FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Syrian Australians Demand an End to Foreign Intervention

by CHRIS RAY

Sydney.

Around 1500 people, mostly Australians of Syrian descent marched in Sydney on August 5, calling for an end to foreign intervention aimed at destroying the government of President Bashar al-Assad.  The Australian media gave the march almost no coverage, unlike well-publicised though much smaller protests against the Syrian government.

It should surprise no one that large numbers of Syrians support the al-Assad government, with its promise of peaceful reform in a direction indicated by the May 2012 parliamentary elections (when, incidentally, the communists won additional seats), rather than the civil war on religious lines now in progress. One does not have to be an al-Assad supporter to suspect that his government’s immediate departure, as demanded by the rebels and their foreign backers, would create a power vacuum, fragment the country and result in far greater bloodshed.

For its Syria project the US has put together a powerful alliance embracing NATO through its Turkish spearhead, and Israel and its Gulf Arab de facto allies, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Intervention has ranged from sanctions and economic sabotage to funding and equipping foreign mercenaries and “boots on the ground” in the form of Western military advisers and trainers.  The current goal appears to be regime change by promoting civil war rather than foreign invasion. But calls for a “No Fly Zone” along Libyan lines can now be heard – no doubt a precursor to another “humanitarian” bombing campaign.

Foreign forces are playing a substantial role in the campaign to topple the government.  According to some assessments, foreign jihadis including Al Qaeda units from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya and Jordan are more effective, and engaged in more significant combat than the so-called Free Syrian Army. Al Qaeda is once again enjoying the backing of the ‘Great Satan’ patterned on their 1980s relationship in Afghanistan.

Foreign jihadis have admitted that they formed brigades to infiltrate Syria well before the first protests in early 2011.

Also instructive is the testimony of two Western photographers captured and tormented by a rebel group comprising fighters from Bangladesh, Britain, Chechnya and Pakistan – but no Syrians. Viewers of the ABC’s 7.30 Report on 7.8.12 would have seen a Chechen combatant in Syria threaten an ABC reporter.

We are not only talking foreign jihadi cannon fodder: “It is highly likely that some western special forces and intelligence resources have been in Syria for a considerable time,” says Colonel Richard Kemp, of the Royal United Services Institute which has strong connections to British intelligence services.

Some on the Left argue that the Syrian regime is unworthy of support because it is a dictatorship. Should the political form of the Syrian state absolve the Left of any responsibility to defend it against imperialist aggression? The al-Assad  government is under attack by NATO, Israel and the Arab Gulf monarchies not for its denial of democracy, or harsh treatment of dissent, but because of its positive features: support for Palestinian and Lebanese resistance to Zionist expansion; refusal to join the US in isolating and impoverishing Iran; upholding a unique (in the Middle East) degree of religious tolerance and pluralism. For a visitor to Syria this commitment to freedom of religion – and rights for women – comes as a revelation in comparison to the reactionary US/British protectorates of the Arab Gulf. Such freedoms enrage the poisonously sectarian Sunni fundamentalists now sponsored in Syria by the West. Bin Laden always hated Shia Islam more than Zionists or the CIA.

For much of the anti-government opposition, regime change is about establishing Sunni dominance not democratic freedoms. They hate the regime because it is a heretical government responsible for a secular state with constitutionally guaranteed freedom of worship. The popular rebel slogan “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to their graves” raises the spectre of widespread ethnic cleansing – already underway with the expulsion of tens of thousands of Christians by the NATO-backed ‘Free Syrian Army’.

The fall of the al-Assad government is probably inevitable given the forces ranged against it. Some have predicted an Egypt-like power-sharing arrangement between the Muslim Brotherhood and secular nationalist ‘democrats’ will follow. However Syria’s religious and ethnic make-up is far more complicated than almost anywhere else in the region: a Sunni majority with numerous Muslim minorities (Shia, Alawite, Sufi, Ismailis) as well as Druse and several strands of Christianity  – altogether about one third of the population. There are significant ethnic minorities such as the Muslim Kurds and Christian Armenians – descendants of refugees from Turkish genocide – as well as hundreds of thousands of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, many of them Christians. These minorities do not share the cheerful assessment that the outcome of this war is likely to approximate post-Mubarak Egypt – itself now a more dangerous home for minorities.

The Syrian government is widely blamed for starting the war with unprovoked attacks on peaceful demonstrators. Western media spent most of 2011 denying the very existence of armed opposition, until the media narrative was recast to that of peaceful protests gradually morphing into armed revolt as a consequence of regime brutality.

The authorities’ initial response to opposition protests in March 2011 was brutal and inflammatory. But it is not contradictory to also acknowledge that government forces were under armed attack from the outset. Syrian TV was broadcasting footage of the funerals of military and police personnel killed by protestors in March 2011. My son who was living in Damascus viewed these reports and discussed them with locals.  I saw similar Syrian TV coverage while in Jordan in April-May 2011.

Reporter Robert Fisk identified the murder of a boy by police as the spark for the initial March 2011 protest in Deraa. Fisk, no supporter of the regime, also pointed to the existence of video footage of gunmen on the streets of Deraa that same month and al-Jazeera footage of armed men fighting Syrian troops near the Lebanon border in April 2011.  Fisk noted that Al-Jazeera television, cheerleader for the rebels, chose not to broadcast it. The station is of course owned by the emir of Qatar, a principal financier of the war against the Syrian government.

On 21 March 2011 Israel National News reported that seven policemen were killed in Deraa in mid-March.

As early as August 2011 the anti-regime, UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated that soldiers and police accounted for about one quarter of Syria’s death toll since the start of the uprising – a casualty proportion not likely to be suffered by an army ranged against unarmed protestors.  SOHR, in a rare moment of candour conceded that some of the dead civilians were tortured and killed by regime opponents. This was before Al-Qaeda bombers began their work in co-ordination with the ‘Free Syrian Army’.

Most Syrians would possibly prefer a ceasefire and negotiations in order to avoid the catastrophic fate of Iraq and Libya.  Yet the rebel leaderships and their foreign backers have sought only to prolong the fighting ().  ) Four weeks into Kofi Annan’s attempted ceasefire, the Washington Post reported: “Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States, according to opposition activists and U.S. and foreign officials.” CounterPunch’s Patrick Cockburn was one of the few western correspondents to report the UN monitoring team’s observation that during the ceasefire “the level of offensive military operations by the government significantly decreased” while there has been “an increase in militant attacks and targeted killings”.

In Libya, war sold to the gullible as a humanitarian necessity has reduced North Africa’s only welfare state to an ungovernable ruin: where rival tribal militias fight perpetual turf wars, blacks are ethnically cleansed, ancient archaeological treasures plundered and the social gains of the revolution systematically erased. All this mostly goes unreported – a non-story now that Libya’s oil contracts are in safer hands (China and Russia need not apply) and Western weapons sales rejected by the murdered Gaddafi are back on the table.

Only the terminally naïve would recommend the Syrian people risk a repeat of the Libyan triumph.

Chris Ray is a Sydney-based Asia business analyst and journalist.

Weekend Edition
April 29-31, 2016
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
Ulrich Heyden
Crimea as a Paradise for High-Class Tourism?
Ramzy Baroud
Did the Arabs Betray Palestine? – A Schism between the Ruling Classes and the Wider Society
Halyna Mokrushyna
The War on Ukrainian Scientists
Joseph Natoli
Who’s the Better Neoliberal?
Ron Jacobs
The Battle at Big Brown: Joe Allen’s The Package King
Wahid Azal
Class Struggle and Westoxication in Pahlavi Iran: a Review of the Iranian Series ‘Shahrzad’
David Crisp
After All These Years, Newspapers Still Needed
Graham Peebles
Hungry and Frightened: Famine in Ethiopia 2016
Robert Koehler
Opening the Closed Political Culture
Missy Comley Beattie
Waves of Nostalgia
Thomas Knapp
The Problem with Donald Trump’s Version of “America First”
Georgina Downs
Hillsborough and Beyond: Establishment Cover Ups, Lies & Corruption
Jeffrey St. Clair
Groove on the Tracks: the Magic Left Hand of Red Garland
Ben Debney
Kush Zombies: QELD’s Hat Tip to Old School Hip Hop
Charles R. Larson
Moby Dick on Steroids?
David Yearsley
Miles Davis: Ace of Baseness
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail