UPDATE: Since posting the criticism below of an article on the PEACE X PEACE webpage, I have received a very kind email from Yasmina Mrabet, the Director of the Connection Point Initiative, PEACE X PEACE. In the email, Yasmine wrote
We decided that instead of approving your comment on Elaine Tucci’s article, we would post it as a separate piece on its own to give it the attention it deserves, and it will be distributed in this week’s eNewsletter to over 27,000 subscribers around the world, as well as through our social media outlets. Here is the link to your article: Listen to All Syrian Voices. Please let me know if you have any additions or changes, and I will be happy to make them.
How has it been possible for the war in Syria to reach the current crisis point? How much has war propaganda contributed to the ongoing crisis? The blog, Gay Girl in Damascus, was an early example of propaganda emanating from the West; it encouraged sectarianism in Syria and the narrative that persisted in the western mainstream media from the beginning of the crisis: the president of Syria is a brutal dictator and he and his minority Alawi sect are oppressing peaceful protestors and the Sunni majority. Gay Girl in Damascus was a crude fraud, yet not so crude that millions of people who didn’t know Syria weren’t convinced by it: the writer, a red-haired American with a beard, knew what buttons to press.
How can one recognize propaganda? This is a question I hope teachers in schools around the world are asking their students – and allowing for a variety of responses.
Below is an article from the webpage of PEACE X PEACE Raise Women’s Voices, Build Cultures of Peace, ostensibly a peace group in the US targeted at women. I have written a comment previously in response to another article on it and that comment was published, and I received a kind invitation to contribute to the site, something I have yet to do. However, my comment to the article below was moderated but not published. Both the article and my comment appear below for your consideration.
I would then encourage you to critically read another article on the PEACE X PEACE website: Knowing the Revolution by Heart. It purportedly presents the views of a Syrian woman who supports the ‘revolution’. (Armed revolutions in the 20th century led to the deaths of millions of people, so it amazes me how ‘revolution’ has become a magic word in the 21st century, and doubly magical when it is linked with the words ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ and ‘dignity’. Beyond these slogans, what is the ideology of the revolution and who are the ideologues? Is there a little red book?) There are millions of women who do not support the ‘revolution’ in Syria. I hope PEACE X PEACE hears their voices and presents their faces.
PEACE X PEACE
The New Red Line in Syria: One American’s Perspective
May 23, 2013
ElaineTucci, United States
“What if this woman were your neighbor? Would you take notice then? Can you imagine living in such an environment? You might want to try. It might be time to tune in.”
Humans are very good at creating false boundaries. We have carved up our continents into approximately 196 nations (we still squabble about some of these) and so divided we stand. We have frontiers for expanding (or seizing), margins for pushing, precincts to cast our vote, confines and limitations to overcome, fences to keep in or out, and of course the red line one must not cross, the proverbial line in the sand. This language of limitation is the formal language of nations, of diplomacy, of separation, of there is us and there is you, and you had better damn well stay on your side. These boundaries lead us to believe that we are strangers at best, different for certain, and at worst likely enemies.
Syria is a country far away to most Americans, like Iraq and Afghanistan were more than a decade ago, distant places with no relation to us. We read the headlines unemotionally – Dozens dead as Assad’s forces storm coastal village, Assad’s forces push to retake Damascus suburb. As with all wars, especially those that are civil wars – a term odd enough for its clear misnomer – we tend to turn our attention away. The carnage and disruption is none of our business. It is soldiers’ business; it is the mess of far-off governments gone awry. We are distracted. Our favorite show is on television tonight and our daughter needs help with her homework.
But did you notice the very familiar words that sound just like our own places? Village, suburb: Can you imagine a war right in your own suburban neighborhood?
So what does a modern civil war really look like? Is it counting soldier casualties, counting the battles, noting the pushing of boundaries this way one day and back the next? This is how they are reported after all, as mere counting and noting of facts, as if simply the facts of life, perfectly to be expected. The impersonal statistics become meaningless. We tune out.
But what does civil war really look like on the ground? Increasingly, those on the front line of these wars are the women and children and other civilians caught in this glowing Hades of death and annihilation. These women and children and civilians are trapped within these artificial confines, these precincts of fear and terror, of severe discomfort and agony – both physical and mental.
How often as Americans do we shuffle past these “war stories” on the news? Have you ever actually heard, however, from a woman who is not so different from yourself within this turmoil? Would this make you look twice? Tune in, perhaps pay attention? What if she were a women who wants only to provide for and protect her children, and who unlike us, cannot take her family’s safety for granted? Her security is highly precarious. What if this woman were your neighbor? Would you take notice then? Can you imagine living in such an environment? You might want to try. It might be time to tune in.
The number of Syrians who have had to seek asylum abroad has reached at least 1 million. But according to the organization Women in the World, there is another, less-discussed displacement crisis unfolding within Syria. “Syria’s internally displaced population passed the 2 million mark months ago—by some estimates, there are more than 3 million Syrians uprooted within their country, most out of reach of international aid and media attention. The consequences of this crisis have been catastrophic for all displaced persons, but particularly for women and girls.”
Among the horrific chaos that characterizes the Syrian conflict and other well-known intrastate conflicts in recent history, such as those in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, rape has once again emerged as a defining element of the displacement crisis. The International Rescue Committee, a leading aid agency, reports that among Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, rape was a primary motive for their flight. Inside Syria, increasing incidents of sexual violence suggest that the Assad regime is indeed using rape as a systemic weapon of war. As the assistant U.N. high commissioner for refugees reported recently to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the displacement crisis is “accompanied by gender-based crimes, deliberate victimization of women and children, and a frightening array of assaults on human dignity.” Attacks are often carried out in public. The goal of such inhuman attacks is to compound the humiliation and stigma endured by those who survive.
Reporter Micheal Weiss tells the horrific tale of Salma, a young girl in Baba Amr whose house was raided early in the now two-year-long conflict by the shabbiha – the pro-Assad mercenary militias. Weiss reports, “Salma told them, ‘Please, please – don’t you have sisters? Don’t you have mothers? Just leave me, please not in front of my dad.’ ” The shabbiha did not listen. Instead, they strapped Salma’s father to a chair in his own home as multiple men raped his daughter. “They made him keep his eyes open and watch.”
As a result of this and other direct violence, many families have been displaced multiple times. Few have been able to find secure shelter or adequate assistance. According to Mariam, a Syrian women now living in the Unites States and able to communicate intermittently by phone with her family remaining in Damascus, “resources have become so limited, sometimes no food or drinking water is available, basic fuel for heat and cooking is not available. Several members of my family lost their homes and they live in tents and their basic needs are not met. There is not enough help from the United Nations and the world is watching the real catastrophe in Syria.”
Limited aid and growing impoverishment have led to a desperate cycle in which women and girls who flee sexual and gender-based violence are then exposed to exploitation as they struggle to survive and find food and fuel.
And we know from an unfortunate historical string of such situations that domestic violence rates also increase in such circumstances, and many desperate families even marry off their young daughters earlier than usual to gain some meager security for them and reduce the number of mouths that must be fed within a household.
This is what war is really like; close-up and personal. It is a war in the streets, a war that involves women, children, and civilians – not just soldiers and military leaders. When will humanity cease to use the excuse of far-away boundaries holding in a people who are ‘different’ as an impediment to standing up for freedom and liberty for all of humanity? We are not as different as we imagine. It is time to tune in.
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Elaine Tucci is asking us to empathise with the people of Syria, to see them as we might see our neighbours. This is something we all should be doing, without a doubt. However, we must hear the stories of as many of the 23 million Syrians as we can, not just stories which present one side of this war as presented in her article, and especially not that side which supports a further militarisation of the conflict.
I have recently returned from Lebanon and Syria. I was part of a group of 15 peace activists led by Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire. Mairead and various members have written reports of that fact-finding trip (see references below). We went to support the people of Syria and their efforts to achieve peace and reconciliation. The Syrians we met included religious leaders, government ministers, victims of terror, refugees (in Lebanon), political dissidents – some who had been in prison – and members of opposition parties. They spoke in support of the regular Syrian army’s battle against the 50,000 or so foreign fighters in Syria, many aligned to Al-Qaeda or other extremist groups. No doubt there are just as many Syrians giving these fighters support, some because they are paid to do so, some out of fear, some because they have been persuaded by radical clerics to fight for an Islamic state. (Note, the people we met did not all endorse the tactics of the army or security forces, but what seemed to unite everyone was the belief that Syria must not fall apart and only the army can ‘save’ it.)
One of the things we heard from Christian leaders first in Lebanon and then from Christians and Muslims in Syria was the deep sorrow people are feeling since the kidnapping of two Syrian archbishops in the north of the country. Thousands of people have been kidnapped since the beginning of the crisis, but the abduction of the archbishops is especially troubling because it takes what ‘rebels’ are prepared to do to another level. When they were kidnapped, the archbishops were involved in the very delicate and difficult task of trying to negotiate the release of kidnapped priests. Priests and imams, people who support peaceful reform in Syria and refuse to align themselves with the militarised opposition which is sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular are regularly targeted and assassinated by terrorists. (“Terrorists” seems the appropriate term because they are killing unarmed civilians.) The most prominent and perhaps most highly regarded imam in Syria, Sheik al-Buti, was killed in a suicide bomb attack along with 50 of his students in a mosque in Damascus earlier this year. He was a ‘moderate’ Muslim who promoted peace and spoke against an armed Islamist revolution. If Syria weren’t seen by some very powerful forces in the US as an ‘enemy’, he would have been hailed as a true friend of peace-loving people everywhere and his assassination would have been headline news in the world.
There was an interesting article in the Catholic News about the kidnapping of the archbishops.
One Catholic priest was quoted as saying “The Syrian war is not a crisis between Muslims and Christians or Muslims and other Muslims and it’s not a Syrian civil war from and for Syrians.. This is a war imported from outside and we have traitors who have sold themselves to outsiders for a bit of money.”
There have been claims that the Syrian regular army soldiers rape women as a tactic of war. Every family in Syria would have at least one member serving in the army. It is composed of people from all faith backgrounds. If rape was a tactic of the army, the army could not have maintained the support of the population. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that rape is a tactic of those fighters who have no regard for people of other faiths or sects. These are the same people who behead and torture and mutilate priests and imams.
The Syrians I met are desperate for a political solution to the war in their country. They want the international community to stop the funnelling of arms, money and fighters into Syria. Only then is there any hope for peace. And the truth must be sought much more rigorously by peace-loving people in America because they can help determine peace for the people of the ME.
National Coordinator of “Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) In Syria”
Interview with Mairead Maguire http://www.transcend.org/tms/2013/05/international-peace-activists-report-the-real-situation-in-syria/
Report by Antonio Rosa on visit to Lebanon and Damascus http://www.transcend.org/tms/2013/05/on-the-road-to-damascus/
Report by Paul Larudee on visit to Lebanon and Damascus http://www.transcend.org/tms/2013/05/dispatch-1-from-the-mussalaha-delegation-to-syria-when-can-we-go-back/
Some of the priests and imams assassinated by ‘rebels’ https://australiansforreconciliationinsyria.wordpress.com/mussalaha-martyrs/
A woman whose young son was killed by ‘rebels’ in Syria, and his body has never been returned to her.
Email sent from Beirut on 6 May 2013 to Mr Mark Scott, Managing Director of the ABC . Many ABC journalists were cc-ed.
There are three sources referred to in the article; none of them live in Syria. They are Gaia Servadio, “a writer and historian who has worked with Ms Assad”; Zayed, a “Syrian dissident from Aleppo who lives in London”, and Ghassan Ibrahim, Global Arab Network’s London-based editor.
16/12/2012 The Independent, Patrick Cockburn, “Syria: the descent into Holy War”, http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/syria-the-descent-into-holy-war-8420309.html
Syria, an alternate reality. Interview with Anastasia Popova
Salafists Vow to Fight Until
There Is ‘Islamic State in Syria’
Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/01/fighter-syria-aleppo-turkey.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter#ixzz2Rbci4FTq
Dispatch #1 from the Mussalaha Delegation to Syria: “When can we go back?”
by Paul Larudee
Sunday, May 5th, 2013
“When can we go back?”
This plaintive question of refugees since time immemorial was asked again of Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire at the United Nations High Commission on Refugees intake center in Zahleh, Lebanon, overlooking the vast Beqaa valley, now dotted with refugee camps wherever we look. The Mussalaha Delegation is spending longer than expected in Lebanon because of visa delays to Syria. However, if we wanted to find the effects of the war, Lebanon has plenty to show. There are one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which itself has a population of only 4.3 million. Many are from Syrian minorities, drawn to Lebanon by its large Christian and Shiite communities.
Most of the camps fail to meet the minimum standards for hygiene and housing. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) claims it cannot keep up with the numbers, but there is reason to think that it may be dragging its feet in order to pressure its donors for more funds and supplies. Similarly, the Lebanese government does not want to encourage a greater influx, and is therefore slow to accommodate arrivals. They have their reasons, but the refugees are pawns in these bureaucratic and power games, which only increase their suffering.
At the UNHCR registration center in Zahleh, overlooking the valley, the backlog is as much as four months. One man told me that he and his family, including a newborn, had been living for more than two months in the space between two cars with whatever canopy they could manage and a few chairs. Others were living twenty to a room in warehouse space with mattresses taking up most of the floor space at night. To a very great extent, refugees are on their own, negotiating their accommodation wherever they can with whatever resources they have.
Most of the men and some of the women do not want to be photographed, but the children don’t mind. Several people from Qusayr, a town on the Lebanese border said that when the demonstrations first began two years ago, they were nonviolent and the local officials would even clear the roads for them. However, as they became more violent, the central government failed to act and the town was eventually overrun by armed local elements and foreign fighters from Chechnya, Azerbaijan and other places. It was only after the population fled that Syrian troops finally came to quell the rebellion, which has apparently not yet been fully accomplished.
I have no way to assess the accuracy of these stories, nor to generalize them, but at least my modest Arabic skills allow me to strike up conversations with whomever I want, and there are no government minders in Lebanon. Nevertheless, we all want to meet with groups that have a very different story to tell, and Mother Agnès-Maryam has included such opportunities in our schedule, even Jabhat al-Nusrah, the al-Qaeda affiliate, with whom none of us expected to be able to speak.
I have to say that Mussalaha exceeds our expectations, and that this is largely due to the leadership of Mother Agnès, as tough a nun as you could ever want to meet. She is fearless, tireless and relentless. Patience is not her forte, but compassion is, and without regard to the identity of the person in need. For this reason, Mussalaha has earned the respect – sometimes grudgingly – of a very wide range of communities in and outside Syria. Although Mussalaha has strong Christian orientation, its president is Dr. Hassan Yaacoub, a Shiite politician who belongs to the mostly Christian party of General Michel Aoun, who is allied with the Hezbollah party. You may be forgiven for finding that none of this agrees with whatever assumptions you may have held until now.
We have also had numerous meetings with religious leaders of the various faith communities in Lebanon, including the major Christian denominations, as well as the Shiite and Druze spiritual leadership. They are all in touch with the Syrian members of their faith, and had much to say. The message: first stop the fighting, then sit down together, push your agenda by peaceful means, and be ready to compromise. Regrettably, the grand mufti of the Sunni community in Lebanon had to reverse plans to meet with us. We have reason to believe that he might have conveyed the same message, but his community is divided on some of these issues, which makes it difficult for him to say anything at this time.
It is regrettable that former Congressman Dennis Kucinich did not join us. However, the presence of Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire – another fearless and compassionate woman – provides inspirational strength and prominence to our group and brings us the exposure that we need. The rest of the group brings an excellent balance of skills and experience, and for such a diverse group we find ourselves working remarkably well together.
The next dispatch will be from Damascus, but I won’t say when, and I will have another after I return to the U.S. Syria needs a miracle, but these folks believe in such things.