping civilians. There was no Syrian regime or Syrian Army presence in the village whatsoever. This was a purely civilian rural location near the border with Turkey, and near Latakia. The terrorists went from house to house killing whole families. Men, women and children were slaughtered. There were no bombs, no cross fire, no battle. The rebels, who are opposed to the regime of President Assad, cut the pregnant belly open of one woman and hung the fetus in the trees by the umbilical cord. There were survivors, who ran and hid in the forests and were eventually taken to shelter at a school in Latakia, where their stories began to be told as eye witnesses to a massacre and war crime. Some survived the massacre, but were kidnapped. These kidnapped people numbered about 100 and were composed of a few adult females, some teenagers, and the rest were very small children. Recently, in Latakia about half of those kidnapped were released in a deal worked out that also included rebels in Homs. The kidnap victims who were released told of being kept nine months in Selma, under the ground, without light. They told of torture and suffering, including the eyes of one small child being gouged out by the rebels and one small boy being shot through the head for no reason except for the pleasure of killing. Still, there are about 50 kidnap victims being held by this same rebel group, who claim they are fighting the regime of Bashar al Assad. How do kidnapping, killing, and torture of small children fit into the heroic freedom-fighter image?

Another part of the film you will never see in “Silvered Water: Syria Self-Portrait” is how in the dead of winter in Aleppo, with heavy snow on the ground, rebels attacked and entered a private mental hospital in Aleppo. Ibn Khaldoun Hospital was attacked in January 2013. They killed and abused some of the staff and patients. They kidnapped one mental patient who is personally known to me. The kidnappers called his father and demanded a ransom to free him. The ransom amount was agreed upon. Then the phone calls stopped. The family feared the worse. Finally, one day a man called and said they had rescued the patient and taken him to another hospital in Aleppo. Because the rebels had thrown him into the snow, he had frost bite on his feet which required the partial amputation of his foot. His crime: being mentally ill and in a private hospital with no connection to the regime or government of any kind.

I am a human-rights activist. I care about people who are suffering inside Syria regardless of their political opinions. I hate the abuse and torture of any person in Syria, regardless of who is the abuser. I also hate the one-sided depiction of the war in Syria. By showing one side only you are helping the conflict to continue without resolve. Showing one side is feeding the flames of war, torture and death. Film: as a tool of torture and a weapon of war. We all lived in Syria in peace and respect of our neighbor’s rights before and it can be done again. The Syrian people are fully capable of resolving political differences among themselves without international intervention or interference. The propaganda-war film, “Silvered Waters: Syria Self-Portrait,” is an attack on the suffering Syrian people from the south shore of France.

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Mairead Maguire reports on the 2014 Peace Pilgrimage to Syria

I’ve had the privilege of joining Mairead and her team on both of her recent visits to Syria. She is an inspiring leader whose wisdom is only overshadowed by her humility.

What follows is her personal report of our April 2014 mission. Her experiences were slightly different to mine just as her goals were slightly different.  She wasn’t there to box, but she was there to spread love and hope, both of which she exudes in abundance!

Father Dave

meeting up with Mairead Maguire in Tehran

meeting up with Mairead in Tehran

FROM:  NOBEL PEACE LAUREATE  MAIREAD MAGUIRE  (24.4.2014)
PEACE PEOPLE, NORTHERN IRELAND.

INTERNATIONAL PEACE PILGRIMAGE TO SYRIA VIA IRAN
5th April, – 14th April, 2014.

Ann Patterson and I were honoured to participate in the International Peace Pilgrimage to Syria via Iran, from 5th – 14th April, 2014. During an international delegation to Syria last year, we had both promised to return to Syria, and we also fulfilled a long-held intention to visit Iran.

IRAN

We arrived in Iran on 5th April, and joined an international delegation of 14 from Lebanon, Australia, Canada, Pakistan, the UK and Germany.   We were invited by the Unified Union of Unified Ummah’s, who organized this peace and humanitarian mission via Iran.  Although Iranians are themselves suffering economic duress from some of the same nations oppressing Syria, they choose to show solidarity with Syria by sending large amounts of aid, purchased with the individual contributions of thousands of caring Iranian citizens.

We spent four wonderful days in Iran, where we visited Tehran, (for the main meetings and conference), Isfahan (a centre for Iranian and Armenian Christians), and Qom (a religious centre for Shia Muslims, where we met with Shia scholars).  There was also a major event at Tehran University, where we spoke to students, and children sang and presented toys, including their own, for Syrian children.  We also met with the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament and other political representatives.

I was deeply moved by the warmth and friendliness of the Iranian people, and was particularly impressed with the youth.  We asked some women students about their hope for the future of their country and they replied that they feared an attack by the US or NATO, but hoped otherwise.  We found this sad, as these young people are eager to travel and make friends in other countries, like most young people.

The cities we visited were modern, and the Islamic architecture magnificent, as was the Armenian church.  I would encourage people to visit Iran to meet its people and experience its beauty. Indeed I believe this is the only way to peace – people to people and country to country.    Foreign women are encouraged to wear the headscarf, out of respect for Iran’s tradition.

During our visit we also met with an Iranian friend, who shared her story of imprisonment and abuse, due to her human rights advocacy.  There is no doubt Iran needs to show greater respect for human rights, but many said that it is moving in the right direction.

It was a great inspiration to visit Iran, and I look forward to visiting again in the future.  I would like to extend our deepest thanks for our Iranian friends for their wonderful hospitality during our visit to their country.

FROM IRAN TO SYRIA

On 10th April, forty people, including 24 of the most highly respected and well-known cultural and religious Iranian leaders, together with 16 internationals, flew from Tehran to Damascus.  We brought medical aid (co-ordinated by Iranian Red Crescent) and also toys and other gifts, all collected with donations from people of Iran and the international visitors.

We were welcomed in Damascus by Dr. Ahmed Khaddour, Mother Agnes Mariam, the Mussalaha organization, Dr. Declan Hayes, and Mohamed Quraish. I would take this opportunity to thank them for their central role in conceiving this project and bringing it to fruition.  Other pilgrims joined us from Lebanon, the US, Canada, and other locations.

During the next four days our delegation visited the Great Mosque, Chapel of St. Paul, the Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque, (in the words of the Iranian Imam, ‘a dream come true for Iranian pilgrims’).  It was a great privilege to join and pray with our Muslim and Christian friends.

Our delegation also travelled to Latakia and Homs. We saw the damage and spoke to Syrians who were unable to live in their homes and have suffered unspeakable crimes committed by rebels against them. Outside our hotel in Damascus we heard two large explosions that killed a soldier and three civilians in two cars.  They were the result of random mortar attacks that plague a city otherwise apparently under control of government forces. Even the wife of the ex-president was killed in her home by such an attack whilst she was cooking breakfast.

In Latakia, Governor Abdel-Qader told us that the Syrian people are facing with steadfastness an international plot against their country.  He pointed to thousands of Jabhat al-Nusrah fighters that swarmed across the Turkish border on March 21, 2014, with Turkish military support to attack Christian Armenian Syrians north of Latakia. Eyewitnesses reported that 50-90 residents were massacred, others taken into Turkey against their will, and a large number sent in flight to Latakia. We visited some of these refugees, who were staying in an Armenian Church.

We also visited refugees from Haram, near Idlib, Syria.  They told us how over a year ago hundreds of foreign fighters had crossed from the nearby Turkish border, kidnapped over 300 people and brutally killed another 150.  Many had fled and were afraid to return to their area, seeking instead to live in as refugees in Latakia. They also reported that Jabhat al-Nusrah fighters received support from the Turkish military, and launched cross border artillery, tank fire and missile attacks against not only Syrian Army positions but at the civilian population of Latakia. (Some Syrians told us that Turkey has evolved into a major military operational base for a NATO backed invasion of Syria.)

In Latakia we met with Lilly Martin, an American immigrant to Syria who has lived there permanently for 24 years.  She told us that missiles are fired daily into Latakia from Turkish territory, upon the civilian community, and often killing many people on the streets of the city.  She said that Syria was “neither in civil nor sectarian war” and that the crisis that began in March, 2011 in Deraa, Syria, was not a popular uprising, or a revolution but rather a foreign funded and foreign planned attack on the Syrian government and its civilian population, for the express purpose of regime change.  When asked, “What do you see as the solution for Syria, and whom do you want to hear this message?” Martin replied, “The solution to the crisis in Syria will come when the United States of America will make a public political decision to stop aiding and supporting terrorism, and specifically the Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates who are killing Syrians daily.  I want President Obama to hear my message and the message of the Peace Pilgrimage to Syria, April 2014.”

In Homs, where the Musalaha movement began with Mother Agnes Mariam as one of its leaders, and where its members continue to work for peace and reconciliation, we met a group of ex-fighters who have accepted the Syrian government offer of amnesty (the 5th such) and stopped fighting. Some are now working with the Musalaha movement for a peaceful solution in Syria.   (Before leaving Damascus we learned over 100 rebels had agreed to give up their guns and that this is happening throughout Syria.)

We also met with six registered opposition parties.  They said that internal problems, such as marginalization of a big part of the Syrian society, was part of the conflict, but that Syrians could deal with these problems, without foreign intervention and internationalization of the crisis in order to implement foreign agendas.

During a reception, the religious leaders, including Grand Mufti Dr. Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun and His Beautitude, Patriarch Gregorios Laham, shared their message that Syria is united in its diversity, and their belief that Syrian people will be able to reach an understanding amongst themselves and resolve their differences in a national dialogue and without the use of guns.  They believe in a Syria that is created by Syrians and not by outside forces.  Like most Syrians, they are sure that if other countries will stop the flow of arms, fighters and other interference in Syria, the Syrian people will be able to reach an understanding amongst themselves and rebuild Syria together.  We were also informed that they all support the planned elections in spite of the fighting.

Our delegation left Syria inspired by and hopeful for the Syrian people, for peace in their country, and we ask our countries and indeed all countries, to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Syria.

To all those who have lost loved ones, we extend our deepest sympathy.  We thank our hosts and the Syrian people for their kindness and hospitality and assure them of our solidarity as they rebuild their country, which has suffered so very much.

Mairead Maguire
Nobel Peace Laureate
Member of International Peace Delegation to
Iran and Syria, April, 2014.
www.peacepeople.com…

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Syria in the spotlight on Sputnik!

Recently it was my great privilege to join my friend John Shipton as guests on ‘Sputnik’ – RT’s wonderful current affairs show, hosted by George Galloway and his partner Gayatri.

With Gayatri, John and George on Sputnik

With Gayatri, John and George on Sputnik

George is a real mentor to me. I remember asking him when I first met him last year “How is it that you always say what you believe to be true, and yet you’re a politician!” George said “I have nothing to lose! I have no real money or power so there is nothing that they can threaten me with in order to compromise me!” George is a true prophet – powerless yet powerful, poor in worldly goods but rich in all the things that count. I count it a privilege to call him my friend. :)

Father Dave

Father Dave & John Shitpon on Sputnik

P.S. You can see my earlier interview with George here

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Why the Syrian rebellion may soon collapse like a house of cards!

I have just returned from Syria. Over the space of a couple of days our group drove from Damascus to Lattakia to Homs and back to Damascus – all without harassment or signs of imminent violence. The contrast with my last trip – almost exactly a year earlier – could not have been greater!

Last year Damascus seemed under siege! The red glow of mortar fire filled the horizon every night and when members of our delegation tried to leave town in the direction of Homs their car was fired upon! A year ago the mood everywhere was tense and fearful, but now the Syrian people seemed to have a new strength and confidence. The battle was nearly over, and Syria was going to win!

This is certainly how the Syrians we met perceived the war. They don’t see it as a civil war at all. They see a foreign invasion, led by the US and its client states – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Israel and Turkey. As Syria enters its third year of bloody conflict and as the number of actual Syrians in the anti-Assad alliance becomes an increasingly small percentage, this interpretation looks increasingly compelling.

Of course our delegation included a good number of us ‘Westerners’ which made things uncomfortable at times! “Why do you want to destroy us?” people asked. Why indeed?

Thankfully most of those who asked such questions were also wise enough to realise that we were in Syria precisely because we did not accept the official narrative of the Western media – that the rebels are Robin Hood and his merry men trying to topple the evil prince. We recognised that the war in Syria had far more complex causes, rooted in the economic threat posed by Iran to the other main players in the region.

Note that I speak of Iran’s ‘economic threat’ and not ‘existential threat’. Despite all rhetoric to the contrary, this war has always been about nothing more than money.  It’s a battle between business magnates who seek to control oil and gas flow across the region. The Syrian people are simply the canon-fodder who pay the price of corporate greed.

Of course the average Syrian doesn’t understand all this and neither is the average Syrian interested in issues of global hegemony. She just wants to get on with her life and bring up her family in an environment that is stable and secure. The Syrian people are sick of the violence. Even those with a passion for political reform recognise that nothing constructive can happen until the violence ceases. And this is why the people cling to Bashar Al-Assad even if they don’t particularly love the man. He offers a return to normalcy and peace whereas his takfiri opponents offer only a return to the Caliphate!

Syrians want peace, and the religion of the takfiri has never had any place in Syrian culture, and this is why the whole rebellion could collapse any day like a house of cards! I appreciate that analysts everywhere are saying that there is no end in sight for the conflict and that it could drag on for years to come but this is because they focus on logistics and on the policies of the foreign interventionists. What they fail to take into account is the strength of the resolve of the Syrian people!

The Syrians are a proud people. They don’t want to be controlled by foreign empires and they don’t want their culture of pluralism and religious tolerance destroyed. Whatever problems Syrians might have with the Assad government, it is their independance and way of life that is at stake in this conflict and so it is only a matter of time before Syrians of all political persuasions join hands to push out the foreign invaders!

This process is already well underway. We met a Sheikh Tahhan in Lattakia who is a much sought-after man by members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Homs. He is the go-to guy for those who want to take advantage of the government’s armistice – guaranteeing protection from prosecution to those who will hand over their arms! There were FSA fighters trickling into the peace camp like this when I was in Damascus last year. Now that trickle has become a steady flow!

Sheikh Tahhan with Mother Agnes Mariam and a former FSA fighter

Sheikh Tahhan with Mother Agnes Mariam and a former FSA fighter

The Sheikh had three former-fighters with him when he met us, each of whom seemed very happy to be out of the fight. Tahhan’s report though was more encouraging still - that the entire FSA garrison in Homs might be on the verge of laying down their arms! If this happens it will doubtless start a chain-reaction. Syrian rebels everywhere will abandon their foreign-led battalions and come back to their families, and once this happens the end will come quickly.

Of course on paper the forces of Jabhat Al Nusra and ISIS and the other foreign jihadists could still put up a fight for years to come, but once the Syrian people unite the writing will be on the wall and these takfiri will lose their financial backers. Once the money dries up the violence will stop.

For it is the bottom line that is the bottom line in the Syrian conflict. In the end it is all about money and so it can only last so long as foreign investors are willing to pour their cash into it. Once Syrians unite to throw out the takfiri the whole venture will start to look like a very poor investment and so the rebellion will collapse like a house of cards!

My hope and prayer is that this will happen within months, maybe even within weeks! Certainly I don’t expect to see another year end with jihadists decorating trees with the severed heads of Christians in mock celebration of Christmas. The strength and resolve of the Syrian people will not allow this sort of barbarity to subsume their culture. A ceasefire is on the horizon, after which will begin the more lengthy process of national reconciliation.

Father Dave
member of the 2014 International Pilgrimage of Peace to Syria

Father Dave with refugees from Yarmouk (April 2014)

Father Dave with refugees from Yarmouk (Damascus, April 2014)

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