How to Identify the Assad Propaganda Conference: An Open Letter to Lord Rowan Williams

Dear Lord Rowan Williams

I have great respect for you and for your ethical stand with the refugee as you boldly stated “The UK must not turn a blind eye to refugees”. I am writing again regarding the EuroCSE conference on Syria, hoping to see an equally strong position against a conference aiming to whitewash the brutal regime’s crimes against us Syrians.

I highly appreciate that you are motivated to join the conference by a sincere hope for a just and sustainable peace. We all want an ethical and durable solution. Given that you stated in your reply that you have “have as yet seen no clear evidence that the event is designed simply as a propagandist exercise,” I am writing to give few examples. I am making this an open letter because I am worried many well-intentioned people might not see the clear evidence in this propaganda exercise.

Image by Lens Young Homsi of the regime shelling of al-Qossour neighborhood in Homs, Syria.

First of all, the conference will be mainly hosting several individuals who are members or supporters of this regime, including ministers of the Assad’s regime which is a very obvious attempt to give them legitimacy that they do not have and do not deserve, in addition to an Iranian ambassador.

Moreover, the event descriptions include misleading accounts about Syria. It completely ignores the peaceful protests against the dictator regime, which was met with extreme brutality from the regime that used all types of weapons, siege, indiscriminate bombardment, and chemical weapons to silent the revolution at any cost. The event page uses the exact same narrative Assad uses to dismiss our rights and demands for freedom and democracy. It states “Before 2011, the sovereign, secular state of Syria was a relatively prosperous country, where health and education was free to all and the population attained a high level of literacy.” A complete divorce from reality, and a disregard to all Syrians who rightfully took to the street in 2011 when the Assad’ oppression reach an intolerable level that people risked their lives to courageously demand change.

These descriptions contradict the reality of the ‘Kingdom of Silence’ the Assad the farther created since his military coup in 1970 and Assad the son continued since inheriting Syria in 2000. We Syrians know of the corruption, atrocities and torture committed by the Assad regime. Simply, to describe pre-revolution Syria with “growth and prosperity” is outrageous lying and whitewashing of Assads’ crimes. Even this morning, as I write this letter, Syrians woke up on a chemical weapons attack in Idlip that killed at least 58 people

Furthermore, it is extremely ironical that the founding director of the European Centre for the Study of extremism, Makram Khoury-Machool hold extremely extreme views on Syria and world politics. For example, in a farcical speech at the House of Lords he gives his analysis for over 10 minutes without mentioning what the Syrian people role is, or what they want, nor did he mention the Assad regime atrocities. For him, it is all an international conspiracy against the state. This is unacceptable views that ignore millions of Syrians and see them lacking voice or agency to demand their human rights and dignity.

Similarly, another speaker Dr Marcus Papadopoulos has tweeted that he is proud to be speaking at this conference including a link to a previous interview where he shamelessly claim the only ‘legitimate powers’ fighting in Syria now is Assad and Russia while in reality Assad and Russia are responsible for the majority of the Syrian causalities.

These speakers have the audacity to make outrageous conspiracy arguments irrespective of the facts on the ground in Syria and with no regard to suffering of Syrian civilians. They don’t mention the Assad regime’s indiscriminate attacks on civilians, its use of rape and starvation as weapon of war, and its turning of hospitals and prisons to slaughterhouses. The regime sponsored extremism and brought foreign fighters into the country. While it arrested most of the peaceful protestors and political activists, it freed the extremist prisoners who went on to form extreme groups in Syria.

I have previous written that the best way to help stop the war is Syria is to be informed about Syria, to listen to Syrians, to stand in solidarity with Syrians, and to demand an effective political solution and protection of civilians. As the great campaigner of protection of civilians the late Jo cox put it: “I have long argued that Isis and Assad are not separate problems to be chosen between, but are action and reaction, cause and symptom, chicken and egg, impossible to untangle no matter how much we might like to. The brutality of Assad (who has killed seven times the number of civilians as Isis) has helped nurture Isis and been its main recruiting sergeant. As such they can only be addressed together, as part of a coherent strategy.”

I sincerely hope you won’t turn a blind eye to the plea of Syrians asking you not to give your name and credibility to support such a propaganda conference. However, if you decide to still go ahead with it, I hope you will raise points the other speakers won’t mention: mainly the legitimate rights and roles of Syrians, the protection of civilians, and the atrocities of the regime. All in all, civilian protection is a catch all phrase with little meaning unless expanded to include stopping the aerial bombardments, lifting the starvation sieges and releasing the detainees. I hope you will challenge false justifications such as anti-western conspiracy theories. Finally, you could direct them toward more reliable sources of information by Syrians such as great books documenting the Syrian struggle for freedom and democracy ‘Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War,’ ‘A woman in the crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution’ and ‘Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline’.

Yours sincerely

Fardous Bahbouh

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