Posts Tagged ‘Damascus’

Vanessa Beeley: Britain Doesn’t Have Any Good Intentions in the Middle East

December 15, 2017

In this clip from RT, Going Underground’s host Afshin Rattansi speaks to Vanessa Beeley, a British journalist, who has covered the war in Syria. He asks her about Theresa May’s condemnation of the blockade against Yemen, which is resulting in a terrible famine that is starving about half of the population or so. Surely this shows that Britain has good intentions in the Middle East.

In reply, Beeley states very clearly that she cannot agree that Britain has any good intentions in the Middle East. Britain tried to undermine the UN Resolution 2216, which condemned the blockade. Britain’s military industrial complex has profited immensely from arms sales to Saudi Barbaria, and British specialists were in the command and control centre in Riyadh helping select targets. She openly describes May’s gesture as ‘faux humanitarianism’.

I think this is part of a rather longer interview, which I intend to put up, in which she talks about how the British and western media is deliberately presenting a false image of the corruption in the NGOs operating in Syria. One of them, the Adam Smith something-or-other, was the subject of a Panorama documentary. This revealed that massive sums of money were being taken out of the organisation by Islamist terrorist groups, through the use of payments to fictional people on the payroll, and even people, who’d died.

Beeley described this as ‘a controlled explosion’. The media and political establishment couldn’t keep it secret, and so did a limited expose of what was going on in order to divert attention from corruption and atrocities committed elsewhere. Like in the White Helmets, who are lauded as non-partisan heroes, but in fact are as partisan as everyone else. They have saved people, who aren’t members of their organisation, but this is just occasional, if they happen to be there. They don’t put themselves out of the way to do it, as is claimed on mainstream TV. Moreover, a number of their members put up posts and Tweets praising the Islamists. So definitely not the whiter-than-the-driven-snow heroes we’ve all been told. Beely made the case in that longer video that this cover up is because the White Helmets are becoming a global brand. They’re branching out in South America, Brazil and the Hispanic nations.

As for the Adam Smith whatever, I’ve had suspicions of any organisation that puts up his name ever since the Adam Smith Institute emerged under the Thatcher. These were manic privatisers, who wanted the health service sold off and the welfare state destroyed. This Adam Smith organisation isn’t connected with them, but still, I’m suspicious. It looks far too much like another wretched free enterprise group come to implement western privatisation under the guise of humanitarianism. In which case, you can expect the same results free enterprise has had on Iraq, Libya, Algeria and the rest of the Arab world. And indeed the world as a whole. I think the government of Algeria, or one of the Arab states in the Maghreb had been pursuing a socialist economy, before the recession of the 70s/80. They then followed the trend and started privatising industry. This made matters even worse, poverty grew, and people started looking to the Islamists for aid. The American-mandated free enterprise policy in Iraq after the invasion resulted in 60 per cent unemployment. This is in a poor country. Ordinary Iraqis were actually better off materially under Saddam Hussein. Hussein was a monster, without question. But they had access to free healthcare, free education, and relatively secular society in which women enjoyed a high status. They could go out to work, and felt safe going home at night.

The invasion destroyed all that. Instead you had sectarian violence, which did not exist in Baghdad previously, or if it did, it was at a much lower level than under the western occupation. You had General MacChrystal running death squads against the Sunnis. Valuable state assets were privatised and sold to American multinationals, and tariff barriers torn down so that the world and especially the Chinese dumped all the stuff they couldn’t sell on the country, driving native Iraqi firms out of business.

You can find the same wretch story in Libya. Gaddafi was a monster, but as I’ve pointed out ad nauseam he did some good things for his country. They were the most prosperous country in Africa. Gaddafi gave his people free education and healthcare. Women had high status. He was not racist, and supported Black Africans from further south. He saw himself as an African leader, and did was he thought was best for the continent. This involved using the Islamists to knock off his rivals, both in Africa and the Arab world. But they were never allowed to recruit or attack his own country.

Now there are something like two parliaments in the country, the free education and healthcare is gone, and the Islamists are running riot. The women connected with his party have been raped, and Black Africans are savagely persecuted by the Islamists. Slavery has returned, with these barbarians selling them at auctions. And this is partly motivated by hatred of Blacks for benefiting from Gaddafi’s rule.

All the claims that these military interventions are for humanitarian reasons are a lie. They’re so western industry can get its grubby, blood-stained mitts on these countries’ precious industries and natural resources. Oh yes, and they’re to help the Saudis spread their own, viciously intolerant version of Islam, and Israel to destroy possible Arab rivals and threats in the region. Plus the fact that the American military-industrial complex loathes Arab nationalism, secularism and socialism with a passion as the next worst thing to Communism. And our European leaders, Cameron, Blair, Sarko and now Theresa May have been enthusiastic accomplices, even the ringleaders, of these assaults on independent, sovereign states.

For the sake of global peace, we need to kick May out and put Corbyn in. His work for disarmament and peace was recognised last week when the International Peace Bureau in Geneva awarded him the Sean McBride Peace Prize, along with Noam Chomsky and the All-Okinawa Committee against Henoko New Bridge. But this received almost zero coverage in the lamestream media.

General Smedley Butler was right was right: War is a racket. Or to put it another way, was is business, and under neoliberalism, business is good.

I’m sick of it. Brits of all faiths and none, of all races and varieties thereof are sick of it. Americans are sick of it. But it means big bucks to the arms manufacturers and the military-industrial complex. And so Obama, who now describes himself as a ‘moderate Republican’, increased the wars in the Middle East to seven. Trump, following the demands of AIPAC and the Christian Zionist lobby, wants to start a war with Iran, if Killary and the Democrats don’t push him into a military confrontation with Putin and the Chinese first.

The people fighting and dying in these wars are working and lower-middle class young men and women. Service people of immense courage and professionalism, whose lives should not be squandered for such squalid profiteering. Old-school Conservatives in the American armed forces despised the neocons around George Dubya as Chickenhawks. They were more than happy to send American forces into countries that had never directly threatened the US. But when it came to fighting themselves, they lacked the courage they expected in others. Bush and the others had all scarpered abroad during the Vietnam War. Generalissimo Trumpo had three exemption from national service during the Vietnam War. He claimed that he had growth in one of his feet that made walking difficult. Still didn’t stop him playing college basketball though.

During the Middle Ages, kings led their armies from the front. In ancient Germanic society, that was the prime function of kings. The Romans noted there were two types of kings in the barbarian tribes that later overran them. There were hereditary religious leaders, who acted as judges. And then there were elected kings, who took charge of the tribe’s armies. They were often elected only for a single campaign. And the Roman Empire itself basically arose through the seizure of supreme power by military dictators, like Julius Caesar and then Augustus. I think the last British general, who physically led his army into battle was in the 19th century.

Would our leaders be so keen on sending good, brave men and women to their deaths and mutilation, if they had to stand there and personally lead them into battle. Shouting like Henry IV, ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends!’ If they personally had to put on the heavy, cumbersome battle armour, or wear hot and unpleasant chem suits in case of a gas attack. If they themselves had to feel some of the squaddies’ natural fear of suffering a hit, of seeing their friends and comrades die, or lose limbs and other organs. If they personally saw the civilian casualties, the ordinary men, women and children driven out of their homes, or killed as ‘collateral damage’. Dying and suffering from wounds, famine, disease. If they had to face the horrors that have scarred decent, strong women and men, leaving them mental wrecks. Sights no civilised person, whether in Britain, Damascus, Cairo, New York or wherever, should ever see.

No, of course they wouldn’t. They’d run screaming to their offices to get their spin doctors to find some bullsh*t excuse why they were too valuable to fight, er, things need doing back home, terribly sorry and so forth.

Saint Augustine said in his City of God that kingdoms without justice are giant robberies. It was true when he wrote in the 5th century AD, and it’s true now. Whatever the gloss put on it by the corporatists and the religious right.

Andre Vltchek’s Pictures and Plea for Understanding for Syria

April 13, 2017

On Wednesday, Counterpunch contributor Andre Vltchek published some of the pictures and comments about Syria from Yayoi Segi, a foreigner, who has been living and working there for three years, and is passionate about the country and its people. Segi states

“Syria is not what the mainstream media wants us to believe it is. One has to see it, to understand. Seeing is believing! It is an extraordinarily exceptional country. All that we have been told about Syria and its people is a lie.”

She talks about how the Syrian people are decent, warm people trying to get on with their lives despite the horrors and inconveniences of the war. She is also impressed by their manners and respect for education and culture.

“Syrians are the most hospitable, gentle people. When we meet, we never talk about the war, the conflict. It is a tremendous civilization… They always talk about their life, the future. They discuss their poets and their thinkers. People in Syria are very well educated. They know what is going on, on our Planet. Despite what some parts of the world have done to them, they are extremely respectful and polite to everybody. I never heard them speaking ill of others. They appreciate that you come and work with them, and they are confident.”

She also remarks that all of the international conferences and debates about the situation in Syria have carried on without reference to the wishes or ideas of the Syrians themselves.

“There have been so many seminars, conferences and meetings on Syria, yet the Syrian people are very rarely invited. All these events are ‘about them’ but without even inviting them, and without listening to them.”

Segi works for the national education system, and describes the system’s resilience and high quality compared to other nations.

“On the education front, the system was one of the best in the region, before the crisis began. Now, despite more than 6 years of horrendous war, the system is still standing and strong. Syrians know exactly what they want, and they have the capacity to implement their aspirations. Like in Aleppo; after the victory, the government immediately moved in and began opening schools.”

Her photographs show the devastation caused by war. But they also show people enjoying themselves in cafes and restaurants, as well as one of the great medieval fortresses and a sculpture, which looks like it may well come from the ancient past. Several of the photos are of schoolchildren. These show a mixed class of little boys and girls, smiling and dressed in western style clothing. There’s also what looks like a crowd of sports fans – football? – heading towards a match, and a sign with spells out in coloured letters ‘I heart Damascus’.

There is much that Vltchek writes with which I disagree. He’s of Czech-Russian ancestry, and is a film maker specialising in the Developing World. His fierce attacks on western exploitation of the undeveloped world is well meant, but sometimes he goes too far in attacking the Developed World and the needs and desires of its ordinary citizens. It’s also struck me several times that he has a far too optimistic view of the Soviet past. Russia and the eastern bloc did make some truly vast, impressive achievements under Communism, but this was at the cost of a vicious political repression which under Stalin resulted in deportations, massacres and a system of forced labour, which claimed tens of millions of lives. The Soviet Union also dominated and exploited the satellite countries conquered by Stalin from the Nazis during World War II.

But Vltchek’s article is in this case exactly right, necessary and welcome. Syria is a repressive state. Even in the 1980s it had something like eight different secret police agencies. But under the Ba’ath party it is a modern, secular state, where Christians and Muslims live in peace. As for its education system, a few years ago the BBC screened a documentary about the Syrian school system, following the pupils in one particular school through a school day. At the end of the documentary the Beeb informed viewers how they could join a scheme that would link schools in this country with those in Syria.

As for the high regard for its poets and intellectuals, several of the books I’ve read on Islam and the Arabs have said that poetry has a very high status in the Arab world, to the point where newspapers may be written in a distinct, half-poetic style. As for its antiquities, you can still walk down the Street called Straight, mentioned in St. Paul’s Epistles in the Bible. The country has monuments from a succession of ancient civilisations, such as Palmyra, going all the way back to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. The tombs of some of the kings mentioned in the Bible have even been found.

It’s people are not monsters, and while Assad is a dictator, his government is surely better than the Islamist regime, which the rebels – al-Qaeda and ISIS – hope to impose. This would mean the destruction of ancient monuments, as has happened in Iraq and those parts of Syria, which fell under ISIS’ rule. Women’s rights would be attacked and withdrawn, the secular education system and rule of law swiftly dismantled. The country isn’t quite as tolerant in the religious sphere as it could be. From what I’ve heard on programmes about the country and its history on the Beeb, the Sunni Muslim majority is oppressed. But the Ba’ath party in Syria was founded as a secular, Arab nationalist party, which included both Christians and Muslims. If it is overthrown, the country’s tolerance of peoples of different sects and religions will also go, to be replaced by the type of vicious, genocidal persecution ISIS carried out in Iraq. Dan Snow’s programme on the country, broadcast by the Beeb, featured chilling footage of a foaming rant by an Islamist mullah calling for the genocide of the Alawis, the ruling Muslim sect. And as we’ve seen in Iraq, the Islamists not only persecute non-Muslims, they also viciously terrorise and butcher other Muslims for their religious beliefs. Historic mosques as well as Christian churches were destroyed and desecrated by ISIS in Iraq, and ordinary Muslims, whose only desire was to live in peace with their fellow Iraqis, were also murdered for not being what the Islamists considered proper Muslims.

I and many other bloggers have said repeatedly that the American regime and its western allies and lackeys aren’t interested in punishing Assad for his war crimes. This is all about geopolitics. It’s about making sure a Qatari oil pipeline goes through Syria, not one built by the Russians, and about removing a key ally of Russia and Iran. The American military-industrial complex has done its level best to overthrow secular Arab nationalist governments in the Middle East from the 1950s, as they were seen as being too close to Communism. Quite apart from the challenge they posed to western imperialism and its attempts to dominate and exploit the Middle East and its oil.

I therefore urge anyone, who has doubts about the justice of Trump’s attack on Syria, and the sabre-rattling of the western political class demanding regime change, to go and read Vltchek’s article and look at the pictures of Syria and its people. And look at the faces of the people, who will suffer if the oil lobby and the military-industrial complex have their way, and send American troops in. These are ordinary, decent people, who will be massacred by the hundreds of thousands, just like the people of Iraq.

The article’s at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/12/reflecting-on-syria/

Counterpart on American Foreign Policy and Regime Change in Syria

October 15, 2016

With the Conservatives and their pet media now howling for further military action against Assad in Syria in this country, and the American government gearing up for the same, Counterpunch has published an article by Gary Leupp. Entitled, ‘An Urgently Necessary Briefing on Syria’, it discusses the country’s history in the 20th century, and the very numerous attempts by the US to undermine or overthrow its government.

Its first paragraph gives a brief description of Syria’s size and population, states that it is not a threat to the US, and has cordial relations with very many other nations. It states that at various periods it was rule by the Persians, Arabs, and Ottoman Turks, before being ruled by the French from the First to the Second World. The current ruling Ba’ath party was founded in 1947.

Under the French and after independence, the Syrian authorities tolerated the Communist party. The Americans thought they were too soft. It is widely believed that the 1949 military coup in Syria was sponsored by the US to install an anti-Communist regime. The CIA openly acknowledges that it was responsible for two further abortive coup attempts in 1956 and 1957. After the latter was exposed, embarrassing the US, America responded by declaring Syria to be a Soviet client.

It notes that Syria and Egypt were briefly united in the same state, until this collapsed in 1961. The Ba’ath party seized power a couple of years later in Iraq and Syria. The Ba’ath party continued ruling Iraq until the western invasion in 2003.

Up to the 1967 war the US broadly favoured the Ba’athist as the middle ground between Islamism and Communism. The Ba’ath party stood for pan-Arab nationalism, economic nationalism and secularism. After the 1963 coup Saddam Hussein worked with the US to round up and execute Communists in Iraq.

After the 1967 war, America was strongly influenced by the Israel lobby to declare Syria an ‘Anti-Zionist’ and ‘Anti-Semitic’ state, because it provided political and other support to the Palestinians and Lebanese other one hand, and demanded the return of the Golan Heights, which had been seized by Israel. America declared Syria and Iraq to be ‘terror-sponsoring states’. From 1976 onwards the Syrians also interfered militarily in Lebanon.

This did not prevent the Americans also allying with Syria when they found it convenient, such as during Gulf War I in 1991, and then with the extraordinary renditions programme of suspected terrorists after 9/11.

It notes that in the 21st century, the American authorities have been divided between the Neocons, who wanted to overthrow the Syrian government in a strategy of regime change across the Middle East, and those who did not, fearing the consequences.

The Iraq invasion was part of a Neocon strategy which planned the overthrow of the governments of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Iran. George Dubya’s government included individuals, who parroted Israel’s accusation that the missing WMDs not found in Iraq were in Syria. They are also supported the Israeli bombing of a Syrian nuclear reactor.

Although Bashar al-Assad was hailed as a reformer when he came to the Syrian presidency, and Shrillary was still calling him such in 2010, the plans to overthrow him were in place before 2011. After the Arab Spring and the regime’s attacks on demonstrators, Clinton and Obama demanded that Assad should step down. Shrillary was keen to start arming rebels. A group of 53 were so trained in Turkey, but gave themselves up or defected after they entered Syria. The backbone of the anti-Assad movement is forces descended from al-Qaeda, such as Daesh, which seized the area around Raqqa, and al-Nusra, which has connections to Pakistan, which holds Damascus and Aleppo. Al-Nusra is the core of the ‘Free Syrian Army’, and receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Obama was all set to invade Syria after a Sarin gas attack in a Damascus suburb was attributed to Assad. The Russians prevented this by claiming that it may have been the opposition instead, and manoeuvring to allow the Assad regime to surrender its chemical weapons to the UN.

The article points out that the rapid expansion of ISIS in Iraq is a severe PR disaster for the Americans, as it shows how the Iraq invasion overthrew a secular state and created the militant theocratic regime based on torture and other horrific human rights abuses. The US has been forced to bomb Daesh, but not al-Nusra, which it continues to support. At the same time, it claims that the real reason for the rise of ISIS is opposition to the Ba’ath regime.

The article makes clear that this claim is utterly nonsensical. The Ba’ath regime is authoritarian and Fascistic, but it was the Americans who created ISIS by arming the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, destroying Iraq and trying to overthrow Assad. Daesh was formed after the Americans threw its leader, al-Zarqawi, and his troops out of Afghanistan, alienated Iraq’s Sunnis and then weakened Syria.

The American government is also torn by indecision about what it can or should do about the situation, whether to overthrow Assad or destroy Daesh. Most of the American administration now favours overthrowing Assad.

In 2015 General Petraeus, then the director of the CIS, recommended using al-Nusra against ISIS in Syria. This means allying with al-Qaeda to destroy an even worse branch of that organisation, as a means of ultimately overthrowing Assad.

Russia began bombing ISIS a year after the Americans began their attacks. It was at the request of the regime, which is supported by the UN and a plethora of other nations. Under international law, the Russian action is legal while the Americans’ isn’t.

It also notes that the US press has ignored Russian successes in aiding the Syrians to recapture Palmyra from ISIS and destroying the terrorists’ illegal oil convoys. Instead it just follows the State Department’s line of attacking Russian support for the Syrian state against the rebels.

The Russian successes forced the Americans to ally briefly with them in operations against the various terrorist groups. A one week ceasefire was arranged to allow the US-backed rebels to separate themselves from the al-Nusra front, which would then be attacked. At the same time, peace talks were to begin in Geneva. The US-backed rebels refused to do so, and some turned on the US. The Americans then accidentally bombed a Syrian army base then fighting against Daesh. Syria then resumed attacks on east Aleppo, controlled by al-Nusra. The US then blamed the bombing of an aid convoy on Syria or Russia, although Counterpunch notes that the bombing is still unexplained. America has thus sabotaged the peace talks designed to end a conflict American foreign policy has massively exacerbated.

Hillary Clinton supports a no-fly zone, although she realises that this will mean the deployment of tens of thousands more troops and result in a war with Syria and Russia. Last June, 51 members of the State Department signed a memo of dissent demanding that the focus be switched from combating Daesh to overthrowing Assad. She also wants to appoint Michele Flournoy as her Secretary of Defence. Flournoy also supports no-fly zones and limited military action to overthrow Assad involving the deployment of US troops.

Leupp’s article concludes

Is it not obvious? Public opinion is being prepared for another regime-change war. The most high-stakes one to date, because this one could lead to World War III.

And it’s hardly even a topic of conversation in this rigged election, which seems designed to not only to inaugurate a war-monger, but to exploit crude Russophobia to the max in the process. The point is for Hillary not only to ascend to power—whatever that might require—but to prepare the people for more Afghanistans, Iraqs and Libyas in the process. The point is to lull the people into historical amnesia, blind them to Hillary’s record of Goldwater-type reckless militarism, exploit the Cold War mentality lingering among the most backward and ignorant, and insure that the electorate that, while generally deploring the result of the rigged election in November, will soon afterwards rally behind corrupt Hillary as soon as she seizes on some pretext for war.

Very, very dangerous.

Please read the whole article at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/14/an-urgently-necessary-briefing-on-syria/

The article notes how the US media automatically follows the government’s line on Syria, as does ours. And I think Leupp’s article is correct in its conclusion that the western public is being prepared for Hillary’s assumption to power as the latest American warmonger. As the article shows, the Americans have long wanted to overthrow the Ba’ath regime in Syria because it was too ‘soft’ on Communism, allied to Russia, and a threat to Israel.

I think there are other factors involved. I’ve no doubt that the Americans also want to seize its oil industries and reserves, as well as its state assets, which will also be sold to suitably grasping American and western countries, just as the Americans looted Iraq. And somewhere lurking behind this is the Saudis. My guess is that they want the Syrian regime overthrown because of its secularity, and tolerance of Christians, Shi’a and Alawis. The last two are bitterly hated as heretics by the Wahhabis, who would no doubt like to see the creation of a theocratic state similar to their own.

We are being brought to the very edge of a nuclear war to enable Hillary Clinton get into power, destroy another nation in the name of corporate profit, and support the emergence of yet another theocratic state under the influence of the Saudis.

George Galloway Speaking at the ‘Stop the War Coalition’ Conference at TUC Congress House, 2015

August 25, 2016

I’ve been putting up a series of videos this week of George Galloway speaking on particular topics. As I’ve said, I’ve got strong reservations about Galloway, but he is absolutely correct about many issues. He is correct about Jeremy Corbyn not being a Trotskyite. He is correct about Ken Livingstone speaking the truth when he said that the Nazis and the Zionists co-operated to send Jews to Israel. And this is another speech in which he shows that he was also correct about the Iraq Invasion.

This is a video of the speech Galloway gave last year at the TUC headquarters in London to the Stop the War Coalition. He begins by thanking some of the others attending and speaking, and quotes approvingly Dr. Mustafa, who said that they will never surrender. He states that this should be the Coalition’s motto, as they will never surrender criticising and opposing Britain’s participation in this imperialist war. He then says of an American speaker, that he wishes everyone in America were like her, and everyone in Britain like them. He then goes on to describe his last conversation with Tony Blair ‘before I see him at the Hague to give evidence against him’. It was outside the gents’ lavatory in the House of Commons, where he met Blair and Alistair Campbell, whom he describes as a ‘6 foot 3 Goebbels’ tied to Blair’s hip. Galloway states that he told Blair that there were no al-Qaeda in Iraq, but if he goes ahead with the invasion, there will be hundreds and thousands of them, and they will spill over into our streets and countries.

He goes on to state that he’s telling that story, not to say ‘I was right’ but to make the bigger point that if they were lying then – and he states the media has been wrong, except when its been telling bigger falsehoods – then why should we believe them now, when they tell us we should be prepared for further military action in foreign nations. He then tells a story about his reply to a retired general about a possible future war with Russia over Latvia. Galloway speaks every year at the Hay-on-Wye ‘How the Light Gets in Festival’, and he states that ever year the panel gets more and more loaded against him. Last year the chairman and two of the other panellists were against him. But even there, the audience recognises the truth. At that event, the panel and a recently retired general from the NATO secretariat said that British mothers must get used to the fact that their sons may be required to shed their blood in our new front line in Latvia. Galloway replied that he didn’t think many British mothers new where Latvia was, or that it was our new front line. But he knew that they would not accept their son’s lifeblood being shed on his artificial front line.

He also says that at Hay-on-Wye, three of his opponents told him that Russia was the aggressor in the Ukraine, and that there were Russian troops in the Ukraine. He states that there is no Russian aggression in the Ukraine. But there are British and American troops in the Ukraine, and NATO aggression in the Ukraine and all around the borders of Russia. He makes the point that this is a stranger world than Orwell imagined, and these people can tell you that war is peace, and truth is lies, with a straight face and a posh accent.

He states that they have to continue challenging them over their attempts to rewrite history, and point to the fact that the Stop the War Coalition was and is right. He mentions that before he came there he was watching footage on his phone from RT of a 70-year old man being savagely beaten by Israeli soldiers for not leaving his home. How is it, he challenges the audience, that the Palestinians are described as the terrorists, when the majority of the terrorism is committed by the Israelis, and always has been?

He asks the audience to look at what the West has achieved in Syria, where the Jihadis are nearly at the gates of Damascus, and there is hardly a Christian priest, monk or nun, who has survived unscathed by the barbarians. He states that if they take power in Damascus, then no person will be safe from ‘these heart-eating, head-chopping barbarians’. He describes them as the true children of Bush and Blair. He rhetorically asks how proud David Cameron, William Hague and Peter Hammond will be after the caliph comes to power in Damascus, after he has demolished all the churches, destroyed all the historic building, and massacred everyone he wants to massacre. He then recalls how he and one of the organisers of the conference were among the last men standing in the 1980s when they told Reagan and Thatcher that by creating the mujahideen, they had opened the gates to the barbarians. He states the barbarians are using our weapons, and driving around in our Humvees. He says that the government’s crimes could be listed far into the night, but the important point is to remember what the German revolutionaries said nearly a century ago: our enemies are many, but our primary enemy is right at home. He ends by urging everyone to join the Stop the War Coalition, as there are too many people, who agree with them but haven’t joined, or are in organisations that agree, but haven’t affiliated. The current people are getting older, but their brains are still good. However, if people want a Britain and America that still feels like their countries, they should join them.

I’m not a member of the Coalition, but everything he says here about the war, and the preparations for war in Latvia, is correct. It sounds like the general he met at Hay-on-Wye was the same general that wrote the book predicting that by May next year, Russia would have invaded Latvia and we would be at war. Contrary to the line that Private Eye is pushing, it appears very much that it is the Russian population that is being persecuted by the Ukrainians under a far-rightwing government that includes Nazis. There is footage on YouTube apparently showing American and British soldiers in the Ukraine. And both Counterpunch and Lobster have argued that the aggressor in the Ukraine isn’t Russia but NATO. Having turned the Middle East into a bloodbath, they are lying to turn the Ukraine and the Baltic into another.

A View into the Phone Hacking Scandal, and the Dark, Ugly Heart of Murdoch Journalism

October 4, 2013

News of the World? Fake Sheiks and Royal Trappings, Peter Burden (London: Eye Books 2008).

Fake Sheikhs

The author is the father of a girl, whose boyfriend genuinely knows Princes Wills and Harry. As such, the girl and lad were – unsuccessfully – targeted by the ‘Fake Sheikh’ Mahmood Mazher. This is Burden’s account not only of the incident, but of the history of the infamous ‘phone hacking scandal’, Murdoch tabloid journalism and the News of the World. He charts the history of such journalism right back as far as the 18th century and the Monitor newspaper. This Georgian rag was a predecessor of the News of the World in that it adopted an attitude of pious distaste, while retailing news of sexual scandal amongst the great and not very good. George Crabbe summed up this early incarnation of tabloid prurience in the poem:

‘Then lo, the sainted Monitor is born,
Whose pious face some scared texts adorn
As artful sinners cloak the secret sin,
To veil with seeming grace the guile within
So moral essays on his front appear
But all is carnal business in the rear.’

Burden goes on to trace the rise of the News of the World itself, and how it kept itself afloat with similar stories of scandal. So firmly was the News of the World associated with this kind of yellow journalism, that it’s nickname in Private Eye was ‘News of the Screws’. In the 1960s, however, sales of the News of the World began to fall and its proprietors considered partnerships with other media moguls. One of these was a young Rupert Murdoch. The News’ owner in this period comes out actually as being rather a naïve, gentlemanly soul, in contrast to the contents of his scandal sheet. He was told repeatedly by his colleagues that if he went into business with Murdoch, the Dirty Digger would stab him in the back and he’d be ousted from his own newspaper. The proprietor refused to listen, went ahead with a deal that signed over part of the newspaper to Murdoch, and within half a year he was out. His wife, however, didn’t like the Digger. When they met over lunch, she found him humourless, amongst other things.

The book has on its frontispiece a quotation from a former news editor on the News of the Screws: ‘… that is what we do – we go out and destroy other people’s lives.’ Burden discusses some of the truly low points in the rags miserable history of the invasion and destruction of people’s lives. One of these was in the 1970s, when one of the journalists covered the activities of a man running a walking society. In fact, he was swinger, who used the society as a cover for his own interest in group sex. When asked why his own wife wasn’t part of the shenanigans, the man said that he’d like her to, but she simply wasn’t interested in it and so he kept his double life secret from her. The Screws went ahead with the story. The man running the ‘walking society’ was so devastated by it that, tragically, he took his own life. This led to a scandal about the way the Screws ran its stories, and reforms were put in place to stop it all occurring in the future. Nevertheless, it shows the immense harm that such stories do to otherwise blameless individuals. Sure, the man in question was an adulterer. The people involved in it were all consenting adults, however, so no harm was done to anyone. In today’s more liberal moral climate, it could be argued very strongly that what they got up to in the privacy of their own homes was no business of anyone else. It certainly doesn’t warrant driving someone, who may otherwise have been a perfectly decent person, to suicide.

Other low points in the News’ race to the journalistic pit include their persecution of Russell Harty. Remember him? Harty was the much-loved, rather camp host of a week day chat show in the 1980s. He is perhaps most famous for being beaten up live on TV by Grace Jones, the singer and female muscle freak. The design of the set met that Harty couldn’t face more than one guest at the same time. After talking to Jones, he turned to talk to his other guest. Jones thought he was ignoring her, and so gave him a clip on the top of the head. It was a bizarre, funny moment, and added yet more evidence to prove that Grace Jones was deeply scary. There was a car advert in which her mechanical head suddenly emerged from the desert. Her mouth opened like a set of mechanical garage doors, and the car shot out. After driving around a bit, it returned back into Jones’ gaping maw. This was the decade when Arnie’s Terminator first appeared, so this may have been Jones’ turn to represent female cyborg muscle.

It was not, however, the fearsome chanteuse that persecuted Harty during his terminal illness. Harty tragically died of AIDS. During his treatment, however, he, his friends and family were repeatedly pestered by the Screws’ journalists covering the story. After breaking into his private room in hospital, the Screws’ then rented a room in the house opposite so they could take long lens shot of the sick broadcaster in his bed. it was another demonstration of how low the Screws and its journalists would go. One of them had such a reputation for indulging in stories of indiscreet sexual shenanigans that he acquired the soubriquet ‘Onan the Barbarian’.

The there’s the ‘Fake Sheikh’ Mahmood Mazher. Mazher’s stock-in-trade is to dress up as an Arab sheikh, and arrange a meeting with various members of the aristocracy or celebrities on the pretext of going into business with them. he then inveigles them into doing or saying something embarrassing or criminal. In the case of the aristocracy, this consists in indiscreet comments about the royal family. With celebrities like the Radio 1 DJ, Johnny Walker, this consists of pestering them to get drugs. When they do, Mazher takes it away for testing, and the Screws runs the story revealing that they are a drug fiend. Mazher has even gone so low as to stitch up members of his own family. His brother, Waseem, was employed in the BBC’s Asian unit at Pebble Mill. Waseem Mazher noticed that, contrary to Beeb regulations, a number of directors and producers at the Mill were using the Beeb’s equipment to edit films they were making for rival companies. At that time both Waseem and Mazher were living at home. Waseem mentioned this over family dinner. Mazher immediately recognised the story and ran it. For breaking the broadcasters’ code of omerta, Waseem was ostracised to the point where he could not work in British broadcasting. He now operates a radio station in Afghanistan. Friends and family clearly mean nothing to this man.

One person, who was not deceived by Mazher was George Galloway. Mazher contacted Galloway for a meeting in his guise as the sheikh. On his way to the meeting, Galloway recognised Mazher’s accomplice and bodyguard, a seven-foot tall man mountain with gold teeth, nicknamed ‘Jaws’ because of his similarity to the Bond villain. This alerted him to what was to come. Now I’m not a fan of Galloway. He has publicly supported some of the nastiest regimes in the Middle East, such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the current government in Damascus. Mind you, not that he’s alone in that. As I’ve pointed out, Maggie, Bush and Reagan were selling arms to Saddam’s regime in the 1980s. In the 1950s the CIA was running him as a hitman to whack out members of the Iraqi government after a revolution toppled Britain’s puppet. Arguably, his opinions on the Middle East are no worse than that of the British establishment. He’s just more consistent about them and open. Galloway is a supporter of the Palestinians and against Israel. He states, however, that he is anti-Zionist, but not an anti-Semite. During their conversation, Mazher tried to trap him into saying something vilely anti-Semitic and in favour of the Holocaust. Galloway was not tricked, and refused to take the bait. He replied that the Holocaust was a crime against humanity. Defeated, Mazher withdrew.

When Mazher was pulling these stunts in the 1990s, Private Eye ran a story in their ‘Street of Shame’ column. One of his victims finally caught up with him and asked him, over the phone, why he was involved in such despicable journalism. His reply? ‘But I’ve got a mortgage’. Burden notes that Mazher was originally quite a courageous, genuinely investigative journalist. He was beaten up during an investigation into the availability and use of guns amongst Manchester’s street gangs. Understandably, he gave up this type of journalism, to concentrate on weaker, less violent targets.

As for Burden’s daughter,she and her beau were flown to America by the ‘Fake Sheikh’ pretending to be interested in making a business deal with them. Mazher took them to a nightclub, and then tried to get them to say something unpleasant about the Princes, the Queen Mother and Prince Philip. The lad, who has set up nightclubs with one of the Princes, remained discreet about it all and said he really couldn’t comment, as he genuinely had no opinion. On their return to Britain, the couple slowly realised that they may have been duped and the person they encountered was Mazher in his habitual guise. Burden checked with the Screws, who replied that they had indeed tried to deceive them, and that it had been a complete waste of several thousand pounds.

Most of the book is, of course, about the phone hacking scandal, the journalists, editors and private investigators involved, how they were discovered hacking into the Princes’ private email and mobile phone messages. They were discovered after running as genuine a phone call one of the Prince’s had made to the other pretending to be his girlfriend. Burden goes further, and talks about the Murdoch’s personal management of his empire, his appointment of Rebbekah Brooks as editor of the Screws, and the weird legal economics that informs how Murdoch runs him empire. Murdoch’s chief legal advisor was one Crone. Crone used to guide his master on how much their newspapers would lose in fines and damages if they lost a libel case on a particular story. He used to raise up the fingers on his hands to show how many thousands it would cost them. Murdoch and his editors then did a few brief calculations. If the number of copies sold outweighed the amount they’d have to pay in damages, then they printed the story. Burden also criticises Murdoch and his empire for the way he has generally lowered journalistic standards through his prurient sensationalism.

Burden also considers the debate surrounding what is in the people’s interest, versus what is of interest to the people. This means whether the content of a piece of journalism is worth printing because of its importance to British society and economy. As against whether people want to read it simply out of desire to get some kind of thrill from reading about others’ private lives and peccadilloes. Burden himself seems to favour a law like that of the French legislation guaranteeing the individual’s right to a private life. This effectively puts peering into the private lives of MPs, celebs and others out of bounds. You can see his point, but I don’t think the argument is at all solid, especially after the accusations of rape directed a few years ago against a senior French politician.

This book, however, gives valuable personal and historical insight into the News of the World, and the background to the phone-hacking scandal still enveloping News International. It also shows the moral paucity at the heart of Murdoch’s media empire.

Meanwhile, here’s a clip of the formidable Ms Jones laying into Russell Harty.

It’s on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpWo15Jc2JQ.

And here’s Spitting Image’s take on Murdoch’s true journalistic values:

This is on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVIkmJcodFM.

King David and the Foundations of Solomon’s Temple

September 12, 2013

Yesterday’s reading was 1 Chronicles 29:1-9. This describes how David gave some of his own great wealth to the Temple, and encouraged his leading courtiers, generals, and the wider Israelite people to do the same.

King David ruled from 1000 to 965 BC. According to the Bible, he established an empire stretching from the Negev in the south to the Euphrates in the north, comprising most of Palestine, transjordan, with the exception of the Philistine cities on the coastal strip, parts of Syria and some of the Phoenician coast. No contemporary texts exist for this period of Israel’s history apart from the Bible, and the archaeological evidence is sparse. It is difficult to date precisely buildings or objects to the beginning of the 10th century, and some of the buildings attributed to him may have been built by his son, Solomon. As a result of this, some of the Biblical minimalist historians have claimed that King David was either mythical, or if he existed at all, then he and Solomon, were merely pastoral clan chieftains rather than the rulers of a rich and impressive kingdom. This view was discredited by the discovery of the Tell Dan stele in 1993 and the decipherment of part of the inscription on the Moabite Stone by the French linguist, Andre Lemaire, in 1994. The Tell Dan stele had been put up by King Hazael of Damascus to commemorate his victory over northern Israel. In it Hazael claims that he defeated ”[Jeho]ram king of Israel and kill[ed Ahaz]yahu son of (gap) [I overthr]ew the house of David”. The Moabite Stone was put up by King Mesha of Moab to celebrate his successful rebellion against Israel’s king Ahab, during which Mesha had sacrificed his own son to the Moabite national god, Chemosh. The Stone was broken up into small fragments by the bedouin, who found it in order to gain more money from European archaeologists. Studying a 19th century copy of the text before it was smashed, Lemaire found a reference to the ‘House of David’. Literary examination of the Biblical texts shows that much of this was written either in David’s or Solomon’s time, and so represents a reliable witness to the events of their reigns. Although the archaeology does not support the image of King David as the founder of a great empire, it is consistent with Biblical accounts of his reign, which do not describe him as engaged on any great building operations.

The philistine town of Megiddo, stratum VIA and the Canaanite town of Tell Qasile stratum X were destroyed by fire, possibly by King David. The first half of the 10th century BC saw the Israelites establishing an urban culture. A number of small village sites have been attributed to David’s reign. There was a roughly circular settlement at Khirbet Dawara defended by a casement wall. Stratum VII at Tell Beer-Sheba consisted of several dwellings built around an open area. New types of pottery also appeared at this time, with different shapes and a distinctive hand burnished red slip.

David also conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites in 995 BC. Jebusite Jerusalem was situated on the hill of Ophel, between the Kidron Brook and the Tyropoeon valley. Excavations on the eastern slope of this spur above the Gihon spring revealed a ‘stepped structure’ with walls surviving to a height of 16.5 metres (c. 49 1/2 feet). This may have dated to the tenth century. It supported a monumental structure, which has not survived. The Israeli archaeology Yigal Shiloh showed that this was built on top of ruins dating from 1300 to 1200 BC. The ‘Stepped Structure’ itself dates from the 10th century BC. In 2005 another Israeli archaeologist, Eilat Mazar, ,discovery a large stone building at the top of the Hill of Ophel associated with the ‘Stepped Structure’. Pottery found with this building dated to the 10th century BC or earlier. This indicated that the building may have been the ‘Fortress of Zion’ occupied by King David after he took Jerusalem.

David appealed to the Israelite people to donate to the Temple’s construction, not because it needed more money, but so that as many people as possible would be involved in its construction. This truly made the Temple of the Jewish people, rather than a place built purely for the service of the monarchy. It was a practical demonstration that God’s call is not just for the few, but to all.

The Temple later built by King Solomon was a massive rectangular structure of 50 x 100 cubits, about 25 x 50m. This is larger than any known Canaanite or Phoenician temple. It was also very tall, at 30 cubits in height. Its walls were 12 cubits in width, similar to the Middle Bronze Age temple at Shiloh. The interior was divided into three sections: a porch, ulam, the sanctuary, hechal, and the Holy of Holies, debir. The entrance to each of these was along the Temples central axis. On either side of this was a series of auxiliary chambers, which probably acted as the kingdom’s treasury. In its plan and interior decorations, the Temple was similar to other, pagan temples in Palestine and the Ancient Near East, particularly those at Ebla, Megiddo, and Tell Mumbakat and the Bit Hilani palace and its attached temple, the last two both in north Syria. The use of cedar wood was similar to the Philistine and Canaanite temples at Lachish and Tell Qasile. The Temple’s cult objects included the sacrificial altar and and the ‘molten sea’. This was a huge bronze basin supported by 12 bulls. These can be reconstructed finds and depictions from Phoenicia, Cyprus and Palestine. The Temple’s two columns, Jachin and Boaz, are similar to column bases at the Late Bronze Age temple at Hazor and those on the pottery model of a similar shrine found at Tell el-Far’ah. The cherubim which sat above the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies were very different from our modern view of cherubs. Instead of chubby, cute babies, these were sphinx-like, with the body of a lion or bull, wings of an eagle and head of a man. This was a well-known figure in Canaanite, Phoenician and Syrian Bronze Age art. The Temple was also decorated with palmettes, network designs, fringes and chains. These also appear in Phoenician images of the 9th and 8th centuries BC. Many art historians consider the 10th century BC a Dark Age in the art of the Ancient Near East. The only example of monumental arat from this period is the sarcophagous of Ahiram, king of Byblos, in modern Lebanon. The Bible’s description of Solomon’s Temple is thus important evidence for the existence of monumental art in the 10th century BC.

Sources

James K. Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible (Oxford: Lion 2008).

Kathleen Kenyon, Archaeology in the Holy Land, 3rd Edition, (London: Ernest Benn Ltd 1970)

Amihai Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible 10,000 – 586 B.C.E. (New York: Centre for Judaic-Christian Studies/ Doubleday 1990)

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.