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Giving Regard to Syrians, their Secular Society and a Search for the Truth

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Images by author: Syria and Syrians before the war 

The Targeting of a ‘Pariah State’

After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there was cause for Syrians to be concerned that their country would one day be targeted by the United States. Though not officially in what George Bush termed the “Axis of Evil”, Syria was attaining pariah status: it was not a member of any western club.

Covert and overt interference in Syria by western governments was nothing new. For example, the first military coup in Syria was orchestrated by the CIA. This happened just a couple of years after the country achieved independence from France, a country that had destroyed part of the old city of Damascus to quell a rebellion in the 1920s and which twenty years later bombed Damascus, killing around 500 people in a matter of days, as it sought to quash Syrian efforts for independence.

(The Syrian Crisis of 1957: A Lesson for the 21st Century)

 

However, despite its history and position in the world, for those living in Syria in 2003, it was difficult to conceive that this stable, peaceful country would be rocked by a catastrophic war in less than a decade.

The Targeting of a Modern, Ecumenical Syria

Damascus and Aleppo, the two oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, were tolerant, vibrant cities. They were modernizing at a great pace. There was a buzz in the air. Sometimes the signs of change were miniscule but significant. For example, by 2009, it was not unusual to see young unmarried couples holding hands in public. At the same time, solid faith traditions were maintained: one December when Christmas and Eid  al-Adha celebrations almost coincided, decorations for both festivals were sold together in the souq.

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Image: Eid al-Adha and Christmas decorations in the Souq, Damascus, 6 Dec 2008

 

But since then, in other capitals, a new Syria has been configured. It is a notion of Syria that has at its core the conviction that “a brutal Alawite dictator is oppressing a Sunni majority”. It is a narrative that is never substantiated; like so many other claims related to Syria today, it passes unscrutinised. But this is dangerous as it can bolster beliefs that contradict basic tenets of our society in that it can confer a degree of legitimacy to hatred, intolerance and anti-state violence.

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Hatred and Lies to Inflict Terror

Clarity is needed on Syria. Before the ‘Arab Spring’, women’s rights and freedom of religion as well as the provision of free education were integral to modern Syria. There was talk of evolution, not revolution. To overthrow the Syrian government by violent means, terror had to be inflicted on local populations; fear engendered; hatred stirred up; and lies told. A doctrine that exhorted people to murder their fellow human beings had to be imported into Syria.

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Images: Host on Al-Jazeera program proposes the killing of Alawite women and children

A blue-print for the overthrow of a government is not new. Strategists and war rooms have always existed. However, playing with the human heart and mind in war and expecting a clean outcome is like rolling one hundred dices and expecting 6 to turn up on them all.

 

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Images: Survivors from the occupation of Adra recount their stories

 

In Syria today, mortars are fired at random into cities; car bombs explode in suburban streets; people are abducted; public servants are assassinated; women are paraded naked in streets; children are thrown off buildings to stop the army’s advance; mothers become demented as they watch strangers play with the heads of their children; bodies are cut up and bagged and put on a family’s doorstep. On our watch, one’s worst possible nightmares are being played out in Syria.

“Psy-Ops” and High Stakes

In June 2012, Jon Williams, a BBC editor who had reported from Damascus, wrote the following on a blog post.

Given the difficulties of reporting inside Syria, video filed by the opposition on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube may provide some insight into the story on the ground. But stories are never black and white – often shades of grey. Those opposed to President Assad have an agenda. One senior Western official went as far as to describe their YouTube communications strategy as “brilliant”. But he also likened it to so-called “psy-ops”, brainwashing techniques used by the US and other military to convince people of things that may not necessarily be true.

 

A healthy scepticism is one of the essential qualities of any journalist – never more so than in reporting conflict. The stakes are high – all may not always be as it seems.

 

Crossing the Red Line

One example of the muddying of the Syrian story is the oft-repeated claim presented as fact that ‘Assad crossed Obama’s red line when he used chemical weapons against his own people’ in August 2013.

Yet, the United Nations has not attributed blame for that alleged sarin attack. Furthermore, a report by MIT Professor Ted Postol and former UN weapons inspector Richard Lloyd points the finger at ‘rebels’ being most likely responsible for firing the munitions. And that suspicion mounts. Turkish opposition MPs recently accused authorities in Turkey of providing sarin to insurgents for the attack, presumably a false flag meant to provoke U.S., U.K. and French military strikes on Damascus.

 

Sunnis against Sunnis

 

Image: Sheik Mohamed Al-Bouti, killed in a suicide bomb in Damascus

 

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In an interview on Al-Jazeera, Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric based in Qatar and described as the unofficial spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood, condoned the targeting of civilians and religious scholars who support the Syrian regime. Just weeks after this ‘fatwa’, Sheik Mohamed Al-Bouti, the highly regarded 84 year-old Islamic scholar and imam of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, was killed in a suicide bomb along with more than 40 of his students, including a grandson. They were Sunni Muslims killed by a Sunni Muslim.

 

Dividing the Muslim World – the two ‘evils’ 

 

Images: Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, explaining that the Sunnis are the ‘lesser evil’

There were many acts of terror in Syria before the invention of ISIS. However, the terrorist acts committed by ISIS have appeared more theatrical and on a much larger-scale. In June 2014, purportedly over one long weekend, Islamic State massacred 1,700 young Iraqi soldiers. Not long after, former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren referenced this bloody orgy, but he declared that the “lesser evil is the Sunnis over the Shites”. He contended that “the math” determined who the lesser evil was. “From Israel’s perspective”, he went on, “if there is going to be an evil that prevails, let the Sunni evil prevail”. But Mr Oren didn’t explain who had drawn up the math and who had independently audited it.

The discourse which insists that the violence is between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims obscures the reality. If the war in Syria can be described as a religious conflict, it is one between a relatively young school of Islam meshed with the ruling elites of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and a more ancient Islam, the Islam that embraced me, a person of no particular faith, when I lived in Syria.

 

Latakia Massacre, August 2013 

 

Image: Women and children abducted by armed groups in Latakia, August 2013. Screenshots from this video

 

In the first week of August 2013 (two or so weeks before the alleged sarin attack in Damascus), around 200 or more civilians, mostly women and children, were massacred in and around their homes in Latakia. About the same number were abducted. Some scholars observe with concern the close connections high profile NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have with the U.S. State Department. However, despite its generally biased stand on Syria, Human Rights Watch did present a well-documented account of the Latakia massacres (You can still see the blood). To co-ordinate and carry out the murders and kidnappings, up to 20 armed groups cooperated; the Islamic State was just one Takfirist group involved. The killings were vicious, but the level of cruelty was not new in the Syrian ‘Arab Spring’.

A retired American pharmacologist, Dr Denis O’Brien, who scrutinized the video footage of the victims of the alleged sarin attack in Damascus, contends that some victims may have been children abducted in Latakia. He noted the stage managed quality to the display of children’s bodies, and anomalies, such as the appearance of the same body in different locations and clear signs that established the victims didn’t die from a sarin attack, as alleged. But the west was expected to respond with bombs to the bodies of the children; no questions were meant to be asked.

Syria on a Hit-List; ‘Rebels’ a Tool 

It is often claimed that the crisis in Syria began after the arrest and torture of children who wrote up anti-government graffiti in Daraa, a city near the border with Jordan. I have heard different versions of this story: children had their fingernails pulled out; children were killed; children were neither tortured nor killed. Chinese whispers and hearsay are being used to determine narratives on Syria instead of clear-sighted investigations searching for the truth.

But the war in Syria began before any graffiti writing. Soon after 9/11, a Pentagon insider told General Wesley Clark that Syria was on a hit-list. And before the ‘Arab Spring’ reached Syria, former French Foreign Affairs Minister Roland Dumas learnt that Britain was “organizing an invasion of rebels into Syria”.

“Assad” – the Monster

Video: Cartoonist Bruce Petty asks Dr Jeremy Salt: Has Bashar al-Assad killed more people than ISIS? and similar questions (For transcript of interview, go to this site.)

Like the former Israeli ambassador to America, some in Australia claim ‘Assad’ has killed many more people than IS. (See Tim Costello on QandA and Waleed Aly in The Age.)  It is as if Assad is a mythological monster, and the protagonists on the battlefields in Syria are ISIS (the bad rebels), the non-ISIS rebels (the good rebels) and Assad (the monster).

Such crude attempts to present ‘Assad’ as the personification of evil omit mention of the tens of thousands of Syrian soldiers who have been killed by various armed groups waving various flags since the beginning of the ‘Arab Spring’ in Syria. And they omit reference to the millions of Syrians who seek a safe haven in government controlled towns and cities. The truth is the Syrian people are caught in a monster of a war. Their secular state could collapse around them, and millions could be killed or forced to flee while people a long way from the theatre of war speak with certainty and power, but with little reference to them.

Checking on the ‘Arab Spring’ in Damascus, April 2011

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Image above: Screenshot from video with interviews of killers of Nidal Jannoud, a Banyas farmer killed in the street on 10 April 2011. 

 

One month after the start of the so-called Arab Spring in Syria, I returned to Damascus. On Saturday 23 April 2011, I met a young man who had just come from an opposition rally in an outlying suburb of the capital. Some demonstrators at the protest rally had been shot, two of them killed. There were armed police present, but no one saw them draw their weapons, he explained. Who had killed them and why they had been killed was a mystery. In the first stirrings of violence and terror, there were many mysteries and many rumours.

The birth of the Syrian ‘Arab Spring’ was not as it was depicted in Australia. That April in a hotel room in Damascus, I saw the funerals of soldiers and police on Syrian TV. Bereft widows pleaded for an end to the killings.

The High Stakes  

In presenting the story of Syria, a skewed narrative may support another U.S. led war, but it can also engender divisions, intolerance and hatreds within our own communities. We can lose what Australia holds dear: peace, harmony, and integrity. The stakes are high indeed.

 

Susan Dirgham

National Coordinator of “Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria”  – AMRIS

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Below: Syrians – images taken from Syrian TV since start of crisis

Image below: Screenshot from a video showing interviews with former rebels and their supporters in Babbila, after they had reached a reconciliation agreement with the army

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Images below: Damascus University students hold a vigil after a mortar attack kills 15 students in a University cafe, March 2013

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Statement: An Alternative Response to the Syrian Crisis

Statement: An Alternative Response to the Syrian Crisis

  1. While the war in Syria has led to a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions, we support retired ADF General Peter Gration’s view that Australia should not participate with the U.S. and its allies in bombing raids in Syria.
  2. Like retired General Gration, we are aware of the civilian casualties that almost inevitably occur when action is taken to disarm terrorists, such as ISIS insurgents, who terrorize communities.
  3. We support a settlement of the conflict in Syria based on UNSC resolutions.
  4. We abhor the sowing of hatred between people of different faiths. Such hatred contributes to the killing fields in Syria.
  5. We call for non-partisan, balanced reporting on the Syrian conflict by journalists and NGOs which includes rigorous investigation of all claims of torture, massacres or atrocities.
  6. We are concerned that unverified claims could incite extremist ideological responses and some young Australians may embrace a violent response to the war in Syria which could impact on our own communities for years to come.
  7. We note a scientific report by MIT Professor Theodore Postol and Richard Lloyd (a former UN weapons inspector) casts serious doubt on oft-repeated claims that the Syrian government was responsible for an alleged chemical weapons attack on 21 August 2013. We urge all concerned Australians to seek well-researched reports on the war and to challenge partisan reports that may prolong the war and terror.
  8. We call for a robust and fearless discussion in the Australian Parliament and in our mainstream media which focuses on a search for the truth, on peace and reconciliation efforts, and on an end to foreign interference in the war in Syria. We urge everyone to respect the capacity of Syrians to end the conflict themselves.
  9. We urge Australians to listen to the voices of Syrians who believe in peaceful political change, as Australian citizens do, and we note and celebrate the freedoms Syrian women and people of all faiths have enjoyed in Syria.
  10. We strongly support a humanitarian response to the Syrian refugee crisis concurrent with actions that can lead to the end of the conflict so Syrians can return to their communities to rebuild their lives.

FORTY YEARS ON: THERE IS STILL MUCH TO LEARN ABOUT THE USS LIBERTY SAGA, by Tim Fischer

The article below was printed in 2007: Middle East Magazine.

Note: On 27 May 2007, the AGE newspaper printed a shorter article by Tim Fischer, former Deputy PM of Australia, on the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty.

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FORTY YEARS ON:  THERE IS STILL MUCH TO LEARN ABOUT THE USS LIBERTY SAGA

-Tim Fischer, former Deputy PM of Australia and former Army Officer 1 / 6 / 2007

Forty years ago in a quiet corner of the Mediterranean off the Sinai Desert, an incredible attack was launched by Israeli jet fighters and torpedo boats on the USS Liberty.

It was the fourth day of the Six Day War, it was in international waters and it was clearly marked as the USS Liberty, a large intelligence gathering ship proudly flying the United States Flag. Conditions were calm and clear but by days end thirty-four American sailors were killed and one hundred and seventy two injured.

The USS Liberty limped back to Malta with several gaping holes visible and with a US Navy Court of Inquiry team on board making some investigations of what happened. President of this Court of Inquiry was Admiral Isaac C Kidd, and Captain Ward Boston, JR, was Counsel assisting, but under Pentagon orders the Court was not permitted to travel to Israel to complete its investigations.

There is an emotional and fierce debate to this day over the question of whether the attack by Israeli forces was deliberate, which was allegedly mounted to disrupt US intelligence gathering and provide cover for the day five invasion of Syria and capture of the Golan Heights. Against this chilling accusation, there is the book by retired USA Bankruptcy Judge Jay Cristol that contends the attack was undertaken by Israeli jet fighters and Israeli torpedo boats, but it was a dreadful mistake, an accidental attack.

As Donald Rumsfield say ‘Stuff happens in war’ and as Shimon Peres said recently about the cluster bombs into Southern Lebanon last year, ‘Mistakes occur in war’.

However as a reaction to the Cristol book, many key US Intelligence Officials and Ward Boston Jr himself have broken their strict orders under the Official Secrets Act to speak up and detail the chilling truth.

Ward Boston, JR, signed an Affidavit and I quote

“The evidence was clear. Both Admiral Kidd and I believed with certainty that this attack, which killed 34 American sailors and injured 172 others, was a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew. It was our shared belief, based on the documentary evidence and testimony we received first hand, that the Israeli attack was planned and deliberate and could not possibly have been an accident.

“I am certain that the Israeli pilots that undertook the attack, as well as their superiors, who had ordered the attack, were well aware that the ship was American. I saw the flag, which had visibly identified the ship as American, riddled with bullet holes”.

The Affidavit is readily available through google, along with key statements debunking some official transcripts released to fudge the truth, somewhat retro fitted transcripts involving Israeli helicopter pilots who arrived on the scene well after the first fierce hour of attacks.

This statement by Stephen Forslund (US Air Force intelligence analyst) is clear enough and in anticipation of attack on the transcripts aspect, I quote:

“The transcripts made specific reference to the efforts to direct the jets to the target which was identified as American numerous times by the ground controller. The ground control began asking about the status of the target and whether it was sinking. They stressed that the target must be sunk and leave no trace.”

The reader can research the subject and reach a conclusion on deliberate or accidental, what is accepted by all is that it was an Israeli attack and 34 US sailors were killed. For my part, I now believe the evidence all points to it being a deliberate attack by Israel.

The two key issues arising continue to this day, if Israel did deliberately attack the most powerful nation on earth, it knows it can do so and get away with murder. Worst still, US military personnel now know that if it is politically inconvenient, they and their legacy are expendable.

The White House and Pentagon of the day, more so the US Congress, needed to bring the truth out and these key institutions today still need to get to the bottom of this saga, once and for all.

Why is this important forty years on? Because Israel needs to know that it will be exposed and held accountable for its actions and incidents, likewise Syria and the Palestinians, the Palestinians who might contend the Liberty saga was one factor in delaying the creation of the Nation State of Palestine. This type of action by Israel firstly must never be allowed to happen again and secondly must never be covered up.

In 1956, during the Suez crisis, Israel learnt that it could not rely on so-called Allied Nations when the chips were down. In 1967, with the Six Day War, it learnt that accidentally or otherwise it could attack the most powerful nation on earth and that the President of the day, Lyndon B Johnson, would order a monumental cover-up, effectively letting them off the hook.

We now know it is from this period that Israel cheerfully commenced building its own atomic bomb and cheerfully will push over the edge whenever it suits, because recent history shows that it that it can get away with such adventures. Remember the thousand of cluster bomblets that went into Southern Lebanon last August, after the cease-fire had been agreed, but before its actual commencement.

However I say again, it is the US that has most to answer for not honestly dealing with the attack on the USS Liberty, in turning its back on the families of the 34 killed and the families of the 172 survivors. Further in a very curious move, a Medal of Honour was awarded to the Liberty Commander, William L McGonagle, fair enough, but the actual ceremony was a secret, private ceremony.

The Pentagon has ugly spin form, just ask the family of Pat Tillman killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan but initially reported otherwise. In relation to the 34 sailors killed by the Israeli Forces, it is corrosive in the extreme that the Pentagon did not fiercely fight to bring the truth out, if not initially for operational reasons then surely after 30 years, if not 40 years.

To the thousands of US and Allied Forces this is the really ugly part, the cause of their death will be air brushed out if it is politically inconvenient for it to be revealed, for a period of at least 40 years, or more. You will fight for your country, you may die in battle for your country, but now you can have an expectation that the truth associated with your death will be tampered with, if it is politically inconvenient, by your own HQ.

There are further allegations that US Defence Secretary of the time, Robert McNamara, and President Lyndon Johnson ordered US fighters, launched from a nearby US Aircraft Carrier, to turn back and not go to the defence of the USS Liberty. Again, because of all of the ramifications arising, the world is entitled to know whether this is true of not.

It is a sad fact that on the 8th June 1967, the USS Liberty was definitely attacked by Israeli jet fighters and Israeli torpedo boats, it is a sad and confirmed fact that 34 US sailors were killed in the attack. It is true that Israel has paid some reparations to the families involved, and full marks to Israel in this regard.

It remains for the real truth to come out, particularly from the USA, the country Australia fought alongside in two World Wars, two Gulf Wars, Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan and still counting.

A former Attorney General of Israel, M Ben Y Air, once made a famous observation, and I quote exactly : “The Six Day War was forced upon us, the seventh day continues to this day and is our choice.”

To all of this I would observe the seventh day of ongoing conflict can be brought to an end with peace and tourism ushered in, and this will be greatly helped by bringing the truth out officially in relation to the incredible fourth day of the Six Day War, a war which was momentous for not only the Middle East but for the world and deadly for 34 USS Liberty sailors.

ENDS

Are we flying blind into a very dangerous world?

On Friday 21 August 2015 in Melbourne, the Wheeler Centre and the Melbourne Writers Festival presented a panel discussion:

Media Makers: Journalism Then & Now

What’s it like to be a political reporter today, when breaking news is measured by second-by-second tweets (instead of next-day newspapers)? How has it changed over the decades?

In this Fifth Estate event, we’ll hear from Fairfax’s Latika Bourke and ABC TV’s Barrie Cassidy.

There was time for questions after the discussion, but there were no microphones on my side of the hall, so I submit my question on this page to Barrie Cassidy, Latika Bourke and Sally Warhaft, 

 

ARE WE FLYING BLIND INTO A VERY DANGEROUS WORLD? 

 

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On August 21 2013, there was an alleged chemical attack in Damascus Syria. It almost led to US and UK military strikes against the Syrian government.

 

Professor Theodore Postol from MIT and Mr Richard Lloyd, a former UN weapons inspector wrote a paper on the alleged chemical attack in Damascus and concluded that the munitions could not have been fired from Syrian army positions.

 

In a letter to Dan Kaszeta, an ‘activist’ who disputed the conclusions of the paper, Dr Postol referred to the scandalous failure of due diligence by the mainstream Western press.’

 

The report by Dr Postol and Richard Lloyd challenges the ABC and Fairfax narrative on Syria.

From the beginning of the crisis in Syria, there has been one basic narrative in ABC and Fairfax reports: Assad, the brutal Alawi dictator, did it (whatever it is). And the vast majority of people in Syria are ignored and the secular society they live in is unexamined.

Resources and geopolitics are key factors behind the wars in the ME. However, the war in Syria is also an ideological war, much like the war in Spain in the 1930s was an ideological war. The local rebels fighting the republican government in Spain were Franco’s fascist forces. The local rebels fighting the republican government in Syria are mostly ‘Islamists’, ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood to Al-Qaeda to ISIS.

ABC and Fairfax journalists reporting from the Middle East imply in their reports and tweets that they’re on the side of the ‘rebels’ in Syria, yet there is little to no examination of their ideologues. There’s little to no examination of who funds them and why and no investigation into the claims of ‘activists’ who support them.

Q: What impact might this common narrative on the war in Syria have on young Muslim Australians?

Q: Can the conformity, shallow analysis and lack of critical thinking evident in our mainstream media lead to even deeper intolerance and divisions in our society, and even to Australia’s being caught up in a much wider war? Are we flying blind into a very dangerous world?

 

 

Susan Dirgham

National Coordinator “Australians for Reconciliation in Syria”

Email: susan.dirgham51@gmail.com

 

The Front Page of Ted Postol’s and Richard Lloyd’s Report:

 

Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013

Richard Lloyd, Former UN Weapons Inspector,

e-mail: rlloyd@tesla.net

Theodore A. Postol, Professor of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology e-mail: postol@mit.edu

Washington, DC

January 14, 2014

What is the Main Policy Issue?

  • The Syrian Improvised Chemical Munitions that Were Used in the August 21, Nerve Agent Attack in Damascus Have a Range of About 2 Kilometers
  • The UN Independent Assessment of the Range of the Chemical Munition Is in exact Agreement with Our Findings
  • This Indicates That These Munitions Could Not Possibly Have Been Fired at East Ghouta from the “Heart”, or from the Eastern Edge, of the Syrian Government Controlled Area Shown in the Intelligence Map Published by the White House on August 30, 2013.
  • This mistaken Intelligence Could Have Led to an Unjustified US Military Action Based on False Intelligence.
  • A Proper Vetting of the Fact That the Munition Was of Such Short Range Would Have Led to a Completely Different Assessment of the Situation from the Gathered Data
  • Whatever the Reasons for the Egregious Errors in the Intelligence, the Source of These Errors Needs to Be Explained.
  • If the Source of These Errors Is Not Identified, the Procedures that Led to this Intelligence Failure Will Go Uncorrected, and the Chances of a Future Policy Disaster Will Grow With Certainty.

Letter to the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, MP, Minister for Communications, Australia

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The Hon. Malcolm Turnbull

MP, Minister for Communications

PO Box 6022, House of Representatives

Parliament House,

Canberra, ACT 2600

21 May 2015

Dear Minister,

As you are Australia’s Communications Minister, I urge you to give attention to a program broadcast this month on Al-Jazeera.

The program targets an Arabic speaking audience, and it would have a significant number of viewers in Australia. The host of the Al-Jazeera program and one guest express support for the killing of Alawis in Syria. They do not exclude women and children.

Note, there is at least one petition being distributed protesting this incitement to genocide by the host of an Al-Jazeera program.

This call for genocide on Al-Jazeera may appear to be an aberration and as such dismissed by many. However, I contend that there is a tolerance for such vitriolic hatred within our own community and the groundwork for it has been partially laid by mainstream reporting of the Syrian conflict. (It is worth noting that prominent Al-Jazeera journalists have resigned in protest over that media outlet’s coverage of the conflict in Syria and Bahrain.)

In the last four years, I have contacted the ABC on numerous occasions to alert journalists to the distortion and bias in reports on Syria and to warn them that such reporting will encourage some in the community to support a violent jihad in Syria, something which can have repercussions in Australia. My last formal complaint was in regards to the bias in a report on AM. Despite the weight of my arguments and the implications of a mainstream broadcaster presenting in a positive light militias who are intent on destroying the army of a secular society, it was not upheld.

Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, much of the reporting and official commentary on Syria has been framed in terms of ‘a brutal Alawi regime oppressing the Sunni majority’.  As the guest who stood up against the calls for genocide on the Al-Jazeera program explained, this does not reflect the reality of the Syrian government, the army or the conflict.

I was heartened this week to see an article in the alternative magazine New Matilda by Michael Brull that analyses and challenges mainstream reports on Syria.

There must be some serious examination of the media presentation of the conflict in Syria and how that impacts Australians who support ISIS or Al-Qaeda affiliated groups in Syria. It would seem appropriate that you initiate it.

Like Syria, Australia is a diverse and secular society. It too can suffer from hatreds and divisions stirred up by malevolent forces.

For example, there are tens of thousands of people with Alawi Muslim backgrounds in Australia who have come from Syria, Lebanon or Turkey.  Unbeknownst to most of us, they may already be facing intimidation from sections of the community who are influenced by calls to hate, both direct and indirect, from a range of sources.  The harassment of Muslim Australians generally is already a matter of grave concern.

Besides this host on Al-Jazeera, other key commentators have presented the conflict in the Middle East in sectarian terms.  For example, Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, has described the terrorist group ISIS as the ‘lesser evil’; in his mind ‘Shia’ are the greater evil.  No doubt such views expressed by a prominent person have an impact on communities and reporting.

On the other hand, retired U.S. General Wesley Clark has claimed that friends and allies of America created ISIS in order to destroy Hezbollah in Lebanon.

What is the truth? At times it seems the world is edging towards an abyss and we are being taken there with our minds, our eyes and our mouths closed.

An esteemed professor at M.I.T., Professor Theodore Postol, and a former U.N. weapons inspector, Mr Richard Lloyd, published a paper that contended that the Syrian army could not have fired the weapons that purportedly carried sarin and killed over 300 people in Damascus in August 2013.  Unsubstantiated claims that the Syrian government was responsible for this ‘massacre’ and others have contributed to many people’s bafflement regarding the war and to their disengagement in regards to supporting peace and the victims of the war.  On the other hand, the claims have led to the active engagement of others on the side of terror.  The implications of Postol and Lloyd’s findings are extremely significant, yet our public or corporate media eschews them.

To unite Australians and to fear the future less, it is vital that we espouse and live values that reflect our common humanity and which can inspire us all.  Organizations cannot display courage; individuals must.

In the past four years, many brave people in Syria have been committed to the work of reconciliation. If Syria is not to become a failed state and its people destitute and brutalized for decades to come, these efforts must be acknowledged and supported. (For evidence of this reconciliation work, please refer to “The Babbila Reconciliation: a Light at the End of Syria’s Dark Tunnel“)

As Communications Minister and as someone committed to reconciliation, you are in an excellent position to take a lead.  I urge you to give attention to the call for genocide on the Al-Jazeera program and to respond appropriately. Also, with the increasing number of reports of Australians being lured to Syria to support designated terrorist organizations, there is an urgent need for an independent parliamentary enquiry into the coverage of the conflict in Syria by our Public Service Broadcasters.

Yours faithfully,

Susan Dirgham

National Coordinator of “Australians for Reconciliation in Syria”  (AMRIS)