Yusef Sarwar got 12 years in prison. What about William Hague?

by Ian Sinclair

Two men supported the Syrian rebels, one is in prison, the other is a government minister.

Has there ever been such an obvious case of government hypocrisy that has been so completely ignored by the media?

On 5 December 2014 Yusef Sarwar, a 22-year old man from Birmingham, wassentenced to 12 years in prison for travelling to Syria to fight with a jihadist group against the Syrian Government.

When she found out where her son had gone, Yusef’s mother, Majida Sarwar, contacted the police. They apparently told her they would help get her son home. According to the Observer Yusef only spent a few weeks in Syria, before returning to the UK in January 2014, where he was immediately arrested at Heathrow Airport.

Majida has been speaking out strongly against the harsh sentencing of her son, comparing his treatment to the progressive, and it would seem more effective, rehabilitation of returning jihadists to Denmark. Speaking to The Observer she noted “When the Queen’s son went to Afghanistan to fight he was patted on the back. Our sons are going out for a cause that the British government also supports, they support the rebels fighting in Syria, he is sent to jail for 12 years.”

harry3With this one utterance Majida completely shamed our supposedly free and critical media and all the professional and often highly educated journalists and commentators who work within it. Where in the endless newspaper columns and television news reports about Syria have you seen such a bold declaration of the truth? Whether she knows it or not, by pointing to Prince Harry fighting and killing the Taliban—most of whom are poor, local men from farming families—Majida crossed a red line that most career-minded journalists steer well clear of.

Most revealing is Majida’s reference to the inconvenient fact the British Government have themselves been supporting the Syrian rebels.

In March 2013 The Guardian explained that US, UK and French personnel were training Syrian rebels in Jordan. According to the report, “UK intelligence teams are giving the rebels logistical and other advice in some form.” Relatively small in scale, the training programme is likely run from the joint operations room in Amman staffed by the eleven countries including the US, Saudi Arabia, France and the UK, according to the Wall Street Journal. Six months later the New York Times confirmed the UK’s support for the armed insurgency, reporting “Saudi Arabia, quietly cooperating with American and British intelligence and other Arab governments, has modestly increased deliveries of weapons to rebels fighting in southern Syria”. This cooperation with Saudi Arabia is covert, the New York Times explained, because “American and British intelligence and Arab Governments… do not want their support publicly known”.

Since 2012 the United Nations has recorded widespread human rights violations by the Syrian armed opposition including extrajudicial executions, torture, the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas and the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (which, let’s not forget, if you decided to plant in Afghanistan, might have got you killed by Prince Harry in his Apache helicopter). The UK-backed Free Syrian Army has used car bombs, with numerous reports noting it has often joined forces with the Al-Nusra Front, a branch of Al-Qaeda.

To summarise, the British Government has locked up a man for going to fight with the rebels in Syria. At the same time the British Government is continuing to provide training and support to the Syrian rebels, many of whom will have been involved human rights abuses and acts we would call ‘terrorism’ if they were perpetrated in Britain. As with many political questions, US dissident Noam Chomsky hits the nail on the head in his re-telling of the story of a captured pirate brought before Alexander the Great. “How dare you molest the sea?” demands Alexander. “How dare you molest the whole world?” the pirate replies, continuing: “Because I do it with a little ship only, I am called a thief; you, doing it with a great navy, are called an emperor.” So, if Yusef got 12 years in prison, what sentence does former Foreign Secretary William Hague, who oversaw the UK’s support for the rebels and therefore contributed to the militarisation, escalation and lengthening of the conflict—exactly the kind of conditions that encourage violent jihadists to travel to Syria—deserve?

If we had a genuinely investigative and critical media, Majida would have simply been stating well known facts and arguments. Instead, as there has been vanishingly little media coverage of the UK’s role in supporting the armed insurgency in Syria, Majida’s statement is extraordinary. Journalists would do well to sit up and take notice of what truth-telling actually looks like.

About the author

Ian Sinclair is the author of The March That Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003, published by Peace News Press. He tweets @IanJSinclair.

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