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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)

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