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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

a small Victory: Mother Agnes-Mariam bites the dust

Brian O first broke the news to me:
Stop the War have finally surrendered
and he sent me a link to this statement from the British based Stop the War coalition, which began:
Over the last few days a campaign has developed over the invitation we extended to Mother Agnes -- a nun from Syria, who leads a campaign called Mussalaha (Reconciliation) -- to speak in London at the International Anti-War Conference on 30 November organised by Stop the War Coalition.

Mother Agnes has now withdrawn from speaking at the conference.
I have already written about Mother Agnes-Mariam's history as a tool of the Assad Regime and the many reasons she should not be welcome at an antiwar event in a recent blog post here. It seems that mass pressure on Stop the War coalition prompted the change. Mother Agnes-Mariam explained her withdrawal in a letter:
Some may feel that an injustice will be done if I speak at your conference. Others may think that injustice will be done if I do not. Because my participation in your conference may be used by some to distract from your valuable efforts towards peace, non-violence and reconciliation, I believe it best to withdraw from participation.
Both Stop the War coalition and Agnes-Mariam are a bit cryptic as to the reason for the withdrawal but Brian O speaks of a firestorm of criticism that found a home on their facebook page. He writes:
I think this was probably the first "cyber-occupation" - basically we had a spontaneous "Occupy Stop the War" movement which turned their Facebook page into an ongoing Syria teach-in/ debate (I had well over 200 posts in my mailbox when I cleaned it up). It obviously wasn't going to stop, so they had to pull up the draw bridge.
Check this facebook page out for yourself and you will see the many hundreds of comments the controversy generated. Bob From Brockley pointed out the reasons people opposed her participation in an anti-war event in his blog, 17, November 2013. He also suggests this blog as a source of further information:
Her invitation provoked outrage from Syrians and supporters of the Syrian revolution, as "Mother Agnes" has been a widely disseminated mouthpiece for the Assad regime's propaganda, including vigorously denying some of Assad's war crimes. (Of pictures of dead children in Ghouta, for example, she claims they are only sleeping.) Her lies are widely promoted by Russian media sources, by Christian news agencies, and by the LaRouche network. There are also live allegations about her own involvement in war crimes, and in the regime murder of journalists. Below the fold, I have pasted some information about her, but some good starting points are Linux Beach, Democratic Revolution, and Pulse.
He also exposed the fundamentally pro-war stance of the "Stop the War" coalition with regards to Syria. This was also a point made many times in the facebook discussion:
While this is not true of all the speakers at the event, it is clear that the main organisers of Stop the War are not anti-war at all. They are just opposed to the US getting involved in wars. The opening words of the conference publicity are these:
In a historic setback for the organisers of the War on Terror, protest and public opinion helped stop a new war on Syria.
Do they not realise that war has been going on in Syria for well over two years, that over 120,000 people have been killed, that 5 million people are displaced in Syria, that hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been forced to flee the country? How can "anti-war" people claim that as any sort of achievement?
They also continue to equate any military action against the Assad forces with an attack on Syria. This is a way of taking sides in a civil war and portraying the Assad regime as a defender of Syrian sovereignty.

There is also a growing movement on the Left that is in support of the revolution in Syria and it was active in this struggle. Gilbert Achcar, Louis Proyect, Robin Yassin-Kassab and more than fifty others signed An open letter to the Stop the War Coalition that read, in part [Updated 25/11/13 to reflect final text]:
News recently broke that the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) invited Mother Superior Agnès Mariam de la Croix to speak at its November 30 International Anti-War Conference. Fellow guests included MPs Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn and journalists Owen Jones and Jeremy Scahill.

Responding to a firestorm of protest, Jones and Scahill vowed to boycott the event if the Syrian-based nun spoke alongside them. Eventually she decided to “withdraw” from the conference and StWC issued a statement without explanation. Nor did it divulge why anyone would object to a Syrian cleric’s participation in an ostensibly pro-peace event.
Having a massacre denier and apologist for war criminals like Mother Agnès speak alongside respected journalists such as Jeremy Scahill and Owen Jones is not only an insult to them and their principles. It is also, more insidiously, a means of exploiting their credibility and moral authority to bolster hers, both of which are non-existent. No journalist should be sharing a platform with Agnès when she stands accused of being complicit in the death of French journalist Gilles Jacquier by his widow and a colleague who accompanied him into Homs during the trip arranged by Mother Agnès in January 2012.

Given that her UK speaking tour is still scheduled to last from the 21st to 30th November we, the undersigned, feel compelled to express our profound and principled objections to those who give a platform to a woman condemned by Syrian pro-peace Christians for greasing the skids of the regime’s war machine.

The Syrian American Council has also been active in exposing Mother Agnes-Mariam and opposing her propaganda tour. See this link for more details: ACTION ALERT: Stop the Mother Agnes-Mariam Assad Propaganda Tour

SAC has been working closely with Syrian Christians for Peace in this campaign. Last month SCP called Mother Agnes-Mariam "an Assad agent in the clothes of a nun." They said more, including this:
Agnes, the so-called “nun”, has been working for Assad within and outside of Syria. She’s been a frequent traveler whose constant goal is to support Assad, demonize the revolution, and present false testimony. She has recently visited Israel and conducted interviews with Israeli media, in effect begging Israeli leaders to let Assad (and his blood-stained regime) be. She professed her love for Israel, at the behest of her masters, Assad and Hezbollah.

We, Syrian Christians at Syrian Christians for Peace, furthermore have some documents that prove Agnes has been collecting donations for expatriate Syrian Christians and has not provided any of them with information on the uses the money is put to. Therefore, we demand that the Catholic Church stop Agnes from doing any further harm in the name of the Church. We ask that she be excommunicated and prevented from speaking in the name of the Order of Carmelites. The reason is that she has been capitalizing on her religious position, in the service of Assad instead of Christ.
Mother Agnes-Mariam has already done Los Angeles on her most recent world tour. She spoke before about a hundred people at a church in North Hollywood on 9 November, here is a picture from that event:

John Parker, a panelist in the pro-Assad "Eyewitness Syria" event I covered here, reported on it for Workers World:
In a packed Los Angeles church on Nov. 9, Mother Superior Agnes-Mariam of the Cross from Qara, Syria, spoke to an audience of mainly Syrian-Americans and anti-war activists as part of her U.S. and Canada tour. She presented an alternative view to the corporate, pro-imperialist media’s depiction of the situation in Syria concerning the “rebel” forces and their impact on the people there.
My understanding is that she doesn't just present an "alternative view," she presents an alternate reality in which Assad is a good guy and everyone who opposes him is a terrorist, but I can't say directly because they wouldn't allow me into the room. I drove all the way to North Hollywood on a Saturday evening, and you must know WLA traffic these days to know what that means, to find that their previous policy statement that "No one would be turned away" had been replaced by "We reserve the right to refuse anyone." Apparently that meant me because AA4Syria officials turned me away at the door. They wouldn't even accept my ten dollars. Well, John Parker did say that anyone opposed to the Mother was pro-NATO:
Pro-NATO forces in the United States have accused her of complicity with the Syrian government
and why should they let pro-NATO forces into an anti-war event? While Workers World Party is decidedly pro-Assad, and his flag is flying at every Syria event they sponsor, John Parker falsely calls me pro-NATO and he rejects the idea that Agnes-Mariam is pro-Assad:
Mother Agnes said she isn’t taking sides and wants to protect everyone in Syria from government or rebel violence, but she must report that rebel forces are killing civilians, which the media never mention.
If it has been your experience that the media never mentions rebel violence, then maybe you also inhabit John Parker's wonderland were all the other stories from Moscow and Damascus ring true. This is also Mother Agnes-Mariam's alternate reality or "alternative view."

Some members of the Syrian American Council and Syrian Christians for Peace were able to get into this event however but only because they weren't recognized by the person at the door at the time. There has also been some controversy over how this event came to be in the church in the first place. I was told by one SAC member that the priest didn't know the event was taking place and when some church members opposed it they were threatened.
There is also this:
Eyewitness Account: A Not-So-Warm Welcome at Mother Agnes-Mariam’s Talk in San Francisco, CA

We have seen before the strong arm tactics employed by Assad supporters in the peace movement. From this report on the “The Workshop on Global and Regional Implications of the Syrian Crisis” which took place at Lehigh University on 2 November we get this picture of how Assad supporters conduct themselves at events they don't control. Steven Heydemann is from the United States Institute of Peace. Mohammed Ghanem is with SAC:
Heydemann said he believed that “the credible threat of an American military strike is now gone.”

“Opposition military elements long since vetted by the United States received little, in fact, in terms of arms, equipment, and training,” he said. “The regime’s supporters, however, are motivated. Iran needs the Assad regime to ensure it will be of service to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Tehran’s first line of defense against Israel, and Russia’s Putin wants Assad to survive as a symbol of a resurgent Russia. What is left, then, to discuss about Syrian political transition at Geneva?”

“The U.S. is not seen as a strong backer of the opposition when you compare the U.S. backing the opposition to Russia backing Assad,” added Ghanem. “The opposition does not trust that it will be able to achieve much in Geneva because it knows it won’t have a strong ally at the table, and Assad will have an ally.

Even still, some audience members draped the Syrian Arab Republic flag—the flag of Assad’s regime—over auditorium seats in Zoellner’s Baker Hall and expressed their outrage of the U.S.’s support of the opposition. Three audience members were eventually escorted out of Baker Hall after initially being approached and asked to quiet down by Barkey.
... A group of Syrian-Americans in Bashar al-Assad T-shirts and draped in Syrian flags adorned with Assad's face repeatedly heckled and interrupted speakers. In the final session, they aggressively interrupted and denounced a Lebanese journalist, with one ultimately throwing his shoe at the stage. The panel degenerated into a screaming match, until police arrived to clear the room.
It is very good that the debate over Syria is now beginning in earnest in the Left in the US and UK. To this point, the pro-Assad forces have been able to have influence only because of the silence of the Left. Their views can not survive the debate and their support of fascism can't survive the sun light. So let the struggle continue!

What's next in Southern California? Perhaps a campaign against KPFK's minimal and one-sided reporting on the Syrian conflict?

UPDATES 20 November 2013: Ken Hiebert informs me that a Mother Agnes-Mariam event planned for 11 November in Vancouver did not take place although a meeting planned for Hamilton, Ontario, 1 December, is still on.

The Facebook page Protest Against Mother Agnes' Pro-Assad Propaganda Tour has announced that they will be going forward with a protest in spite of the withdrawal. Dima Moon says:
Thanks to all of you who will be joining our protest. As the title says we are protesting against Mother Agnes pro-Assad propaganda tour. Yesterday Stop the War Coalition announced in a statement that Mother Agnes has now "withdrawn" from the conference. That's a great success for our campaign. However, we are still protesting so all other venues in the UK reject to offer their platform for a war-criminal propagandist.

We also want a clear position from Stop the War Coalition on Assad's war on his own people! Not only being passive but also inviting Assad's apologists to talk at their conference is not acceptable from a Coalition that describes itself as "anti-war"!

Hope to see you all there! we will update you shortly about the event's exact time and other arrangements!

More, later...

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

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