From the 10th-13th of April, a new wave of barrel bombs struck liberated areas of Aleppo. Bombs rained down on Bustan al-Qasr, Masaqin Hanano and Al-Maa’di. Worse, one of the targets was Saad Ansari school for children. 13 were killed, as always, victims were children. The school was a known area where children and civilians would gather. Which makes the evil act of bombing it even more unspeakable. That is, the fact that a pilot could knowingly fly over an area well known to be a school, see innocent children below, and unflinchingly hurl a barrel full of explosives, shrapnel and incendiaries out of the helicopter onto them. Knowing very well that it would rip their bodies apart and mutilate them horrifically. Which it did, as a photograph from the school (below) illustrates all too well. The image is of a teacher whose head was blown off by the force of the explosion. The military then bragged about it, with one military source lauding the “very great destructive capacity”.
Barrel bomb attacks on Aleppo are nothing new, and recent attacks have been especially vicious. Typically attacks on innocent civilians always happen whenever the regime has suffered serious military setbacks nearby. Syrian revolutionaries recently managed to capture the Mukhabarat (Air Force Intelligence) headquarters in the old city, totally obliterating it with a tunnel bomb. The headquarters was notorious as a site where regime prisoners were taken to be tortured and abused; residents of Aleppo celebrated on the streets once it was destroyed. As always the regime began frantically barrel bombing the surrounding areas, to compensate for its to defeat and lack of sufficient manpower. This also happened after the fall of Idlib city; regime helicopters dropped chlorine gas bombs onto civilians in Binnish and hit Saraqeb with airstrikes, killing tens of people.
What was unusual however was the shamelessness with which the regime announced its intention to commit genocide against the civilian population of Aleppo. Prior to the barrel bomb attacks, Syria’s pro-Assad “Grant Mufti” Ahmad Hassoun appeared on regime-controlled media and, without batting an eyelid, called for the “total extermination” of liberated areas of Aleppo in a fatwa (religious proclamation). The regime should “wipe out every area from which shells are fired, whatever its population are“, he brazenly sneered into the cameras as he called for “complete destruction“. He claimed that civilians, regardless of if they supported the “militants” or not, had better leave as soon as possible. After his proclamation, the barrel bombs fell like rain. 100 were killed by regime bombing in five days, 89 were civilians.
The English language mainstream media paid no heed to this whatsoever, although in the past they have always had plenty of time to grant Hassoun airtime to defend Assad as he slaughters fellow Sunni Muslims. I looked up keywords such as “Ahmad Hassoun” online, seeking English language coverage of his despicable statements, or at least a brief report put out for the sake of at least attempting to look unbiased… I found a grand total of two articles. Neither of which were from prominent media outlets.
Yes, that’s right. Only two articles briefly mentioned the fact that a high ranking member of the Assad regime called for “total extermination“. Meanwhile, a single idiotic US teenager goes to join Da’esh and, despite hundreds already having done so, it becomes some kind of newsworthy event, as if radical teenage idiocy is something new and shocking. While “news” outlets are ranting and raving about how the deviously cunning “Islamic State” is managing to lure our vulnerable teenage girls into its despicable claws with kittens and nutella, Assad’s religious lackeys are calling for genocide and making good on their claims. As civilians are slaughtered in the hundreds of thousands, we are still unable to get over the post-9/11 hysteria that has many observers sincerely believing that a small, murderous death cult is more important than an ostensibly “secular” tyrant waging a genocide. Worse still, some of those voices are powerful and repeatedly call for us to engage with the monster waging said genocide in order to fight the cult. Which in other words, means they are already doing so behind the scenes. Or in the case of the US government, never stopped doing so.
For those of you (especially the pro-Assad pyschopaths cum skin deep anti-imperialists) who may be about to claim that this is merely rhetoric, and this is nothing compared to what the evil “terrorists” allegedly get up to, it isn’t like this is the first time that Ahmad Hassoun has made such statements before. It is alleged that he previously issued a religious ruling claiming that Assad’s “Syrian” army cum ragtag militia is allowed to rape Sunni women whenever it finds them. Considering the fact that he’s allegedly a Sunni, and he’s given permission to an army which is basically an Alawite criminal militia (Alawites being an offshoot of the Shiite school of Islam and the backbone of the brutal armed forces) to rape his own sisters in Islam, this, if proven, is one of the best illustrations of the depth of his toadying to the regime.
In November 2014 he praised the sectarian pro-regime militants defending the Shiite enclaves of Nubol and Zahraa by claiming that their fight against their countrymen who desire freedom was just as important as the fight to liberate Palestine. He claimed the shabiha (pro-regime thugs known for rape and murder) were the “pride of Islam and Muslims”. According to the same Zaman al-Wasl report, some in Aleppo allegedly consider him a secret convert to Shiite Islam due to his pro-Assad stance (many Shiite jihadists fight openly for the regime, also ignored in most media reports). Yet another nail in the coffin of his facade of being a Sunni religious leader came when he praised Egyptian tyrant Sisi for violently massacring hundreds of members of the Egyptian opposition (which he homogenised as the Sunni Muslim brotherhood without batting an eyelid). He also thanked him for his role in assisting the “Islamic nation”, and blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for destroying Syria and Egypt.
Hassoun also proceeded to threaten Europe with, erm… Suicide bombers. Very “secular”. A “secular” religious leader for a “secular” regime which is about as “secular” as Da’esh. Yet some “news” outlets (namely Russia Today) continue to sell Hassoun as one of the “real moderates“. While ignoring the “real” ones.
Ironically, the same Syrian rebels commonly vilified as “Islamists” and incorrectly slandered as all inherently similar to Da’esh (that is, anti-Da’esh revolutionaries with an Islamic basis to their beliefs) have condemned his genocidal ruling. The Sharia Committee of Azaz denounced him as having “no religion”, and Aleppo’s sharia council also condemned him. Their slanderers in the media, both “mainstream” and “alternative”, didn’t even bother covering it.
In 1982, Hafez al-Assad was facing a widespread uprising from dissatisfied people in rural areas; the poor and disenfranchised Sunni minority had grown tired of a tyrant ruling over them, especially one from another sect who was promoting fellow Alawites into high profile jobs in disproportionate numbers. Muslim Brotherhood-led insurgents staged an uprising in Hama, calling on the people to revolt against Assad. Hafez, father to the current “president” Bashar, sent his ruthless brother Rifaat, his elite “defense company” units, and units of the Syrian army to suppress the uprising.
Of course we’re not talking about riot police, tear gas or even the controversial “kettling” methods here. We’re talking about “suppression” in the sense of total extermination, akin to the Nazi regime’s bombardment of Warsaw in 1939, or the destruction of the city again in 1944. Rifaat al-Assad and (according to one source) General Ali Haydar (seemingly another Alawite; “Haydar” is a Shiite name used to refer to Imam Ali) besieged the city for 27 days, hurling heavy artillery, tank shells, mortar shells and other horrendous explosives into it, flattening whole neighbourhoods full of civilians.
Then a ground assault was launched with tanks, which found it easier to navigate the ruined neighbourhoods. In the course of the bombing and ensuing slaughter 30,000-40,000 people were massacred. This isn’t even counting the 15,000 missing (as of now I have seen no indication that they were found) and 100,000 people who were expelled. The world paid no heed, and still continued to openly engage with Hafez al-Assad; Bill Clinton was visiting him and paying deference to his regime 12 years later.
When one compares this to what has happened in Syria over the last five years, the resemblance is startling. Just as Assad uses his brother Maher as his ruthless enforcer, Hafez used Rifaat al-Assad. Just as the Defense Company forces drawn from the Alawite community were used to commit atrocities, today the pro-regime Alawite 4th Division and the Republican Guard are used. Just as genocidal coercive measures were used then, they continue to be used today. Just as the 1976-82 uprising was disparagingly depicted as an uprising by inherently evil Islamist bogeyman, today the opinion that gets most media airtime is the one that claims jihadists are the lynchpin of the opposition to Assad.
Just as the Assad regime was protected by both west and east during the cold war, this protection continues today. The butcher of Hama, Rifaat (who boasted of killing at least 38,000 in Hama, just as Hassoun boasts of the destruction of Aleppo) now lives openly in London and Paris without arrest (even being welcomed by British MPs) and the US air force now gives air cover to the regime’s genocidal militias. Such is the extent of western tolerance of the Assad regime (in the case of Obama, to ensure his continued friendship with Tehran) that Assad can now not only gas thousands of people (including hundreds of children) with impunity in one instance alone, but can also shoot down US drones and expect no retaliation whatsoever. Seemingly build nuclear reactors too.
What is just as startling (and some would say unforgivably so) is the silence that Syrians are still facing today, as this vile regime slaughters them. In 1982, the world was still behind the regime of Hafez al-Assad, and no social media existed through which to raise awareness. Today, we have Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube and all manner of outlets connecting people around the world in seconds. Syrians all around Syria have been sending stories about massacres, torture, starvation and all manner of horrors out to the world through all these outlets; they can reach anyone with a computer or a mobile phone in moments.
Yet as some 300,000+ people have been slaughtered, the world is still looking away and focusing on Da’esh; the goal is to roll their gains in Syria and Iraq back with maximum use of force (ignoring the fact that as long as Sunnis remain oppressed and massacred, their appeal will remain) and, especially in Obama’s case, to preserve the Assad regime.
This is despite leading politicians as high up as John Kerry knowing very well that Da’esh and Assad depend upon each other to survive. As Kyle Orton aptly summarised, contrary to the pro-Assad lie that Assad’s role is crucial when it comes to fighting Da’esh:
This has been the Assadist (and Iranian and Russian) narrative all along: this is a terrorist rebellion, a common foe of Damascus and the West, and whatever Assad’s faults at least he isn’t as bad as these lunatics. But it isn’t true. It is Assad’s presence that is the greatest spur to Salafii-jihadism in the world: his Alawi tyranny, backed by Shi’a Iran, slaughtering a Sunni-majority population in one of the most sacred places, historically and religiously, of Islam, while the West watches on indifferently, is what gives the jihadist recruiters the material to work with.
Furthermore, the regime took considerable steps to ensure that the Islamic State and other extremists were the most powerful elements in the insurgency, and it is strategically allied with the I.S. on one major point: the only opposition to Assad should be the I.S. Both the regime and I.S. have made a priority of destroying the nationalist rebels, and have largely left each other alone.
Just when many of us imagined that the response of various worldwide media outlets to the Syrian people’s suffering couldn’t get any more disgraceful, woefully inadequate or downright lazy, we are always proved quite wrong.
At this point I have given up all hope in mass media coverage of the Syrian genocide; social media and activist circles are the last genuine bastions of proper coverage, as are genuinely reputable outlets such as Scott Lucas’ EA World View. Those wishing to find accurate depictions of events in Syria and Iraq, as I have said before, would do well to largely avoid corporate bastions of “journalism” today.
When a key figure in a thoroughly notorious regime can call for genocide and receive silence from the world, you know that something is thoroughly wrong with the press. Be it televised, printed, or otherwise.