-By Eva Bartlett, Mar 22, 2015
“It was as though we were supposed to talk about terrorism as ‘Freedom’: Freedom to kill, Freedom to destroy, Freedom to kidnap, to loot…This was viewed by some as signs of ‘Freedom’. Arab and Western media, channels like Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, have played a vital role in confusing issues.” [see my related: “freedom”: Homs resident speaks of the early days of the “crisis”]
The words of Syrian Minister of Information, Omran al-Zoubi, on February 25, 2015, to our delegation of six US anti-war activists and myself, visiting Damascus Feb 24-26. Led by long time advocates for peace and justice, Ramsey Clark & Sara Flounders of the International Action Center, and by former Congresswoman and anti-war activist Cynthia McKinney, our delegation meets with an array of people in the continued effort to hear and transmit the wishes of the people in Syria, for a peaceful resolution to the NATO & co war on Syria. Following are some excerpts and musings from our various meetings and visits, including excerpts from some of my previously-published writings, for a full account of the visit.
Speaking in Arabic, Minister al-Zoubi outlines some of the main points with respect to the situation in Syria:
“What is happening in Syria is not a fight between the government and the people. If it were so, it would have ended very quickly…if the people had wanted. It’s about the people and terrorists. They used the ‘Arab Spring’ to send extremists to Syria. Libya is an example, and Iraq…The terrorist organizations we face have branched off from the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). In Afghanistan, al-Qaeda belonged to the MB, in Egypt, Turkey, Palestine. Erdogan himself is a member. Terrorism can’t be legal in one place and illegal in another. It is always illegal.
Sometimes, I try to understand how this happened. I ask myself, ‘Why would they burn a school, blow up cars in front of a school? Why would they destroy a historic village like Ma’loula, where they speak the language of Christ? Why would they try to destroy a center for agrarian reform?’ In the end, I can’t find any answers…
Syria is the only country which had no debts to any country. We grow our own cotton and food. Education is free, including university. Health care is free. We are one of the only countries that actually treats cancer patients for free. Syria is the most secular country in the region—the government doesn’t rule in religion.
Syria did not sign a treaty with ‘Israel,’ did not allow ‘Israel’ to fortify the occupation of the Golan (My Note: Syria has also been one of the strongest advocate for Palestinian sovereignty and the end of Zionist occupation of all of Palestine—no ’67 borders BDS rhetoric; Palestinians in Syria enjoy full rights except those of voting and being in governmental positions, and are respected by their Syrian brothers and sisters. Neighbouring countries hosting Palestinian refugees could not come near to boasting the just-rights Syria has allotted Palestinians, nor the long-term solidarity. To the contrary, in every neighbouring country, Palestinian refugees are treated as non-citizens, endure hideous racism and prejudice, are segregated in abysmal camps without adequate services, and in general are not permitted to work any profession save menial work, no matter their credentials.). Syria refused to sign an EU partnership, because it was unfair to financial sovereignty of Syria. We refused the US occupation of Iraq; we took part in liberating Kuwait.
When trouble started in Syria, the leadership tried to politically solve the issues. The (so-called ‘rebels’) slogans demanded constitutional reforms; there was reform. They demanded a referendum; there was a referendum. They demanded abolishing the state of emergency; it was abolished.
After all of this, we discovered that the slogans they cried… they didn’t actually want these things. They wanted to dismantle secular Syria and turn it into extremist emirates. From the first minute, we’ve worked for a political solution, and have fought terrorism from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan…
The Syrian media has been part of the fight facing terrorism. At least 48 members of Syrian media have been killed, and many more were wounded. Many media buildings have been completely destroyed
The real reason why they have not succeeded is that Syria is steadfast, and Syria has kept the religious, cultural, and intellectual mosaic. Even now, Syria celebrates different holidays, whether Christian or other. Syria will continue with its government and as a country. We will fight for our sovereignty.”
Deputy Foreign and Expatriates Minister, Fayssal Mikdad, greets Ramsey warmly, having gotten to know Clark well from his years of visiting Syria. In fluent English, Mikdad outlines some of the points he wants to be sure the American delegation understands. One which jumps out at me, in stark contrast to the hypocrisy of the West—ever-scheming to destroy Syria—and corporate media—aiding and abetting with lies and propaganda: “Syria was one of the first countries to condemn the 9/11 terrorist attacks and to call for condemnation against terror.”
In contrast, the West & co have flooded Syria with terrorists; the Western-Zionist-GCC narrative alleges Syria is the guilty party, and continues to concoct new allegations of Syrian wrong-doing, each proven lies and fabrications with very little time.
“If President Assad leaves, there will be no Syria. The man is open-minded, he has already done and can do further reforms. When we stop the terrorism in Syria, in no way will we stop the reforms,” says Minister Mikdad.
“If America wants to continue financing terrorists, under whatever guise—including training of so-called ‘moderate groups’—this means they are against the three UN resolutions on terrorism. We really don’t know what the US administration wants. They have allowed or sent tens of thousands from at least 83 countries to fight against us. Can you imagine 40-50,000 coming from Europe without their Intelligence knowing? But when our allies, like Hezbollah, come to our support, they are deemed ‘terrorists’?!
The US, the UK, and France don’t say anything about the corruption in Saudi Arabia, Qatar…This is the real democracy that the Western countries want to establish? They don’t want a single man in the region to say ‘I am unhappy with the policies of ‘Israel’.’
When we are facing such a challenge that will end the sovereignty of Syria, and that of the Palestinians, then we, and they, have to Resist. We are the real force that is making achievements against Da’esh both on the ground and from the air. Once the training, harbouring, arming of the terrorists stops, Syria would again be a stable country.”
Speaking in Arabic, solemn and matter of fact, Minister of Justice, Najm Hamad al-Ahmad, likewise references 9/11, as well as the attacks in France.
“What if the Syrian government had said, ‘They are revolutionaries, we need to train and supply them with weapons?’ This is what the governments from France and US are doing in Syria. They call them ‘moderates, insurgents.’ In fact, they are affiliated with al-Qaeda.
We respect the people of the US and Europe. But not their governments, because they put their interests and the interests of ‘Israel’ before the interests of their own people. We’ll continue to fight terrorism, and we will sue those regimes in international courts for supporting the terrorists in Syria.”
Minister al-Ahmad keeps his words comparatively brief, allowing time to screen excerpts of a DVD detailing the various horrific acts of terrorism NATO’s “moderates” have committed from the start four years ago. He warns that the videos were graphic, would have a “painful effect,” but that this was precisely the reality Syrians are living every day.
On the internet and doing research, I’d already seen many of the most horrific videos—be-headings, point-blank shootings—and indeed they are graphic and difficult to watch, and indeed they are the reality Syrian civilians and soldiers around Syria have endured over the years. The Hollywoodesque SITE videos portraying Da’esh’s supposed latest executions are nothing compared to the numerous cell-phone or most basic camera-shot videos, filmed up close and disgustingly personal… no fade-out-to-black before the deeds are done. These are the videos the West must watch, heinous crimes committed by the very non-moderate mercenaries John McCain has met with and applauds and which the US supports and trains. Syria has been screaming this truth since the criminals began their executions and kidnappings. Four years on, its time Western audiences paid attention.
“Damascus the resilient. Damascus the patient.”
By the time we meet with Hilal al-Hilal, the Assistant Regional Secretary of al-Baath Arab Socialist Party, we had heard the same proud, defiant messages on Syria fighting this external terrorism, which Hilal as well speaks of. He notes the many countries which try to undermine Syria, “known for its secular nature and coexistence—countries where women can’t even drive.”
In terms of the so-called coalition against Da’esh, he says, “What the SAA (Syrian Arab Army) have succeeded in doing around Deir ez-Zor is far more than what the coalition has achieved by airstrikes. The SAA are the ones protecting our country, losing martyrs.”
One unexpected meeting is that with four French politicians: two Senators, two Members of National Assembly, themselves on a private initiative to meet with Syrian leadership. Much of the informal meeting is discussion with Ramsey, however they do speak a little of their own mission.
“We are naughty Frenchmen, against our government. We have a mission to change our government policies. If we carry on destabilizing Syria, will be chaos. We should leave these people in peace and they will find their own internal balance.”
Al Akhbar later reported they had met with President al-Assad. “We met Bashar al-Assad for a good hour. It went very well,” Jacques Myard, an MP from the conservative opposition Union for a Popular Movement party (UMP), told AFP in a telephone interview. The four MPs and senators, who hail from both the left and the right, belong to the France-Syria parliamentary friendship groups. One of the MPs is a member of President Francois Hollande’s ruling Socialist Party (PS).”
Another unofficial but interesting meeting is that with leadership of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The two men we meet with are Abu Ahmad Fouad, Deputy General Secretary, and Abu Sami Marwan, member of the Political Bureau of the PFLP. As I am thrust into the role of translating (a humbling experience and reminder that I need to actually study Arabic), I don’t take notes in the meeting (Abu Ahmad, it later transpired, speaks English well and was enjoying having me try to translate).
However, in general we discuss the imperialist and Zionist-scheming against Syria, and as Workers World reported, “that the colonial powers have waged an ongoing war against the Arab people to prevent any real progress for the region on the road to liberation, self-determination and an end to Zionist occupation.”
Formerly Attorney-General, Ramsey Clark has a keen interest in meeting with Syria’s BAR association, to see how courts were functioning during this time of crisis.
Nezar Ali al-Skef, President of Syrian Bar Association, welcomes us and, in Arabic, assures Ramsey that Damascus’ courts have continued to function over the past four years. He points out the BAR association is independent and self-funded, meaning no financial support from the Syrian government.
Skef also touches on the national reconciliation campaign, saying it continues to have good results. And he outlines the same basics as the others about the general situation in Syria over the past four years, the players behind these terrorist acts, about resisting the Zionist and terrorist ideologies, “We will remain steadfast against this terrorism and oppression,” he says.
“We have passed worse times….during French occupation… but we’ve rebuilt. We will win.”
We visit the sordid reality of some of those uncountable ‘injured’—a word which never suffices in describing the different mutilations and amputations—from terrorists’ mortar and rocket attacks on civilian areas. I’m reminded of the ICU’s of Gaza hospitals, in both cases victims of the Zionist ideology and their collaborative scheming. Below follows excerpts from my previously-published account of the visit to Damascus’ largest hospital, University Hospital, where victims of terrorist rocket and mortar attacks were being treated.
A young female doctor—who I will call “Rana” as I didn’t get her name—tours our delegation through the University Hospital’s 15 bed ICU, explaining the different cases as we go.
“We receive here only civilians, civilians who have suffered some sort of shrapnel or bombing injury and who need intensive care after surgery. They come from the suburbs of Damascus, mostly from up to 10 kms away. Patients stay here from 6 days up to a month.”
Delegate’s Question: “So that means there are explosions taking place that close to this location.”
Answer: “Yes.” Me: “Do they tend to be mortars, from Douma or somewhere?” Older Doctor: “Ok. Exactly!”
Rana speaks of 4 of the injured patients. “One of them was discharged today, and three of them are still here in the intensive care. Three of them are siblings,” she repeats. They suffer different shrapnel injuries, after a mortar hit near their house four days prior, a doctor, Ali, explains to me.
At the bed of the first injured child, the female doctor explains, “Both her legs and her hands are injured. There is a fragment inside her brain. She had surgery, and now she is in the intensive care.”
“Her situation is very dangerous,” an older nurse says. “She could be dead any minute,” Rana says. “This is her mother,” she gestures to a young woman who wears the face of so many Palestinian mothers I’ve seen before. “Three of her children were injured.”
Me: “Where did the bomb come from?” Ali: “From Douma.” He doesn’t bother to add that the only armed persons who could have fired this are the terrorists who have been raining mortars and rockets from Douma all around, including on Damascus.
Me: “Mortar or…?” Ali: “Mortar.”
I walk up to the next bed and hear Rana say, “Her baby, the infant, is safe.” An older nurse tells me the girl is 18 years old, five months pregnant, arrived at the hospital 4 days ago, and has mortar shrapnel in her brain. It was approximately two hours before they reached a hospital, the female doctor said. “We received them and gave them emergency. Intensive,” Rana says. In another bed, the third child (a three year old)’s head is wrapped in bandaging. Her case is critical, Ali tells me. She lies still, her only movement from the mechanical respirator.
A 15 year old girl from al-Wafideen Camp, near Adra, (roughly 15 km NE of Damascus) lies with a bandaged head, her other injuries covered by a blanket. “She has shrapnel in her legs, chest and brain,” an older doctor explains. Her mother is in another bed. “They live in Ghouta, but fled to al-Wafideen, and still got hit by explosives. …They fled from their home to a safer area, and this is what happened..,” the doctor says.
Me: “Was she injured by mortar or rocket fire?”Doctor: “Rocket fire.” Me: “From where?” Doctor: “From Douma.”
In another room, a fourteen year old girl lies awake, her remaining eye open, the other ruined by shrapnel. Both legs are in casts, broken, and one hand is bandaged. I’m told she arrived 3 days prior, from Arihah, Idlib countryside, injured by a mortar blast. Her situation is critical, the female doctor says. Idlib is some hours to the north; the girl has been brought to Damascus because her case is so severe.
Another bed holds a 16 year old boy, part of his right leg amputated, shrapnel in his left. Another mortar injury. He’s from ad-Dumayr, roughly 30 km NE of Damascus, with Douma in between. The last injured boy I see is another teen, one leg bandaged up to his pelvic (s), the other leg missing from that point, and bandaging over his stomach. He was attacked in al-Kiswah, roughly 20 km east of Damascus.
The word “injury” never suffices these sorts of life-altering mutilations.
“What you just saw was only a minor example of the many patients we’ve been receiving,” says Ali. “Some weeks ago, hundreds of rockets were fired on Damascus. Can you imagine the sound of 20 rockets at once. Something crazy.”
In another room, outside of the ICU, Ali points to a teen being drip-fed by an IV. He’s had a colostomy and will need this drip-feed for a month, Ali estimates, noting the cost is pricey: around $100/bag, and the teen will need at least one/day. Ali repeats what the doctors have said (and what most Syrians I’ve met have told me): his care and medicines are free, his family doesn’t have to pay. As Ramsey Clark said earlier in the hospital visit, “That’s the way it ought to be.”
The elevator used by ambulances serving the hospital, reeks of stale blood. “No matter how much we wash it, we can’t get rid of the stench,” the older doctor tells me.
In a downstairs office, the doctors explain more about the hospital. It had 860 beds, 40 more were added 4 years ago, to cope with the growing emergency cases. A university hospital, there are 500 residents, and 210 specialists. It gets an average of 500 emergency patients daily, not all of whom are related to terror attacks. While the hospital treats all that come for care, nonetheless—similar to Gaza, whose medical sector is in a far more (siege-and-bombing-manufactured) dire state—the hospitals around Syria lack certain medicines and machinery due to the long-suffered, criminal sanctions on Syria.
Rana notes, “We have so many difficulties, to ensure that we have antibiotics, specialized medicines, maintenance of the equipment—it’s essential for the patients. Because of the sanctions, many parts are not available, we have difficulties obtaining them. We’ve substituted for those medicines missing, but they are not the same quality.”
[see related on mortars and attacks “The Terrorism We Support in Syria: a First-Hand Account of the Use of Mortar Against Civilians”]
Two of the most interesting meetings were with Syria’s Grand Mufti, and with the Political and Media Adviser to President al-Assad. As I’ve written about them for Russia Today, I will include excerpts—marked by italics—from that article, for the sake of not plagiarizing my article.
Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun, is an approachable man, usually wearing a broad smile or mirthful half-smile. He calls himself the Mufti of all Syrians, not solely of Syria’s Muslims. Having met Sara Flounders previously, Sheikh Hassoun embraces her with a friendly squeeze of both shoulders and big smile. Recognizing me from a visit last year, he welcomes me the same way, beaming widely.
We take our seat and listen as he welcomes us with the standard Arab hospitality of well-wishes and gratitude for our concern and our visit at this time of crisis. Then, he breaks from formality, the mirthful smile present, to tease Ramsey:
“Anyone who reaches his seventies in such good health has a girlfriend in addition to his wife.” Mufti Hassoun laughs louder than all of us, clearly enjoying our collective shock.
He resumes seriousness, speaking of his country, ‘a beautiful garden’.
“Today we are paying a tax due to our having the richest culture in the region. We never expected that terrorists from outside Syria—from our Arab brothers and those west of them, particularly from USA, Turkey and England—would come here to make unrest. The Syrian people did not support the terrorists. They are working to destroy not only Syria but humanity. ”
“American people are wonderful. I tell the Syrian people: ‘Don’t blame the American people for what their government does, nor for what the Democratic or Republican parties do. Most of them are representatives for corporations, not for American people.’”
Unlike the Saudi Mufti – who has reportedly said “all churches in the Arabian Peninsula must be destroyed” – Mufti Hassoun is open-minded and committed to unity of people (not only the Syrian people): “God, is not a Christian or Muslim or a Jew. God is for all of us. Jesus was not a Catholic, nor an Orthodox, nor a Protestant. And Mohammed was not a Wahhabi, not a Sufi.
At an Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran in January 2015, Hassoun urged Muslim leaders and scholars to unify, and highlighted, “the most dangerous thing we witness today is the use of religious jargon by people who do not know Islam, and the most dangerous is the name ‘Islamic Caliphate’.”
On that subject, he says, “In the history of religion, neither Jesus, nor Moses, nor Mohammed created religious states. From a religious perspective, you cannot describe a state by its religious nature. You can describe a person as ‘Jewish, Christian, Muslim.’ But the state is something that we create. ‘Syrian state, American state,’ but not Islamic state. The Vatican is actually a Christian state, but under the umbrella of a secular state. Italian law rules within the Vatican. Zionists would like to have one state with one race, as would the Taliban. The same as those who are fighting here in Syria. If they succeeded in Syria, it would mean all the countries in this region would be religious states. It would spread like the bird flu and reach America. Be cautious, the US is ready for religious division. You have Mormon, Catholic, Orthodox, and Atheist states…you have over 300,000 churches, each would consider they are right, all else are wrong. Europe, as well. They divided one state, (former) Yugoslavia: Serbia is Orthodox, Croatia is Catholic, Bosnia is Muslim. Under the ashes lie bombs, no one knows when they will explode.”
There is not a dry eye in the room when the subject of Mufti Hassoun’s assassinated son comes up. I had watched his speech at Saria’s funeral and was aware of how the murder played out, and the Mufti’s message of peace to his son’s assassins, and I had heard him speak on the matter one year ago. Nonetheless, it is such a testimony to the suffering of Syrians over the past four years that, overwhelmed with the collective sorrow, I can no longer look at Mufti Hassoun as he again relives the loss of his son who “was to be betrothed to his wife that day.”
Even three years and many recounts after the fact, again speaking of his son’s murder, Sheikh Hassoun falters and tears up. He speaks of “Saria, who “never carried a weapon in his life,” gunned-down after leaving his university. In a public address at the funeral the next day, Mufti Hassoun, while weeping, forgave the gunmen and called on them to lay down their weapons and re-join Syria. The following day, he received a text message saying the assassins would kill him as they had killed his son.
A year later, when two of the gunmen were caught, the Mufti went to speak with them.”
“They were blindfolded. I told the guards to remove their blindfolds. I put my hands on their heads, and said, ‘You are my sons. I want to ask you one question, please answer, and I will forgive you for your deeds. Why did you kill my son Saria?’ They replied, ‘We don’t know. The leader of our gang received telephone calls from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as well as a sum of money and the command to kill the Mufti and one of his sons.’”
The Mufti asked for their pardon and release. “The judge said, ‘It is not only your problem, each one of them has killed tens of people.’”
We speak of the role of the GCC states in Syria’s manufactured crisis. “When I saw Bander bin Sultan sitting on the arm of the chair President Bush sat in, I knew that money and not the government rules America.”
Noting the sectarianism emanating from Gulf religious figures, he tells us of trying to find a place to pray in New York.
“We arrived in New York, and went to pray in a mosque just 500 metres away from the UN, a mosque built by Kuwaitis. When I entered the mosque, I saw a Saudi Imam. His assistant was also from Saudi Arabia, and one of the most extremist people. They did not greet me….because we are ‘infidels’ from Syria. These are the people who are leading prayer next to the UN!
I left and my wife and I went up to the top of the Twin Towers, and on the roof we prayed.”
Nowadays, not granted visa to many Western countries, he tells us of one rejected visa application, and of his interrogation by an American official at the US embassy in Amman, which he jokes felt like by grilled by the FBI.
“She stayed behind the glass while addressing me. She asked me, ‘With whom will you meet in the United States?’
I told her, ‘Record this: With the American people in general, and with the extremist AIPAC regime.
She asked me, ‘You will meet them?’
I told her, ‘Three thousand years ago we were all Jews. And then Jesus Christ came, and we loved him, as we loved Moses. And then Mohammed came, and he told us we must recognize Moses, Jesus and Abraham. Therefore, every person believing in all these prophets and principles, I am ready to meet with you. And I am ready to meet with those who do not believe in any God. Because, due to DNA analysis, it has been proven that all people have one father and mother. They are all my brothers. It doesn’t matter what our colour is, all of us are made by God.’
She was still behind the glass, and told me, ‘If I had the authority, I would have granted you the visa immediately. But I received instructions from the Foreign Ministry of the US to meet with you. And I will convey your words to them, and tomorrow give you the answer.’
The next day, the assistant of the Ambassador spoke with my son. She told him she’d received a message from the US that, ‘the Grand Mufti of Syria is unwelcome in the United States.’”
Mufti Hassoun asks Bishop Khoury, “If you ask the American embassy for a visa, how much would they give you?” “Five years,” is Khoury’s answer. Their political ideas are aligned. Khoury receives a visa, Hassoun does not. Sheikh Hassoun: “He is a religious leader, as I am a religious leader. Why do they differentiate between us? It is a part of the project to separate Christians and Muslims here. They want to drive Christians out of Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq. They want to evacuate these countries of Christians.”
Bishop Khoury speaks.
“Everything my cousin the Mufti said came from his heart, and from my heart, and are the same words that I say. We in Syria are one family. We’ve never known a country in the region which lives in such unity, where we live as though siblings from the same family. Because our faith, as Syrians, is that we are all children of God.
Foreign countries planted at our side a state known as ‘Israel’, the state which now is waiting for any chance to attack Syria, because they don’t want a strong Resistance state in the region. They call we Christians ‘minorities’. But the Mufti was correct when he said we are 23 million Christians and 23 million Muslims living in Syria. We are not concerned about our status as Christians in Syria. We are deeply rooted in this land, even if America, Britain and the world don’t like this.
Yet, Christian women, children and men are being attacked, beheaded, kidnapped.”
Similarly, Mufti Hassoun is unambiguous in naming the real reasons behind the manufactured devastation in Syria.
“First and foremost, it’s to safeguard the interests of ‘Israel’ in the region, and secondly it’s over gas pipelines which are supposed to run through Syrian territory. This will only happen if there is a weak Syrian state.”
He observes, “If the Syrian government would agree to give a monopoly to France to extract gas from Syria, then you would find Hollande visiting Syria the next day. If the Syrian government would give the monopoly to America, Obama would declare President al-Assad as the legitimate ruler of the Syrian people.”
“Some years ago, the current Turkish President, Erdogan, then Prime Minister, personally asked me to leave Syria. He offered me whatever I wanted if I would leave Syria and go to Turkey.”
“Turkey is warring on us, with financial support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and political support from America, Europe, and Britain. Drones cross our borders daily, providing coordinates for the terrorists as to where to strike. Last week, (39) Turkish tanks and (about 600) commandos crossed the border into Syria, driving 30 km into an area held by terrorists to retrieve the remains of an Ottoman Sultan buried in Syria. That tomb has been surrounded by Da’esh terrorists for some time now and hasn’t been demolished. On the other hand, the terrorists destroyed and removed any trace of my son Saria’s tomb two months after he was buried.”
First, stop the flow of arms, an international effort. “If the American government would like to find a solution for the Syrian crisis, they go to the Security Council; they issue a resolution under Chapter 7 on a total ban of weapons from Turkey to terrorists in Syria. In one week this would be over.”
In response to Ramsey’s question if Mufti Hassoun has a message for Americans, he says:
“The American government must understand that they have failed in their plans so far, after these four years. The proof: I offer to take you from Damascus to Aleppo in my own car. Why has Bashar al-Assad remained steadfast for four years? Even now, if Bashar al-Assad chose to leave and drive his car without any security, he will. And I have see this many times. Last Christmas, one of the Ministers asked the President not to attend Christmas prayers, because the terrorists were shelling. He smiled and told them, ‘When any delegation comes to Syria, we send security to protect them, they are under my protection. So, now I am going to the House of God, it is the responsibility of God to protect me.’
This is the President, who believes in God and believes in his people.”
Bishop Khoury adds, “We are one family in Syria, and we are clinging to our President, Bashar al-Assad. He has a good heart and is loved by our people. He has stood steadfast for four years against this crisis. When he went at New Years Eve to visit soldiers, the people were thrilled and celebrated him.”
Near the end of our meeting, he apologizes:
“Only this morning was I informed that you were in Syria. I would have liked to have invited you to lunch or dinner. However, your organizer has told me you have very limited time. If you’d like a rain-check, however…” laughing. Then he jokes to Ramsey:
“Your coming to Syria means a lot of us. St. Paul once started a journey from this land to the rest of the world; we consider you the St. Paul of the world, coming to us, and you have brought many Mary’s with you!” he grins at us.
As,we ready to leave, Sheikh Hassoun’s translator is not nearby, but Ramsey has a few words he wants to add, so I translate Ramsey’s best wishes for peace and an end to the war on Syria, words echoed by us all.
Presidential and Media Adviser to President al-Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, shares the approachable nature of Mufti Hassoun, and in fact most of the representatives we are meeting.
She sits with us at a small oval table in her modest office.
As I’ve written about the meeting on RT, I include excerpts from the article below.
“I always wanted to be a bridge between Syria and Western cultures.” She has lived abroad, earning a PhD in English literature from Warwick University, on a Fulbright scholarship at Duke University, and later as professor at Eastern Michigan University.
“I enjoyed American people, their hospitality and kindness.” Affection for the people aside, she is heavily critical of the US government and allies’ prolonged attack on Syria.
“They adopted personalities who haven’t lived in Syria for 30 years! Further, they took the wrong step in closing embassies, instead of communicating with us and observing from the ground. In the name of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ they are destroying our country.”
“Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar…they are the spearhead of what has happened here.” She points out that beyond President Erdogan’s suits and smiles; he is a staunch supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has long sought to disrupt Syria. Add to the fray Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi extremism and the result is the “moderate” organ-eating, head-chopping, crucifying mercenaries plaguing Syria, from the so-called FSA to al-Nusra to Da’esh (ISIS). “With external support and financing, and an over 800 kilometer border with Turkey, it’s very difficult to stop the flow of terrorists.”
In our meeting, Shaaban paints a picture of the Syria that existed prior to this multi-regime attack on its sovereignty.
“Syria was formerly one of the fastest developing countries in the world, and one of the safest. We have free education and health care. We did not know poverty; we grew our food and produced our own clothing. At universities, 55 percent of the students were women.” Already, these are points the West would prefer remain unheard, points which dispute the lies that Syrians were living in miserable oppression prior to the faux-revolution, and also which could not be said about NATO’s Gulf state allies.
“The souk of Aleppo was the most beautiful. It’s now rubble, they destroyed it. In whose interest is it to destroy this heritage? Who is the beneficiary of this? I’m sure if the American public knew the truth about what is happening in Syria they wouldn’t accept Syrian people being slaughtered.”
“You have hundreds of thousands of widows, most without any income because they’ve lost their main provider and are left to care for their children—theirs is the better situation, in secure government-ruled areas. In areas where armed gangs rule, women are being raped, sold, or killed. Also, in refugee camps in Jordan, women are being raped and sold. Women and children are paying the highest price.”
Dr. Shaaban’s name was among the first to be put on America’s persona non grata list during this manufactured “Syrian crisis”.
If the Zionists have any say in her ostracisation, it may be Dr. Shaaban’s continued advocacy for Palestinians (in addition to her strong anti-Imperialist Syrian voice) that makes her ‘dangerous’ to Israeli and Western interests. In her 2010 article, The Delegitimization of Israel, she noted:
“…What characterizes the first decade of this century is that the world has started to realize that the conflict in the Middle East is not a religious one, nor a war on terrorism as portrayed by Zionist propaganda. It is the result of a racist settler movement which deprives an ancient people, who lived on the land of their ancestors for thousands of years, from freedom. This is why Jews, Christians and Muslims have taken part in demonstrations against the racist wall of segregation and called for lifting the blockade off Gaza and staged sit-ins with the Palestinians in protest against killing children and demolishing homes.”
Later, I research a bit on Dr. Shaaban’s writings. Of her several published books, one in particular strikes me as breaching topics that Western democracy-loving, womens’ rights-promoting leaders would endorse: Both Right and Left Handed, New Edition: Arab Women Talk about Their Lives.
Excerpts from the Amazon.com write-up include: “Arab women from varied social and economic backgrounds express a wide range of opinions on the traditions and institutions that shape their lives.
Themes include…the sacrifices of Arab women to keep the family unit together, and such previously taboo issues as lesbian relationships and premarital sex. In her new introduction, Shaaban recounts the significant progress that Arab women have made in pursuing opportunities for education and professional and political advancement during the last 20 years. Equally passionate is Shaaban’s personal account of her journey from childhood in an obscure Syrian village to representing her country as a top-ranking political figure while continuing to fight for female equality.”
Presciently, Dr. Shaaban’s 1991 book also looks at “the impact of war and the emancipating role of women as freedom fighters, the misinterpretation of Islamic laws and social values that underlies male-dominated institutions in Arab countries…”
“I’m a Muslim, but I feel am partly Christian. I visit (Christian towns of) Saydnaya and Ma’loula. I celebrate Christmas, because it is something that I feel. There is an Arabic proverb which says: ‘Differences don’t mean that you don’t love one another.’ We each have our own different ways of life.”
She tells the story of a Jewish family from abroad who in 1999 visited Syria, went to their ancestral homes and were shocked to find graves of their ancestors untouched. This is Syria. In contrast, the West’s imported, ever-circulating un-Islamic ‘moderates’ are actively destroying not only graves but any source of Syria’s heritage they can get their bloodied hands on.
“In 2011, President Assad warned that terrorism is a cancer that will spread. He said that we cannot address terrorism without the cooperation of neighbours.”
Later, by email Dr. Shaaban notes:
“…it is the lack of honesty in world politics that has turned our lives into shamble. Today is the fifth anniversary of the start of events in Syria and unfortunately during these four years we have lost hundreds of thousands of people and the lives of millions had been destroyed. The infrastructure of our country and our precious archeological heritage have suffered immeasurable losses. The human suffering is beyond description.
Had American media and politicians enjoyed a particle of your honesty in conveying what you saw and heard we would have saved millions of people immeasurable pain.
Through you I would like to tell every senior politician in the world and every media person the following: you cannot afford to be dishonest or a coward because if you are either you may have blood on your hands even without seeing it. A public voice means that your first obligation is to the truth and nothing but the truth. Both religions and honest politics warned so much against hypocrisy because it is the mother of all crimes.”
scenes from Damascus’ Umayyad Mosque
The delegation traveled by land ffrom Beirut to Damascus