Tag Archives: syria

The Weight of Evidence

I took to the time to read Cameron’s memorandum on the proposed Syria air strikes after the Guardian published it in full.

I don’t have a pat answer.

Pushing memories of 2003 in Iraq to one side, the stated objectives of the strike, as outlined in this document are (commentary in italics my own):

  • Protect the UK from terrorism (in an as-yet-undefined-way that the War on Terror thus far has not)
  • Generate negotiations on a political settlement (by dropping bombs?)
  • Thus delivering a government that can credibly represent the Syrian people (see above)
  • degrade and defeat Daesh (ISIL) (OK, maybe..but it’s worth noting that bombing Iraq didn’t get rid of Saddam’s cronies – in fact many of them are in Daesh and given the regional instability/weak states there is a strong likelihood that they’ll just move to Libya or something. Hey, didn’t we bomb Libya…?)
  • continue our “leading role in humanitarian support” and stem migration flows (by restricting legal migration routes even further and then….bombing people? Fish. barrel.Rock. hard place. )*
  • support stabilisation in Iraq and plan for post-conflict Syria (details yet to be provided but again…bombing will hasten this how again?)
  • work with allies to combat extremism in the Middle East and elsewhere (OK, I guess that’s true. It’s just…we haven’t really made any dents in that master plan yet and I don’t see how UK adding to the bombing, which I might add is already underway by other countries, will in any way make a tangible difference – for the better. The worse is the bit that really worries me)

Having read the document in full (these points are expanded on) I’m just not sure bombing is a good idea and that the post-bomb plans have been developed.

Tonight they debate. Tonight they vote.

The media coverage has been predictably anti-Corbyn as they contrive to make this Corbyn’s bombing rather than Cameron’s. He was dictatorial to consider making Labour MPs vote by the Whip and is apparently weak to have allowed them a free vote. There has been more reporting of politics as a game (which Labour is losing) rather than the real issues at stake in this momentous decision. I suspect the vote will be for the bombing. And I suspect that Labour will be punished for it, if there is any punishment coming from an unwilling public, rather than the Tories.

Tomorrow, instead of a sober analysis of what this all means, I expect, from the right wing press, a  focus on Labour divisions; and from the Guardian I expect more hysterical articles about “moderates” flouncing out of the party “Why I’m leaving Labour” and how they felt pressured by constituents (who will be rebranded as deranged Corbynistas) to vote against the war and how this is not the new, gentler politics blah blah.

Wrestling with an issue is not weakness. I respect MPs of all political persuasions who have weighed up the issue and voted with their conscience. It’s a shame that the press is keen to leap on any uncertainty as weakness and any wavering as an indictment of either Cameron or Corbyn’s leadership. It’s bigger than politics; it’s bigger than them.

People (innocent and otherwise) are going to die.

*and major side eye for this alleged “leading humanitarian role” we supposedly have going on in the humanitarian refugee crisis. In word and in deed, we aren’t doing nearly enough.

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Check it out: I wrote about the #Dontletthemdrown campaign for Media Diversified.

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Telling Stories

This weekend the Observer published a strong, moving article about the nature of foreign reporting, in particular the propensity of news networks to parachute in special correspondents at a moment’s notice, who may miss or misinterpret a story as they struggle to get up to speed, often supplanting the freelancers (or “stringers”) or local journalists who have been faithfully plugging away at a story (before it got sexy). Every African, and I’m sure many others,  has a example of this, such as the CNN “Kenya election violence” nonsense before the last election, which was not only wrong but inflammatory and which spawned a hashtag by the Kenyan twitterati: #someonetellCNN .

The article also pointed out the changes to news gathering and reporting more generally, which should be of concern to us all, given how important the media is:

“The western news media are in crisis and turning their backs on the world, but we hardly ever notice. Where correspondents were once assigned to a place for months or years, reporters now handle often 20 countries. Bureaux are in hub cities, far from many of the countries they cover. And journalists are often lodged in expensive houses or five-star hotels. As the news has receded, so have our minds.

To the consumer, the news can seem authoritative. But the 24-hour news cycle rarely gives us the stories essential for us to understand the important events of our time. The news machine, confused about its mandate, has faltered. Big stories are often missed. Huge swaths of the world are forgotten or shrouded in myth. The news both creates these myths and dispels them, in a pretence of providing us with truth.”

Actually this article made me think of something I read by a female stringer in Syria, who in 2013 blew the lid open on the conditions she had to work under and the lack of support from her news organization. She pointed out that stringers often undertake dangerous work for little pay, but that their role is so important. (I would add; local journalists too, like the 18 year-old Syrian kid who took photographs for Reuters and died earlier this year – though there are other ethical questions here given his youth and lack of protection)

“People have this romantic image of the freelancer as a journalist who’s exchanged the certainty of a regular salary for the freedom to cover the stories she is most fascinated by. But we aren’t free at all; it’s just the opposite. The truth is that the only job opportunity I have today is staying in Syria, where nobody else wants to stay. And it’s not even Aleppo, to be precise; it’s the frontline. Because the editors back in Italy only ask us for the blood, the bang-bang. I write about the Islamists and their network of social services, the roots of their power—a piece that is definitely more complex to build than a frontline piece. I strive to explain, not just to move, to touch, and I am answered with: “What’s this? Six thousand words and nobody died?”

There is a tension the media industry, which is at once a business and a public information service. Managing editors have to balance the books and all of the outlets (with the exception of some, like the Guardian that have a governing Trust rather than an owner) have to walk the editorial tightrope of independence and pissing off the person that pays the cheques. It’s what makes Murdoch’s dominance of the industry so frightening.

It’s said that the media “doesn’t tell us what to think, but is remarkably successful at telling us what to think about.” What makes the news, how often and in what frames can have a profound influence on public awareness of an issue and subsequent policy decisions.

Reports like these from stringers, and others by local journalists, show that we should all be concerned about what gets reported, why, how and by whom.

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I still don’t know. I’ve watched and listened as two polarised camps  – both staunchly pro-intervention and those against – have thrashed it out in the media, especially following the vote in parliament on the issue.

When it comes to the vote, David Cameron’s government showed its usual ineptitude and depending on who you talk to, Miliband showed his opportunism/leadership, but politics aside, I’m left with more questions than answers.

1. Why now? Chemical weapons are so awful that there are international prohibitions against using them. And yet, the thousands who have died by bullet and regular bombs – innocent men, women and children – matter too. I realise that the “red line” is a useful political marker in the sand but in the face of the wholesale slaughter of innocents in Syria in the last two years it seems arbitrary. Nick Clegg claimed furthermore that chemical weapons have been used on 14 occasions previously. So, the 14 times are regrettable but 15 is just not on?

2.  What will targeted strikes achieve? Assad is not above placing his weaponry in civilian areas, it’s not possible to strike without claiming more lives. How likely is it that military strikes will make the situation worse?

3. How can a diplomatic solution be sought while all talk is of the certainty of military strikes? In this sense, I’m glad for the UK parliament’s hesitation. I don’t know if it’s possible to do both at the same time. It appears, for the moment, that the battle is finely balanced and a negotiated diplomatic and political solution is the only one that will make Assad stop.

4. Is this about assuaging our consciences or about saving people? It seems like the West suddenly wants to be seen to be doing something when it’s still questionable how this will help ordinary civilians or stop Assad in his murderous tracks.

5. If Responsibility to Protect is a UN mechanism, how can a few states circumvent the UN to intervene on their own initiative? This means any state could do the same and international governance, such as it is, will continue to crumble if we don’t work within the framework.

6. How do we make the UN better? The US is right on one thing – the UN consistently fails, and it’s about time Russia and China were challenged on their continued obstruction. I sympathise with why the US wants to go around the UN, but this isn’t a permanent solution. I don’t think the US can afford to be world policeman. Nor can Russia and China continue to claim a place at the big boy table and sit on their hands.

I am glad that I don’t have to make the tough decisions and while I don’t agree with many of the parliamentarians, I’m glad for their caution. This is a grave decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. And for those positively hysterical that UK is abdicating it’s place on the world stage – that may be so, but the UK can’t police every nation. Why Syria and not North Korea? Where do you draw the line? We have to make the UN work better. Secondly, those from the Tory camp who have mouths full of human rights when it comes to Syria but who champion the repeal of the Human Rights Act and withdrawal from European Convention on Human Rights – that’s a hypocrisy too.

But at the end I’m still left thinking of Syrians. No matter which way you cut it, they continue to suffer. How do we fix this?


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