Jun 3, 2014, Oriental Review
On June 1, I met with a delegation of North Americans going to observe the Syrian elections on June 3. I hope to be in Damascus shortly, if possible to likewise observe Syria’s historic election. Below is a brief bio of the delegates and my conversation with these anti-war, justice activists.
Joseph Iosbaker, 55, from Chicago, works with the Anti-War Committee, is also on the national administrative committee of United National Antiwar Coalition.
Judith Bello, 63, on national Administrative Committee of United National Antiwar Coalition, is a founding member of the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, has travelled to Iran, Iraq, Pakistan in her justice work, writes on Counter Punch and Counter Currents.
Elias Hazineh, 62, Palestinian-Canadian entrepreneur and activist, has acted as an advocate for new Canadians for many years, assists immigrants and refugees in Canada as an immigration consultant, translator, and formerly, as an advisor to federal Members of Parliament on immigration and refugee issues.
Scott Williams, 25, International Action Centre and also a National Coordinator with the anti-imperialist youth organization based in the US called FIST –Fight Imperialism, Stand Together, was a union organizer of low-wage workers in the USA, has been active in student movements as well as the Occupy Wall St movement.
Dr. Paul Larudee, 68, former Fulbright-Hays lecturer in Lebanon, former faculty member at several universities in the San Francisco Bay Area, an organizer with the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine and co-founder of the movement to break the Israeli siege of Gaza by sea, a co-founder of the Global March to Jerusalem and the Syria Solidarity Movement.
What is the purpose of the delegation, how did it come together?
Paul Larudee: After we came back from Syria in April—the Syria Peace Pilgrimage—we had thoughts about sending observers to the elections. Rick Sterling was very active on this idea, as was Roohulla Rezvi on the Iranian side. Without knowing about our effort, Roohulla arranged for visas for an international delegation. The Syrian government recognized the importance of bringing in observers from the West.
We want to provide a narrative that we are pretty sure the mainstream media won’t be providing. …get facts on the ground, through observation, on what is really happening through this election and how people feel about it…
What is the importance of this election?
Elias Hazineh: We have an obligation after we see what we observe, to get back to our respective societies and inform them. Be an eyewitness and tell them the alternative view that is not being broadcast by mainstream media. In my case, I’ll be going to communities, churches, schools, and speak about my experience.
How is the Canadian media portraying the situation in Syria and also the upcoming election?
Elias Hazineh: The mainstream media in North America has been of one opinion: that it’s a sham, it couldn’t happen under war. And yet they don’t mind an election in Afghanistan happening under war, nor in Ukraine. Unfortunately the public is asleep. You need an alternative to tell them what is happening. Otherwise, the Syrian side of the equation is not heard in North America. In Canada we do have alternative media that have a better voice. The churches have been good, the unions have been good.. but not on a large scale. So hopefully we’ll be able to enhance that, to be helpful to the movement in Canada and also in the United States.
What do you think about the importance of the elections, and why have you joined this delegation?
Scott Williams: Self-determination for oppressed people is absolutely vital. For the people of Syria to determine, very specifically, who they support and how to move forward is crucial. With the elections in Egypt, the US has supported a government which has no popular support, they can’t even get people to vote, they can’t even pay people to vote. Syrians all over the world are dying to vote in this election. We see that as a defiant and courageous act. As much as possible we want to bring this back to the US, to support them and oppose imperialism.
Judith Bello: I think it is very important to show the face of a people who want some sort of social structure. Even people who originally opposed the government in Syria now choose to live in a country with an organized government and an organized society. In all the years that this struggle has been going on, and the United States has been supporting it, the opposition has never organized anything, even though they’ve been given a lot of money and support from outside. They’ve mostly focused on destruction.
After the start of the conflict in Syria, the government had the constitution re-written, they invited opposition parties, brought them into government positions, asked their opinions in terms of re-writing the constitution. So there is a real opening-up of the Syrian society, while a monolithic Western press has denied that there is any real openness to the society, or that the government is responsive to the people. In fact, the government has been very responsive, under the most horrific circumstances.
I think they need to be given a chance for this new level of organization to unfold. Gradually, real change can happen in Syria, and to deny that is to deny them their only real hope of having democracy at this point.
Joe Iosbaker: I think being an observer in these elections is a continuation of our anti-war work. The reason there is a war in Syria is that the United States decide that the Assad government wasn’t compliant enough with US and Israeli interests. And they set out, like gangsters, to take him out. They used the same tools they’ve used all over the world, the so-called “colour revolutions”.
But they were shocked when the people in Syria rallied around their government and beat back the foreign mercenary armies.
This election is happening at a time when the Syrian government enjoys unprecedented popularity.
The people of Syria are being put through hell. As an anti-war activist from the US, this is our obligation, we have to be here to make a statement against what our government is doing.
Paul Larudee: I’m sympathetic with the point of view that the election in Syria is not fully free and fair and open. But it’s probably more free and fair and open than the ones in the US and Canada.
Clearly the Syrian president has a lot more support than the US president or the Canadian Prime Minister.
In order to present this narrative, I think it’s very important to have a presence in Syria, to be able to make this statement.
Many Syrian embassies around the world have closed for the Syrian election, denying Syrians abroad the chance to vote.
Joe Iosbaker: There hasn’t been a Syrian embassy in the US for years. The only we have is the Syrian representative at the United Nations, Bashar al-Jaafari, and they’ve restricted him to a 25 mile circle. He was the only source of information for anyone in the United States about what was going on in Syria.
Paul Larudee: He was effective, traveling around the country speaking about what was going on in Syria.
Judith Bello: The United States did have an embassy and ambassador in Syria, until shortly after the beginning of this conflict. The US Ambassador, Robert Ford, was meeting with the people initiating the violence and openly supporting them. The American ambassador was being subversive. The Syrian representative in the US was speaking publicly, whereas the American ambassador was speaking privately to subversive forces there and helping to organize them. Clearly the US isn’t exercising diplomacy as it is normally defined.
Paul Larudee: The former US Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, his previous overseas post was in Iraq, under John Negroponte, the Ambassador there. So then we wonder why there are something resembling death squads in Syria.
Who are the Syrian American Council?
Paul Larudee: They are a very well-financed minority of Syrians in the West, who are advocating the US and other forces to go in and remove the Assad administration. They are actually advocating bombing and causing more havoc in Syria than there is now, because their only objective is to get rid of the Assad administration.
What is the relation between the Geneva Conventions and the current elections?
Joe Iosbaker: There are a couple of reasons an actual meeting happened in Geneva. When, last summer, Obama wanted to launch a cruise missile attack on Syria, he was prevented from doing that by a few different things. The foreign armies were suffering disastrous defeats on the battle ground, long before Hezbollah got involved in the Bekaa Valley, the foreign armies were losing. The US was already desperate. When Obama attempted to rally his partners in NATO to endorse the attack, he couldn’t even get the lapdogs, couldn’t even get the UK to join.
Judith Bello: With Geneva, they were trying, via the trappings of the United Nations, to legitimize what remains a government that has nothing to do with Syria and is being presented as a technocratic replacement for the government in Syria. That is the trend internationally, to put in place technocratic governments which appear to be democratic but aren’t actually democratically supported, and are plugged into the IMF. This is setting them up to bleed off their resources in the future.
In Geneva, initially they were just trying to negotiate between the “Free Syrian Army” and the “Syrian National Council”. Even that was not successful. So then they brought in some representatives of the Assad government, but they stood by the unreasonable demand that Assad would have to step down. In a sense it was asking the government to have a coup against their central leader, which they of course weren’t going to do. So they made Geneva irrelevant to the situation in Syria.
What are your thoughts on the Western-proposed alternative, Ahmad Jarba?
Judith Bello: He’s lived for years in Saudi Arabia and has close ties with the Sauds. He is not welcome in Syria, nor was his predecessor, Ghassan Hitto, who spent most of his adult life in Texas. He has no base in Syria, except he provides money and weapons to the insurgency. He is a false front, being put forth by the US as a potential leader, the “government in exile”.
**The delegation is now in Syria and will be observing voting stations in various cities, including Homs, Latakia and Damascus.
Other North American delegates include:
-Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, Canadian, author of The Globalization of NATO(Clarity Press) and a forthcoming book The War on Libya and the Re-Colonization of Africa. He has also contributed to several other books ranging from cultural critique to international relations. He is a Sociologist and Research Associate at the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), a contributor at the Strategic Culture Foundation (SCF), Moscow, and a member of the Scientific Committee of Geopolitica, Italy.
-Tony Seed, Canadian, specializes in international relations; Canadian foreign and military policy; media & disinformation, published Dossier on Palestine, October 2002.
-Jim W. Dean, American, Managing Editor, VeteransToday.com, also partnering with New Eastern Outlook, has covered Syria, Iran for years, and now Ukraine extensively.
-Jane Stillwater, American, 71, has been a freelance journalist, travel writer and blogger since 2000, also works part-time as a paralegal.
International delegates include:
-Roohulla Rezvi, Kashmiri activist
-Feroze Mithiborwala, India, Founder General secretary of the India Palestine Solidarity Forum, Founder, Asia to Gaza Convoy, General coordinator, Asian Peoples’ Solidarity for Palestine, Central Committee Member, Global March to Jerusalem
-Jatinbabu Desai, India, Journalist, Columnist, Secretary, Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace & Democracy
-Dilip Kumar -Banerjee, India, Photo Journalist with more than 30 years of field experience.
-Anahita Shireen Mukherji, India, Assistant Editor at The Times of India, has MSc in Development Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. (2012-13).
-Mansor bin Puteh, Malaysia, filmmaker
-Muhammad Abbas Komeili, Pakistan, Chief of Jafaria Alliance Pakistan
-Safdar Abbas, Pakistan, Senior News Reporter in Daily Express News Paper
-Nasir Shirazi, Pakistan, Political Secretary of Majlis Wehdat Muslameen Pakistan
-Khurram Nawaz Khan, Pakistan, Central President of Pakistan Awami Tehreek
-Salim Ghafouri. Iran, Head of International Union of Unified Ummah, Documentary film-maker and producer, Peace activist
-Declan Hayes, Ireland