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Robin Yassin-Kassab

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A Syrianized World

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fascistsAlongside the chants of ‘Blood and Soil’, ‘You Will Not Replace Us’, ‘White Lives Matter’ and ‘Fuck You Faggots’, some of the privileged fascists rallying at Charlottesville, Virginia gave their opinions on the Syrian issue. “Support the Syrian Arab Army,” they said. “Fight the globalists. Assad did nothing wrong. Replacing Qaddafi was a fucking mistake.”

It’s worth noting that these talking points – support for Assad and the conspiracy theories which absolve him of blame for mass murder and ethnic cleansing, the Islamophobia which underpins these theories, the notion that ‘globalists’ staged the Arab Revolutions, and the idea that the Libyan revolution was entirely a foreign plot – are shared to some extent or other by most of what remains of the left.

In 2011 I expected that Syria’s predominantly working-class uprising against a sadistic regime that is both neo-liberal and fascist would receive the staunch support of leftists around the world. I was wrong. Britain’s Stop the War coalition marched furiously when it seemed America might bomb the regime’s military assets, but ignored America’s bombing of Jihadist groups and Syrian civilians, as well as Assad’s conventional and chemical attacks on defenceless people, and Russian and Iranian war crimes. Key figures in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party followed the StW line. Diane Abbott called the police when Syrians attempted to speak at a StW event. During the final assault on liberated Aleppo last winter, Emily Thornberry suggested to Channel 4 News that Assad protected Christians, that the problem would be solved if ‘jihadists’ left, and that the Assadist occupation of Homs was an example to be emulated – never mind that liberated Aleppo contained democratic councils, that its revolutionaries included people of all religions and sects, or that 80% of Assad’s troops in that battle were foreign Shia jihadists organised by Iran – nor that the vast majority of Homs’s people remain in refugee camps, too terrified to return. John McDonnell gave a speech in Trafalgar Square on May Day under a Stalinist flag and the Baathist flag – that’s the flag of a previous genocide and the flag of a genocide still continuing. It wasn’t him who put the flags up, but he didn’t ask for them to be taken down.

In 2011 I should have known better. Leftists had long made excuses for the Soviet occupation of eastern Europe and the genocidal occupation of Afghanistan. Noam Chomsky, to pick one, made excuses for Pol Pot and Milosevic (today, of course, he rehearses the conspiracy theories which claim Assad’s innocence of sarin gas attacks, and channels like Democracy Now  repeatedly offer him and others a platform to do so).

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August 12, 2017 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Syria, the Left, UK, USA

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A Social Media Mea Culpa

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stein

Jill Stein in Moscow

On Facebook (which steals my time and makes me angrier than I already am) I remarked that the Tories will be in power for another decade in Britain now that ‘leftists’, mistaking an electoral party for a social movement, have re-elected the pro-Putin, pro-Khamenei Jeremy Corbyn to leadership of the Labour Party. (Here is the excellent Sam Hamad on Corbyn’s foreign policy.) Likewise, or even worse, some American ‘leftists’ will be voting for Jill Stein in their presidential elections. Stein believes that wi-fi rays (not just internet use) damage our brains. She attended a dinner with Putin in Moscow, then told Russia Today that ‘human rights discourse resonates here’. This while Russia occupies parts of Ukraine and rains white phosphorus and thermite cluster bombs on Syrian hospitals. Speaking in a city where it isn’t safe to be black, or openly gay, to write investigative journalism, or to dissent from the Putin line. Stein’s running mate believes that Assad won an election fair and square. Even if she could win, this hippy-fascist mix would not in any way be a progressive alternative. But of course she can’t win. What she can do is take votes from Hillary Clinton, and help Trump to win (something Putin is praying for). Yes, Clinton is as horrible as anyone from the American establishment, but she’s a hell of a lot better than Trump, the white-nationalist candidate whose election will have immediate and terrible effects on American society. As Clay Claiborne points out, voting for Stein in this context may be one definition of white privilege.

The discussion after my anti-Corbyn post includes me commenting on the stuff I wrote on this blog before 2011 (particularly on Iran), and one lesson I think I’ve learned since. As that stuff can still be viewed here, I’m posting part of the discussion.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 24, 2016 at 1:59 pm

Posted in Iran, the Left, UK, USA

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Two Assassinations and a Brexit

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khaled

Khaled al-Issa (left) and Hadi Abdulllah, after the air raid, before the controlled explosion

This was published at al-araby al-Jadeed/ The New Arab.

On June 16th Jo Cox, a proponent of EU membership, a compassionate supporter of refugees, and the most articulate voice for revolutionary Syria in the British parliament, was shot, stabbed and kicked by a middle-aged man screaming “Britain First!”

On the same day Syrian citizen journalists Khaled al-Issa and Hadi Abdullah, 48 hours after surviving an air raid, were severely injured in an assassination attempt by controlled explosion.

Jo died in hospital shortly after she was attacked. In a different world, the kind she fought for, she would have been an honoured guest in free Syria. Khaled al-Issa died of his wounds on June 24th. Having survived Assad and ISIS-inspired brushes with death, it was probably Jabhat al-Nusra, Syria’s al-Qaida affiliate, that got him in the end. In a different world Khaled would be reporting on the achievements of post-dictatorship Syria. In this world, however, the very best are being murdered. The very worst are growing in power.

East and west, violent and nativist authoritarianism is on the rise. The British media focused on characterisations of Jo’s murderer, Thomas Mair, as a troubled loner rather than as a terrorist. Had he screamed ‘Allahu Akbar’ rather than ‘Britain First’ as he stabbed and shot, the emphasis would certainly have been different.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 27, 2016 at 6:43 pm

With the Rethink Rebuild Society

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I really enjoyed meeting the Rethink Rebuild Society, organised by Manchester’s very active Syrian community. Orient News did a report (in Arabic), and here it is (thanks Jwan):

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 29, 2016 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Syria, UK

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Burning Country UK Events

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Yassin T03090Thanks to assistance and inspiration from Syrian activists, fighters, journalists, doctors, artists and thinkers, our book ‘Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War‘ is published on January 20th, and launched that evening at Amnesty International in London. In the following days and weeks I’ll be speaking about the book at other venues in London, and in Nottingham, Manchester, Lancaster, Glasgow and  Edinburgh. A list of events below (and we’ll be in the US in April).

First, please read the endorsements, of which we’re very proud:

For decades Syrians have been forbidden from telling their own stories and the story of their country, but here Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami tell the Syrian story. Their words represent the devastated country which has denied them and their compatriots political representation. Burning Country is an indispensable book for those who wish to know the truth about Syria.’ – Yassin al-Haj Saleh

Burning Country is poised to become the definitive book not only on the continuing Syrian conflict but on the country and its society as a whole. Very few books have been written on ‘the kingdom of silence’ that effectively capture how we all got here while not omitting the human voice, the country’s heroes and heroines — a combination that is rare but essential for understanding the conflict and its complexities. Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami have written a must-read book even as the conflict still rages to understand what happened, why it happened and how it should end.’ – Hassan Hassan, co-author of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror (New York Times bestseller), Associate Fellow, Chatham House, London

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 14, 2016 at 6:12 pm

Posted in UK

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Why I’m Voting Yes

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Photo0035I’ll be voting for Scottish independence in next month’s referendum, and obviously not for ethnic-nationalist reasons – I have no Scottish blood as far as I’m aware (although the Scots may have some Syrian), and my mixed-up accent is far more English than not. Furthermore, I reject the simplistic ‘Braveheart’ narratives of uninterrupted Scottish victimhood. There’s an ex-mining town not far from here named Patna – after the Indian city – and in Sri Lanka the tea plantations bear Scottish names. Scots played an essential role in the British empire, and over the centuries Scottish as well as English landlords and industrialists have exploited the poorer Scottish classes (at some points driving them off their land en masse).

I’m voting yes because Scotland has a different political culture to England. It doesn’t contain that consmerist-suburban ‘middle England’ mainstream; the mainstream here is social democratic. If the Scots had taken control of their North Sea oil resources in the 1980s they may well have established a national oil fund, as Norway did, and perhaps today Scotland would not be Europe’s murder capital, nor the life expectancy in east Glasgow so depressingly low. What actually happened was that Thatcher spent the oil money in the boom years on privatisation and tax cuts, and used Scotland as a guinea pig for the most unpopular Tory policies, such as the Poll Tax, brought in here a year before England. Scotland has never voted Tory – as Alex Salmond says, there are more pandas in Edinburgh zoo than there are Scottish Conservative MPs – but it keeps suffering Tory governments. This is an evident democratic failure.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

August 17, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Posted in Scotland, UK

First There Was the Word

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I and lots of other writers participated in this BBC radio 4 programme on ‘British Muslim writing’. The programme is written and presented by Yasmin Hai. Those interested in this may also be interested in Clare Chambers’s book “British Muslim Fictions“.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

May 30, 2014 at 9:49 am

Posted in UK, writing

Letter to John Baron MP

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john baronBehind the scenes at Newsnight, John Baron MP said to me, “If you put your emotions aside, for the sake of containment, wouldn’t it be better if Assad won?” I wrote him the following response. As he hasn’t responded, I’m making it public. (To John Baron’s credit, he was one of the few Tories to oppose the invasion of Iraq and the occupation of Afghanistan).

We met at the BBC Newsnight debate on Syria. I think you gave me a card, which I promptly lost. I hope you find this message.

I’m taking the liberty of sending you my latest article concerning sectarian readings of the Syrian situation (my other stuff is on the same blog) as well as something by the secular intellectual Yassin al-Haj Saleh which presents a case better than I could.

As for your question, wouldn’t it be better for containment if Assad were to win? here’s a slightly fuller answer.

Assad can’t win completely, even with continuing solid support from Russia, Iran and Iran’s Iraqi and Lebanese clients, because the opposition has numbers on its side (and secondarily because Saudi weapons will continue to come in). If things go on as they are, a much more likely medium term result is the splintering of the country into zones of destabilisation:

1. a regime/Alawi zone between Damascus and the coast bridged by Homs, which will involve a massive ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from the Homs area (the regime has already burnt the land registry) and probably from the coastal cities too. The blowback from this probable future may well catalyse the sectarian mass slaughter of civilians which hasn’t yet happened from the opposition’s side. As I said in the green room, Assad’s rump state would be in effect Iran’s state (as opposed to Iran’s ally, which Syria was before 2011), beholden to Iran, because it’s Iran and its clients who are directing the regime fightback now. The risk is high that Iran will use Syria as a proxy front for its war with Israel in the same way that Syria once used Lebanon. And while Iran already ‘has’ Lebanon, Hizbullah is forced to deal with other groups in Lebanese politics. Control of a straightforward military/sectarian dictatorship, and a bigger country, is much more of a prize for Iran. I’m no friend of Israel, but America and Britain generally are, so it’s surprising to see all concerned ignoring the emergence of a greater strategic threat to the status quo than Iran’s nuclear programme (if they actually believe their rhetoric of Iran posing a threat to Israel).

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

August 16, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Posted in Syria, UK

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Street Debate

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This reminds me of the debates I saw breaking out in Tahrir Square. And it’s what TV should be like. FlipLife TV took a camera to Clapham and let the people speak.

Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

August 13, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Posted in UK

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The Freedom Flotilla and Guardian Propaganda

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by Steve Bell

Dear Sir/ Madam
 
I appreciate the Guardian allowing a range of voices to be heard on the issue of Israel-Palestine, but I find straightforward propaganda in the news (as opposed to opinion) pages very worrying indeed. I refer to the ‘story’ by Harriet Sherwood – “Flotilla raid: Turkish jihadis bent on violence attacked troops, Israel claims”.
 
In Muslim cultures, it is common to refer to those who have died for a cause or who have been killed by state terrorism as ‘martyrs’. In the hospitals of Palestine, one might hear people crying – “My baby has been martyred! They’ve martyred my mother! My grandfather was prepared for martyrdom, and now it’s happened!” This does not mean that the baby, mother or grandfather in question were trained-up, armed Wahhabi-nihilists.
 
Sherwood’s ‘story’, which the Guardian positioned so prominently, is based on the assumption that when grieving Turks use the word ‘martyr’ they mean ‘Islamist suicide bomber’, that they mean what we decide they mean. This is not journalism but propaganda. Its purpose is not to inform readers concerning facts or to give more background on Turkish culture and Turkish responses to the attack on their ships, but to whitewash the piracy and murder committed by Israel in international waters. Sherwood’s sources are “the Israeli government” and Colonel Richard Kemp, who Sherwood doesn’t tell us is a well-known pro-Israel propagandist.
 
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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

June 3, 2010 at 2:02 pm

To Vote Or Not

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Steve Bell's Nick Clegg - who deserves a reward

Democracy is supposed to mean ‘government by the people’. In the ancient Greek city states all the free men (but not women or slaves) would cram the theatre for lively, informed debate on a relevant issue, and then would decide it by a show of hands. Not so today. Putting a mark on a piece of paper every five years and imagining that you run things seems like a sad parody of such activity, a demotic populism masking power rather than a popular democracy negotiating it.

In our society the most important decisions are often made by unelected movers of capital and unelected civil servants and generals. Elected officials are very often at least as loyal to the lobbies easing their way as to the voters they supposedly represent.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 20, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Criminal and Accomplice

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I didn’t watch Blair’s performance at the Chilcot inquiry, for health reasons, but I did read that he mentioned Iran 30 times, as in ‘the same good case for war applies to Iran’. This comes in the context of America concentrating ships and missiles in the Gulf. It is unlikely that the US will attack Iran directly, but increasingly likely that Israel will provoke a conflict. Blair may be preparing the ground for this.

Blair felt ‘responsibility but no regret’ over the destruction of Iraq which has killed over a million, created at least four million refugees, and turned a fertile land into a diseased desert. He focused on Saddam Hussain’s monstrosity, but refrained from explaining how Saddam’s most monstrous crimes were supported by his Western backers. He was allowed to refrain. He didn’t entertain the possibility that Hussain could have been deposed in other ways. He blamed Iran and al-Qa’ida, neither of which had a presence in the country before its collapse, for Iraq’s problems, and again his illogic was not questioned.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 4, 2010 at 3:47 pm

A Country of Words

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“We travel like other people, but we return to nowhere…

We have a country of words.”

A traditional Arab media operation, according to Abdel Bari Atwan, is “characterised by editorial interference from the owners, slavishness to social hierarchies, backstabbing and nepotism.” It goes without saying that all the Arab local-national press, TV and radio stations are controlled by their respective regimes. Only in the pan-Arab sphere, beyond the control of any single regime, is there a possibility of anything better. Yet of the pan-Arab newspapers, ash-Sharq al-Awsat and al-Hayat are owned by different branches of the Saud family dictatorship, while the smaller-circulation al-Arab is part of the Libyan regime’s propaganda apparatus. Even after the satellite revolution, pan-Arab TV remains tame and partial, fattened and diluted by Gulf money, often providing its viewers a contradictory diet of Islamic and American-consumerist bubble gum. The second most famous channel in the Arab world, al-Arabiyya, is yet another mouthpiece for the Sauds (during last winter’s Gaza massacre it became known amongst Arabs as al-Ibriyya, or ‘the Hebrew’). The most famous channel, al-Jazeera, is of course the model that broke the mould. Its challenging reporting and inclusion of all sides in open debate has had a revolutionary effect on the Arabs.

Al-Jazeera’s print equivalent is the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi, founded in 1989, seven years before al-Jazeera. It may not have the immediate impact or mass audience of al-Jazeera (it’s banned in most Arab countries) but with its cast of excellent writers, its fearless exposure of Arab regime corruption, its scoops (al-Qa’ida chooses to communicate with the world through its pages), its renowned culture section, and its refusal to bury news from Palestine behind the football results, al-Quds al-Arabi is indispensable. Rather than backstabbing, its staff have sometimes worked for no pay to keep the operation afloat. Its founder, editorialist and editor-in-chief Abdel Bari Atwan is as passionate and articulate in speech as on the page, and is admired by the Arabs for his call-a-spade-a-spade style on those TV channels which dare to host him, usually al-Jazeera Arabic and Hizbullah’s al-Manar. Atwan’s “The Secret History of al-Qa’ida” is a book-length account of his meeting with Osama bin Laden and of the development of the al-Qa’ida network. Now Atwan has written an autobiographical memoir titled with a line from a Mahmoud Darwish poem, “A Country of Words.”

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 23, 2010 at 1:50 pm

I Refuse to Buy a Poppy

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05_11_09-Steve-Bell

Steve Bell

Yesterday five British soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan policeman. Just as they keep promising that they’ve reached ‘decisive turning points’ in their battle with the Afghan resistance, British military officials immediately vowed that the ‘rogue’ policeman would be caught. Today the Taliban reports that the policeman is safe with them, and that he’s been greeted with flowers.

Our glorious patriotic press responds. Amusingly, the Daily Mail headline wrings its hands and squawks, “What kind of war IS this?” Because some people aren’t playing by the rules, you see. Instead of sitting quietly in their villages waiting for the drone attack, or perhaps sending their kids out to accept sweets and modernity from a rosy-cheeked English lad, some barbarians are actually shooting back at the invaders. How very unBritish. (To be fair to the Mail – which has never been fair to anyone – it does seem to be taking an anti-war stance today). Other sections of the media worry about the ‘loyalty’ of Afghan troops, as if love for foreign occupiers is a realistic standard of loyalty. Still others, even more clever, psychoanalyse the policeman, wondering if an argument with his commander pushed him to a moment of madness. But it really isn’t that complicated, as anybody who disabuses themselves of imperialist delusion can see. Very simply, people don’t like foreigners striding around their streets and fields with guns and assumptions of superiority. Afghans will kill British troops as surely as Britons would kill Afghan troops if they occupied this country.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 5, 2009 at 6:12 pm

The Supreme Crime Against Satire

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Ah, Tony Blair…. inheritor and champion of Thatcherite neo-liberal economics and Zionist neo-conservative foreign policy, presidor over a dramatic rise in British Islamophobia, appointer of unelected Zionist tycoons to manage the good behaviour of the Palestinians while they lose the last of their land and rights, holy liar, war criminal, hypocrite, a man complicit in the Gaza massacre, and in the 2006 assault on Lebanon’s civilian infrastructure … and soon, perhaps, first president of the European Union. I’ve written about this lovely chap before. Those of you who believe the appointment of Blair to the EU presidency would be the worst possible start to the post and a sure sign to the rest of the world that Europe has no interest in justice or good governance, can sign this petition. I certainly have. On the other hand, some of you may agree with George Monbiot’s provocative argument that Blair’s appointment to the post will provide the best opportunity for having him tried for war crimes. So far, Blair has only been rewarded for his crimes, with directorships, a book deal, and the joke post of ‘Middle East peace envoy’, which Monbiot calls “the supreme crime against satire.”

Monbiot’s article is here:

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October 27, 2009 at 11:00 am

Posted in UK

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