Dispatches from Damascus. Part Three

No-one should decide Syria’s fate but the Syrian people themselves

APRIL 14, Damascus: This morning, here in Damascus, I was woken in the early hours by the booming sound of explosions.

I knew immediately the US had bombed — with help from Britain and France, as we now know.

A Syrian firefighter is seen inside the destroyed Scientific Research Centre in Damascus, Syria, April 14, 2018 / Omar Sanadiki / Reuters

You really cannot imagine what it’s like to be here and hear something like that as you lie in your bed, not just because it’s pretty frightening, obviously, but because of what it means. Let’s set it out, shall we?

What this bombing means is that the very day before OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) inspectors were due to arrive at the scene, the attack was launched. It means that without a United Nations mandate — which makes it illegal — the attack was launched. This bombing means that without Parliament being consulted, the attack was launched.

Just let that sink in for a moment. Because this is where we now are. A hegemonic superpower can trash international law without even the pretence of having evidence of wrongdoing.

At least in the case of Iraq they wheeled out Colin Powell at the United Nations to show us all what turned out to be a steaming pile of garbage, although it was bought hook, line and sinker by our dutiful corporate media so opening the door to a war which cost over a million innocent people their lives.

And at least Tony Blair bothered to fabricate a dodgy dossier and made an impassioned, lying speech to Parliament described by corporate media as his “finest hour.”

But now, none of that is deemed necessary. All that’s required is Theresa May telling us, like a possessed headmistress: “I can’t tell you everything” — Orwellian words which should send a shiver up the listener’s spine.

Yes, she’s seen the evidence and we should just trust her. Well, if you do trust her, then I suggest you seek psychiatric help without delay. Take on trust government “intelligence” that could take us into a world conflict? Trust the woman who gave back to members of the proscribed terrorist Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) their passports, facilitating their free travel between Manchester and Libya in order that they could assist in the overthrow of Muammar Gadaffi? And let’s not forget it was a member of this terrorist cabal, of which May was fully aware, who perpetrated the Manchester bombing. Trust her? Or any government on intelligence justifying Western military action? I’m not insane.

Watching May on BBC World News here in Damascus today was a surreal experience, surrounded as I am by the citizens of Syria whom she claims to care so much about and in whose defence her actions were taken.

After listening to her I walked out onto the streets and spoke to locals who appeared strangely lacking in gratitude for her grand gesture. But as I found on my last visit here in April 2017, there is a distinct lack of bitterness in the people which, considering that Syrians are very well aware of the real reasons behind British interference and intervention in their country — clue: it’s nothing whatsoever to do with humanitarian concerns — is quite remarkable.

A friend asked me by email today: “How are things there? I hope you’re not experiencing any hostility?” and I had to smile, because the exact opposite is the case. On the very morning my government bombed their country everyone we met embraced us with a warmth and understanding that is deeply moving.

As example, my fellow independent journalist and co-editor, Mike Raddie, was approached outside on the street earlier by an elderly man who told him: “Whenever we see strangers in Syria it makes us feel optimistic.” And after Mike apologised “for the actions of my country” the gentleman replied: “It is not the fault of the people, but of the governments.”

May’s rationale is that the strikes were to deter the use of chemical weapons, as if the US and Britain have not stockpiled and used them with impunity since World War II. Just ask the people of Vietnam, Fallujah, the list goes on.

It was the United States which sold Saddam the chemical weapons he used to gas the Kurds and it was Britain which secretly built a chemical plant, a key component in Iraq’s chemical warfare arsenal, in 1985.

Documents show British ministers knew at the time that the £14 million plant, called Falluja 2, was likely to be used for mustard and nerve gas production. May’s claim to moral superiority sounds here as absurd as the idea that the Syrian president carried out a chemical weapons attack on his own citizens just as the jubilant people of Douma were celebrating liberation from the jihadist occupation we funded.

Still, all it has taken to quieten the reservations many have about this attack is a short, unconvincing video produced by the corporate media’s favourite source: a group proved to be, as John Pilger describes them, “a complete propaganda construct inside Syria.”

We are talking, of course, about the White Helmets, the subject of independent journalist Vanessa Beeley’s in-depth investigative work exposing their funding by the US, British and other Western governments, and their affiliations with known terrorist groups like al-Nusra (al-Qaida in Syria). If you want to contrast Oliver Kamm’s recent hit-piece on Beeley in The Times (they only put you on the front page of that paper when you’re being particularly effective) then do watch her presentation of her evidence on the White Helmets to the Swiss Press Club on YouTube and make up your own mind if it’s all “conspiracy theory.”

To aid you, please note the screenshot of a deleted tweet by BBC journalist Riam Dalati which reads: “Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for western consumption. Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.”

The point is, saturation playing of said video on corporate news outlets, with no indication that the source is compromised, has had the intended effect of stirring up enough outrage to enable a military strike to happen with no real outpouring of public opposition or indignation. The fact that previous alleged chemical “atrocities” are blatantly reported as having been committed by Assad, when they remain entirely unproven, also adds fuel to the frenzy.

The corporate media has a lot to answer for. Always the same pattern: once the West has moved on a target they shift predictably into “war porn” mode, excitedly reporting on the mighty firepower at our disposal.

Ex-Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook called out New York Times Middle East correspondent Ben Hubbard a few days ago for a telling lapse when he tweeted a picture of a missile lighting up the Syrian sky with the comment: “Bravo to the AP photographer who took the coolest picture of Damascus this morning.” That’s exactly what I thought when I heard the explosions — isn’t this cool!

At this point too, “alleged” attacks become stone cold fact in the mouths of corporate journalists. As I watch BBC World News here in Damascus the banner headline is obliged to read “suspected” chemical attack even as the hack above is busy telling audiences that Assad “has a track record of using chemical weapons on his own people.”

Let’s see the evidence, one might ask quite reasonably, but in vain, because none is required. And neither is a UN mandate, thanks to some legal gymnastics which translate thus: we can do what the hell we want and f**k international law.

The US has been playing a long game regarding Syria, as evidenced in Stephen Gowans’s highly recommended book, Washington’s Long War on Syria. What cannot be tolerated is an independent nation in the region saying no to the United States. Arab nationalism will not be tolerated, no matter that Syria is a secular country of which its citizens are extremely proud and whose president enjoys overwhelming support.

The West can tell big lies about that all it likes, and with the collusion of the corporate media, many here in Britain, even leftist activists, will believe it. But sooner or later the truth will emerge. And I can only hope that by that time the wonderful people I have met here are not living in a destroyed state like Libya, another war built on fabrication amplified by corporate journalists.

No-one should decide Syria’s fate but the Syrian people themselves. They chose Assad in 2014 in elections declared free and fair by a team of international observers, something you will never hear on Channel 4 News, Sky, ITV or the BBC, along with the fact that the result was in line with an internal Nato report estimate of his support as reported in World Tribune in 2013.

And so, if democracy is what the West wants in Syria, why are they funding their jihadist proxies whose declared aim is a totally undemocratic Islamic state? That simple question will tell you all you need to know.

The bombing of Syria is summed up perfectly by Professor Tim Anderson, author of The Dirty War on Syria: “Trump’s cowardly terrorist attack on Syria carefully avoided Russian security zones. This vanity terrorism, designed to improve his image at home, will do nothing to prevent the humiliating failure of Washington’s long, dirty war on Syria.”

But I’m going to give the last word to a Syrian citizen. A man I spoke to this afternoon told me: “Please go back and thank Theresa May because what she did this morning has only made the Syrian people stronger.”

Originally published: Alison Banville (The Morning Star)

Alison Banville is co-editor of BSNews

Dispatches From Damascus Part One

Dispatches From Damascus Part Two

Dispatches From Damascus Part Four

Dispatches From Damascus Part Five


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