27.6.11

Iran, Syria, Regime Change, And The Resistance Axis

This is an opinion article by Elie Shlahoub in the June 27th edition of the Lebanese daily newspaper Al Akhbar.

“The Syrian turmoil is targeting the Islamic resistance in Lebanon; and defending Damascus constitutes protection for Beirut and Tehran. This is in short, the Iranian approach to the events taking place in the Levant as “We will not allow the hand of the Sayyed of the Resistance to be broken” and at the same time “we will not allow that the spring of the Arab revolutions be pirated.” Relations with Saudi Arabia are severed and relations with Qatar are frozen. As for Ankara, it must be cautious: Syria is a red line even if this calls for bombarding the American bases in Turkey."
That is to be expected.  Iran will not allow the overthrow of Assad.  Clearly, the Syrian revolution 2011, by accepting sponsorship from Hariri, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US, is presenting itself as a threat to Syria's long time allies.  The Syrian revlution 2011 is targeting mainly Syria's foreign policy and not so much domestic policy.  That is another feature of the Syrian revolution 2011 that is not found in the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions which kept mostly the same foreign policy as hte old regimes they overthrew.

Much has been written and said about Turkey's role in the Syrian crisis but Iran is a powerful regional player and the guardian of the resistance axis. It will not allow any attempt at breaking this resistance axis to easily succeed.

26.6.11

Syrian refugees in Turkey prisoners of armed groups

Al Manar reported this morning sunday June 26th that Syrian refugees in Turkey are being prevented from returning to their homes in Jisr Al Shoughour by armed groups inside the camps. A delegation of Syrians, including a cleric, sent to Turkey to visit the refugee and ask them to return home, was attacked. Al Manar showed a smashed car window and a cleric who was hit by a stone in his eye. The Syrian red crescent is taking responsibility for the safety of the people of Jisr Al Shoughour. The people inside the neatly aligned tents are said to lack food and water.

UPDATE: Syrian opposition inside Syria readies first meeting tomorrow to find a way out of the crisis. The government is said to have authorised the meeting but will not be participating in it.

25.6.11

Tom MacMaster On Ressuscitating Gay Girl In Damascus And Saving Arabs

Tom MacMaster, the man behind the hoax that was Gay Girl in Damascus, still wants to believe in Amina. In this exchange, answering questions sent to him by Angry Arab, he talks passionately about Amina and about his grand fiction masterwork to save the Arab world!

I think this man is having the Lawrence of Arabia syndrome but if he really knew Syrians well he would have known that they hate Lawrence and they never considered him as a saviour, only an annoying spy.

UPDATE: Tom MacMaster is now accused of using another fake identity to defend the Gay Girl Hoax. Mr. MacMaster is now even threatening to turn right wing because of the criticism he is facing from pro-Palestinian advocates and the liberal press. Could it be an allusion to the recent u-turn of The Guardian on this issue? Right wingers beware!

The Guardian is apparently now critical of Tom Mac Master after having largely contributed to the fame of his gay girl blog and defended it until the last minute, and probably having been fooled and humiliated by Mr. MacMaster.

So now basically Tom MacMaster is ressuscitating Gay Girl and The Guardian is ressuscitating Tom MacMaster. Crazy how much a fake story can generate news content for The Guardian!

US and UK Meet Syrian Muslim Brotherhood Representative In London

From Angry Arab.

Links about Al Bayanouni and the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood:

The Muslim Brotherhood: the trojan horse of the syrian revolution. (article in Arabic)

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood between piety and lethal errors. (article in Arabic)

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood by Gary Gambill (article in English).

Al Bayanouni speaking on the Syrian regime, Iran and Israel.

As of late, sunni extremism has become respectable to USrael and the west in general. Some links:

Israel and Saudi Arabia are natural allies.

Wikileaks: Hariri to the US: Syrian Muslim Brotherhood not extremist and they want peace with Israel

Israel wants a committment from the US to protect the Saudi regime.

UK and US want to make peace with the Taliban.

Al Bayanouni improves on Alawi question!!!! (but this was the context of the aftermath of the July 2006 war in Lebanon when everybody thought that Hezbollah was so weak and so unpopular that the Syrian regime was ready for compromise...

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood new leadership: assessment of the Bayanouni years.

General information about the brotherhood and its ideology.

22.6.11

Western Coverage Of Syria: Active Denial, Highly Partisan Narratives And Orientalist Cliches

Angry Arab, who is against the Syrian regime, posted on the massive pro-Assad demonstrations in Syria yesterday the following:

But it is obvious that the pro-regime demonstrations were not covered.  Can one deny that those pro-Syrian regime demonstrations are far bigger than the protests that have been promoted from Youtube by Syrian Muslim Brotherhood opposition, and which headlines coverage of Syria.  Comrade Bassam said it best here:  "When genuine, the rallies Tuesday demonstrated sentiments that had “less to do with support for Bashar and more to do with not wanting to descend into the unknown,” said Bassam S. Haddad, director of the Middle East Studies Program at George Mason University. “There’s a lot of orchestrating going on, but it’s not all orchestration.”"  What is it difficult for people in the Western press and academic to express opinions and offer explanations and analysis that don't fully conform with the Orientations of Western governments? That is what Chomsky called "manufacturing consent." 

Indeed, and to my knowledge, the massive pro-regime demsontrations were mainly not covered by the western press, except by Anthony Shadid for the New York Times, and when covered by the Arab language press, they were protrayed as yet another manifestation of regime brutality against protesters, since seven anti-regime protesters apparently died from pro-regime actions, or as orchestrations, as if the anti-regime protests were not orchestrated...

Al-Manar TV showed images and footage of the pro-Assad protests and they were massive, no anti-regime protests have actually reached that number, not even half the number. We had also little coverage of Assad's third speech by the western press and blogs specialising in Syria, except for the Turkish press who welcomed the speech as the manifestation of a real change agenda. Blogs that are widely read on Syria had near to nothing on the last two events, Assad's third speech and pro-regime demonstrations, while serving us minutiae writings of famous 'trusted friends' (an army of MacMasters if you ask me) living in Syria on Syria's sectarian fabric and sectarian dynamics, exuding the misunderstandings, pretentions and fabrications of the orientalist tradition at its worse. Someone should explain to me why Syria, above any other country in the middle east, provokes the orientalist imagination. The MacMaster story was a pure concoction of orientalist cliches, despite its author claiming the contrary. Maybe because, more than any pother country in the ME, Syria is difficult to understand for outsiders and even for those westerners who pretend to be insiders.

This boils down to a truth nobody is ready to accept: western blogs and MSM are mostly adopting the line of their governments' narratives on a very complex matter without any serious questioning of the motives behind them. Nothing really to counter the Syrian regime propaganda other than badly imitating it. A strategy that is backfiring...

UPDATE: French TV commentator: 'those large protests were actually not in support of Assad'

UPDATE: Saudi owned news coverage of Syria

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21.6.11

Hurriyet Daily News: Syria On The Right Track

Assad's third speech delivered on Monday June 20th was well received in the Turkish press, contrary to the Saudi funded press like Al Sharq Al Awsat.

Al-Assad’s speech Monday was promising as he talked about concrete steps with a concrete timetable. I am sure that most of the measures he mentioned were the ones advised by the Turkish officials over the course of the last two months.

It is no coincidence that when it was clear from yesterday's speech that Assad's fall will not come without the fall of the entire regime (read my previous post), Turkey has suddenly understood that it is not in their inetrest to have another Iraq at their frontier. From the beginning I wrote that Turkey will come to change its attitude if there were no cracks in sight inside the Baath regime and this is what just happened. At the same time, the ill advised Syrian revolution 2011 has focused its platform on the fall of Assad. As I wrote in my earlier post, yesterday's speech clearly demonstrated the unity of the regime, they will either survive together or go down together. This means that targeting Assad was not a smart move and still is not a smart move. But the Syrian Revolution 2011 thought that by targeting Assad, the regime will crack and let down Assad. This was the dynamic in Tunisia and Egypt, but it is clearly not the case here because while in Tunisia and Egypt the men who fell were the ones who made the regime, in Syria the man the Syrian revolution wants to topple is the face of the regime and he was made a statesman by this same regime. What we have seen from the beginning is the unity of this regime. The Syrian Revolution 2011, by scapegoating Assad, has trapped itself in a hateful, emotionally charged, rationally limited campaign, and it is the hate directed at Assad that made the unity of the regime stronger than ever.

20.6.11

High Noon: Bashar El Assad's Third Post-'Revolution 2011' Speech

This is his third speech since the start of the revolution 2011, different from the exuded confidence during the first and the measured confidence of the second. This speech is about a situation that has been deteriorating daily and El Assad seemed to be fully aware of this. The Main points:

- A realistic assessment of the situation: but there is no going back, Syria must look to the future.
- A will to make the amnesty more inclusive without threatening the security of the people and the state, and there will be no concessions for the extremists who willingly kill and vandalise.
- The reforms will be articulated by the national dialogue process that is going on.  The national dialogue basis is the muhafazat because of the mosaic of the Syrian society.
- There is need for electoral reform and constitutional reform, the first must come first.
- Electoral reform will likely be decided soon, before the august elections.  And by the end of the year the consitutional reform will be initiated.  
- Bashar nearly shocked when he mentioned the state of the Syrian economy and thanked all the people who are keeping their money in Syrian pounds even as little as 1000 pounds.
- Not once did he mention the sects or religions, he spoke in terms of the rich mosaic of the Syrian society.  He spoke only once of the painful events of the 1980s to illustrate that there is no going back for Syria.  This can be interpreted in two different ways and El Assad speaks in this way when he is under duress.  It can mean that reforms are coming but it can also mean that some people are trying to drag Syrians again in this hole but they won't succeed, the second interpretation conveys more firmness, albeit a veiled one.

The applause was spontaneous at least on two occasions.  When he spoke about himself and his family and when he spoke about the connection between the people of Syria, a connection he felt during his many meetings with people from across the country.

Some would say that there was nothing new.  I would say that this speech was intended internally.  What we saw today is Bashar delivering in a very somber mood (he cracked only one joke) a realistic assessment of the situation and the steps that has been taken and will be undertaken in the future to remedy the situation.  This speech was in no way intended for the people who are calling him to step down.

This is significant because it means that the regime stands united.  Either they survive together or they are going down together.  I would say that there is a real connection there between the prsesident and his men.  The people who are betting on cracks in the regime stand no chance to seeing any cracks soon.

I think the speech was measured and grave but the only thing that worries me is that Bashar seemed uneasy and unassuming again as during his first years in office.  He appeared more than ever as the face of the regime. But the people who are directing their anger against him are hitting the wrong target.  It doesn't mean that he is powerless, it doesn't diminish him, it means that he took this responsibility against his will and that he will assume it until the end" All this means also that if he is to step down, nothing will change.  But if it is the entire regime the Syrian revolution 2011 want to bring down, then my understanding is that they will bring down the whole country and we will have an Iraq like scenario.  So either the people behind the Syrian revolution 2011 are naive or they are deceiving us.  Increasingly Bashar El Assad and his family are becoming the scapegoats for the discontent with the regime.  And the plan is 'sacrifice the scapegoat' and everything will turn out to be fine. This is a bad plan for Syria. This regime has been part of Syria for the last 40 years, so either the regime and those who want change (the real revolutionaries, not The Syrian Revolution 2011) work out something together or things will turn bad. The second option seems to be the goal of the Syrian revolution 2011.

19.6.11

Curating the news on Syria: Sunday June 19th

Friday Lunch Club has some really interesting links on Syria that you won't read anywhere else on the blogosphere.

Today's Zaman: The not so peaceful demonstrations


The reporters said that the town smelled of blood and smoke, whilst almost all the social and public facilities such as post offices, hospitals, banks, the court house and security buildings had been destroyed, pointing to heavy clashes that had clearly taken place between the two sides.
The countless number of bullet holes on the walls of the intelligence building where 72 soldiers lost their lives, the blood stains which marked the spots where soldiers died, and the horrifying traces of the soldiers who were beheaded are still fresh.
One of the residents of Jisr al-Shughour told reporters that a military intelligence officer's head had been exhibited in the town for three days after he was beheaded by the members of an armed opposition group. Adding to the sheer horror of the clashes is the remains of dead soldiers who were killed by armed groups that line the River Asi.

From The Economist:

The simple answer is that Syria is—and always was—too big and complicated for outsiders to step in. Liberal intervention is not about charging blindly in, but about using force judiciously when possible. Whereas Libya, though vast in desert area, is a country of 6m-plus fairly homogeneous people living on a narrow coastal strip, Syria is a web of religions and sects embracing 21m people scattered across an area that abuts the Middle East’s most combustible flashpoints, including Israel, Lebanon and Iraq.

From Le Figaro: Jumblatt lobbying to give Bashar another chance (In French.

From Gulf News: UN resolution on Syria 'difficult'

18.6.11

The Muslim Brotherhood: The Trojan Horse Of The Counter Revolution

By As'ad Abukhalil for Al Akhbar. The article is in Arabic but I will try in the coming days to translate some of it if not all.

In a way what is happening in Syria is at the same time a revolution and a counterevolution because the syrian revolution has already been hijacked by the Syrian revolution 2011 which is the baby child of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). That's why it is very difficult to understand what is going on in Syria right now. One has to understand that the MB is a transnational organisation and it is not only the Syrian MB who has hijacked the Syrian revolution but also its allies in the region. So there is a basis to the allegations of the Syrian regime about foreign interference.

Western countries, as well as some Syrians, Academics and activists have already made their Faustian bargain with the MB to get themselves rid of Bashar El Assad.

16.6.11

Tom MacMaster, Britta Froelicher, The Guardian, Academia, And the Much Wider Web Of Deceit Behind Gay Girl In Damascus

I never believed in the authenticity of the Gay Girl in Damascus, neither the persona nor the blog, despite reading her praise across blogs and mainstream western news outlets. As an Arab, I immediately knew that the Gay Girl character was false and intended for western audience. Her narrative was superficial and dissonant. However, many who badly wanted regime change in Syria, from The Guardian to Academia, uncritically believed and promoted her story. I will tackle The Guardian's role in this before moving to Academia.


Her famous post 'My father, the hero' smelled fishy. Why would security officers storm her house and leave after an argument with her father? Don't they have other urgent things to do? And her Syrian father's relaxed attitude about his daughter's sexual orientation seemed disingenous to me. She wrote that for her father it was better to have a lesbian daughter than a promiscuous daughter! There was an obvious western prejudice in this statement about Arab and Muslim men's conceptions of sex. Then came the hiding period. It was said that Gay Girl went into hiding in Damascus fearing for her life. But there was laid before our eyes the first major dissonance in her narrative: how can she hide when supposedly the Mukahbarat (Syrian security forces) have spotted and visited her house and knew her well connected parents? This didn't however bother western journalists and especially The Guardian who, through their correspondant in Damascus, Katherine Marsh, a pseudonym, were covering every move by Gay Girl. The reader can see the role of The Guardian in promoting Gay Girl in this very useful Timeline.

Tom MacMaster, Katherine Marsh, the Gay Girl hoax, and The Guardian


The Guardian journalist in Damascus, Katherine Marsh, a pseudonym and no longer writing for The Guardian from Damascus, describes Gay Girl as an 'unlikely heroine of the Syrian revolt' without ever having a shred of evidence about her existence. Ethan Zuckerman writes on his blog, and I agree with him:
Both citizen and broadcast media got Amina’s story wrong. The Guardian, in particular, has much to answer forthe May 6th story by “Katherine Marsh” lionizing Amina doesn’t mention the reporter never met Amina in person. Given the use of a pseudonym to protect the reporter and a Damascus byline, it’s hard to read the story as anything but a verification of Amina’s identity, implying the reporter met with her subject. As of this morning, the Guardian has run a long story on MacMaster’s identity, but hasn’t amended, corrected or retracted the May 6th story. Today’s story includes an explanation of the initial interview, which I think should have accompanied the original piece: “Katherine Marsh, the pseudonym of a journalist who until recently was reporting for the Guardian from Syria, interviewed Amina by email in May after being put in touch with her by a trusted Syrian contact who also believed the blogger to be real. Marsh said that many steps had been taken to try to verify Amina’s identity, including repeated requests to meet, at some personal risk to the journalist, and talk on Skype.”

We know that until the last minute The Guardian was publicizing the story while doubting the doubters. This is an excerpt from an article by Esther Addley posted on June 9th:
Is A Gay Girl in Damascus a cynical hoax? Days after the mysterious post by Rania O Ismail, concrete evidence that it is all a fiction remains absent. Even the fake photographs and apparently false names are not, in themselves, proof that the story of a lesbian activist in a Syrian jail is a fiction.More than 10,000 people are thought to have been picked up by Syrian secret police since the uprising began, and if Araf is not being mistreated in custody, as repeated commentators have pointed out, there are plenty like her who are. It is common, similarly, for activists to use false names to obscure their identities.
The same Esther Addley conducts through skype a non-interview with Tom, after he had published his non-apology on the Gay Girl blog, and describes him as 'contrite'.

Does the following 'apology' rehashing old orientalist cliches, seem 'contrite' to you?


"Indeed, I enjoyed 'puppeting' this woman in my head," MacMaster said in an "Apology to Readers" .
"I noticed that when I, a person with a distinctly Anglo name, made comments on the Middle East, the facts I might present were ignored and I found myself accused of hating America, Jews, etc. I wondered idly whether the same ideas presented by someone with a distinctly Arab and female identity would have the same reaction"
 "While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground".

Then, on June 15th, in The Guardian books section, Robert McCrum writes under the title 'Lessons learned from a gay girl in Damascus':
On the plus side, MacMaster's stunt has inadvertently shone a bright light on a murky and shameful aspect of Syrian society. It has also reminded the world of how the Syrian dictatorship has contrived to control the country's press. Crudely, human rights in Syria are now on the international agenda in a way that was not the case before MacMaster/Arraf started blogging.
One doesn't need a better apology for the hoaxer.  Fortunately there are people with brains and Bruce Leimsidor, professor of immigration and asylum law, writes in the comment section in response to Mr. McCrum:
I seriously object to Mr. McCrum's suggestion that the "gay girl" affair was somehow justified because writing an overt fiction would not have been nearly as effective. If there is truly a situation of human rights abuse, that an authentic "gay girl," surely, with a bit of honest journalism, could have been found. Unfortunately, in this situation, fictions are not necessary. But a bit of responsible research is.
Facts, research and honest journalism are all missing in The Guardian coverage of this story.   But The Guardian coverage of the Syrian revolution 2011 can be seen through the same lens.  The zealous defense The Guardian is displaying in its coverage of the MacMaster hoax has probably to do with their own credibility.  The Guardian has been covering Syria with two correspodants in Damascus reporting under a pseudonym.  The first reporter, Katherine Marsh, was delivering quasi daily reports from Damascus between March 22 and may 9th when she mysteriously stopped reporting and was replaced by a journalist with another pseudonym, Nidaa Hassan.

 Articles published by Marsh in The Guardian between April 25th and April 30th are indexed on The Guardian website, but not on her Journalisted page. Reasons for the absence of the articles on her journalisted page are numerous but only one can possibly explain their absence: her artciles must have been indexed through 'a registration required area' so only one person could register the articles, any other person entering the articles for whomever is responsible for entering them will reveal their connections through IPs and registration identification.

Katherine Marsh's most blogged about article was posted on April 12th and it tells the story of the 9 Syrian soldiers allegedly shot by the security in Banias for not shooting at protesters, a story that was immediately revealed to be false.  None of other Marsh's articles makes it into the headlines and her reporting could have been done by any person outside Syria and Damascus.On May 6th, Katherine Marsh publishes the article that makes Gay Girl widely known and makes Marsh hugely read and cited again. The article is tweeted directly from The Guardian website 254 times and has more than a thousand direct links to facebook, that's less than the false report on the shooting of soldiers in Banias which had 812 tweets and 4457 FB direct links, but a huge increase compared to all other articles which have received very poor social media links.

Around May 5th Gay Girl goes underground for fear of being arrested. On May 9th, katherine Marsh stops reporting from Damascus and Nidaa Hassan starts reporting on May 12th. On June 6th, Rania O. Ismail writes on Gay Girl's blog that Gay Girl has been abducted by men from the Syrian security.  Nidaa Hassan reports for The Guardian about the kindnapping in two articles posted on the same day (here and here). Although the two stories are less tweeted than the two major breakthrough stories of katherine Marsh (the syrian soldiers who were shot at and the Gay Girl blog) they nonetheless regain the thousand mark in facebook links.

I have for a while given some thought as to the identity of katherine Marsh and my curiosity about her identity was prompted by her very bad journalism skills and the absence of some of her articles on the journalisted page. I have previously wrote that Marsh could have been Dorothy Parvaz, after all, The Guardian and Al-Jazeera have both distinguished themselves in their biased and false reporting on Syria. I am now inclined to conclude that Tom MacMaster could have been behind Katherine Marsh. Other than the coincidental evidence presented above, I noted the following: In his first ever interview given to a Turkish journalist from Istanbul, Tom MacMaster, the man behind Gay Girl, said that he knew that things were going out of control when The Guardian contacted him:
I asked him when was the first time he said that things are going out of control, he responded as “when the Guardian contacted me”
To my knowledge, and until the last minute, The Guardian was not interested in knowing the truth about Gay Girl. But after the news broke out about Gay Girl's abduction, news and governmental organisations as well as bloggers (Liz Henry--Ben and Ali--Andrew Carvin) started to search Amina's identity, there was a life on the line and the only people who could have answered for this, because of their supposed commitment to journalistic standards requiring them to check on the identity of the people they write about, were the people at The Guardian, and chiefly Katherine Marsh who interviewed Gay Girl. But when the time for truth came The Guardian has nothing substantial to give to activists and journalists eager to save Amina. This is when they might have contacted Tom MacMaster to try to know something from him.  Tom's admission that things started to go out of control when he was contacted by The Guardian must refer in this case not to official contacts by The Guardian which had only taken place after the news about the hoax broke out in the open on June 13th, but to contacts that must have taken place before the hoax was exposed.

The Guardian knew Tom MacMaster. Was he their contact to Amina? And if yes: Is Tom and Katherine Marsh and Gay Girl the same person? To this day, The Guardian is trying to cover these questions instead of trying to answer them.

Tom MacMaster, Britta Froelicher, The Gay Girl Hoax and Academia

Tom is married to Britta Froelicher, and she, not him, is the one who is studying Syria. We know that Tom loves fiction and writing but what we don't know is what is he studying. I searched all articles and not one mentions his area of studies. On the contrary we know about his wife's area of studies. 

Britta Froelicher is doing her master degree at the Center for Syrian Studies at St Andrews on Syria's textile economy. On June 12th, as the the hoax was unraveling, all fingers were pointed at her. When a Turkish journalist doesthe first ever interview with Tom in Istanbul after his 'apology' on Gay Girl's blog, Froelicher is around and 'nervous'. She has reasons to be nervous, Froelicher was trying to establish herself as a scholar on Syria and an activist on the peace process between Syria and Israel. In 2008,she organised and chaired a conference attended by the Syrian ambassador to the US Imad Mustapha about peace prospects between Syria and Israel and her account of the conference was guest posted on Syria Comment, a widely read blog about Syria.

Syria Comment blog owner, Joshua Landis, is associate professor at Oklahoma University and director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the same university. According to his OU page, Joshua Landis is a frequent radio and TV contributor, his blog is "widely read by officials in Washington, Europe and Syria. Dr. Landis regularly travels to Washington DC to consult with the State Department and other government agencies." Dr. Landis is also an advisory member of the pro-Syrian Revolution 2011, anti-Assad, Washington based Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, along with professor Raymond Hennebusch and Steve Heydemann who are also respectively director and members of the Center for Syrian Studies based at St Andrews in Scotland. The university and the center were in the news in April as the center was accused for having accepted funds from the Syrian regime but it was concluded on May 5th, days after the investigation was launched, that there was no evidence of bias from the center toward the Syrian regime.

This is where Tom MacMaster and his wife Britta Froelicher were based as students this academic year. Froelicher was, until very recently (until the hoax was revealed), affiliated with the center as a Ph.D student, but she was given a leave of absence for the next academic year by the university.

Until the hoax was revealed, Froelicher name appeared on the main page of the center along Landis, Hennebusch, and Heydemann (thanks to an anonymous who provided me with the cashed link to the page on my blog because I was having difficulty following the web pages for the center as they were and are still going a total reshuffle). Later, it has been taken out from the main page and, until June 15th, was relegated to a special category of 'associate fellows' as evidenced by a commentator (number 28) on a blog that discussed the hoax. However, while trying to link again to this special category page today, I got an error message. The page is still however on the web in a cashed link (again thanks anonymous who is still providing me with these links).

Wat is interesting when comparing the CSS web pages was that they moved Froelicher's name form the first page that lists senior academics and associate fellows to the special page category but the people who are of the same category on the special page were still on the main page, except her.  I think I caught the process as they were clearing some pages and restructuring the information on the website, and my guess is that Froelicher's name will not be seen anywhere there in the near future.

We would think that Academics would be more honest than journalists in disclosing their links to this story and its characters, in a way or another, as there is a potential conflict of interest that could affect their academic integrity and credibility. As an academic myself, I find for example Landis's treatment of the story on his blog totally unacceptable especially since some readers of his blog have asked him to disclose and explain some of his links to various interest groups from the Syrian opposition to government agencies...to Froelicher. He never did.

Landis was the first to mention Gay Girl's blog on April 28th, before everybody else:
A new blogger in Damascus who writes like a dream and gives us a wonderful new voice and perspective on life in Syria. Read Amina about her confrontation with two young Alawite intelligence agents – a wonderful account of the successful deployment of “the Damsacus gambit” on Syria’s complicated chessboard of religion, class, gender, patriarchy, and national one-upmanship. Delectable and scary. Thank God it has a happy ending.
After the hoax was revealed, Landis dismissed the story as a 'juicy distraction', without any other explanation.
The real story is not the fake Gay Girl in Damascus – a juicy distraction that has dominated the airwaves for the last two days – but the way so many journalists cannot check their stories before deadlines because they are not permitted into Syria and don’t understand Arabic*.

Yes, but Landis knows Syria, understands Arabic, knows Froelicher and MacMaster, but was never interested in checking the story while wholeheartedly embracing it. And Landis, the academic, had more real links to the couple than The Guardian. But as he never felt the need to disclose his US government consultancy work, Syrian Opposition advisory role, as well as Syrian regime links through the center for Syrian Studies, neither to his readers on his blog, nor to persons he advises and persons from the media who interview him, he still doesn't feel the need to give any explanation about his links to Britta Froelicher and Tom MacMaster.

Is it too much to ask for the truth from those who pretend to inform and enlighten us?

* A reader commenting on this post rightly pointed out to the fact that Tom MacMaster was writing in English and not in Arabic on Gay Girl blog.

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12.6.11

The False Premises Of The Syrian Revolution 2011: a logical analysis of a typical discourse

Robin Yassin Kassab's article in foreign policy titled 'The fall of the house of Assad' is a condensed example of all the false premises of the Syrian revolution 2011.

Mr. Kassab who is 42 and who, according to his website, was born in London, grew up in Scotland, and lived and worked in the following cities and countries: London, France, Pakistan, Turkey, Syria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Oman, is one of the most vocal and articulate critics of the Assads.

Mr. Kassab aknowledges that peaceful protests are what brought down the first wave of dictatorial Arab regimes:
"Although protesters unashamedly fought back (with rocks, not guns) when attacked, the success of their largely peaceful mass movements seemed an Arab vindication of Gandhian nonviolent resistance strategies."
Then he also aknowledges that some countries are different with regard to peaceful protests, without mentioning some obvious differences between these three countries while seeming to insist on a common feature of these countries; the violence.
But then came the much more difficult uprisings in Bahrain, Libya, and Syria.  
And while suggesting a certain level of violence by putting Syria along with Bahrain and Lybia as different from Tunisia and Egypt, Mr. kassab is still committed to the peaceful feature and peaceful goals of the Syrian revolution 2011.  
Even after at least 1,300 deaths and more than 10,000 detentions, according to human rights groups, "selmiyyeh" still resounds on Syrian streets. It's obvious why protest organizers want to keep it that way.  
Mr Kassab omits to mention here among the 1300 deaths the army and security deaths making it seem as if all these deaths are the result of government crackdown on peaceful protesters.  It is obvious why he does so, he doesn't want to mention, not yet, the violence of the protesters, not before giving an explanation first.


But as we continue reading the article, we find that Mr kassab ends up aknowledging the deaths of soldiers and security, presented away form the first premise (the peaceful premise), and justified as the result of regime's actions against its own servicemen, actions whose evidence one can find on youtube!    So Mr Kassab only mentions the violence against the regime, not when he does the tally of the deaths, but after he gives an explanation for the violence against the regime.


Moreover, the only evidence he gives to support his explanation for the violence against the regime is...Youtube.  Youtube is certainly not a definitive proof of what is going on in Syria and many of Youtube videos have been proven to be fabricated but the images are there on the web and they have now their own autonomous existence independant from what is going on on the ground in Syria.   The Syrian Revolution 2011 has inundated the world with youtube videos whose evidential character is only credible to those who issue them and those who want to believe in them and whose only virtue, up to now, has been to stir the emotions of  the Syrian diaspora and the international comunity, eager to know what is hapenning in Syria and who might be more easily influenced on forming an opinion through Youtube evidence as compared to Syrians living in Syria.  Youtube propaganda does not even touch the Syrian people who should be the main target fo the attempts of the revolution to convince of its virtues.   Mr Kassab will however give Syrians inside Syria another  persuasive 'treatment' as we will see later.  But with the accusation against the regime that it is killing its own we have our second false premise.   Because until we have a solid evidence that the regime is killing its own we are not inclined to believe the Syrian revolution 2011 videographed propaganda.  


After having affirmed the first two false premises: the peaceful character of the protesters and the deaths of Syrian servicemen as the result of the actions of the regime, Mr. Kassab can now turn to what? To the 'legitimate' violence of the protesters, a legitimacy he didn't even carefully tried to insert in the first two premises but he only suggests from pulling together three countries with very different revolutions but whose only feature is violence that was not forcefully condemned by any official body.  So, not only the two false premises don't make a valid conclusion but the conclusion Mr. Kassab seems to draw doesn't even derive form the premises layed out explicitly in his article because these premsies were devoted to negate the violence of the protesters while the violence is only suggested, never argued for .
And a small minority of protesters does now seem to be taking up arms. Syrians -- regime supporters and the apolitical as much as anyone else -- have been furiously buying smuggled weapons since the crisis began. Last week for the first time, anti-regime activists reported that people in Rastan and Talbiseh were meeting tanks with rocket-propelled grenades. Some of the conflicting reports from Jisr al-Shaghour, the besieged town near the northwestern border with Turkey, describe a gun battle between townsmen and the army. And a mukhabarat man was lynched by a grieving crowd in Hama.

In fact, Mr. Kassab inserts his 'conclusion' as a matter of fact and strech it to a new horizon, the possibility of a civil war in Syria.  The rest of the article is devoted to imagining civil war scenarios which he uses to implicitly threaten Syrians of a civil war if they do not join immediately the Syrian revolution 2011.

Sadly, Mr. Kassab ends up using the same psychological tools as the regime he is trying to topple, threatening Syrians with civil war if they do not join.  This is an implicit recognition that the main battle the Syrian revolution still has to do is to win the majority of Syrians because why do you think both sides are threatening with civil war if not because each of them has not amassed enough support on his side?  And this very recognition dispels another premise of the Syrian revolution 2011, that it has the support of the majority of Syrians.  Mr Kassab's article proves it doesn't.

The brute facts is that the Syrian revolution 2011 is an armed insurgency, mainly peripheral to Syria's geography and its main cities, conducted on the ground by a disgruntled population who has nothing to lose, financed and armed by external elements, some of them are in the Syrian diaspora, who are presenting the revolution as a peaceful struggle to western audiences while trying to rally the majority of Syrians inside Syria through armed insurgency, threats of a civil war and intimidation, using exactly the methods af any dictatorial regime.

Mr Kassab may be a good fiction writer but his article is a collection of false premises, false conculsions, false hopes, and mainly threats to Syrians inside Syria who will have to bear the heavy burden a civil war while the author himslef agitates the spectre of the civil war from outside Syria where he works and lives. To put it in a nutshell, the discourse of the Syrian revolution 2011 is high on threats and emotions and poor on logic, excatly the sort of coerced persuasion used by dictatorial and populist regimes but not by people who strive to foster and build a democracy.


11.6.11

Some personal thoughts on Syria



Photo credit: Voirlemonde

I have not been posting on Syria because the state of this country is a very personal thing to me.   I grew up during the Lebanese civil war.  I saw the savagery of my fellow men and women.  I saw people who used to be friends denounce and kill each other out of fear and under coercion.  Militia in Lebanon were intent at destroying each other.  Only the presence of the Syrian army prevented one ethnic sect from annihilating the other.  Many Lebanese accuse Syrians of  having participated, in their own way, with their intelligence and army, in the Lebanese civil war.  But Syria didn't start the Lebanese civil war.  It was started by Lebanese.  Syria watched and made sure no sect triumphed.  It was in Baathist and secular Syria's interest that Lebanon kept its religious mosaics.  I left Lebanon in 1982 and forgot about it, married a foreigner and threw myself in the pursuit of the ordinary life without ever thinking of even visiting Lebanon.  When in 2005 Rafic Hariri was assassinated, I told my husband and children that it was time to visit Lebanon because the country was probably going to enter a new period of unrest.  It was also time for me to face up to my repressed fears and my pain.  Memories came back.  Days and nights were spent with anxiety only at the thought of revisiting the country that I left ravaged by civil war.  To calm my fears, my husband decided to give this visit a context that will make it less stressful by including Cyprus and Syria in our itinerary before arriving to Lebanon.  We were in Cyprus when the London subway was bombed.  Greek Cypriots love Bashar El Assad as much as they hate Turks.  In Syria, despite the tensions on the Syrian Lebanese border, we were welcome.   I felt free, I felt secure.  I loved Damascus and the harmony between the communities.  All these years I was outside Lebanon and unable to think about it, it was there before my eyes.  I know this might seem an insult because many Syrians consider their government as oppressive and themselves as lacking freedom.  But Syria in 2005 reminded very much of Lebanon before the civil war, it was my country lost and found again.  Finally we went to Lebanon, and only because I visited Syria before and saw the possibility of different religions living together I was able to see Lebanon again without fear and negative feelings.  This is my personal connection to Syria.

I have not been posting on Syria on this blog because there is so much disinformation.  The revolution, in the beginning, seemed genuine to me. But also right from the beginning, there was evidence of lies and biases in Arab and western coverage of Syria. The Guardian for instance has been misrepresenting the events from day one, even though they pretended to have a reporter on site in Damascus. They had Katherine Marsh, and now they have Nidaa Hassan. For some reason, Brian Whitaker who has written well on the Middle east and the Arab world, has been openly anti Syrian regime right from the beginning of the events (Whitaker who is in charge of the middle east section at The Gaurdian wrote directly only rarely on Syria since the beginning). The big elephant in this small room of information is Al-Jazeera who has been litteraly lashing out at the Syrian regime and not only presenting unreliable information from eyewitnesses but also manipulating the information.

There is also the gay girl in damascus story and it has come to represent the level of lies and manipulations in the information on the Syrian revolution 2011 to the point that soon enough Syrian auhtorities will be accused of the disappearance of a fictional character. This is kafkaesque!

Serious analyses are lacking.  The left leaning Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar has published some useful articles on Syria but they are not making their way into other news oultets and they are not cited.

Here are two of them that caught my attention:



And there are facts and analyses by journalists, political analysts and political scientists which were never mentioned in the blogs and Syria news aggregators that are read by Syrians anxious to find a way out to the turmoil in their country:



The weak foundations of Arab democracies: the author puts the blame on Islam and its inability to foster a vital civil society, a necessary condition for democracy, the real one, not the one that is being crafted by the neoliberal cons for Syria and the Arab world.

Understanding Syria's unrests: the author mentions, as early as April 11th, the danger of armed gangs

A third way on Syria is possible, but nobody is listening...





Nir Rosen: Prospects for the sectarian terrain in the middle east, part 1, part 2.


The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood by Gary Gambill (an article from 2006 but of some interest to what is happening today in Syria).
The Syrian Baath by Eric Rouleau (1967, English). Sometimes, it is useful to have a look back.

The confrontation in Syria has also changed rapidly. The so called Syrian revolution 2011 has mutated into an armed insurgency against the regime. They have strong elements from the neighbouring Muslim Brotherhood and from external powers including Israel who have stakes in fomenting a civil war in Syria. External powers, especially Israel, have no interest in the emergence of a vibrant Syrian economy and Syrian society, I wonder how those Syrians who are monitoring the Syrian revolution 2011 from Washington DC, Maryland, or Sweden cannot see this, but they are blinded by their hate for Assad. There is no opposition in Syria today if one means by opposition a unified assembly of people having common goals for the country, there is only chaos powered by hate for the Assads and organised by ennemies of Syria in which a minority of Syrians are participating taking hostage some 70% of the population in Damascus and Aleppo. This is not to say that there isn't a need for genuine reforms in Syria and a transition to social justice and freedom (you will never hear the word democracy in my posts because the term, as it is promoted by Neo Liberal Cons and western powers as an excuse to invade Arab countries is now in disrepute), this is to say that the Syrian revolution 2011 is the perfect example of organised chaos, far from being a platform for reforms, social justice and individual freedoms.

One has to feel responsibility for the country and the people when trying to change the order of things. I am not seeing this in any known representative of the Syrian revolution 2011 and the people they are sending to protest are poor and desperate people. So far, this revolution is represented in the outside by people funded by external powers who are not friends of Syria and inside by disenfranchised people. There are no women, no families, no students, no businessmen, no professionals, no intellectuals in these protests. Meanwhile the traditional opposition sits silent and departs from its silence only to mention that it is up to the Shabab (youth) on the streets to assume the revolution. Only Bassam El Kadi, who is younger than your average traditional Syrian opposition figure, has been vocal and I like what he writes.  It makes me sad,  these old revolutionaries would like to think that there is a real revolutionary spirit on the streets.   There is.  But sadly, there is also a foreign funded armed insurgency which nobody knows for sure how it will end.

Today is the 'Day Of The Clans' of the Syrian opposition who is hoping to rally the clans of Syria. Just the title makes me suspicious of this opposition. If  clanism is going to be part of the new Syria then you can say goodbye to reforms with this opposition (not to mention democracy of course, even their democracy and not mine). They are only going to topple Assad by replacing him with another dictatorship, fragilise the country's ethnic mosaics, its economy,  put an end to the last secular regime in the Arab world, and open the door to a more docile Syria.  That's the price of freedom, if only they would get their freedom, and if only it will end there but it won't.  By ending secular governments in favour of sectarian and theocratic governments, the conditions are set for more tensions in the region.  I hope Syrians will find a way out of this mess and wish them well.

A road map to a peaceful solution in Syria.

2.6.11

Making peace with the Talibans

Britain and the United States are pressing for United Nations sanctions against 18 former senior Taliban figures to be lifted later this month in the strongest indication yet that the western powers are looking for a negotiated peace with the Taliban.

Candidates include the controversial former head of the regime's religious police, Mohammed Qalamuddin, whose officers were responsible for some of the worst atrocities under the Taliban regime.

The US and UK have strained economies and they cannot wage wars in different parts of the world. This was an expected measure after the killing of Osama Bin Laden because they could not just walk out from Afghanistan without killing Bin laden.

But what will happen with the sunni militants if the US and NATO will leave Afghanistan? They will probably be unleashed in the coming sectarian civil wars between Sunnis and Shias that the US and its two regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, have been cooking for a while now in the ME.

Israel leaving dangerous munitions near Palestinian homes

The Israeli army has been accused of leaving dangerous munitions near Palestinian homes after two boys were seriously burnt when they picked up a mysterious silver canister which exuded toxic white fumes.

A second canister, discovered nearby less than a week later, was destroyed by the army in a controlled explosion.

The army does not deny leaving the devices, but would not identify them and suggested they were left over after training exercises. But the area where they were found does not feature on an army map of designated training areas and the canisters appeared new and unweathered.

Israeli crimes go unnoticed and when noticed and published they go unpunished. We won't hear a statement from secretary Clinton about that. The UN won't convene and we wont hear a condemnation from them. The US, Israel and the UN are busy promoting democracy in the ME except in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Jordan and few others. So why should we complain?
 
Since March 29th 2006