John Rees Continues to Massage The Stop the War Coalition Self-Destruct Button

John Rees is in danger of dragging Stop the War Coalition’s reputation further into disrepute. It is a troubling time for the anti-war organisation, and rather than dousing the flames, Rees is adding further fuel to the fire.

Initially, I had no intention of doing another piece criticising Stop the War Coalition. It is not my aim to smear them or to further embroil Jeremy Corbyn into what is rapidly becoming an incredibly bad public relations chapter for the organisation. For what it is worth, I am a fan of Corbyn, and voted for him in the Labour leadership election, despite having concerns about his views on certain foreign policy issues.

Until a few weeks ago, Rees and I were connected on Facebook and regularly debated, discussed, and disagreed on posts made online. We did not see eye to eye and it was for that reason, rather than continuing the endless back-and-forth, that ties were severed. I thought this would be in the interest of both parties as his posts wouldn’t infuriate me, and my comments wouldn’t be seen as trolling him.

However, following the Don’t Bomb Syria march that was held in London on the 12th December, Rees has made public some truly outrageous claims and remarks, and I cannot allow his statements to go unchallenged. The disingenuous comments made by certain StWC members are bringing the organisation into further disrepute and alienating the very people (Syrians and the wider Muslim community) who should be the most active in the anti-war movement.

Continue reading “John Rees Continues to Massage The Stop the War Coalition Self-Destruct Button”

Tariq Ali’s Don’t Bomb Syria Speech: Confused, Misinformed, or Simply Untrue?

On Saturday 28th November, thousands of protesters gathered in Whitehall to oppose the UK government’s plans to bomb ISIS in Syria.

Stop the War Coalition led proceedings, and though I was not there in person, I have been able to watch numerous videos of the days events.

One video which stands out from the crowd is that showing Tariq Ali’s speech – or at least 15-minutes of it – at the end of the demonstration.

Continue reading “Tariq Ali’s Don’t Bomb Syria Speech: Confused, Misinformed, or Simply Untrue?”

AKs and Lollipops: Inside the Syrian Conflict

In the winter of 2013 I had the privilege of travelling into Syria to see the country for myself. I saw the situation on the ground, was able to speak with rebel fighters and refugees, and I tried to help in any way I could. After 10 months of writing and editing, my experiences and my thoughts on the conflict have been published into my first book.

AKs and Lollipops has grown from the notes that I kept during my brief time inside war-torn Syria. There are personal stories from the people I met, first hand accounts of the war and its effects, and photos from the regions that I visited. Unlike media portrayals of the war, I had no objective or agenda to push. What I wrote was honest and uncut.

I shant deny that AKs and Lollipops is a subjective account. I know the first rule of journalism is that you are meant to be fair and objective, but so much of Syria’s war is anything but. On the cover you will find the Green, White and Black of the flag that anti-Assad forces have adopted, and I have no shame in saying that these are the people that have my support.

Whilst I was in Syria it was the soldiers of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that treated me like one of their own. I slept in their homes, shared their food, and travelled with them around the country. Anyone that has been travelling can attest to the incredible generosity that strangers often provide, and even in the bleakest of climates, the people of Syria were no different.

Wherever I went, from soldiers’ homes to refugees tents, I was greeted with smiles and offers of food, tea or cigarettes. What little these people had they were more than willing to share. This is testament to the character of the Syrian people, that even at a time such as this, where the world seems to have forgotten about them, they have not forgotten about the world.

For the average UK citizen, attempting to imagine what life has become for Syrian people is impossible. Even when I was able to walk in their shoes, albeit briefly, it was still not enough for me to come to terms with the tragedy that has been unfolding these last four years. A country which was once the jewel of the Middle East, boasting exquisite architecture, culture, and history, is now nothing more than a graveyard of ambition, hope, and people.

Nobody knows when the conflict is likely to end, but it is widely believed that it will get worse before it gets better. As the stalemate deepens, every inch that is able to be prised away from the opposition will come at a heavier price. It is 21st century trench warfare with neither side able to deliver the knockout blow. It may be because of this stagnation that the barbarity of this conflict only seems to increase with each passing month. Amidst it all, caught in the never-ending crossfire, are those struggling to continue to live.

Like the international action, aid to the Syrian people has been woefully inadequate. Hundreds of billions of pounds of investment will be needed to bring the country back to its former glory, and still Syria continues to regress day after day. The average life expectancy has dropped by two decades, diseases that were eradicated from the country have returned, and a whole generation of children have been deprived of the education they deserve.

It is often said that Syria represents the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, and it is plain to see why. For 70 years the world has not seen destruction and suffering on such a level, and yet little seems to be happening to try and stop it. Those in need of humanitarian aid in Syria now number more than the total combined population of Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

It is my hope that AKs and Lollipops goes some way to highlighting the plight of Syria’s people. Refreshing our collective memory that there exists a world away from the headlines and news reports where real people are forced to exist in such a hellish climate.

It is only due to the lottery of life, the privilege of birth, that you and I are sat here and not elsewhere in the world. I no more deserve the position I have found myself in than the children in Syria deserve theirs. I wake each morning to the sound of an alarm on a mobile phone, they struggle to sleep peacefully every evening as rockets, shells and gunfire punctuate the night. After night, after night.

All of the money that I make from book sales will be donated to charities dealing with the Syrian crisis. AKs and Lollipops is available in paperback or kindle formats and can be found here on the amazon store.

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Hezbollah, Assad and Syria’s Uncertain Future

The recent decision from The White House to remove Hezbollah from the terror list, coupled with statements from John Kerry regarding possible future negotiations with Bashar al-Assad, should worry and enrage us all.

In the world of geopolitics everything is connected, and nothing occurs in a vacuum. Israel’s recent presidential election, and US negotiations with Iran over nuclear energy, show that actions taken in the Middle East can have far-reaching impacts. In our globalised world even a phone call taken privately in one country can be heard on the other side of the globe.

With this complex web of connected activity ever shifting and changing, and with the US intent on being at the centre of everything, it is their actions which we should take most notice of. Though recent developments with Cuba are cause for optimism, their actions on the topics of Venezuela, and in the case of this article, Hezbollah and Syria are cause for concern.

At face value it seems these issues are not connected and they are separate policies with no relation to one another, but for those of us that have a better understanding of the events in Syria, the dots begin to connect themselves.

On the 15th of March, as the Syrian conflict entered its fifth year, John Kerry gave an interview expressing the thoughts of the US and the Obama administration. Kerry spoke frankly, declaring that the US hopes to “re-ignite a diplomatic outcome”. He continued by saying that “everybody agrees there is no military solution; there’s only a political solution.”

When asked whether the US would be willing to negotiate with Assad, Kerry responded by saying: “well, we have to negotiate in the end.”

Assad, for those that have been hiding under a rock for the last five years, is the man responsible for the ongoing war in Syria. A war that has caused the deaths of roughly 250,000 people, has seen almost four million refugees flee the country whilst seven million more are displaced internally, and has been the reason why 1.5 million civilians have been seriously wounded.

It is a war whereby Assad and his regime have been guilty of indiscriminate targeting of civilians through their use of barrel bombs, torture, and the multiple uses of chemical weapons. All of which are human rights violations and constitute war crimes. The most recent example of Assad’s fondness for brutality came just a few days ago when chlorine gas was used in the town of Sarmin killing six people and injuring many more.

Regardless of these facts it seems that the US is softening in its approach to Assad, with Kerry’s recent declarations proving to be more in line with diplomacy and appeasement, than the non-negotiable opposition that tyrants deserve and indeed require.

Just days after Kerry’s statements on the possibility of future negotiations with the Assad regime in Syria, a report was published by the Senate Armed Services Committeewhich failed to include either Hezbollah or Iran under its “terrorism” section, something the report had done in previous years.

Iran is one of Assad’s major supporters, and Hezbollah soldiers are frequently active in fighting inside Syria itself. As recently as February The Guardian reported that “Hezbollah, backed by fighters from Iran and the Assad regime, took control of the hills of al-Sarja and al-Arous in the south-western countryside of Damascus.”

Hezbollah are a political and militant movement who are based in Lebanon, though as their excursions into Syria show, they are not opposed to getting involved in conflicts in other nations. Ever since its formation in 1982, the organisation has had close ties to both Syria and Iran, and represent a long-time enemy of Israel who they fight on a regular basis. As well as participating in conflicts across the Middle East they are also responsible for a number of terrorist attacks against Western and Israeli targets.

With Iran and Hezbollah being removed from the terror list, and with Obama administration personnel expressing the view that an end to the fighting in Syria can only be achieved through negotiations with Assad, those opposed to the regime may well feel betrayed.

They have every right to be. As if the world’s silence and inaction were not enough, now it seems their demands for a free Syria, without Assad, are being ignored as well.

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This article was originally published here, at Cultured Vultures on 25/3/15