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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire's Syria Connection

Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire has been making the rounds recently, speaking and writing about the visit to Lebanon and Syria by a 16 member delegation from 8 countries which she led.

Her essay, published by Global Research on May 27, 2013, Report on Syria – Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire: “The Syrian State is Under a Proxy War Led by Foreign Countries” is typical of the talk she has been giving.

She said that her delegation had been "invited by Mussalaha Reconciliation Movement." Near the end of her article she tell us a bit more about this group and its leadership:
Mussalaha mediates between armed gunmen and security forces, help get release of many people who have been abducted, and bring together all parties to the conflict for dialogue and practical solutions. It was this movement who hosted us, under the leadership of Mother Agnès-Mariam, Superior of Saint James’ Monastery, supported by the Patriarch Gregory III Laham, head of the Catholic Hierarchy of Syria.
Looking at her earlier thoughts on Syria, we can see that the opinion of Mother Agnes-Mariam is one that Mairead Maquire has held in high regard before. On 25 June 2012 Mairead Maguire very publicly said ‘NO to War in Syria’ and went on to elaborate, according to Eileen Fleming in Veterans Today:
A modern hero of peace, one whose name we do know and whose voice we have heard is Mother Agnès-Mariam.

In her community her voice has been clear, pure and loud. And it should be so in the West. Like many people in Syria she has been placed in life threatening situations, but for the sake of peace she has chosen to risk her own existence for the safety and security of others. She has spoken out against the lack of truth in our media regarding Syria and about the terror and chaos which a ‘third force’ seems to be spreading across the country. Her words confront and challenge us because they do not mirror the picture of events in Syria we have built up in our minds over many months of reading our newspapers and watching the news on our televisions. Much of the terror has been imported, we learn from her.
Opinions vary as to the role of Mother Agnès-Mariam. For example The Irish Times carried this charge against her by a Jesuit who had lived in Syria for 30 years:
Nun on Irish visit accused of peddling 'regime lies' about crisis in Syria
Mary Fitzgerald
Sat, Aug 18, 2012, 01:00
AN ITALIAN Jesuit expelled from Syria in June due to his outspoken criticism of government violence has accused a controversial nun who visited Ireland last week of peddling “regime lies” about the crisis there.

Fr Paolo Dall’Oglio, who lived in Syria for 30 years and has been heavily involved in interfaith work in the country, described Mother Agnès-Mariam as “an instrument” of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. “She has been consistent in assuming and spreading the lies of the regime, and promoting it through the power of her religious persona,” he told The Irish Times yesterday. “She knows how to cover up the brutality of the regime.”

During her four-day visit to Ireland last week, Mother Agnès-Mariam, who is superior at the Melkite Greek Catholic monastery in Syria, gave media interviews in which she claimed Christians in Syria were facing “extinction” and that rebels battling Assad were predominantly foreigners linked with al-Qaeda.

Fr Dall’Oglio, who has spent time with opposition activists in several restive parts of Syria, said these claims were “ridiculous” and constituted regime propaganda.

“I have been there, I know the people, including the youth, who are working for the revolution, and I know that what she is saying is insane. It corresponds with the regime version of the facts,” he said. More...
Her reputation as an Assad dictatorship mouthpiece has even made it to YouTube. Ali Haider, a video activist, has produced this critique of Maquire's hero:

These notes accompany the video:
Published on May 10, 2013

Mother Agnès-Mariam of the Cross is, arguably, the Christian equivalent of Shaikh Ramadan Al Bouti. She is very vocal in talking about "the foreign fighters" who came to Syria and started beheading people but she has no issue with Assad forces and sectarian gangs committing the worst atrocities against civilians since the days of Crusaders and Mongols. We don't know if she is an active paid agent for Assad propaganda masters or she is just doing this for free. One explanation is that she, like many other from the Christian minority, bought Assad's claim that he protects the minorities in Syria. She and many others from those minorities forgot that there is no future for them without the Syrian majority and we are not talking here about the Sunni majority but about Syrians who had enough of the Assad's and their affiliated gangs and who wanted their country to be free and democratic. Those are the real majority and they will prevail. Those who sided with the tyrant or preferred to sit on the fence are the real minority regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation. We wanted to remind Mother Agnès that the tyrant uses his loyal servants for a specific reason then he dumps them. We saw how many senior Syrian officials either "committed suicide" or had "a heart attack" out of nowhere. We wanted also to remind everybody, Assad's sect included, that helping tyrants is immoral and punishable here and in the hereafter.
On 26 May 2012, after the Houla massacre happened, Mother Agnès-Mariam's outlet, Vox Clamantis, issued a press release claiming that the Syrian army was not in the vicinity of Houla and did not bombard the area.

Investigations and reports by the United Nations, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch all concluded that the Assad regime was behind the massacre. The 15 member UN Security Council unanimously condemned Syria for the attack and Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the U.S. announced that they were expelling Syrian diplomats in response to the massacre, which all but the most die-hard Assad supporters blame on his reign.

The Committee to Protect Journalists implicated Mother Agnès-Mariam in the murder of a journalist, Gilles Jacquier, by the Assad regime. Pulse Media reported:
Dead journalists and Sister Agnès-Mariam
August 21, 2012
The attacks on media personnel affiliated with the Syrian regime has been rightly condemned. But not enough is said about the regime’s more systematic policy to co-opt and in some cases deliberately trap journalists for propaganda purposes. Most shocking however is the role of Sister Agnès-Mariam, the regime-affiliated nun who has been feted both by the far left and the Christian right.
Hammouche and Jacquier were among a group of 15 journalists allowed into Syria on government-issued visas facilitated by Sister Agnès-Mariam de la Croix, a Lebanese nun of Palestinian origin with close relations to the Assad regime. Sister Agnès had helped arrange a reporting trip to Homs on January 11, although she declined to accompany the group, saying her absence would help them move freely. Jacquier resisted the Homs trip, believing it unsafe, but Sister Agnès urged him to go or risk losing the opportunity to renew his visa beyond the initial four-day period, Hammouche told CPJ in an account consistent with news reports. More...
Gilles Jacquier became the first western journalist killed in the Syrian Civil War. He was killed in Homs on 11 January 2012.

One of Mother Agnès-Mariam's more extreme claims can be heard here in her own voice:
Syrian rebels took bodies from hospital to stage massacre
"People told us that they have seen militias carrying out from the national hospital in Taldou, corpses on blankets of the Ministry of Health, carrying them to assemble them in a mosque."
The Assad regime has used every means at its disposal to promote its narrative in the mainstream media and even the Catholic Church has unwittingly played a role:
For example, in March, Agenzia Fides, an official Vatican publication, republished (almost verbatim) material provided by the Syrian propaganda website "Syria Truth." The article claimed that jihadists had expelled Christians from Homs. This information eventually found its way into outlets such as the Los Angeles Times. When we demonstrated the dubious veracity of these claims, Syria Truth went ballistic. A subsequent McClatchy article corroborated our refutation.
Middle East Forum wrote on 12 June 2012; they also wrote about Mother Agnès-Mariam:
Like Nizar Nayouf of Syria Truth, Mother Agnès-Mariam often assumes the slick veneer of a moderate; she even wrote an open letter to Assad about the condition of people affected by the fighting in Syrian hospitals. It's hard not to conclude that Mother Agnès-Mariam is little more than another Assad propagandist using her religious credentials to push a particular narrative.

According to the Swiss newspaper Le Courrier, Agnès-Mariam was "comfortable among [Assad's] security services," and she told their reporter it was hoped he could "dismantle the propaganda of Western media." Thierry Meyssan also conducted a revealing interview with Mother Agnès-Mariam about Middle Eastern Christians. During the interview, the mother superior repeated the typically farcical Assad line that the dictator was truly trying to "reform."

Agnès-Mariam told Meyssan that she "deplored the fact that the so-called opponents didn't accept President Bashar Al-Assad's invitation to debate with him the series of reforms which he is in the process of carrying out."(Of course, it would be of no consequence to the sister (who never recanted her earlier statements) that in leaked private e-mails Assad told his wife, "We are going to adopt [a plan that left him in power] instead of the rubbish laws of parties, elections, media [i.e., actual democratic reforms].")

Mother Superior Agnès-Mariam continued by claiming that the opposition was just a puppet in a conspiracy guided by foreign powers.
Why Mother Agnès-Mariam appears so strongly in Assad's corners is a matter for speculation. A flower child in the sixties, Agnès-Mariam had "a kind of revelation" in the eighties that eventually, in 1994, led her to move to Qâra, Syria "to breathe new life into an ancient monastery of the sixth century that lies in disuse." If that is the case, she may well feel that her ability to continue her life's work is dependent on her staying in the good graces of Bashar al-Assad.

In any case, Mairead Maguire does appear to rely on her heavily both for her information and views about the situation in Syria and her special connection to the Assad regime for access.

Mairead Maguire's Syria Narrative

The fact that Mairead Maguire is a Nobel Peace Laureate buys her a lot of instant creditability when she speaks on Syria. It probably buys her more than it should when it is considered that she shares that title with the likes of Barack Obama and Henry Kissinger.

Looking at her current narrative on Syria, as reflected in the GlobalResearch piece, we find that it has considerable agreement with that of Agnès-Mariam, which in turn reflects the fantasy narrative of Bashar al-Assad.

Like all fantasy narratives, this one only makes sense if certain very real factors are left completely out of it. So just as much can be learned by looking at what is discussed, much can also be learned by what is left out of the discussion.

In the following discussion of Mairead Maguire's views, it is important to note that she completely fails to address at least three major realities of the Syrian Revolution that conflict with her narrative:

1) Defections from the Syria Arab Army and the formation of the Free Syrian Army.
Like Bashar al-Assad, she thinks Syria's troubles are the result of an invasion of foreign terrorists with foreign backing. She doesn't consider the tens of thousands of defectors from Assad's own army, or the Free Syrian Army they formed. Wikipedia tells us:
The Free Syrian Army traces its origin to early defectors from the Syrian army who refused to shoot unarmed protesters during the Syrian uprising.
I have prepared a separate post to supplement this one to better highlight a handful of the many defection reports and videos here: Why have there been so many Syrian Army defections?

2) The Assad regime's attacks on civilian areas with aircraft, missiles and artillery.
Assad's use of cluster bombs against civilian targets has been well established, as indicated by these reports from Human Rights Watch, Al Jazeera, CJ Chivers of the NY Times, the National, Arab News and many more. His use of ordinary bombs, dropped from his planes, have turned large parts of major cities into rubble, and his use of Scud ballistic missiles on his own cities is also well documented. Assad's delivery of "Death from Above" is a big part of the slaughter taking place in Syria now yet Mairead Maguire says nothing about this.

3) The foreign intervention of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah in support of Assad.
Her opposition to foreigners involved in the Syrian conflict is decidedly one-sided. She blames the whole situation on foreign terrorist attacking Syria and demands that they leave but says nothing about foreign fighters from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. While it is clear that individuals from all over the globe, even from the US, have rallied to the Syrian Revolution, those three state organizations have sent armies to fight for Assad.

All of these realities are now so well documented that only the most strict believer in the Assad narrative continues to deny them, and yet none of them exist in Mairead Maquire's report back on Syria:
Report on Syria – Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire:
“The Syrian State is Under a Proxy War Led by Foreign Countries”
In Lebanon we visited several refugee camps, hosted by Lebanese or Palestinian communities. One Woman said: “before this conflict started we were happy and had a good life (there is free education, free healthcare, subsidies for fuel, in Syria ,) and now we live in poverty”. Her daughter and son-in-law (a pharmacist and engineer) standing on a cement floor in a Palestinian refugee camp, with not even a mattress, told us that this violence had erupted to everyone's surprise and spread so quickly they were all still in shock, but when well armed, foreign fighters came to Homs, they took over their homes, raped their women, and killed young males who refused to join their ranks, so the people fled in terror. They said that these foreign fighters were from many countries like Libyans, Saudis, Tunisians, Chechens, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Emiratis, Lebanese, Jordanians, Turkish, Europeans, Australian, and these gangs are financed and trained by foreign governments. They attach suicide vests around peoples’ bodies and threaten to explode them if they don’t do what they are told.
Homs was know as the capital of the Revolution and from the very beginning it had a strong protest movement, as you can see from this video:

Martyrs funeral in Homs turns to freedom protest on 9th April 2011

Violence brutally visited the Homs protests nine days later on 18 April 2011 when 50 opposition demonstrators were shot dead by regime forces in what became known as the Clock Square massacre. [An eyewitness story] [another report] [democratic underground report]

This video catches the moment the Assad forces open fired on the protesters:

Homs: New footage: the Clock Square Massacre (1) - Syria

Also Homs: New footage: the Clock Square Massacre (2) - Syria length 5:43

This is a leaked video of after the massacre showing what seems to be regime forces chanting pro Bashar slogans at the Clock Square in Homs.

Apparently these developments went unnoticed by the Homs family interviewed by Mairead Maguire, which explains why the "violence had erupted to everyone's surprise." But since they could count foreign fighters from no less than a dozen countries in Homs, it is hard to understand how they could have missed this development and many others like it:

(12.03.2011) Adjutant Ali Ahmad & other soldiers defect & form Homs battalion - Free Syria

Mairead Maguire continues her report:
2- Hospitals: We visited the hospitals and saw many people injured by shootings, bombings, and armed attacks. A moderate Sunni Imam told me how he was abducted by jihadists, who tortured him, cut off his ear, tried to cut his throat, slicing his legs, and left him for dead. He said when he goes back to his mosque they will slaughter him. He told us “these men are foreign fighters, jihadists from foreign countries, well armed, well trained, with money, they are in our country to destroy it. They are not true Muslims but are religious extremist/fundamentalists terrorizing, abducting, killing our people”. The government spokesman also confirmed that they have in detention captured foreign fighters from 29 countries, including Chechens, Iraqis, and many others. The Ministry of Health showed us a documentary on the terrible killings by Jihadists and the terror caused by these foreigners with the killing of medics and destruction of medical infrastructure of the Syrian State which has made it difficult to answer the needs of the population.
None of her knowledge of these things is first hand. Clearly she would have us believe the Sunni Iman and the government spokesman, but that is no reason to give them any credibility given the history of this government and her support for the views of Agnès-Mariam.

As we can see, there is no mention of the thousands of defections, no mention even of the existence of the Free Syrian Army. No mention of attacks by helicopter gunships, long range artillery or tank fire. No threat from Assad's use of Scud missiles or cluster bombs on communities. The whole problem is these foreign fighters from 29 countries that are bent on the destruction of Syria.

Also, according to the Syrians she interviewed, it was the protesters that first attacked an un-armed army rather than the other way around.
They told us when the conflict started it was peaceful for change but quickly turned into bloodshed when armed men killed many soldiers.

In the first days soldiers were unarmed but when people started asking for protection the government and military responded to defend the people and in self defence.
I expect this is how she would defend the use of cluster bombs and Scuds if she was forced to acknowledge their use by the Assad regime.

She blames the use of Sarin nerve gas on the opposition.
Most recently however, a UN investigator, High Commissioner Carla Del Ponte, has confirmed that it was rebels, not Syrian government, who used Sarin gas.
This is a very dishonest citation in that she neglects to say that Carla Del Ponte's own commission disputed her claim only hours after she made it and the UN Commission final report said:
It is possible that anti-Government armed groups may access and use chemical weapons. This includes nerve agents, though there is no compelling evidence that these groups possess such weapons or their requisite delivery systems.
Finally, she comes to her conclusions: Assad is the great defender of the Syrian people and the victim of a foreign plot:
Following many authorized reports in the mainstream Medias and our own evidences, I can stress that the Syrian State and its population are under a proxy war led by foreign countries and directly financed and backed mainly by Qatar who has imposed its views on the Arab League.

Turkey, a part of the Lebanese opposition and some of the Jordan authorities offer a safe haven to a diversity of jihadist groups, each with its own agenda, recruited from many countries. Bands of jihadists armed and financed from foreign countries invade Syria through Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon porous frontiers in an effort to destabilize Syria. There are an estimated 50,000 foreign jihadist fighters terrorizing Syria. Those death squads are destroying systematically the Syrian State infrastructures.
Although her views on the situation in Syria parrots those of the Assad regime, they are quite out of sync with reality and, in fact, border on delusional. The wonder is that her views on Syria hold any currency at all, let alone the wide approval they have gained on the Left lately.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

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