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True Friends of Syria – overlooked champions of the Syrian people

August 10, 2012

Take a look at the countries that make up the “Friends of Syria” group. On paper, it looks impressive (even more so than the Iranian imitation). In reality though, the several meetings of the FoS have managed to achieve squat all for the Syrian people. It’s also quite ironic that few of these countries even maintain embassies in Syria anymore.

While cutting diplomatic relations may be a satisfying move in lieu of more tangible action, it does serve to increase the sense of isolation that ordinary Syrians feel. Especially considering that the GCC countries wont even give visas to Syrians anymore, and that Jordan, a member of both the original FoS and the Iranian version, has been actively turning back Syrian refugees, muzzling activists within its borders and deporting others. The Syrian refugees inside Jordan have been relocated to a desert tent camp 11 kilometers outside of Amman. With friends like these, who needs Putin.

Meantime, individuals who have, over the course of many years and during these more recent events, shown genuine and sincere sympathy and understanding towards the Syrian peoples’ plight, have gone overlooked. When these events are over, Syrians will not forget who their true friends were. Let’s list some of them;

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent in Homs. When the full story of the Syrian revolution is told, the magnificent and heroic efforts of the SARC in Homs will undoubtedly earn that organization the Nobel Peace Prize. While other first aid paramedics over the world may spend most of their time delivering babies and transporting people with sprained ankles, the SARC in Homs delivered babies and transported pregnant mothers while operating under Bosnia-like war conditions. To date, four SARC volunteers have been killed while trying to help Syrians in need. For most of the city of Homs, the SARC is their only lifeline to aid, food and medical assistance. SARC staff have frequently been detained by forces loyal to the Assad regime. These young volunteers epitomize the very spirit of noble selflessness that is the future of any society.

Joshua Landis, Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma, Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and long suffering founder of the Syria Comment website. For years, long before numerous johnny-come-latelies jumped on the Syria bandwagon in search of an easy meal ticket, Joshua Landis was *the* go to expert on Syria. Professor Landis’ ties to the country are deep and substantial; having lived in and married from Syria, Landis spent over a decade living in Middle Eastern countries. This is not a man who confuses Homs with Humus. And as the proprietor of the highly respected Syria Comment website, Landis has managed the unique feat of creating an atmosphere where both pro- and anti-regimists can find a place to call each other agents of foreign powers.

Peter Harling, project Director with the Middle East Program of the International Crisis Group, otherwise known as the dude who puts out those reaaaaaaally long reports on Syria for the ICG. Harling is based in Damascus, and the breadth of his contacts among Syria’s economic classes and ethnic groups is astonishing. The ICG’s reports are a must-read for anyone who hopes to understand where Syria came from, how it got to where it is, and possible hints as to where it is going.

The BBC. While it is fashionable these days to sneer at the mainstream media, very few global news organizations have taken the risks that the BBC’s reporters have in reporting on Syria. Paul Wood in particular has time and again displayed unparalleled courage to report from inside Syria’s most dangerous areas. The BBC has not even allowed the recent London 2012 Olympic Games to sideline its coverage of events in Syria. It is the rare BBC program such as World Have Your Say or Dateline London that hasn’t had the issue of Syria as part of its discussions. In the era of the citizen journalist, the BBC proves that there is still a vital need for impartial, professional news organizations with the resources and experienced staff to get the story out of places that dictatorships would rather the world not know about. Russian, Chinese and Iranian media have not even come close.

Ambassador Robert Ford. Not enough can be said about Ambassador Ford’s unceasing efforts to connect with and understand the Syrian people. While he was in Syria, and at great risk to his own personnel safety, Ambassador Ford made extraordinary efforts to meet ordinary Syrians and understand the true nature of the revolution. His visit to Hama in July 2011, just as the Syrian army was amassing to invade it, will serve as one of the most memorable moments of the Syrian revolution. When the prominent peaceful Syrian activist Ghaith Mattar (the man refereed to as “Syria’s little Ghandi”) was brutally tortured and murdered by the regime’s security forces, Ambassador Ford, along with the French and Japanese ambassadors, made it a point to attend his funeral (which is one more funeral than Bashar Assad ever attended).  Ford’s advice to the opposition had always been to eschew a military response, and to reach out to other groups. It is the advice of a seasoned and experienced politician, with a humane compassion for the people of Syria.

Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera News Stations. Already, I can feel the cynical sneers and snorts of derision from the pro-regimists and America-hating Left. But the fact is, thanks to these two satellite channels, the Syrian Revolution is one of the most well documented conflicts in human history. This is especially astonishing considering the lengths to which the Assad regime has gone to interfere with the broadcasts and signals of the two stations, and the paranoid extremes the regime has taken to try to control access by the world’s media to events in Syria. What other news organizations had the ability or willingness to show live artillery shelling of the Khaldia neighborhood of Homs in February 2012. Thanks to these two organizations, no demonstration in Syria went unnoticed, no matter what remote part of the country it was held in.

Mark Zuckerberg and Youtube. OK, unless you’re a menhebakji or the tin-foil Leftist conspiracy nut type, there is no reason to believe that the creators of Facebook and Youtube intended for their platforms to be the backbone of the methods revolutionaries all over the Arab World used to disseminate their information. But the ability of these two social media platforms, in allowing anyone with an Internet connection to tell the world about every tragic death, arrest or abuse, has made it possible to shine a bright light in the darkest corners of a country the Syrian regime would rather prefer had been cut off and ignored by the world.

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Categories: Syria
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