Adonis Diaries

Archive for March 5th, 2012

“Devil-may-care heroics of movie version of “war” correspondents” by Robert Fisk
I have posted scores of reviews of Robert Fisk’s chapters on the Lebanese civil war and on his eye-witness coverage of Hama in 1982. I decided to post what Fisk published lately on war correspondents followed by my comments. Fisk wrote (with a few minor editing):

“It took a lot of courage to get into Homs; Sky News, the BBC, and a few brave men and women who went to tell the world of the city’s anguish and, in at least two cases, suffered themselves. I could only reflect this week on how well we got to know the name of the indomitable and wounded British photographer Paul Conroy, and yet how little we know about the 13 Syrian volunteers who were apparently killed by snipers and shellfire while rescuing him.

No fault of Conroy, of course. But I wonder if we know the names of these Syrian martyrs – or whether we intend to discover their names?

There’s something colonialist about all this. We have grown so used to the devil-may-care heroics of the movie version of “war” correspondents that they somehow become more important than the people about whom they report. Hemingway supposedly liberated Paris – or at least Harry’s Bar – but does a single reader remember the name of any Frenchman who died liberating Paris?

I do recall my television colleague, Terry Lloyd, who was killed by the Americans in Iraq in 2003. Yet, who can remember the name of one of the quarter or half a million Iraqis killed as a result of the invasion (apart, of course, from Saddam Hussein)?

The Al Jazeera correspondent in Baghdad was killed in Baghdad by an American airstrike the same year. But hands up who remembers his name? Answer: Tareq Ayoub. He was a Palestinian. I was with him the day before he died.

The flak jacket has now become the symbol of almost every television reporter at war. I’ve nothing against flak jackets. I wore one in Bosnia. But I’ve been increasingly discomfited by all these reporters in their blue space-suits, standing among and interviewing the victims of war, who have no such protection.

I know that insurers insist correspondents and crews wear this stuff. But on the streets, a different impression emerges: that the lives of Western reporters are somehow more precious, more deserving, more inherently valuable than those of the “foreign” civilians who suffer around them.

Several years ago, during a Beirut gun battle, I was asked to put on a flak jacket for a television interview by a journalist wearing one of these 12lb steel wrap-around. I declined. So no interview.

A similar and equally uncomfortable phenomenon appeared 15 years ago. How did reporters “cope” with war? Should they receive “counselling” for their terrible experiences? Should they seek “closure”? The Press Gazette called me up for a comment. I declined the offer. The subsequent article went on and on about the traumas suffered by journalists – and then suggested that those who declined psychological “help” were alcoholics.

It was either psycho-babble or the gin bottle. The terrible truth is that journos – and for God’s sake, we must stop demeaning our profession by calling ourselves “hacks” – can fly home if the going gets too tough, business class with a glass of bubbly in their hands. The poor, flak-jacketless people they leave behind – with pariah passports, no foreign visas, desperately trying to stop the blood splashing on to their vulnerable families – are the ones who need “help“.

The romanticism associated with “war” reporters was all too evident in the prelude to the 1991 Gulf War. All kinds of foreign journalists turned up in Saudi Arabia in military costumes. One, an American, even had camouflaged boots with leaves painted on them – even though a glance at a real desert suggests an absence of trees.

Oddly, I found that out in the loneliness of that real desert, many soldiers of the genuine variety, especially American Marines, were writing diaries of their experiences, even offering them to me for publication. The reporters, it seems, wanted to be soldiers. The soldiers wanted to be reporters.

This curious symbiosis is all too evident when “war” reporters talk of their “combat experience”. Three years ago, at an American university, I had the pleasure of listening to three wounded US Iraqi/Afghan war veterans putting down a journalist who used this awful phrase. One of the veteran journalists said politely:”Excuse me, Sir. You have not had ‘combat experience’. You have had “combat exposure”. That is not the same thing.” The veteran understood the power of quiet contempt. He had no legs.

We’ve all fallen victim to the “I watched in horror”/”screaming rockets”/”I was pinned down by shellfire/machine-gun fire/sniper fire” reporting. I suspect I used this back in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s. I certainly did (use them) in southern Lebanon in the late Seventies. I am ashamed.

While we do bear “personal witness” to wars – a phrase I am also deeply uncomfortable with – this kind of Boy’s Own Paper stuff is a sign of self-regard. James Cameron caught this best in the Korean War. About to land with US forces at Inchon, he noticed “in the middle of it all, if such a thing be faintly conceivable, a wandering boat marked in great letters, ‘PRESS’, full of agitated and contending correspondents, all of us trying to give an impression of determination to land in Wave One, while seeking desperately to contrive some reputable method of being found in Wave 50”.

And who can forget the words of the Israeli journalist Amira Haas – Haaretz’s reporter in the occupied West Bank, whom I often quote. She told me in Jerusalem that the foreign correspondent’s job was not to be “the first witness to history” (my own pitiful definition), but to “monitor the centres of power“, especially when they are going to war, and especially when they intend to do so on a bedrock of lies.

Yes, all honour to those who reported from Homs. But here’s a thought: when the Israelis unleashed their cruel bombardment of Gaza in 2008, they banned all reporters from the war, just as the Syrians tried to do in Homs. And the Israelis were much more successful in preventing us Westerners from seeing the subsequent bloodbath.

Hamas forces and the “Free Syria Army” in Homs actually have a lot in common – both were increasingly Islamist, both faced infinitely superior firepower, both lost the battle – but it was left to Palestinian reporters to cover their own people’s suffering. They did a fine job.

Funny that the newsrooms of London and Washington didn’t have quite the same enthusiasm to get their folk into Gaza as they did to get them into Homs. Just a thought. A very unhappy one.” End of quote

There are pieces of intelligence circulating in Lebanon testifying that the secret services of at least five western States are stationed in North Lebanon and aiding “foreign journalists” dispatched to Baba Amrou, a suburb of Homs.  All these journalists and “war correspondents” entered clandestinely and exited clandestinely.  The order to the Syrian military to invest Baba Amro was given on Feb. 24, and the attack was delayed three days in order for the diplomatic negotiations to vacate the foreign reporters succeed.  Apparently, the reporters were held hostage by the rebels so that the incursion may be called off.  The fate and suffering of these foreign “correspondents” are the responsibilities of their States who wanted badly to tarnish the image of the Syrian regime by any means possible.

Those rebels, not necessarily Syrians, who were harvested trying to sneak out the reporters to the Lebanese borders were fodder to a bigger nasty war game: The leaders of these rebels cashed in the ransom for liberating the wounded reporters.

It appears that the Syrian forces have rounded up about 1,500 “foreign mercenaries”, among them scores of parachutists from France and England.  The term “cleaning up” used by the Syrian regime after the battle of Baba Amro was initially used by the Israeli forces when they invaded Lebanon in 1982 and directly killed 17,500 Lebanese and Palestinians, and killed and injured far more during their stay in South Lebanon for 25 years. 

Note 1: On Hama (1982)   

Note 2:  A few of Robert Fisk’s latest articles The new Cold War has already started – in Syria ‘If only Hague and Clinton would listen to Yusuf Islam’Poisoned spring: revolution brings Tunisia more fear than freedom Could there be some bad guys among the rebels too?  Robert Fisk: From Washington this looks like Syria’s ‘Benghazi moment’. But not from here


The mainstream Islam story: How the divine message was handed over to Prophet Muhammad?

I am recounting the stories of early Moslems on how the Prophet Muhammad received the grace to spread the message of Islam, delivered by Ibn Hisham, Wahb bin Kaissan, and Bukhara.

Muhammad used to join his uncle, (the Patriarch of a Christian-Jewish sect in Mecca), during Ramadan and fast and pray for 30 days every year in the cave of Ghar Hira2. Muhammad visited this cave for 15 years, in the company of his Patriarch uncle Warkat bin Nawfal bin Abd 3ezza.

One day, Muhammad was about 40 in age, and as he was heading alone to the cave, he started hearing “al salam 3aleika ya rasul allah” (peace be with you, o messenger of God). Muhammad would look around in disarray and see only rocks and small trees. As Muhammad sat listening and looking, Archangel Gabriel (Jibreel) appeared saluted Muhammad.

Archangel Gabriel said: “Read

And Muhammad would reply “I am not reading”.  This conversation was repeated three times and Gabriel said: “Read in the name of your God (rabbika) who created, created man from mud, read and your God is the most benefactor…” Read means spread the message in this sentence.

Muhammad returned home shivering and demanded from his wife Khadija to cover him tight.

After Muhammad regained his composure, he told Khadija what has happened and said that he got scared for his life.  Khadija replied: “Do not worry. God is on your side and seeks your safety, and God expects from you to shoulder the burden and keep helping the downtrodden…”

Khadija accompanied Muhammad to Patrirach Warkat who was studiously transcribing from the “Hebrew New Testament” to the Arabic Kuraich dialect. The Patriarch listened and said: “What you heard is the identical message that Moses (Moussa) heard. No one else received that glory and I am fully supporting you new message...”

The Patriarch lived for another 4 years and continued translating the Bible particular to his sect, and Muhammad aided him in the translation and also receiving the message from Gabriel.

Gabriel showed up or handed down the verses 20 years to Muhammad: 13 years while Muhammad was in Mecca and 7 years during his stay in Medina (yathreb) where Muhammad established the first Islamic City-State.

In the last couple of months before Muhammad’s death, Gabriel ceased to appear to Muhammad.

The Prophet used to revise and edit the Surats on Ramadan every year and edit and shuffle around the verses within the Surats.

As one major tribe allied to his message, Muhammad translated the verses to the particular Arabic dialect of the tribe so that the tribe members feel comfortable reading and listening to the message. All in all, it is reported that the verses were translated to seven various Arabic dialects, until the third caliph Othman bin Affan codified and unified the Coran into the Kuraich dialect, whenever that was appropriate.

Note 1: Khadija was a close relative to the Patriarch who encouraged her to marry Muhammad who was 25 year-old, and about 7 years younger than her.  Khadija was twice widowed from rich traders and she was very wealthy and dispatched caravans to Damascus and Iraq.  Muhammad was orphaned since the age of 10 and his uncle Abi Taleb (father of Ali) adopted him. As a member of Khadija clan, Muhammad worked for Khadija and lead caravans.

Note 2: The early refusal of Muhammad to engage into spreading a new message is understandable: He was a respected rich member in Mecca, had three daughters and his son died at the age of two. Muhammad didn’t see the reason for instituting a new message since his uncle Warakat had already the message, written in a holy book that Muhammad believed in it and all its stories.

Note 3: The verses in the Coran in the first 13 years are practically transliteration of the holy book that Muhammad was very familiar with.  The remaining verses of the Medina period focused on the laws, the administrative, and management responsibilities for a community of Moslems and the endeavor of disseminating the message to all the Arabic Peninsula.

Note 4: The Empire of Byzantium had banned all versions of the New Testaments around the year 325, except four.  The scores of Christian-Jewish sects in Syria, Egypt, and Palestine had to flee to Iraq (under the Persian Empire) and beyond, and to the Arabic Peninsula, and read in their particular holy books.

Note 5: Among the close scribs who followed the Prophet and recorded the verses and wrote their own version of the Coran are: Salem Bin Ma3kal, Abdullah Bin Abbas, 3akaba bin 3amer, Mekdad bin Omar (disseminated his version in Homs), Abi bin Abi Taleb, Abi Moussa Ash3ary (disseminated his version in Basra), Ubay bin Ka3b (disseminated his version in Medina), Abdullah bin Massoud, Aicha (the most beloved wife and daughter of first caliph Abu Bakr), Hafsa (wife of the Prophet and daughter of second caliph Omar bin Khattab)…

Powerful ‘ripple effect’ unleashed: Investing in adolescent girls?

Facing an increase in challenges such as teenage pregnancy, youth unemployment and obesity, and rising concern over mental wellbeing, community cohesion and households in poverty, the UK-based communities innovative and social initiatives are needed more than ever.

With reduced budgets for services and programmes which support social change, it is time for the commercial world to take more responsibility, and match the many social enterprises which are picking up the baton.

Mary at Uscreates wrote: “Last summer, Uscreates worked with a brand foundation that believes girls are a powerful change agent. The theory is that by investing in adolescent girls, a powerful ‘ripple effect’ will be unleashed. How?

By passing knowledge and advice to future adolescent girl generations to help address social challenges. While the work took place in Uganda, the brief was very similar to the UK work, but it was the first time Uscreates had worked with a foundation. We had our eyes opened to the focus and dedication to social improvement coming from the commercial world.

There is a wealth of support and resources beyond the public sector dedicated to achieving social change. And at Uscreates, we have been working with a range of organisation to harness this. However, I have been struck by the number of companies that focus on social missions and agendas in developing countries.

Of course, some of the world’s greatest social challenges exist in the third world: strategic funding and initiatives can have real effect, so this shouldn’t surprise me.  I also think the same is true for the UK.

For business to consider social sustainability is a relatively new mind-set, as is thinking about delivering it on home ground. Instead of international development, maybe the next decade will be about ‘ intra-national development’, or ‘national development’.

There are programmes and initiatives that demonstrate that this thinking is already underway within the world of social enterprise. “A Year Here” is a new programme supporting and encouraging teenagers to spend their gap year in the UK, rather than the traditional trip to Africa, volunteering their time to tackle a range of pressing social issues.

There are initiatives from corporates focusing their attention on UK challenges such as Orange and their Rockcorps programme. Rockcorps arranged gigs tickets that could only be obtained by volunteering for four hours in their local communities.

If Orange are working on the same agenda as the Big Society and encouraging the public to volunteer, will we soon see KPMG being the pioneers of health initiatives, once championed by the NHS, or BT leading new innovations to support the non-working class, into training or employment?

Uscreates are really interested to talk to people who have a view on ‘intranational development’ and would be keen to hear from you!” End of quote

Uscreates is a design company that receives government funding for designing community needs in communication and social well-being.

Note:  Mary’s point of view at Uscreate, published on Feb. 29, 2012 was under the title “Intranational development”




March 2012

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