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September 14, 2012


Human Chain
Sunday 16 September 2012 at 13:00
Launch Point: BOZAR
Arrival: Place du Luxembourg
The violence of the Syrian regime in suppressing the protests that shake the entire country for more than a year revolts us. The Syrian regime’s army planes deliberately target the most fragile civil populations, notably hospitals. They also target doctors, families, and journalists.We admire the courage, determination, and resilience of Syrian society, which is fighting for liberty, freedom, and democracy.We are convinced that what is happening in Syria today (despite specificities and differences) is part of the same process that begin in Tunisia in December 2012 – a process that is leading to the fall of one dictatorship after another in the Arab world.

We also recognize that this will prove a long, arduous, and sometimes contradictory process, and that the final result is neither pre-determined nor guaranteed. However, we refuse that this recognition justifies the lack of reaction and mobilisation of the international community in solidarity with democratically driven Syrians.

It is the silence and the insufficient solidarity of European civil society regarding events in Syria that concern us and drive us to this initiative. It is high time for us to organize with our civil societies to end this silence. We want our leaders to move towards decisive action and for Europe to assume a more active role in putting an end to this tragedy.

We ask the European Union and its Member States to:

• Increase humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees and displaced persons, not only in neighbouring countries, but equally and especially inside Syria
• Implement urgent humanitarian aid for the Syrian population
• Facilitate access for Syrian asylum seekers to Europe, to provide them with an adequate reception and welcome, and to facilitate their mobility within the European Union
• Increase European Union funds available for the support of Syrian human rights defenders
• Reinforce sanction policies and to strike all enterprises or individuals, which contribute to the continuation of this regime
• Actively support the calls of the United Nations Human Rights Chief that the crimes perpetrated in Syria be referred to the International Criminal Court
• Increase pressure on the powers implicated in the conflict (in particular Russia and Iran) in order to halt all military support to the Syrian regime

Who we are
We are a group of citizens from diverse cultural, professional, and political backgrounds motivated and animated by the shared determination to break the silence regarding the massacre of the Syrian people. With this initiative, we wish to respond to the call of our friends in Syrian civil society for a strengthened solidarity and mobilization of European civil society.

Concerned and Consternated Citizens

Itinerary here


Embedded Fisk

September 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

In this piece, first published at Open Democracy, Yassin al-Haj Saleh and Rime Allaf, two of Syria’s brightest intellectuals, discuss Robert Fisk’s moral and professional collapse.

The international media has not always been kind to Syria’s revolutionary people. For months on end, many of the latter turned themselves into instant citizen-journalists to document their uprising and the violent repression of the Syrian regime, loading clips and photos taken from their mobile-phones to various social networks; still, the established media, insinuating that only it could really be trusted, covered these events with an ever-present disclaimer that these images could not be independently verified. Since the Damascus regime was refusing to allow more than a trickle of foreign media personnel into the country, chaperoned by the infamous minders, what the Syrians themselves were reporting was deemed unreliable.

Nevertheless, an increasing number of brave journalists dared to sneak into Syria at great personal risk, reporting the same events which activists had attempted to spread to the world. For the most part, experienced journalists were perfectly capable of distinguishing between straight propaganda from a regime fighting for its survival and real information from a variety of other sources. Overwhelmingly, ensuing reports about Syria gave a voice to “the other side” or at least quoted opposing points of view, if only for balance. In some cases, journalists found no room to cater for the regime’s claims, especially when reporting from civilian areas under relentless attack by Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

It was from the wretched Homs district of Baba Amr, under siege and shelling for an entire month, that the late Marie Colvin, amongst others, testified on the eve of her death under the regime’s shells about the “sickening situation” and the “merciless disregard for the civilians who simply cannot escape.” Like her, most of those who managed to get into Syria have testified about the regime’s repression of a popular uprising, even after the latter evolved to include an armed rebellion.

The Daraya massacre

Robert Fisk, a seasoned war correspondent who has covered the region for decades, surprisingly broke a mould, gradually allowing himself to become a part, and not simply a witness, of the Syrian regime’s propaganda campaign.

On 30 October 2011, Fisk – who works for the Independent newspaper, and whose reports are widely republished – was a guest of Syrian state television for an extended interview during which his legendary directness seemed subdued, as he meekly advised his host that he feared the Syrian authorities were running out of time to turn the situation around. In an article entirely dedicated to Bouthaina Shaban, one of Assad’s advisors, he quoted some of her extraordinary tales without adding one of his trademark comments: thus, he didn’t challenge the claim that a Christian baker in Homs was accused (supposedly by the extremists the regime says are leading the uprising) of mixing whisky in the bread.

Over the last few months, Fisk’s pieces on Syria have consisted more of commentary than of reporting, with a growing emphasis on the conspiracy scenario as he reminds readers that the governments criticising the Assad regime were themselves hardly examples of freedom or democracy. This is indeed true in many cases, but is not directly relevant to the Syrian people’s uprising, which moreover he increasingly reports in the sectarian terminology he had previously criticised when covering the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

But even copious editorialising of this nature could not have heralded Fisk’s shocking decision to embed with the Syrian regime’s armed forces, when he had previously stated (on 22 January 2003) that “war reporters should not cosy up to the military”. In Syria, Fisk embedded first in Aleppo with the commander of operations in the embattled city, and then in Damascus and its suburbs under attack by the regime. In particular, his piece on Daraya’s gruesome massacre has shocked many Syrians.

In his article of 29 August 2012, Fisk relates that an alleged exchange of prisoners was being negotiated between the regime and rebels in Daraya; when talks failed, he explains, regime forces had no choice but to storm the town, an attack during which several hundred inhabitants were killed. In Fisk’s account, however, there is no room for even the possibility that they were killed by security forces; on the contrary, his narration consistently points to “rebel” snipers. Fisk even reveals that a mortar-round landed on a large military base in Damascus from which he set out, “possibly fired from Daraya itself” (from the rebels, the reader may assume); and that the rebels supposedly attacked the armoured vehicle in which Fisk had “cosied up” with officers of the elite Assad army while driving through Daraya. Likewise, he ascribes to rebels the stormed homes, broken utensils, burned carpets and confiscated computer parts, speculating that these were “to use as working parts for bombs, perhaps?”

All the firing he describes is never attributed to the regime’s armed forces which stormed the town, but to the Free Syrian Army which he implies is the only violent party; nor does the Free Syrian Army seem to have a cause or a logical reason, from its perspective at least, to carry out such violent actions.

Daraya’s Local Coordination Committee (LCC), commenting on this article, points out that Fisk met with neither opposition nor activists while there (nor, for that matter, at any other time). And after days of our liaising with Daraya friends, activists and inhabitants, it is clear that nobody has even heard of this prisoner-exchange story which Fisk attributes to people there.

Furthermore, what could the relation be between this alleged failed prisoner exchange and the massacre? And why would fighters in the opposition kill inhabitants of a town that is one of the centres of the Syrian revolution because of this supposed exchange? Fisk presents no explanation for that, limiting himself to showing that the Free Syrian Army fighters were responsible for this failure, in contrast to the regime’s forces which (according to the testimony of the officer in charge with whom Fisk was embedded) went out of their way to free hostages before storming the town. Claims that the Daraya victims were relatives of government employees – including a postman killed simply because he was such an employee – are equally quoted without sourcing.

This account closely resembles the regime’s tale about the Houla massacre in May 2012, whereby the victims of Houla were also said to be regime supporters killed because they were relatives of a member of parliament. It is known today that this is pure invention, and that the massacre – as confirmed by the United Nations human-rights inquiry – was carried out by the regime’s armed forces and shabbiha (armed gangs). Is it possible that this embedded journalist’s source about the new massacre is the same “temple of truth” who had revealed facts of the governmental enquiry committee on the Houla massacre?

As in Houla, the story that the massacre victims were somehow related to regime or government members is false. Furthermore, Fisk manages to say nothing about the five-day long shelling of Daraya, as is the regime’s norm before storming a town; nor does he even give the correct number of fully documented victims (which is nearly double the 245 he quotes).

It seems incredible that Fisk cannot imagine that Daraya’s inhabitants could be too afraid of the regime’s forces, infamous since decades for their exceptional criminal capacity, to tell him who actually killed those victims. Indeed, Daraya LCC’s trusted sources from the field-hospital confirmed that a regime sniper killed the parents of Hamdi Koreitem, named by Fisk, and that they also shot Khaled Yehia Zukari’s wife and daughter.

The prison visit

As if being embedded on the day of the Daraya massacre wasn’t enough, Fisk had no objection to being taken to a jail (more likely one of the regime’s intelligence centers) where he was presented with four detained “jihadists” – two Syrians, a Frenchman of Algerian origin, and a Turk – accused of various terrorism charges, including a bombing in March 2012. While they all sat in the bureau of the officer in charge, the prisoners proceeded to tell Fisk the kind of stories the regime had been spreading for months. At a certain point, Fisk asked the officer to leave, which after mild prompting he did, just like that. Alone with their interviewer, who was allowed to offer them chicken and chips, the terrorists answered his questions, shared their stories, and informed Fisk that they had only been subject to bad treatment (but not torture) on the first day of their imprisonment; one had even received family visitors. A situation which few other prisoners in Syria, let alone Islamists or terrorists, can dream of.

As each of the men explained his specific case to Fisk, it may be wondered if he marvelled at the incredible good fortune of meeting jihadists who fitted the exact profile the Syrian regime has painted of those sowing havoc in the country. Indeed, the terrorists explained they had turned to jihad because of indoctrination in Turkey or Afghanistan, because of Al-Jazeera’s incitement, because of some sectarian sheikh’s hate-mongering, and (last but not least) because the Emir of Qatar was stirring revolution in Syria.

It is notable that Fisk neglects to mention how the visit came about, who organised it for him, or even why he thinks he was the chosen one for this largesse from a regime known to ban, jail and kill journalists (sixty-two killed so far while covering the Syrian revolution, including citizen-journalists). Nor does he give much thought to the possibility that he was brought to these detainees (if they really were detainees and not acting on the intelligence service’s orders) because they would say precisely what suited the regime. But everything repeated by Fisk toes the regime’s propaganda line: Syrian revolutionaries are terrorists, foreign fighters are among them, many are thieves, rapists and murderers, all have been influenced by the conspirators. It is understandable that the regime would want to say this, but it is not understandable why Fisk would say it, or why he wouldn’t be suspicious of being taken for a ride.

One of the co-authors of this article [Yassin] spent many years in jail in Syria on charges much less serious than those of these terrorists, but no foreign or local journalist visited me or hundreds of my acquaintances and friends who have been detained for decades. From my personal experience of intelligence in jails, I assume that the director of the jail Fisk visited felt that the journalist was “one of us”, and would be impressed at the regime’s capacity to gain such support. What is also strange is that Fisk, whose requests seem to be heard in Damascus, did not ask to visit his peers, such as journalist and human-rights activist Mazen Darwish, who was allowed no visits from his young wife or any of his relatives after nearly seven months of detention; or his colleague Hussein Ghreir, who left behind him a young wife and two children; or Yehia Shurbaji, who could inform him about the realities of his home town of Daraya.

Perhaps Fisk’s good relations with the regime will allow him to visit other jails, overflowing with tens of thousands of detainees, prisoners of conscience, denied their freedom for having demanded the right to free expression and choice. This would certainly be a journalistic exclusive; they are no less in need of chicken and chips than the detained jihadists, and the stories they would tell would give him a much more reliable account of the Syrian revolution.

In Syria, Robert Fisk has done what he long admonished other reporters for doing. Is it because he has fallen under the spell of the regime, has become indoctrinated or has suddenly lost his instincts? Or has he become a willing accessory to the Assad regime’s propaganda, if only for the sake of being in a league of his own?

The first casualty of war isn’t truth, it’s helpless civilians, and Robert Fisk has forsaken both.


Freedom to Mohammad Kara Damour

He is a great,young man who has devoted his life to serving people and helping those who are in need. He tried everything within his power in order to do good and contribute to the development of his country and the progress of his people selflessly without expecting any kind of reward; not even a word of encouragement. He volunteered in several initiatives and several charities. Perhaps the most important are:Safety Initiative,Empowerment of women and children,The Association of Aleppo,Society for Education and Literacy,The Association of Charity,The Association of Future,Islamic charity.He was arrested for his involvement in saving victims and he had his car taken!He has been moved to a number of security services, including a service for criminal, military and air security in the city of Aleppo, and to the Damascus Service 248, at a Ohhdha torture place.

The Mother of the Hero


Islamic Scholar Tariq Ramadan on the Growing Mideast Protests and “Islam & the Arab Awakening”


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: To talk more about the protests across the Middle East, we’re joined by Tariq Ramadan, professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University and a visiting professor at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Qatar. He is considered one of the most prominent Muslim intellectuals in Europe and was named by Time magazine as one of the most important innovators of the 21st century. He was barred from entering the United States for many years by President George W. Bush. In 2004, Ramadan had accepted a job to become a tenured professor at the University of Notre Dame, but nine days after he was set to arrive, the Bush administration revoked his visa, invoking a provision of thePATRIOT Act. He wasn’t allowed into the United States for another six years.

AMY GOODMAN: Tariq Ramadan is the author of a number of books, includingRadical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation and, most recently, Islam and the Arab Awakening.

We welcome you back to Democracy Now!, Professor Ramadan.

TARIQ RAMADAN: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for your invitation.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about the latest that’s happening right now, the beginning in Libya with the killing of the U.S. ambassador, the protests now happening throughout the Arab world? We just heard from what’s happening in Yemen, the protests in Sana’a at the U.S. embassy, in Cairo at the U.S. embassy.

TARIQ RAMADAN: Look, it’s very, very difficult and very sensitive times for many reasons, because just—you know, we were celebrating or at least remembering 11 years after September 11 in the country here. And what happened is, as you were referring, there are two scenarios. One is to say what happened in Libya was not in fact first connected to the movie, but connected to the killing Abu Yahya al-Libi in June, and this was planned—

AMY GOODMAN: And explain who he was.

TARIQ RAMADAN: He was one of the leaders of al-Qaeda, and he was killed in June. And the point was that people were saying there will be retaliation, and they choose the very same date of the September the 11th. So it might be that this connection was in fact used with the symbol at the same time we’re remembering what happened in the States. Add to this that what we have here is very much people who are behind the movie, and it’s very important to check who is behind the movie. What do they want exactly? They were using exactly the same symbol, 11 years later, just before the election, to put the president, also, Barack Obama, and the United States onto something which is a psychological pressure by releasing this and hoping that there will be reactions. It’s a provocation. And I think that here we have something which is very important for us is, first, to condemn what happened, the killing of the ambassador and what is happening in the embassies around the—in the Muslim-majority countries, to start with this, but also to understand that there are people from behind the scenes who are playing on symbols, emotional politics, and pushing toward something which is a clash.

And the second thing that we have to say—and this is important because you were talking about Mohamed Morsi and people, the Islamists in Muslim-majority countries—there is something which is going to be one of the main challenges in the Muslim world today, in the Muslim-majority countries in the Arab world, is the religious credibility. How are you going to react to what is said about Islam? So, by touching the prophet of Islam, the reaction should be, who is going to be the guardian? And you can see today that the Muslim Brotherhood are in a situation where the Salafis, then the literalists, are pushing. And they were in Libya, they were in Egypt, they are now in Yemen. So, everywhere the Salafi are pushing by saying, “We are the guardian, and we are resisting any kind of relationship to the West or provocation coming from the West.” And internally, it’s unsettling the whole situation. Now in Tunisian, in Libya, in Syria, in Egypt, the clash between the literalists and—the Islamists or the reformists is something which is going to be part of what we have to deal with as to the future of this country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Interestingly, in this—in the incident in Libya yesterday, there appear to be now, as some reports are coming out, two very separate incidents that occurred. There was a mass protest that occurred early in the evening in response to the film, and then there was a much more coordinated military attack that occurred later in the night on the consulate itself. And apparently, the attackers may have known that the ambassador was in Benghazi, when he normally was not in Benghazi. So, this clearly seems to have been more of a—some would call it a blowback on the United States government for its support, its military support, of all kinds of fighters in Libya against Gaddafi, including Islamist extremists.

TARIQ RAMADAN: Yes, I think that this is a very fair point. You know, even after the whole democratization process, it’s quite clear that the United States are not seen in a positive way in all the Muslim-majority countries—in Egypt, in Libya, even in Tunisia—even though we have now a kind of trying to be recognized as democrats by the Islamists who are running, you know, Tunisia and Egypt. But the popular sentiment is very, very negative. So, what happened in Libya, it’s clearly connected to the role of the United States when it comes to dealing with terrorists, dealing with the factions in Libya. This is something which is there, and it’s clearly a bad perception, a negative perception. The point is how this is going to evolve when people are trying to deal with emotions and pushing towards this. So this is where the Islamic reference in such a way is going to be on two fronts. First, what we have within the Sunni tradition is this clash between the literalists and all the other trends and the Salafi movement, that are very much acting on the ground and using the popular sentiment to act against the West.

AMY GOODMAN: People might not know what you mean by the literalists and the Salafi movement.

TARIQ RAMADAN: Yes, that’s a very important point. We have to define this, because, you know, Salafi is a very broad concept in Islam. What we have now is, like, for example, the Nour Party in Egypt or the Salafi in Tunisia are people who, in fact, we call very often Wahhabi, following the Saudi school of thought and law. And they are literalists in the way where it’s black and white, there’s a very narrow interpretation of the scriptural sources. For decades, we knew that they were there, but they were not involved in politics. What is completely new for all of us over the last three years is that they are now within the political arena and playing the democratic game. One year ago, the people from the Nour Party, before even creating a party, was saying democracy is not Islamic. And all of a sudden, in eight months, they enter into the political game, and they got 24 percent, meaning that this is a political power. And they are—they have some credentials, and they are playing with this. And the perception in the West is, oh, they are the same as the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, no. They were even supporting the candidate who left the Muslim Brotherhood, to put the Muslim Brotherhood in a very difficult situation. And they are backed and supported by financial, you know, support by organizations that are coming from Saudi Arabia, even Qatar, and these organizations are supporting them financially. And they are now in Tunisia. When I was in Tunisia talking to the president, he was telling me, “We didn’t know about these people before. How come, in less than six months, they are there, and they are pushing?” And this is to make the whole democratization process unsettled, on the basis of the Islamic reference.

So this is why, as Muslims and as Muslim scholars and intellectuals, we have to be very clear on what is acceptable and what is this accepted diversity in Islam, and things that are done like yesterday, then the day before yesterday, that are completely non-Islamic, against our principles, because there is now a connection between some literalists and violent extremists, who want to kill, who want to get the kind of popular support. And populism is everywhere. We have religious populism in the Muslim-majority countries as much as we have populism in the United States of America. The reaction of Mitt Romney about saying, “Oh, you don’t have to apologize, and you have first to be clear on the fact that this is our values,” is playing with symbols. It’s just to put Barack Obama in a situation where he has to condemn first what happened and to celebrate the American values. I think it’s tricky.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in your book, Islam and the Arab Awakening, you really concentrate on the complexity of this enormous movement that has developed, that escapes most observers here in the West. And you particularly focus on the question of whether it’s wrong to consider this really revolutions that are occurring here or whether they are more uprisings or popular movements that, yes, are expressing the desires of the people for freedom, but yet are being manipulated and, to some extent, attempts at controlling them from all sides, not just from the West—

TARIQ RAMADAN: Exactly, yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —but from the religious and other political groups within Islam itself.

TARIQ RAMADAN: Yes, I’m very happy that you are saying “being manipulated” or try to be manipulated from many sides, not only from the West. What I’m advocating in the book, after having studied the whole thing before, is to tell us today that this was not known, that the people were not aware, that they were bloggers and cyber-dissidents, this is completely wrong on both sides. Even the president, Mubarak, and Ben Ali, they knew about people being trained. So, this is one thing.

What is irreversible in the Arab world is this intellectual revolution, the awakening that we can get rid of dictators. That is here, and the people have this sentiment and this political power. They feel that they can do it, and it’s still there. At the same time, we don’t know what is going to happen. So to be very quick by saying, “Oh, revolutions and Arab Spring,” and—you know, what I’m advocating is to take a cautious optimism as the starting point of our analysis and to look at what is happening.

The perception in the Arab world now is that we are dealing—having secularists against Islamists, and that’s it. So the secularists are progressive; the Islamists are reactionary, conservative. This perception is wrong. It’s not only coming from the West, by the way; it’s even in the Muslim-majority countries. In Tunisia, this is where the debate is very superficial on ideological positioning. We have to come to the true questions about which kind of social policy, which kind of state. It’s not enough to tell us it’s a civil state with Islamic reference. We need to know what Islamic reference, because this is exactly where the Salafi are telling us Islamic reference means that you cannot say what you are saying about the prophet, for example, you cannot ridicule, and you’re going to be judged or tried if you do this. So we don’t have a clear understanding of all this challenges. And when it comes to social justice, when it comes to corruption, when it comes to the role of the army—because now we are talking about Mohamed Morsi representing Egypt—we should be much more cautious with the role of the army in Egypt to be playing a very important role from behind the scene.

AMY GOODMAN: On that issue of President Morsi, I want to turn to President Obama’s comments on Egypt. He made them on Wednesday during an interview with Telemundo’s José Díaz-Balart. Obama said he does not consider the new Egyptian government led by the Muslim Brotherhood to be an ally. Excerpts of the interview first aired last night on MSNBC.

JOSÉ DÍAZ-BALART: Would you consider the current Egyptian regime an ally of the United States?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You know, I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy. They are a new government that is trying to find its way. They were democratically elected. I think that we are going to have to see how they respond to this incident, how they respond to, for example, maintaining the peace treaty in—with Israel. So far at least, what we’ve seen is that in some cases they’ve said the right things and taken the right steps; in others, how they’ve responded to various events may not be aligned with our interests. And so, I think it’s still a work in progress. But certainly, in this situation, what we’re going to expect is that they are responsive to our insistence that our embassy is protected, our personnel is protected. And if they take actions that indicate they’re not taking those responsibilities, as all other countries do where we have embassies, I think that’s going to be a real big problem.

AMY GOODMAN: So, here you have President Obama saying that the Egyptian government is not considered an ally, but not our enemy, either, he says. NBC is saying Obama’s strong words could mark a dramatic shift in the U.S. relationship with Egypt, which has been consistently pro-American since the late President Anwar Sadat. Tariq Ramadan?

TARIQ RAMADAN: Yeah, look, it’s a very smart and diplomatic statement. I think that he cannot say anything but this, for two reasons. First, if he was to say Egypt, with the Muslim Brotherhood, is an ally, he’s going to be destroyed here by, you know, the opposition saying, “How come you can say that the Islamists are your ally when these people are the same who are Hamas, and Hamas is against Israel?” It’s the end of it. So he’s saying, “We are just wait and see; we are trying to deal.”

At the same time, we should know that the American administration is very much involved with the Egyptian army. And when you talk about the Egyptian army, we don’t only talk about, you know, political power, we talk about economic power. And in all the discussion, what I’m saying in the book, which is for me very important, is that not to underestimate the economic reasons of all what is happening there, because we have China, and we have Russia, and we have new actors in the region that are helping us to understand the situation from another angle.

On the other side, he is saying about the Muslim Brotherhood, we are talking—we know that they were in touch with the Muslim Brotherhood for years trying to understand what is their stand and what is their vision. And if he was to say now—

AMY GOODMAN: Your grandfather, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.

TARIQ RAMADAN: Yeah, yes, yes. So, this is the—what I’m saying here is that, in his positioning with the Muslim Brotherhood, what he’s saying is we wait and see, and we know that they were dealing with them. The Muslim Brotherhood on this, if he was to say, “They are our allies,” they will lose their credibility within. So the Muslim Brotherhood should be perceived as not very much Western, not very much with the current Obama administration. From behind the scenes, there are some questions that we have to ask the Muslim Brotherhood, when it comes to economic options and choices with the IMF, straightaway, with the World Bank. So I think that on many economic—on other sides, economic sides and political sides, it’s quite clear that, for the time being, there is an agreement between the American administration and the Muslim Brotherhood to try to find a way to deal to one another and to try to find solutions. So, this is why I’m critical of what is happening with the Muslim Brotherhood, not only on the political side, but the economic choices.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the economic imperatives in another battle of the Arab awakening, in Libya. You, in your book, give a masterful recounting of the behind-the-scenes operations of France and the United States in the only popular uprising in which they interceded directly. Could you talk about that and the role of France in cornering much of the oil market in Libya even before the Western intervention?

TARIQ RAMADAN: Yes. If we study the facts before and what was happening in Libya, you know, the reaction of Russia and China should be understood in the light of what happened in Libya, their reaction on Syria, because they lost the economic—their economic interest and their access to the oil resources in Libya because of what happened. They took the United Nations, you know, resolution on no-fly zone as, you know, a permission for NATO to go there and intervene. In fact, this was not for the sake of, you know, the Libyan blood. It was for economic geostrategic interests and to secure their interests. So, Barack Obama was unable to go there for many reasons, because he had internal crisis, and there is these Afghani and Iraqi fronts. It’s impossible to add another one. So there was a deal with France. And France was involved, you know. Even we had, you know, a new foreign ministers, like [inaudible]. He went there, and he was, you know, the figure who was helping France to find the [inaudible] and to create this transitory national council. But this was not done for the sake of, you know, the democratization in Libya. It’s quite clear now that all the economic interest and the access to resources is secured between four countries. The first one is the United States of America, France, Britain and Qatar, who are also involved in the whole thing. So we need to be less naive in the whole process and to deal with the situation, country per country, and understanding that there are challenges, there are from behind-the-scene alliances that are now important.

There is something that I want to say. All this discussion about the Islamists—and I’m studying it in the book—you know, we have to deal with the Islamists on the ground, see what they are going to do. Remember 10 years ago what was said about Erdogan? He’s going to change the country into an Islamist country, a new Iran? It’s not going to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: The Turkish leader.

TARIQ RAMADAN: The Turkish leader. So now we have to deal with them and see what they are going to do. But there is one point which is clear: the United States of America or the Western countries, they don’t have a problem with Islamists as long as they are neoliberal capitalists and promoting the economic order. And the best example is the petro-monarchies. The petro-monarchies, they don’t want democracy. They say there is no democracy in Islam. But they are within the economic system. So the question—

AMY GOODMAN: Who are the petro-monarchists? Which countries?

TARIQ RAMADAN: The petro-monarchies are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, even Bahrain. Bahrain, we had protests in Bahrain, and they were tortured and repression. We don’t cover this. We didn’t cover this. And no one was saying that the government—it was translated into Shia-Sunni clashes. It’s wrong. There is clearly a lack of democracy there. And we need to come with something which is, don’t tell us that Islam in itself is a problem—is exactly what Barack Obama just said yesterday. If they are with us, protecting our interests, we will deal with them; if not, we will struggle.

AMY GOODMAN: Al Jazeera’s role in covering the Arab world?

TARIQ RAMADAN: Yes, I’m talking about it in the book, saying it’s quite—it’s quite—we have to look at the way they were dealing with this, pushing in Egypt, pushing In Tunisia, silent in Bahrain, silent in—so, it’s a selective—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And pushing Libya, as well.

TARIQ RAMADAN: Exactly. Of course, they were, even, you know, sending armies and people. So, all—you know, Jazeera in itself, perceived as a counter, you know, Fox News Channel, has to be also questioned as to the intention. And we know now—you know, the Arabs and the people in the Arab world are very much supportive of Al Jazeera, taking it as a credible source of news. Now it’s much more questioned by the people. When I was in Tunisia, I say, “What do they want exactly? For whom are they running ? What do they want?” And there is something which is connected to the government. So I think that in all this, it’s clear that it played a very positive role in Egypt by pushing the people. But we need to look at political—the whole scene and the whole region to understand that there are much more questions to be asked about what are the intentions from behind—you know, from supporting some uprisings and forgetting others.


TARIQ RAMADAN: Like Bahrain, for example, as I was saying, and being silent, for example, about what also was happening in Libya, what also is happening in Iraq, and very much nurturing this sense of “be careful, al-Qaeda is there, the terrorists.” You know, it’s also nurturing a mindset. It’s as if, you know, doing the job of “be careful, terrorism is around the corner,” and I think that this is—this is to be questioned.

AMY GOODMAN: Comparison of how the U.S. has dealt with Syria and Bahrain?

TARIQ RAMADAN: Well, I think that—no, they are not dealing with; they are supporting silently what the Saudi are doing with Bahrain, which is supporting the current regime. You can’t have anything happening today within the petro-monarchies, is going to be too risky for the United States and the oil interests there.

In Syria, for eight months—and this is why I’m saying it’s not all under control—all the people who are saying, “Oh, it’s all done by the U.S., and it’s a conspiracy.” I say, no, in Syria for eight months, President Barack Obama and the European administrations were hoping Bashar al-Assad was going to reform the regime from within, and it appeared that the people were more courageous. They didn’t want him to stay. So they were trying to find opposition and people with whom they can deal, because they had two problems. The driving force of the opposition in Syria was also the Muslim Brotherhood and leftists who were not very much supportive of the Americans. So they were trying to find who are the people with whom we can deal. And it took eight months. Now they want to change the government, but it’s as if they are facing Russia and China, and both are in agreement not to agree on what to do.

And, in fact, the unsettled situation in Syria could be, in fact, interesting for both sides. And unsettled Middle East, in these times where the people are trying to find their way towards democracy, could be interesting for many reasons—for weapons to be sold, for new geostrategic interests to be protected, and something that we are not talking about, which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The people who are lost in the whole discussion here are the Palestinians. We have demonstrations in Palestine in West Bank. Nobody is covering this. It’s as if they don’t exist anymore. And this is, in fact, central. And Israel is silent. The only thing that we heard once is Mubarak should stay because, if he’s not going to come, we would have Islamists, and then we have the Muslim Brotherhood, and this is what—and then nothing. It’s as if Israel is not playing in the whole run. And I think that this is wrong.

Add to this a second question, which will be very important for the United States, but also for the European countries, is the new actors. What I’m saying here is theBRIC countries—Brazil, India, China, Turkey, South Africa, Indonesia even, and Russia—are now new actors. Over the last eight years, China multiplied by seven its economic presence and penetration in the Middle East. And if this happens on economic terms and there is a shift towards the East, the relationship between these countries and Israel is completely different from the United States. And it means that the challenges are going to be different, because China is not supporting Israel the way the U.S. are supporting Israel. So we need to have all these factors in mind. I’m trying to analyze this in the book by saying, be cautious, but there is still optimism, because the people now are facing challenges. A what I would like, knowing that in the Muslim-majority countries you can’t do without Islam, we can’t do without their culture, in which way they are going to come back to this Islamic reference to find a way to deal with the true challenges and not the superficial political questions.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for being with us, Tariq Ramadan, heading back now to Britain. His latest book is called Islam and the Arab Awakening. Tariq Ramadan is a professor of Islamic studies at Oxford University and visiting professor at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Qatar. He is the author of a number of influential books. Time magazine has named Tariq Ramadan one of the most important innovators of the 21st century. This isDemocracy Now! When we come back, the Poverty Tour 2.0. We’ll speak with Tavis Smiley and Cornel West as they travel the country confronting poverty. Stay with us.

Inside the strange Hollywood scam that spread chaos across the Middle East | Max Blumenthal

Palestinians protest against The Innocence of Muslims. Officials confirmed ‘Sam Bacile’ was an alias used by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Photograph: EPA

Did an inflammatory anti-Muslim film trailer that appeared spontaneously on YouTube prompt the attack that left four US diplomats dead, including US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens? American officials have suggested that the assault was pre-planned, allegedly by of one of the Jihadist groups that emerged since the Nato-led overthrow of Libya’s Gaddafi regime. So even though the deadly scene in Benghazi may not have resulted directly from the angry reaction to the Islamophobic video, the violence has helped realize the apocalyptic visions of the film’s backers.

Produced and promoted by a strange collection of rightwing Christian evangelicals and exiled Egyptian Copts, the trailer was created with the intention of both destabilizing post-Mubarak Egypt and roiling the US presidential election. As a consultant for the film named Steve Klein said: “We went into this knowing this was probably going to happen.”

The Associated Press’s initial report on the trailer – an amateurish, practically unwatchable production called The Innocence of Muslims – identified a mysterious character, “Sam Bacile”, as its producer. Bacile told the Associated Press that he was a Jewish Israeli real estate developer living in California. He said that he raised $5m for the production of the film from “100 Jewish donors”, an unusual claim echoing Protocols of the Elders of Zion-style fantasies. Unfortunately, the extensive history of Israeli and ultra-Zionist funding and promotion of Islamophobic propaganda in the United States provided Bacile’s remarkable statement with the ring of truth.

Who was Bacile? The Israeli government could not confirm his citizenship, and for a full day, no journalist was able to determine whether he existed or not. After being duped by Bacile, AP traced his address to the home of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a militant Coptic separatist and felon convicted of check fraud. On September 13, US law enforcement officials confirmed that “Sam Bacile” was an alias Nakoula used to advance his various scams, which apparently included the production of The Innocence of Muslims.

According to an actor in the film, the all-volunteer cast was deceived into believing they were acting in a benign biblical epic about “how things were 2,000 years ago”. The script was titled Desert Warrior, and its contents made no mention of Muhammad – his name was dubbed into the film during post-production. On the set, a gray-haired Egyptian man who identified himself only as “Sam” (Nakoula) chatted aimlessly in Arabic with a group of friends while posing as the director. A casting notice for Desert Warrior listed the film’s real director as “Alan Roberts”. This could likewise be a pseudonym, although there is a veteran Hollywood hand responsible for such masterpieces as The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood and The Sexpert who goes by the same name.

Before Nakoula was unmasked, the only person to publicly claim any role in the film was Klein, an insurance salesman and Vietnam veteran from Hemet, California, who emerged from the same Islamophobic movement that produced the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik. Styling themselves as “counter-Jihadists”, anti-Muslim crusaders like Klein took their cues from top propagandists like Pamela Geller, the blogger who once suggested that Barack Obama was the lovechild of Malcolm X, and Robert Spencer, a pseudo-academic expert on Muslim radicalization who claimed that Islam was no more than “a developed doctrine and tradition of warfare against unbelievers”. Both Geller and Spencer were labeled hate group leaders by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Klein is an enthusiastic commenter on Geller’s website, Atlas Shrugged, where he recently complained about Mitt Romney’s “support for a Muslim state in Israel’s heartland”. In July 2011, Spencer’s website, Jihad Watch, promoted a rally Klein organized to demand the firing of Los Angeles County sheriff Lee Baca, whom he painted as a dupe for the Muslim Brotherhood.

On his personal Facebook page, Altar or Abolish, Klein obsesses over the Muslim Brotherhood, describing the organization as “a global network of Muslims attacking to convert the world’s 6 billion people to Islam or kill them”. Klein urges a violent response to the perceived threat of Islam in the United States, posting an image to his website depicting a middle-American family with a mock tank turret strapped to the roof of their car. “Can you direct us to the nearest mosque?” read a caption Klein added to the photo.

In 2011, during his campaign to oust Sheriff Baca, Klein forged an alliance with Joseph Nasrallah, an extremist Coptic broadcaster who shared his fear and resentment of the Muslim Brotherhood. Nasrallah appeared from out of nowhere at a boisterous rally against the construction of an Islamic community center in downtown Manhattan on September 11, 2010, warning a few hundred riled-up Tea Party types that Muslims “came and conquered our country the same way they want to conquer America”.

Organized by Geller and Spencer, the rally was carefully timed to coincide with the peak of the midterm congressional election campaign, in which many rightwing Republicans hoped to leverage rising anti-Muslim sentiment into resentment against the presidency of Obama.

Through his friendship with Nasrallah, Klein encountered another radical Coptic separatist named Morris Sadek. Sadek has been banned from returning to his Egypt, where he is widely hated for his outrageous anti-Muslim displays. On the day of the Ground Zero rally, for instance, Sadek was seen parading around the streets of Washington, DC, on September 11, 2010, with a crucifix in one hand and a Bible implanted with the American flag in the other. “Islam is evil!” he shouted. “Islam is a cult religion!”

With another US election approaching, and the Egyptian government suddenly under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood, Klein and Sadek joined Nakoula in preparing what would be their greatest propaganda stunt to date: the Innocence of Muslims. As soon as the film appeared on YouTube, Sadek promoted it on his website, transforming the obscure clip into a viral source of outrage in the Middle East. And like clockwork, on September 11, crowds of Muslim protesters stormed the walls of the US embassy in Cairo, demanding retribution for the insult to the prophet Muhammad. The demonstrations ricocheted into Libya, where the deadly attack that may have been only peripherally related to the film occurred.

For Sadek, the chaos was an encouraging development. He and his allies had been steadfastly opposed to the Egyptian revolution, fearing that it would usher in the Muslim Brotherhood as the country’s new leaders. Now that their worst fears were realized, Coptic extremists and other pro-Mubarak dead-enders were resorting to subterfuge to undermine the ruling party, while pointing to the destabilizing impact of their efforts as proof of the government’s bankruptcy. As Sadek said, “the violence that [the film] caused in Egypt is further evidence of how violent the religion and people”.

For far-right Christian right activists like Klein, the attacks on American interests abroad seemed likely to advance their ambitions back in the US. With Americans confronted with shocking images of violent Muslims in Egypt and Libya on the evening news, their already negative attitudes toward their Muslim neighbors were likely to harden. In turn, the presidential candidates, Obama and Romney, would be forced to compete for who could take the hardest line against Islamic “terror”.

A patrician moderate constantly on the defensive against his own right flank, Romney fell for the bait, baselessly accusing Obama of “sympathiz[ing] with those who waged the attacks” and of issuing “an apology for America’s values”. The clumsy broadside backfired in dramatic fashion, opening Romney to strident criticism from across the spectrum, including from embarrassed Republican members of Congress. Obama wasted no time in authorizing a round of drone strikes on targets across Libya, which are likely to deepen regional hostility to the US.

A group of fringe extremists had proven that with a little bit of money and an unbelievably cynical scam, they could shape history to fit their apocalyptic vision. But in the end, they were not immune to the violence they incited.

According to Copts Today, an Arabic news outlet focusing on Coptic affairs, Sadek was seen taking a leisurely stroll down Washington’s M Street on September 11, soaking in the sun on a perfect autumn day. All of a sudden, he found himself surrounded by four angry Coptic women. Berating Sadek for fueling the flames of sectarian violence, the women took off their heels and began beating him over the head.

“If anything happens to a Christian in Egypt,” one of them shouted at him, “you’ll be the reason!”


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