Refutation of Mother Agnes Mariam’s narrative on #Syria
As submitted to The Tablet, published 21 June 2014
“Abigail Frymann tries hard to present both sides of the narrative in her feature interview (“The rebels want my head”, 7 June) with Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross. Sadly, in so doing she falls hook, line and sinker for the controversial nun’s take on matters inside Syria. The view that ‘the majority of anti-Assad fighters in Syria are foreign’ is presented as ‘widely accepted’, yet all reputable media outlets like The Financial Times and the BBC regularly report that whilst there are indeed now many foreign fighters inside Syria, they began in small numbers and only started expanding a year after the uprising began. Even now they account for less than 25% of the total opposition. Assad himself has of course brought in far greater numbers of foreign fighters – from the Lebanese Shia group Hizbullah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard – to defend his own regime, but no mention is made of that.
Certainly matters ‘are not black and white’. But the ‘more complicated reality’ to which Mother Agnes refers is that Assad, under the guise of a general amnesty in early 2012, released al-Qaeda affiliated prisoners from his jails, knowing full well they would regroup and pursue their extremist ideology. Again, no mention is made of that. Now, two years later, the proof is before us, as ISIS, untargeted by regime airstrikes, was allowed to consolidate itself in Ar-Raqqa, from where it has swept into Iraq and taken large swathes of territory. Assad and ISIS should be mortal enemies ideologically – why is it that they have yet to fight each other?
The ‘reconciliation’ initative of which Mother Agnes is part, so loudly trumpeted by the Assad regime that well-meaning people like Mairead Maguire are fooled into nominating Mother Agnes for the Nobel Peace Prize, is a naked attempt to deceive the world that Assad is keen to forgive and forget. Had ‘reconciliation’ been his message at the outset in March 2011 instead of savage crushing of peaceful demonstrations, ISIS extremists could never have thrived on Syrian soil. As to her assertions on the chemical weapons attack, Human Rights Watch has systematically dismissed the basis for her arguments.
Only when Assad, no doubt amply aided by Hizbullah and Iran, finally orders his forces to drop barrel bombs on ISIS headquarters, instead of on moderate rebel headquarters in Aleppo and Dera’a, will his narrative that he is fighting ‘extremism and terrorism’ become true. Maybe then we can nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Author of My House in Damascus, An Inside View of the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Ashdown says Interesting. Virtually all these refutations are in turn refutable. Human Rights Watch is probably the most unreliable source, whose director Kenneth Roth tweeted a few days ago his support for ISIS, and some of whose Directors have dubious connections with US interests. Nor is the BBC an entirely innocent ‘reliable’ source of information. I’m sitting with an independent journalist who returned yesterday from Syria and who refutes these accusations having spent the last 2 months documenting the realities and listening to Syrians on the ground.
Sounds like Kenneth Roth has been a victim of ISIS’s very clever app where they take over your twitter account and send out tweets on your behalf. I agree the BBC is not always totally reliable – no media outlet ever is, but the BBC and the FT are better than most. Depends who the ‘independent journalist’ was talking to and in what part of the country. People tell journalists all sorts of things. Two months may seem a long time, but it’s not enough to build up proper trust. My sources are people I’ve built up relationships with over many years and who pre-date the revolution. I trust them far more than the short-term sources of a visiting journalist.
The statistic of 25% foreigners involved is way off the mark. At least 50% – emphasis on AT LEAST. I know many Syrians, and what they tell me, is that the vast majority support the government (Assad). I find it difficult to believe your narrative. I can only imagine that your contacts in Syria are very limited.
We obviously disagree as the Syrians we know are from different groups. My contacts in Syria range across many levels of society and I have known the country since the 1970s. Those with fingers in Assad’s pie support him, as do those who are profiting from the war, the scum who have risen to the top in these lawless times. Decent, honest people who live under the Assad regime have no option but to voice support for him, as to voice opposition is to be “disappeared” into his prisons. ISIS of course is an even worse alternative, but the choice for the Syrian people should not just be between these two unpalatable extremes.