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Correspondence with Q&A on Syria and balanced reporting

For the record, the below is a partial record of correspondence between Susan Dirgham, National Coordinator of 'Australians for Reconciliation in Syria', and Q&A, the Australian television program. Like most Australian media outlets, the ABC almost invariably presents Syria in a squewed, ahistoric manner that supports the continued and disastrous interference by the US, NATO and its allies in the region, maintaining war.

Questions to Q&A Panel; Monday 16 May 2016


Since 1949, when the CIA orchestrated its first successful military coup in Syria, the US and the UK, in particular, have worked covertly to undermine successive Syrian governments.  

Today, special forces from the US and other countries, including Australia, are involved in covert military action in Syria, and, in order to destroy Syria, they ally with radical Islamist groups. 

A distinguished MIT physics professor (Dr Ted Postol) and a former UN Weapons Inspector (Richard Lloyd) produced a report which shattered the myth that the 'Assad regime' used chemical weapons against the people. Islamist groups working with special forces of one country or another were most likely responsible for the alleged attack in Damascus August 2013. Its purpose was to provoke western military strikes against the Syrian army.  Yet, this report receives no attention in Australia. 

Note: MSF provided credibility to the claims of radical Islamist groups that the Syrian army carried out the attack.  But MSF only supports medical clinics in areas controlled by Islamist militias, including al-Qaeda affiliated groups, so MSF is a member of the unholy alliance. (NB: One co-founder of MSF was to become a French foreign minister)

My questions hopefully encourage a frank discussion about who we are so we can work toward something better. 

How does it help Australia to ignore the voices of millions of 'ordinary' Syrians (Sunni, Shia, Catholic, Orthodox, atheist etc)  who share our truest values, and instead promote the claims of those who support a violent form of radical Islam?

How does it help our security and social harmony to be a member of the unholy alliance that has formed between radical Islamist groups in Syria and US neo-cons and their friends?   Such an alliance could lead to the deaths of millions of innocent people and the destruction of countries.

The basic question is, 

What will become of us as a nation if we hide from the truth and play dirty? 

Kind regards,


National Coordinator of 'Australians for Mussalaha (Reconciliation) in Syria'


On 12 May 2016 at 00:12, Susan Dirgham <> wrote:

RE: Ayaan Hirsi Ali and I go way back/ MSF supports Takfiris, including al-Qaeda in Syria, ignores concerns of general population, but Jean-Christophe Rufin seems to support diplomacy / Syrians don't need Emma Sky to tell them what is good for them

Dear Peter and Ainslee,

 In February, you kindly arranged for me to ask David Kilcullen a question on Skype, but there was a last minute technical hitch at your end which led to Mr Kilcullen not being challenged on Q&A - despite his support for the US military machine and covert action in Iraq and Syria.  

Next Monday I would value the opportunity to be in your audience to challenge three of the panelists, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Emma Sky and Jean-Christophe Rufin.  (Note: you have listed Jean-Christophe Rufin as a 'co-founder' of MSF. I believe he was an 'early member', rather than a 'co-founder'. )  

In the past, I have been publicly critical of Ms Ali's views (see my comments on pages here and here) and in 2007, The AGE published a letter I wrote in response to an article by Julie Szego's praising Ms Ali. (I transcribed that letter in one of the comments I referenced above.) Ten years ago, Hilary McPhee seemed to be the only prominent Australian who dared write critically about Ms Ali. I hope that is not the case this year. 

In regard to MSF, I have been critical of their partisan support for 'rebels' in Syria and the credibility their support gives the claims of Takfiris.  In an article published online (April 2015) I wrote the following about MSF and referred to Dr Bernard Kouchner, who was one of the co-founders: 

There is also reason to question the objectivity and intentions of MFS and Avaaz, two prominent NGOs disseminating the allegations about chlorine or gas attacks. Both NGOs have much closer links with insurgents and their supporters than with Syrian people who support the Syrian army.
For example, in August 2013, MFS worked with doctors in rebel-held Ghouta, Damascus, and it was those doctors through MFS that provided details about hundreds of alleged victims of a sarin attack, allegedly by the Syrian army. MFS presentation of the allegations gave the claims some credence, yet later investigations and reports by highly regarded professionals in the west raise serious doubts about the Syrian army being responsible. 
By working with doctors and medical personnel who operate only in rebel-held territory in Syria, MFS presents a blinkered and partisan view of the war. It should be noted that a co-founder of MFS, Dr Bernard Kouchner, was French Minister for Foreign and European Affairs Minister (2007 – 2010) under President Sarkozy, a president who was to give strong backing for foreign intervention in Syria. (In 2010, Kouchner was listed by The Jerusalem Post as number 15 in their list of the 50 most influential Jewish people in the world.) And interestingly, Dr Kouchner and MFS were involved in controversy in October 2008 when MFS protested comments made by Kouchner in Jerusalem.  Kouchner said at a press conference, “Officially, we have no contact with Hamas, but unofficially, international organization working in the Gaza Strip – in particular, French NGOs – provide us information.”

However, Jean-Christophe Rufin may not back MSF's partisan stand on Syria.  In April 2015, he reportedly said

 In my view, the French parliamentarians who went to discuss with Bashar al-Assad are right.Americans are beginning to realize that we can not do without him now. It is not at all pleasant, it is not reassuring nor moral, but I think they are right. "

 Ms Emma Sky, on the other hand, is more clearly supportive of military action than diplomacy. I note that in a Nov 2015 article in The Guardian she expresses confidence in UK and US interference in Syrian affairs and their choices for the Syrian people.

We need to show the Syrian people that the choices facing them are not simply Isis or Assad. 

I have written on the interference of foreign countries in Syrian affairs in the 20th century.(Ref: Anzacs and war: Considering a Syrian perspective)  Few realise that the CIA orchestrated its first successful military coup in Syria. That was in 1949, and it ushered in years of instability.  In the 1950s, MI6 and the CIA worked on plans to stage border incidents, mobilise guerrillas, and assassinate Syrian leaders etc. (Ref: Washington's Long History in Syria;  and Macmillan backed Syria assassination plot)   

Why would Syrians welcome Emma Sky's advice, or trust countries that have worked hard to undermine different Syrian governments in the past? From an historic point of view and considering their geographic position, Syrians have cause to view UK and US government intentions with suspicion. The US and the UK have been belligerent, disingenuous players in Syria's history. 

I trust you will give me an opportunity to be an audience member to question next week's panel. 

I look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,


National coordinator of 'Australians for (Mussalaha) Reconciliation in Syria'

Mobile: 0406 500 711

On 22 February 2016 at 00:56, Susan Dirgham <> wrote:

Dear Peter,

Thank you very much for getting back to me in regard to my request to be in the Q&A audience to challenge David Kilcullen.  

It is a great pity you cannot welcome me to the ABC studio. I can only hope that others who support the secular Syrian state and reconciliation are permitted to ask Mr Kilcullen a question from the live audience.  The support he provides US covert action in the Middle East would outrage most Australians.  

Thank you for your suggestion that I submit a video question to Q&A for consideration. Today I attempted to put together a question in a Youtube video.  

Except for an image of me at the beginning, the video is made up of a slide show of photographs I took in Syria before the so-called 'Arab Spring'.  I thought it appropriate that the Q&A audience take note of the general public in Syria who do not, on the whole, support the militarised opposition or foreign mercenaries and 'jihadis', the majority of them being Takfiris. 

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to upload into the video the audio recording I made with the question, so I have attached it with this email. ( I did attempt to submit it in the regular way to Q&A, but I had a technical problem with that, too.)  

Here is the Youtube video link: 

The transcript of my question is below.   

Syrian women have the same basic freedoms and equalities as Australian women.  Christmas and Easter are public holidays in Syria just as the Eid festivals are. Education is free in Syria. The Syrian government and army are dominated by Sunni Muslims which reflects the demographic make up of Syria. 

But the United States, Saudi Arabia, Australia and others support insurgents fighting the secular Syrian Army and the US is involved in covert action in Syria. 

What can justify this? 

I would greatly appreciate it if you could 

1. review your decision to not give me the opportunity to ask a question from the audience to David Kilcullen tonight   :) 


2. present the Youtube video I have created together with the audio file.  

I know there are many in Australia as concerned about the war in Syria and our involvement in it as I am  Therefore, I hope we hear some truly challenging questions on Q&A tonight.  Inevitably one day, the war and the reporting of it will be challenged in the mainstream media.  That day seems to have dawned with this February 18th article in the Boston Globe: 

The media are misleading the public on Syria

Again, thank you for your message. I hope I do not strain your patience. 

Kind regards,


National Coordinator of 'Australians for Reconciliation in Syria' 

Mobile: 0406500711 

On 19 February 2016 at 14:43, Peter McEvoy <> wrote:

Hi Susan,


The questions you’ve submitted in your emails are long arguments in favour of your point of view. On Q&A, the audience is invited to ask questions which are concise and relevant. 


Perhaps you would like to submit a video question to next week’s Q&A? Your question should be only 30 seconds long.


You can do so through our website


We consider all the questions considered to Q&A and choose those judge most appropriate. There is no guarantee that any person’s question will be selected.




Peter McEvoy

Executive Producer, Q&A


From: Susan Dirgham [
Sent: Thursday, February 18, 2016 2:50 PM
To: Peter McEvoy
Cc: Tony Jones; Paul Barry; Media Watch; Gay Alcorn; Geraldine Doogue; Late Night Live RN; Lateline; Jamie Cummins; Muditha Dias; Annabelle Quince; Keri Phillips; News Caff; Barbara Heggen; David Rutledge; Claudia Taranto; Andrew West; Kim Landers; Margaret Throsby;; Brendan Trembath; Parke, Melissa (MP); Barney Porter;; Mark Scott
Subject: QandA: Free speech and a chance for an anti-war activist to question David Kilcullen


Dear Peter,


This is the second request I have put to you in regard to being given the opportunity to ask a question on QandA.  As the national coordinator of 'Australians for Reconciliation in Syria', I would be grateful for the opportunity to question David Kilcullen on next week's program.  


Last night, I attended the launch of David Kilcullen's most recent book.  Gay Alcorn interviewed Mr Kilcullen, and after the interview, I asked a couple of questions.  They were fairly straight-forward; however, I prepared them for an article to place on the 'Australians for Reconciliation in Syria' webpage.  Please see below. 


I last wrote to you when QandA was broadcast from Melbourne and I had a question for Neill Mitchell.  Though I am based in Melbourne, I am happy to fly to Sydney for next Monday's program.


I understand I am not a favourite person of some at the ABC.  However, I trust that I (and other anti-war activists) will be provided the same freedom to pose questions on QandA as those who support 'jihadists' in Syria have been.


I look forward to hearing from you.


Kind regards,




National Coordinator of 'Australians for (Mussalaha) Reconciliation in Syria'


Mobile: 0406 500 711








1. Who would you align with if you were Syrian? 


Australian soldiers in Syria in WW1 had sworn allegiance to the King of England. 


After the war, Greater Syria was divided up between France and Britain.  The aspirations of the local people were ignored.  When Syria finally achieved independence, the CIA orchestrated its first successful coup there, which ushered in years of instability.   For the past 100 years, many heroes in Syria have died fighting for Syria’s independence from foreign interference. 


Syria is a secular society that guarantees equality among people of the many different faith groups.  The Muslim Eid festivals as well as Christmas and Easter are national holidays.  Women gained the vote in 1949.  There are no religious police in secular Syria, so women have the same basic freedoms and equalities as men.  Education is free so children can study toward a better future for themselves and their country. Before the war, Syria was a country going places.  


A responsibility of Australian citizens is to defend Australia should the need arise.  Presumably, Syrian citizens have the same responsibility.  


So today, Syrians have two basic choices:  


1.     Like Australians, they can support their army, which is composed of men and women from every faith background, with a majority of soldiers being Sunni Muslims, reflecting the demographic makeup of the country. (The Syrian Minister of Defence is Sunni Muslim, as are most government ministers.)


2.     They can support armed groups fighting the Syrian Army.  Insurgents are backed by some of Syria’s traditional enemies, eg France, Britain, Israel and the US.  At different times these armed groups cooperate.  For example, 20 different armed groups (including the Islamic State and Free Syrian Army groups) were involved in a massacre of villagers in Latakia in August 2013.  Around 200 civilians were killed and just as many were reportedly abducted, mostly women and children.


Question:  If you could take off your cultural blinkers and put yourself in the shoes of a Syrian man or woman, who would you support and why?


2. What do you propose should guide us in the 21st century? 


On 21 August 2013, there was an alleged chemical weapons attack on an area controlled by insurgents in Damascus.  According to the US State Department, nearly 1,500 people were killed, many of them children. The attack almost triggered US-led military strikes against Syria. 


However, various experts have challenged the official US government claim.  They include MIT Professor Ted Postol; former UN weapons inspector Richard Lloyd; investigative journalists Seymour Hersh and Robert Parry; Turkish opposition MPs; and former US intelligence officers and soldiers, including Ann Wright, an anti-war activist.  


According to their research, 

·      anti-government armed groups were more than likely responsible for the attack; 

·      it was a false flag meant to trigger US-led military action against Syria; 

·      the sarin used in the ‘attack’ came via Turkey; 

·      children who were presented as victims were most likely children abducted from villagers in Latakia just a couple of weeks before. 


The fact that the above is not discussed in our media illustrates that there is little room for in-depth investigation, honesty or courage in the public arena when it comes to discussing Syria.  The tragedy of Syria illustrates the conflict between the information masters and the information victims.  


Question: In WW1, Anzacs swore allegiance to the King of England.  100 years later, a queen or king of England couldn’t unite Australians because we come from such diverse backgrounds.  However, honesty, courage and common values of decency could.  Your allegiance appears to be with forces within the US and their project for ‘a New Middle East’.  It’s a project dependent on ‘constructive chaos’; in other words, the bringing of more death, terror and destruction to people in the Middle East.  If love and common human values that have been expressed in all the great religions and philosophies over millennia do not guide and unite us, what do you propose should? 






On 3 February 2016 at 19:39, Susan Dirgham <> wrote:

Dear Mr McEvoy,


I would value the opportunity to ask a question on QandA.  I have been registered on your system for some time. 


I believe I could contribute positively to an in-depth discussion on the war in Syria and how our response to it can challenge the values and freedoms we hold dear. 


For example, on your program next week, I would appreciate the opportunity to ask Neil Mitchell the following:


Former 3AW radio host Derryn Hinch has equated President Assad with Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge killing fields in Cambodia. However, the Khmer Rouge espoused a crude ideology which led so-called revolutionaries to murder millions who didn't go along with that ideology.  President Assad, on the other hand, is the leader of a secular country which in many ways is a Middle East version of Australia. For example, Syrian women have the same basic freedoms as Australian women and Christmas and Easter are national holidays in Syria. Those who are attacking Syrian suburbs and towns with mortars and rockets do have an ideology, however, which is linked to the Wahhabi school of Islam, coming from Saudi Arabia, while the vast majority of Syrian Muslims follow an Islam of compassion and inclusion.  Do you think radio hosts have a responsibility to their listeners to research such critical matters before they write or speak on them, especially when today in Australia our society is so diverse and we can't afford to encourage violent extremism? 



I have recently submitted a formal complaint to the ABC in response to a program on Radio National that uncritically presented a former money-runner for insurgents as a 'hero'.  In the letter, I included criticism of the ABC's unofficial editorial stance on Syria. 


It is a lengthy, well-researched document. Signatories to the complaint letter include recently arrived Syrians.  Please find the letter on the 'Australians for (Mussalaha) Reconciliation' webpage. 



I hope you have a chance to look at the letter. You will better understand the seriousness of my concerns for Australia, not just for Syria.


I look forward to hearing from you. 


Kind regards,


Susan Dirgham


Mobile: 0406 500 711





Despite receiving well deserved criticism on this site some may wish to push for the ABC at a public "meet the candidates" evening in the electorate of Higgins this coming Thursday night, May 26th at the Malvern Town Hall corner Glenferrie Road and High Street Malvern. Friends of the ABC aim to get the ABC on the election agenda and to restore funding to it. 6-8.00pm "Banquet" room Enquiries- - tel. 98857078

I don't think that disapproves of the idea of a publicly funded press; just recognises that government and its sponsors now seem to dictate and narrow reporting and election topics.