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An interview with Robert Fisk

An in-depth interview on the history and contemporary situation in the Middle East.

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Robert Fisk (born 1946) is a household name among foreign correspondents. We harbored some faint hope that this occasion might arise. And it did. Meeting Robert is like being transferred back in time to a novel from the Cold War days. Aside from our initial projections, Robert is quite down-to- earth. We met him at a seaside café in Beirut on a sunny day where he shared his experience with us. At once close to and remote from the current drama in the neighborhood of Lebanon.

KULTURVERK: Amidst all the carnage and conflict you have experienced, what truly inspires you to go on? What is the guiding light in your life?

Robert Fisk: Well, I suppose at the end of the day, I realize that I am watching History. Which is quite a privilege. A cursed privilege in this part of the world, but it is still a privilege. I think it has a lot to do with my father who was a soldier in World War One. And in the seventeen months after this war, the victors, who were primarily the British and the French created the borders of Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia and the Middle East.

And I spent my entire professional career in Belfast, in Yugoslavia, ex-Yugoslavia, and in the Middle East watching the people in those borders burn. I think that this is a great tragedy of history, and a tragedy of great history. And the knowledge and understanding of that must lie at the centre of any reporting and analysis you write about this region. Because the people here know the history very well. We do not know it that well.

Photo: KULTURVERK

The narrative was that the Irish were constantly resisting the pleasures and democracy of British rule. Not unlike the Iraqis. And that, you know, every time we invaded they ungenerously greeted us by trying to kill us. That they were a treacherous people etc., which was pretty much what Churchill said in World War Two. That lasted about a month. After which I saw British soldiers beating up Catholic civilians and smashing windows.

I hate seeing these leaders coming and give press conferences in Beirut or anywhere else. And they start telling people about the history of the Middle East. I once remember Clinton turned up in Islamabad in Pakistan and told the audience on the state television: “Your history is as old as the Indus river” or something like that. Jesus Christ, they know this already.

We are very good at telling their history. Our colonial objective. Colonial not in the sense of colony, but in a sense of ruling that has always been to emphasize the divisions in society. A few years ago, New York Times Magazine had a front cover about Iraq: “How Do Sunni and Shia Islam Differ?”. That was the headline. I said why not just drop it by parachute over Baghdad. Maybe it would help them.

You know I stay up late at night reading books, turning the pages. One more chapter, one more page and suddenly you see dawn coming through the curtains because you have been reading all night. What happens next? And that I think this is what keeps me going. But I also think there are so much lies, wickedness and hypocrisy that it needs journalism to expose it constantly so that people know “the truth”. I hate to use that in quotation marks, but you know there is no objective truth. It is not on a supermarket shelf. But at least we have an idea that it is not what they are being told by their bloody governments and their bloody armies.

Northern Ireland

I don’t think America cares about people in the Middle East.The Saudis are bombing civilians in Yemen. Erdogan is locking up tens of thousands of people in Turkey. President Sisi in Egypt is locking up thousands without trial. But we don’t fire cruise missiles at them. So what is the point at firing curise missiles at Syria?

They know they are being lied to. So, in a sense I always feel I am writing to friends, who are the readers. Some of them may hate you, but they read you. An Israeli officer once said to a colleague of mine: “We do not like Robert Fisk, but we read him”. And I said: “That is enough. You do not have to like me, just read me.” And I think this keeps me going. Fortunately, I work for a news organization that allows me to tell exactly what I see, in my own words, and does not touch it. And if you do not get that you should not be in a war zone and you should not be a reporter. That is the answer to your question.

KV: How influential was your coverage of Northern Ireland on your current reporting?

RF: Oh, very much so. I went to Northern Ireland when I was 23 or 24 years old, and I did not know much about Irish history then. Though I knew a bit, since I had been to Ireland before. At that the war had already started. British soldiers had been killed. And I think like most of my colleagues I regarded the Irish, then, as being an intemperate people who had a pub on every corner. That bit was true, there was a pub on every corner in Belfast.

The narrative was that the Irish were constantly resisting the pleasures and democracy of British rule. Not unlike the Iraqis. And that, you know, every time we invaded they ungenerously greeted us by trying to kill us. That they were a treacherous people etc., which was pretty much what Churchill said in World War Two. That lasted about a month. After which I saw British soldiers beating up Catholic civilians and smashing windows.

And I started to report about the lies of the British Army. For instance, I found out that they were sending Special Forces across the border to the Republic. We put this story on the front page and I was accused of being an IRA agent by the British Army, who ordered me to withdraw. My editor stood by me. Eventually the special branch came to my house in Northern Ireland demanding that I go to the police station for interrogation. I told I would follow in the car. I got in the car and drove as fast I could to the Irish Republic and stopped in Dublin.

Photo: KULTURVERK

I said from the start there will not be another civil war in Lebanon. There will be bombs, explosions and assassinations. But there will not be another war.

Within two or three hours I was being identified as being “a terrorist agent, a liar, a person who should be arrested, who illegally had documents in possession that was the property of Her Majesty’s government.” This is the literal quote. At one point the number two at the British Embassy in Dublin came to my hotel and said he wanted documents from me. I refused and he left immediately when I going to call the Irish police.

But that is how bad it got. And it taught me something. At the time, it was not so much fun as it is in recalling it now, because basically I won the war. But I did not know I was going to then. And it taught me that my own government, and my own army, lie and commit abuses and crimes. And if you write about it they will be more frighten of you than vice versa.

After that, I went for a year in the aftermath of the Portuguese revolution, which did not have much effect. But when I came to the Middle East and I was dealing with the Egyptians, the civil war here in Lebanon and the Syrians, I knew how to fight. And you must fight a political battle if you are a journalist in a war zone.

KV: This was a formative period for you?

RF: I do not think it was a formative period like it shaped me. It taught me that you must stand up to power all the time. And you must always question them.

KV: Will the recent illegal US attack on a Syrian airbase change anything?

RF: As usual the US press, who correctly identified their President as mad, both before and after the election, are now reverting to the old understanding that America must have good reasons to do what is does.

Trump doesn’t read. He watches CNN at night. He saw the pictures of dying children. And he got upset. And suddenly let fly the missiles. I think Putin realizes what kind of man Trump is.

Lebanon is like a magnificent Rolls-Royce with leather seats, flat screen TV, cocktail in the back seat, and square wheels. It is not going to move. Which may save it.

I don’t think America cares about people in the Middle East.The Saudis are bombing civilians in Yemen. Erdogan is locking up tens of thousands of people in Turkey. President Sisi in Egypt is locking up thousands without trial. But we don’t fire cruise missiles at them. So what is the point at firing curise missiles at Syria? The Americans kill a few people, they bash up an airbase (which is back in use within 24 hours). Do they think that this is going to stop the Syrian war?

KV: You live in Beirut where tensions still are high and memories of war are plenty. Do you see any imminent threat of the raging war in Syria spreading to Lebanon?

RF: Absolutely not. At the very beginning of the Syrian war I was being invited to Lebanese television. In English, French and Arabic. And I always refused in Arabic because it was such a sensitive topic I was bound to make a mistake. I said from the start there will not be another civil war in Lebanon. There will be bombs, explosions and assassinations. But there will not be another war, for two reasons.

First of all, Lebanon has been through a civil war. It has been inoculated.  And people in Lebanon have a folk memory, unless they are too young to remember it. The war was a great tragedy for everybody here. And Lebanese did not win. The Israelis did not win, either. Nor did the Syrians. But the Lebanese definitely did not win.

The second reason was that during the civil war many of the parents who had money – not necessarily the wealthy elite – sent their children abroad to be educated in the US, Geneva, London or Paris. And when they came back after the war they could not understand the sectarian society. They were not necessarily against this, but they thought it was silly and infantile. They now longer had time for it. They did not want to discuss it. And they certainly were not going to obey it.

At the same time, there was a maturing of political leadership. Not the sort of Falangist or the old people, but the younger generation of leaders. Hassan Nasrallah, for example. Thank God, he is an intellectual and intelligent man. Michel Aoun, the President of Lebanon, is not. He is a crackpot. You have a younger generation that will not tolerate war by sectarianism. Of course, if they are invaded by Israel they will fight back. Because that makes sense.

Photo: KULTURVERK

Today we have largely lost our faiths. Whether that is because of the Congress of Vienna or World War One, I do not know. Our gods (or idols) in the West tend to be Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Red Cross or entities like the Protocols of Geneva, Norwegian aid etc.

There might be some ISIS at the border, but there will not be another civil war in Lebanon. Now people invite me back on television to remind them that I did say that. They do remember that I got it right, when all the local commentators and the think tanks and the Institute of Preposterous Affairs in Washington were talking about a spill over. And I objected. Not only because I have been here a long time and I thought that I was right. Not because I was big arrogant Westerner, but I was the only Westerner saying that at the time. It did not make a lot of new headlines at the time, of course. It is not a big story, is it?

KV: But is not the understanding between the Shia community/Hezbollah and the Christians a kind of “safety valve”?

RF: Yes, I mean Hezbollah is still sort of supporting Aoun for the Presidency. But they do not like him. All he wants is power and Hezbollah knows that. Nasrallah knows that too, though he sounds presidential in his speeches. It is as if Nasrallah thinks he is the president. I think what lies behind all this is something that most people do not appreciate.

The Parliament is generally shaped to reflect the power, in numerical terms, of the various communities. But in fact, it does not really represent the Shiites. Now if they did have more seats in parliament, then you would have everyone saying “they’re going to create an Islamic Republic”. Instead they tolerate that Hezbollah remains armed.

Try to explain this to an audience in Washington. The Americans say that “the Lebanese Army is the army of the sovereign state of Lebanon, they must disarm the Hezbollah which is a terrorist organization”. The Shiites, who compose a large part of the army, have their uncles, cousins and brothers in Hezbollah. What are these people supposed to do? Go into the homes and shoot their families? This is how the civil war began, when the Lebanese Army split apart in 1975, when you had the Lebanese Army and the Lebanese Arab Army.

The army is not going to overthrow Bashar. Who is going to take his place? Have you noticed any great towering eloquent figures of Syria? Well there might be somebody living in great five-star hotels in Istanbul, but they are not in Damascus.

The problem in Lebanon is that once you create a sectarian society you cannot disentangle it. It is like getting cancer: it is very difficult to get it out of the system. And even down to the checkpoints: you abandon a checkpoint; some other militia will take it over. Sectarianism is the identity of Lebanon. If you deconfessionalize Lebanon it will seize to exist. The identity disappears.

And you have this beautiful country with its wonderful food, Roman ruins in Baalbek, crusader castles and snow-capped mountains. Not to mention the immensely talented people, in the most literal sense of the word. They are very well educated. Lebanon is like a magnificent Rolls-Royce with leather seats, flat screen TV, cocktail in the back seat, and square wheels. It is not going to move. Which may save it.

KV: What is the main difference between the West and the Middle East?

RF: In the Middle East, most of the people are Muslims. And they have, or believe they have, kept their faith. They believe the idea of Islam dominates their family, their prayers, their thoughts, the way they die, the way they live, in way that Christianity used to, maybe 200 years ago, in our Western societies. Today we have largely lost our faiths. Whether that is because of the [post-Napoleonic] Congress of Vienna or World War One, I do not know.

Our gods (or idols) in the West tend to be Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Red Cross or entities like the Protocols of Geneva, Norwegian aid etc. And the big problem I suspect here is that the question for Arab Muslims, not all Muslims (for instance the Malaysians), is this: How come the people who kept their faith have come to be dominated economically, militarily, socially and culturally by a people who have largely lost their faith? That lies at the heart of al-Nusra, ISIS, Muslim Brotherhood and all Islamist-type insurrections against “the Other” (e.g. the West).

Photo: KULTURVERK

The only working institution in the Syrian state is the Syrian Army. Whether you like it or not. They are fighting for their country. When an army likes fighting it will win. Whether you like it or not. If soldiers come back to fight when they still are wounded, they will win.

KV: Before Christmas, Aleppo was burning in the media as bombs fell and carnage ensued. What do you believe will be the outcome of the war in Syria, and why?

RF: I think the Syrian Army will come to effectively control all of Syria under Russian protection. Bashar is not going to be thrown out, unless he gets shot. He will remain the president at large. But the Syrian Arab Army will have to rebuild Syria. They have lost 65.000 soldiers at minimum. Dead. I am not talking about the wounded. For them, that is a sacrifice which must be repaid. And the only repayment is going to be “you are in charge of Syria”. And I can spot some people there who might be capable of doing that.

It is not going to be this sort of simplistic Western idea of a coup d’état. That is not going to happen. Because Baathism as an idea remains alive in Syria, even if it does not in Iraq. And given the fact that the basis of Syrian society, I am talking about government, is supposed to be secularism you cannot abandon the Baath party. The army is not going to overthrow Bashar. Who is going to take his place? Have you noticed any great towering eloquent figures of Syria? Well there might be somebody living in great five-star hotels in Istanbul, but they are not in Damascus.

But at the moment, the war will carry on because both sides think they are going to win. And all sides are pouring weapons and money into the creation of further power elements who are destroying the country.

KV: Are there really any good solutions ahead for Syria?

RF: There are no solutions anywhere. There are only resolutions in the Middle East.

The idea that the Iranians are sitting there and calibrating their missiles is ridiculous. They do not need to. You know, one of the problems here is [that many believes that] they need the Russians to fire the guns. They do not. Arabs have been firing weapons for longer than any else in the world in the last fifty years.

KV: What do you believe is a realistic end to the Syrian war? And what do you think would be an ideal solution?

RF: Reconstruction. Getting all those refugees to go back. The problem of the refugees is that, for example in the Beqaa Valley, they are illiterate. How can you rebuild a country if you cannot read? How can you know how many metres long the wall of this new building is supposed to be if you do not understand what a meter is? You cannot read mathematics and you cannot even read Arabic. So, you have a returning population of refugees to Syria who want to go back. They do not want to live in Lesbos or Lebanon or Jordan or Turkey.

And the only working institution in the Syrian state is the Syrian Army. Whether you like it or not. They are fighting for their country. When an army likes fighting it will win. Whether you like it or not. If soldiers come back to fight when they still are wounded, they will win. And I have seen them and talked to them, and they let me talk to soldiers on my own.

They used to take me on their retreats. Can you believe it? My wife and I were with them as they pulled out of towns under fire because they wanted to show us the reality of what was happening. And I wrote about it, that they were retreating. That is why they need Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Russian fire power from the air.

KV: Iran has played an important part in the Syrian war together with Hezbollah.  Do you see a positive role for Iran in the region?

RF: Hezbollah fights to win, like the Syrian army. Hezbollah is much better equipped than the Syrians, by the way. Better weapons, better boots, better sniper rifles. Regarding Iran: I think they are probably going to be the most powerful country in the region. I am keeping Israel out of this as a special case, for all kinds of reasons. It is a sort of extension of the West in many ways.

Iranian forces

There has been an evolution in the years that I have been here. The population has become more educated. And it is also a population that has learned through hard, tragic experience: that they are on their own and that they must have their own ideas. No point in relying on America, France, Britain or Iran. That is why the Lebanese survive. They only believe in Lebanon.

And you have got this Iranian nuclear deal. The deal has been cemented. It is on record. The problem is that it has been destroyed by various elements within the US institutions who want to undermine the end of sanctions by threatening banks to the degree that they cannot support the investments that Iran needs.

This naturally supports those who are convinced that America form the start is in bad faith. And that means that they will grow and gain political prestige and power inside Iran. That those who want to have a new relationship with the West are crushed. Thus, the American-Iranian-Shia relationship crumbles. Because the greatest supporters of those who do not want that relationship, inside Iran, are within the American institutions, and particularly in Israel and with Israeli friends within the American institutions. Whether you call that the Israeli lobby or the Jewish lobby, does not matter.

KV: Is Shia Islam winning politically?

RF: I think the answer to your questions is yes.

KV: Does Iran have any influence in Yemen?

RF: I do not believe that the Iranian support for the Houthis is anything like some people claim it to be. There is no evidence at all that the Iranians have given weapons to the Houthis. They may have done. But we have no evidence. Not of a single Kalashnikov with any physical proof that they come from Iran. In a sense, you (Magne and Stein) are already following the Washington narrative.

If you go back in Yemeni history, it was never an Iranian story until six years ago. It was a Yemeni story. It was a civil war story. The Iranian element of the story only came in about four or five years ago. And it was particularly emphasized when the Saudis began bombing the Houthis, because obviously, you were “bombing the Iranians”.

Houthi fighters in Yemen

[Putin] sees militant Islam as being anti-civilization.  It goes back to Byzantium. I think Putin is fascinated by Istanbul, Constantinople. Because it is where the great battle took place.

The idea that the Iranians are sitting there and calibrating their missiles is ridiculous. They do not need to. You know, one of the problems here is [that many believes that] they need the Russians to fire the guns. They do not. Arabs have been firing weapons for longer than any else in the world in the last fifty years.

I heard an interesting story the other day. Actually, I heard it from a friend of mine that came from Yemen, who had met in prison a Yemeni Shiite who had been invited to Teheran via Damascus to learn how to permeate the Houthis with Iran’s influence. And he made his way to Teheran.  Eventually he was taken to a training camp, in which he was taught how to distribute money to contractors to rebuild streets and houses. He was not taught how to drive a T-54 tank, was he? He was not taught how to refine the magnetic aiming mechanism of a missile. He was taught how to rebuild with Iranian money and don’t spend and told “don’t spend too much and scatter the money”.

But if you are a Wahhabi – which is Qatar and Saudi-Arabia only – then your vision is very clear-cut. Shiism is their apostate enemy. And it does not matter how many times you reopen the embassy in Teheran, for an example. Shiism is the enemy that they will try to destroy in any form. And when you get desperate, when you think the Americans are leaving you (which I think they are), when you see that your murderous friends are not winning in Syria or in Iraq, you panic. You start lashing out.

The Saudi power resides in a thousand princes or two thousand, depending on your point of view. These people do not have a sophisticated view of the world. They joy the world. They go on holiday to Cannes, they go to nightclubs in London or a Playboy club, whatever. But their view is quite clear-cut when they get home.

I have a good friend that is a Saudi journalist. When he came to Egypt with his family, his wife was sitting at the table.  When I went to his home in Riyadh, his wife was kept in the background. I never saw her. He is a nice guy. So is his family, by the way. I am not bringing him into the story. But I am just saying that you have this: once a Saudi is at home he is not the guy you meet in Washington.

The President of Ukraine ran away. He is somewhere in Russia. We do not even see him. He left Kiev, but Assad did not leave Damascus. He fought on. And the Russians admire the Syrian Army for fighting.

KV: Should we regard the wars in Syria and Yemen as separate and isolated events or as parts of a larger grid?

RF: There is nothing separate in the Middle East. It is all connected. It is all part of the Arab awakening. It is all part of the evolution of Arab society where people have begun to realize that they should own their own land. Whether it be the house, the street, their country, the Ummah. You name it. I mean, you can apply this to ISIS, you can apply it to middle class liberals (there are not many left of the latter in Egypt).

There has been an evolution in the years that I have been here. The population has become more educated. And it is also a population that has learned through hard, tragic experience: that they are on their own and that they must have their own ideas. No point in relying on America, France, Britain or Iran. That is why the Lebanese survive. They only believe in Lebanon.

KV: What about the Kurds?

RF: The Kurds are born to be betrayed.  They were betrayed by Kissinger and the Algiers agreement between Iraq and Iran. The Kurds are very brave, but they constantly make the mistake of trusting other people. Whether it be the British, the Iraqis, the Turks or the Americans.

And do you think they will get their freedom in the YPG area? No, again. And the Turks are very happy with that. And this is why I don’t think Turkey is really against the Assad regime. And again, in the future after you and I are in [our graves] or wherever we go to, the Kurds will still be betrayed.

KV: Exactly. To what extent is the Russian engagement in Syria a pre-emptive war?

RF: It is! 100%. Look, I go to Russia every two or three years. If you go to the Kremlin you can get quite high up. Almost as if you are on the Kremlin walls. And if you look to the south, there is Grozny. And Middle East is not in the ‘Middle East’. It is south. And immediately after Grozny you see the minarets of Damascus. It is the same war.

Putin at Mount Athos

Who cares about the Palestinians now? That is the real question. Because all this regional nuclear heat has obscured the Palestinian question, where the Israelis continue to build colonies on land which does not belong to them. Which is not their property.

Putin again and again has expressed his absolute hatred, vitriol hatred, for Islamism. That it is sectarian and visceral. Forget about the school killings and so on. He sees militant Islam as being anti-civilization.  It goes back to Byzantium. I think Putin is fascinated by Istanbul, Constantinople. Because it is where the great battle took place.

KV: Is it a continuation of Byzantium?

RF: In a sort of way, yes.

KV: It is a pre-emptive war before it spreads to the Caucasus.

RF: The President of Ukraine ran away. He is somewhere in Russia. We do not even see him. He left Kiev, but Assad did not leave Damascus. He fought on. And the Russians admire the Syrian Army for fighting.  The Economist had a very arrogant piece about Syria last autumn. According to them, the Syrian Army is not capable of fighting a real war. What have they been doing? Losing five or six thousand dead, right? And [in] a recent film at the Khmeymim Russian air base Syrian soldiers, according to the Economist, could hardly keep step and march in line.

I think the Russians have an admiration for the Syrians because they do not give in. Not because they are brutal, which of course they are. Or savage in their attacks, which of course they are, as are the attacks on them. But [the Russians admire them] because they see the Syrian Army as being a wall against the dangerous perversion of religion, which ISIS represents.

KV: But simultaneously, Putin also admires Muslims living in Russia.

RF: Of course, yes! Why not? Do you think the President of Chechnya is not his friend? He brought all these clerics to Grozny to condemn the Wahhabis.  And effectively, to disenfranchise Saudi-Arabia and the Islamic State.

Stay away from Syria. Western military forces have no moral justification to be in the Middle East. This is not our land. These are not our people. This is not our property. We should leave. By all means, send your doctors, aid workers, architects, people who know how to build bridges. Though these people are pretty good at building bridges.

KV: But Putin’s aversion for Wahhabism is sort of matched by an admiration for the Shiites. Like the Iranian Shiites.

RF: I think that his relationship with Iran has always been fairly straight forward. The Russians are not giving them aggressive weapons. They are not giving them missiles to bombard Tel Aviv. The Russians do not want Iran to be a nuclear power. And though, here again you see, we are locked into the Iranian “nuclear power danger”.

What about Pakistan? It has got nuclear weapons! It is a fragmented state and it is bananas! It is full of islamists. But we do not care about Pakistan. They are the “moderate” neighbors to the East or the West, or whatever we dream up they are. You see, I do not find anything strange about the Russian-Iranian relationship. It is very straightforward, it is very pragmatic and both sides fully understand each other. Much better than the Iranians and the Americans do.

Putin’s concern, first of all, is the guarantee of Russian security. And secondly, a guarantee of his role in history as a guarantor of Russian security. [Some say] he is getting very weary and tired at night. Do not be fooled, he will be able to go through four more years. And I think, you know, his pragmatism is so much at odds with America’s moralism. Remember the Crimean War? The British were on the Turkish Muslim side, and so were the French.

KV: What is your take on Israel’s current role, clandestine or otherwise in the Syrian war?

RF: They are supporting al-Nusra and take care of their wounded members. They are not doing that to wounded Syrian soldiers. No doubt they want them for intelligence operations and spies inside Nusra. This really came to the fore when an Israeli ambulance was stopped by an Israeli Druze who dragged out the Nusra fighter and lynched him. Murdered him. It did not get a lot of publicity in the Israeli press. But it was true, and it happened.

There are no relations to reality, to history, to culture, to understanding. All these universities. What are they for? To produce this infantile creep who comes along and tells the press what the story is? And they all repeat it.

The Israelis do not bomb ISIS, they do not bomb Nusra. They bomb the Syrian Army and they bomb Hezbollah.  That is all you need to know. Later on, they can deal with Damascus, of course. I do not think people care about Israel’s policy any more than they think they care about what America’s policy is. Those days are over.

I remember after the 2011 revolutions, I met an Egyptian army intelligence officer who was with the anti-Mubarak people. I met him in Alexandria and said: “I gathered the American sixth fleet is heading to the Mediterranean”. He said: “What do I care. They can go to Iceland if they want”. Ten years ago, he would have asked: “WHAT?! Are they going to bomb, are they going to attack? Are they backing Israel? Is there a war coming?”

KV: But who cares about Israel now?

RF: Who cares about the Palestinians now? That is the real question. Because all this regional nuclear heat has obscured the Palestinian question, where the Israelis continue to build colonies on land which does not belong to them. Which is not their property. For Jews and Jews only. Against all international law. And they keep getting away with it. And that will come back to be another future tragedy, and another future cause of war.

KV: At last we want to ask you about Norway.

RF: I feared you might.

KV: In June 2016, the Norwegian parliament approved the deployment of Norwegian special forces to Jordan to train Syrian rebels. We do not know who they are. They were authorized to enter Syrian territory if necessary, in violation of international law. The rebels who are receiving training are not exactly the kind of people who would get a visa to Norway, or guys you would invite in for a cup of tea. How do you perceive Norway’s role here?

RF: Madness! Stay away from Syria. Western military forces have no moral justification to be in the Middle East. This is not our land. These are not our people. This is not our property. We should leave. By all means, send your doctors, aid workers, architects, people who know how to build bridges. Though these people are pretty good at building bridges. But, by all means, send your doctors and your medical scientific assistance. If they ask for it. And that is an act of complete moral kindness, generosity and goodness.

But what do we do? We keep promising them democracy, and we arrive with our M1A1 Abrams tanks, and our Bradley fighting armored vehicles, and our Apaches. What is this nonsense? Just like the crusaders always arrived with their horses and their swords. You know, Napoleon arrived in Cairo saying he was going to free the Egyptians who were being hanged when they expressed their minds before the Pashas.

I often say when I am lecturing in America: From sea to shining sea you have the finest universities, best funded in the world. The US have departments of Islamic Affairs, Hebrew Affairs. They have departments of Middle East history, Islamic history, you name it. And you listen to the State Department spokesman and it is like listening to an infantile creature. A child talking. There are no relations to reality, to history, to culture, to understanding. All these universities. What are they for? To produce this infantile creep who comes along and tells the press what the story is? And they all repeat it.

Submitted by Magne Stolpnessæter at www.kulturverk.com

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Even if Europe is somehow taken out of the trade equation, greater synergy between the RIC (Russia, India and China) nations may be enough to pull their nations through anticipated global volatilities ahead

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Authored by Mathew Maavak via ActivistPost.com:


The year 2019 had barely begun before news emerged that six Russian sailors were kidnapped by pirates off the coast of Benin. It was perhaps a foretaste of risks to come. As nations reel from deteriorating economic conditions, instances of piracy and other forms of supply chain disruptions are bound to increase.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), 107 cases of piracy were noted during the first half of 2018 vis-à-vis 87 throughout 2017.  The 2018 tally included 32 cases in Southeast Asian waters and 48 along African shores – representing 75% of the total. To put this figure into perspective, Asian behemoths India and China – despite their vast shorelines – recorded only 2 cases of piracy each during the study period. Russia had none. In terms of hostages taken, the IMB tally read 102 in H1 2018 vs 63 in H1 2017.

Piracy adds to shipping and retail costs worldwide as security, insurance and salaries are hiked to match associated risks in maritime transport. Merchant vessels will also take longer and costlier routes to avoid piracy hotspots.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report in 2016 sums up the perils ahead:

As over 90% of global trade is carried out by sea, the economic effects of maritime crime can be crippling. Maritime crime includes not only criminal activity directed at vessels or maritime structures, but also the use of the high seas to perpetrate transnational organized crimes such as smuggling of persons or illicit substances.  These forms of maritime crime can have devastating human consequences.

Indeed, cases of human trafficking, organ harvesting, and the smuggling of illicit substances and counterfeit goods are proliferating worldwide in tandem with rising systemic debt and suspect international agendas.

Australia offers a case in point. While it fantasizes over a Quad of allies in the Indo-Pacific – to “save Asians from China” – criminal elements from Hong Kong, Malaysia to squeaky-clean Singapore have been routinely trafficking drugs, tobacco and people right into Sydney harbour for years,  swelling the local organised crime economy to as much as $47.4 billion (Australian dollars presumably) between 2016 and 2017.

With criminal elements expected to thrive during a severe recession, they will likely enjoy a degree of prosecutorial shielding from state actors and local politicians. But this is not a Southeast Asian problem alone; any superpower wishing to disrupt Asia-Europe trade arteries – the main engine of global growth – will have targets of opportunity across oceans and lands.  The US-led war against Syria had not only cratered one potential trans-Eurasia energy and trade node, it served as a boon for child traffickingorgan harvesting and slavery as well. Yet, it is President Bashar al-Assad who is repeatedly labelled a “butcher” by the Anglo-American media.

Ultimately, industries in Asia and Europe will seek safer transit routes for their products. The inference here is inevitable: the greatest logistical undertaking in history – China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – will be highly dependent on Russian security umbrella, particularly in Central Asia. Russia also offers an alternative transit option via the Northern Sea Route, thereby avoiding any potential pan-Turkic ructions in Central Asia in the future.

Russo- and Sinophobia explained?

In retrospect, Washington’s reckless policies post-Sept 11 2001 seem aimed at disrupting growing synergies between Asia and Europe. This hypothesis helps explain the relentless US-led agitprops against Russia, China and Iran.

When the gilet jaunes (yellow vest) protests rocked France weeks ago, it was only a matter of time before some pundits blamed it on Russia. US President Donald J. Trump cheered on; just as “billionaire activist” George Soros celebrated the refugee invasion of Europe and the Arab Spring earlier.  If the yellow vest contagion spreads to the Western half of Europe, its economies will flounder. Cui bono? A Russia that can reap benefits from the two-way BRI or Arctic trade routes or a moribund United States that can no longer rule roost in an increasingly multipolar world?

Trump’s diplomatic downgrade of the European Union and his opposition to the Nord Stream 2gas pipeline matches this trade-disruption hypothesis, as do pressures applied on India and China to drop energy and trade ties with Iran.  Washington’s trade war with Beijing and recent charges against Huawei – arguably Asia’s most valuable company – seem to fit this grand strategy.

If China concedes to importing more US products, Europe will bear the consequences. Asians love European products ranging from German cars to Italian shoes and Europe remains the favourite vacation destination for its growing middle class. Eastern European products and institutions are also beginning to gain traction in Asia. However, these emerging economies will suffer if their leaders cave in to Washington’s bogeyman fetish.

Even if Europe is somehow taken out of the trade equation, greater synergy between the RIC (Russia, India and China) nations may be enough – at least theoretically – to pull their nations through anticipated global volatilities ahead.

In the meantime, as the US-led world crumbles, it looks like Russia is patiently biding its time to become the security guarantor and kingmaker of Asia-Europe trade.  A possible state of affairs wrought more by American inanity rather than Russian ingenuity…

Dr Mathew Maavak is a regular commentator on risk-related geostrategic issues.

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Historic Eastern Christianity: An Uncertain Future

The survival of historic Eastern Christianity, particularly in Syria, is critical for several reasons.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Elias Samo via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The survival of historic Eastern Christianity has never been as urgent as it is today. Christianity saw its beginning in Greater Syria which was subdivided by France and Britain after WWI into modern day Syria, Lebanon, Palestian/Israel and Jordan. The land that housed, nurtured and spread the teachings of Jesus Christ for over two millenniums, now threatens children of that faith. The survival of historic Eastern Christianity, particularly in Syria, is critical for several reasons:

  1. Greater Syria is the homeland of Jesus and Christianity. Abraham was from modern day Iraq, Moses from Egypt, and Muhammad from Mecca; Jesus was from Syria.
  1. Paul converted to Christianity and saw the light while walking through ‘The Street Called Straight’ in Damascus.
  1. Jesus’ followers were called Christians for the first time in Antioch, formerly part of Syria.
  1. One of the earliest churches, perhaps the earliest, is in Syria.

The potential demise of historic Eastern Christianity is reflected in the key question Christians ask: should we stay or emigrate? The urgent question – in the face of the ongoing regional turmoil – precipitated with the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and escalated since the Arab uprisings in 2011. Historic Eastern Christians’ fears were further magnified when Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church, both of metropolitan Aleppo, were kidnapped on April, 22, 2013; with no traces of their whereabouts, dead or alive, since. For many years, I was deputy, friend, and advisor to the Archbishop Ibrahim, which provided me an opportunity to meet many Christians. I have, over time, noticed the change in their sentiment, with more considering emigration after the uprising and the kidnapping of the two Archbishops. Historic Eastern Christians survived the Ottoman Genocide in 1915 and thereafter; they multiplied and thrived in the Fertile Crescent despite some atrocities until the start of the misnamed “Arab Spring” in early 2011. Prior to the “Arab Spring”, historic Eastern Christians were victims of violence on several occasions. In the mid-1930s, the historic Assyrian community in Iraq suffered violent onslaughts and were driven to Syria. In the 1970s and 1980s, during the Lebanese Civil War, Christians were victims of sectarian violence. During the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Christians were victims of widespread sectarian violence which led to mass migration. The “Arab Spring” began with great hope for the right of the people to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. However, it was swiftly hijacked by Islamists and Salafists and turned into an “Islamic Spring, an Arab Fall and a Christian Winter”; bringing along with it a new massacre of Christians. Presently, Eastern Christianity is at the mercy of clear and identifiable domestic, regional, and international, historic and contemporary conflicts in the Fertile Crescent, namely:

  1. Jihad vs. Ijtihad: A long standing conflict amongst Muslims between the sword vs. the pen.
  2. Sunni vs. Shiite: A conflict which began following the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
  3. Arabism vs. Islamism: The former has territorial limitations, the later has no territorial limitations.
  4. Syria vs. Israel: It is an essential component of the Palestinian problem, not the presumed Arab- Israeli conflict.
  5. West vs. East: A throwback to the Cold War, or its revival.
  6. Historic Persian, Ottoman and Arab Empires animosities: Each seeking regional hegemony.

One is reminded of the proverbial saying, “When the elephants fight, the grass suffers.” Certainly, Eastern Christianity is suffering and threatened with extinction.

Syria was a model of religious tolerance, common living and peaceful interaction amongst its religious, sectarian, cultural and ethnic components. Seven years of turmoil, in which various international and regional powers manipulated segments of Syrian society by supplying them with an abundance of weapons, money and sectarian ideologies, has heightened Eastern Christians’ fears. During the seven-year turmoil in Syria, the entire society has suffered; Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Yazidis, Kurds, Christians and others. Christians, being a weak and peaceful component of the society, have suffered immensely. Ma’aloula; a religious treasure for Christians globally, and the only city in the world where Aramaic – the language of Jesus Christ – is spoken, was attacked and besieged by ISIS. Numerous historic Churches were damaged, and many destroyed. Christians in Raqqa were forced by ISIS into one of three options: 1. Pay a penalty in pure gold – known as a ‘Jizya’ to keep their life and practice their faith – albeit in secret only; 2. Convert into Islam; or 3. Face immediate death. To top their pain, the kidnap of the two prominent Archbishops meant no Eastern Christian believer was safe.

Amidst all the doom and gloom, however, there remains hope. The survival of Christianity depends on the actions and reactions of three parties:

Eastern Christians: During the last hundred years, 1915-2015, since the Ottoman Genocide, Eastern Christians have been victims of a history of massacres, which meant that every Eastern Christian was a martyr, a potential martyr or a witness of martyrdom; if you fool me once, shame on you, if you fool me twice, shame on me. The ongoing regional turmoil has heightened their sense of insecurity. The answer to an age-old question Eastern Christians had on their mind: To flee Westwards or remain in their land, in the face of death, is increasingly becoming the former.

Eastern Muslims: There is a difference in perceptions between Eastern Christians and mainstream Muslims regarding the massacres committed against Christians. When certain violent groups or individuals kill Christians, while shouting a traditional Islamic profession: “No God but one God and Muhammad is God’s messenger”, it is reasonable for Christians to assume the killers are Muslims. However, for mainstream Muslims, the killers do not represent Islam; they are extremists, violating basic Islamic norms such as Muhammad’s sayings, “Whoever hurts a Thummy – Christian or Jew – has hurt me”, “no compulsion in religion” and other Islamic norms regarding just treatment of people of the Book; Christians and Jews. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Muslim elites to impress upon their fellow Muslims that:

a. The three monotheistic religions believe in one God and all ‘faithfuls’ are equal in citizenship, rights and duties.

b. Christians participated in the rise of Arab Islamic civilization. They were pioneers in the modern Arab renaissance and they joined their Muslim brethren in resisting the Crusades, the Ottomans and Western colonialism.

c. Christians are natives of the land and they provide cultural, religious, educational, and economic, diversity.

d. Christians are a positive link between the Muslims and the Christian West, particularly in view of the rise of Islamophobia. Massacres of Christians and their migration provide a pretext for the further precipitation of Islamophobia.

e. Civilization is measured by the way it treats its minorities.

The Christian West: The Crusades, Western colonialism, creation and continued support of Israel, support of authoritarian Arab political systems, military interventions, regime change, and the destabilization of Arab states made Muslims view Eastern Christians ‘guilty by association’. The Christian West helped Jews come to Palestine to establish Israel. Shouldn’t the same Christian West also help Eastern Christians remain in their homeland, rather than facilitate their emigration? Western Christians, particularly Christian Zionists, believe that the existence of Israel is necessary for the return of Jesus to his homeland. However, it would be a great disappointment for Jesus to return to his homeland, Syria and not find any of his followers.

Prior to 2011, Eastern Christian religious leaders were encouraging Syrian Christians in the diaspora to return to Syria, their homeland, where life was safe and secure with great potential. Now, the same leaders are desperately trying to slow down Christian emigration. Eastern Christians’ loud cries for help to remain are blowing in the wind.

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Protests erupt in Athens, as ‘North Macedonia’ vote fast approaches (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 62.

Alex Christoforou

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NATO and the EU are full of joy with the Prespes agreement, which is sure to pass the Greek Parliament and fast rack the newly minted Republic of North Macedonia into NATO and the EU.

Meanwhile in Athens and Skopje, anger is reaching dangerous levels, as each side debates the pros and cons of the deal inked by Tsipras and Zaev.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at yesterday’s protests in Athens, Greece, where things got very ugly as radical left Prime Minster Alexis Tsipras used tear gas and a heavy police hand to put down protests, that reached upwards of 60,000 people in the Syntagma downtown square.

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Via Ekathimerini

As Greece gets ready for a political showdown this week over the Prespes agreement, we are witnessing a relentless, often cynical, maneuvering between parties, their leaders and even individual deputies.

What is at stake is not only the ratification of the deal between Athens and Skopje, but also the potential redrawing of the domestic political map.

Greek society and the country’s political world are deeply divided. The public is clearly against the deal, with up to 70% opposed to it.

The tens of thousands that demonstrated in Sunday’s rally in Athens, showed once more that sentiments run high.

The violence, which the Prime Minister blamed on extremists, while the opposition leader criticized the extended use of tear gas and called for an investigation to find out who was responsible, is indicative of the slippery slope the country is facing in the months leading to the national elections.

Despite the voices of reason calling for a minimum of cooperation and looking for common ground, Alexis Tsipras and Kyriakos Mitsotakis are in an all out war.

The leftist Prime Minister is attempting to use the Prespes agreement to create a broad “progressive” coalition that extends well beyond SYRIZA, while the conservative opposition leader, who is leading in the polls, is trying to keep his party united (on the name issue there are differing approaches) and win the next elections with an absolute majority.

With respect to the Prespes deal itself, the rare confluence of shrewd political considerations with deeply held feelings about one’s history, makes for an explosive mix and ensures a heated debate in parliament.

As for the raw numbers, despite the public opposition, the passage of the Prespes agreement in the 300 member Greek Parliament should be considered a done deal. In the most plausible senario 153 deputies will support the deal in the vote expected later in the week.

The governing SYRIZA has 145 deputies, and one should add to those the positive votes of Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura, centrist To Potami deputies Stavros Theodorakis, Spyros Lykoudis and Giorgos Mavrotas, former To Potami MP Spiros Danellis, and ANEL MP Thanasis Papachristopoulos.

This leads to a majority of 151. Last night one more positive vote was announced, that of Thanasis Theocharopoulos, leader of Democratic Left which untill now was part of the Movement for Change coalition, from which he was ejected as a result of his decision to support the deal.

Finally, Citizens Security Deputy Minister Katerina Papacosta, a former member of New Democracy, is expected to also vote for the agreement, but has not officially said so. Thus, for all practical purposes, the Prespes agreement is expected to pass, with 152 or 153 votes.

Former Prime Minister George Papandreou, who is not a member of parliament and who has worked tiressly on the issue, both as foreign minister and PM, has gone public in support of the deal.

Despite the discomfort this move created in the leadership of the Movement for Change, doing otherwise would have made him look inconsistent. As he is not voting, the damage is seen as limited, although the symbolism does not help the Movement for Change approach.

To the extent that Greece’s transatlantic partners and allies want to see the agreement implemented, they should feel relief. Of course, nothing is done until the “fat lady sings”, but one can clearly hear her whispering the notes in the corridors of the Greek Parliament.

Still, for the astute observer of Greek politics and the foreign officials and analysts who value the crucial role of Greece as an anchor of stability in the Balkans – being by far the strongest country in this region, both militarily and economically, despite the crisis of the last eight years – the deep divisions the issue has created in the society and the political world, are a cause for concern and could spell trouble in the future.

Dealing with such a volatile landscape calls for delicate moves by all.

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