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December 2014

2014 review

Les lutins statisticiens de ont préparé le rapport annuel 2014 de ce blog.

En voici un extrait :

Le Concert Hall de l’Opéra de Sydney peut contenir 2 700 personnes. Ce blog a été vu 9 100 fois en 2014. S’il était un concert à l’Opéra de Sydney, il faudrait environ 3 spectacles pour accueillir tout le monde.

Cliquez ici pour voir le rapport complet.

Novelist and Poet Omar Hazek: An Open Letter After a Year in Prison

Novelist and poet Omar Hazek was jailed on December 2, 2013, charged with violating Egypt’s anti-protest law, a “crime” for which he is serving two years in prison. Yet he maintains more hope than most:This letter initially ran in Al-Masry al-Youm. Hazek’s family gave permission for an English translation.


“The Interview” Belittles North Korea, But is Film’s Backstory and U.S. Policy the Real Farce?


Freedom for Palestine: #GazaNames Project


On Nir Rosen’s Definitions of ‘Sectarian’ and ‘Secular’

December 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

by Thomas Pierret

AFP photo. burying victims of the Houla massacre

Foreign Policy just published an article by David Kenner about a report on the Syrian conflict written for the US government by Nir Rosen, an ex-journalist currently working as a special adviser for conflict-resolution NGO Humanitarian Dialogue.

For several months, Rosen has been promoting an approach to the resolution of the Syrian conflict that shifts away from political transition in favour of local truces, a stance that is not dissimilar to UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura’s suggestion to “freeze” the conflict.

For many reasons, I do not think that this approach is in any way promising, but my concern here is different: it is rather the distinctly pro-Asad flavour of Rosen’s assessment of the conflict, which makes his piece look like an attempt at whitewashing the regime’s crimes, or to put it like Kenneth Roth from Human Rights Watch did it on Twitter, at sugarcoating deliberate mass-murder.

Rosen likes to remind his interlocutors that he has spent most of the last three years in Syria, speaking to people from all sides. This might be part of the problem: he seems to have spent so much time with regime officials that he is now speaking exactly like them.

Rosen’s report includes an old Stalinist trope about the Asads’ achievements in terms of health, education and infrastructure, an argument even the most obtuse defenders of the regime have started handling with care after the regime started to deliberately destroy much of its own infrastructures to make life impossible in rebel-held areas. In the same vein, Rosen claims that the Syrian regime was not the worst in the region before 2011. This is seriously debatable: by 2010, an aggregate index combining state repression and human development would certainly have placed Syria at the bottom of the regional ranking.

Then comes the breaking news: the Syrian regime is not sectarian, it is even staunchly secular! According to Rosen, the regime’s brutality towards the Sunni opposition “was done more out of a fear of Sunni sectarianism than as a result of the regime’s own sectarianism (sic)”. If Rosen is trying to tell us that the ruling clique in Damascus is not composed of sectarian ideologues, thanks, we knew that: Mafiosi are interested in power and money, not ideology. But that does not mean that their strategy cannot be deeply sectarian at the same time. The Syrian regime manipulated sectarian divides from day one. Does Rosen remember the first days of April 2011, when the Minister of Interior was branding the peaceful sit-in in Homs as a “Salafi Emirate”? Wasn’t that a not-so-subtle way to raise sectarian fears among minorities? Or was the Minister speaking so “out of fear of Sunni sectarianism”? Does Rosen remember that a couple of days later, Alawite auxiliaries were sent to kill protesters on Homs’ Clock Square? Did that also happen “out of fear of Sunni sectarianism”? Later that month, other Alawite militiamen were sent into the coastal village of al-Bayda, and filmed themselves tramping over the bodies of Sunni prisoners. An admirably non-sectarian move, once again! I had thought that faced with the same situation, a genuinely secular government would have sent uniformed security forces from other provinces rather than civilian auxiliaries from the rival local sect, but thanks to his three-year fieldwork expertise, Rosen redefined the whole concept of non-sectarianism: it means acting in a deeply sectarian manner while remaining staunchly secular in one’s heart.

My favourite display of regime “secularism” is this June 2013 speech by Asad’s head of security in Aleppo Muhammad Khaddur, who was trying to recruit Shia militiamen in the villages of Zahra and Nubbul by promising them he would “raise the flag of (Imam) Hussein over Munnagh airport”. That was staggeringly non-sectarian, wasn’t it? And of course, why would one think that a regime that is busy full-time recruiting sectarian militias from as far as Afghanistan is anything else than “non-sectarian in nature”?

I suppose that many of Rosen’s skeptical readers will wonder about sectarian massacres such as al-Hula in 2012, and al-Bayda/Banyas the following year, in which hundreds of Sunni civilians were killed by Alawite shabbiha. Were they also carried out “out of fear of Sunni sectarianism”?

Rosen’s report also includes the baffling claim that most rebels did not take up arms to defend themselves, but “out of religious zeal and political extremism”. So, from 2011 on, tens of thousands of ordinary Syrians picked up arms in a context of bloody repression of demonstrations, mass round up and torture, followed by shelling and air bombing of civilians. By 2012, Rosen was writing, on the basis of his own observations, that by cordoning off their neighbourhoods, the rebels had allowed people to demonstrate without being shot at by security forces, which strikingly looks like a defensive move to me. But after two more years of meticulous research (was it in SANA’s archives?), Rosen eventually managed to isolate the one main independent variable behind the militarisation of the uprising: it was “religious zeal and political extremism”. It is that simple: why care about the context when you can make sweeping essentialist assumptions about Sunni extremism?

Thomas Pierret is a Lecturer in Contemporary Islam at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of Religion and State in Syria (Cambridge University Press, 2013).


Should We Oppose the Intervention Against ISIS?

Kurdish fighters in the besieged Syrian city of Kobani prepare to fight against ISIS on November 7. The Kurds are receiving U.S. military aid. (Ahmed Deeb/AFP/Getty Images)
Kurdish fighters in the besieged Syrian city of Kobani prepare to fight against ISIS on November 7. The Kurds are receiving U.S. military aid. (Ahmed Deeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Most U.S. leftists say yes. But voices we rarely hear—Kurds and members of the Syrian opposition—have more ambiguous views.


To consider ending the war, which is what all of us want, without considering what’s at the root of this entire monstrosity—which is the Assad regime itself—is unacceptable.

ISIS (or ISIL, or the Islamic State) sent shock waves through the Middle East and beyond in June when it seized Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. The organization has now laid claim to a swath of territory “stretching from Baghdad to Aleppo and from Syria’s northern border to the deserts of Iraq in the south,” in the words of Patrick Cockburn, author of The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising.

In August, the United States assembled an international coalition (eventually including more than a dozen countries) to conduct a campaign of air strikes on ISIS positions in Iraq, coordinating with Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Then, in October, the coalition expanded the intervention into Syria, coordinating with Kurdish fighters on the Syrian-Turkish border and Free Syrian army forces.

American progressives have been relatively uniform in opposing the intervention against ISIS. But to most Kurds and many Syrian activists, the intervention is more welcome. Turkish and Syrian Kurds along the border watch the battles against ISIS from hilltops, breaking out in cheers and chanting, “Obama, Obama.” Within the Syrian opposition, one finds a range of perspectives—some support intervention, others oppose it, and many, like the Syrian leftist intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh, are torn. In late September Saleh told me,

On the one hand, I would like to see this thuggish gang wiped from the face of the earth. ISIS is a criminal organization that has killed thousands of Syrians and Iraqis while leaving intact another criminal organization—the Assad regime—that is responsible for the deaths of close to 200,000 people. ISIS has destroyed the cause of the Syrian revolution as much as the Assad regime has destroyed our country and society. On the other hand, an attack against ISIS will send a message to many Syrians (and Iraqis and other Arabs) that this intervention isn’t about seeking justice for heinous crimes, but is rather an attack against those who challenged Western powers. This will lead to more resentment against and suspicion of the outside world, which is the very nihilist mood on which ISIS capitalizes and profits.

Some Syrian activists question how committed the Kurds are to toppling the Syrian dictator. The Kurds, for their part, distrust Turkey, which supports the Syrian opposition. These debates and dynamics are mostly unknown to American progressives.

Given that ISIS and the intervention against it directly impact the peoples of the region, it behooves us to know what they have to say about it. So when In These Times asked me to convene a roundtable discussion on the ISIS intervention, I saw it as an opportunity to bridge this gap—to explore some of these contending perspectives and stimulate a conversation between U.S. progressives and some of our Syrian and Kurdish counterparts.

Richard Falk has been one of the leading voices of peace and human rights over the last half century. He was the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights and a member of the Independent International Commission on Kosovo. His blog, Global Justice in the 21st Century, is a constant source of thought-provoking and self-reflective analysis. His essay in The Syria Dilemma, the book I co-edited with Nader Hashemi, is among the most thoughtful and challenging arguments about the Syrian tragedy I have read.

The Kurdish region of Rojava in northern Syria has been likened to the Zapatista autonomous territories of Chiapas and has inspired  international solidarity efforts with its experiment in democratic autonomy . The anarchist writer and activist David Graeber has written a forceful plea to stand with the beleaguered Kurds as they fight for their lives. With Graeber’s help I reached out to Alan Semo, the UK representative of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), to get his perspective on the ISIS intervention.

I also deemed it essential to include a Syrian opposition voice in the discussion. There has been and remains deep confusion about the Syrian conflict amongst many leftists. So I reached out to Rime Allaf, who serves on the board of directors of The Day After Project, an international working group of Syrians building toward a democratic transition in Syria. She is a former advisor to the president of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces and former Associate Fellow at London’s Chatham House think tank.

There are few people I hold in higher regard than Rafia Zakaria, a lawyer, board member of Amnesty International USA, columnist for Al Jazeera America and the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, and the author of The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (forthcoming in February from Beacon Press). Rafia brings both an international human rights perspective and the painful knowledge of what U.S. military intervention, in the form of drone strikes, has wrought in her part of the world.

Richard, with only one or two exceptions (notably Kosovo), you have opposed U.S. military interventions for the past 50 years. As someone who has opposed those interventions as a champion of self-determination—especially self-determination for formerly colonized peopleswhat do you make of the current U.S. intervention against ISIS? And specifically, the siege of Kobani and the Kurdish resistance against ISIS along the Turkish-Syrian border?

Richard: It’s a tough question. We need to contextualize this a bit further. In my view, there is no basis for the United States to play a constructive role in this region. Its role in Iraq and Syria—much less, Israel, Palestine, Egypt and elsewhere in the region—figures into an overall strategy of dominating the region and supporting highly reactionary forces in the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia. The notion that the United States can be a liberating actor by narrowing the focus to one specific battle site isn’t convincing to me. The plight of the Kurds in Kobani and their courage in resisting ISIS poses a tragic predicament that does challenge the kind of anti-interventionism that I feel is justified overall, particularly in the Middle East. But to overcome the presumption against military intervention, especially from the air, one needs very powerful evidence. And one needs a full-fledged diplomatic initiative, which I see lacking so long as Iran continues to be excluded from any effort to resolve the Syrian conflict. Like the drone attacks, the ISIS intervention doesn’t seem designed to actually deal with the problem. Rather, it looks like a projection of U.S. power in the region.

Where do you stand on the intervention, Rafia?

Rafia: I oppose it. Look at what the U.S. has done in South Asia in the past ten years. As someone who has covereddrone attack after drone attack in Pakistan, I can tell you that the dynamics are very similar. When the U.S. began its drone campaign in north and south Waziristan, where the Taliban were headquartered, there was a lot of support from Pashtun tribal leaders, similar in a way to the current situation between the Kurds and ISIS. The narrative was that the drone attacks were empowering the indigenous people of area who were facing incursions from the Taliban. It’s been beyond a miserable failure. The drone attacks have led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. Whenever you have communities that are displaced—and this is precisely what is happening in Syria and Iraq as a result of ISIS incursions and the airstrikes against ISIS—their social mechanisms, their political allegiances, their forms of governance all collapse. Once that happens, those populations are far, far more vulnerable to being recruited by groups like ISIS. Or they become disenchanted with any effort to rebuild or organize. The consequence of intervention is displacement. And the consequence of displacement is further civil war, which is what you have in Pakistan right now.

Syrian activists have expressed a range of views on the intervention against ISIS. Rime, how do you see it?

Rime: I very much share the ambivalence of Yassin al-Haj Saleh. Many of us in the Syrian opposition do. Everything that has happened in Syria was predictable—and indeed was predicted. The rise of these Islamist terror groups…before they became an organized entity calling itself ISIS, they were smaller groups fighting in various areas in Iraq but mostly in Syria, where they had free reign because the only forces fighting them during roughly their first year on the scene [2013] were the Free Syrian Army. The FSA—the bulk of the Syrian armed opposition to the Assad regime—thus found itselffighting two very brutal forces, the Assad regime on one side and these Islamist groups on the other—and those two forces were not fighting each other. This is an essential point. It was inevitable that this would weaken the opposition and strengthen the regime. Because the Assad regime was not attacking this Islamist plague, it was to be expected that these terror groups would gain ground. They had help from al-Qaeda type groups in Iraq. Plus they had the advantage of their enemies [the FSA] being bombed relentlessly by the Syrian regime. So they gained strength.

Let’s be very clear that for the longest time, the Syrian opposition was not asking for a “boots on the ground”-style intervention, or even for a bombing campaign led by the U.S. What was being requested early on was the establishment of humanitarian corridors with the help of a “no-fly-zone” and/or weapons for the FSA to defend liberated areas from the relentless barrel bombing campaign of the regime. Since none of this happened, it was to be expected that these Islamist groups have been able to gain so much ground and find themselves with a weakened opponent in the FSA. Now the Assad regime doesn’t even need to worry about ISIS because it’s got the U.S. fighting [ISIS].

Alan, where does the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which you represent, stand on the U.S. intervention against ISIS? The PYD has opposed external military intervention in the Syrian conflict, but hasn’t the Kurdish struggle against ISIS benefited from the coalition airstrikes?

Alan: I think the American-led international intervention against ISIS has been efficient. The Americans realized that the expansion of ISIS is serious and threatens the region—it has to be stopped and eliminated. The U.S. has been relying on air strikes alone, and they know they need troops on the ground. The forces on the ground fighting ISIS in northern Iraq and now in Kobani, in northern Syria, are Kurdish troops. They have been defending themselves very efficiently against ISIS, which is a real threat to the region. So I think eliminating this threat is the right step, both for the Syrian people and for regional security and stability.

Rime: From January roughly until the summer, what happened is that ISIS was allowed to spread its terror throughout the Jazira region of Syria without any intervention of any kind from outside Syria—or within Syria. The only people fighting them were the Free Syrian Army—alone, without ammunition. So I agree with Alan that the intervention is proving useful, but only up to a point. It is proving useful in a very limited area, and—this is critical—it is not tackling the origin of this plague, which is the Assad regime.

Alan: Now, Kurdish forces are working together with some sections of the Free Syrian Army and other forces in northern Syria.

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, a Geneva-based organization, has recently put forward a proposal to end the Syrian conflict that includes the creation of a Peace and Reconstruction Authority that would implement local ceasefire agreements and serve as an interim governing authority. The report also suggests that once a deal has been struck, the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition could focus their energies on fighting ISIS. What do you make of this idea?

Rime: It’s an absolutely obscene proposition because it takes the position that anything is better than ISIS, whereas most Syrians view ISIS and the Assad regime as being on an equal level of savagery. Many Syrians will tell you the Assad regime is actually worse than ISIS and has killed far more people.

To consider ending the war, which is what all of us want, without considering what’s at the root of this entire monstrosity—which is the Assad regime itself—is unacceptable. To propose that in order to end ISIS we have no choice but to work with Assad is not a solution at all.

Alan: At the end of the day, we have to end Syria’s war. To end the war requires a solution on three levels: the internal balance on the ground inside Syria; the regional circumstances; and the international level. I believe the will of the Syrian people has been hijacked by regional powers and by global powers—America and Russia. But the Syrian people have to determine their own destiny. The Syrian opposition has to be united. And they have to have a clear vision of how they can end this war. I do not agree with Rime’s statement that you have to fight the regime before fighting ISIS.

Rime: I did not say that. I said that you can’t just get rid of ISIS. You cannot just get rid of Assad. You have to get rid of both.

Alan: The Syrian people are defending themselves. They are fighting against ISIS. The people of Kobani have been protecting themselves for two months with their limited resources.

Rime: But the coalition’s airstrikes are helping them. For three years Assad has been dropping barrel bombs on civilians and yet no help has come from anybody. But now you have the coalition bombing ISIS, which helps the Kurds in Kobani to defend themselves.

Richard, what do you think of the idea of a Peace and Reconstruction Authority?

Richard: I think that a proposal of this sort is somewhat suspect given both how it originated and what it’s proposing, because it’s really a plea to, in effect, enlarge the anti-ISIS military coalition. I agree with what Rafia said earlier, that bombing only contributes to destabilizing the whole underlying reality. And we still have to address why Iran hasn’t been brought into the process as a major political actor that needs to participate in any kind of diplomacy to resolve the Syrian crisis.

I think there are desirable elements [in the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue proposal], such as trying to respect the ceasefire, but it overlooks the complexities and contradictions that have emerged in the Syrian conflict. To try to solve the problems of the Middle East from above is very unlikely to have constructive effects.

Finally, there’s an absence of political imagination. The American approach has become so militarized over such a long period of time that it’s just about incapable of thinking outside of the military box. It therefore keeps reinventing a military solution to essentially political problems—and is undeterred by a record of failure because it’s the only way it knows how to project its power. The U.S. is so addicted to hard-power ways of behaving in the world. It has very little credibility in my view—even when you narrow the focus and it looks like it’s better to help those beleaguered in Kobani than to ignore them. That’s why I say it’s a tragic predicament: Every alternative is repugnant under these conditions. I’ve always felt that when all alternatives are repugnant the one point of moral clarity is, don’t add to the killing. And, echoing what Rafia said, don’t add to the displacement, which is subverting any possibility of benevolent political reconstruction.

Danny Postel is Associate Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver and co-hosts its series of video interviews with leading scholars. He is the author of Reading “Legitimation Crisis” in Tehran  and co-editor of The People Reloaded: The Green Movement and the Struggle for Iran’s Future and The Syria Dilemma, which was named one of the best books of 2013 in The Progressive. He is a co-editor of PULSE and blogs for Truthout, Critical Inquiry and the Huffington Post. He was a member of Chicago’s No War on Iran coalition, communications coordinator forInterfaith Worker Justice, and communications specialist for Stand Up! Chicago, a coalition of labor unions and grassroots community organizations.

source via PULSE

Syrian Bomb Plot Marked Deadly Turn in Civil War

New Revelations Suggest Killing of Bashar al-Assad’s Brother-in-Law Was Inside Job

A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the city of Homs, where the early confrontations between protesters and regime authorities progressed into civil war.ENLARGE
A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the city of Homs, where the early confrontations between protesters and regime authorities progressed into civil war. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

AL-QARDAHA, Syria—On the fourth day of a rebel assault on President Bashar al-Assad ’s seat of power in Damascus, an explosion tore through offices of the National Security Bureau, killing the president’s brother-in-law and three other senior officials.

Rebel groups claimed credit for the audacious plot, and Syrian opposition groups declared it was the beginning of the end for the regime. In Washington, the Obama administration ordered a task force from the Pentagon, State and Treasury to draw up plans for a post-Assad Syria, said Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria at the time.

The July 2012 bombing indeed marked a turning point in Syria’s conflict. But rather than the downfall of Mr. Assad, it ushered in a new, more deadly phase of Syria’s civil war that allowed him to cling to power. Any regime voices still open to accommodating the opposition went silent, and, within a year, pro-Assad forces deployed chemical weapons against rebels and civilians.

Now, new revelations point to a startling theory about the bombing that killed Assef Shawkat, an army general who was Mr. Assad’s brother-in-law and the deputy defense minister: It was an inside job.

Two dozen people, including past and current regime officials, opposition leaders, activists and rebels, and politicians in neighboring countries with ties to Mr. Assad told The Wall Street Journal the bombing grew out of a split between the Assad family and its hard-line allies on one side, and officials seeking negotiations with opposition groups on the other.

Acceptance of the theory by such a broad cross-section of Syrians highlights the ruthless reputation Mr. Assad has cemented since the conflict began more than three years ago. It also shows the dynamic of the president’s inner circle as it struggled to keep a grip on power.

Mr. Assad’s media office rejected requests for an interview with the president. Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk and Maj. Gen. Deeb Zeitoun, two of the regime’s top security officials, declined separate requests for comment.

Former Syrian army general Manaf Tlass believes the regime was connected with the bombing. Mr. Tlass defected two weeks before Mr. Shawkat was killed—after guards found six explosive devices planted outside Mr. Tlass’s office on a military base in Damascus. He accused the regime of wanting to kill him, too.

Mr. Tlass said he and Mr. Shawkat were among those calling for talks with both peaceful and armed regime opponents, a position contrary to Mr. Assad and his intelligence and security agency chiefs, who sought to crush the insurgency.

“Bashar never opted at any time for serious and credible reforms, but instead chose to destroy the country rather than lose power,” said Mr. Tlass, who is living in Paris. “He sold Syria to the Iranians.”

The attack opened the door for Iran, Mr. Assad’s principal regional ally, and Hezbollah, its proxy militia in Lebanon, to play a greater role in defending the regime, according to members of Syria’s security forces and pro-regime militias. Within weeks, foreign Shiite militiamen flocked to Syria. The fighters joined homegrown militias trained by Iran and Hezbollah to help prop up the overstretched Syrian army.

These fighters took the lead in the regime’s recapture of rebel territory, helping push the death toll from less than 20,000 at the time to more than 190,000 as of August, according to the United Nations. Millions more Syrians have fled their homes amid the destruction.

Iran’s embassy in Damascus and a spokesman for Hezbollah in Beirut refused interviews or comment.

Mr. Ford, who now works with the Middle East Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, said top members of the Syrian opposition told him rebels weren’t responsible for the bombing but believed the regime was. “I’ve never seen convincing evidence that it was an inside job,” he said, “but the allegations were widespread.”

A leading Syrian opposition activist, who had direct ties with rebel groups and was in Damascus the day of the bombing, said it would have been impossible for rebels at the time to carry out such an attack.

“If you asked me then, I would have lied to you and told you, ‘Our heroic rebels did it.’ But now I can tell you, ‘No, we were amateurs back then,’ ” said the activist, now based in Turkey. The bombing boosted opposition morale after government reports credited the rebels, he said. It also spurred more Alawites, members of Mr. Assad’s Shiite-linked minority sect who opposed the Sunni-led revolt, to rally around the regime.

Growing involvement by Shiite-dominated Iran and Hezbollah boosted support from Sunni Arab states and private donors to more militant rebel groups, including Islamic State, said Western officials and analysts.

Today, many Syrians—and the U.S. and its allies—face a choice between the Assad regime or the militants of Islamic State, which has turned large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq into a magnet for foreign jihadists.

Long before Syria’s conflict began in the spring of 2011, Mr. Tlass and Mr. Assad—military academy classmates—were seen as a new breed of Syrian leaders: young, modern and open to reforms.

“Bashar started making reformist steps between 1998 and 2000, even before becoming president,” Mr. Tlass said. “I was close to him. People were hopeful and thought he was capable of changing things.”

Even the U.S. thought it could do business with Mr. Assad, reappointing an ambassador in Damascus in 2009.

Assef Shawkat, an army general and the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was killed in a July 2012 explosion in offices of the National Security Bureau in Damascus.
Assef Shawkat, an army general and the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was killed in a July 2012 explosion in offices of the National Security Bureau in Damascus. REUTERS

The killing of two Syrian protesters by regime forces on March 18, 2011, in the city of Deraa, changed everything. It shattered a short period of peaceful marches by mostly Sunni crowds calling for Mr. Assad’s ouster.

Two days later, Mr. Tlass said, he got a call from Mr. Assad asking for advice. Mr. Tlass said he suggested Mr. Assad remove the governor of Deraa, release anyone detained in the demonstrations, arrest the local security chief and make amends for the killings with a visit to the city.

“I told him our society is tribal and will value your conciliatory gesture,” Mr. Tlass recalled. “He told me, ‘OK.’ ”

But as more protesters poured into the streets, more were killed. “It’s no secret that Syria is facing today a grand conspiracy whose threads extend from inside the homeland to far and near countries,” Mr. Assad said in a speech to parliament on March 30, 2011.

At the time, Mr. Tlass commanded a 3,500-strong unit within the Republican Guard that was charged with protecting the president and the capital. Mr. Tlass said about 300 of his men were sent to the city of Douma to help with crowd control as thousands of people took to the streets.

He said they were pushed aside by forces reporting to intelligence chief Hafez Makhlouf —a maternal cousin of Mr. Assad—who shot and killed about a dozen protesters in April 2011. Mr. Makhlouf couldn’t be reached for comment.

Mr. Tlass said some of his men were executed for refusing to shoot protesters. One of his best officers, he said, returned from Douma and pleaded to be relieved of the assignment.

“I told him, ‘Be patient, the president promised that things will be fixed within three weeks,’ ” Mr. Tlass said. “The next day, he committed suicide.”

Syria’s security and intelligence agencies believed they could rely on repressive measures that had worked for decades, according to former regime officials and Western diplomats.

Haytham Manaa, a Syrian opposition leader who has spent much of his life in exile in France, said the regime was surprised when people overcame fears and continued the street protests, which were inspired in part by the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Mr. Tlass said he retained his official position but was sidelined by the regime after he raised objections to shooting demonstrators and called for talks with community leaders involved in the protests. That view, he said, put him at odds with hard-liners close to Mr. Assad.

In May 2011, Mr. Tlass said, he had a last meeting with the president. “I told him, ‘I am your friend and I advised you not to choose the military solution,’ ” Mr. Tlass recalled. “ ‘Go for the political one, it’s more inclusive.’ He answered, ‘You are too soft.’ ”

Mr. Assad’s vice president at the time, Farouq al-Sharaa, one of the country’s most seasoned politicians, fell next. He was pushing for dialogue with opposition groups, his relatives said, and was put under house arrest shortly after he chaired a national dialogue conference in Damascus in early July.

Walid Jumblatt, a senior Lebanese political leader, said he last met with Mr. Assad in June 2011: “He told me at the end, ‘I don’t want people to love me, I want people to fear me.’ ”

Regime loyalists, meanwhile, took up the slogan: “Assad or nobody. Assad or we burn the country.”

In June 2011, some activists tried to keep their opposition movement peaceful amid the growing sectarian violence between the mostly Sunni rebels and regime forces, largely Alawite.

Mohammad-Mounir al-Faqir and fellow activists bought 5,000 ping pong balls that they covered with such slogans as, “Assad, we want freedom whether you like it or not,” Mr. Faqir said. They released the balls from a spot uphill from Mr. Assad’s residence and filmed guards scurrying to collect them.

By fall, rebels in Homs took control of neighborhoods by force. For the regime, the rebel advances threatened important roads connecting Damascus with Syria’s only seaports.

The casket bearing the remains of Hafez al-Assad, the founder of the modern Syrian regime and the father of the current president, inside a mausoleum in al-Qardaha, Syria.
The casket bearing the remains of Hafez al-Assad, the founder of the modern Syrian regime and the father of the current president, inside a mausoleum in al-Qardaha, Syria. SAM DAGHER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

In December 2011, Mr. Shawkat, the brother-in-law later slain in the bombing, and two security chiefs visited Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, to meet with opposition activists, businessmen and religious and community leaders.

Mr. Shawkat and the others offered a cease-fire plan that would have committed the regime to end opposition arrests and the shelling of neighborhoods in return for a pledge by rebels to halt attacks on regime checkpoints, said people who were there.

One opposition activist said Mr. Shawkat seemed to be the regime representative most interested in the discussion. One of the businessmen there agreed.

“I told them, ‘You are turning people into your enemies, what’s your interest in that?’ ” the businessman said. “I was interrupted by an angry official but Assef [Shawkat] snapped at him and told him, ‘Calm down. Let him finish.’ ”

No deal was reached. Conciliatory gestures approved by Mr. Shawkat, such as allowing ambulances to pick up the dead and wounded, were blocked by regime hard-liners, according to activists and community leaders.

Mr. Tlass, the defected general, said Mr. Shawkat’s power diminished shortly after his return from Homs, as security and intelligence chiefs asserted greater control. “He insisted on retaining his functions and powers,” Mr. Tlass said, “and here the real clash began.”

Mr. Tlass and several people with knowledge of the matter said Mr. Shawkat posed a threat to Mr. Assad’s rule. Mr. Shawkat, who was married to Mr. Assad’s sister, had previously headed Military Intelligence—one of Syria’s most feared institutions—and commanded a loyal group of officers.

Mr. Shawkat moved within the circles of power that surround Mr. Assad. The first circles include Mr. Assad’s wife and mother, his army commander brother, Maher, and maternal cousins, the Makhloufs, Mr. Tlass said. The next circle includes the chiefs of security and intelligence services.

“In my opinion, they got rid of him. They were scared of him,” Mr. Jumblatt, the Lebanese politician, said of Mr. Shawkat. Others, including Mr. Tlass and people who know members of the Assad family, said Mr. Shawkat was seen as a potential threat to Mr. Assad.

Two months before the July 18, 2012, bombing, Mr. Tlass said, there was an unsuccessful plot to kill Mr. Shawkat with a poisoned takeout lunch of kebabs and hummus in Damascus.

The bombing marked a shift by Hezbollah and Iran—when saving the Assad regime became their top priority, according to Iraqi and Lebanese officials close to both sides.

On the day Mr. Shawkat was killed, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force, was in Damascus, Mr. Tlass said. The Qods Force is a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards responsible for operations abroad, particularly in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.

Also that day, Hassan Nasrallah, commander of Iran’s main regional proxy force Hezbollah, spoke to supporters in a Beirut suburb to mark the anniversary of the 2006 war with Israel.

Mr. Nasrallah said Mr. Assad and his regime were indispensable for the survival of Hezbollah and other Iran-backed movements, including Hamas. Mr. Nasrallah said rockets fired at Israel in the war were Syrian.

A Syrian militia leader said in an interview last year that Syria’s intelligence services worked with Hezbollah and Iran’s Qods Force to raise fears that Sunni militants planned to attack holy Shiite shrines in Syria—an effort to attract more Shiites across the region to fight alongside Assad regime forces.

With the help of foreign fighters, the regime “succeeded in giving the impression of a strong and cohesive army,” said Ezzat al-Shabandar, an Iraqi Shiite politician with close ties to Iranian and Syrian regime officials.

The regime also began using social media to shift popular views toward the idea that opposition groups and rebels had joined savage Islamic extremists. Mr. Assad in speeches and interviews embraced the idea that he was an indispensable leader who must use violence to rescue Syria, a message that has echoed down the chain of command.

“I always tell Sunnis, ‘Your only protector is Bashar al-Assad because he’s restraining us and not letting us do more,’ ” said Col. Jamal Younes, an Alawite army officer.

Militancy on the opposition side also rose dramatically. By the spring of 2013, such extremist groups as Islamic State and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front were displacing both secular and homegrown Islamist rebel groups in Syria.

Islamic militants in March seized the predominantly Armenian-Christian resort town of Kasab, located in the mountains of Mr. Assad’s home province near the border with Turkey in western Syria.

Regime forces drove them out three months later, leaving homes and churches ransacked.

“We are victims of both sides and this is why I want to leave,” said Armen Georgekian, an Armenian Christian and the town’s only shopkeeper. He recalled visits by Mr. Assad before the conflict and said he and his group bought ice cream cones from his shop.

“He can survive,” Mr. Georgekian said, “but he can’t win.”

Down the coast is Mr. Assad’s hometown of al-Qardaha, which has been largely untouched by the war. A domed mausoleum stands on a hill where a dozen workers in late summer trimmed hedges and pulled weeds in its garden.

Inside, two guards in suits stood motionless next to a casket, covered in a green velvet cloth, that holds the remains of Hafez al-Assad, the Syrian president’s father and the founder of the Assad regime.

Around the casket in the black-marble hall are the tombs of two of Bashar al-Assad’s brothers, Majd and Bassel, who had been groomed by his father to take over power. Bassel al-Assad ’s death in a 1994 car accident opened the way for his younger brother, Bashar.

In Qardaha’s central market, shops were fully stocked and farmers from nearby villages hawked fruits, vegetables and freshly picked tobacco leaves.

A statue of Hafez al-Assad, surrounded by four lions symbolizing his four sons, stands in the main square.

Posters of Bashar al-Assad were plastered on shop windows. One showed him next to his father, who had a halo above his head. “Rest in peace in the heavens above, our master,” the caption said. “You should be proud of Bashar.”

source   source

Bill Maher defends anti-Muslim hate speech in Vanity Fair interview

On eve of University of California honor, Bill Maher defends anti-Muslim hate speech in Vanity Fair interview



Bill Maher with Ben Affleck and Sam Harris.

This weekend, UC-Berkeley honors its graduates and Bill Maher’s Anti-Muslimism, together.

Unlike Harris-Maher-Affleck-Gate, a very peculiar comment from Bill Maher recently flew completely under the journo radar.  Sally Kohn of Vanity Fair said to him:

“The religious scholar Karen Armstrong did an interview with Salon and talked about what you and Sam Harris said. And she said that your comments fill her with despair because this is ‘the sort of talk that led to the concentrations camps in Europe. The sorts of things that people were saying about Jews in the 30s and 40s.’ That’s gotta sting, especially coming from her.”

To which he replied:

“It doesn’t sting because it’s beyond stupid. Jews weren’t oppressing anybody. There weren’t 5,000 militant Jewish groups. They didn’t do a study of treatment of women around the world and find that the Jews were at the bottom of it. There weren’t 10 Jewish countries in the world that were putting gay people to death just for being gay. It’s idiotic.”

Here, we see that Maher disagreed with the comparison between American Muslims in concentration camps and European Jews in concentration camps by listing off “reasons” for why the latter did not deserve it (and the former would?).  The big fat realization staring us all right in the face is…did Bill Maher just justify the mass murder of American Muslims?  What the hell did he just say?

Let’s go through this again, for the sake of clarity.  The scholar Karen Armstrong says she is fearful that if anti-Muslim bigotry (like Maher’s) persists in this country, one day American citizens will get targeted based on whatever classifies as “Muslim”, will get illegally picked up one by one, and will get forcefully placed in 21st century concentration camps where a Muslim Holocaust may or may not be happening.  Instead of laughing her off as hyperbolic or the idea off as preposterous (which I thought was going to follow after his “it’s beyond stupid”), or instead of giving liberal assurances to assuage such fears, Bill Maher instinctually accepts the notion of a Muslim genocide in America and proceeds to contextualize it by blaming Muslims themselves.  Armstrong validated.

According to Maher’s response, the entire spectrum of American Muslims then are at fault for matters outside of their control, involving people that they’ve never met.  For actions that they don’t condone, by subcultures that are different from their own.  For mentalities that they don’t share, by groups whose names they can’t even pronounce.  All because they happen to fall under the same category of religious identity.  This is extreme bigotry against a people that Maher has been able to professionally masquerade as rational critique against a religion…a maneuver only popular, self-identified “liberals” can get away with if they keep saying the words “free speech” louder than others are saying “hate speech”.

In the same interview, Maher proudly claimed “way more people came over to my side” after the exchange with Ben Affleck.  He’s right.  And he loved that racists, homophobes, illegal Mexican blamers, Anti-Semites, climate-change-denying crackpots, White-supremacist nut jobs, and all the other groups of people that he’s been ridiculing for decades jumped the fence and hi-fived him on this one.  This is where they join forces, where their bigotry circles intersect to form that Anti-Muslim vesica piscis in the middle, where they’re brothers in discrimination.  After all, Sean Hannity praised him.  Yeah…take a moment if you need to.

Maher claims he has “two” “Muslim” “friends” but after all he’s spewed about Muslims over the years, we don’t really know what that means.  Maybe they enjoy his impossible ignorance, gross generalizations, warmongering, misinformation, and chronic out-of-context taking.  In the interview, he made it a point to say that Reza Aslan considers him a friend instead of the other way around, despite Aslan trying to publicly make a case for Maher not being a bigot.  My guess is he didn’t make the cut as the third official Muslim friend because he doesn’t do the whole former-Muslim-pet-for-Islamophobes song and dance that Maher loves to spotlight.  Makes you think about his “two” “Muslim” “friends” and if Maher would intervene on their behalf in the American Muslim Holocaust.

Congratulations UC-Berkeley, this Saturday, December 20, you’ll be on the wrong side of history.

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Hackers Send New Messages To Sony


The hackers behind a devastating cyberattack at Sony Pictures have sent a new message to executives at the company, crediting them for a “very wise” decision to cancel the Christmas day release of “The Interview,” a source close to the company told CNN.

The email message was received by Sony’s top executives on Thursday night and was obtained by CNN.

The source said that the company believes the email was from the hackers because it followed a pattern of previous messages, sent to a list of particular executives and formatted in a particular way.

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Cenk Uygur (@cenkuygur), Ben Mankiewicz (@BenMank77), John Iadarola (@jiadarola), and Cara Santa Maria (@CaraSantaMaria) discuss.

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