Archive for the ‘UK’ Category
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.
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):
Thanks 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
I’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.
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“.
Behind 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).