Monthly Archives: November 2011

Over-simplification on Syria

There has been a worrying over-simplification by large swathes of the media regarding Syria in recent months. The dominant narrative goes something like this: the regime is finished, it is only a matter of time before the peaceful protestors triumph and the Assads are swept from power. I am more skeptical. The Assad regime, while employing murderous and brutal tactics, has proved surprisingly robust so far. The leadership of the army has remained largely loyal, even though foot soldiers are increasingly defecting, and the key cities of Aleppo and central Damascus, whether through fear or genuine loyalty, have remained quiet until now. Unless Assad suddenly accepts an offer of asylum and flees, or someone in the regime or army decides to launch a coup against him, i can’t see the regime crumbling in the next few months, even if its long-term survival must be in doubt.

However, while a few writers and journalists have been pointing out that the ‘Assad is finished’ narrative is premature, some have lurched too far the other way. Jonathan Steele, for example, seems to think that some kind of mediation is still possible suggesting that the Arab League should appoint,  “a group of eminent independent Arabs to listen to all sides in the Syrian crisis.” This is a noble idea, but surely the Assad regime has by now shown that it doesn’t care for its neighbours’ advice. If Turkey could not persuade them, surely an Arab delegation can’t either. A delegation from China, Russia and Iran,would be  a different prospect, but even then Assad’s contempt for mediators suggests it would fail.

To a further extreme, Alistair Crooke argues that the whole Syria crisis is part of a wider ‘game’ orchestrated by the West and Saudi Arabia to flip Syria from its alliance with Iran. This is again, an over-simplification. While Saudi and the US may see the benefit of a post-Assad Syria ditching its ties to Iran (although i question if this would happen – unless Israel suddenly surrendered Golan), they have been reactive rather than pro-active throughout this crisis. There is a danger that the Syria crisis is only viewed through the Iran prism, which is a mistake. Mr Crooke does a disservice to the legitimate demands of the Syrian people to end dictatorship and stop the violence by implying that they are simply being manipulated by insidious external forces.

Shocking Twitter abuse of Mid East analyst Nabila Ramdani

Nabila Ramdani has written this moving piece in The Observer about being subjected to racist abuse on Twitter.  As someone who uses Twitter only occasionally I must admit to being truly appalled at the level of, quite frankly, sick sentiment aimed at her.  We all understand the value of Twitter and maintaining its free speech and dialogical approach is important. However, this kind of personal, deliberately hurtful and racist abuse should be condemned by all.  It is therefore even more shocking that the police have done little in response.

She writes:

When I first started receiving critical messages from people – via email, underneath my articles on the internet, or on sites like Twitter – I replied. The democratisation of the global media has created a hugely dynamic debating forum, and the majority of those participating are as courteous as they are articulate. I grew up on a council estate renowned for its lawlessness and have reported from war zones. I know exactly how to stand up for myself in fraught situations and will debate anything with anyone.

But when a “whore” hashtag (the device used to signal a discussion on Twitter) appeared against my name, everything changed. What distinguished the two men using the word (and its variations) was not that they wanted an argument, but that they wanted to attack me as viciously as possible. They spiced up their principal insult with as many sexual allusions as they could fit into the 140 characters that Twitter allows.

The senders were not difficult to track down. One has delivered more than 2,000 tweets to date and is linked to a London university. The other is a Conservative party activist from the home counties. He has only 68 followers after sending more than 4,000 tweets, but that is not the point. Both men are conventionally “respectable”, but consider it permissible to fabricate obscene claims about women they have never met, and to re-tweet them to as many of Twitter’s 200 million users as possible….

…If the police started to deal with this increasingly unpleasant problem quickly and fairly, it could be stigmatised in the way that abusive phone calls have been.

Instead, my exchange with Worthington [The assigned officer to this case]  made it clear that his force’s view of internet hate crimes extends solely to famous people. If prosecutions supporting much-vaunted anti-racism initiatives attract politically correct headlines, so much the better. Ordinary people, meanwhile, are ignored.