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Video & Transcript: Women's Rights in Syria and a History of Western interventions in the region

Susan Dirgham of AMRIS talks with Middle East and propaganda scholar, Jeremy Salt, about the history of western interventions in the Middle East and in Syria. She asks why the mainstream press don't tell westerners how Syria is secular and has good women's rights; women got the vote there in 1947. This article is summary plus transcript from the video of Part One of Politics and war in Syria: Susan Dirgham interviews Jeremy Salt. Susan Dirham is convener of Australians for Reconciliation in Syria (AMRIS) and Jeremy Salt is a scholar of Media propaganda and the Middle East

Jeremy Salt begins by talking about 19th century history of interventions in the Middle East, then about intervention in Iraq in 1990s. The UN ran this nominally, but really England and United States did. Two UN humanitarians objected to the inhumanity of economic sanctions against Iraq, possibly even mentioned ‘genocide’: they were Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck. [1] To Susan’s question, Dr Salt agrees that UN personnel no longer speak out. On the subject of the 2003 ‘weapons of mass destruction’: The use of no-fly zones to conduct aerial bombardments. [2] Libya. No-fly zone fig leaf. Syria: they wanted to get a UN resolution for a no-fly zone, but Russia and China blocked this with the UN. Next best thing [sic] was to pull down the government of Damascus by using armed gangs – mercenaries. From 2011 until now and still [the west]have not reached their main objective, which is the destruction of the government in Damascus, but they have destroyed a large part of Syria. This is similar to the Sandinista template of mercenaries used in Nicaragua.

SUSAN DIRGHAM: Why do these people choose to fight for/align themselves with western governments when they can see as clearly as you and I can see that these western governments are out to destroy Arab societies?

JEREMY SALT: [Ed: Not exact quotes always; some paraphrase] But we don’t know who these people are. Initially some of them were Syrians, but a lot were from Iraq. Because, in many ways, the war in Syria is the Iraq war exported. The Saudis and other Gulf states have pumped money into Sunni Muslim groups in Western Iraq to destabilise the government in Bagdad, which they didn’t like.

The whole protest movement in Syria was wildly exaggerated [by external war-mongering forces] who were waiting to seize just such an opportunity to make their move against Syria. We’ve seen this happen in Latin America, the Middle East over many, many decades. It happened in Chili, Iran, Ukraine. When the people begin to protest, you come in from behind and you turn those protests to your advantage.

So, for the question of why local people would support western-aligned interventions, the level of true support is unknown. This is not a civil war. This is a campaign against Syria orchestrated by outside governments, who want to destroy Syria and are using a protest movement. Infiltrating it.

You might remember the first week of that protest movement in Dada, in Southern Syria. We are told that the Syrian military started firing into peaceful protesters.

What the media didn’t report was the number of civilians and police who were killed by armed men in that week. And we were told by the same media that there were snipers on rooftops firing into peaceful demonstrators. They said, ‘government snipers’. Almost certainly, they were not. They were provocateurs, stirring as much trouble up as they could. Since those days, we know full well, that the number of foreigners coming to Syria has turned into a flood.

SUSAN DIRGHAM: Jeremy, the thing you mention about snipers; I was in Damascus in April 2011, just one month after the start of the crisis, and I met a young man who had been to an anti-government rally just that morning and he said that two people were killed at the rally and others were shot. There were police at the rally with arms, but they did not draw their weapons. So it was just a mystery, who killed these people and Syrians know this.

Taksim Square Massacre template

JEREMY SALT: Once again, this is part of a template. This happens in many situations like this. Where you send your undercover agents into a situation. They open fire from a rooftop or from round a corner. No-one really knows who does it, but that’s the opportunity that the enemy wants, and its media wants, to portray the government as being brutal and oppressive – to killing its own people.

So, what we are seeing in Syria is just another repeat of what we have seen in many, many other countries. We had this in Istanbul, in the Taksim Square Massacre. There was a Mayday march and people started firing into the crowd. They were obviously agent-provocateurs. Turning the whole demonstration – disrupting it – turning it into a panic-stricken kind of riot. 'Cause people didn’t know what was going on.

SUSAN DIRGHAM: One thing that people don’t know is that there was the CIA-orchestrated coup in Syria in 1949. The first CIA coup ever. The CIA had just been recently set up. This was in Syria. So Syrian people know their history, know their enemies –

JEREMY SALT: The whole thing is people in the Arab world generally have a very strong grasp of history and, you know, the people who suffer, who are the victims, remember the history. The people who do bad things to them; they want to move on, want to forget it.

So, of course there is a [?known] history. And it’s not just 1949; This goes back to the end of the first world war.

Syria has been ‘under siege’, effectively, all that time, up unto the present day. So, 1949, yes, that coup, Husni al-Zaim was put there by the CIA, and then he’s followed by a second man, Sami al-Hinnawi, then Adib Shishakli. And Shishakli, whether he was actually put-up to it by the Americans, is not clear. He probably wasn’t, but what he did, the Americans liked. Because, one thing that he didn’t like was a proposal to unite the fertile crescent. To bring Syria and Iraq together.

Iraq was under the domination of the British, so, if that had happened, it would have held a wonderful advantage for Britain – and the Americans didn’t want that. Because, beneath all of these things that we are talking about, all through the 20th century, up to the present day, there were these subterranean tensions between these outside powers.

Britain and France were wartime allies in 1914. Once the war was over, they were rivals.

And the British did what they could to limit French gains. And why did the French leave Syria in 1946? Because the British put pressure on them. Made them leave, because France was, relatively speaking, in a weak position. Britain was weak, but not as weak.

And we see, in the 1950s, Britain and the United States, this same sort of subterranean tension playing up because Britain’s fading as an imperial power, America’s moving into the region and doesn’t want the British to regain lost ground. So this is all part of the picture.

Secular society and women’s rights in Syria: if people knew the truth…

SUSAN DIRGHAM: Another bit of history going back to those times, is that women were given the vote in Syria in 1949. And what disturbs me greatly is we [Australians/westerners] don’t really know what Syrian society is like. It’s hidden behind that ‘brutal dictator’. So our media is presenting a ‘brutal dictator’ versus ‘rebels’ and, behind that ‘brutal dictator’, you’ve got the army - a secular army - and you’ve got a secular society, and you’ve got women, who have extraordinary freedoms. Do you think, if we knew …?

Western governments and media do not want us to know the truth

JEREMY SALT: Yes, of course, if we knew; if people went there. I mean Syria had a quite reasonable tourist industry before this war broke out. We all know that Syria’s a fantastic country. A wonderful place, right. So, a number of people who go there would see that for themselves, but what the others have to rely on is what the media tell them. And the media doesn’t tell them the things that you’re saying. And the media wasn’t saying these things about many, many other countries.

The media will pick up a story, a narrative, which fits in with what they and the government wants. As it did over Iraq, as it has done with many other situations. So Syria becomes a target to be destroyed, therefore it’s not in the interests of the government or much of the media to talk about positive things about Syria. Not to talk about a secular society, freedom for women, and all the rest – because people would say then, ‘Well, why are we taking Syria? Why are we going for Syria?

And so the narrative over Syria has been shocking from the beginning. There has been no balanced reporting whatsoever about Syria. I mean, one or two reporters file reasonable reports from time to time, but 95, 97% of the coverage has not conformed in any way to the standards of proper journalism. It’s been completely biased. You haven’t seen the other side.

If you are a journalist the primary responsibility is what they call ‘balance’. You’re never going to achieve perfect balance, but in a situation like this, even if you want to report what the rebels are saying and doing - even if you and I don’t think they really are rebels – let them have their say. Let people think about it. But you have to report what the others are saying. You have to go to the Syrian government.

You’ve got to go to the victims of the rebels. They are very good – the media – for the last five years has talked about the ‘victims of the Syrian army’ – as they say it – but they haven’t paid any attention at all to the victims of these armed groups. And if they did, then naturally, people would get a very different idea.

If they [journalists] talked to the government and were able to see what happens in families who’ve lost young men. I mean, how many young men have died in Syria fighting these [‘rebel’] groups? Sixty thousand? Something like that. Plus all the others – tens of thousands – wounded.

If that were shown, the whole narrative would be disrupted. But it can’t be shown. It can’t be shown. You cannot really show the victims of war. This is common in all wars. They don’t like to show the gruesome detail.

We saw the other day how Obama was wiping away tears for children who had been shot dead in America. Well, this is the same Obama who has been ordering missile strikes in Yemen that have killed children.

Now if you show the victims of those missile strikes in Yemen – actually show the bodies – well then, the American public would do a double-take: ‘What on earth are we doing? Dead children! We’re killing children in Yemen.’

No, you don’t see those photographs. And the same in Syria. You don’t see the gory detail of what the armed groups are doing. It will be played down. But when the government does something, or the military does something, it’s magnified to the ultimate degree.

So there can’t be any trust in the mainstream media now, there cannot be. After the absolute pinnacle of propaganda about Iraq; Syria is even worse.


[1] Denis Halliday - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"Denis J. Halliday (born c.1941) was the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq from 1 September 1997 until 1998. He is Irish and holds an M.A. in ..."

Economic Sanctions "Hit Wrong Target," Says Former U.N. ...
" “Economic Sanctions “Hit Wrong Target,” Says Former U.N. Humanitarian ... Iraq,” warned former United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator Hans von Sponeck, .... Commonwealth Club of California held at the swank Westin St. Francis Hotel in .."

[2] Use of ‘No Fly Zones’: The way this works is to accuse a government of bombing its own citizens then for external powers to declare a ‘no fly zone’, which is somehow interpreted to mean that those powers can enter the zone and bomb government planes which may actually be trying to defend themselves against armed takeovers that imperil citizens. So this stops a country from defending itself militarily and enables outside powers to take over, beginning with the airspace.

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February 15, 21:59 UTC+3
Syrian authorities did not allow international observers to the site of the
tragedy at the moment, the ambassador says

MOSCOW, February 15./TASS/. A
hospital backed by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Syrian Idlib province was
destroyed in US airstrikes, not by Russian warplanes, Syrian Ambassador to
Russia Riyad Haddad told Rossiya 24 television on Monday.

"The Russian Aerospace Forces
have nothing to do with this," he said citing intelligence data.

He said the Syrian authorities
did not allow international observers to the site of the tragedy at the moment.
"The observer speaking about it will most likely lie," the diplomat said,
marking that the Syrian government had already faced such problems in the

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)
reported that at least seven personnel and patients were killed and eight MSF
staffers were missing from the strikes when the hospital in Maarat al-Numan was
destroyed on Monday. The organization supposed the hospital could have been
destroyed either by Russian warplanes or by Syrian government troops.

Russia’s Aerospace
Force launched pinpoint strikes against the Islamic State and Jabhat
al-Nusra targets in Syria on September 30 after the Federation Council upper
parliament house unanimously approved President Vladimir Putin’s request for the
use of the armed forces against terrorists in Syria.

Air strikes are delivered at
military hardware, communications centers, transport vehicles, munitions depots
and other terrorist infrastructure facilities. The military operation is
conducted at the request of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Kremlin dismisses
claims Russian planes destroyed hospital in Syria as

February 16, 13:31 UTC+3
The Kremlin spokesman recalled that Syria’s ambassador to
Russia, Riyadh Haddad, said on Tuesday the hospital in Idlib province was
destroyed by the Americans, and not the Russian air group

MOSCOW, February 15. /TASS/. The Kremlin has dismissed as unacceptable the
allegations the Russian air group in Syria has destroyed a hospital in

"We are strongly against such claims, the more so, since each time those who
come up with such charges prove unable to somehow confirm their groundless
accusations," Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said.

Asked for a comment regarding reports a hospital in Syria’s Idlib province
had been bombed, as well as claims the Russian air group was responsible, Peskov
invited everybody to rely "on the root source first and foremost." "In this
particular case the representatives of Syrian authorities are the root source,"
he said.

Peskov recalled that Syria’s ambassador to Russia, Riyadh Haddad, said on
Tuesday the hospital in Idlib province was destroyed by the Americans, and not
the Russian air group.

Russia may start
publishing data on US-led anti-IS coalition actions in Syria

Russian Defense Ministry
says fleeing Syria militants are disguised as Aleppo civilians

He added that "the representatives of the Syrian authorities earlier in the
day made a number of statements on that score to declare their opinion as to who
may have been behind the bombings." Peskov refrained from further

Earlier, the international organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors
without Borders) claimed that at least seven people died and eight of its staff
members went missing at a hospital near the city of Maarrat el-Nu’man, Idlib
Province. The organization speculated that either Russian planes or Syrian
government troops might have been responsible for the attack on the

Russia's military
operation in Syria

Russia’s Aerospace Force started delivering strikes in Syria at facilities of
the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist groups (both banned in Russia)
on September 30, 2015. The air group initially comprised over 50 aircraft and
helicopters, including Sukhoi Su-24M, Su-25SM and state-of-the-art Su-34
aircraft. They were redeployed to the Khmeimim airbase in the province of
Latakia. On October 7, Moscow also involved the Russian Navy in the military
operation. Four missile ships of the Caspian Flotilla fired 26 Kalibr cruise
missiles (NATO codename Sizzler) at militants’ facilities in Syria.

Since 2014, the US-led coalition
has also been delivering air strikes against militants in Syria and Iraq.

In mid-November, after an alleged terrorist attack on Russian passenger jet
that fell in Egypt killing 224 people on board, Moscow increased the number of
aircraft taking part in the operation in Syria by several dozen and involved
strategic bombers in the strikes as well. Targets of the Russian aircraft
include terrorists’ gasoline tankers and oil refineries. Russia’s aircraft have
made thousands of sorties since the start of the operation in Syria, with over a
hundred of them performed by long-range aircraft.

On November 24, a Turkish F-16 fighter brought down a Russian Sukhoi Su-24M
bomber involved in Moscow’s military operation against the Islamic State (a
terrorist group outlawed in Russia).  Ankara claimed the warplane violated
the Turkey’s airspace. The Russian Defense Ministry said the warplane was flying
over Syrian territory without violating Turkey’s airspace. The Russian president
referred to the attack as a “stab in Russia’s back” and promised that the move
would cause response action from Russia. Moscow deployed new S-400 air defense
systems in Syria in order to protect the warplanes involved in the military
operation and started arming the fighters intended to provide air support to
bombers and attack aircraft in Syria with air-to-air missiles.


I wonder how many of you watched Q&A on the 22nd of February...!

Such sloppy propaganda to keep us sleepwalking to war. How can they bring themselves to do it on the ABC?

I guessed right that Kilcullen would be on it, but I didn’t guess the other participants, with the obligatory Russia and Assad bashing, including an Israeli journalist who suggested that Syrians shouldn’t come to Australia but should stay at home and fight to improve their country, as well as going on about Assad using CW against his own people.

Plibersek reckoned that Russia was trying to wipe out the ‘middle ground – between Assad and ISIS’ so that the West would be forced to choose between the two. What’s the point of writing long letters to someone with such a stupid and deluded idea about what Russia is doing, or what ‘Assad’ is doing?

As for Kilcullen, the only thing Michael Safi has to say about him was a short video with him warning of the inevitable terrorist attack on Australia. Did anyone say: “what, like the ones in Damascus and Homs yesterday, or not so bad?” Why not?

Getting mightily sick of this constant stream of malicious propaganda, and the twisted ‘ideology’ it is supporting.

Yes I began watching the program, but turned it off after the second question as the program degenerated into another Syrian bashing affair. The only person making any sense was Rahain Ismail (I think I've got that right) who knew more than all of the pannelists plus Tony Jones put together.

I find most of the programming on the ABC these days to be both shallow and trite. It has been commercialised and dumbed down to the extent they are now running infomercials as news. They are a mouthpiece for government propaganda and the news and current affairs are neither factual or balanced. I do agree with your sentiments as I get more and more of news, current affairs and other entertainment from the internet.

There used to be peace marches on Palm Sunday, but now, instead, the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) is organising rallies in several states to call for an end to mandatory detention and closure of offshore detention centres and also an increase in the refugee intake.

It's as if the anti-war movement that once had so many followers, has lost them to the refugee action movement and begun going round in endless circles ever since. Because Australian refugee activists are completely disconnected from our involvement in the illegal wars that produce the refugees and asylum seekers that come here. Terribly convenient for our government and neocons, who want to make war to pillage the places that refugees come from.

In 2003 a huge amount of people in Australia and all over the world massed against involvement in Iraq. That's about the last time there was any national opposition in Australia to war.

What happened? I think what happened was that the mainstream press has given the refugee movements lots of coverage and therefore encouragement and has given none to the traditional anti-war movement. And I think this is a calculated policy that extends from Australia to the EU and Britain. Wave a flag for open borders and the neocon press will publish photos of your group; wave a flag against our cruel wars and no-one will know it happened.

So the former is on the rise, with churches and hobbyists jumping innocently on the bandwagon and the latter has almost completely declined.

The masses now don't even realise the recent history of western involvement in the Middle East, which has been based on lies with consequences bigger than the holocaust: Bin Laden with Al Qaeda (Afghanistan); weapons of mass destruction (Iraq); incubator babies (Iraq); Murderous dictator (Libya). And now, the 'brutal dictator' in Syria.

So, how about going out on Palm Sunday on Sunday 20th March 2016 with a sign saying, Stop making war and refugees in the Middle East!