A Syrian Student Writes…

In May this year I received a message from a student, one I had never met. With the student’s permission, I share the message now because it offers some salutary perspective on an issue that has recently been raised in a hostile article in The Tab (a Murdoch-funded media entity) about expectations and concerns of Syrian students entering Western universities. Aside from smearing my own reputation, the article takes a damagingly prejudicial approach to a sensitive issue, as this message helps us see.

Dear Professor Hayward, I thought it might be important to let you know that an individual claiming to be a journalist for HuffPost UK contacted me yesterday asking If I would comment on your involvement in the Syria, Propaganda and Media Group as I am a [degree programme redacted] student in the School of Social and Political Science. It would appear that the person has likely messaged more students within the school and I felt it was best to let you know. I have not replied and do not intend to.

However, I would be very interested in meeting to discuss the issue of Syria, the uprisings and the truth. As a Syrian student who comes from a pro-government family, I have often felt conflicted between my personally held views and the overwhelming outlook of those around me in Scotland and at the university. I have found it very difficult to know how to research the issues at stake, as any information available tends to be extremely biased in one direction or another. Having now read your wordpress and other materials, I feel it could be extremely refreshing to speak to you and perhaps get a proper perspective on an issue that is extremely personal and important to me.

As I’m sure you understand, being a Syrian student studying at a Western institution has made it extremely difficult to wrap my head around the conflict of viewpoints I face as a Syrian but also a Western-educated student when thinking about and trying to research Syria.

I met the student and we had a long chat – about many things, but they included the difficulties faced by Syrians who are obliged to take a view of the situation in their home country that is imposed on them by people in the West. The fact is, students from Syria, as from anywhere else, have a range of backgrounds, experiences and beliefs. But they also come from a situation of terrible and complex conflict – which can intensify and complicate differences. One thing they have in common, though, is that they have sought to get away from conflict.

Anybody who claims to care, and especially those of us with a duty of care, should be aware of the possibility that people we meet may have views they are reluctant to share – for any number of reasons – and we should be very careful not to presume to know what those views are.

The student I met spoke of being overwhelmed by the expectation of conforming to a view that was so at odds with the student’s own beliefs and experience. The fact that even academics can be contributing to that demoralising experience should be a concern to all of us in education. We might all look to how we can raise our game.

For The Tab – following its big sister The Times – to be singling out for attack those of us making this very point simply goes to show that that the values and ethos of a media entity with multi-million dollar funding from the Murdoch empire are fundamentally at odds with the very vocation of academics, and not just a small group of us.

I am personally most grateful to the student who contacted me, not only for helping avert a planned media attack, but for making tangible the value of respectful mutual engagement that a university aims to support and encourage.

 

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Where do the interests of democracy lie? Working Group responds to UK minister’s attack on critics of the “Integrity Initiative”

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Posted in disinformation, guest blog, media, political philosophy, propaganda, UK Government, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Integrity: Grasping The Initiative

This post provides links to discussions of the Institute for Statecraft’s “Integrity Initiative”. As of April 2019 the links number 185. Continue reading

Posted in conspiracy theory, constitutional politics, disinformation, inter-media, journalism, media, propaganda, Russia, UK Government, Uncategorized, war | 48 Comments

Global Justice and Finance: an introduction to critical questions

This post introduces some central arguments of my book Global Justice and Finance. Continue reading

Posted in Finance, global justice, political philosophy, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Should Universities Care About The Truth?

Caring about the truth is what universities – through their members – do. But what about the truth of alleged facts that are appealed to as grounds for governments to go to war or to engage in military interventions? Such claims are not typically the fruits of academic research. So the question is whether universities have any particular business truth-checking them. The answer is not obvious.

In my latest article, published in MR Online, I argue that since universities are already getting drawn into the world of fact-checking controversies, some strategic reflection on how best to do so would be in order.

The article considers two starkly contrasting methods of finding truth ‘in a post truth world’ – Bellingcat’s and that of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media. It comes to a very clear recommendation about why and how universities should care about checking the truth of the claims that are leveraging their reputations.

Read the article at MR Online

Download pdf

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Posted in chemical weapons, journalism, media, OPCW, propaganda, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war | 2 Comments

Has OPCW whistleblower helped prevent war with Iran?

“If he’s right, the United States went to the brink of war on the basis of fraudulent information.” So says President Trump’s adviser Tucker Carlson speaking on his Fox News show about Ian Henderson – he’s the OPCW engineering expert whose assessment of the alleged 2018 Douma chemical attack was recently leaked to the public. Carlson is credited with since having stayed the president’s hand in response to recent calls for retaliation against Iran. The vindication of Carlson’s earlier scepticism about the Douma allegations would not have been lost on the Commander in Chief. So even if the battle for his ear is not over, as the New York Times cautions, this is still encouraging news for those who – like the OPCW whistleblower who leaked the Henderson document – want to do the right thing and speak out with the truth even in the face of corruption and intimidation.

In May this year, it was revealed that the OPCW’s final report on the alleged 2018 chemical attack in Douma had misrepresented its own investigation’s findings. The leaked engineers’ assessment – excluded from the final report published in March 2019 – effectively exculpates the Syrian government. It shows the munitions were more likely placed by hand than dropped from a government helicopter.

This finding would have been politically difficult to publish for those in control at OPCW (who are not the investigators). For the American, French and British, having peremptorily blamed the Assad government for the Douma attack, had already launched over 100 missiles at Syria in retaliation. The engineers’ assessment suggests that these Western allies had no legal, moral or factual grounds to justify their action.

Western mainstream media have been almost entirely silent about this major new revelation. One notable exception in America, however, has been Tucker Carlson. Already a lone sceptical voice at the time of the attack last year, he covered the leaked assessment in his show on Fox News. He highlights the significance of the assessment signed by the experienced OPCW engineering sub-team leader Ian Henderson:

“If he’s right, the United States went to the brink of war on the basis of fraudulent information”

To talk about this, Carlson welcomes as guest Tulsi Gabbard. An Iraq war veteran and current presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, Gabbard’s conspicuous valor has included speaking out openly about the US’s propensity to engage in wars on false pretexts. Inured to the smears of being an “Assadist”, she is a consistent critic of the interests vested in the war machine. She agrees that the OPCW revelation “is a significant and very important development that we’ve got to take seriously.” She emphasises the importance of “doing our due diligence and checking very carefully the evidence”.

Gabbard turns then to a still more pressing case where a responsible approach to foreign policy decisions is urgently needed:

“We’re at the brink of a war with Iran. The American people don’t seem to be prepared for how devastating and costly such a war would be…”

She emphasises how such a war would bring total chaos, could not be contained within Iran and would extend across the region. Many would die, many more would be displaced, and vast amounts of money would be diverted from where it is really needed. Moreover, everyone has also to ask – as she, a former soldier speaking for her comrades does,

“What are we fighting for? What would a victory be?”

That interview was shown on Fox News on 25 May. In June, we were to learn that the conversation had been picked up in circles beyond the anti-war movement. As the Daily Beast reported:

In the upper echelons of the Trump administration, hawkish voices on Iran predominate—most notably Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton. But as tensions between the U.S. and Iran have escalated over the last few weeks, there’s been another, far different voice in the president’s ear: that of Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

Carlson had ‘privately advised Trump against taking military action against Iran’, also heavily criticising ‘the more “hawkish members” of his administration’. While they were calling for military retaliation against Iran in response to recent tanker attacks, the president was to adopt a view much closer to Carlson’s.

So, thanks in some measure to the OPCW whistleblower, it was evidently present to Trump’s mind that a president can sometimes be too readily persuaded to take precipitate action.

As for the OPCW, we have still to see what may be done to address the politicisation that non-aligned states have long complained of. But it is an encouraging sign that John Bolton, the man who most egregiously sought to undermine OPCW’s processes back in 2002, reportedly to the point of threatening harm to its Director General’s children, appears to have been sidelined by the president over Iran.

Whatever one may think of Trump and Fox News stances on other matters, this story has to be a cause for some cautious optimism. Certainly, the chances of victory over the forces of war will be improved if everybody who can see lies used to justify a war does speak out against them.

 

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Posted in chemical weapons, disinformation, journalism, media, OPCW, propaganda, Syria, Uncategorized, war | 4 Comments

The need for radically reformed governance at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

It was recently revealed that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had suppressed evidence about an alleged chemical attack in 2018. This scandal was downplayed in the mainstream media, but its implications are serious. The OPCW had already been losing the confidence of a number of states, including those of the Non-Aligned Movement as well as China and Russia. The organisation’s credibility has now been called into question in the eyes of all impartial observers.

The suppression of the Engineering Assessment of the Douma incident was not an isolated aberration, according to the latest Briefing Note produced by Paul McKeigue, David Miller, Jake Mason and Piers Robinson of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM) – the organisation entrusted with the original leak of the suppressed assessment.

That trust is based on mutual respect between professional researchers. McKeigue and colleagues ‘are well aware that most staff in the OPCW continue to work professionally for the organisation’s mission of upholding the Chemical Weapons Convention.’

It is also grounded in a sense of shared purpose as human beings on this planet. The reason virtually every nation on Earth has ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) – whose provisions the OPCW is supposed to implement – is to prevent that particular source of atrocious crime from being used anywhere.

Quite simply, the very future of the OPCW is put in jeopardy by the political manipulations that have been undermining its credibility as an honest or impartial watchdog.

The latest WGSPM Briefing Note concerns real crimes – up to and including mass murder – that are not being properly investigated. It shows that investigations into them appear may have been hampered by the very organisation we have all entrusted to carry them out.

So the authors are clear what this means:

The credibility of the OPCW cannot be restored simply by finding some way to reverse what were purported to be the findings of the FFM on the Douma incident, but only by an independent re-examination of all its previous investigations of alleged chemical attacks in Syria, and a radical reform of its governance and procedures.

Read the Briefing Note: ‘How the OPCW’s investigation of the Douma incident was nobbled’, by Paul McKeigue, David Miller, Jake Mason, Piers Robinson Members of Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, 26 June 2019

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On the OPCW response to the leaked engineers’ assessment

On 13 May 2019 the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM) published a document received from an anonymous whistleblower at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The document’s findings run counter to the conclusion of OPCW’s official final report (1 March 2019) on the 2018 chemical incident in Douma – the one cited as pretext for French, US and UK forces to fire 103 missiles into Syria.

The significance of the new disclosure can hardly be overstated. But while recognized by some prominent independently-minded commentators, it has been studiously ignored by the mainstream media. As for OPCW itself, an official response has been very slow in coming.

Meanwhile “informed sources” have been floating various suggestions about why the implications of the leaked document may be somehow less significant than appears.

The latest briefing note from WGSPM analyses the response so far:

Comments on official response to the release of the Engineering Assessment of the Douma cylinders, by Paul McKeigue, David Miller, Jake Mason, Piers Robinson

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Douma chemical deaths: research and reports

The OPCW’s “final report” on the 2018 chemical incident in Douma, Syria, has been revealed to have suppressed a crucial engineers’ study that points to a conclusion opposed to the official one. Given the vital role of the OPCW in implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention on behalf of virtually every country in the world, this is a matter that calls for thorough and stringent investigation. Yet undertakings to do this have not been immediately forthcoming.

Furthermore, a large number of people lost their lives under unexplained circumstances in connection with the incident, so there is suspicion of a crime of mass murder. Thus concerns are that a proper criminal investigation may have been hampered. This also needs to be thoroughly investigated.

Below follows some brief commentary and selected links (most recent first) on how public understanding has developed in relation to the event and the informational contestation surrounding it.

[Update 12 June 2019]

Mainstream media have continued to avoid the issue, but across alternative and social media, public pressure for answers has been maintained. The spokespersons for OPCW seem to have made matters worse for themselves each time they have said something, as the Working Group (WGSPM) pointed out in a study of official OPCW responses. The WGSPM authors show that the responses are mutually self-contradictory. Initial attempts by OPCW management to deny the authenticity or downplay the significance of the leaked engineers’ report were followed by tacit admissions of its genuineness. The reason then given for its exclusion from the OPCW’s final report was that it contained an implication about who was responsible for the incident – yet in fact it did so no more than the approved report had done. It just pointed in the opposite direction.

In the meantime, a question in UK Parliament received a blithe and unsatisfactory reply, while some incisively probing questions formulated by Peter Hitchens received none from OPCW. Indeed, the Director General of the OPCW appeared to make matters worse with some perplexing remarks at a conference on 11 June.

The silence of mainstream media and disarray apparent within the upper levels of contrasts with the dedication of OPCW’s professional investigators, independent journalists, and concerned citizens to get the truth out.

Sadly, it does have also to be noted that there are a few journalists of another kind who have continued to try to suppress critical questioning. The notorious ‘narrative corrector’ Idrees Ahmad, for instance, who as well as being a journalist is a lecturer at Stirling University in Scotland, attempted to intimidate The Nation & Izzy Awards into spurning the highly-respected independent journalist Aaron Maté for covering the leaked report. Meanwhile, Professor Scott Lucas of Birmingham University, who edits EA (Enduring America) Online, appears to have been channelling information – albeit of questionable quality – from “informed sources” within OPCW. (Ahmad and Lucas, incidentally, were called on to provide statements for the smear articles on WGSPM members in The Times last April – occasioned by our raising of questions about the reliability of claims about chemical weapons attacks.)

[28 May 2019] Public debate since the leaking of OPCW engineers’ report published 13 May 2019

Mainstream media has been slow – to put it mildly – in picking up the story. Exceptions to the general silence are Robert FiskPeter Hitchens, and Tucker Carlson with Tulsi Gabbard. (Hitchens has also pursued the story of a new alleged chemical attack of 19 May this year which appeared simply to be dropped by the media in the light of revelations now circulating concerning the previous one.)

The news was given some public prominence in statements by Susan Sarandon and Roger Waters.

Meanwhile, more numerous independent journalists and commentators have emphasised the significance of the leaked report. Videos feature Jimmy Dore and Aaron Mate interviewing Theodore Postol. Authors of articles include Caitlin Johnstone, Craig Murray, Jonathan Cook, Tony CartalucciMartin Jay, Kit Knightly, John McEvoy, Philip Roddis, Citizens Electoral Council (Australia), Martin Odoni, James O’Neill, Eric Zuesse, Fabio Giuseppe Carlo Carisio (in Italian), MediaLensTobias Riegel (in German), and Paul Bond.

The story also made the news in Cuba, Ghana, Japan, Venezuela, and, of course, Syria.

From the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM), Piers Robinson is interviewed live on RT, and David Miller gives an extended interview on Syriana Analysis.

Experts beyond WGSPM who have written on the subject include Theodore Postol and Stephen McIntyre.

The leaked OPCW engineers’ assessment was first published with a commentary by: Paul McKeigue, David Miller and Piers Robinson (13 May 2019) Assessment by the engineering sub-team of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission investigating the alleged chemical attack in Douma in April 2018, Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media.

Engineers’ Assessment of Two Cylinders Observed at the Douma Incident (circulated internally 27 February 2019; published via WGSPM 13 May 2019) Unclassified OPCW.

Concerns about the quality of the OPCW final report of 1 March 2019

Russian Federation (26 April 2019) Commentaries on the conclusion of the report of the fact-finding mission on the use of chemical weapons in Syria regarding the alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma on 7 April 2018, OPCW Executive Council.

Paul McKeigue, David Miller and Piers Robinson (12 April 2019) The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW): critical questions, Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media.

In this period it emerged that public debate was being influenced by an organisation called the Institute for Statecraft and its “Integrity Initiative”.  I have posted a separate listing on this of 185 links to items between November 2018 and April 2019.

Further public information in the period between OPCW FFM interim and final report of 1 March 2019

CGTN (14 February 2019) BBC producer drops bombshell by saying footage of 2018 Douma chemical attack was ‘staged’, Youtube

INTERIM REPORT OF THE OPCW FACT-FINDING MISSION IN SYRIA REGARDING THE INCIDENT OF ALLEGED USE OF TOXIC CHEMICALS AS A WEAPON IN DOUMA, SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC, ON 7 APRIL 2018 

Significant findings in the period between the event and OPCW interim report of the Fact-Finding Mission (6 July 2018)

Regarding the event of 7 April 2018, relevant links were provided in this commentary that I posted on 8 April 2018 and last updated 28 April 2018.

 

 

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Fragmentation damage indicates an explosion, not a cylinder drop. It is absent from Douma scene according to OPCW and the ‘augmented reality’ of Forensic Architecture.

 

 

 

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