Original publication of this article is in the American Herald Tribune. http://ahtribune.com/world/americas/1608-syria-canada.html
Rights and Wrongs in Syria and Canada
by Professor Tony Hall
winter scene of Jasper Townsite within Jasper National Park
In “Double-Double: 12 Months a Refugee” lawyer Reham Al Azem looks back over her experiences culminating in her first year of life as a “permanent resident” in Canada. Through the intervention of the Anglican Church, Ms. Al Azem along with her parents came to reside in the town site of Jasper National Park. The March 30 issue of Jasper’s Fitzhugh newspaper includes an essay describing Ms. Al Azem’s reflections on her family’s departure from Syria and the trio’s subsequent adjustments to life in their newly adopted land.
In telling the story of the move from Syria to one of Canada’s most famous alpine parks, Ms. Al Azem shares many poignant observations and anecdotes. One aspect of her account that I believe requires some contextual analysis is the very pronounced position she has taken in condemning the government of the elected Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad.
Ms. Al Azem’s contempt for those in charge of the Syrian government is palpable. As the author sees it, the Syria she left behind has “a corrupt legal system” where many “innocent friends and family members” were being improperly arrested. She reserves especially harsh verbal venom for the Syrian militia who she accuses of imposing its will on Syrian citizens “regardless of the law or people’s rights.” She writes, “It seemed, in Syria, the sound of money was louder than the sound of human rights.”
Ms. Al Azem’s critique of the Assad government emerges in the course of her account of an episode involving a van that crashed into the window of a Damascus café injuring the author’s mother, Omayea El Marawi. The importance of this episode in the Fitzhugh essay is underlined by the publisher’s decision to include a photograph of the decisive car crash said to have set in motion the refugee saga.
In describing her juridical efforts to hold the driver of the runaway vehicle responsible for the injury to her mother, Ms. Al Azem presents a litany of recriminations against Syrian officialdom including members of the police and the judiciary. She sets her comments against a grim picture of shortages and deprivations in her native land. “There was a lack of jobs, electricity was limited, cooking gas was sparse and heat for our home was hard to come by.”
Ms. Al Azem neglects to mention that the difficulties she encountered in Syria unfolded in the context of wartime conditions. In this war, our own Canadian government has taken sides with other Western countries, puppet regimes and proxy armies to advance the goal of overthrowing the elected and legitimate government of Bashar Al-Assad. There is much evidence to demonstrate that the rather secular and pluralistic government headed up by the current president commands the loyalty of the largest part of the Syrian citizenry. Among his most enthusiastic supporters are members of Syria’s Christian minority. Bashar Al-Assad’s most vicious enemies are especially hostile towards Syrian Christians.
A new threshold in the illegal assaults on the government, people and sovereignty of Syria was crossed on April 6, 2017 when the government of US President Donald Trump mounted a tomahawk missile attack on a Syrian military airport. This armed invasion marks an unmistakable act of illegal aggressive warfare. The unproven allegations given as justification for the attack showed every sign of the engineered deceptions that are emblematic of the psychological operations integral to the perpetration of the so-called Global War on Terror.
The escalating severity of the foreign-backed efforts to overthrow the Assad government and destroy Syria in its present form extends the cycle of Western-backed and Western-perpetrated violence pointed at Muslim majority countries including Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Yemen.
The unqualified Western backing given to the hugely reactionary, repressive and anti-democratic monarchy of Saudi Arabia, a major consumer of the West’s high-tech weaponry, is an indicator of the hypocrisy and double standards animating the Middle East policies of Israel and the NATO countries including USA, Turkey and Canada. As the people and government of Syria are being pummeled, so too the civilian population of Yemen is being subjected to a huge onslaught of weaponized Western aggression channeled through the elaborate military apparatus of Saudi Arabia.
Of course this commentary on the contextual framework of “Double-Double: 12 Months a Refugee” should not be understood as a criticism directed at Reham Al Azem and her personal reflections. Of course Ms. Al Azem has every right to comment as she sees fit on her experiences and perceptions of life in Syria and Canada. Indeed, her essay makes a significant contribution in helping to bring to light some features of the instigated migration currently transforming the human geography of many polities right now.
My critique in this matter is more directed at the publisher of the essay rather than at its author. Craig Gilbert is the Publisher of the Jasper Fitzhugh, a division of Aberdeen Publishing LP whose president is Robert W. Doull. These media executives opted not to introduce Ms. Al Azem’s important narrative with an overview of what has been happening in recent years to drive people out of Syria, Iraq and other countries in the region. Moreover, the Fitzhugh publisher has opted not to share with Jasper’s citizens any other personal narratives that look at what is going on in Syria from any perspective different from that of Ms. Al Azem.
The result is Ms. Al Azem’s story assumes an inflated significance that suggests her perspective is somehow representative of all sensible and law abiding Syrian citizens. Such is decidedly not the case. Generally speaking the mainstream media has ignored the perspectives of the millions of Syrian people who have chosen to stay put and defend their country from foreign-backed invasion. The big media conglomerates tend to demean the shared humanity of those who have chosen to back their own Syrian government. These Syrian patriots have chosen to pull together across many ethnic, religious and ideological lines to prevent Syria from falling prey to the same kind of horrific fate visited on Libya after NATO’s vanquishment of Gadaffi.
By providing only a single window into the internal dynamics of the Syrian conflict, the Jasper Fitzhugh is adding to the distortion of public understanding of some very complex realities. This purposeful blinkering of public perceptions aids and abets a particular agenda of Canadian domestic and foreign policy in ways that are entirely consistent with more pervasive patterns of media deception. This genre of misrepresentation is currently left to run almost completely unchecked in many of Canada’s highly biased and conformist venues of mass communication.
The rigidness of this system of propaganda and thought control is causing discerning students of public affairs to turn away in droves from discredited mainstream media venues. Too often the institutional backing is not there when conscientious journalists attempt to speak truth to power. On the big issues of war and peace, life and death, dominant media venues tend to line up with the military-industrial banking cartels that control Western governments. As demonstrated by the covert and overt involvements of our governments in the Syrian war, our political leadership is deeply implicated in an intense deluge of illegal actions and stunning deceptions. The magnitude of the international crimes committed in this surreptitious way far exceeds the severity of the crimes that Ms. Al Azem attributes to the Syrian government.
Truth and Deception
Some Canadian journalists have tried to present a remedy to address the most prevalent lies and distortions regularly presented as fact in the Western media. One such journalist is Eva Bartlett. She has achieved major distinctions internationally exposing the hype and disinformation that has sadly become the mainstay of much mainstream reporting on the Syrian war. Ms. Bartlett, who speaks Arabic, counters the propaganda by reporting her own eye-witness accounts of what she sees happening on the ground in the main theatres of conflict.
Mark Taliano is another emerging star of Canadian investigative journalism with a specialty in the Syrian debacle. A retired high school teacher from Southern Ontario, Taliano has recently published a short book, Voices From Syria. In it Taliano draws on his travels to Syria where he conducts many interviews with Syrian decision makers and regular folks. His analysis is also based on his deep reading of many primary and secondary sources.
Aspects of Taliano’s critique of the mainstream media’s role as agents of propaganda can easily be applied to the Jasper Fitzhugh’s very selective treatment of the Syrian war. Ms. Al Azem’s hostile attitude to the elected government of Syria just happens to be in perfect alignment with a main message of the psychological warfare division in the West’s deadly campaign to eliminate the Assad government. The coalition pushing the “regime change” scenario includes the Persian Gulf monarchies, Israel, NATO along with the West’s Takfiri proxy armies.
Both Bartlett and Taliano draw upon an extensive body of evidence to demonstrate that the heavily armed entities in Syria regularly described as “terrorists” in the mainstream media are in fact proxy armies. They are financed and armed by state entities dedicated to the overthrow of the Al Assad government. These much-hyped bands of armed mercenary soldiers go by many names including Al-Nusra Front, ISIL, Daesh, Al Qaeda, Jaish al-Fatah and Ahrar ash-Sham. The failure of the mainstream media to tell the truth about the backstory of “terrorism” in Syria is widely replicated by controlled media such as the Jasper Fitzhugh.
Put simply, there is no shortage of credible sources sprinkled throughout the Internet to illustrate that the very Western powers supposedly fighting “the terrorists” have in fact recruited, trained, armed, financed and directed these same mercenary pawns. This mobilization of paid proxy armies who have been well rewarded to inject an Islamic dimension into the West’s imperial wars began with the CIA-s creation of al Qaeda in the 1980s.
It is well documented that al Qaeda was part of the US-assembled group to advance the policies of US President Ronald Reagan by militarily undermining the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan. For thoughtful observers the US government’s deployment of al Qaeda as a proxy force in Afghanistan and now in Syria should raise alarms about the Western establishment’s claim that al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were the main culprits of 9/11. How is it that the US government is currently sponsoring the very group it still alleges are the perpetrators of 9/11? Does this deployment of Takfiri fighting forces to topple the Assad government fit into a larger plan to balkanize the Middle East and prepare the ground for the invasion of Iran?
Psychological engineering forms an integral part in the Global War on Terror. The engineering of public opinion and attitudes depends on the mass media’s maintenance of tight prohibitions against any sustained analysis of the important role played by the West’s mercenary proxy armies flying Islamic flags. The West’s psychological warfare is pointed largely against its own western populations. The unrelenting media disinformation has created a toxic mental atmosphere with the goal of eliciting public consent for abominations likes Trump’s missile assault on the sovereign people and government of Syria. Will Jasperites, Canadians and decent men and women throughout the world go along with this very clear violation of international law?
As Taliano sees it, too many of us have been lulled into complacency by a corrupt media that fails to give the necessary illumination to the great issues of war and peace, life and death in the global community. He asserts, “most Canadians unfortunately, remain captured by the propaganda and have become immune to publicly available evidence-based research.” Referring to the Western backing of the very same entities the West claims to be fighting, Taliano continues, “Our proxies slit throats, chop heads, and take no prisoners as we in the West waffle in indecision and take the comfortable easy road of believing the labyrinth of lies promulgated by Western media messaging.”
Human Rights and Intellectual Diversity in Jasper
In expressing her contentment with her decision to move with her parents to Canada, Reham Al Azem comments that “peace is where you can defend your rights if there is a threat to them.” Is the Fitzhugh a champion or an opponent of the very rights Ms. Al Azem extolls? Is Jasper a place that embraces or demeans the right of Canadians to enjoy safety and security in our own homes; where we the citizens can express ourselves clearly in accordance with the principles of free speech as well as freedom of conscience, religion, conviction, and assembly?
In the same March 30, 2017 issue that contains the “12 Months a Refugee” essay, the Fitzhugh’s publisher exposes his hostility to the rights of one Jasper citizen. Through the gift of musical acumen, this Jasper citizen, Monika Schaefer, has for almost four decades contributed enormously to the community life of her mountain village. A violin teacher, Ms. Schaefer has performed voluntarily for appreciative audiences in schools and old folks homes as well as in countless benefit concerts. One of the concerts at which Ms. Schaefer performed was devoted to raising money to help bring Ms. Al Azem and her parents to Jasper.
By publishing a letter attributed to one “Paul Brooke” of North Vancouver British Columbia, the publisher of the Fitzhugh extends broad latitude to an individual living far from Jasper to defame Ms. Schaefer in full view of her home community. Brooke’s slanderous attack culminates in a statement where Ms. Schaefer is told her residency in Jasper “is a privilege, not a right.” The Vancouverite’s condemnation emanates from his criticism of Ms. Schaefer for giving voice to interpretations of World War II history that do not conform with mainstream viewpoints.
If the policies and opinions of Jasper’s Fitzhugh toward Monika Schaefer are any indication, perhaps Ms. Al Azem might reflect on the apparently conditional nature of respect for human rights in her adopted community. Perhaps the means for “protecting her rights” are not as solid and entrenched in Canada as she thought.
The limits on respect for human rights in Jasper arise in the context of a Canadian society that apparently grants a lot of latitude to those who seek to prohibit, ban and systematically defame citizens that express interpretations discordant with mainstream orthodoxy. Jasper advertises itself as a place where diversity is respected. As the smear campaign against Ms. Schaefer demonstrates, however, the reality of antagonism towards intellectual diversity in Jasper is very different from the town’s slick PR slogans and images.
In their response to Ms. Schaefer’s controversial video entitled Sorry Mom, I Was Wrong About the Holocaust, some key members of the community are demonstrating a marked hostility to the ideals of free expression. Instead of creating venues for the rational discussion of competing narratives, some have chosen to dramatize their disagreement with Ms. Schaefer by blocking her from obtaining licenses and accessing certain businesses and cultural venues. Rather than stand up for the protection of human rights, the publisher of the Fitzhugh has opted to lead the dark enterprise of ritual defamation.
If the powers that be are guided by the principle that living in Jasper is a privilege, not a right, who will qualify for this privilege? Will all residents of Jasper as well as its businesses and clubs be subjected uniformly to an ideas test to see if they qualify for residency privileges? What would be the criteria for such a test? Who would administer it?
Would the Fitzhugh and its publisher qualify for residency? Would their apparent hostility to the principles of free speech as articulated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms be held against them? Will those responsible for transforming the Royal Canadian Legion in Jasper, an important venue for live music, pass the privilege test?
Will the self-appointed ideological commandants that own and operate CoCo’s Café in Jasper qualify? What is to be said of their claim that vendors in Alberta have full discretion to express their prejudices by refusing to do business with any group or individual they opt to shun? Will those in charge of Jasper’s Habitat for the Arts be held accountable for the exclusionary treatments meted out to Ms. Schaefer? What is the effect on artists, of subjecting their creative endeavours to tests for intellectual conformity to prevailing ideas?
Who in Jasper are the most aggressive violators of the very rights whose attractions apparently motivated Ms. Al Azem and her parents to move from Syria to Jasper National Park? Is there truth to the proposition that one can know the true rulers of a society, by identifying the parties one is not allowed to criticize?
After the article was published in the American Herald Tribune, I sent the link to numerous local contacts in Jasper, with this message: “Here is a deeper analysis of local affairs in the global context, a timely article by Professor Tony Hall.” I received the following sneering remark from Dr. Mark Addison.
Monika , your recent article on the Syrians in Jasper could possibly have had some credibility, however, after your previous statements regarding the holocaust, nobody believes anything you say anyway.
I subsequently thanked Mark for engaging with me and told him I was pleasantly surprised. I pointed out to him that I was not the author of the article. I thanked him for the compliment of thinking it was me who authored it. I told him that Professor Anthony Hall is a historian who has been studying these issues for a very long time.
I wonder though if by mere association, Dr. Addison believes that anything my friends or associates write cannot be believed either. Interesting concept. It is, after all, one of the effects of the practice of ritual defamation, where evidence and truth matter not.