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Glavin: This is what it’s come to: Letting Syria die, watching Syrians drown

Hundreds of mostly Syrian families walk the final few kilometers through fields towards the Macedonian border to have their papers processed before crossing on September 2, 2015 in Idomeni Greece. Several thousand migrant people are expected to arrive at the border today hoping to head North through Macedonia, after arriving in Athens in the previous few days. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called 'Balkans route' has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The number of people leaving their homes in war torn countries such as Syria, marks the largest migration of people since World War II.
Hundreds of mostly Syrian families walk the final few kilometers through fields towards the Macedonian border to have their papers processed before crossing on September 2, 2015 in Idomeni Greece. Several thousand migrant people are expected to arrive at the border today hoping to head North through Macedonia, after arriving in Athens in the previous few days. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called ‘Balkans route’ has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU via Hungary. The number of people leaving their homes in war torn countries such as Syria, marks the largest migration of people since World War II. (PHOTO BY DAN KITWOOD/GETTY IMAGES)

“The worst part of it is the feeling that we don’t have any allies,” Montreal’s Faisal Alazem, the tireless 32-year-old campaigner for the Syrian-Canadian Council, told me the other day. “That is what people in the Syrian community are feeling.”

There are feelings of deep gratitude for having been welcomed into Canada, Alazem said. But with their homeland being reduced to an apocalyptic nightmare – the barrel-bombing of Aleppo and Homs, the beheadings of university professors, the demolition of Palmyra’s ancient temples – among Syrian Canadians there is also an unquenchable sorrow.

Bashar Assad’s genocidal regime clings to power in Damascus and the jihadist psychopaths of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are ascendant almost everywhere else. The one thing the democratic opposition wanted from the world was a no-fly zone and air-patrolled humanitarian corridors. Even that was too much to ask. There is no going home now.

But among Syrian-Canadians, the worst thing of all, Alazem said, is a suffocating feeling of solitude and betrayal. “In the western countries, the civil society groups – it’s not just their inaction, they fight you as well,” he said. “They are crying crocodile tears about refugees now, but they have played the biggest role in throwing lifelines to the regime. And so I have to say to them, this is the reality, this is the result of all your anti-war activism, and now the people are drowning in the sea.”

Drowning in the sea: a little boy in a red t-shirt and shorts, found face-down in the surf. The boy was among 11 corpses that washed up on a Turkish beach Tuesday. Last Friday, as many as 200 refugees drowned when the fishing boat they were being smuggled in capsized off the Libyan coast. At least 2,500 people, most of them Syrians, have drowned in this way in the Mediterranean already this year.


A year ago this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry emerged from a gathering on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Wales with commitments from nine NATO countries, including Canada, to join in a military effort to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIL. A few days after that Sept. 4 2014 huddle, a half-dozen Arab states signed up. At least a dozen other countries are now also contributing in one way or another.

To say the American-led coalition effort has failed to stop the war in Syria would be true enough. It would also be disingenuous, for two reasons. The first is that to have allowed ISIL to expand the scope of its rampages would have meant war without precedent in 1,000 years of the Middle East’s bloody history. The second and most important is that the Obama administration never had any intention of stopping the war in the first place.

Bashar Assad, the Iranian ayatollahs’ Syrian proxy, has been allowed to persist in his relentless bombing of Syria’s cities and his dispatching of Shabiha and Hezbollah death squads. Assad has been allowed to violate Obama’s allegedly genius chemical-weapons pact as well, dozens of times. It is the toll from Assad’s war, not ISIL’s atrocities, that is the thing to notice: perhaps seven of every eight Syrian deaths (at least a quarter of a million people so far), almost all of Syria’s seven million “internally displaced” innocents, and the overwhelming majority of the four million Syrian refugees who have fled the country.

The enormity of the Syrian catastrophe is at least partly what makes the tragedy so difficult to comprehend, but in Canada there is an added encumbrance. It is the delicate sensibilities of established opinion that require diplomacy to be privileged as an unimpeachable virtue, and further require the United Nations to be understood as the sole means by which disasters of the Syrian kind are prevented, or at least resolved.

It makes no difference that no less an authority than António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, attributes Syria’s agonies primarily to a failure of diplomacy, or that the UN’s governing Security Council is a hostage of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, or that the UN’s refugee budget is running well below the half-way mark – $5.6 billion – for Syrian refugees. Funding is already two-thirds shy of anticipated refugee costs for 2015. The World Food Program has been rolling back its refugee food allowances year after year, and in the coming weeks more than 200,000 of the most desperate Syrian refugees are having their aid cut off entirely.

In Geneva, the International Organization for Migration reckons that about 237,000 people have set out across the Mediterranean in rickety ships headed for Europe this year, a number already exceeding last year’s total figure of 219,000. The main cohort consists of Syrian refugees, the largest refugee population on earth. Europe is now facing a refugee crisis unlike anything since the Second World War.

In a Canadian context, the only comparable event is Black September, 1847, the darkest hour of the Irish famine, when roughly 100,000 mostly Irish refugees arrived in the Saint Lawrence River in dozens of coffin ships. Roughly 17,500 Irish drowned that year, or died on board ship or in the fever sheds on the quarantine island of Gross Isle. The Syrians are the Famine Irish of 21st century.

There’s another illustrative comparison worth making. Canada has settled roughly 20,000 Iraqi refugees since 2009, and last January the Conservative government committed to taking in 10,000 Syrian refugees on top of 1,300 welcomed in 2014. Last month Stephen Harper promised that another 10,000 Syrians and Iraqis would be added to the mix. Here’s the contrast: the kinder, gentler Barack Obama administration has allowed only about 1,500 Syrian refugees to settle in the United States over the past four years.

Stephen Harper is right when he says the New Democratic Party’s approach to the Syrian catastrophe amounts to little more than “dropping aid on dead people.” The NDP is right when it points out the inordinately obtuse and incoherent accounting of just how many Syrian refugees have actually arrived in Canada. The Liberals are right, too, in their call to expedite family reunification visas, show more generosity and cooperation in private-sponsorship efforts, reduce processing times, and allow Syrians on temporary visas to extend their stays in Canada and acquire citizenship.

But what we are all doing – Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats, Americans, Canadians, and all the dominant elites of the United Nations and the NATO countries that cleave to that sophisticated indifference known in polite company as anti-interventionism – is a very straightforward thing. We are watching Syria die. We are allowing it to happen. And if you can comprehend that, you will know something of the sorrow that afflicts Faisal Alazem and all those other Syrian-Canadians these days.

Terry Glavin is an author and journalist.


You probably won’t read this piece about Syria

AJE this week ran special content on a grim milestone because it’s important. But our data told us something: few cared.

17 Mar 2015 13:47 GMT |

  • Injured women arrive at a field hospital after an air strike hit their homes in the town of Azaz on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. [AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra, File, Aug. 15, 2012]

    About the Author

    Barry Malone

    There’s something in her eyes. Something more than the bafflement you so often see in the faces of innocents victimised by the wars of others. It’s something that haunts. Something that reaches you most powerfully not in your mind, but somewhere more prosaic. In your guts. In your bones.

    Her expression seems to plead directly. To ask of you, do you care? Do you see me?

    When we saw this image, there was no other that seemed more apt to lead our website on March 15th, the day Syria entered its fifth year of misery and mayhem. Its fifth year of slaughter.

    Several human rights groups, and many Syrians, had a powerful accusation to make that day. The world, they said, had failed the country and her people. The world didn’t care anymore.

    The twisted steal the attention. And the people we should pay attention to fade into the background, bit players in a narrative wrongly and unfairly dominated by the grotesque.

    Sometimes journalism itself feels like a fight to get people to care.

    And as often, maybe more often, it’s a fight to get yourself to. Every day, the media deals in stories of death and devastation and despair. Too often, it feels like work, just there to be processed. A day’s pay to be earned.

    But we have a duty. Because these are other people’s stories.

    And they deserve to have them heard.

    On the anniversary, we published a lot of content. There were stirring documentaries, powerful polemics, Syrian paintings, infographics, analysis, interviews, features and news. There was streaming TV. We tried to take our audience into the lives of those caught up in this.

    And all of it was fronted with the bloodied woman, that gaze taking up most of the screen.

    But the number of people who came to our site that day was far lower than expected. As we watched the analytics, tracked our traffic, that stinging accusation of apathy seemed justified.

    There are variables, of course. Anniversaries don’t tend to grab the imagination, some people may prefer other news organisations for Syria reporting, and perhaps our work wasn’t what it could be.

    Then there’s fatigue. It’s been a rough few years for the world. Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Libya, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ukraine, Somalia and more. Dark stories dominate.

    I have never heard so many journalists say that the job is grinding them down nor so many people who watch the news say that they cannot stand to do so anymore. Bearing witness is gruelling.

    Confronting our indifference

    We have seen a stagnation in traffic to our Syria conflict stories since 2012 with intermittent peaks when it makes headlines – Assad says something unusual, the possibility of Western missiles.

    Recently, though there have been occasional spikes, they appear mostly related to ISIL. The taking of Fallujah, the fall of Mosul, the detestable beheadings, and the sledgehammering of history.

    The twisted steal the attention. And the people we should pay attention to fade into the background, bit players in a narrative wrongly and unfairly dominated by the grotesque.

    We find that stories about the suffocating grind and everyday hardship of war don’t do as well. Stories about the almost four million Syrians who have been forced to flee their country, the same.

    When we tweeted the accusation that the world didn’t care, many people retweeted it. But most didn’t click the link to read our stories. Perhaps they wanted to be seen to care. Perhaps they believed that people should care. But they didn’t care enough to read what we had written.

    That’s a shame.

    Because this was an opportunity to take stock. To stand back. To reflect on the fact that more than 220,000 people have been killed and half a country’s population pushed from their homes. To ask the Syrian people what they need from us. To pressure our governments to take them in.

    Our indifference is something we need to think about and talk about. As journalists, we should question our performance. As people, our humanity. Because we can do better.

    And that woman in the photograph should know that we see her.

    Barry Malone is an online editor at Al Jazeera. Twitter: @malonebarry

    Source: Al Jazeera

The Abdication of Moral Responsibility



see also What happened in Syria when the world was not watching

With the eyes of the world on Ukraine, an escalated campaign of barrel
bombings by the regime of Bashar al-Assad has led to the indiscriminate
killing of men, women and children in Syria.

There’s no hope left’: the Syrian refugee camp that is becoming a township

    • The Guardian,             Tuesday 18 February 2014 16.44 GMT

Winter in Atmeh … the camp is still growing fast.

Winter in Atmeh … the camp is still growing fast. Photograph: Paris Match via Getty Images

This must be how the Palestinian camps began their slow transformation into towering townships. The Syrian families here are still living in canvas or plastic tents, but the little shops selling falafel and cola on the Atmeh camp’s “main street” are now breeze-block and corrugated-iron constructions. And now nobody dares talk about going home.

Atmeh camp, just inside Syria,   hugs the Turkish border fence. It is   December, and the population has risen in the six months since I was here in June, from 22,000 to almost 30,000. This new settlement is one of many – there are more than 6 million people displaced inside Syria, and more than 2 million in neighbouring states. The camp’s population dwindles and swells according to the vicissitudes of battle. When the regime reconquered (and obliterated) the Khaldiyeh quarter of Homs last July, an additional 50 to 60 families a day arrived.

Six months ago, when I last visited, I was able to travel deep into liberated Syria – as far as Kafranbel in the south of Idlib province – with nothing to fear from the Free Army fighters manning checkpoints. This time I don’t dare go as far as Atmeh village, sitting on the nearby hilltop, because it is occupied by al-Qaida franchise the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis). Last June the camp’s residents referred derisively to the mainly foreign jihadists as “the spicy crew”. Now they are a real threat – abducting and often murdering revolutionary activists, Free Army fighters and journalists. This development contributes greatly to the gloom of the camp’s residents.

In the camp, the steaming vats of the Maram Foundation’s charity kitchen are cooking the same meal they were six months ago: lentil soup. Children wait with buckets in the red mud outside for lunch to be distributed. Also on the main street is a new clinic and one-room dentist (funded by the Syrian-American Medical Society). Dr Haytham grins as he complains about the conditions. The roof leaks, and the recent snowstorm has flooded his crowded space, destroying electrical equipment. As he serves us tea, a boy called Mahmoud, aged about five, walks in to observe us, his face marked by post-treatment leishmaniasis scars (a resurgent disease caused by the sand flies which prosper in uncollected rubbish). Mahmoud seems a pleasant child at first, but after a smiling photograph with one of our group his mood flips; he violently pinches the hand of the man he’d been cuddling up to and then takes to whipping his older sister with a cable. “Nobody can control him,” somebody remarks. “He doesn’t have a father.”

Dr Haytham in his one-room surgery.                 Dr Haytham in his one-room surgery. Photograph: Mohammad OjjehFatherless, husbandless, homeless … When I ask a man where he’d come from he changed the name of his town from Kafranboodeh to Kafr Mahdoomeh, “the Demolished Village”. I ask him why. “Because they haven’t left one house standing, nor any animals in the fields. What will we ever return to? The whole town’s gone.”

Everyone in this sector is from Kafranboodeh. There was a tent fire the previous night, leaving a nine-year-old girl badly burned. When I visited in the summer there were also tent fires, and a child was killed. Then, the fires had been caused by candles, for light; now they are caused by makeshift stoves around which people huddle for warmth.

The Levantine winter is bitterly cold. Two nights before we arrived a child froze to death in the sub-zero temperatures. A woman reminds me of this, and asks where the heaters are. When I tell her I haven’t come to deliver aid, she shrugs and smiles. “These conditions are forced upon us,” she says. “What can we do?” Some of the children at her side wear open-toed sandals in the mud. I shiver, meanwhile, in my boots and many layers.

Ahmad al-Shaikh, long-faced and bearded, is visiting from the nearby Bab al-Hawa camp. I saw that camp last time – a grim place where the tents are blue plastic and pitched on an undrained concrete surface. Now there are 3,200 tents, Ahmad tells me. He is wearing a secondhand jacket donated by a Kuwaiti, because he has left his home with only the clothes on his back. “It’s a disaster in Bab al-Hawa. It’d be a crime to put animals in such an environment. We’re drowning in flood water, sewage and rats.”

One of my companions is the Syrian-American photographer Mohamad Ojjeh. Last June, while I was delivering storytelling workshops in the tents of the Return School, he taught football skills and took a lot of pictures. He has printed and framed them since then, and the children and their mothers, when we find them, almost grab them in their excitement. They are thoughtful presents for people who no longer own even a mirror, whose children’s lives pass without the pictured landmarks of new school years or family parties.

Children with their framed pictures.                 Children with their framed pictures. Photograph: Mohammad OjjehSeveral times when we raise our cameras, people murmur through polite smiles: “We’re fed up of pictures, frankly.” They are almost ashamed of their earlier  naivety, because they once believed that having their misery photographed would translate into an international rescue effort.

“There’s no hope left,” says a woman from Hass who in June had been quietly optimistic. “Everyone’s helping Assad and no one will help us. I don’t know if my daughters will ever go home.”

Some of the younger children have been here for two years. Camp life is all they remember. One boy has tied together an old olive-oil container, some sticks and a sack to build a toy house – he calls it a tent. And who lives in the tent, I ask. “A mouse!”

Despite the refugees‘ sense of abandonment, their hospitality remains as overwhelming as ever. Every family we meet tries to make us drink tea. We eventually accept Ustaz Ahmad’s offer, and drink some glasses on a mat with his mother and about 20 lively children. Mayada (four years and one month old – she is very specific about it) recites the Qur’an for us.

Ahmad used to be headmaster of the Return School, where we worked (for the Karam Foundation’s Zeitouna programme) in June. Now (with ominous symbolism) the Return School has gone, replaced by the Wisdom School, where Ahmad teaches. It has breeze-block walls and corrugated iron roofing, but the sloping mud floor shifts when it rains. And of course there’s no heating. Ahmad, who last time was confident in the revolution’s imminent victory, tries to look on the bright side. “We do what we can for the kids. That way at least they’ll have benefited a little from this period, whether the regime falls or not.”

The boy who built a tent for a mouse.                 The boy who built a tent for a mouse. Photograph: Robin Yassin-KassabAs well as Wisdom, the Revolution House School is still going, and still the school with the Salafist curriculum offers its dubious benefits. But there are far too few places, and many  children don’t go to school at all. One such is Abdur-Rahman, 13 years old, whose education ended at the age of 11 and a half, when Assad’s bombs closed his school in rural Hama. Now he helps his mother and does odd jobs in the camp. “It’s all right,” he assures me with an old man’s resignation.   “My little brother goes to school. That’s enough.”

In some areas of Syria, Assad’s scorched-earth policy has had a military objective – to drive out communities that provide succour to opposition fighters. In others (such as the Homs region, where Assad’s men have burned the property registry), the strategy looks like a more permanent ethnic cleansing. The refugees know this, and they are bitter about it. After Assad they blame his Iranian and Russian backers, and the Arabs who haven’t done enough, and also the west, which is fixated on Islamist radicalism instead of on the regime that creates the conditions in which extremism flourishes.

In 1948, about three quarters of  a million Palestinians were driven  from their homes. In the following decades the ripples of this expulsion unsettled the entire region and plunged two countries into open war. That’s the grim precedent. Today’s Syrian exodus is unfolding on a much greater scale.

Syria’s war must end

By Stephen Hawking, Published: February 14

Stephen Hawking is the author of “A Brief History of Time” and a former professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that the universe had existed forever. The reason humanity was not more developed, he believed, was that floods or other natural disasters repeatedly set civilization back to the beginning.

Today, humans are developing ever faster. Our knowledge is growing exponentially and with it, our technology. But humans still have the instincts, and in particular the aggressive impulses, that we had in caveman days. Aggression has had definite advantages for survival, but when modern technology meets ancient aggression the entire human race and much of the rest of life on Earth is at risk.

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Today in Syria we see modern technology in the form of bombs, chemicals and other weapons being used to further so-called intelligent political ends.But it does not feel intelligent to watch as more than 100,000 people are killed or while children are targeted. It feels downright stupid, and worse, to prevent humanitarian supplies from reaching clinics where, as Save the Children will document in a forthcoming report, children are having limbs amputated for lack of basic facilities and newborn babies are dying in incubators for lack of power.

What’s happening in Syria is an abomination, one that the world is watching coldly from a distance. Where is our emotional intelligence, our sense of collective justice?

When I discuss intelligent life in the universe, I take this to include the human race, even though much of its behavior throughout history appears not to have been calculated to aid the survival of the species. And while it is not clear that, unlike aggression, intelligence has any long-term survival value, our very human brand of intelligence denotes an ability to reason and plan for not only our own but also our collective futures.

We must work together to end this war and to protect the children of Syria. The international community has watched from the sidelines for three years as this conflict rages, engulfing all hope. As a father and grandfather, I watch the suffering of Syria’s children and must now say: No more.

I often wonder what we must look like to other beings watching from deep space. As we look out at the universe, we are looking back in time, because light leaving distant objects reaches us much, much later. What does the light emitting from Earth today show? When people see our past, will we be proud of what they are shown — how we, as brothers, treat each other? How we allow our brothers to treat our children?

We now know that Aristotle was wrong: The universe has not existed forever. It began about 14 billion years ago. But he was right that great disasters represent major steps backward for civilization. The war in Syria may not represent the end of humanity, but every injustice committed is a chip in the facade of what holds us together. The universal principle of justice may not be rooted in physics but it is no less fundamental to our existence. For without it, before long, human beings will surely cease to exist.

The Syria documentary film “Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution”

Publiée le 12 sept. 2013

The award-winning documentary film about Syria, Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution, directed by Matthew VanDyke. Keep reading to learn how YOU can help Syria NOW: This film has won more than a dozen awards and is an official selection in more than 60 film festivals around the world – Director Matthew VanDyke has released the film online for free and without any ads on it weeks ahead of schedule because NOW is the critical time for YOU to take action in support of Syria. This is YOUR film. NOW is the time to mobilize and tell your country’s leaders that you want intervention in Syria to stop the bloodshed and bring freedom to 20 million people. If you support freedom in Syria then do your part each day this week: 1. This page will soon be attacked by supporters of the Assad regime who will post negative and defamatory comments so that when people around the world read those comments they will believe there is little support for the Syrian revolution. If you support the cause of freedom in Syria please leave YOUR comments below the video and be heard. People around the world will be reading them! 2. Each day, mobilize on social media to make this film go viral. Tweet, post, share it everywhere you can think of. Use Reddit, LinkedIn, blogs, email lists, everything possible to use this film to help move public opinion in favor of supporting the Syrian revolution. This is a critical time for the revolution – world leaders are listening to the public and Congress has been flooded with phone calls about Syria. We must change public opinion and this film is a powerful way to do that. 3. Each day, tweet and email the link for this film to members of Congress, the White House, and leaders around the world. They should see this film and hear the words of Nour and Mowya before making their decisions on Syria. A DVD of “Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution” has been sent to each of the 535 members of the United States Congress, but they are far more likely to watch the film if you tweet the link to them and encourage them to watch the film online, or to watch “the disc on their desk”!
Subscribe to this channel for more videos from Syria coming soon, and possibly another film in the future. This is YOUR film and YOUR channel. Be a part of the movement for a Free Syria. Get updates about the film and Matthew VanDyke’s continuing work in Syria by following him on his website: Twitter: Facebook:… Google+:…
“Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution” is a 15 minute documentary film about the war in Syria, directed by American Matthew VanDyke (a former prisoner of war and combat veteran of the Libyan Revolution in 2011 –, and produced by Matthew VanDyke and Nour Kelze (a Syrian journalist who is also the star of the film). The film tells the story of the Syrian struggle for freedom as experienced by a 32 year old rebel commander, Mowya, and a 24 year old female journalist, Nour Kelze, in Aleppo, Syria. The film clearly and concisely shows why the Syrian people are fighting for their freedom, told through the emotional words of two powerful characters whose lives have been turned upside down and torn apart by war. This documentary film was a very personal project for director Matthew VanDyke. Having fought in the Libyan Revolution in 2011, he identified with Syrian Revolution and was compelled to make a film that would show the world who the Syrian rebels are and what they are fighting for. In this spirit, he hopes to eventually release the film in 20 languages so that people around the world can truly understand the fight for freedom in Syria. Filming in Syria was dangerous and difficult. VanDyke and Kelze faced aerial bombardment, artillery, mortars, snipers, and the persistent threat of kidnapping. In addition, VanDyke was branded a terrorist by the Assad regime on the Syrian State TV channels. This will take a continuous effort. Please step up and join the team. Each of you must do your part each day to spread this film and its message if it is going to have the impact it was created to have. If you care about Syria, about humanity, about the right of men and women to choose their own leaders and destiny, about liberty and justice for ALL, then this is YOUR film. Use it to make your impact on this revolution!

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