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      Volume 11 |Issue 23| June 08, 2012 |


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Writing The Wrong

The Right Questions


Syria burning. But how will it end? photo: AFP

When I was in fourth grade I had a terrific teacher, Ms Barlaz of Brooklyn, NY. She was very hard on me. Once, she threw my handwriting notebook across the classroom because it was not up to snuff. I loved that notebook. It was hardcover and had clouds printed on it. I was startled and impressed by her passion concerning my cursive. This same woman encouraged my first forays into storytelling, even once demanding the class be quiet so I could tell a tale I made up on the spot. It involved mummies and curses and a shark. My classmates were silent as I spoke, pulling details and plot twists out of thin air. I remember looking up and seeing Ms. Barlaz smiling at me. Later, she helped me recognise one of the most valuable lessons a writer could ever learn, the power and importance of asking the probing questions. She had us interview one of my classmate's parents who worked in a leper colony in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was so fascinated by this I kept raising my hand and asking questions. I remember Ms. Barlaz saying to me afterwards, “Those were good questions, Sharbari. Always keep asking the right questions.” This stayed with me for a lifetime.

It is our responsibility as intelligent beings to ask the right questions and not accept whatever party line is fed to us. Even Buddha says to question him. I know the easiest inclination is to take things at face value—especially when it comes to the information that is disseminated on what is happening in the world. We trust others to handle things for us. Currently, 13.3 million Americans still remain unemployed, and 1 in 4 are without health insurance (Bureau of Labour Statistics). These very real challenges keep most people, at least in this country, focused on the day-to-day issues. What is happening to, say, the citizens in a small town like Houla, Syria, may not be the foremost on your mind.

I will argue that what happened to at least 90 people on a summer afternoon on May 25th near Houla, in Homs province in Syria is very important to all of us because it involves almost every superpower (and their hand maidens, like Israel, and Saudi Arabia) one could think of. As a result, I have started asking what I think to be the right questions.

According to eyewitnesses and various sources, at approximately 2 pm on Friday, May 25th after Jumma prayers, armed militants supposedly loyal to President Bashar Assad entered the village of Taldou near Houla to break up a protest and proceeded, over the course of the night, in cold blood, to kill over 90 unarmed civilians. At least 40 were children, some still clutching their mother's chests when they were found. Some were stabbed, others shot. There were allegedly rapes and general mayhem and inhuman brutality. Before that the village was shelled.

This seemed like simply more of the same from that region, and gave full justification to the recent expulsion of Syrian diplomats around the world, even as Kofi Anan has actively brokered a truce.

The violence in Houla only proves that Assad is a scourge and must be removed. Right? Except that he is categorically denying that his troops had anything to do with it.

“Our hearts bled and our anger was indescribable when we saw the painful scenes on television,'' the president said. “The Arabic language and human language cannot describe the scenes we witnessed at Houla” (Boston Globe 6/4/12). He goes on to claim that this latest massacre is part of the systematic assault on Syria by foreign entities, including Arab states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, for the past 15 months.

Questions and (possible) answers this latest violence and its reportage have brought up:
Is Assad a despot? Yes.
Has he brutally cracked down on his citizens? Absolutely.
Is there the blood of children, and women on his hands? Yup!

Bodies of some of the more than hundred people including many women and children, killed in a massacre on May 25 in a village in Houla, Syria, await burial. photo: AFP

Should he step down? His people might want that and he should oblige his people.

How does it serve Assad to conduct a massacre during a truce that he willingly agreed to? It doesn't.

How does it strengthen his assuredly tenuous position? It doesn't.

What does the violence in Houla remind us of? Libya. Libya when? 2011, right before NATO's “humanitarian intervention slash bombing”.

What does it also remind us of? It reminded me of Gaza, February 2009, when Israel murdered women and children and targeted UN workers. Except, NATO did not see fit to intervene then, even though chemical weapons were used against civilians, breaking international law.

Who will benefit from an intervention? The USA, Israel, France, Great Britain and Saudi Arabia (to name a few).

How? Because one more, pesky, enemy of the geo-political agenda, Assad, will have been removed.

What is the Geo-political agenda of the above countries (though Israel and Saudi Arabia are mere pawns)? To de-stabilise the region and gain an even stronger foothold in traditionally hostile lands, because it is a gateway to the East and South Asia. It's location, location, location.

Who, right now, pose the biggest threats to the Western powers?

China and Russia—the most vocal critiques on how the situation in Syria is being portrayed as a cut and dry scenario of despotism gone violently awry.

What does the West want with Russia and China? To goad China into a confrontation and strong arm Putin? Looks like it. Iran is another arena they are goading Russia and China.

What is the best way to do this? Use the unstable situations in Iran and Syria to create an intensely divisive “us” and “them” scenario to justify an all out Mid-East war.

So it's not about Syria, or Egypt, or Iran or Libya? No, it's not. It never was.

And President Barack Hussein Obama, what about him? He gave a very fancy speech when he first took office about how he was going to improve relations with the Muslim world, yet, even as the US condemns the killings in Houla, it sends drones into Pakistan on a regular basis, killing women and children almost daily. So, what were we saying about Obama? One must also keep in mind that it is an election year. Instigating war seems part and parcel of the American Presidential campaign tradition. war affects all of us, directly or indirectly.

Can we fully trust the mainstream reportage and journalism coming out of Syria? Unequivocally, not! The BBC originally reported that Assad's troops conducted the murders and the shelling. They even displayed a graphic photograph of the victims' dead bodies lined up, only to retract this later and admit that it was a photo from Iraq in 2003 (www.Poynter.org). Apparently it was a mistake. Further, according to the journalism watchdog site whowhatwhy, most of the information coming out of Houla is from activists, not journalists, and activists loyal to the opposition, thereby suggesting that it is biased.

It is imperative for us to understand the world we live in and at least attempt to decipher what it is that motivates those in whom we have put the safekeeping and management of our countries. I am not under the illusion that drawing any of these notions out into the light will solve the immediate problems but it is far better than being condescended to or forever living in Plato's cave. Our leaders will take a yard if we give them an inch. By not questioning the recent tragic events in Syria, I will argue that we are collectively helping to set the stage for a possible world war. To ask the questions is our right and to hold those accountable, to challenge their authority is very much our duty. Otherwise, those 49 plus children who were murdered in their beds in Houla will have died in vain, as will those who have yet to die. The carnage will continue in that entire region because it serves a specific purpose. Last question: how will it end?


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