Posts Tagged ‘Beirut’

Counterpunch on Theresa May’s Plans to Celebrate the Balfour Declaration

March 7, 2017

Yesterday Counterpunch published a powerful piece by Robert Fisk, ‘Who Could Ever Feel Pride in the Balfour Declaration?’ attacking Theresa May’s plans to celebrate the centenary of the British Prime Minister’s declaration during the First World War to support the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Fisk is a journalist with the Independent, where the piece was originally published, and a veteran critic of Israel and its ethnic cleansing of the country’s indigenous, Arab population. He begins the article

Theresa May told us that Britain will celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration this summer with “pride”. This was predictable. A British prime minister who would fawn to the head-chopping Arab autocrats of the Gulf in the hope of selling them more missiles – and then hold the hand of the insane new anti-Muslim president of the United States – was bound, I suppose, to feel “pride” in the most mendacious, deceitful and hypocritical document in modern British history.

As a woman who has set her heart against immigrants, it was also inevitable that May would display her most venal characteristics to foreigners – to wealthy Arab potentates, and to an American president whose momentary love of Britain might produce a life-saving post-Brexit trade agreement. It was to an audience of British lobbyists for Israel a couple of months ago that she expressed her “pride” in a century-old declaration which created millions of refugees. But to burnish the 1917 document which promised Britain’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine but which would ultimately create that very refugee population – refugees being the target of her own anti-immigration policies – is little short of iniquitous.

The Balfour Declaration’s intrinsic lie – that while Britain supported a Jewish homeland, nothing would be done “which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” – is matched today by the equally dishonest response of Balfour’s lamentable successor at the Foreign Office. Boris Johnson wrote quite accurately two years ago that the Balfour Declaration was “bizarre”, a “tragicomically incoherent” document, “an exquisite piece of Foreign Office fudgerama”. But in a subsequent visit to Israel, the profit-hunting Mayor of London suddenly discovered that the Balfour Declaration was “a great thing” that “reflected a great tide of history”. No doubt we shall hear more of this same nonsense from Boris Johnson later this year.

He states that Balfour issued the Declaration in order to convince American and Russian Jews to continue to press for continuing the war against Germany, after Russia was forced to sue for peace the same year in 1917. He points out that Britain should, by rights, apologise to the millions of Arab refugees created by the Declaration, as Britain has done for the Slave Trade and the Irish Potato Famine. But he predicts that Britain won’t, because Theresa May needs Israel far more than she needs the support of the Arabs. Much of the article is really a discussion of David Cronin’s book Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel. Cronin’s an Irish journalist living Brussels, who very definitely despises anti-Semitism and Holocaust-deniers, and who faces up to the issue of the support of Mufti of Jerusalem for the Nazis and the Holocaust. The book details the British use of violence and repression against the Arabs, including the use of ‘extra-judicial execution’. Fisk also shows in his article how British prime ministers since Balfour, of both the Left and Right, have supported Israel at the expense of its Arab population. PMs who have supported Israel and its ethnic cleansing include Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and, of course, Tony Blair. Fisk also details British complicity in supplying arms to the Israelis and that they gave no protection to Arab civilians when they were being massacred, such as at Haifa. Fisk states

Cronin’s investigation of Colonial Office files show that the British military lied about the “cleansing” of Haifa, offering no protection to the Arabs, a policy largely followed across Palestine save for the courage of Major Derek Cooper and his soldiers, whose defence of Arab civilians in Jaffa won him the Military Cross (although David Cronin does not mention this). Cooper, whom I got to know when he was caring for wounded Palestinians in Beirut in 1982, never forgave his own government for its dishonesty at the end of the Palestine Mandate.

But Britain’s support for Israel hasn’t always been reciprocated. When the PLO opposed the Falkland’s War, they were told very clearly by the British ambassador that it was no concern of theirs. At the same time the Israelis were selling Skyhawk jets to the Argentinians to shoot down our flyboys.

Fisk concludes the article

From the day that Herbert Samuel, deputy leader of the Liberal Party and former (Jewish) High Commissioner for Palestine, said in the House of Commons in 1930 that Arabs “do migrate easily”, it seems that Britain has faithfully followed Balfour’s policies. More than 750,000 Palestinians were uprooted in their catastrophe, Cronin writes. Generations of dispossessed would grow up in the camps. Today, there are around five million registered Palestinian refugees. Britain was the midwife of that expulsion.

And this summer, we shall again be exhorted by Theresa May to remember the Balfour Declaration with “pride”.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/06/who-could-ever-feel-pride-in-the-balfour-declaration/

Vox Political Against Islamophobia and the ISIS Terror Attacks You Don’t Hear About

March 25, 2016

Daesh’s Muslim Victims

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a couple of posts keeping the Brussels attacks in perspective. The attacks, as well as those in Paris, were a horrible atrocity committed by fanatics with no conscience or respect for the lives of innocents. But Mike also reminds us that there have also been Muslim victims of Daesh’s terror campaign, that have not received anywhere near the same amount of coverage and outrage. These people too deserve our sympathy, and we should also be outraged and disgusted at their suffering.

Mike has put up a list showing the numbers of people killed by ISIS’ thugs and butchers, not just in Brussels, Paris and San Diego, but also in Yemen, Tunisia, Ankara in Turkey, Afghanistan, Beirut, Libya and Baghdad. The atrocities committed in these places have also killed tens and hundreds of people. And Mike’s article reminds us that globally, ISIS have killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims. But it’s sad and unjust that their deaths haven’t received the same amount of coverage. For many papers, these atrocities aren’t frontline news.
This is needs to change if we are all to stand together to defeat these monsters.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/24/why-concentrate-on-brussels-daesh-killings-of-muslims-far-outnumber-attacks-on-the-west/

Chris Herbert, Anti-Islamophobic Army Vet

Mike has also put up another piece on the disabled ex-squaddie, Chris Herbert. Herbert lost a leg fighting in Iraq. Despite that, he has come very firmly out against hatred of Muslims, citing his experience of the kindness of the Muslim medical professionals and others who treated him for his injury. He states that people have been trying to get him to add his voice attacking Muslims, but he has refused. Go read the article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/25/after-the-brussels-attacks-heres-an-antidote-to-the-anti-muslim-hatred-were-seeing/

Women and Life in Occupied Raqqah

There are also a number of fascinating, but grim documentaries on Youtube on what life is actually like in Raqqah in Syria for those, who are unfortunate enough to be under ISIS’ perverted rule. This includes meting out flogging to women, who are out unaccompanied by a close male relative or another woman, including 13 year old girls; the judicial murders called ‘executions’ held in one of the town’s roundabouts; and throwing gay men off tower blocks. In addition to this, they closed down the local Christian church and turned it into their wretched headquarters, and blew up a beautiful ancient mosque. I’ve no idea why. Possibly the imam was too much of a peacenik, and the puritan hardliners decided that the stunning azure blue tiles covering the onion dome were a distraction, rather than a work of beauty pointing to that of the Divine (Latif – The Beautiful, is, I understand, one of the 99 Names of Allah in Islam).
Whatever, ISIS are an affront to human civilisation, and the dignity of God’s human world.

Private Eye on the Western Firms Seeking to Grasp the Iraqi Oil Fields

March 3, 2016

Private Eye in their issue of 9th 22nd December 2005 also ran an article on the ‘Production Sharing Agreements’ issued to British and other western firms, which effectively handed control of the Iraqi oil fields to them, taking millions from the Iraqis themselves. All under the pretext that it’s helping to rebuild the economy of the invasion.

Rebuilding Iraq
I’m Oil Right, Jack

Good to see that Britain is doing its bit to “assist” Iraq – and help private western oil companies bolster their already massive profits at the same time.

As is well known, the United States is putting pressure on Iraq’s fragile government to accept “production sharing agreements”, or PSAs, to develop the Iraqi oil fields. These PSAs, previously unknown in the big middle eastern oilfields, will mean vast profits for western oil giants. Indeed, according to a report from the campaign group Platform, War on Want and the New Economics Foundation, western companies could make returns on investment of between 42 percent and 162 percent, while Iraq itself could lose some $100 bn by agreeing to the PSAs.

While the pressure from the US for PSAs is well known, it now emerges that Britain’s own Foreign Office is equally involved in lobbying the Iraqis. It is doing so through a little known but powerful business group called the International Tax and Investment Centre (ITIC). Originally formed to help business get the right laws to “encourage” investment in the former Soviet Union, ITIC is now central to the oil industry’s efforts in Iraq. An Anglo-American outfit jointly chaired by a senior US businessman and the former Tory trade minister Lord Walker, it is funded by the likes of BP, Shell and Exxon.

ITIC began its “Iraq project” in July 2003 and claims it did so “following several requests from advisors from western governments and international organizations for private sector input as they prepare their technical assistance programs for Iraq”. Among those keen to hear ITIC’s advice were the World Bank and the British government.

Iraqi ministers were presented with an ITIC report recommending that their oil industry entre into PSAs with western firms at meetings organized by the IMF and World Bank in Beirut earlier this year. At the same time ITIC reported a “meeting held with UK Treasury and Foreign Office to discuss coordination and cooperation of Full Report presentation”. In other words, two British government departments became agents for ITIC, helping it persuade the Iraqis to accept PSAs.

The Foreign Office denies it has been involved in specific lobbying on Iraqi oil, but documents released to Platform under the Freedom of Information Act show the true extent to which the British government has represented ITIC. The Foreign Office presented Iraqi oil ministers with a ‘code of practice for the Iraqi oil industry” last autumn. This code was supposed to persuade the oil ministers they needed to have open, transparent deals to avoid corruption. However, the FO documents quoted extensively from ITIC’s own Iraq report – before it was published and without acknowledging that the report was itself funded by western oil firms.

The FO document also goes beyond its brief and says that “Iraq would need to engage with the international oil companies to provide appropriate levels of foreign direct investment” to develop its oil. Other solutions that do not hand such profits to western oil firms – like borrowing money and directing its own oil exploitation – are for some reason not discussed.

In addition the British government has, via the Foreign Office, paid £147,700 to fund advisers to the Iraqi oil ministry, including two BP executive, Terry Adams and Bob Morgan.

This adds more evidence to the revelations that the invasion of Iraq was never about protecting us from al-Qaeda or terrorism, but simply a cynical strategy to steal that nation’s oil.

Prof Paul Rogers on ISIS’ Blowback War

December 29, 2015

This month’s (December 2015) issue of Justpeace, the newsletter of the Roman Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, carries an article ‘The Paris Atrocity, and After’, by prof Paul Rogers. Rogers is professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. In his article he analyses the Paris attacks, and their intended consequences. He makes the point that the massacres had three purposes, and were ultimately intended to provoke the West into retaliating so the Islamists could gain further recruits in Syria and Iraq as the true defenders of Muslims. Identifying the three aims of the attack, he writes

The first is to demonstrate that in the wake of the destruction of Russia’s Metrojet over Sinai and the bombing in Beirut on November 12, ISIS has now gone truly international. Thus its modus operandi has reached the level of the loose al-Qaida affiliates in the post-9/11 years: Islamabad, Bali, Madrid, London, Jakarta, Istanbul, Mombasa, Amman, Sinai, Casablanca, Djerba in Tunisia – and many more. This is potentially a very major change since ISIS has so far concentrated primarily on its territorial base, in contrast to the old al-Qaida movement.

The second is to further damage intercommunal relations, not just in Paris but across western Europe and further afield. An accelerating Islamophobia suits ISIS in its quest to attract more recruits from recent diasporas and more established migrant communities, many members of whom now feel thoroughly insecure and greatly worried and even fearful of the hardening of attitudes towards them.

The third is to provoke and incite France and other states to intensify the war against ISIS – in Syria, Iraq, and anywhere else that it, or its affiliates, make progress.

ISIS wants war. It presents itself as the true guardian of Islam under attack from the ‘Crusader west’. This message, though pernicious and dangerous, is currently being encouraged by the progressive withdrawal of all Middle Eastern states from active involvement in the airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.

The air war in Syria was in early 2015 led by the United States with the participation of France, Australia, Canada, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Jordan. In recent months, however, the four Arab states have ceased bombing. In addition, Justin Trudeau’s new government in Canada is withdrawing all CF-18 strike-aircraft from Syria and Iraq, and Australia is reported to have paused its operations in Syria since the Russians started separate air attacks (almost all against non-ISIS anti-Assad rebels). That leaves just the US and France. So in Syria at least, ISIS can easily claim that a ‘crusader onslaught’ is taking place.

Furthermore, the sustained air assault of the last 15 months, with close to 10,000 targets hit, has not pushed ISIS into retreat. In the first 11 months of the air war, to July 2015, the US-led coalition killed 15,000 ISIS supporters. By October, that had risen to 20,000, yet a Pentagon source said that the total number of ISIS fighters was unchanged at 20,000-30,000. (USA Today, 12 October 2015).

In an extraordinary admission, US intelligence sources say there has been a surge in recruits to ISIS in spite of the air war and the losses. In September 2014, 15,000 recruits were reported to have joined from 80 countries; a year later the figure had risen to 30,000 from 100 countries.

In blunt terms, ISIS is actually being strengthened by the air war, and it can be assumed that it wants more. The movement vigorously and insistently peddles the message of ‘Islam under attack’; and though it is disliked and hated by the great majority of Muslims worldwide, the message strikes enough of a chord with a small minority to serve ISIS’s aim of creating this purist if brutal caliphate.

Prof Rogers writes a weekly article on security at the Open Democracy website. The full article originally appeared there on 14 November. The website’s address is http://www.opendemocracy.net.

Peace, Love and Lebanese Rockets

October 22, 2014

The Lebanese Rocket Society

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige
Soda Film + Art
Arabic with English, French and Arabic subtitles
Running time 95 minutes.

Lebanon Rocket 1

With the news full of the horrors of ISIS and their genocidal war in Iraq and Syria, I thought I’d turn to a far more optimistic and inspiring episode of recent Middle Eastern history: how a group of Lebanese students in 1962 were inspired to join the nascent space race and begin building their own rockets. It’s a piece of history that has been all but forgotten. The film not only documents the rise and fall of the Lebanese space programme, but the film makers’ own attempts to jog people’s memories of it on Lebanese radio. They then turned the rocket programme into an art project, constructing a full-scale statue of one of the rockets, which they presented to the Lebanese Armenian college at the centre of the rocket programme. They also made their own version of the Golden Record, the disc containing the sounds of Earth, which was carried into space on the Voyager 2 probe destined to leave the solar system for the depths of interstellar space and possible contact with aliens. In the hands of the film’s producers, the record held the sounds of Lebanon.

They also created an animated film, by Ghossein Halwa, depicting what Lebanon might be like in 2025, if the programme had continued. In Halwa’s film, the Lebanon of the near future is a prosperous, bustling space age state. Space technology has given the country security by allowing it to guard its borders against foreign invasion. It has also contributed to the country’s material wealth by discovering oil reserves off its coast. Beirut and its suburbs are a true, futuristic city like the vast megalopolis’ in Japanese manga films and the SF classic, Blade Runner. Vast space craft, Arab versions of the Space Shuttle, are launched to explore the depths of space. But it’s also a fun a place, where you can trip the light fantastic in zero-gravity nightclubs.

Lebanon Rocket Cartoon

One of the new generation of spacecraft from the alternative Lebanon of 2025.

The Founder, Manoug Manougian

The programme was the brain child of Manoug Manougian, a professor of mathematics at Haigazian college, an Armenian college in Lebanon. Manougian’s interest in space travel seems to have been sparked, like many a child’s, by reading Jules Verne. Now teaching maths at university in Tampa, Florida, he says during one interview that it may not be accident he ended up there. Verne made it the location for his astronaut’s journey into space in his Voyage to the Moon as it was at the right latitude for launching a flight to the Earth’s companion world. Inspired by the achievements of the Americans and Russians, Manougian was inspired to begin his own experiments. He and a group of his students began making and launching a series of rockets. At first these were tiny ‘baby rockets’, not much larger than fireworks and about the same size as some of the model rockets hobby rocketeers enjoyed by hobby rocketeers. The rockets became increasingly larger and more sophisticated, until they reached the end of what could legally be built. The fuel used by the rockets was strictly limited to the armed forces. Furthermore, there was a problem with funding as any further increase in size would make the rockets prohibitively expensive for a small, civilian project. Manougian’s group had caught the interest of the Lebanese army under Captain Wehbe, who stepped in to give the young rocketeers the money and equipment they needed.

Involvement with the Army

The alliance with the army brought its own problems, however. Manougian and his students were only interested in peaceful research. The college’s founder, a Protestant pastor, was very much afraid that the rocket would be used as a weapon, and was initially strongly opposed to the research. He resolved to put a stop to it when he saw his own 12 year old daughter come out of one of the campus’ laboratories, her forearms grey from mixing the rocket fuel. He decided to go round and tell Manougian to put a stop to it.

He was persuaded otherwise by the massive publicity the programme was giving Lebanon and his college. The newspapers were full of stories about Manougian and his band of space cadets. Other, similar groups sprang up elsewhere in Lebanon. One such was a group of 13-15 year old boys, who launched their own baby rockets. The Lebanese also received international assistance and co-operation from France and America. Col. Wehbe attended a course on rocketry and the American space programme in Florida. He also attended the launch of a French experimental rocket in North Africa.

International Tensions and War

The programme was doomed by the political tensions in the Middle East. The film makers point out that the 1960s was a period of tension and conflict between the superpowers, America and Russia, and their allies and clients in the Arab world. Against them was Arab nationalism, led by the Egyptian president Abdel Nasser, which briefly resulted in the union of Syria and Egypt, and the anti-imperial forces. Lebanon was buzzing with spies and political intrigue. One of the speakers recalled how one frequent drinker at a hotel bar in Beirut was none other than Kim Philby, the notorious British traitor. The Lebanese’s success in building larger and more sophisticated missiles attracted attention and alarm from other nations. Their last missile was to have a projected range of 500 km, bringing into range Cyprus, Syria and Israel. Manougian’s rocketeers received a sharp message from their diplomatic staff in Cyprus. The British authorities were understandably annoyed after they made a mistake with one of their rocket’s trajectory, so that it almost landed on a Cypriot fishing boat.

Other Arab nations were also keen to acquire Lebanon’s success and expertise. Manougian recalled how he was approached at an official party by another Armenian, whom he didn’t know. The man asked him if he was looking for funding. When Manougian said he was, the unknown man replied that he knew someone who wanted to meet him. And so Manougian found himself driving through Beirut with the man at 2.30-3.00 O’clock in the morning, before ending up at hotel, in front of which was a crowd of people. He was then approached by the heir of one of the other Arab states, who asked him if he’d like to come and do the same in his country as he’d done for Lebanon. Manougian states that he felt it would have been impolite to refuse the offer, and so simply replied that he’d have to think about it. He then fled back to Texas to complete his education, explaining that at the time he only had a B.A., and not even an M.A.

The Army’s Takeover and End of the Project

With Manougian absent, the rocket programme began to experience a series of disasters. Three of the rocketeers were badly burned in an accident when the perchlorate rocket fuel being mixed exploded. The College decided the rocket programme was too hazardous, and so had them removed from campus. it was then gradually taken over by the Lebanese army. Manougian, Joseph Sfeir and the other leading rocketeers were peaceful visionaries, but the army made it clear that they had always been interested in developing it as a weapon. They just didn’t tell the project’s civilian leaders. Well, said one of the officers, if you told Manougian it would be all over Haikazian college, and if you told Sfeir, it would be all over his home province. Under the army’s control, the tests became more secret and closed to the public, unlike the earlier launches. Eventually the project was closed down due to international pressure. One of the rocketeers identified the French as responsible. Another recalled how he knew the then-president personally, and asked him, which country was responsible. ‘Was it from the north?’ he asked. ‘From the north, from the south, and elsewhere’, came the reply. Clearly Lebanon’s success at creating such a missile had made a lot of people understandably very nervous.

The film laments how very, very few Lebanese now remember the programme, despite the massive publicity it had at the time. They feel that the 1967 War and the losses of Arab territory to Israel and subsequent conflicts have blotted out all memory of the programme, and made Arabs afraid to dream and strive for utopias. There is very little Science Fiction in the Middle East, they opine, because there’s always the danger that someone in the future will consider it subversive.

Peaceful Idealism

What actually comes out of the film, in contrast to the militarism and political intrigue, is the peaceful idealism and patriotism of the projects leaders and founders. Manougian states that Lebanese Armenians are very loyal to their adopted country for taking them in after the Armenian massacres that occurred throughout the Turkish Empire and the Middle East. It’s a situation the film’s producers strongly sympathise with. One of them has an Armenian grandparent, while the other is part Palestinian. They see the space programme as what their country, and the Arab peoples themselves, can achieve if only they dare to dream and look for utopias. The film was made in 2009-10, during the Arab Spring, which they hail as the Arab people once more daring to dream of better societies without tyrants or despots. As for Manougian, he is still very much a visionary and campaigner for peace. He’s active in a project, ‘Peace through Education’. The film makers hoped by making the film they would restore its memory. The sculpture of the rocket was painted white to show that it wasn’t a real missile, and taken through the streets of Beirut to Haikazian College to show what Lebanon had achieved peacefully, through idealism.

The Lebanese Rocketeers – The Arab ‘Mice that Roared’

The film and its rocketeers remind me somewhat of the Ealing comedy, the Mouse on the Moon. This was the successor to the comedies about the minuscule state of Little Fenwick, an English village that manages to gain independence from the rest of the UK, Passport to Pimlico and The Mouse that Roared. The Mouse on the Moon chronicles the events as Little Fenwick joins the space race, rushing to land on the Moon ahead of the Americans and Russians. Apart from well-known Ealing stars like Margaret Rutherford, it also has Bernard Cribbins, known to grown-up children of a certain age as the narrator of The Wombles, and to a new generation of children as one the friends of David Tenant’s Doctor. It shows what small nations and ordinary people can do with skill, vision and military backing. Sadly, from the perspective of 2014 the film’s optimistic embrace of the Arab Spring seems misplaced. The despots throughout the Middle East have either successfully clamped down on the civil rights movements, or else the dissident movements themselves have led to the raise of dangerous and unstable Islamist militias. Egypt’s brief experiment with the democracy and the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood has collapsed, and the country is once more under the control of the army. Nevertheless, for a brief moment another world of peace and freedom seemed possible.

Human Progress Made when Peoples and Cultures Come Together

The other point that comes out of the film is the amazing advances in science and civilisation when difference peoples and cultures come together in peace to try to learn from one another. Lebanon was known as the Switzerland of the Levant. It’s a mosaic of different peoples and religions, including Christians, Muslims and the Druze, a highly unorthodox form of Islam. Islam was able to make great strides in science in the Middle Ages, because the early caliphs were keen to draw on the knowledge and expertise of their empire’s subject peoples. The caliph Al-Ma’mun founded a bayt al-hikma, or House of Wisdom dedicated to science and medicine. They drew on Greek, Persian and Indian science and mathematics, and employed Christians, Zoroastrians and Hindus, as well as Muslims, to translate scientific and medical works into Arabic. Al-Ma’mun himself sent a scientific mission of scholars, including the pioneering mathematician al-Khwarizmi, who gave his name to word ‘algorithm’, to acquire scientific knowledge and texts from the Byzantine Empire, the Greek Empire of the East. Western science, in its turn, because massively enriched from the 12th century onwards when European scholars acquired copies of the lost Greek classics and Arabic scientific and medical texts. Peaceful contact between nations and cultures, and the great advances they could make by learning from each other, is now threatened today by the rise in militant xenophobia and, in the Middle East, by the genocidal Islamism of groups like ISIS.

Bill Hicks’ Vision – ‘We Can End World Hunger and Colonise Space’

This film shows the opposite, of what can be achieved through peaceful co-operation. It goes some way to proving the point the late comedian, Bill Hicks, used to make at the end of his gigs. Hicks used to state that if the world spent the amount of money it spends on arms instead on developing, we could feed the world. ‘Not one person would starve. Not one. And we could go and colonise space, in peace, together.’

Bill Hicks sadly died of cancer, but the dreams lives on.

Here’s the great man in action, taken from Youtube.

A Resource for Contemporary Arab Politics: A Brutal Friendship by Said Aburish

October 4, 2013

London: Indigo 1998.

Aburish Cover

Although this book was published over fifteen years ago, it is still highly relevant for providing the historical background to the Arab Spring and contemporary events in the Arab world. Aburish’s book traces the history of the bloody relationship between the Western powers and their client regimes in the Middle East. The book describes how the conquering British and French in the 19th and 20th century carved up the Middle East into its present mosaic of state and supported various political movements and politicians in these countries in order to maintain their control and overlordship. This continued even after former decolonisation. Leadership of the free world then passed from Britain to America, who manipulated the Middle East during the Cold War in order to check Russian influence. Oil also played a major part in the political economy of the Middle East, with Britain and America supporting some highly repressive and deeply authoritarian regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, in order to keep the oil flowing. Arab leaders, who revolted against their neo-colonial overlords were ousted, frequently through coups and assassinations. Among the various assassinations arranged by the Western powers was a plot in the 1950s to kill Iraq’s anti-Western leaders. The assassin was sponsored by the CIA, and, although the plot failed, was able to escape to Syria. The assassin? Saddam Hussein.

Aburish shows how the new political divisions and regimes created and imposed by the Western imperialists were often deeply resented by the indigenous peoples, and responsible for further hatred and violence within those nations. The Prime Minister of Iraq in the early 1950s was described in glowing terms by Western politicians and the press. He was, however, so hated by the Iraqi people that not only was he literally torn apart by a mob during a revolution, but they also ran over the pieces in a car. The atrocities committed by the Maronite Phalange in Lebanon during that nation’s Civil War in the 1980s also have their roots in Western diplomacy. When the British and French divided the Middle East during the Mandate, they enlarged the area under Maronite jurisdiction far beyond that people’s traditional homeland. When Lebanon was created, the Maronites were the largest single religious group in Lebanon, and so were given a leading position in that nation’s complex political structure. Demographic changes between the ’20s and the 80’s saw the Maronite population reduce in comparison with the Muslim sects. Fearing losing control of their nation and their expanded heartland, the Maronites reacted with appalling savagery. Aburish describes the notorious massacres they committed on the Muslim inmates of the refugee camps.

He also describes the Orientalist prejudices of the Western, particularly British, explorers and diplomats, who created the modern Near East. These, such as the great, pioneering British lady explorer, Gertrude Bell, preferred Bedouine nomads and tribal warriors to modern, educated middle class Arabs. They saw the desert warriors as representing the true, noble Arabs, while reviling what they saw as the corruption of urban society, like Beirut and its fleshpots. I can believe this. One contributor to Lobster was a colonial civil servant, who believed he had seen serious electoral fraud in Nigeria in the run-up to the Biafran War. He was bitterly critical of the aristocratic British colonial officers, whom he states were looked up as ‘polo-playing pr*cks’ by their subordinates. These had far more affection for the feudal Fulani than for the settled, agricultural Nigerian peoples. During the War, Britain secretly supplied arms to the Muslim Fulani against Christian Nigerians in order to keep the oil supplies flowing. I can believe that the British officer class were closer to the Fulani than the other Nigerian peoples. The Fulani were pastoralists with a feudal social structure. The officer class of the British army has also largely been drawn from the aristocracy, and with the same love of equestrianism and horsemanship the British army and the Fulani emirs and their warriors shared similar social classes and outlook.

In the last chapter, Aburish criticises the attitude of Arab expatriates in London ‘the Beiru-on-Thames syndrome’. He objects to the way they have taken over Western attitudes towards their peoples and society, and considers that they form a new slave class.

The anti-Islam blogs have frequently criticised liberal, pro-Arab journalists, such as the Independent’s Robert Fisk, for their support of the Arab Spring, and the deeply illiberal Salafi regimes that have arisen from it. Although it was written over fifteen years ago, this book shows why so many liberals did have such high hopes of the liberal movements that ousted the previous secular dictatorships: these regimes were so horrific, and did little but enrich themselves while serving the West. Western friends of the Arabs, like Fisk, therefore hoped and expected that these regimes would be removed by a new class of politicians, who would truly lead their people to dignity and independence. Unfortunately, this hasn’t occurred, and the Middle East still remains a bloody battle ground.

If you want to know more about the Middle East, and the background to the current events and bloodshed, then I recommend this book.

Secrets and Lies: The Real Reasons Obama and Cameron Want to Attack Syria

September 4, 2013

Since the chemical weapon attack two weeks ago, Obama and David Cameron have both been demanding an attack on Syria, claiming that Syria’s president Assad was behind the attack. In fact there are strong reasons for disputing this claim. Global Research has published pieces showing that a British arms firm, Britam, discussed the possibility of using such a weapon in Syria and blaming the Syrian government. The White House itself may even have authorised this attack. See the links to these posts over at Sparaszczukster’s blog at http://sparaszczukster.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/britains-daily-mail-u-s-backed-plan-to-launch-chemical-weapon-attack-on-syria/ and http://sparaszczukster.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/did-the-white-house-help-plan-the-syrian-chemical-attack/. Even without these articles, there are still strong reasons for distrusting the official account that the Syrian regime used the gas. One of the UN inspectors, Carla Bruni, has stated that the attack was sarin gas, launched by the rebels. See Another Angry Voice’s article http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/william-hague-warmonger-syria.html.

Despite co-operation between America and Syria after 9/11, sections of the American government were suspicious and increasingly hostile to Syria, particularly the supporters of Israel and the Neo-Conservatives. Syria remained on the US State Department list of sponsors of terrorism. Syria provided sanctuary and support for Palestinian terrorist organisations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The latter maintained missile outposts aimed at Israel. After the invasion of Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld accused the Syrian regime of permitting insurgents to enter Iraq from their side of the border. Italian investigators have identified Syria as the hub through which suicide bombers belonging to the terrorist network of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have entered Syria. Although the Syrian regime has denied that its intelligence service is aiding terrorists and insurgents to enter Iraq, Iraqi officials have stated firmly that this indeed the case. Ra’ad al-Samarrai, the chief Iraqi customs officer at the Waleed border crossing, has stated that ‘Syrian intelligence is controlling Syria’s border post(s). I can see in the Syrian customs agents eyes who is really in control’. Colonel Aref Fanus, the head of the border police at Anbar, confirmed this, stating ‘If they really wanted to help, they could stop any (terrorist) crossings’.

The US Treasury identified four nephews of Saddam Hussein, who had fled to Syria after the invasion, from where they funded the insurgency. The main source of funding for the Ba’athist insurgency in Iraq, according to American officials, another relative of Saddam Hussein, his cousin Fatiq al-Majid. Al-Majid is a former officer in Hussein’s Special Security Organization, who took refuge in Syria. With two of his cousins and other associates, whose number is currently unknown, al-Majid responsible for funding both the indigenous Iraqi insurgents and al-Zarqawi’s terrorists. The supporters of the radical Islamist preacher, Abu Qaqa’a, centred in Aleppo, aided terrorists to cross the Iraqi border, until a crackdown in January 2005.

In 2003 there was a battle between American and Syrian forces along Iraq’s border. They Americans believed they had encountered a convoy taking Iraqi officials across the border into Syria. US helicopters attacked the convoy, which was pursued into Syria by the Americans. As many as 80 Syrians were killed, and a number of border guards captured. This incident caused a further deterioration in relations between Washington and Damascus, and has been seen by some observers as an attempt to intimidate the Syrians into closing the border.

Syrian occupied Lebanon also acted as a sanctuary for former members of Saddam Hussein’s regime. According to American officials, Iraq’s former charge d’affaires in Beirut, Nabil Abdallah al-Janabi, is still in Lebanon, from whence he provides funding for foreign terrorists to enter Iraq. The Lebanese newspaper al-Nahar also reported that the Bush regime showed video footage of former Iraqi government officials jogging around the Ein Mreisseh boulevard on Beirut’s seaside and having a meal at a restaurant in the seaside of resort of Bloudan to the Syrians.

It is also believed that Syria has also provided a secure haven for terrorists attempting to infiltrate Jordan. In 2004 police in the country’s capital, Amman, uncovered a cell of al-Zarqawi’s terrorist network, consisting of ten men. They were planning to bomb the office of the prime minister, the General Intelligence Directorate, and the US embassy. From the police reports and the televised confessions of four of the conspirators, it appears that the majority of them were acting under the command of al-Zarqawi’s chief commander in Syria, Suleiman Khalid Darwish. The conspirators had trained in, entered Jordan from, and had smuggled most of their funds and equipment from Syria. The Jordanians also intercepted further shipments of arms from Syria. The Syrians, however, refused to extradite Darwish to face trial for his part in the conspiracy.

The American government was also critical of Syria for breaking the UN boycott of Iraq by illegally importing Iraqi oil through the Kirkus-Banyas pipeline. Furthermore, Syria voted against the invasion of Iraq during the debate in the UN, and sided with France and the other members of the Security Council in passing a compromise measure, Resolution 1441, which they believed would prevent war. Assad’s Ba’ath regime in Syria is militantly secular, nationalist and socialist, and so stands opposed to militant Islam. Several times in its history the regime has severely cracked down on militant Islam. It did, however, appear to use Zarqawi’s terrorist network to de-stable Iraq and prevent its emergence as a secure state.

Syria has also signed a non-aggression pact with Iran. Assad himself has further provoked American hostility by declaring that ‘The armed operations against American occupying forces in Iraq (are) a legitimate resistance because it represents the majority of the people’. The regime has also caused concern in Washington and Israel through the test firing of Scud missiles.

The possibility that America would itself launch an attack on Syria was raised a decade ago in 2003. In October that year Israeli forces destroyed an alleged Palestinian terrorist based in Syria. This attack was not condemned by the American government. Despite attempts by the American government to engage Syria in negotiations, it appeared that Israel, and by extension America, would retain the option of military action in future. Despite pressure from the Americans over its sponsorship of Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups, it was believed that the Syrian government would still support them as a bargaining chip for negotiations with Israel over possession of the Golan Heights.

It seems to me that these are the real reasons Obama now wishes to strike against Iraq. Now nations have a right to defend themselves and their citizens, and our forces in Iraq have every right to fight to stop the entry of militants and terrorists into the country. This is not, however, what we are being told by our leaders. We have absolutely no right to order a strike against Syria under the pretext demanded by President Obama and David Cameron. Cameron’s motives for demanding the attack are simple: since Tony Blair’s administration British governments have automatically followed American demands for military assistance out of fear that not doing so would harm the ‘special relationship’. Sparaszczukster over on her blog has reported that the anti-immigration party, Veritas, has set up a petition demanding an inquiry into what the British government has really been doing in Syria. Sparaszczukster has made it very plain she does not share their attitude towards multiculturalism. In this case, however, they are doing the right thing. Go to her website at http://sparaszczukster.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/what-has-our-government-really-been-up-to-in-syria-petition-for-an-investigation/ and follow the link to the petition.

Sources

Michael Young, ‘Syria, the US and Terrorism’, in Christopher Heffelfinger, ed., Unmasking Terror: A Global Review of Terrorist Activities (Washington D.C., Jamestown Foundation 2005) 223-6.

Sherifa Zuhur, ‘Syria: A Haven for Terrorists?’, ibid, 227-30.

Gary Gambill, ‘How Significant is Syria’s Role in Iraq’, ibid, 235-9.