Tag Archives: Syria

Let’s Stop Pretending

Let’s stop pretending that the war on Syria just began. The US along with Canada, the EU, the UK, the Saudis, Israel, Russia, and Iran, have been arming factions and reducing the region to smithereens for years, carpet bombing cities and killing scores of civilians in the process.

Let’s stop pretending that the US and its allies have any problem with dictators, death squads or authoritarian regimes since they have propped them up, applauded them, and aided them from Egypt to Honduras to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And they have no problem with carnage if it happens to come from one of their client states, like the Saudi kingdom’s genocide in Yemen or Israel’s slaughter in Gaza.

Let’s stop pretending that any of the global players are troubled by or concerned about war crimes. In the West the selective outrage over the horrific gas attack on civilians in Syria is absurdly obvious when it comes to the fact that the US and its allies have used depleted uranium, napalm and white phosphorus and bombed hospitals and mosques, wedding parties and shelters as a matter of course.
Let’s stop pretending that any of them care about Syrians or Syrian society either. While Russia has turned a blind eye to Assad’s crimes and bolstered his regime’s power to crush any meaningful dissent, the US, UK and EU have funded extremists, foreign mercenaries and reactionary militants who have terrorized local populations almost as much as the regime itself. They’ve also made it near impossible for refugees and others trying to flee the misery and chaos they have helped to create.

Let’s stop pretending that any of this is about human rights or the rule of law, or that this will bring about an end to barbarism since the cold hard fact is that stocks are surging for Lockheed Martin, Grumman Northrup and Boeing. This is indeed a global, capitalist arrangement that ultimately benefits the coffers of the wealthy. Endless war, chaos, terrorism and state violence are, to put it bluntly, a boon.

The escalation this time may signify a new level of madness. Thanks to unhinged psychopaths like John Bolton who is back in a position of power, and the generals of the military industrial complex, we are being led down a path that could easily begin a world war with other nuclear armed powers. We’ve been down this road recently with North Korea, so we should not downplay that grim fact because it really could quite literally spell out the final chapter for civilization at any given moment.

So should we be angered? Yes. Surprised? No. While the powerful have never once tried to hide their crimes from us, they would prefer that we forget them. They would like us to pretend that their hypocrisy and selective outrage makes perfect sense. So the choice is really quite simple. We can either continue playing along in this bloody theatre of the absurd or stop being played for fools once and for all.

Kenn Orphan, 14 April, 2018

 

Syria: Making Sense of the Senseless

Like many of you, I have seen the reports emerging from Aleppo, Syria (east and west) in the last day, and I have been attempting to sort through the deluge of info. The images and videos are heartbreaking, confusing and conflicting. And my Facebook newsfeed has shown me a great split of reactions. Undoubtedly this is a complex situation with many historic, social, ethnic and political nuances and intricacies.  I have studied the Middle-East much of my life, worked with refugees from the region, and have several Syrian friends (on both sides) and others who worked with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in the war torn areas including Aleppo. Even still, I find it difficult to parse out the full truth in this age of utter absurdity, half truths, falsified or shoddy journalism and outright surreal propaganda.   This is how I am making sense of the senseless so far.
putin-and-obama-reluctantly-shake-hands-source-politico
Syria cannot simply be viewed in a vacuum.  In the global picture it is a proxy war between the US, Nato and Russia. And it is not a fantasy that foreign mercenaries and militants did unfortunately infiltrate the popular uprising against Assad.  This is not surprising since the entire region was radically destabilized over the course of decades from US/Nato meddling, wars and CIA operations to subvert democracy.  Where Syria sits on the map leaves it open for opportunists radicalized by the exploits of imperialist wars.  Samantha Power’s (US Ambassador to the UN) nauseating hypocrisy yesterday notwithstanding, the US has already been at war against Syria, dropping over 20,000 bombs in the last year alone.  And Power conveniently absolves her and her betters of the shame of decimating Iraq and Libya, and aiding Israel and the Saudis in their murderous massacres of civilians in Gaza and Yemen respectively.

Annette Hornischer / American Academy in Berlin / Kissinger Prize / 2016 06 08

Russia has had a bloody hand in this imperialistic game of chess from the start too. It sees the crumbling edifice of the American Empire. It knows that it is an arrogant beast drunk on its own hubris, yet despite its alarming madness it is armed to the teeth with nukes and has circled its borders and China with dozens of military bases. As any empire, even an ancient and faded one, Russia is asserting itself on the world stage and reinserting its influence on its own long held client states in the region. For the American Empire it is Israel and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia. For Russia it is Syria and, to a much lesser extent, Iran. To be sure, both Empires could not care one bit about the people in their client states. This is a chess game of psychopaths, authoritarians and tyrants, and they are in it to win even if everyone loses in the end. In essence, it is the powerful, big players and small, who have been responsible for the misery and carnage and I shall give not one of them a pass. It is the people I care about, not any one of their leaders.
assad-walks-with-putin-source-getty-images

My heart breaks when I read the reports and see the innocent victims in Aleppo. No, they are NOT all “head chopping” terrorists.  In fact by many reliable estimates violent radicals make up only a small percentage of the total sum as many of them fled the city months ago. The vast majority are simply trying to survive and have been caught in the middle, just as civilians in Yemen and Gaza. Regardless of their politics, the people in East Aleppo are flesh and blood human beings with hopes, joys, fears and dreams, deserving of dignity, compassion and safe passage.  Only the most hardened of cynics could see the mountains of ghoulish evidence and turn a smug shoulder of indifference to it or ignore the monstrous crimes of Assad.
It may seem ironic to some, but I have understanding for those Syrians who may be celebrating in West Aleppo and Damascus too. Their nation has been under siege and their entire way of life has been either shattered or threatened for at least 6 years.  Can anyone of us blame these people for celebrating what might signal, accurate or not, an end to this horrific war?  Would any of us be any different were it us in their shoes?  I cannot celebrate with them because I cannot celebrate heaven while there are still those suffering in hell. But their hopes and fears should not be dismissed either.  Most Syrians love their ancient nation, the cradle of civilization.  But violent extremism is not an inflated fear.  It is as real to them as the brutality of tyrannical dictatorship.
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Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand atop a damaged tank near Umayyad mosque, in the government-controlled area of Aleppo, during a media tour, Syria December 13, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

How can we, as non-Syrians, make sense of all of this?  I cannot speak for anyone but myself.  And my principles remain unchanged.  My solidarity is not with the powerful.  It will never be.  It will always be with those who suffer, the vulnerable, the oppressed, the persecuted.  It is antiwar, ALL war.  It is anti-imperialism, ALL imperialism.  These are the principles I will continue to champion regardless of how murky things may become in the dire days ahead.

But I will confess that, personally, I am tired of the grandstanding, ad hominem slurs, demonizing, straw man fallacies, bullying and petty fight picking I see going between activists on all political fronts.   When it comes to this issue I am choosing to listen only to ordinary Syrians on which ever side they may fall.  Their voices, while they matter the most, have been the most muted in all of this and I cannot help to think that this is by design.

Kenn Orphan  2016

We are One Human Family or We are Nothing

Back when I was in the early years of college I did an internship for social justice in Los Angeles. I had chosen to live in a safe house in east LA that provided aid and assistance to impoverished families. One morning I came down to find two sisters from the Missionaries of Charity sitting at the table with our house administrators.  They had a similar home just down the street from us and they were well known for opening it as a sanctuary for refugees.  I and the other interns were all asked to make an important decision that day.

Guatemala women mourn the dead of their communities, decimated by crime and right wing militia violence. Photo by Brooke Anderson.A family of refugees from Central America were headed to LA and needed housing, and the sisters home was already filled to capacity. Our house admins agreed to do this, but we would be permitted to go to another program, without judgement, if we were not comfortable with this decision. At the time providing sanctuary for people from certain nations in Central America was controversial, risky and technically illegal as they had not been granted refugee status. This was because the US was supporting, training and funding the right wing militias that terrorized the general population in their homelands, causing them to flee for their lives. We knew what was at stake. We understood we needed to be careful about whom we told. And we were very nervous, but we committed to it anyway.

That evening we held a reception for the family we had taken in. They were of Mayan ancestry and sat on a couch in the middle of the room, dressed in traditional clothing, grinning ear to ear at us quietly, as they gratefully ate the sandwiches we offered them.  Later, I learned that the risk I had taken paled in comparison to theirs.  We sat silently as we listened to the horrors they had witnessed and the perilous journey they had undertaken to find a better life for their children.  I am forever grateful for that experience because I was able to get to know some of the most gracious and loving people I have ever encountered.
An anti-refugee protester in New York City in September. Albin Lohr-Jones, Pacific Press, LightRocket via Getty Images.

A woman holds an anti-refugee sign at a rally in Scotland. Photo source, Vice.This is one of the reasons why the repugnant things being said about refugees, whether they are from Central America or Africa or the Middle-East, cuts me to the core.  The xenophobic vitriol is at fever pitch, just as it was back then.  This is because the refugee is an easy target for the powerful.  Unlike the faceless ghosts from one of their mass graves, they are living, breathing reminders of the crimes they committed in far flung places that now haunt them in their own backyard. They must, if they are to continue their murderous plunder, expunge them from the public record of decency through demonization and fear mongering.

In the years since my internship, I have had the opportunity to work with many refugees, most of which were from America’s many imperialistic wars or support of despotic, client regimes around the world, many from Iraq and Syria, and many Muslims.  Each one that I met told me similar stories of their plight and expressed deep gratitude for being accepted into safety.  They had lives in the homes they were forced to flee from.  They had no desire to leave them.  They all had family members, friends and belongings that are now lost forever.  But they all held out hope for a better life.

Refugees attempt to pass through Hungary. Photo source, The Telegraph.

In this June 13, 2012, file photo, a Rohingya Muslim man who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape religious violence, cries as he pleads from a boat after he and others were intercepted by Bangladeshi border authorities in Taknaf, Bangladesh. Two recent shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea believed to have taken the lives of as many as 1,300 asylum seekers and migrants has highlighted the escalating flow of people fleeing persecution, war and economic difficulties in their homelands. (AP Photo/Anurup Titu, File)

As the chaos from climate change accelerates and ecosystems degrade, Western leaders will undoubtedly become more nervous, reactionary and draconian.  And it is only matter of time before the comfortable of the West may be in similar straights as refugees today.  One need only look at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for evidence of that.  Given what we are seeing we can expect the powerful to respond to us in the same way as they are to them, and this is why our solidarity with them is so urgent.  This is not a value that one commits to when things are easy or bright.  This is the defining measure of our shared humanity that is meaningless unless one is willing to take great risk to defend it.  In the end it reveals the truth that there is no “other.”  We are one human family, or we are nothing.

 

Kenn Orphan 2015

The Great Migration

This week Austrian police discovered the bodies of 71 migrants in a truck by the side of the highway outside Vienna. It is widely believed that they had suffocated to death when they were abandoned by their smugglers. One cannot fathom the horror and agony they must have suffered; but it is a story that is fast becoming the norm. Indeed, thousands have perished in their valiant attempts to cross the Mediterranean, well over a 100 just this week.  In the Americas, untold numbers have died on their journeys north out of Central and South America. On the Andaman Sea boats brimming with starving members of the Rohingya community languished in limbo for weeks because no country would admit them. And when they reach the border their ordeals are far from over.

In Macedonia, police forces beat and tear gassed scores of refugees attempting to leave Greece; and hate crimes against undocumented immigrants in the US and Western Europe are on the rise.  None of this should come as any surprise to those of us who have been paying attention; but it does not make what we are seeing any easier. This year a combination of climate change, perpetual war and economic devastation has forced huge surges of people all over the world out of their native lands in their quest for survival. The Great Migration has begun; and I must admit, it has started far sooner than I had ever imagined.

A little girl cries as she tries to take shelter from the rain on Greece's border with Macedonia Photo Reuters

Refugees waiting for hours to cross the border to Macedonia. Photo by Erik Marquardt.

Somali refugees wait at check point. Source UNHCR

Rohingya refugees stranded on a boat off Thailand Photo Source IB TimesOf course, Western leaders are reacting to this unfolding human tragedy in typical fashion. They are either spewing racist vitriol and stoking the most base fears of their constituents, or blathering on with patronizing platitudes about immigrants and their plight. Whether it be US presidential candidate Donald Trump proudly demonizing undocumented immigrants as rapists and murderers to cheering crowds, or German Chancellor Angela Merkel callously explaining to a sobbing 14 year old Palestinian girl, whose family faces deportation to a land that is foreign to her, that “politics is hard sometimes,” the message to migrants could not be clearer: We do not care about you. We will not help you. And we will certainly not take responsibility for the foreign policies, economic exploitation and military assaults we launched on your nations that destroyed your societies and caused you to flee in the first place.

Angela Merkel makes a 14-year old Palestinian girl cry by telling her she is not welcome in Germany Source Mondoweiss

Donald Trump Photo Source Boston GlobeThe disconnect from reality is stunning, but predictable. Indeed, if Merkel or Obama or Clinton were to acknowledge that it was their governments that destroyed and destabilized Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, their entire house of cards would collapse to the ground in a smoldering, hypocritical heap. And if Trump or Bush were to acknowledge that it has been US neoliberal economic policies that have created the dire circumstances in Mexico,  or in Central and South America, that have forced tens of thousands to flee for survival, their dehumanization of refugees and migrants would be shown for the vile, empty rhetoric that it is.

Central America. A young girl cries as her home and neighborhood are forcefully dismantled in a shanty town after the government claimed that the settlement was illegal. Photo Spencer Platt Getty

Central American refugees seeks shelter. Photo by Elizabeth Ruiz AFP GettyIn truth all Western leaders, politicians and oligarchs alike, sit atop a historic pyramid of oppression and exploitation that is not of their own making. But each successive US president and Western leader has preserved the integrity of this system by faithfully growing the military/police/surveillance state and rewarding the wealthy elite with more and more loot, and bailouts and impunity for their crimes. This scheme, however, is beginning to unravel.  And we need only look to the not so distant past to get an inkling of what lies ahead.

Residents wait on a rooftop to be rescued from the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina on Sept 1, 2005 Photo by STR Reuters

National Guard soldier walks past a covered body at the Convention Center on Sept. 3, 2005, where people took refuge after Hurricane Katrina. Source NOLAThis week marks the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and it should also serve as a wake up call for those Americans, and Westerners in general, who are still under the misconception that their government has their back in disaster. With more millionaires in the Senate, and unlimited money influencing elections, it should be clear to anyone that the United States is effectively an oligarchy with little to no regard for the poor and most vulnerable.

All of this was made plain in the weeks and months following the storm and subsequent floods in New Orleans and the region. Over a thousand lost their lives, tens of thousands more lost their homes and livelihoods. But the majority of those who suffered were poor people of color; and the American Empire had better things to do than dispatch the military in full force for rescue operations of its own citizens, especially when they had little or no money to offer them in return.  After all, they had already over extended themselves in a war, based upon lies, against another group of poor, brown people on the other side of the planet.  Nurse Mary Jo D'Amico fans a patient in the car park of New Orleans Memorial hospital

Woman collapses while residents attempt to rescue her and husband from flood waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina Photo source AFPI still remember the mainstream media and some politicians calling the victims of Hurricane Katrina “refugees,” a label previously unheard of in the West. They had been abandoned by their government and it should have served as a warning to us all. No matter how much our leaders “otherize” those who are forced to abandon their homes and dire circumstances, they are a reflection of our collective future.

Although climate change will have unpredictable ramifications; it is becoming more apparent by the day what our world will begin to look like in the decades to come. It all but promises a North American West that will become a virtually uninhabitable desert. Rapid glacial melt will see Amsterdam, London, New Orleans and half of Florida submerged under the waves of an ever acidifying ocean, bereft of much of its life except for an abundance of jellyfish, invasive sea grasses, toxic algae blooms and plastic debris. Paris and Tokyo will see heat waves that rival anything we have seen so far in India or Pakistan.  And more and more species of wild life will fall to extinction.  With all of this it is hard to imagine that mass migrations will be a fate assigned only to the poor of the “developing world.”

Drought Induced Wildfires Photo David McNew Getty Images

NYC following Superstorm Sandy Christos Pathiakis Getty ImagesUndoubtedly, there is an epic storm brewing that threatens all life on this planet; and it is building up steam before our eyes. Those of us who tell this painful truth can expect to be labeled “doomers,” or fatalists, or be exiled from the conversation completely.  But there is a point at which this exile from a deluded, shallow and corrupt culture becomes a welcome gift.

The powerful elite have absolutely no plan to address what is coming outside of drumming up racist xenophobia and fear of the other, and continuing on with the “business as usual” paradigm that has driven countless species to their extinction and ushered in the epoch of the Anthropocene. And the conference that is due to convene in Paris this winter is merely a charade to pantomime concern and action.
Barack Obama, Silvio Berlusconi and Dimitry Medvedev share a good laugh at the G20 Summit. Photograph by Dominique Faget AFP Getty. Images

Still from CNN broadcast. Photo source College Humor.Do not expect any ideas from the corporate owned media either. Their job has always been to be a mouthpiece for the wealthy elite and to keep the masses distracted and subdued.  They will continue pouring out celebrity gossip and stoking fears about things that pose no significant threat to the West, like Ebola or ISIS, even as the fires rage and waters rise. Encouraging objectification and mindless consumption is their sole charge.  Considering all this, to look for salvation from those with power and wealth, even the ones who may appear more sympathetic to ordinary people, would be the height of foolishness.

Indeed, the only sane way to approach this storm is by realizing that ignoring it will not make it disappear, acknowledging that no one will be spared its wrath, and banding together in solidarity with others of like minds and souls. Doing this is unlikely to save our civilization as it is, or spark empathy in the powerful.  And it will not stop the unfolding nightmare of climate change and mass extinction.   But it may give us the courage to stop believing the never ending lies of nationalism, and help us to dismantle the artificial barriers that the elite have erected to keep us fearful of each other.  We can begin right now by looking at the immigrant and the refugee as though they were us.  Because, in all truth, they are.

Photo from the Refugee Council of the UK.

Kenn Orphan  2015