This is my first ever post on Syria. There are other people out there who know a lot more than I do, who I would seriously recommend readers of this blog to look up for themselves if they want to go deeper: Yassin Al Haj Saleh , Leila Al Shami , Michael Karadjis and Louis Proyect are the people who have shaped my views the most.
What I have seen in conversations and social media posts lately has surprised me. Many people who I respect for their intelligence, critical sensibilities and leftist political orientation have expressed doubt about the reality and/or origin of the recent chemical attacks of April 7 in Douma. This has led to me posting the same things again and again on my social media feed, and I am getting a bit sick and tired of the effort of repeated copy-pasting. So here are the five main reasons I think that the chemical attacks were real events caused by the Assad regime:
Reason #1: Assad had good reason to use chemical weapons because Jaysh al Islam fighters had refused to surrender and after the chemical massacre they were forced to surrender in ten hours . Before the chemical attack, Assad had attacked Douma for 2 days, and could not advance because of Jaysh al Islam resistance. Of course Assad would have taken Douma even without the chemical attack, but probably at the cost of heavy losses . In this way, Assad took Douma without a fight.
Reason #2: Assad has used chemical weapons dozens of times in the past without facing any significant consequences for doing so. In 2013 Obama came close to doing something, but drew back in spite of solid evidence that Assad had indeed crossed over his so called ‘red line’. Last year Trump made a minor, token strike against Assad’s forces in retaliation for the Khan Shaykhun sarin attack. (Again, the evidence is solid ). It is notable that these two examples are not the only times that Assad has deployed chemical weapons, they are just the most famous ones. There is convincing evidence that Assad has used chemical weapons dozens of times over the course of the past seven years. Assad was taking a gamble for sure, but it wasn’t completely stupid or foolhardy. Past experience indicates that while chemical attacks might provoke a great deal of media heat and noise, they do not lead to significant intervention.
Reason #3: There is solid and believable open source video evidence for the attacks. The single most reliable source here is the British blogger Elliot Higgins, who runs a site called Bellingcat. Please, go to his site and watch the videos. Watch them a couple of times. Listen to the voices of the people who discover the dead bodies with white foam coming out of their mouths and noses. Look at the outdoor scenes which show the devastation wrought by months and years of barrel bombs. Try to imagine that this evidence is somehow faked, or that the people died of some other cause. (There are literally hundreds of Russian media sources which will help you do this by the way, but I want you to watch the videos and really think carefully about the idea that they are ‘staged’)
Reason #4: The idea that the rebels had a serious and credible motive for ‘faking’ the attacks is highly questionable. Chemical attacks against them have failed to provoke any serious or consequential intervention by other forces in the past, so why should they go to great lengths to fake such attacks now in order to attract such intervention?
Reason #5: The explanations and theories put forward by the armies of Assad apologists are massively unconvincing. The most prominent example here is that of Robert Fisk, who paints a picture of a vast underground network of tunnels and caves beneath Douma. The rebels lead a ‘troglodyte’ like existence deep underground, and Fisk meets up with a doctor lurking in one of these subterranean lairs. He doesn’t actually come out and say it, of course – Fisk is way too clever for that. He merely quotes the doctor’s story and asks us to ‘consider’ it. Well, OK then, let’s consider it:
“I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.”
If you didn’t watch the videos I mentioned above, go back and watch them. See if you can spot any underground tunnels or caverns. I couldn’t. Maybe the ‘cellars and basements’ are deep enough underground for dust clouds to suck all the oxygen out from them? Maybe the devious rebels carried the bodies from deep underground caves and tunnels and placed them in the building shown in the videos? And then cleverly applied make up to make it look like they were all frothing at the mouth? Again, there are armies of Putin-bot trolls out there with sophisticated versions of all this shit, so you can go for life here if you want to. I don’t.
(Regarding Fisk’s noxious Douma article, I would also like to point out Louis Proyect’s devastating take down . Idrees Ahmed’s article analysing Fisk’s rhetorical techniques and fabrications is also very worthwhile.)
None of this means, of course, that we should back Trump and May in their response to the chemical attacks. But if you want to fight for both peace for the Middle East region and justice for the Syrian people who have endured seven years of relentless murder, it pays to base your activism on truth rather than fiction.