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June 2013

Burning the Mosques


Robin Yassin-Kassab

The Umawi mosque in Aleppo has burnt. Its thousand-year-old minaret has fallen. The minaret of Dera‘a’s Omari mosque, built in the seventh Century by Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab, has been destroyed. And today the Khalid ibn al-Waleed mosque in Homs, built around the mausoleum of the famous Muslim general and companion of the Prophet, was shelled and burnt. These are ancient mosques of enormous significance to Muslims, and they are world heritage. They were. They survived the Mongols, but not Assad.

It’s clear the Western media does not understand the religious, cultural and historical importance of these sites. Assad’s cultural vandalism and civilisational provocations are worse than the Taliban’s assault on the Bamiyan Buddha. Am I wrong to think that an attack by rogue elements of the Syrian resistance on a major Shia shrine would raise a far greater noise?

Many Muslims too are strangely quiet. If the Israelis were to hit a mosque of such vast symbolic resonance, you can bet there’d be furious demonstrations from Casablanca to Jakarta, from London to Lahore.

What’s happening is no secret. The shabeeha write it on the walls: “Al-Assad or We’ll Burn the Country.” The world worries about Islamists, about hypothetical future persecutions, about the chess game between America and Russia, Israel and Iran. Meanwhile the country burns. The people and their history burn. And the flammable poison of sectarian hatred seeps out from Syria, to east and west.

Robin Yassin-Kassab on Assadist worship and Alawi religion

my response to a friend who thinks that assad-worship is part of the alawi religion: was saddam hussain’s regime ‘sunni’ when it murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent iraqis, particularly shia? no, it wasn’t – it was a saddamist regime which had nothing to do with religion but which exploited religion and ignorant sunnis for its own divide and rule purposes. is the bahraini regime ‘sunni’ when it denies democratic rights to its people? no – it’s using religious divisions to keep itself in power. same in syria. i know alawis who are working for the revolution – people like samar yazbek, rasha omran, and so many who are working in silence or in secret to deliver food and medicine to the besieged areas.

it’s true that sunni areas are being hit particularly hard, but there are also thousands of christians, alawis, and ismailis who have been tortured and murdered. I agree that this is a savage regime killing mainly sunnis. but we shouldn’t be helping assad, khamenei and nasrallah to make this a sectarian war.

that’s exactly what they want. why? because assadism has almost no supporters – but there are millions of shia in the world. if they are fooled into believing that the revolution is not one for freedom for all but a war for extermination of minorities, then they will fight to defend assad, we have to fight this discourse, however hard it is.

we also have to show the west – which until now has done everything it can to prevent the syrians defending themselves – that this is not a Muslim civil war, but a popular revolution. let’s not fall into assad’s trap. then, as a matter of plain fact, the alawi religion (i’m not alawi, but i have studied it) is certainly very very far from orthodox Islam, but it does not involve worship of the assad family.

this is a blasphemy against the alawi religion. it is also a fact that the alawi ulema have been assassinated, imprisoned and silenced over the last four decades by the assad regime. this is the problem. the assads have tried to kill the alawi religion and replace it with worship of the assads.

from facebook

An Ingenious Plan: How the CIA Vets the Syrian Rebels

So the decision has been taken, and the US will start training and arming the Syrian rebels after vetting them in Jordan. Now we all know what a capable organisation the CIA is so we should all be optimistic about this daring plan. The minor fuck-ups that the CIA has been involved in during its existence should not be a reason for us to doubt this carefully-considered plan. In order to illustrate the strength of its vetting programme, the CIA has allowed us to sit in on a few of those interviews scheduled to begin next month. Below is an accurate transcript of how they went:

CIA Agent: Come in please, I’m agent Johnson and this is agent Johnson. And you are?

Syrian rebel: Mohamed Asa’ad.

CIA Agent: Asa’ad? Like the president?

Syrian rebel:  No, no, in Arabic it’s different, it’s Asa’ad, not Assad.

CIA Agent: It sounds the same to me.

Syrian rebel:  No, it’s Ayen, not A, say Ayen. Asa’ad.

CIA Agent: Assad.

Syrian rebel:  No, you’re not doing it right. Asa’ad.

CIA Agent: ok, never mind, I’ll call you Mohamed. Would you like a beer?

Syrian rebel:  No, thank you.

CIA Agent: Is that for religious reasons?

Syrian rebel:  No, but it’s 9 in the morning and I have a long day ahead.

CIA Agent: So you do drink beer?

Syrian rebel:  Beer, whiskey, vodka, whatever. Although I drive the tank so I have to watch my drinking.

CIA Agent: What do you think of drugs Mr…er, Mohamed?

Syrian rebel:  I tried some marijuana at college but I didn’t inhale.

CIA Agent: Is that for religious reasons?

Syrian rebel:  No, I got a little bit nauseous to be honest and didn’t want to look soft. Have you had any?

CIA Agent: I’m the one asking questions. So are you a jihadi?

Syrian rebel:  Ha, clever one. You nearly tripped me up there.

CIA Agent: So you are?!

Syrian rebel:  No, that was a joke. Do you people not get sarcasm?

CIA Agent: We are trained to respect all cultures. It’s not something we do, but we will respect your right to be sarcastic. But please keep it to a minimum because it makes our job difficult.

Syrian rebel:  This is going to be harder than the mukhabrat interrogation.

CIA Agent: What does that mean?

Syrian rebel:  Sarcasm again.

CIA Agent: oh, I see. So I notice you have a beard, is that because you are a salafi?

Syrian rebel:  No, no, it’s an homage to Orson Welles.

CIA Agent: Who’s Orson Welles?

Syrian rebel:  You don’t know who Orson Welles is? He’s a fantastic American film director. Citizen Kane?

CIA Agent: No, I don’t know him either. So would you shave your beard?

Syrian rebel:  I don’t know, would you grow a ponytail?

CIA Agent: It’s against CIA regulations.

Syrian rebel:  Sarcasm, again. Sorry.

CIA Agent: Sir, I told you to keep it to a minimum. This is messing with our equipment.

Syrian rebel:  ok, ok. Chill.

CIA Agent: So how exactly would you describe your political opinions?

Syrian rebel:  I’m a registered Republican.

CIA Agent: Seriously?

Syrian rebel:  Do you know anything about Syria?

CIA Agent: In my business, we don’t like to pollute our judgment with knowledge, it’s dangerous.

Syrian rebel:  yeah, I heard.

CIA Agent: Remember, the CIA is here to help you.

Syrian rebel:  Yes, I have some Yemeni friends, they speak very highly of you.

CIA Agent: Yemeni friends? Al-Qaeda?

Syrian rebel:  Man, you’re obsessed. You can’t go around stereotyping people like that, what do your human resources people think? No, we met at a conference.

CIA Agent: ok, never mind. I think we’re just about finished here. Do you promise if we give you training and weapons not to use them against the USA, its citizens, armed forces or franchises?

Syrian rebel:  Of course man, I love KFC.

CIA Agent: Great, sign here please.

Syrian rebel:  Allahu Akbar, finally a result.

CIA Agent: What’s that?

Syrian rebel:  It’s just an expression. Relax.

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Which of Us Dies First? The Achilles Heel of the War Reporting Business

  • Teru Kuwayama · Jun 27, 2013

Which of Us Dies First? The Achilles Heel of the War Reporting Business timchris

“I wonder which one of us dies first?”

It was 2003, and a stray, morbid thought crossed my mind one night in a hotel in Iraq. I was in a room full of twenty and thirty-something photographers and journalists, in the Al-Hamra hotel in Baghdad. A few miles away, the grown-ups from major label news organizations had filled the Sheraton-Palestine hotel—the Al-Hamra was the low-rent downtown spill-over tent.

I used to call it Melrose Place Baghdad, and in the evenings, after day trips to bomb sites and mass graves, the pack would convene at the poolside for blurry nights fueled by bad Lebanese wine. In retrospect, those days felt like the proverbial fun and games that preceded the losing of eyes.

Which of Us Dies First? The Achilles Heel of the War Reporting Business Hkm2PF3

As it turned out, the first to die from the Al-Hamra scene was Marla Ruzicka, a 28-year-old aid worker-activist. I’d first met her on another drunken bender in Kabul, a year earlier. She was killed in Baghdad by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber who plowed into the military convoy she was driving with.

Many more died in the years that followed.

On April 20th, 2011, it was Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros. Chris was a wire photographer, one of the rare characters who actually covered wars as his day job for a news agency. Tim was a freelancer, best known as the director of the documentary film Restrepo.

Tim’s last tweet described “indiscriminate shelling” and “no sign of NATO”. It’s unclear if it was a mortar round or an RPG that killed them. Two other photographers were wounded, but survived.

Which of Us Dies First? The Achilles Heel of the War Reporting Business timtweet

My last memory of Chris is in front of the Al-Hamra in Baghdad. I last saw Tim the night before he left for Libya, in front of the L train in Brooklyn. [Tim is in the header photo, at left.]

Facebook was off the hook in the days after they were killed. Newspapers, blogs, and even human rights organizations were publishing memorials that continued to stream in. Anderson Cooper brought Restrepo soldiers onto CNN to offer tribute to the fallen filmmaker.

You’d almost think it was the first time journalists had been killed in the line of duty, but it wasn’t—it was just the first time, in a long time, that western journalists with names like “Tim” and “Chris” were killed.

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Which of Us Dies First? The Achilles Heel of the War Reporting Business ne2yFYV

In fact, two Arab journalists were killed in Libya just a month before Tim, but their names, Mohammed al-Nabbous, and Ali Hassan al-Jaber, didn’t get a glimmer of the attention that Tim and Chris received.

The Committee to Protect Journalists lists almost a thousand incidents since in which journalists were killed in the last twenty years—almost 90% of them were local journalists.

The ratio may even be more lopsided, because statistics on journalists often don’t even include the people who work alongside them—like their drivers, translators, and “fixers”. Those people constitute a vast, grey, undocumented labor force that the international news industry is 100% dependent on. They face the highest risks, and almost invariably, they pay the highest price.

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Which of Us Dies First? The Achilles Heel of the War Reporting Business CoJXqF6

In March 2011, four New York Times correspondents were detained and abused when their car was pulled over by pro-government forces in Libya. The NYTimes published blow by blow accounts of their captivity and a series of celebratory reports when they were finally released. The headlines never mentioned a fifth person in the vehicle—a 21 year old driver named Mohamed Shaglouf.

In a passing mention, he was described as “missing”, but it was lated reported that he had died.

For NYT photographer Lynsey Addario, he was the second person, in less than two years, who’d been killed driving her car. (I was in the car when the last one, a Pakistani named Raza Khan, was killed in an automobile accident while driving us back from a refugee camp outside the Swat Valley).

Raza’s family had modest hopes for compensation or support—they were hoping to get enough money to replace the used Toyota he died in so that his oldest son could carry the family business of driving for foreign journalists.

In a single sentence mention, in a blog post about Addario’s recovery, the NYTimes mentioned that it was “gathering a fund to give to the six children of the driver, Raza Khan, for whom he was the sole provider”. That fund seems to have amounted to about a thousand dollars, which probably as much was being spent on an hourly basis to provide red-carpet medical treatment to their American photographer, who’d broken a collarbone.

At the time that I hitched that ride with Lynsey and Raza, I was on assignment for Newsweek. Newsweek paid my hospital bills, and gave nothing to Raza’s family.

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Which of Us Dies First? The Achilles Heel of the War Reporting Business fiskL6f

I have yet to find a major news organization with a clearly articulated policy on what happens in the worst case scenarios—when the people it hires are killed, wounded or abducted. I don’t believe that’s an accident. Until this black hole is confronted, more people will disappear in the grey area.

Another lucky passenger in the NYT‘s car in Libya was a correspondent named Stephen Farrell. In 2009, he’d also been abducted by Taliban insurgents, along with an Afghan colleague named Sultan Munadi. Farrell was rescued by a British special forces team. Munadi was killed in the rescue, as was a British commando. Unlike the British soldier, Munadi’s body was left behind.

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Which of Us Dies First? The Achilles Heel of the War Reporting Business nmkS3F7

In 2007, Ajmal Naqshbandi, my closest friend in Afghanistan, was kidnapped along with an Italian journalist named Danielle Mastrogiacamo. The Italian journalist was freed, in exchange for the release of five high value Taliban prisoners. Ajmal was decapitated after Afghan authorities bluntly refused to make any further concessions to spare his life.

In the documentary film “Fixer“, president Hamid Karzai is shown weakly explaining that the Italian government had once built a road for the Afghan government.

Which of Us Dies First? The Achilles Heel of the War Reporting Business Q0R9tXQ

Which of Us Dies First? The Achilles Heel of the War Reporting Business X6u7TzR

The deaths of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were tragic and devastating to the people who knew them, but as foreign, parachute-jumping journalists, their deaths were actually quite unusual. What isn’t an isolated incident, however, is the disparity of treatment, and attention that’s given to “internationals” and “locals”.

On a moral level, this is the Achilles heel of the war reporting business. It’s a problem that gets worse and worse, as the news industry contracts, budgets shrink, and clearly defined staff jobs are replaced by greater numbers of inexperienced freelancers, with less clearly defined rules of engagement. In the grey space, ethical and professional corners get cut, and more bodies get swept under the carpet.

As many people have heard, the journalism industry is struggling for survival, but until it answers for its own collateral damage, the bigger question will be: does it deserve to survive?

I’d like to think that Tim and Chris would ask for those answers too.

About the author: Teru Kuwayama is a crisis photographer based in New York City and currently working in Afghanistan. You can connect with him through his website and through Instagram. This article originally appeared here.

Image credits: Photographs by Teru Kuwayama

source :


The broken-hearted mother of 23-year-old Hussam Khayat has recounted the tragedy of losing her son

“[They told me my] son had been arrested and tortured to death, then asked in cold blood to take his body from the hospital. Oh, how lucky I am! At least I know where I can bury him,” Khayat’s mother says.

She couldn’t recognize her son; the body was slit with knifes and burned with cigarettes. He had no nails. His face was unrecognizable after his skin and teeth had been removed.

Khayat was martyred after 13 days of arrest and torture in Syrian Intelligence chambers.

The regime said Khayat had died in clashes between regime forces and the rebels. His mother, like all parents in this situation, was forced to sign a paper saying that her son was killed by terrorists.

Khayat’s story began when he refused to be blackmailed at some checkpoints. When he refused to give the officers there money, they took his identity card.  A few days later he received a phone call from State Security, or the Mukhabrat, branch no 215, asking him to present immediately to the relevant authorities.

His anxious mother insisted she go with him. She went, but wasn’t allowed to enter. At the checkpoint at the entrance, the intimidating officer told her: “It is only a matter of minutes, no more.”

The wait was hours, and when Hussam still hadn’t emerged, the armed security man told her to go home.

“When he’s out, we will call you,” he said.

It was 13 long days before she received a phone call from the military hospital: “Your son has died, you can come to pick up the body.”

It was a few days afterwards that Hussam’s mother heard a broadcast on the regime television news.

“Our valiant forces have killed number of terrorists in the neighborhood of Jobar, one of them is Hussam Khayat,” the reporter was saying.

Asma Alabed, Hussam’s friend, wrote about Khayat in her blog in Canada: “Under the stress from the unfortunate conditions that forced me to leave the University of Toronto and transfer, along the way I forgot how blessed I am to be safe and surrounded by loved ones.”

“My mother always says she never met her best friend, Taunt Loubna, until she moved to Michigan. I can honestly say she is one of the most good hearted, elegant women I have ever come across and it distresses me to hear of the passing of her cousin in Syria, tortured by a relentless regime that should be causing worldwide alarm,” she wrote.

“I am disgusted by the brutality the Assad regime has inflicted on its people, disgusted by those who still speak in support of the regime, and disgusted to live in an era that would cause sorrow to Taunt Loubna’s family and people like Taunt Loubna who singlehandedly represent the kind of person I hope to be one day.

“I am bewildered by those who can still stand by this embarrassing excuse of a government and this obvious violation of human rights.”

Edited by The Syrian Observer


Qunfuz, back from Syria

rose supermarket – in a tent. the famous line from tunisian poet
ash-sha’abi: if one day the people desire life, fate is obliged to


see the whole wonderful album here with Robin’s comments and his article :


Robin Yassin-Kassab
Pictures from Syria

I’ve just returned from a trip to Syria, which I’ll be writing about. In the meantime, please follow this link to see some photographs, with comments.
The Atmeh camp is just inside Syria near the Turkish town of Reyhanli (Reyhaniyeh in Arabic). 22,000 people live in the camp, refugees from the regime’s shelling, aerial bombardment, gunfire, torture and rape. They come mainly from the Idlib, Hama and Aleppo regions. Many are rural people, but there are middle class urban residents too.
This album also contains pictures of a trip to liberated Kafranbel in southern Idlib province.

Former Israeli Ambassador advises that another country “should be wiped off the map”

June 24, 2013

In a Fox News interview, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman argues, extraordinarily, that a country which “thumbs its nose at the world” and possesses nuclear weapons “should be wiped off the map of the world”.


10 Reasons for an Academic Boycott of Israel

June 23, 2013 § Leave a Comment

My article for the “10 Reasons for a Cultural Boycott of Israel” campaign has prompted requests for a similar article about the academic boycott.  So without further ado: 10 reasons for an academic boycott of Israel.

  1. Israel systematically destroys the education opportunities in the territories under its occupation by military means: From demolishing universities, schools and kindergartens; through the apartheid wall and checkpoints, separating children and teachers from the schools; to the arrests of students and professors; to the stopping of school supplies from entering Gaza and the bombing of its infrastructures.
  2. Academic institutions are not separate from the economic realities they exist in. Academia is- as any other institution- unfortunately, powered by money.
  3. Academia in Israel is subsidized (with little gain for the public) by the state.
  4. The aforementioned economic hurdles discriminate towards an intentionally impoverished Palestinian population within the 1948 armistice line, who are also citizens of Israel. A recent report indicates that only 11% of the Palestinian population of Israel is accepted to college. Although Palestinian citizens of Israel are a quarter of the college-age population, they comprise only 8% of the students attending Israeli universities. In 2009 half of this quarter- about 5,400 – chose to study abroad, mainly in neighboring Jordan, because of the difficulties they faced in Israel.
  5. While discrimination is practiced against Palestinian students, ex-military personnel are simultaneously favored. Further straining not only the economic gaps, but also the militarizing phenomena in Israel, in which one type of citizen is “acceptable” and the other is a “security threat”.
  6. These policies of discrimination within the university are directly linked with the Israeli government policies of ethnic cleansing: “Far-right leaders have suggested in the past that the Arab minority can be encouraged to emigrate by restricting access to higher education. Benny Elon, a former cabinet minister, notoriously summed up the policy as: “I will close the universities to you, I will make your lives difficult, until you want to leave.”” (The ministers are referring to the population which Israel refers to as “Israeli Arabs”-it’s own citizens.)
  7. All universities in Israel and many private academic institutions have some form of “security studies”, in which occupation-army uniform-clad students and “professors” exchange ideas about how to more efficiently kill and control the Palestinian population.
  8. While there’s also room for significant criticism of the regime in Israel’s academia, it is the allowance of this criticism that is used as a fig leaf by the institutions and the state for a pretense of democracy, as if they are not themselves condoning, promoting, and developing the weapons, policies, and moral justifications to the apartheid military regime, while themselves practicing discrimination.
  9. While criticism exists in the academy, it’s speakers pay heavy personal and professional prices, once they’ve “gone too far” in the eyes of the academy. Usually calling for boycott is this imaginary red line. Meanwhile the Ministry of Hasbara commissions academics to speak favorably about Israel abroad. (also furthering the divide between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” citizens.)
  10. Non-participation in oppressive systems is fueled by information sharing. The key to any grassroots movement is education on the issues. When the BDS movement asks that academic institutions be boycotted, the only way to achieve participation is explain why. Thus BDS further’s freedom of speech in the Israeli academy and abroad.

Relevant links:

Security studies in Israel’s universities and colleges: 

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