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October 16 2014

Syria Comment » Archives Interview with Sayyid Hashim Muhammad Ali: Commander of the National Ideological Resistance in Syria

Syria Comment » Archives Interview with Sayyid Hashim Muhammad Ali: Commander of the National Ideological Resistance in Syria - Syria Comment
http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/interview-sayyid-hashim-muhammad-ali-commander-national-ideological-re

A: On our relations with the brother Ali Kayali, sadly we are not connected by any relation because we work on internal fronts in Aleppo, Hama, Damascus, Deraa and Quneitra, but not in Latakia. So we don’t meet with them but in any case we respect all the honourable ones in this crisis and we are completely ready to cooperate with them within the ethical framework and direction of the Ahl al-Bayt [Muhammad’s family revered by Shi’a in particular] (peace be upon them).

Reposted from02mysoup-aa 02mysoup-aa

February 25 2014

Pakistan, Stay Out of Syria's Civil War

A day after a tiny news items titled, “Saudi Arabia ‘seeking Pakistani arms for Syrian rebels” appeared in Pakistani newspapers, political blogger Ahsan Butt posts a provocative piece warning Pakistan's foreign policymakers against tiptoeing into Syria's affairs.

In “This is not our war (The Syria Edition)” on the Five Rupees Blog, Ahsan writes:

What Pakistan is doing vis-a-vis Syria is one of the dumbest things Pakistan has done in a long time, and that’s really saying something. The Syrian civil war, tragic as it is, has nothing to do with Pakistan. Pakistan has no interests in that conflict. None.

Saudi Arabia is in talks with Pakistan to provide Pakistan-made anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets. Ahsan warns:

Is it wise and advisable to wade into a sectarian civil war two thousand miles away?[...]

Just examine the trajectory of sectarian violence over the last decade.

He explains that any interference in Syria will force the Pakistani state to pay attention to rising sectarian violence in the country:

What are the possible ramifications for such a policy on sectarian violence in Pakistan? Is it likely to exacerbate and make more deadly sectarian cleavages or the opposite?

Ahsan lists four more provocative questions which you can read here.

February 11 2014

e-Booklets for Syrian Activists

Syrian activists are now able to access an online archive which lists tactics for resisting tyranny and peaceful ways to revolt.

Dawlaty, an NGO whose name translates to My State from Arabic, provides a series of e-booklets which [ar]:

محاولة لتقديم بعض الأساليب والتكتيكات التي استخدمها وما زال يستخدمها نشطاء سوريا في كفاحهم السلمي.
حاولنا قدر الامكان أرشفة هذه التحركات لتقديمها للسوريين وغيرهم على شكل دليل للحراك الثوري في سوريا.
لربما يلهم هذا الكتيب البعض على إنتاج المزيد من تجارب الأرشفة للحراك السلمي في سوريا ويزود الناشطات والناشطين بأساليب خلاقة في كفاحهم ضد الطغيان.

attempt to provide a number of methods and tactics which were used and are still being used by activists in Syria as part of their peaceful resistance.
We have tried, as much as possible, to archive these movements to present them to Syrians and others, as a guide to the revolutionary movement in Syria.
This series may perhaps inspire some of you to produce more archives for the peaceful movement in Syria, which will provide activists with creative methods to resist tyranny.

Already on the site are Tactics for Revolutionary Activism in Syria [ar] and Transitional Justice in Syria [ar] (this booklet is available in English), among others.

February 05 2014

British Mother Yells at Syrian Officials: “Why Did You Kill My Son?”

“Why did you kill my son?” yells Fatima Khan, the grieving mother of British doctor Abbas Khan who was killed in Syria, at regime officials who were in Geneva for peace talks aimed at ending the country's civil war. Dr Khan had traveled to Syria to provide humanitarian aid in Aleppo, and according to his mother, was killed because “he entered Syria illegally.”

The video, uploaded on YouTube by newutopiacity1 (subtitled in Arabic), shows Mrs Khan confronting Syrian regime officials about the death of her son in Syrian custody on December 16, 2013.

Youth Orchestra ‘Jafraa’ a Bright Spot in War-Torn Syria

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Jafraa Band. Source: Jafraa Facebook page. Used under CC BY 2.0

Shakespeare once said, “If music be the food of love, play on.” But what if this “food of love” risks the player's life? This is case for the young musicians who make up the Jafraa orchestra at the Palestinian returnees camp in Homs, Syria.

Led by music teacher and children's coach Amer Shanati, the band counts 45 to 55 children from ages seven to 17 years. Though music is often described as the language of the world, it pays a heavy price in war-torn Syria to survive. Most of their “relatively expensive” instruments are either borrowed or donated due to the poverty of the residents of the camp. Their music is a welcome distraction from the noise of bombardment and fighting that takes place outside besieged Homs.

Jafraa is 100 per cent dependent on social media to broadcast their performances as Syria lacks any kind of public musical activities since the government prohibited musical productions at the provincial and state levels. Shanati mainly uses Jafraa.Music on YouTube and Jafraa.homs on Facebook to post the band's work and to show the world that beyond the horror in Syria, there are still talented people who deserve not to be forgotten in the chaos. 

In the few emails that I exchanged with Shanati, he expressed his enthusiasm and pride for Jafraa, which performs “committed art”, a term that in Syria means the music of classic singers and musicians who enriched the Arab world's musical culture for generations, like Mohamed Abdel WahabFairuzUmm Kulthum, and Wadih El Safi, among many others. These young players are making magnificent efforts to underscore their talent by playing the 1969 classic song by Um Kulthum “Alf Leila wa Leila” (One Thousand and One Nights):

Shanati introduces the band on Facebook page as follows [ar]:

فرقة_جفرا_للفن_الملتزم فرقة موسيقية غير تابعة أو مموّلة من أي جهة حكومية أو مؤسسة من مؤسسات المجتمع المدني أو جمعية
أو مشروع على اختلاف انتماءاتهم..
فرقة جفرا أُسّستْ منذ عام 2007 بجهودٍ ذاتية متواضعة لتغني اللحن والفن الأصيل
تتألف من مجموعة كبيرة من الأطفال و الشباب يقوم الأستاذ “عـــــامر شناتي” بتدريبهم في غرفة صغيرة في مخيم العائدين/حمص/سوريا.

ولكل من هؤلاء الأطفال حلمه في الحياة العملية سيجتهد ويدرس لتحقيقه , ولكن ستبقى جفرا هي ركنهم الدافئ والخاص يحلقّون مـن خلاله في فضاء اللحن الأصيل والكلمة الملتزمة لينثروا عبرهما معاني الحب والسلام والجمال لكل من حولهم ..

وعليه تقبل فرقة جفرا للفن الملتزم فقط تبرعات و إحياء حفلات برعاية أشخاص أو مؤسسات لغايات إنسانية و ثقافية أخلاقية بحته
دون أي شــــــــروط تُفرض على الفرقة …

The Jafraa band of “committed art” is an orchestra which is not affiliated nor funded by any party, civil community institution, association or any other project.

The Jafraa band was established in 2007 with modest intentions to perform melodies and original art. It consists of a large group of children and young people led by Amer Shanati, a music teacher who trains them in a small room in the returnees camp in Homs, Syria.

Each of these children has a dream for his future; however, Jafraa will remain their warm and private corner from which they fly into space, with melody and committed music to spread the meaning of love, peace and beauty around them.

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Jafraa Band. Source: Jafraa Facebook page. Used under CC BY 2.0

The Jafraa band accepts only donations and concerts sponsored by people or institutions for humanitarian and cultural purposes, purely without any conditions imposed on the band.

The band takes its name from a famous poem about a pretty young Palestinian girl named Jafraa (or Jafra) who captured a poet's heart. Despite uncertainty around the story, generations considered Jafraa an icon of beauty and love in the Palestinian culture from which Shanati and many of his little heroes are descended. 

Answering a few questions about how Jafraa is operating, Shanati responded modestly:

I use social media to ease the delivery of the voice of children to the world where is no media coverage exist in our neighborhood. Our followers reactions are significant, give us hope and we feel happy to know that they are waiting every new video we upload.

Nevertheless financial aid is very tiny, but it is important, even though I know the reason of material lack and extreme poverty. We are still looking for more funds so that we can own our musical and audio equipment and become more independent with a spacious room to accommodate a larger number of children. We are suffering from the slow Internet connections and power outages which complicate our communications and hamper our future plans; however, we aim to continue despite the difficulties.

Our work is a message to show that we insist on living our lives, although it seems impossible, and despite the restricted potential for growth we need to show to the world our talents to help us grow instead of being defeated.

I dream of developing this band to a higher level of fine musicians and of finding more talent to help the children overcome the recent crisis that has affected them psychologically.

Back to Shakespeare's quote: “If music be the food of love, play on / Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting / The appetite may sicken, and so die.”

It's doubtful that he was talking about physical death. I wish all talent of the world better circumstances than those of the little Syrians in the Jafraa band, who give hope, a tiny light at the end of Syria's dark bloody tunnel.

February 03 2014

Human Rights Video: 2013 Year in Review

A video by WITNESS on the Human Rights Channel of YouTube wrapped up some of the most significant protests and human rights abuses of 2013. Dozens of clips shot by citizens worldwide are edited together to show efforts to withstand injustice and oppression, from Sudan to Saudi Arabia, Cambodia to Brazil.

A post on the WITNESS blog by Madeleine Bair from December 2013, celebrates the power of citizen activism using new technologies including video, while readers are reminded that the difficulty of verification and establishing authenticity remains a big obstacle.

“Citizen footage can and is throwing a spotlight on otherwise inaccessible places such as prisons, war zones, and homes,” says Bair. “But given the uncertainties inherent in such footage, reporters and investigators must use it with caution.”

Reposted byiranelection iranelection

January 31 2014

AB14: “We Must Stop Thinking That Technology Will Solve All of Our Problems”

This article originally appeared on El Diario, in Spanish. Translation by Ellery Roberts Biddle.

Empty seats for those who were absent from #AB14. Photo by Hisham Almiraat via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Empty seats for those who were absent from #AB14. Photo by Hisham Almiraat via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

“Those who live in western societies do not understand the importance of being able to criticize the actions of their government. This is a right we do not have in our countries.”

It was with this that Walid Al-Saqaf, founder of Portal Yemen, began a panel on censorship and digital surveillance at the Arab Bloggers Meeting #AB14 that took place from the 20-23 of January in Amman.

Banner calling for the release of Alaa Abd El Fattah and Bassel Safadi, former participants at the Arab Bloggers Meeting.

Banner calling for the release of Alaa Abd El Fattah and Bassel Safadi, former participants at the Arab Bloggers Meeting.

The political context for this event has changed dramatically since the last meeting in September of 2011, when bloggers and activists from every Arab country came together in Tunis, meeting under a banner that read: “Welcome to a Free Tunis.” Since this time, censorship and repression have continued. The ardent, palpable feeling of hope at the last meeting, fueled by uprisings against dictatorships in the region, has given way to difficult transitions in some cases and armed conflict in others, all struggles that we see plainly in the online realm.

“We must stop thinking that technology will solve all of our problems,” Al-Saqaf pleaded. “Censorship is here to stay, regardless of the tools, so we must stop being obsessed with them and begin to think in the long term.”

The meeting focused on the strategic pursuit of protection against censorship and surveillance, and the preservation of common bonds in a milieu that feels more and more fragmented each day. An on-site photo project featured a message from each of the participants.

“We watch the government, not the other way around,” message from Moroccan blogger Zineb Belmkaddem during the Arab Bloggers Meeting in Amman. Photo by Amer Sweidan, used with permission.

“We watch the government, not the other way around,” message from Moroccan blogger Zineb Belmkaddem during the Arab Bloggers Meeting in Amman. Photo by Amer Sweidan, used with permission.

This year, the absence of two participants from past meetings was especially palpable: Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah and Syrian web developer Bassel Safadi. The meeting was dedicated to them, journalists and activists detained in the region. A statementcalling for freedom for Razan Zaitouneh, co-founder of Syria’s Center for Violations Documentation, a group that documents human rights abuses, who was kidnapped in December in Damascus.

As a community, we have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with activists promoting freedom and exposing human rights violations in service of our shared humanity. We at AB14 demand that the UN and all countries involved in the Geneva II Middle East Peace Conference establish verifiable mechanisms to protect and secure the release of opinion detainees and kidnappees in Syria.

These were not the only people absent. A Syrian member of the Enab Baladi project, a local independent media project created at the start of the March 2011 uprising, was sent back to Turkey after several hours of interrogation at the Amman airport. Two Iraqi participants were denied entry visas altogether. Restrictions for citizen travel between countries in the region remains a constant (at the last meeting, Palestinian participants were not able to get into Tunisia) a reality that contradicts the illusion of regional unity.

“I have no words, only shame, to describe how Arab regimes treat citizens in other Arab countries, while a person with a Western passport can move freely without a visa through practically the entire region,” wrote Abir Kopty. She added: “We will keep fighting until we are separated neither by borders nor by authoritarian regimes.”

January 29 2014

Coursera Online Courses Blocked in Syria, Iran and Cuba by US Sanctions

Hit by US Sanctions, online learning platform Coursera is no longer available for students from Syria, Iran and Cuba. Those effected were surprised to have the following message on their screen as they tried to access their courses:

“Our system indicates that you are trying to access the Coursera site from an IP address associated with a country currently subjected to US economic and trade sanctions. In order for Coursera to comply with US export controls, we cannot allow you to access to the site.”

Iranian student Navid Soltani immediately expressed his outrage on Coursera's Facebook page:

2014-01-29 01_41_59-Navid Soltani - Photos of Coursera

Blogger Leila Nachawati shared his sentiments:

Syrian blogger and developer Anas Maarawi criticized the US sanctions on his blog [ar]:

وبين مطرقة النظام السوري الذي يحجب مئات مواقع الإنترنت، وسندان “العقوبات الأمريكية” يزداد الخناق على الشباب السوري الراغب بالتعلّم، أو بالأحرى من تبقى من الشباب السوري القادر على الوصول إلى ما تبقى من الإنترنت في سوريا.

“Between the censorship imposed by the regime, which includes blocking hundreds of internet sites, and the effect of US sanctions, it has become nearly impossible for the remaining youth in the country to have access to online learning.”

Editor-in-chief at Wamda Nina Curley was more pragmatic in her approach and asked if it was inevitable:

However, one of Coursera's professors, Rolf Strom Olsen, couldn't understand why non-Americans are affected as well:

January 28 2014

Coursera Blocked in Syria — by US Sanctions

Screen capture of Coursera notice. Capture by Anas Maarawi, used with permission.

Screen capture of Coursera notice. Capture by Anas Maarawi, used with permission.

“Our system indicates that you are trying to access the Coursera site from an IP address associated with a country currently subjected to US economic and trade sanctions. In order for Coursera to comply with US export controls, we cannot allow you to access to the site.”

As of this month, if you try to access the online learning platform Coursera from within Syria, you will see only this message.

Coursera, which according to its site aims “to change the world by educating millions of people by offering classes from top universities and professors online for free,” is now subjected to a recent directive from the US federal government that has forced some MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) providers to block access for users in sanctioned countries such as Iran and Cuba. Coursera explains the change in its student support center:

The interpretation of export control regulations as they related to MOOCs was unclear for a period of time, and Coursera had been operating under one interpretation of the law. Recently, Coursera received a clear answer indicating that certain aspects of the Coursera MOOC experience are considered ‘services’ (and all services are highly restricted by export controls). While many students from these countries were previously able to access Coursera, this change means that we will no longer be able to provide students in sanctioned countries with access to Coursera moving forward.

Syrian developer Anas Maarawi criticized the policy shift on his blog: “Between the censorship imposed by the regime, which includes blocking hundreds of internet sites, and the effect of US sanctions, it has become nearly impossible for the remaining youth in the country to have access to online learning.”

Maarrawi added: “The technological sanctions imposed by the US against Syria do not harm the regime. They only contribute to suffocating the population, especially a youth eager to learn and connect with the outside world.”

The sanctions are not new. For several years Syrian internet users have been suffering their effects, from social networks such as LinkedIn to Google Earth.

In September 2011, the Electronic Frontier Foundation called on the US to lift all restrictions “that deny citizens access to vital communications tools.” But the US has continued its piecemeal approach, going back and forth between blocking new ranges of transactions to allowing the export of certain services.

“These sorts of export restrictions are overbroad and contain elements which have no effect on the Syrian regime, while preventing Syrian citizens from accessing a wealth of tools that are available to their activist counterparts in neighboring countries and around the world,” EFF stated.

Amid increasing isolation, access to knowledge is vital

Contending with deep isolation and daily loss, many Syrians regard Coursera as an empowering platform that allows them to continue learning, against all odds. Mahmud Angrini, a Syrian doctor who took more than 20 of the online courses the platform offers, shared what Coursera meant to him in a very touching letter that was published on the Coursera blog under the title “It's never too late to start again”:

Once a successful physician, my family and I turned into one of the millions of Syrian refugees. I didn’t just lose my properties I also lost all my relations – friends and supporting family members. I felt sad, depressed, bored and isolated. But then one day while I was surfing the Internet, I found Coursera.

What I can assure you is that Coursera changed my life during those painful months. I began to follow Coursera courses, not just in the field of medicine but also in many other disciplines. (…) Soon later, my language skills improved and I engaged in many other courses. The courses and the interesting knowledge impeded in them helped me forget my pain, depression and suffering.

Someday, the war will end, and we will come back to our homes and our former lives to contribute to the reconstruction process in our country. To do so, we need to learn new skills, and this could only be achieved through continuing education. We can take advantage of the high quality courses that Coursera offers at no cost.

The letter was welcome by the Coursera editors, who described Dr. Angrini’s experience as touching and inspiring: “Thank you Mahmud, for living Coursera’s mission to create a world where people can learn without limits.”

Coursera ended the announcement of the changes that prevent access to their courses in sanctioned countries with the following note: “We value our global community of users and sincerely regret the need to take this action. Please know that Coursera is currently working very closely with the U.S. Department of State and Office of Foreign Asset Control to secure the necessary permissions to reinstate site access for users in sanctioned countries.”

If Coursera really believes in its own role as a life-changer (and game-changer) in the field of online education, it should take all steps necessary to ensure that access to their site is reinstated in sanctioned countries such as Syria, where their courses make the biggest difference.

Anas Maarawi contributed to this article.

Arab Bloggers Demand Release of Rights Activists in Syria

The 4th Arab Bloggers Meeting participants support the release of Razan Zaitouneh, a human rights lawyer and the co-founder of Syria's Violations Documentation Center (SVDC) — a non-violent civil group documenting human rights abuses in Syria since March 2011. Ms. Zaitouneh, 36, who is a co-awardee of the European Union's Sakharov Prize for her human rights work was kidnapped on December 9, 2013 in the outskirts of Damascus along with Samira al-Khalil, Wael Hamada and Nazim al-Hamadi, also members of SVDC.

In the 33 months since the outbreak of the Syrian uprising, Razan Zaitouneh's work with her colleagues at SVDC became a vital source of information for the international community on the violations of human rights in the country. Now that the UN has made the unfortunate decision not to track the death toll in Syria, the work of SVDC has become more crucial than ever.

Razan and her colleagues worked in extremely difficult conditions, taking great risks in order to fulfill a vital task enriching our understanding of the plight of the Syrian people. So were many others, like our colleague blogger  Bassel Safadi – in detention since March 2012 – who worked on promoting freely available and open-source technology, and who is highly missed at the 4th Arab Bloggers Summit, which took place from January 20-23 in Amman, Jordan.

As a community, we have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with activists promoting freedom and exposing human rights violations in service of our shared humanity.

We at AB14 demand that the UN and all countries involved in the Geneva II Middle East Peace Conference establish verifiable mechanisms to protect and secure the release of opinion detainees and kidnappees in Syria.

Colors from the Zaatari Refugee Camp

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

The impact of the escalation of violation in Syria on a whole generation of children has become a priority for many Syrian activists and organizations. Colors from the Zaatari Camp is one of the many initiatives focusing on the future of Syria by trying to improve the life conditions of refugee and displaced children.

Children drawing at Zaatari Camp. Source: Colors from the Zaatari Camp´s facebook page.

Children drawing at Zaatari Camp. Source: Colors from the Zaatari Camp Facebook page.

 

The Zaatari camp, located on the Syrian-Jordanian border, is the largest Syrian refugee camp, hosting more than 100,000 refugees, many of them children. According to Dima al-Malakeh, who works for the Dubai-based association For Syria:

“We chose Zaatari for this project because it is a place where many Syrians live together now, one where we can start working together in the field of schools and education.”

She added:

The Colors of Zaatari project throws light at the work of children to highlight their voices, their talents and their dreams, in an attempt to reach out to international organizations and institutions so that they can help them go back to school. Going back to school is what the children dream of, and so do we.

Zaatari children painting, exhibited in Amman, January 16-17. Source: Colors of the Zaatari Camp´s facebook page

Zaatari children painting, exhibited in Amman, January 16-17. Source: Colors of the Zaatari Camp Facebook page

 

The idea was born after activist Mahmoud Sadaka saw a number of drawings that children living in the camp had made. “The drawings were beautiful, powerful and revealing, and I thought it was a shame that they stayed in the camp and no one else could see them”, he explained to Syria Untold. 

In coordination with For Syria and other Syrian journalists and activists such as Milia Aidamouni, they decided to highlight Syrian talent through these children’s creations. They collected the best works and organized their first exhibition in Amman on January 16-17, 2013. A total of 60 art pieces, properly framed with the help of artist Lina Mohamid, were exhibited.

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

January 08 2014

WikiLeaks Supporters Shocked by Visit With Syria's Assad

Wikileaks Party

Wikileaks Party
Photo: Courtesy Takver (Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Many WikiLeaks supporters were caught unawares when members of the Wikileaks Party met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in late December.

The small Australian delegation to Syria included party chairman John Shipton, father of party founder Julian Assange, along with representatives from the Sydney-based lobby group, Hands off Syria. Journalist Chris Ray, who was in the room for the 45-minute meeting, reported that the two groups “reject foreign military support for Syrian rebels and advocate a political solution to the crisis.”

The WikiLeaks platform was quick to distance itself from the initiative on Twitter.

Major Australian political parties have condemned the meeting. In a somewhat curious response, Shipton threatened to sue Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for defamation, over critiques they made to national press concerning the Syria visit. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported Bishop as saying,

It's an extraordinarily reckless thing for an organisation registered as a political party in Australia to try and insert itself in the appalling conflict in Syria for their own political ends.

When news of the meeting first hit the Internet, it became clear that many supporters of the WikiLeaks transparency platform knew little about the party to begin with. The WikiLeaks party, although institutionally separate from the platform, was created in 2013 to support Julian Assange's candidacy for the Australian Senate. In the September Federal elections, Assange led a group of New South Wales Senate candidates, with a number of Wikileaks Party members standing in other states. Assange and his party endured a dismal electoral failure, gaining less than 1.0% of the Senate vote.

During the campaign, with its figurehead still stuck in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, the party suffered from broad cleavages among members. One candidate and other party members resigned over allocation of voting preferences to right-wing parties. Australian technology website Delimiter commented in August:

Is the party purely a vehicle for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to get elected to the Federal Senate, and thus earn himself a ticket out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London? Or is it a legitimate new political movement in Australia, which will achieve legitimacy beyond Assange personally?

Perhaps the journey to Syria was an attempt to broaden the party’s political profile. According to the latest Wikipedia entry for the Wikileaks Party:

Shipton subsequently stated that the meeting with al-Assad was “just a matter of good manners”, and that the delegation had also met with members of the Syrian opposition.

Despite John Shipton and Wikipedia indicating that the delegation also met with the Syrian opposition, details have not become available yet. Accompanying journalist Chris Ray did not mention the meetings in his post. Responding to WikiLeaks initial tweet, Wikileaks Party National Council Kellie Tranter tweeted that she too had no prior knowledge of the meeting.

This brought more questions about the party’s future:

Well-known commentator on the Middle East, Antony Loewenstein, showed his disappointment in the party, which he has given his support:

The tweet and accompanying link brought several contrary views. Loewenstein further explained his concerns on his blog:

As a Wikileaks supporter since 2006, right from the beginning (and I remain a public backer of the organisation), it’s tragic to see the Wikileaks Party in Australia, after a disastrous 2013 election campaign, descend into political grandstanding.

The Wikileaks Support Forum has been a centre of debate. Journalist Jess Hill was especially active in taking the party to task. The conversation became heated:

This tweet should act as a warning to all in the twitterverse:

Doubtless, Shipton and other delegation members will face many questions when they return to Australia.

December 28 2013

The Islamic Caliphate Car Number Plates Come to Syria

A car in Syria bearing the Islamic Caliphate number plate. Photograph tweeted by @ZaidBenjamin

A car in Syria bearing the Islamic Caliphate number plate. Photograph tweeted by @zaidbenjamin

Zaid Benjamin shares on Twitter a photograph of the first car in Syria with the Islamic Caliphate state registration plates:

The number plates are operated by the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq.

December 27 2013

Syrian Photographer Hamid Khatib Evades Death to Capture Life

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

“There is no Hamid the photographer without the revolution. Hopefully there will still be one when the revolution ends.” These are the words of young award-winning Syrian photographer, Hamid Khatib, who joined the uprising in October 2011, after completing his obligatory military service. With his camera, he has captured a generation of young people who took to the streets, surprising older generations by demanding the impossible.

 

Boy makes weapon in Aleppo, by Hamid Khatib. Source: the author´s facebook page

Boy makes weapon in Aleppo, by Hamid Khatib. Source: The author's Facebook page

 

Children and war

Like many other Syrians, Hamid Khatib, 23, describes himself as “reborn after the uprising” in an interview with Syria Untold.

He started recording videos of demonstrations and the repression of protesters by regime forces and soon switched to photography. His photo “Rebel boy makes weapon” was chosen by Reuters as one of the best pictures of 2013. Since then, he has worked for the news agency, capturing moments of destruction, hope, despair, loss and daily life in Syria.

The award-winning photograph shows a 10-year-old boy, Issa, carrying a mortar shell in a weapons factory of the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo.

“I had wanted to capture the effects of war on children for a while,” he explained. “I thought I would make a series with different children, but when I met Issa and his father I was struck by their story and could not stop focusing on it.”

“Issa works with his father at the weapons factory for 10 hours a day, every day, except Fridays. His story has come to mean a lot to me, on a personal level,” said Khatib.

“The situation in Syria is out of a journalist's control,” he said. “You can only adjust yourself to evolving events on the ground. But I personally prefer portraying daily life in the country, and the side effects of war on people.”

A child in Raqqa, by Hamid Khatib. Source: The author´s Facebook page.

A child in Raqqa, by Hamid Khatib. Source: The author's Facebook page.

 

A journey of death and love

Born in Aleppo in 1990, Khatib began covering the uprising around the time it became militarized. After completing his own military service, he moved to the United Arab Emirates for work, but soon traveled back to Aleppo incognito. “I wanted to show the world what the Syrian regime's state of terror was really like,” he says. 

Over these past years he has not only encountered death and destruction but has found love too. He fell in love with Nour Kelze, a former elementary school teacher, who became a Reuters photographer in 2012 after taking pictures with her cell phone. The two are now married.

Syrian photographers Hamid Khatib and Nour Kelze, working in Aleppo. Source: Khatib´s facebook page.

Syrian photographers Hamid Khatib and Nour Kelze, working in Aleppo. Source: Khatib's Facebook page.

 

Nour and Hamid work hand in hand in Aleppo, and they have been on the brink of death several times.

“I was standing on that same spot, but she asked me to change places with her, to take a few photos from there,” Hamid explained. “She is very strong and is not afraid of anything. Suddenly, I heard the shelling, and saw smoke coming out from everywhere, and could not think of anything but Nour, ‘Where is Nour…?'” He heard her voice calling him, and took her to a field hospital. She was wounded on her left foot and suffered shrapnel wounds to her hands.

On another occasion, Hamid witnessed shelling by the regime during one of the many demonstrations he attended in Bustan al-Qasr, a town well-known for turning wedding celebrations into massive demonstrations for freedom

Bustan al-Qasr made headlines in international media in January 2013, when dozens of men who had disappeared at regime checkpoints were discovered at the Queiq river, all shot in the head with their hands bound with plastic ties behind their back.

“Most of the people protesting next to me were wounded or killed in that demonstration, but I survived,” Hamid said. 

He also once had a brush with death on his first day back in his hometown, Azaz – in northern Aleppo – which he had not visited for three years. All his relatives, five whole families, were sharing a two-storey house. When he was awoken by shelling, he ran downstairs to see if the women and children had survived, and found them crying in fear that the men upstairs had been killed. The missiles kept falling throughout the night. Around 150 neighbors were killed in Azaz that night, and 40 houses were turned to rubble.

Death has been merciful to Hamid, but not to friends and colleagues such as Molhem Barakat, an 18-year-old photographer who was killed while covering a battle for a hospital in Aleppo on December 20. Hamid is committed to continuing his work, in order to honor Molhem and all the martyrs who lost their lives for a better Syria. “Because there really was no Syria before the revolution,” he added. “There is no Syria without the struggle for freedom that so many have given their lives for.”

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

December 26 2013

Merry Christmas from Syrian Artists

Syrian Christians quietly celebrate Christmas as the nation's civil war enters its forth year, marking a death toll of more than 100,000 people and the displacement of millions to neighboring countries seeking shelter.

With shelter, came a stark winter and a prayer of return, as this Al Jazeera report explains:

This year, Syria witnessed a great deal of havoc, death, and a tremendous amount of kidnappings that left most of its citizens hopeless. This hopelessness can be seen in the works of artists who, at times, express a nation's distress in a single artwork better than a million words.

Depictions of Santa in Syrian Artworks

Emulating kidnappings in Syria, Jawad painted an abducted Santa in ragged clothes, kneeling on his knees at gunpoint:

[Photo source: Art by Jawad Facebook Page]

[Photo source: Art by Jawad Facebook Page]

In another artwork by Anas Salameh, Santa's corpse is being carried out of Syria's Al Yarmouk Refugee Camp for Palestinians:

[Photo source: Anas Salameh's Facebook profile]

[Photo source: Anas Salameh's Facebook profile]

Santa is also seen in tears as his gifts arrived a little too late for Syria's martyred children:

Done by Comic4 Syria كوميك لأجل سوريا [Photo Source: Comic4 Syria كوميك لأجل سوريا Facebook Page]

Done by Comic4 Syria كوميك لأجل سوريا [Photo Source: Comic4 Syria كوميك لأجل سوريا Facebook Page]

Here, he sits alongside their graves in mourning:

Artwork by Wissam Al Jazariry [Photo Source: Wissam Al Jazariry Artworks Facebook Page]

Artwork by Wissam Al Jazariry [Photo Source: Wissam Al Jazariry Artworks Facebook Page]

The Holiday Spirit: Jingles, Christmas Trees, and Ornaments

A skit playing off the Jingle Bills Christmas song calls for freedom and the ousting of Bashar Al-Assad. The creator, known as Mogwli Mowgli, has died under torture:

Anwar Al Eissa paints a metaphoric ornament soaked in blood, hanging in a freezer, as if depicting the dire freezing conditions many Syrians are going through this Christmas:

[Photo Source: Anwarts Facebook Page]

[Photo Source: Anwarts Facebook Page]

Amjad Wardeh paints a Christmas tree out of an explosion's aftermath:

Whereas Hani Abbas creates it out of refugee tents:

[Photo Source: Hani abbas cartoon]

[Photo Source: Hani abbas cartoon]

Aleppian artist Mohamad Alweis writes “Merry Christmas” with a snowflake made of barrels, subtly commenting on the 100 barrels that fell over Aleppo this past week:

[Photo Source: Mohamad Alweis's Facebook Profile]

[Photo Source: Mohamad Alweis's Facebook Profile]

However, with darkness arises a flicker of hope and belief in a better tomorrow. Watch as Syrian filmmaker Eyad Aljarod films Saraqeb's children, Muslims and Christians, celebrate Christmas and share their dreams:

Bells 2013 – أجراس 2013 from eyad aljarod on Vimeo.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

December 24 2013

Molhem Barakat: Syria's Fallen Teenage Hero

Molhem Barakat, a freelance photographer working for Reuters, was reportedly killed while covering a fight between and Bashar Al-Assad’s forces and rebels in Aleppo’s Al-Kindi Hospital on December 20.

Aleppo Media Center’s Hassoun Abu Faisal told the Associated Press that Barakat died with his brother, a Free Syrian Army fighter, in a carpet factory near the hospital. His bloodied camera gear was found at the scene:

Abu Faisal also noted that Barakat only started to cover the war a few months ago, when he began freelancing with Reuters in May.

The Syrian teenager, who was born on March 8, 1995, according to his personal Facebook profile, told Prague-based photojournalist Stanislav Krupar when they met that Reuters paid him $100 for ten photographs a day and an extra $50–$100 if the New York Times Lens Blog chose any for Picture of The Day.

While Krupar said he believes Reuters provided Barakat with photo gear, he noted that Barakat had no “ballistic protection – no vest, no helmet.”

Reporting his death, Amman-based journalist Randa Habib said:

Echoing her stance, BBC Senior World Affairs Producer Stuart Hughes tweeted that Reuters responded nonchalantly to his questions regarding Barakat’s age and inexperience. He asked Reuters the following questions:

- There have been conflicting reports of Molhem's age ranging from 17 to 19. Are you able to clarify this?
- If not, how does Reuters respond to some reports that Molhem was 17 years old, and therefore a minor under UK and US law?
- What checks does Reuters carry out to verify the ages of young freelancers working in hostile environments?
- Is Reuters aware of whether Molhem Barakat had completed any hostile environment or first aid training. Was he equipped with personal protective equipment or a first aid kit?
- What it the current policy of Reuters on purchasing material from freelancers in Syria?

To which Reuters responded:

We are deeply saddened by the death of Molhem Barakat, who sold photos to Reuters on a freelance basis. To best protect the many journalists on the ground in a dangerous and volatile war zone, we think it is inappropriate to comment any further at this time.

Corey Pein, an American writer who lives in the UK, adds that while Reuters may have helped Barakat steer away from trouble, they cannot avoid questions about his death:

I know too that wars are messy, and if Molhem hadn’t been taking pictures, he may well have taken up arms. The Reuters team in Syria might have thought they were doing him a favor — and in some ways, I’m sure that they were.
That doesn’t mean the company gets to blow off questions about the circumstances leading up to this young man’s death.

British journalist and photographer Hannah Lucinda Smith, who interviewed Barakat in May for the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat, said in a blog post that Barakat was confused as he went from being a “happy teenager to a messed up young man who, at one stage, was adamant that he wanted to join al-Qaeda [as a suicide bomber, but] started working as a photographer, hoping to emulate some of the journalists he was hanging around with.”

Molhem Barakat, self portrait, taken February 14, 2013 [photo source: Barakat's Facebook profile]

Molhem Barakat, self portrait, taken February 14, 2013 [photo source: Barakat's Facebook profile]

Lucinda Smith also said that his confusion perhaps stemmed from his inability to leave Aleppo:

In long conversations on Facebook I tried to persuade him to leave Aleppo and come to Turkey. He refused. He didn’t have a passport, and he didn’t have any money. His family were all still in Syria and he didn’t want to leave them or his friends.

However, she concluded that she hopes Reuters honors Barakat's life by taking responsibility for him:

I hope that they took responsibility for him in a way that I couldn’t, and I hope that if he was taking photographs as he died in the hope of selling them to that agency, they also take responsibility for him now.

Reposted byirukandjisyndrome irukandjisyndrome

December 20 2013

Jihadists Online: The Dark Side of the Internet

Islamist Jihadists are online.

Lebanese blogger – and occasional satirist – Karl Sharro tweets:

Syrian Noor Al Ali replies:

And Sharro responds:

Syria: The Free Women of Darayya

Syrian women raise the Syrian revolution flag. Photo source: Syria Untold

Syrian women raise the Syrian revolution flag. Photo source: Syria Untold

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

Darayya, a Syrian town in the outskirts of Damascus where renowned peaceful activists such as Ghiath Matar and Yahya Sherbaji were born, stands as a symbol of the Syrian non-violence movement. Also part of this civil grassroots movement is a group of women known as Darayya's Free Women, who engaged in numerous protests and initiatives since the beginning of the uprising, in the spring of 2011.

“We didn’t know each other before the uprising”, one of the women said in an interview with Syria Untold. “The demonstrations that took so many to the streets to demand freedom and justice united us.”

Part of this group, which was key at the initial stage of the uprising, was already involved in civil initiatives prior to 2011. As early as in 2003, young men and women from Darayya had worked on several campaigns such as citizen cleaning committees and demonstrations against the US invasion of Iraq. They contributed to the foundation of what years later, in the context of the Arab uprisings, became known as the Syrian Civil Movement. Already at that time, the movement was considered a threat by the regime, which engaged in the arrests of several of its members.

The first initiative that made this group of women stand out within the civil movement was a sit-in to demand the release of prisoners of conscience, in April 2011.  By that time, the regime had increased its repression against peaceful demonstrators by killing, arresting and torturing hundreds of activists. Darayya´s Free Women were also targeted in this first protest, which ended with the regime opening fire against them.

Attempts to silence them did not stop the group from engaging in more initiatives, such as the large demonstration which became known as Great Friday, followed by Black Saturday, which marks a day when hundreds of protesters were arrested and killed by the regime. 

As the situation on the ground became increasingly difficult, entailing more risks for activists, the group started organizing meetings to plan their strategies, focusing on aspects such as communications, and offering workshops to women wanting to demand and promote changes in their country. This attracted several others who were not comfortable attending the demonstrations but wanted to find their own ways to contribute.

The meetings led to the professionalization of the group’s work, which started distributing tasks such as communications and public relations, photography, humanitarian and psychological attention, while recording their activities on the group’s website.

As the regime increased the pressure against the town, arresting renowned peaceful activists such as Ghiath Matar, and shelling the city to silence protests, the Free Women of Darayya continued to develop their work on the ground. During Christmas time, they decorated a tree with the names of detainees in Syrian jails, and gathered letters from their mothers and children to post them on a big banner in the street. They worked on several other grassroots initiatives, from emergency and humanitarian assistance to the publication of the local newspaper The Grapes of My Country (“Enab Beladi” in Arabic).

The group also invited women from other towns, such as Sednaya, to join them and stand together against the regime’s attempts to divide Syrians and ignite sectarianism in their rich and diverse society.

When the city fell under siege, in November 2012, most of the women were forced to leave Darayya. Many returned months later, to find their town devastated and its people massacred. This did not prevent them from resuming their work, focusing on the huge amount of people in need of food and assistance, while several of its members faced detention by the regime. 

Today, most of the women are in jail or have been forced to leave the country. However, they continue to work on issues related to women´s rights, whether in Egypt or inside the Syrian regime´s jails, awaiting for the moment when they can return to Darayya, the town that stood against tyranny through non-violence.

This post is cross-posted from Syria Untold.

December 13 2013

Syrian Cartoonist Akram Raslan Reportedly Killed by Regime

Uncertainty continues over the fate of Syrian cartoonist Akram Raslan, winner of the Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning for 2013, arrested in October 2012 by the Assad regime. While some report that he was killed by the Assad regime after a show trial, others claim he is still alive.

The cartoonist was was arrested by the Syrian military intelligence, while he was at the government newspaper Al-Fedaa in Hama, on October 2, 2012. Akram, who is the winner of the Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning for 2013, was reportedly secretly put on trial with no witnesses, no defense attorneys, no appeal, and no hope for justice.

We've learned that on July 26, 2013 Akram Raslan and other prisoners of conscience including journalists, artists, singers and other intellectuals were secretly put on trial with no witnesses, no defense attorneys, no appeal, and no hope for justice.  From unconfirmed and sketchy reports we also learned that they were all condemned to life imprisonment.

StJustAkram

Assembly and demonstration by world cartoonists in support of Akram Raslan
05.10.2013, in St Just Le Martel (France). Source: Cartooning for Peace

Other cartoon blogs like Comic box resources blog, Cartoon for Peace, The CAGLE Post and The Daily Cartoonist also quoted the CRNI news and showed concerns over Akram's destiny. One of the comments reads:

Akram, you and your family are in our prayers….Assad you and your ilk are….. !@#$%^&*

1379962_219612541495751_360976758_n

Source: Facebook page [ar] Detainees and kidnapped are not just numbers in reports. Used under CC BY 2.0

On October 18, 2013, Redac_MM wrote: A Brave Cartoonist is Murdered by the Syrian Regime

I am saddened to write that Cartoonists Rights Network reports that Syrian cartoonist Akram Raslan has been executed by the Syrian regime after a show trial.

While Syrian Observer quoted a stronger message: Here There Be Dragons: in Syria Akram Raslan is slain:

Tyrants might be able to fight off criticism or an insurrection or even assassination attempt with truncheons, bullets and terror.  But where do they turn their guns to stop their people from laughing at them?  Can there be any more efficient, more powerful, and cost-effective way of empowering a people than dispelling their fears with a courageous cartoon on its way to letting them laugh through their fear? 

6a014e5f5d3c7c970c01901ca08c33970b-640wi

One of Akram's cartoons that outraged Assad regime. Source: Blog Cartoon Movement. Used under CC BY 2.0

On Twitter, Rime Allaf writes:

On Facebook, Alisar Iram shows solidarity:

Akram Raslan, dead or alive, we remember and cherish you.

While the Syrian Observer concludes with regret and hope at the same time:

I am sorry I couldn't reach down into the pit and drag you out Akram. Please forgive me. Perhaps your sacrifice will motivate us to look again into the mirror, and ask again where we straddle the line between fear and courage and challenge us, again, to take a new first step.

Non-Violent Activist Razan Zaitouneh Kidnapped in Syria

(photo source: Metro, 2012)

(photo source: Metro, 2012)

Four activists, among them internationally acclaimed non-violent activist Razan Zaitouneh, from Syria's Violations Documentation Center (VDC) were kidnapped by unidentified masked gunmen from the center's Douma office on the outskirts of Damascus, the Syrian capital, reported Activist News Association.

Zaitouneh, along with her team made up of Nazem al-Hamadi, Sameera Alkhalil and Wael Hamadah, were abducted on December 9, with no news of their whereabouts, sparking an international outcry.

Following their abduction, Douma's local committee issued a statement condemning the act, adding that the ransacking of the VDC office too was shameful and likened it to the work of Assad's regime [Arabic]:

(photo source: Douma Local Committee Facebook page)

(Photo source: Douma Local Committee Facebook page)

The statement reads [ar]:

Douma woke up today [Tuesday, December 10, 2013] to the news of an attack on the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) in Syria and the arrest of activist Razan Zaitouneh and her team, who have exerted their efforts in the support of this revolution and who have previously been arrested by the oppressive regime more than once. They have lived with us during our seige, stemming from the belief and true work is conducted from the battle ground and not on the pages of the Internet. We, in the local city council, condemn this cowardly act, which is similar to that of the regime, and call upon all the military groups and revolutionary forces to follow up on this case, which is a stain of shame on Free Douma.

On their behalf, Syria's Local Coordinators Committee, founded by Zaitouneh, demanded the release of all four activists and asked all human rights advocates to join the LCC's campaign. They also said that the abducted activists were highly inspired by Mandela, who recently passed away, adding that:

At a time when the world is mourning the death of Nelson Mandela, we must remember that there are other Mandelas around the world. These activists were inspired and informed by Mr. Mandela’s work, and were promoting concepts of nonviolence and civil resistance in Syria even at a time when the regime has violated every possible tenet of human rights. Failure to call for their release is tantamount to failing in all that Human Rights defenders stand for in the call against tyranny.

According to a decree issued by Eastern Ghouta civic agencies, Zaitouneh received several threats prior to her kidnapping by both the regime and extremist insurgents while working in the Damascene district.

In a Facebook post, writer Yassin Al Haj Saleh, Alkhalil's husband, said their abduction is an insult to Syria and its revolution. He also asked those who can help to do so quickly.

سميرة الخليل (زوجتي) ورزان زيتونة ووائل حمادة وناظم حمادي معتقلين من البارحة بدوما.
الرجاء ممن يستطيع المساعدة أن يتصرف بسرعة.
اعتقال سميرة ورزان ووائل وناظم إهانة للثورة ولسورية.

Sameera Al-Khalil (my wife), along with Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hamadah and Nazem al-Hamadi have been arrested since last night in Douma. Whoever can help, please take action soon. Arresting Sameera, Razan, Wael and Nazem is an insult to the revolution and to Syria.

Twitter users, too, began mobilizing a virtual campaign demanding the release of Zaitouneh and her colleagues. United States-based Syrian activist Rafif Jouejati marked their abduction as an indicator of humanity's death:

She also urged the global community to act as being silent is harmful to the cause:

Bahraini activist Maryam Alkhawaja remarked that the least the global community can do to help such a remarkable person is to collectively raise awareness on the act:

Executive Director of the Syrian Nonviolence Movement Ibrahim al-Assil added that Zaitouneh is a true revolutionary:

BBC Reporter Kim Ghattas said that Zaitouneh's kidnapping is a terrible blow to what's left of Syria's secular opposition:

Zaitouneh's accomplishments are nothing short of daring and courageous. She was awarded the 2011 Anna Politkovskaya award; the 2011 Sakharov Prize; and the 2013 International Women of Courage Award.

Her most recent work includes being among the first on site in the August 21 chemical weapon's attack on Ghouta, as Foreign Policy Middle East Editor David Kenner noted:

Amnesty International UK Campaigns Manager Kristyan Benedict remarked that their kidnapping happens to coincide with Human Rights Day:

Zaitouneh's work along with her abducted colleagues helped Syrians document their losses and grievances along the country's course of havoc since 2011. The VDC keeps a tremendous track of those abducted and always calls for their immediate release. Their work and contributions are essential not only to the revolution but also Syria's future. Their abduction harms every hopeful and positive aspect in today's misshaped Syria.

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