Who to believe about Syria?

I’m no expert about Syria, so why these blogposts? The initial stimulus was realising that people of good will and similar ethics can have some markedly contrasting views of the situation in Syria.  This was a puzzle to me. And given the gravity of what’s at stake, I felt an obligation to try and solve it.

The basic disagreement could not be explained by familiar sorts of political bias. It cuts across left-right and authoritarian-libertarian lines; a person’s stance on it can not even be predicted by their stance, say, on Palestine, or Cuba.  Attitudes to Russia can be a better indicator, but if my own case is anything to go by, this has nothing particularly to do with political views and is anyway an effect rather than a cause. What Putin says about Syria tends to resonate with what I’ve come to think; I have never thought that any statement was true because Putin made it. I also just don’t think it very intellectually mature or responsible to suppose that something is false because he says it!

Still, it is understandable that people would rather accept the consensus view of our news outlets, especially since it is echoed by the vast majority of our politicians and opinion formers, along with NGOs like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and MSF. They present Assad as the problem in Syria and regime change as the solution.

The general public do not perceive that view as a controversial one.  It seems established beyond the range of normal political debate that ‘Assad must go’.  ‘Assad’s regime’ is regarded, like Hitler’s, as beyond the pale of reasonable disagreement.  The only kind of debate there can be on this basis is whether Assad is as bad as Hitler. In fact, US spokesperson Sean Spicer recently suggested Hitler was less bad.

As karma would have it, the hapless Spicer also let us know, with a slip of the tongue, that America’s “first goal is to destabilise Syria”.

Should we believe the official narrative or the one that, while suppressed, still sometimes slips out? I have asked this question of reports from Channel 4, from BBC, from Amnesty International, from Doctors Without Borders, and from UK Government. I’ve shared my findings in the five blogs respectively linked. I have concluded that none of those reports provides credible evidence to support the mainstream account of what has been happening in Syria these past six years.

I ask nobody to take my word for it, though, and I would urge everybody, who gets the chance, to look more closely for yourself. This is not a matter on which any established authority should simply be assumed reliable.

It is not a matter of normal political loyalties. On Syria I now have more faith in the views of Peter Hitchens or Peter Oborne writing in the Daily Mail, for instance, than in those of George Monbiot in the Guardian; I got blocked on Twitter by Paul Mason for asking an awkward question; I’ve even questioned the wisdom of a statement by Caroline Lucas (here). I feel all the more resolutely ecologically socialist for recognising that independently conservative thought can sometimes be more astutely resistant than that of progressives to the deceptions of a delinquent neoliberal globalism.

The issue here is not a normal part of political argument. Politics can even serve to distract us from what I believe is a serious matter of truth against war. The agenda underlying foreign states’ investment in the war in Syria is continuous with what came to fruition in Iraq and Libya. We have good reasons to fear that it will lead on to a still more catastrophic confrontation with Iran and even Russia.

Perhaps that’s why those who do not accept the mainstream narrative can be presented as ‘siding with the Russians’, who don’t want war either! But I’d go further and say there are people of no nation on this planet who want war. That is why we should not let ourselves be deceived into thinking that anything we truly want can only be achieved at the price of war.

As for the war in Syria, please don’t believe me. Please just don’t let yourself be deceived. This is too important, not only for you and me, but for our children, and everyone else too. Please ask questions about who wants war and why, and please then think about how they can be stopped from getting it.

Afterword

Who do I believe? I tend to believe those I find sincere and whose statements are coherent, consistent, and not belied by their actions. I believe ISIS when they say they want to destroy the Syrian secular state and create their caliphate.  I believe Al Qaeda and the multitude of other Islamist terror organisations that threaten terrible violence of the kind they routinely execute. I believe the ordinary people who live in Syria and say they just want to be left to live their lives in peace. I find I also believe, on the basis of scores of interviews I’ve now seen, that the Syrian president is doing all he can to fulfil the wish of the latter against threats of the former. I believe his claims that the foreign states’ regime change agenda has nothing to do with trying to do right by the Syrian people. If that makes me an ‘Assad Apologist’, I make no apology. For anyone who thinks Iraq or Libya today have better governance than Syria’s government-protected areas do is not someone I would feel capable of debating with. Of course, Syria could do a lot better still, and the Syrian people should be free to choose their government. My instinct, for what it’s worth, tells me that Bashar Al Assad and the First Lady Asma Al Assad long for such a day to come. But the nation’s sovereignty has first to be fully restored.

I have stopped believing reports about Syria from Amnesty International, an organisation I actively supported for two decades. For no report I have seen produces credible evidence to support its claims about the war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the Syrian government. I illustrate this here, and here, and I further show how the organisation has been captured by people with no interest in human rights here. I fear there seems to be a similar problem even in some parts of MSF’s organisation. As for the news outlets, with almost nobody on the ground, they provide little coverage of areas that are under legitimate government, while, from occupied areas, they rely heavily on terrorist sources like Al Qaeda, under its various rebrandings. And our government? It provides funds, weapons and training for Al Qaeda. Some of this goes into the PR campaign sustained as White Helmets. If you are inclined to believe what the White Helmets say, then I suggest you watch the Oscar-winning documentary about them and ask yourself one simple question: where are the terrorists? I assume that anyone who is reading these words does not need me to make any comment about poor little  Bana Alabed. But you might know people who do, so please be gentle with them. We are all at different stages of learning about how we are misled.

image

Survivor of evacuation bus bombing

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This entry was posted in Amnesty International, BBC, Channel 4, global justice, human rights, journalism, MSF, political philosophy, prisoners' rights, propaganda, Syria, UK Government, Uncategorized, war. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to Who to believe about Syria?

  1. M Kavanagh says:

    so grateful, every time Tim, thank you. I approached it in this way too..and only gradually gained confidence of interpretation amidst the plethora of ‘takes’ ..it always heartens me, your lack of presentation, your honesty, and your ‘blood hound’ tracking of the actualities amidst some fabulously thick and really slime ‘fog’ ..surrounding beloved Syria and her present predicament, the Nation of the world with such depth and authenticity, persecuted by others.

  2. I too became extremely critical of Western mainstream media reporting on Syria and decided to delve a little deeper into the subject. Obviously, the first port of call was to determine a list of independent, unbiased, non-agenda driven writers, journalists and reporters, although equally mindful of the devious fakery out there I kept all angles of news reporting in Syria, from my new found independence and mainstream.

    I didn’t take me long to see the pattern of misinformation, the web of lies and the treachery that was being forced upon the ignorant masses by govt. and media… That the poor people of that ancient land were nothing more than cannon fodder at the enjoyment of others not even Syrian.

    I make no apology for my views for which I now hold.

  3. @rhipkin hear, hear. I initially started out (4 years ago) believing the MSM narrative, and it was a gradual process for me, towards enlightenment. But one thing that stuck out for me, was watching a rebel video and was thunderstruck to see White Helmets dancing with the extremist Wahhabis, one WH even had an assault rifle! I saw this well before anyone else picked up on it too.
    But yes, you’re correct about a pattern emerging. Now we see that Trump has seemingly picked up, where the Obama administration left off. Sad!

    • timhayward says:

      Thanks Stephen and @rhipkin. It was learning from people like yourselves – very late in the day – that I realised there was so much more to investigate than most of us otherwise realise.

  4. Anastasia says:

    Hi Tim. I have been following your work lately- great work, by the way. Thank you for informing us. The disinformation being disseminated is outrageous. And what is more annoying is reading articles from actual professors who lie and contribute even more to this disinformation. For example, the professor who wrote in the independent the following article ((http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/by-insisting-assad-must-go-the-west-has-prolonged-the-syrian-conflict-a7681671.html)) where he maintained that the sarin gas of 2013 was Assad’s although I am sure he is aware of the reports from the MIT or Hersh’s reports. If academics are lying as easily to promote their own agenda+ research, then the people have no idea whom to believe. it is disgusting.
    well done for your work!

    • timhayward says:

      Hi Anastasia, I agree that academics have a particular responsibility to ensure the quality of knowledge that people can have access to when forming of opinions. In some areas, academic agendas do get shaped by funders, and with regard to Syria I can think of a very small number of academics whose output I do find ‘surprising’. Others, I think, genuinely embrace some version of the ‘Arab Spring’ and/or ‘revolution’ and/or ‘moderate opposition’ stories, and that affects the perspective they take and questions they ask. With almost everyone else I know, it seems to be thought indecent to grant even as a hypothesis that Assad is not ‘evil dictator’. That’s why I hope gradually more academics can be brought to take a bit more of a stand in applying proper academic standards, methods and values to these questions.

  5. Denis Rancourt says:

    Add National Geographic to the list with AI:

  6. tomwonacott says:

    Mr. Hayward

    “…….I have stopped believing reports about Syria from Amnesty International, an organisation I actively supported for two decades. For no report I have seen produces credible evidence to support its claims about the war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the Syrian government……..”

    Assad is responsible in every respect for the reporting in Syria. He had every opportunity to hold free and fair elections before 2014 – three years into the civil war. He promised reforms and didn’t deliver. Even if the 2014 elections were truly “free and fair” – and there is a lot of doubt to that based on the intimidation that would accompany the reports on the detention facilities under the control of Assad – the 2017 ORB International poll indicates that most Syrians oppose Assad even being allowed to run for election if free and fair elections are conducted in the future. Indeed, most Syrians hope that the FSA win the war as opposed to Assad!

    “……..There is however widespread support for a political solution (62%) and for Syria to have ‘free and fair elections’ (80%). At any election opinion is divided on whether President Assad should be allowed to stand – 60% say he should be barred…………Yet, a plurality (45%) would like the FSA to be the victor (vs 34% wanting to see President Assad claim victory)…….”

    That indicates a political solution where Assad remains in power is unworkable for the Syrian people forgetting for the moment outside interests. This is the same poll you cited (but simply decided to conveniently skip some of the results). That does not square at all with the election results in 2014. There is no defending token a election nearly 15 years after one should have been conducted by the Assad government.

    The Syrian government made the decision to bar Amnesty International from entering Syria. Amnesty is still going to report on war crimes etc., but they are obviously limited in their ability to report atrocities as they happen – or inspect the aftermath. They have no choice but to rely on interviews outside of the country. That was forced on them by the Syrian government. As far as the report by Amnesty on the atrocities committed at the detention facilities – the deaths from torture, neglect, disease and the hangings – Sterling (etc.) has questioned the findings. Assad has always had the option to open his prison system to inspections from 2012 until the present from the UN or any credible organization. He refused – even to this day (as far as I know). It speaks volumes that you resort to a former UK Ambassador to Syria (2003-2006) for his view on the detention facilities cited by AI. How credible is that? Assad could have invited human rights organizations or the UN into country any time if he didn’t have anything to hide – which, of course, he did.

    Any normal liberal should rail against the military crack down by Assad which initiated the conflict. These were mostly peaceful protests associated with one of the most important mass movements in the past 100 years. Syrians protested for political rights i.e., just a say in their government. There was some violence directed at the government, but far and away, the mass protests were genuine and non violent. The fault for the conflict lies strictly with Assad.

    • timhayward says:

      Thanks for your comments. As I say, I am not trying to get anyone to believe anything in particular about the facts of 2011 or anything else – although I am encouraging readers to try to be sure about the credibility of their sources. You certainly seem very confident about what you believe. I wish you well.

  7. I’m very glad to see this and will retweet it and perhaps resurrect my old blog specifically to deal with this issue. Like you, I have totally lost faith in Amnesty International which picks and chooses issues of vastly differing gravity, according to an over-arching bias. I told them to take me off their mailing list after repeatedly getting spammed by them about very petty things, some anti-Islamic immigration graffiti on a wall in London for example, as though they are on the same level as child rape victims getting stoned to death in Islamic country, the type of legitimate human rights causes they used to focus on exclusively.

    You are correct that the NGOs are not independent, they’re run by billionaires with their own agendas. I too find Eva Bartlett credible. It freaks me out that the same people who are being willingly duped into an anti-Assad, pro-“rebel” (very consciously chosen euphemism by mainstream media to conceal the fact that they’re terrorists), pro-Saudi Arabi position, can turn around and accuse people who actually do research, like you Tim and like me, and even more so, brave dedicated reporters like Bartlett, of being tools of propaganda when it is such critics who are the ones who rarely read anything longer than a meme. They don’t even read the frikkin articles they send around, just the headlines.

    Like this recent misinformation about America’s “first Muslim judge”, implying that she’d been murdered by Trump supporters when in fact not only did she commit suicide but she was never Muslim, just had an Arabic last name by a former marriage. I’ve had to leave Facebook and ruthlessly block people on Instagram, if they fail to heed two warnings, about spreading inflammatory political stories without fact-checking. It usually takes me less than 2 minutes to debunk most fake news stories. It enrages me that most people can’t be bothered to do this themselves.

    • timhayward says:

      Thanks for this. On your last point, what makes me despair specifially about the media – as opposed to the egregious situation they are part of – is how shoddy the propaganda is, and, it seems, increasingly so. Like they think they don’t need to take any trouble at all to gull the people, with anyone speaking up about being in a small enough minority to be treated as an eccentric sign of healthy debate at the fringes.

  8. I agree particularly with you on your assessment of Bashar al Assad and his wife Asma. Perhaps the most incredible act of character assassination carried out by the western media/leaders. I wrote similar things on Assad a year and a half ago, and nothing has changed, but for the worse:
    http://russia-insider.com/en/get-used-it-assads-not-going-anywhere/ri11965
    And I am not an Assad, or a Putin apologist, because there is simply nothing to apologise about; but of course I support them both in their fight against Trump and May apologists, and sadly also against Amnesty and MSF apologists. We are so pleased to see your brave commitment to pointing out the obvious and politically intolerable.

  9. Marko says:

    You can pretty much bet that the environmental samples from the impact crater will test positive for sarin consistent with Assad’s stockpile. That will be the cherry on top for another Oscar-deserving production.

    Those dead from sarin were not “exposed” , they were murdered. Aside from the 20 or so from a single family , it appears that the bulk of the dead were not residents :

    ” No one knows for sure the exact death toll, because some of the dead were refugees from the neighbouring province of Hama who sought shelter here, and their relatives took them home for burial.” ( For “refugees” , read “captives”. )

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/08/syria-town-mourning-chemical-attack

    The now-rockstar “man with twins” who lost 19 , 20 , 22 , or 25 family members , depending on who was counting , is named Abdul Hamid al-Yousef , and is shown here ( in checked shirt ) with Erdogan at the hospital in Turkey:

    http://ap.mnocdn.no/images/abb8daee-2103-4957-9867-baa2836e9544?fit=crop&q=80&w=980

    To me , he appears awfully similar to the guy against the wall at the back of the room in this earlier picture depicting one of the regular McCain/terrorists strategy sessions :

    If that is Mr. Man-with-Twins with McCain , I think he’s going to be one very wealthy man when this is all over with.

  10. Presenting a one-sided argument is rather like loading a donkey one side at a time. Eventually the donkey will fall over. To allow the animal maintain its balance by on by all four hooves firmly grounded both sides must be loaded gradually. The mainstream media has got to the stage where its donkey is about to topple over. Hopefully, its editors and journalists will get crushed by the load.

  11. Hi Tim, I’m in the camp that sees Assad as a horrible dictator killing his own people because they won’t have him.

    Thanks for the even tone of your post and your responses. It is appreciated.

    I would like to take issue with a statement that is just a little quote from your piece because I think you are — without malice — accepting truisms that are false. Here we go. You write:

    “As karma would have it, the hapless Spicer also let us know, with a slip of the tongue, that America’s “first goal is to destabilise Syria”.”

    But that has never been America’s first goal. The evidence is that Syria was very de-stabilized in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring by a popular reform movement that morphed into a revolutionary upsurge when Assad responded militarily to peaceful demonstrations. Much mayhem followed, with any number of opportunities — all untaken — for the US to de-stabilize Syria further. What Syrian people will tell you over and over is that they desperately wanted effective weapons to shoot down the Syrian air force bombing them in their homes. Not only did the US not provide such ordnance, it actively opposed others doing so. It would have required nary a boot on the ground to take down Syria had the US so intended. That is what Syrians will never forgive the US and the West in general for.

    • timhayward says:

      Thanks for you comments. On America’s goals, there is obviously a lot to be said. (I touched briefly on the topic in an earlier blog https://timhayward.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/a-theory-of-bullshit-ii-serious-stuff/ where I quoted some US foreign policy.) Indicative of the kind of thing I find telling is this short anecdote from General Dempsey in 2007, shared some time before Syrians knew anything about an Arab Spring: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RC1Mepk_Sw . As for how active the US was in opposing ordnance, I find informative this recording of Kerry explaining US thinking to opposition representatives: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4phB-_pXDM
      (That audio was verified by CNN: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/10/01/politics/kerry-audio-recording-syria/) As for what Syrians tell me, I only hear from Syrians in Syria, and those I hear from are unanimous in wanting all foreign fighters out so lawful government can prevail. That is only anecdotal, but consistent enough for me to take seriously.

      I appreciate your comments on my even tone, so I don’t want to be too argumentative, but do you honestly think that more decisive military action by the US (even leaving aside the question of how Russia would have responded) would have led to a better outcome than in Iraq or Libya? Do you know any Syrians who had a clear idea of how it could have?

      So while I don’t dispute there was some genuine protest in 2011, I think it is a mistake to overestimate its significance in relation to the determination of the Muslim brotherhood and other handsomely-backed jihadists to overthrow the government. (There have been protests in Western countries, as great or greater than in 2011 Syria, which nobody mistook for a revolution.) The real forces of destabilization had been at work for years if not decades. CNN were talking to Assad about this in 2005: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-VuasUUTQA .

      So there are some reasons why I think Spicer’s slip was a real Freudian one.

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