Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Mother Agnes" and "Stop the War"

The Syrian revolution speaks on "Mother Agnes"
Source: Occupied Kafr Anbel
Stop The War UK invited Fadia Laham (known as Mother Agnes-Mariam de la Croix) to speak at its London event on 30 November. "Mother Agnes" is a Lebanese-born, French-educated nun, who started her own order in Syria.

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.

Some of the more intelligent and honourable invited speakers at the Stop The War event had doubts when informed about sharing a platform with her. (Film-maker Jeremy Scahill and commentator/activist Owen Jones said they wouldn't speak alongside her, and writer Rachel Shabi appeared to be considering this.)

Now, Stop the War have announced that "Mother Agnes" has withdrawn. [UPDATE: Mother Agnes' statement here (pdf).]  However, it remains a scandal that they should ever have invited her, that they should have thought she was a legitimate voice from Syria at an "anti-war" conference. Who at Stop the War invited her? Who agreed to it? Through what channels did they invite her? What were they thinking?

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?

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[UPDATE: See Andrew Coates for concise summary of the issues.
UPDATE 2: James Bloodworth is a great read. "Mother Agnes is the Syrian equivalent of one of Hitler’s brown priests."]

Here are some extracts from Clay Claibourne's posts on "Mother Agnes":

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 [since, tragically, kidnapped by Jihadists and believed to have been killed]:
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.”[...] 
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...
[...]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 NationsSyrian Observatory for Human RightsAmnesty 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 [as] Pulse Media reported.[...]

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].")

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Previous post: Syria and the politics of solidarity

15 comments:

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Calling Rachel Shabi more intelligent and honourable is a bit of exaggeration, but OK.

Anonymous said...

In the words of Edmund dark, former revolutionary, non-Christian Allepo resident and correspondant for al monitor, "Mother Agnes has more integrity and huimanity than all the shitheads smearing her..."

Whatever you might think about Mother Agnes, she does at least represent a genuine constituency in Syria. The vast majority of Christians in Syria favour the regime, because they know what the alternative is.

Unlike some deluded British leftists, who have no idea of facts on the ground, depending on totally unreliable MSM sources for their knowledge, and who can't spot blatant propaganda even when its dissected in front of their eyes.

By contrast, groups like "Syrian christians for peace", with the revolutionary flag in their logo, are nothing more than foreign funded astro-turfs.

Anonymous said...

If Pulse Media Linux beach is what you read in addition to the MSM, you can't possible expect to be well informed about what goes on in Syria, bob.

They deny that Christians are facing sectarian cleansing by rebels for goodness sakes. A third of them have already fled the country.

The Father Paulo guy, who was an opposition activist, is now in an al qaeda jail in Raqqa. That's the true face of your revolution.

Paul

bob said...

You're right, Paul, that Father Paulo was kidnapped (probably killed) by Jihadists, sadly. I have edited the post to reflect that.

Of course there are many Christians displaced and many who favour the regime, certainly over the Jihadists and in some cases over the democratic revolution. How you know it is a majority, I'm not sure. There are certainly still plenty of Christians on the side of the democratic revolution, such as George Sabra and Michael Kilo (as I mentioned in comments on my last Syria post). Why you would see Sister Agnes, a nun from Lebanon, as more representative of a genuine constituency than them, I have no idea.

I'm not really even sure what you mean by "a genuine constituency". First, she is a French-educated and Lebanese-born. I believe she was a Roman Catholic until the 1990s, a denomination with a very small representation among Syria's Christians, before she started her own made-up monastic order which mixes and matches several denominational traditions. Second, as you know, Syria's Christians are incredibly diverse, not just denominationally but also ethnically, linguistically and, crucially, politically.

Possibly Syrian Christians for Peace are "foreign-funded astro-turfs"; I confess I don't know much about them. (I understood them to be a US-based exile group.) But I don't see why you should claim Agnes is somehow authentic and not foreign-funded. Where does she get her (not insignificant) resources from? Who publicises her on the world stage? Why is she so widely promoted by Kremlin news sources?

bob said...

I received these comments on Twitter:

Also concerning Ghouta "lies", if CW attack took place at 2am why were victims fully dressed?
[...]

If you @bobfrombrockley call Mother Agnes's words "lies" then what happened to Latakia's kidnapped children?


This is a very good example of the Truth Cult mentality I spoke about in comments to my previous Syria post http://brockley.blogspot.com/2013/11/beyond-left-and-right-syria-and.html?showComment=1384256502190#c769612545558263267

The first claim is typical of the sort of mistruth that circulates widely on social media. But are the people in the pics fully clothed? Most of the adults and kids in the photos are wearing T-shirts and underpants, or trousers and no shirts at all - i.e. probably what people generally wear to sleep communally in the basements of low-rises in heavily bombed areas. How many Syrian displaced people own pajamas? I have no idea. I know Wikipedia is not the best source, but its summary is quite succinct: "The attacks reportedly occurred between 02:00 and 05:00 in the morning on 21 August 2013,[47] in the rebel-held and mostly Sunni[89] Ghouta agricultural area, just east of Damascus. The area had been under an Army siege backed by Hezbollah[90][91] for months. The attacks had affected two separate opposition-controlled districts in Damascus Suburbs, located 16 kilometres apart.[92] According to local residents, the Zamalka neighbourhood in Eastern Ghouta was struck by rockets at some time between 2 and 3 a.m., and the Moadamiya neighbourhood in Western Ghouta was struck by rockets at about 5 a.m., shortly after the completion of the Muslim morning prayer." The photos circulating on the internet are generally lacking in contextual information - e.g. which come from the nighttime attack in Zamalka, which comes from the morning attack in Moadamiya; which were taken of bodies as they were first found, which were taken of bodies laid out for burial. This kind of nod nod wink wink logic is incredibly depressing.

Or the Latakia kidnappings. Latakia is a three and a half hour drive from Ghouta in peacetime. In August 2013, https://lh3.ggpht.com/-S4tlSGkjRbA/UhZNVGf7mgI/AAAAAAAABjQ/_9hZzdly8KQ/s1600/syria_civil_war_rebel_control_map_2013-08-22.png it was a journey through the heart of a war-zone, mostly then government-held, so the story makes no sense when you think about it. But more to the point, not a single half-decent source has corroborated this claim. And was tested, of course: "Human rights researchers have spoken to the relatives of Alawite women and children abducted by rebels. None of them said they had recognised their loved ones in the gas attack videos."

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you on the "Truth cult' mentality, but OTOH, there's a lot of very murky foriegn stuff going on with the rebels in Syria.

There also remain some unanswered questions about the agust chemical weapons attack. Which is a bit wierd, considering how certain the west was in early september.

Watching William hague assure everyone that there was o point in sending weapons inspectors in after 5 days, because that was too long for the evidence was strange, not least because they were in the country investigating an attack that took place 5 months earlier.

Ultimatelly, a lot of people have lost their trust in the reliaility of both the media and the governments narratives.

And I have to say, I'm one of those people. Our masters have sided with al qadea in Syria, at the same time as they're reading every e-mail I send.

The only possible justification for that intrusive an intercept system is the threat of terrorism, yet they're helping terrorists get weapons.

It's no surprise people retreat into hyper-cynicism and conspiracy theory under those circumstances.

Paul.

Anonymous said...

Which is not to say that i don't think the regime carried out the august attacks. Defensive, paranoid governments do some very strange things.

However, I'm not 100% sure it wasn't a false flag attack. I'm maybe 85/15. The argument that the rebels don't have the capacity is the same as saying the saudi and/or turkish intel services dont have the capacity.

Which I'm pretty sure they do. And from reading Brown Moses, I;m not convinced the rockets used could have traveled the distance they are supposed to go.
Again, that doesn't mean I don't think those rockets were used, just that the story hasn't come out yet fully.

Which, as I said, is wierd. Either they don't have f*ckin clue, or it was a FF, or they just don't care enough to bother explaining it to us insects.
None of those explanations is good.

Paul

bob said...

I should say that I too cannot say I am 100% certain about the Sarin attacks. I am not a ballistics expert or pharmacological expert; I wasn't there; the data coming from the war zone is necessarily highly incomplete. I guess probably none of us will ever be fully certain.

I obviously have nowhere near Paul's level of cynicism about the MSM and our politicians, but we are right to maintain a certain amount of skepticism. The lie about WMDs in Iraq was just the last in a long line of lies governments have told us. But I guess I am more willing to trust the consensus of people I regard as having a lot more expertise than I do: Åke Sellström and the UN inspectors, Human Rights Watch and, yes, Brown Moses. And I guess I also turn up my skepticism a lot, lot higher when I read something in a Kremlin or Iranian source, like RT.com or PressTV, than when I read the New York Times or the BBC.

Anonymous said...

"And I guess I also turn up my skepticism a lot, lot higher when I read something in a Kremlin or Iranian source, like RT.com or PressTV, than when I read the New York Times or the BBC. "

Same here, until I started getting more interested in what was going on in Syria.
And then I discovered, to my surprise (and subsequently disgust) that as far as Syria went, PressTV and RT were actually more reliable than the BBC, with better and more current information, and only slightly more biased.

For any topic other than Syria, I would agree. But I've tracked the growing extremism in rebel ranks for a good 2 years now, and I know that the western MSM has been behind all the way, and they still are.
And I've never trusted HRW. If you give an institution power, it becomes corrupt. Human nature.

Plus I still can't quite get over this from a few years ago...

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4079752,00.html

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3627393/Colonel-Gaddafi-gives-Libyan-troops-Viagra-for-mass-rapes.html

bob said...

Sample RT.com coverage, from this morning, in its report of the Beirut bomb:

"Lebanon and Iran enjoy close relations, both being Shia states."

This was amended later today to:

"Lebanon and Iran enjoy close relations, both having a large Shiite population."

And:

"Hezbollah is also a strong supporter of neighboring Syria’s President Bashar Assad, who is currently fighting his own terrorist threat."

Also in today's RT.com, another bullshit op ed by Bilderberg conspiracy nut Tony ("do check out why I believe The Bible (not the establishment church) is still the clearest guide to understanding the mess this world's in") Gosling.

--

Meanwhile, Press TV's coverage of Syria leads with an HRW report indicting jihadis for the Sadad atrocity - notice that HRW are a reliable source if they report the facts that aid the Tehran regime narrative.

Press TV is also heavily reporting regime gains against "foreign-backed militias" in Qalamoun, but never mentions that the regime forces are themselves foreign, as it is at least half Hezbollah fighters in that theatre of battle.

sackcloth and ashes said...

'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?'

They know, and they simply don't care.

Brian S said...

Hi Bob - Good systematic work. I'm doing some background on Agnes-Mariam, using French and Catholic sources that are often overlooked. Striking thing so far is her long connections with French far-right figures. She moved from theology to politics under the patronage of French conspiracy fanatic (9/11 and most everything else denier) Thierry Meyssan who also managed her first major press conference for the Syrian government.
On other matters raised by your commenters: I think this constant talk of MSM should be dropped - its simply bad for the brain. Which MSM? Martin Chulov or Ghaith Abdul-Ahad or Patrick Cockburn or Kim Sengupta or Robert Fisk or Jonathan Steele or Rania Abouzeid? You won't get that variety on RT: but I guess you do get to listen to a "geopolitical analyst" who doubles up as a UFO watcher in Brighton.

Anonymous said...

Yeah,Rt and PressTv are full of sh*t and biased, and we know, and expect that. There will be a bunch of dozy conspiracy nuts doing "analysis" and they'll leave out the incovenient bits. Of course.

BUT, the coverage is better, and more current, than the BBCs. (Check out ANNA TV for the best war coverage I've ever seen. 100% biased, but the tank-cams and film crews are pure war porn. It beats the sh*t out of any western MSM embeds.)

The thing is, we KNOW what they're like. We can discriminate. They rarely report rebel victories and exagerate regime wins. Like you would expect.

I'm not used to a world where I have to apply the same logic to the BBC or the NYT. (Ever read The Angry Arab blog? He's agry alright, but quite perseptive when it comes to the NYT) Which I do have to, when it comes to Syria. I can't trust them, because I know they're behind the curve on a whole bunch of stuff. And I know they're biased as f*ck towards the rebels, and have been from the get-go.

bob said...

Re Father Paolo, some people tweeting from Syria are saying he is alive and ISIS are about to release him. I can't find a good confirmation.

Brian S, I've been meaning to say thank you for your kind comment. I'd be keen to see anything you write up from French sources. Please ping me here if you post to your excellent blog. I'd love to re-post here if you're willing.

Anonymous said...

Fr Paolo dall’Oglio some background. #MotherAgnes #STWC #OwenJones #JeremyScahill http://hesmackeditbro.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/fr-paolo-dalloglio-some-background-motheragnes-stwc-owenjones-jeremyscahill/