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What do know about Aleppo?

Nabih Bulos

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson had some trouble recognizing the name of a major Syrian city on Thursday. “What is Aleppo?” he asked in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” (In his defense, he claimed that he thought it was an acronym.)

1. What is Aleppo?

It’s one of the oldest cities in the world, located in Syria’s north.

It’s situated between the Mediterranean Sea and what was once known as Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq. (Aleppo is also the name of the surrounding province.)

2. It’s got a rich history.

Aleppo has been an important trading center since the 2nd millennium B.C. and was a node on the Silk Road.

Gary Johnson may never have heard of the city, but Shakespeare did back in the early 17th century. In “Macbeth,” one of the witches torments a sailor’s wife, whose “husband’s to Aleppo gone.”

3. In modern times, Aleppo was Syria’s largest city.

More than 2 million people lived there when the 2004 census was taken.

It was also the pride of Syrian industry.

Large factories produced everything there from textiles to processed gold to laurel soap, all of which would fill markets in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and elsewhere. (Syria was debt free for over 3 decades: colonial Europe could Not suffer this financial autonomy))

It was a tourist draw as well. Travelers meandering through the pedestrian walkways of the souk — the city’s medieval marketplace — would look up to take in the grandeur of its mighty citadel, then take a break to experience Aleppo’s food, a melange of Levantine cuisine sprinkled with Turkish, Persian and Armenian influence.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

Thank you. Because I previously only thought it would be disatrous if people took the libertarian party seriously, let alone its candidate for president.

4. It’s a major flashpoint of the Syrian war.

Although the city resisted being drawn into the Syrian uprising when it began in 2011, opposition forces advanced into the towns and villages around it and eventually breached the city itself in July 2012.

By 2013, the government and the opposition were locked in a stalemate. The opposition held the east, and the government controlled the west.

Since then, each side has repeatedly tried to oust the other from the city, with varying degrees of success.

5. It’s hard to say how many people live there now.

The U.N. says there are more than 1.5 million people in government-controlled neighborhoods. On the east side, accurate figures are harder to come by, but the area is thought to hold up to 200,000 people. Some opposition activists say the number is 300,000.

6. The city has become a symbol for Syria’s suffering.

Russian and Syrian warplanes pound the rebel side, leaving hundreds dead and wounded just in the last month. Meanwhile, the opposition hurls thousands of repurposed gas canisters and home-made mortars from “hell cannons” and other weapons. (And chemical bombs too?)

In August alone, 218 civilians were killed as a result of government airstrikes on opposition-controlled neighborhoods, according to the pro-opposition watchdog group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Rebel bombardment also killed 178 civilians in government-held areas in August, the group said.

7. No, it’s not the capital of the self-declared Islamic State.

(That would be Raqqah).

Yes, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, did call Aleppo that.

Islamic State fighters are not in the city of Aleppo, but there is a confederation of Islamist and so-called moderate, Western-supported rebels fighting against pro-government forces there.

8. Aleppo is now in the center of a diplomatic duel between the U.S. and Russia.

Again, the fate of the city takes on an outsize importance in regional affairs.

A breakthrough there, world powers hope, will usher in a larger ceasefire and present a path toward resolving the five-year Syrian civil war, which has killed hundreds of thousands (the U.N. stopped counting a few years ago), ravaged the country and spurred a global refugee crisis.

Note 1: Turkey’s plan is to re-distribute the Syrian population. The Syrian Moslem brotherhood are shipped from the city of Edleb (on the border with Turkey) to North Syria to form a buffer zone with the kurds. There will be no end to the plight of these Syrians belonging to Al Nusra ideology

Note 2: There are a few historians who compare current Syria with Syria during the 11th century: Damascus was the center of power for the Sunnis against Aleppo that was mostly in the hands of the rebel sects (karamitah, shia, minority sects…).
If the Syrian government win this worldwide war against it, that would be proof enough that the Sunnis in Damascus are against the Syrian Moslem Brotherhood movement, attached to Turkey and following its orders.
Likewise, the Sunnis in the western part of Aleppo who want to be part of a unified Syrian nation, regardless of the current regime. Actually, the regime is different from the one before 2011.

Note 3: Over 350,000 mercenaries were dispatched into Syria since 2011. Turkey, Saudi Kingdom and Europe sent 25,000 each. The weapons came from the fallen Libyan State and Saudi Kingdom, q1atar and the Gulf Emirates bought weapons from the USA, England, France and Germany to sustain this destabilizing plan on the Syrian people.

Note 4: East Aleppo is currently totally surrounded by the Syrian troops and a political settlement is being worked out to withdraw the rebels fighters outside Aleppo.

Why France has a more fraught relationship with its Muslim communities than the U.S?

How about France being too close to the sources in North Africa?

By Nabih Bulos. July 16, 2016

News that the attacker who killed at least 84 people in France was a Tunisian citizen and a Muslim legally working in the country quickly became ammunition for American politicians suggesting that the United States also faces a serious threat from within.

Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, reiterated his call to ban Muslims from entering the country. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich recommended that Muslims be deported if they believe in Islamic law.

But France and the United States are markedly different in their relationships with their Muslim immigrant populations, with several factors making the threat of organized Islamist extremism — as opposed to attacks by individuals who were simply inspired by the ideology — more likely in France.

They include the country’s colonial history in North Africa, its insistence on assimilation (this is a wide topic of it means to assimilation: 125,000 Asians were given French citizenship 4 decades ago, and they still congregate within their own cultural and customs) and the greater isolation of its Muslim communities.

Andrew Bossone shared this link
latimes.com|By Los Angeles Times
France’s proximity to the Middle East increases the chances that young men may have traveled to Syria to join Islamic State militants and then returned to France with the intent to carry out attacks like the ones that took place in Paris last year.
However, no evidence has emerged to suggest that was the case in the deadly assault Thursday in Nice, in which the assailant drove a truck through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day (for the length of 2 km).

France does not collect census data on religious affiliation, but it estimates that Muslims make up 5% to 10% of its 65 million people, which would give it the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.

Many trace their roots to Algeria and Tunisia, both former French colonies. Their parents and grandparents arrived as immigrant laborers to help rebuild France after World War II — with more than 470,000 coming from Algeria alone by 1968. Over the next dozen years, that number reached 800,000. (The same process happened in Germany for the Turks and Kurds after WWII)

Their arrival, however, had an ugly backdrop: For more than a century, the colonies were locked in a vicious fight with France for independence. Battling brutal repression by the French, the insurgents latched on to Islam as a organizing tool.

Algeria and Tunisia became the birthplace of some of the earliest militant Islamist groups.

It is little surprise to experts that today Tunisia is the largest supplier per capita of Islamic State recruits to Syria.

By the time Algerian independence came in 1962 — six years after Tunisian independence — France’s relationship with its Muslim immigrants from North Africa was showing signs of trouble.

As their construction and manufacturing jobs began to dry up, many recommitted to their religion as a way of restoring their sense of dignity, said Gilles Kepel, a French political scientist and Islam specialist. Ever since, social mobility has been severely limited.

France struggles much more than the U.S. to absorb its immigrants.

Muslims in France today — even second and third generation — are concentrated in their own enclaves, suburbs known as banlieues that are usually little more than a cement jungle of decrepit high-rises where frustration is the dominant feeling.

Clichy-sous-Bois was the epicenter of race riots in 2005, when two teenagers, the children of African immigrants, were electrocuted while hiding from the police in a power station. Though the suburb is only 10 miles from central Paris, it takes more than an hour to reach due to the absence of a rail link. Its cafes are more likely to serve Moroccan mint tea and merguez sausages than French cafe and croissants.

Children of immigrants identify as French and bristle at questions about their origin. But they also complain of not enjoying the same opportunities as other French citizens. (Basically, jobs opportunities. They enjoy the same social and health services and facilities)

“Muslims or people perceived as such do not have equal access to education, jobs, housing or even healthcare,” Yasser Louati, a spokesman for the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, said in an interview via social media on Friday.

“You can’t tell generations of kids ‘You don’t belong here’ and be surprised they grow up like they don’t belong here.”

The divisions appear to be worsening.

In 2011, a government-sponsored study found that the children of immigrants were twice as likely as their parents to report a sense of discrimination linked to origin, even though they speak French fluently.

The ideal of diversity espoused in the United States has not been embraced in France, where being seen as French means giving up the culture where you came from.

Kepel, the political scientist, has written that the French government sees Islam as an impediment to Muslims becoming fully integrated citizens.

It has discouraged — and in some cases banned —  certain forms of religious expression in an attempt to promote assimilation and unity.

In 2004, the French Assembly passed a law prohibiting the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in public schools. The controversy dates back to at least 1989, when a high school principal barred three girls from wearing the hijab on school grounds because it violated France’s tradition of secular education.

But critics say those policies have had the opposite effect, deepening a feeling among some Muslims that the government is anti-Islam and they will never be fully accepted.

The relationship between French Muslims and their countrymen has only become more fraught amid terrorist attacks claimed by Islamic State.

      

Arab TV star Abbas al Nouri of Syria grieves for his nation

BEIRUT — Abbas al Nouri, 60, is known to millions across the Arab world as the star of the smash-hit Syrian television series “Bab al Hara” (“The Neighborhood’s Gate”).  Abbas pauses, as a particularly loud car roars past the cafe on the main thoroughfare. The overly solicitous waitress lingers, a hint of recognition in her eyes.

At the table, the conversation inevitably focuses on Al Nouri’s native Syria.

The father who cannot listen to his children is a failure, and this is something that destroys the family,” Al Nouri says, the metaphor describing the war pitting armed rebels against the government of President Bashar Assad.

“This revolution happened so that people could express themselves ,” he continues, choosing words carefully between drags on his cigarette. “This regime, which is military in nature, did not have the culture to digest the idea that some people have an opinion.”

Nabih Bulos published in The LA Times this July 19, 2013.

Abbas al Nouri shakes his head as he places his teacup on the table. “The regime couldn’t believe that it can be criticized, so it fired upon the people … and fired upon culture and knowledge even before it started firing at bodies.”

In real life Abbas sports a full head of hair, unlike his character, Abu-Issam, a bald barber and doctor in an early-20th century Damascus struggling against French colonial domination. Though he was famous even before “Bab al Hara,” the show — no longer in production but seen year-round in syndication — cemented his reputation as one of the region’s top actors.

Al Nouri has worked steadily since his television debut in 1976, and holds the distinction of starring in the only Arab TV program to win an International Emmy Award. The Jordanian-produced “Al Ijtiyah” (“The Invasion”), a Palestinian-Israeli love story set during the 2002 Israeli assault on the Jenin refugee camp, captured the Emmy in 2008 for best telenovela.

On a recent afternoon, he sat down for an interview after one of his many road trips from Damascus to Beirut, where he was working on a new project, “The Passing,” described as a science-fiction series with social implications.

Politically engaged for decades, Al Nouri isn’t shy about criticizing Arab leaders generally or the Syrian government and some of its extremist enemies in particular.

“I don’t want to take away the freedom of people putting on the hijab,” he says. “But I do want to take away the covering of the brain.”

Asked whether he feared retribution for voicing his opinion, he brushed off any concern.

In his native Damascus, Al Nouri lives in Dumar, a suburb a mile from the presidential palace. The district is northwest of Qaymariya, where his parents still live in a “house like those you would find in the television series I work in,” he says, smiling as he remembers the open-courtyard stone homes of a bygone Damascus.

But the smile fades as he contemplates the new reality of his city, where the 10-minute drive to visit his parents has become an hour-plus slog “that makes you wonder how this city is living between one checkpoint and another.”

Checkpoints also slow the drive between Damascus and Beirut, but a heavy Syrian army presence has kept the route relatively safe. Al Nouri commutes to the Lebanese capital to work and to visit his children, two of whom live here at their father’s insistence. The third attends a university in the United States.

He’s forbidden his children to return to Damascus:  Not so much for “the oppression on the street as much as the fall of mortars right and left and the fear from the sky.” He says his parents are too elderly for him to consider moving. “My father is almost 100 years old and my mother is 90. I cannot leave them.”

And, he acknowledges, something else draws him back to the ancient capital.

“Even if I lived in a five-star hotel, being away from the site of the pain hurts even more,” he says. “So I don’t envy those who left, because of the worry they must be enduring.” He expels the smoke from his cigarette slowly, watching it waft away. “And I love Damascus.”

With production companies no longer working in Syria and with many artists in exile, the country’s once-prodigious TV and film industry has all but shut down.

Performers, writers and other creative Syrians have not been immune to the bloodshed. Each side in the conflict has targeted artists for their political stances, though that hasn’t discouraged Al Nouri from expressing his political views.

As for his fellow actors’ mass departure, he’s sympathetic but distressed. “This is painful for them, but also painful for me, because I have lost some real partners, and we need them and they are great stars.”

Al Nouri grew up under Syria’s Baath leadership, which seized power in 1963 and continues to rule.

He became politically aware in his university days, when Arab nationalism, the fate of the Palestinians and the existential struggle against Israel were the defining issues on campus and on the street.

He was one of the youngest Syrians to speak on the radio in honor of the late Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian president, who is still revered in Arab nationalist circles even as Islamist movements have eclipsed his secular, pan-Arab vision. But Al Nouri eschews the nostalgia for those days that’s often heard among Arab intellectuals, instead describing the era as one when “freedom of expression was confiscated in favor of slogans.”

He picks up a spinach-filled fatira pastry before elaborating. “They would chant, ‘Our enemy is Israel!’ or ‘We want democracy!’ — when in reality it was the citizens who were the enemy. Whenever a new slogan would come, there would be new branches of intelligence to protect it.”

Here he pauses again, momentarily uncomfortable with what he wants to say. “I hope people don’t misunderstand me, but we did not deserve independence in the way it should have been,” he says, his voice taking on a regretful tone.

Slogans often substituted for democracy and creation of a civil society in much of the Arab world. Syria “lived through a large lie, and what is happening now is an abscess that blew up.”

Like many Syrian intellectuals, he is torn about the revolution. He supports the goal of a more democratic nation, but knows the future could be even worse, perhaps some form of Islamist state or Syria balkanized into sectarian cantons, with foreign powers backing different factions.

I can’t even look at a nation that still lives the problems that were finished 1,400 years ago,” he says, referring disdainfully to the ultraconservative Salafist rebel brigades that would seek restrictions on free speech and artistic expression. He says he fears “a nation that looks to history but not to the future,” adding, “I want my country to be completely free, with complete dignity.”

But after more than two years of a devastating war that has left more than 100,000 dead and millions homeless and reduced large swaths of the country to rubble, Al Nouri concludes, “People just want a solution, no matter how it is.”

The waitress approaches with knafeh, a cheese pastry dripping with sugar syrup. She finally blurts out what has been on her mind for the last 90 minutes: “Are you Abbas al Nouri from ‘Bab al Hara’?”

Bulos is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.


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