Today I received an email out of the blue from one of the biggest newspapers in China, China Youth Daily. They want to do an interview with me about my book, Syria: Refugees and Rebel but the main focus is the Syrian refugees and the terrible humanitarian crisis they are facing for an article in the newspaper on World Refugee Day on June 20. I will post details of the interview later. This came totally unexpectedly, I’m curious to see how it will go. I’m happy that I can do something to bring awareness to the terrible situation the Syrian people are facing, they are being ignored by the people who caused them to become refugees in the first place. Watch this space.
I’m doing some marketing of my book in various places. I have a promo happening on the Brian Craig national talkshow podcast which has a large audience in the USA. Have a listen, it sounds really good. I turned it into an audio/visual for my blog. Please share it 🙂
My book is 21.6 x 21.6 cm or 8.5 x 8.5 in perfect bound softback with a laminated cover. 102 pages with an introduction of why I went to Syria as well as a brief history of the Syrian Revolution. Images are a combination of Colour and Black and White. The photos are in 3 sections, The Refugees, Life in Aleppo, The Rebels
Price in USD is $26.99 +$5 for postage. Please allow up to 2 weeks for delivery to USA/Europe, it could take longer to other countries. Click the ‘Buy Now’ button will take you to a PayPal payment page. When you arrive there, if you don’t use PayPal you can click the link ‘Don’t have a PayPal account?’ from where you will be able to pay with any major credit card.
If you prefer to use Amazon, you can buy my book from them here
Recently there was an international conference at Oxford University called Refugee Voices One of the themes that came out, which got me thinking, in particular with regard to my experience in Syrian refugee camps, was how there seems to be a concerted effort on the part of many countries to dehumanize refugees, to make them seem sub-human. Why is this?
There is no doubt that the global refugee situation is growing at an alarming rate. People are having their lives shattered by war, by brutal political regimes that care more about holding on to power rather than actually wanting to be a government for the people. As a result, many people are looking to escape but as is the case, very few are permitted to settle in another country. I admit that there simply isn’t the space to take all the refugees. It is a very big problem. However, rather than governments working together to address the situations that cause so many to become refugees they simply close the door, refuse to deal with the root causes and instead use the media as well as government policy to reduce the refugees to a sub-human level.
If we look at the media in general, and I focus on this with regard to Syria as this is where my experience lays, we see how Syrians are portrayed as either blood thirsty animals or pathetic creatures covered in dirt, living in the mud. Over time, given enough exposure we begin to think of them as being not quite human, somehow of lesser value than us. In so doing we become less inclined to want to have any of these people living in our country. And because we are being conditioned to view them as being of lesser value than us, it gives rise to the justification of how they are treated, the conditions they are forced to live in. This serves our governments well. If the population can be trained to think of refugees as sub-human then the population wont put any pressure on the governments to resolve the situations that cause the refugee crisis in the first place. It is a very powerful piece of social engineering. The fact is, we also see this happening in our own societies, those who are unfortunate enough to live on the edges, for whatever reason, are seen as having no value to society and therefore can be treated like animals. We see how cuts are made to any available help they could get in the past. Then there was the shocking video of the police murder of a homeless man in Albuquerque, shot in the back and then shot again when he was laying prone on the ground. Would that have happened if he were a ‘respectable’ member of society?
Coming back to Syria, specifically when I was in Zaatari camp in Jordan, I happened to be there the day a Syrian family tried to escape the camp, normally they would have to pay the camp guards if they want to move out. The camp security guards went after them in armoured trucks, caught them and brought them back. They then started to mistreat one of the women of the family. Obviously the men tried to defend her, which simply brought in more camp security and the situation very quickly got very big and very ugly. As a result all food, water and medicine for the camp was cut off for 2 days as a way to send a message, this is what happens if you try to escape. This is what happens when we allow refugees to be dehumanized, they can then be treated however badly we wish and nobody will raise an eyebrow.
After I finished my presentation at the conference, of which my experience above was a part, I was approached by someone who said I had portrayed the Jordanians as monsters. This person then went on to say to me that it is the Syrian refugees who are the problem and they would do anything possible to get rid of them. Even as far as giving them a piece of Jordan if that were possible, but something to remove them from Jordanian daily life. I want to clarify here that I have good friends in Jordan who genuinely care about the refugees and one even wanted to volunteer to help in Zaatari but he was refused. I have nothing against Jordanians in general. I simply repeated what I saw, which was how they are being treated as less than human.
The simple fact is that if we think of refugees and others who are on the edge of society as less than human then it is much simpler to ignore them and also avoid resolving the situations which cause these problems in the first place. At the end of my presentation I was very clear about this. The root cause is due to the fact that the global political system is not only broken, it is rotten. As long as it continues, then situations like Syria will continue to happen, many more people will find themselves living on the edge of society and it wont only be in countries far away. As time goes by this situation is going to get much closer to home.
Syria: Refugees and Rebels, my book photo-documenting the human side of the conflict in Syria, is being re-published and as a result will be significantly lower in cost. I will update when it is ready, but it won’t be too long. There will be the choice of buying through major outlets or directly from myself which will make it even better value for money. I will let you know the pricing when it has been confirmed.
As the followers of my blog know, I have spent the last year covering the situation in Syria, in particular the humanitarian crisis. I spent a month in Syria as well as a further month visiting the refugee camps of Lebanon and Jordan in order to document what is actually happening. The situation there becomes worse by the day and more and more innocent people suffer as a result. Various circumstances have led to me having the opportunity to give voice to their suffering. Among these opportunities, later this month there will be an exhibition of my work at Oxford University as part of an international conference about the global refugee crisis called Refugee Voices with wide media coverage on the BBC
I would like very much to be able to continue this work, to return to the refugee camps. To show how global politics is responsible for the suffering of people and creating the refugee crisis that we see. In order to continue my work I need funding. Therefore I am making an appeal. If you can donate something or if there is a philanthropist out there who follows my work then please contact me, or you can make a direct payment to my PayPal account using my email email@example.com
Please share my appeal with everybody you know Everything helps, and by so doing you will be helping me to do my job of showing what is really happening. I have no political affiliation, I simply report what I see.
Yesterday evening I was able to make contact with someone I know in Aleppo. As most of you are aware, I was there last year. At that time, many people had returned to the city after the FSA had pushed Syrian regime soldiers out of about 80% of the city. Now, nearly a year later, Aleppo is once again almost a ghost town, very few people remain. The people have fled to Turkey, the countryside or to regime held areas.
What has brought about this situation? There are a number of elements. The first is the fragmented way the FSA has been operating, different brigades operating independently of each other with no effective central command. There was Gen. Salim Idriss, who until very recently was head of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) of the FSA but he has proven to be less than effective and therefore replaced by Col. Abdul Lilal Al Bashir who has more active experience. Whether that will make any difference remains to be seen. By far the biggest problem now facing the people in the north of Syria are DAASH, the commonly used term by the Syrians for ISIS or ISIL, both different acronyms for the same group.
It is often widely reported that DAASH is a part of Al Qaeda but the evidence is mounting that they are also working in collaboration with the Syrian regime. As an example, a few weeks ago the FSA made a big push to retake territory that was controlled by them. In the short term it worked, what was very interesting was how many of the DAASH fighters ran for protection in regime controlled areas. Also the DAASH commander of Menbij, a city close to Aleppo, is a Jordanian who was working at the Syrian embassy in Amman, Jordan. Work is being made to collect evidence of the links between DAASH and the Syrian regime. The leadership of Al Qaeda has even ordered DAASH to go back to Iraq, but they refuse and so there is falling out between them. To be honest the situation is confusing, nobody is 100% sure of what exactly is going on, the game is well hidden at the moment.
So now there is a situation where DAASH control the border between Syria and Turkey as well as all the important towns and cities in the north. The FSA for now, has gone to ground, there is talk of them being supplied with new weapon systems, but as will always be the case it will not be enough to recover lost territory in the long term. Also in my conversation with my contact yesterday in Aleppo he told me that the regime is dropping 15-20 barrel bombs on the city per day. They are rolled out of helicopters and are not designed for accuracy, simply to kill as many people as possible. What is interesting is that the places used as headquarters by DAASH in Aleppo and other towns and cities they control are never targeted by these barrel bombs! It isn’t as if they try to hide their locations, they hang their flag and paint the building with their colours. They know they won’t be bombed by the regime unless there is prior notice so they can move out first.
In the south of the country, in the Daraa region, there is a different situation. Recently different brigades of the FSA have joined forces to create a new army division, the Al Yarmouk Division. Here in the south DAASH has not been able to get a foothold but that does not mean the situation is clear. They are still being controlled to a certain extent by Jordan. Saudi Arabia supplies them weapons but they have to pass through Jordan, however the Jordanians strictly limit how much is passed on to the FSA in the south. Also they stipulate where the FSA can and cannot attack. They will even target the FSA with artillery if they try to attack certain targets. The result is that the Al Yarmouk Division is being permitted to create a clearly defined autonomous area that is free of the Syrian regime but only according to the dictates of Jordan. Why could this be?
I have written several times in the past that the objective of the international political community is to divide Syria, which is happening now. Iran is supporting Bashar al Assad with everything it has, it needs direct access to the Mediterranean. The regime is consolidating its position from Damascus all the way up to Latakia. In the middle is the city of Homs, which is subject to the most brutal destruction. Its population is being starved into submission. Homs is a key city for the regime because it sits on the road that connects Damascus to the sea. In the meantime, many in the city have been killed by hunger and illness, women and children. No thought is given to them at all.
Then as I said before, in the south a new area is slowly being formed. The south of Syria has very good ground water supplies. Jordan has always been envious of this, it always struggles to have sufficient water of good quality. The eventual plan will, it seems, to affiliate the southern region of Syria with Jordan. This will give them access to the water and in return the people in the south of Syria will get protection from the regime. It hasn’t happened yet but things are definitely moving in this direction.
Then we come back to Northern Syria, here is where the different extremist groups, Sunni and Shia, are fighting each other. They have been permitted to bring in weapons via Turkey and Iraq and Lebanon. The strategy being to allow them to become strong enough so they have enough power to fight to the death. The problem with this of course is that it is the ordinary Syrian people who are suffering the most. The vast majority of the extremists are foreigners who are simply using the revolution in Syria for their own purposes. This is something that most newspapers don’t mention, the impression is given that because there are extremists fighting in Syria they must be Syrian. Yes a very small number are but the overwhelming majority are foreigners and they are permitted by surrounding countries to enter Syria with heavy weapons.
When I was talking to my contact in Aleppo yesterday he told me that there is only the most basic food. Water is in short supply, they collect and store what they can. He told me that trying to get food aid across the border from Turkey to the people is too risky. DAASH will steal it for themselves and what is left will be sold for highly inflated prices. Syria is a humanitarian disaster on a huge scale. We in the West have become numb to the news reports, why should we care, they are from a different culture, religion and language. They are human beings with the same hopes and desires as us. People are people, they want the chance to have a home, a family, a job, security and dignity. They want the ability to live without fear of brutality simply because they disagree with what the government is doing. That is a human right and the West is deliberately denying them their rights because the politicians are more interested in playing a game of power with the rule; if they can’t control then they will destroy.
Photographer and photojournalist Otto von Münchow has just published a review of my book. Syria: Refugees and Rebels. Since this review I have revised the book, changing the font and arrangement of some of the pictures. Main sales are now through Amazon
The UK-born, now Switzerland-based photographer Russell Chapman has released a new photo book. It’s called Syria: Refugees and Rebels. As the title clearly indicates it’s a time capsule of the ever more devastating situation in Syria. It’s a very personal testament, though, without the usual war glory – or should I say war gory – we find in the regular news and media. Instead of going to the battle zone, Chapman mostly focuses on the ordinary people and how it is to be living under the spell of civil war. And for me that is the strength of the book and what makes the photos stand out.
As Russell Chapman states in the introduction: «I try and convey the huge emotional impact of being in a war zone and the effect it has on the people of Syria; those who stay in the country and those…
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Finally the book is ready. A photographic journey into Syria that looks at the lives of the people; refugees and rebels. They allowed me deep into their lives, the book is a photo documentary of all that I saw and experienced. You will understand the warmth and kindness of the people as they struggle to survive a brutal situation. As far as I am aware this is the first ever photo documentary book to be published about the situation in Syria. Buy the book and get your friends to buy it, in this way I will be able to go back to the refugee camps and continue my work. It is a high quality hardback, 91 page book with more than 100 colour and black & white photographs along with comments. The book will take you on a journey you have never experienced before. You can find my book here
Back in mid March 2011 the Syrian people began demonstrating peacefully, asking for their basic human rights. There weren’t asking for Bashar al Assad to leave power, only that he treat the people with respect. What really started the revolution was the murder of Hamza al Khatib, a young boy who had written graffiti on a wall that it was time for Bashar al Assad to step down. His mutilated body was handed back to his parents, the regime thought this would send a strong enough message to the people, enough to keep them quiet. The total opposite happened.
Several times I met Sheikh Haroun al Zoubi, who was Hamza’s teacher, Haroun was also the leader of the Omari mosque in Daraa, the city where the Syrian revolution started, he told me first hand about those first days of protest. After the death of Hamza, he told the people of Daraa that they had a choice to make, to be with the government that kills children or to be with the revolution. In the beginning, in fact for the first six months, the people protested peacefully, without force. Despite this, the government used Hezbollah and Iranian militia to attack the protestors and would then leave boxes of ammunition at the scene as ‘evidence’ to say that the protestors had fired on government troops. I know this for a fact, I interviewed Zaid Tlass who was a general in the Syrian army until his defection and he knew Bashar al Assad personally, in fact his family was very close to the regime, Mustafa Tlass was defense minister to Hafez, the father of Bashar. I also interviewed Firas Tlass, his son.
The government used Hezbollah and Iranian militia as well as the infamous ‘Shabiha’ to try to put down the protestors because it knew it could not count on the ordinary Syrian soldiers to do the job,. The normal military saw no reason to fire upon its own people. In fact the first officer to defect from the Syrian army was Abdul Razzak Tlass, he was morally outraged at the fact he was asked to kill his own people who were protesting peacefully. The shock of this to the government was considerable, it was inconceivable that anyone of the Tlass family would be disloyal to Bashar al Assad. I was privileged to have the opportunity to get to know Abdul’s fiancee Asmaa, who herself had been tortured by the government, she spoke very clearly about the actions of the Syrian government.
At the beginning of the revolution there was no religious ideology, or the idea to fight a religious war. Before the Assad regime came to power in the 70′s, all the religious groups, Sunni, Shia, Druze, Jew and Christian had been getting along. I saw an example of this when I was in Aleppo, I was in a small square, on three sides there was a mosque, a synagogue and a church. The Syrian people know how to get along with one another. However the regime developed the idea of religious division to strengthen its position. First it forced the Jews out and then it made the remaining groups fear each other, that if it ever lost power then there would be bloodshed along religious lines.
As time went on in the revolution, the Syrian government permitted religious extremist groups to develop strength in Syria, directly aiding them, in order to give substance to the idea that only the regime gives stability. But when you look at who the extremists are, they are 90% foreigner. For example the ex ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) leader in Membij, Syria was a Jordanian who worked at the Syrian embassy in Amman, Jordan. It has become clear that there are the genuine Al Qaeda groups in Syria and those who are using Qaeda as a front for other means. When the rebels got organized and decided to fight back, many ISIS fighters ran for cover in government controlled areas
Then we have to look at external influences in the Syrian conflict. When Bashar al Assad came to power he permitted Iran to have influence in Syria in ways his father Hafez never permitted. Politically, economically and militarily. When the revolution began, many of the conscripted Syrian soldiers deserted as soon as they could, in fact it is militia of Iran and Hezbollah who are doing most of the fighting on the ground. Assad has become little more than a puppet on a string who is controlled by Iran. Iran is paying many poor Iraqis to fight in Syria, it can’t afford to lose its huge investment of time and money, it has a large expansionist ambition that has Syria at its center.
On the other hand there is the USA. They prefer that Assad stays in power because it is better to deal with what you know rather than what you don’t. However they are also using the development of religious extremists in Syria. There is an old strategy of getting your two enemies to fight each other. The USA wants to restrict Iran’s expansionist plans, so it has permitted Qaeda and associated groups to develop, turning a blind eye to the import of heavy weapons through Turkey, a fellow NATO member.
They are hoping to allow the Sunni religious extremist groups to get strong enough to be able to fight against Iran which is Shia. The recent nuclear deal with Iran was simply a way to allow Iran to be able to sell more oil so that it would have the money to put into supporting Assad in Syria. Allow your enemies to get strong enough so they can have a real fight. This also suits the Sunni and Shia extremists who believe there needs to be a war between them to decide who has the one true faith.
In the meantime the ordinary Syrian people, the vast majority of whom have no interest in religious conflict, who are suffering tremendous hardship, either in their own country or as refugees in Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. It appears that the international community has very little interest in helping them.