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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.
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.
On Friday 21 August 2015 in Melbourne, the Wheeler Centre and the Melbourne Writers Festival presented a panel discussion:
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?
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?
National Coordinator “Australians for Reconciliation in Syria”
The Front Page of Ted Postol’s and Richard Lloyd’s Report:
Richard Lloyd, Former UN Weapons Inspector,
Theodore A. Postol, Professor of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
MP, Minister for Communications
PO Box 6022, House of Representatives
Canberra, ACT 2600
21 May 2015
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.
National Coordinator of “Australians for Reconciliation in Syria” (AMRIS)
Witnesses to atrocities in Adra, Syria. Various militia groups were involved, including ‘moderate opposition’ – the FSA.
For more information, go to https://australiansforreconciliationinsyria.org/mother-agnes-mariam-22-february-2014-update-on-crisis-in-syria/
MEDIA RELEASE – 11th September 2014
“Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria” deplores the decision by U.S. President Obama to take military action against ISIL in Syria without the consent of the Syrian Government. Such military action will be illegal.
Furthermore, AMRIS condemns U.S. military support to what President Obama terms the ‘Syrian opposition’. The vast majority of Syrian people do not support any militarized opposition groups, but rather support the institutions of the state. (NB: There is an internal opposition – parties and groups which eschew violence.)
The Syrian regular army has lost tens of thousands of soldiers in its battle against militias, including ISIL. With very little support from the local population, these sectarian militias depend on foreign fighters who include Sunni Muslims misled by a myth, namely that a minority Shi’a sect is oppressing the Sunni majority in Syria.
Syria is a secular society and its government and army reflect the diverse mix of ethnic groups and faiths in Syria. The ministries are dominated by Sunni politicians and the conscript army is predominantly a Sunni army. The Defence Minister is Sunni. The president’s wife is Sunni. Members of the business elite are mostly Sunni Muslims.
There must be recognition of
- the inclusive Sunni Islam practised in Syria, which is rooted in Sufi Islam not Wahhabism, the school of Islam aligned with the Saudi royal family
- the right and responsibility of Syrian people to defend themselves and their country against militias funded by both foreign governments and individuals who condone the killing of civilians who support the secular Syrian state
- the wide-ranging rights and freedoms that women have in Syria
- the rights and freedoms people of different faiths have in Syria to practice their religion (Christmas and Easter are public holidays in Syria, just as Muslim holy days are.)
- the fact that more than 73% of Syrians eligible to vote participated in the June 2014 presidential election
- the fact that investigative journalists, members of the U.S. intelligence community, and M.I.T. academics maintain rebels were most likely responsible for the chemical attack in Damascus in August 2013.
Syria could be America’s key ally against ISIL and other terror groups. Instead, the U.S. has chosen to align with Saudi Arabia, a country where churches are banned and women are not permitted to drive, and a country that has funded and directed much of the insurgency, both ‘moderate’ and extreme, in Syria.
By supporting militia groups which are labelled ‘moderate’ but which target soldiers, public servants and secular Syrians just as ISIL does, the U.S. and its allies will entrench the chaos, destruction and death in Syria and the region. The pretext for U.S. military action in Syria is the beheading of two American journalists, Steven Sotloff and James Foley. However, in articles published before they were abducted, Sotloff and Foley exposed the brutality of the so-called moderate rebels. The truths they revealed and their courage in exposing them do not demand an alliance with ‘moderate’ rebels complicit in their killings; they demand support for peace and reconciliation in Syria.
The hatred being incited between Muslims to promote geopolitical wars in the Middle East will impact on communities across the globe. People everywhere risk losing their moral compass and compromising basic human values and belief systems which are needed to unite us and ensure peace and security for us all.
AMRIS calls for rigorous research of events in Syria in order to challenge partisan narratives.
AMRIS calls on the government to heed the wishes of the people of Syria; to support their army’s fight against terror groups; and to respect their right to work for peaceful political changes without foreign interference. We can honour our own freedoms, equalities and responsibilities in Australia by respecting those of Syrians.
Slide show: Syrian people. Some images taken before the crisis, others taken from Syrian TV; others are screen captures from internet; others taken of children in a refugee camp. (S.D)
Ms Susan Dirgham, National Coordinator of “Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria”
The world is deeply disturbed by the violence and bloodshed suffered by the people of Syria.
We urge a peaceful, political solution to the crisis in Syria without military intervention.
We call for further clarification in regard to the chemical attack on 21 August in Damascus, for without more information and proof we cannot determine who was responsible for this attack.
We support the grass-roots Reconciliation (Mussalaha) Movement in Syria, which unites people of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds.
We urge governments and the media to listen to the voices of all Syrians, particularly those who are working for a peaceful solution and who reject violence.
We echo Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, and other religious leaders in calling everyone to pray for peace in Syria, the Middle East and the whole world.
As politicians in Australia debate whether to support the stand of President Obama on Syria, we draw attention to a comment by the Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo, the President of Caritas (Catholic Aid Agency) in Syria: “If there is an armed intervention, that would mean, I believe, a world war.”
5 September 2013
Archbishop Denis Hart, Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne
Most Reverend Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne
Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser, AC CH (Former Prime Minister of Australia)
Sheikh Riad Galil OAM, Imam- West Heidelberg Mosque, President: Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia
His Grace, Bishop Suriel, Coptic Diocese of Melbourne and Affiliated Regions
Bishop Ezekiel of Dervis, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia (Melbourne)
Metropolitan Archbishop Paul Saliba, Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, Primate of Australia, New Zealand
Rev. Harry Kerr, Pax Christi (Victoria)
Mr Frank Stuart, President, Victorian Council of Churches
Rev. Ian Smith, Executive Officer, Victorian Council of Churches
Rev. Graham McAnalley, Chairman, Council of Christians & Jews (Vic)
Most Rev. Hilton Deakin, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus, Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne
Ms Peggy Page, Chair of Buddhist Council of Victoria
Rev. Tara Curlewis, General Secretary, National Council of Churches in Australia
Most Rev. Peter J. Elliott, Auxiliary Bishop, Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne
Archdeacon Emeritus Philip Newman (Chaplain, Hume Anglican Grammar)
Father Brian Nichols, St Mary’s Cathedral, Hobart
Peter Abrehart, Chairman, Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church
Rev. Dr Philip Marshall, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Adelaide
Sr Janet Mead RSM, Romero Community, Adelaide
Julian Burnside AO QC
Bryan Dawe, Political Satirist
Phil Glendenning, Director Edmund Rice Centre, President Refugee Council of Australia
Antony Loewenstein, independent journalist and author
Dr Fiona Hill, Almanar Consultancy, AMRIS
Joseph Wakim, OAM, Founder of Australian Arabic Council
Claire Woods, Chair, Fitzroy Learning Network
Dr Jeremy Salt, Bilkent University, Turkey
Robert Bekhazi, Federal president – United Australian Lebanese Movement
Bishop Philip Huggins, Anglican Diocese of Melbourne
Bronwyn Halfpenny Victorian MP Thomastown District
Felicity Costigan, CEO Mary Ward International Australia
Sandra Diafas, Principal, Star of the Sea College Gardenvale
Mr. Medhat Attia Director of the Australian Coptic Movement Association
Rev. David B. Smith, Parish Priest, Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill
Ms Susan Dirgham, National Coordinator of AMRIS
Syrian-born patriarch: ‘Enough with the intervention’ Syrian-born Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregoire III Laham warned against armed intervention in his country, saying, “It has brought us to the tragedy we are now living in Syria.”
Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim, archbishop of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch
26 August 2013
Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria (AMRIS), regards these proposals as an extreme escalation of the conflict.
Military escalation in Syria cannot defuse the crisis, limit the casualties of war or produce peace. Instead, some believe it can lead to a world war.
Over the past eight years all the leaders of the Coalition of the Willing have conceded that they entered the Iraq war on false information.
May our leaders consider what is really at stake in escalating the current crisis in Syria and may they protect not just the interests of the 23 million people of Syria, but also the long-term interests of Australia as more and more young Muslims are radicalized by the fatwas of certain extremist clerics in the Middle East and the often distorted information in the mainstream media about the crisis in Syria.
May our leaders have the moral strength and clarity to resist an Orwellian chant: we must destroy Syria in order to save it.
May Mr Tony Abbott and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, both practicing Christians, pay particular attention to the response of Christian leaders in Syria and Lebanon to the threats of Western powers to carry out military strikes against Syria.
Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, now Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief but “who once as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington wielded influence over no fewer than five different US presidents” , is pressuring Western governments to strike Syria.
Al-Qaeda affiliated groups are fighting the Syrian army, so western governments could soon be offering military support to terrorist groups, some with a history of using chemical weapons in Iraq.
Australia must find its own way.
In concurrence with almost all tribal leaders and religious authorities of every faith in Syria, AMRIS supports reconciliation in Syria. The long-planned Geneva 2 talks can provide the political solution needed.
Western leaders must not give up on diplomacy for war based on flaky assertions of Islamist militias made less than one week ago.
As Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire suggests, it would be illogical for the Syrian government and army to use chemical weapons, particularly as UN inspectors have just arrived in the country. Moreover, as one AMRIS member has explained, most Syrians have family members in the army and the army represents all faiths in Syria. The army would lose its support base if it attacked its own people with chemical weapons.
The use of chemical weapons by the government would invite the military intervention that sections of the armed opposition have demanded, which suggests it could be a false flag. Analysis is vital. Time is needed for the investigation. Research for the truth and diplomacy are vital for peace.
Despite their having been some extraordinary claims about the Syrian army using mass rape as a weapon of war, these claims have not led to calls for intervention. This may be because they can be refuted after serious investigation. What is more, investigating them might bring attention to the situation for women in the rebel held areas in contrast to the rights and opportunities women have in secular Syria.
It is ironic that while Syria is a secular society, the main allies of the US, the UK, and France in the venture to destroy the Syrian government have been Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Saudi Arabia has not only provided financial support and condoned young Saudi suicide bombers going to Syria, but it has also released prisoners on death-row if they agreed to go to Syria to fight the government there. At the same time, Qatar’s Al-Jazeera has provided war propaganda and broadcast the chilling fatwas of extremist clerics. Already, tens of thousands of Christians have been forced to flee their homes in Syria and many priests have been killed or kidnapped. Yet the West is aligned with Saudi Arabia which hosts at least one Syrian extremist cleric and whose mufti has called for the destruction of all churches in the Arabian Peninsula.
In the meantime, while the EU has lifted its arms embargo on militias fighting the Syrian regular army, it hasn’t removed the crippling sanctions which can impoverish the country and impact on the lives of millions.
In Syria, internal opposition groups eschew violence and support the regular army. Like Ang San Suu Kyi, some of the most prominent of these have suffered imprisonment for their dissent. However, a majority of the militarized opposition are radical Islamists, many supportive of the ideology of Al-Qaeda. ASIOS reports suggest there are hundreds of Australian Muslims fighting in Syria and are being radicalized by this conflict. And the existence of a united alternative moderate FSA army is an illusion.
Thousands of non-Syrian jihadists have flooded into Syria with the objective of not merely toppling the Syrian government but replacing the secular state with a caliphate, a radical Islamist society without borders. Many of these foreign fighters are Takfiri militants, who believe they can kill infidels and heretics with impunity. Minorities are their first target. However, ‘moderate’ Sunni Muslims are also targets. Terror is used as a weapon of this war; the intense fear it creates can lead to the silencing of a population.
Yet, into this quagmire, the US and the UK are considering international military intervention. What is apparently influencing this decision are reports from Médecins Sans Frontières . Because working in rebel held areas in Syria is too dangerous for Westerners, MSF recruits local doctors. Local doctors who volunteer to work in a rebel controlled hospital treating wounded fighters are presumably sympathetic to the rebel cause, so their reports to MSF must naturally be treated with caution. (NB: a co-founder of MSF became French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs under President Sarkozy.)
It is estimated that more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011, and from 30,000 to 40,000 of those killed have been soldiers in the Syrian Army, targeted since almost the very beginning of the crisis. Research indicates that opposition to the government has been expressed in a violent manner by provocative elements within the protest movement since the start of Syria’s “Arab Spring”.
The international media has presented a highly selective narrative of the crisis in Syria and by pushing a sectarian view of the conflict they are helping release a slow time bomb that can have catastrophic repercussions for decades, not just in Syria. People who murder Christians, Druze or Alawis are welcomed into the rebel forces the West supports.
Unverified reports placing responsibility for atrocities on the government and regular army are highlighted in our media. While well-verified reports of massacres committed by jihadists have largely been ignored. This month, the inhabitants of Alawite villages on Lattakia’s outskirts were targeted. One month prior to the massacre, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, a body recognized by the Australian government as the legitimate representative of the Syrian state, called for the killing of Alawi Muslims. In some of these villages, all of the inhabitants were massacred. Before the chemical weapon attack, the UN inspectors were due to investigate this massacre.
There has been mass murder and ethnic cleansing, beheadings and hangings perpetrated against both Syria’s civilian population and regular soldiers in rebel controlled areas. Syrians of all faiths who have not supported the ideology of the particular armed opposition in their area have been assassinated. This has included university professors and other public servants.
In Duma where the chemical attack reputedly took place, militia have issued fatwas permitting the confiscation of the property of Christian, Alawi Muslim and Druze minorities and others who ‘let down’ the radical Islamists.
AMRIS categorically opposes international military intervention in Syria. Intervention would favor the ideology and brutal practices of the predominantly Islamist forces fighting the regular army on the ground. A no-fly zone would provide them cover to continue to slaughter and persecute minorities and others who do not adopt their beliefs. The ramifications would be horrific.
International intervention and no fly zones have proven ineffective in the region. In Libya, to save thousands, such policies resulted in the deaths of many more thousands, the destruction of infrastructure, the fragmentation of state, and the placing of the country in the hands of extremist Islamists.
By researching events in Syria, we can own our understanding of the war. That enables us to take an independent stand for peace and diplomacy and to stop fueling violence and sectarian hatred in Syria.
Australia will take up the presidency of the Security Council next week, which will give our government a chance to take the world away from the path to war. AMRIS supports the Prime Minister’s decision to act in a “calm and measured” way in the face of calls for the US to lead a military strike at President Bashar al-Assad and his forces.
AMRIS urges the government to support a political solution to the conflict through the Geneva 2 peace conference.
AMRIS urges Australians, including those in the media and in all faith communities, to research Syria. To imagine that the people in Syria are like us – they want peace in their country – and to respond to that natural wish as best we can.
AMRIS unites people with a range of political views and religious and ethnic backgrounds.
Many of us have family or friends in Syria. Many of us can say from the heart, “I love Syria”. Syria does not exist for one ‘regime’ or one president. It is not an exclusive Syria; it is a very diverse society which has welcomed millions of refugees from different faiths in the past 100 years.
As Australians we have the ‘responsibility to defend Australia should the need arise’. Assuming Syrian citizens also have the same responsibility to defend their country, who should they fight, the regular Syrian army composed of people from every religious and ethnic background or rebels funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, and dominated by people promoting the ideology of radical Islam? (For the vast majority of Syrian women, this would not be a difficult decision.) Should they fight military forces from the US, the UK and France which enter their country?
Genuine efforts for peace, freedom and political reform rely on an unrelenting search for the truth and the ability to open your heart to the ‘enemy’. The heroes of the 20th century – Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Ang San Suu Kyi – must be our guide into the 21st century.
An Australian political hero for many was Prime Minister John Curtin. During the Second World War, he determined it wasn’t in Australia’s interest to follow Britain blindly. Peace in the 21st century may require similar radical independent action and courage.
We must not lose our moral compass, our intellectual rigor, our imagination, and the courage needed to act for a better world. Only with those, can we help prevent a war.
It is our choice.