I write about the Middle East because it is an area of the world I am passionate about and know very well. After three books of nonfiction, I recently began writing fiction because it gave me the opportunity to incorporate current events, some of which have personally touched my life while living in Beirut and turn them into page-turning thrillers. I was able to properly research both The Syrian and Damascus Street because I had trustworthy sources, journalists who are the finest in the business, and have been for years, who are not owned by corporate media. They now write for online services like Consortium News, Information Clearing House and Grayzone whose major source of income comes from individual donations. Once such journalist, Patrick Lawrence, recently interviewed Sharmine Narwani, whose work is distinctly thorough and honest amid a sea of collapsed professional standards and abandoned ethics. Her pieces, written for a variety of publications, consistently reflect her hard work, particularly on the ground in Syria in places few dared go. She is eye-wide open and refreshingly beholden to no national interest or media slant.
Having witnessed the Syrian war from start to finish, she now casts it in a usefully broard context. “The Syrian conflict constitutes the main battlefield in a kind of World War III,” she said. “The world wars were, in essence, great-power wars, after which the global order reshuffled a bit and new global institutions were established.”
This is what Narwani sees out in front of us, now that the Western powers’ latest regime change operation has failed.
“My trips took me to places in May and June 2011 in the weeks before the battle for the south of Syria began. I visited Daraa, Suweida and Qunetra, the three southern governorates most critical to the upcoming battle. It was fascinating. It dispelled a number of myths about the conflict. One of these was the discovery that al-Qaeda was smack in the middle of the fight in Daraa, indistinguishable from Western-supported militant groups in all the main theaters. Another shocker was when I interviewed former al-Nusra and Free Syrian Army fighters near the Lebanese border. They told me their salaries had been paid by the Israelis for the entire year before they surrendered, around $200,000 per month from Israel to militants in the town of Beit Jinn alone in southern Syria.”
Among other things she discussed in her conversations with Patrick Lawrence were the reforms that President Assad passed, reforms that the international community decided to ignore.
“Since 2011, Assad has issued decrees suspending almost five decades of emergency law that prohibited public gatherings. This was a big deal, as other Arab leaders were doing the opposite in response to their uprisings. Other decrees included the establishment of a multi-party political system, term limits for the presidency, the suspension of state security courts, prisoner releases, amnesty agreements, decentralizing down to local authorities, sacking controversial political figures, introducing new media laws that prohibited the arrest of journalists, and provided for more freedom of expression, investment in infrastructure, housing, pension funds, establishing direct dialogue between populations and governing authorities, setting up a committee to dialogue with the opposition, many of whom turned down the offer.
“These reforms were far-reaching and significant. So much carnage could have been avoided had they been given the time and space to take hold. You could feel these reforms unfolding in Damascus by early 2012. I would call up opposition figures on their mobile phones, go to their homes, talk to regular folks about politics. I could even access Twitter and Facebook in Syria, platforms that had been banned for years.”
Patrick Lawrence asked Sharmine about proportionate response to violence, something Assad was roundly accused of doing. “Let’s be clear here. Between March and June 188, Syrian soldiers were ambushed, many of their heads cut off. Nobody can dispute this. I have their names, ages, ranks, birthplaces, everything.”
She continued, “So, you ask about proportionality, and to that I would simply ask: What if there were armed men in Washington who killed a few cops in the last week of December? In January, these unknown shooters began a campaign of ambushing American servicemen coming and going from their bases around the D.C. area. Then, in March over 100 soldiers were killed in a single day, half with their heads cut off. What would be the proportionate response in this case?”
Sharmine’s exceptional interview with Patrick Lawrence is a must-read. The name of the article is The Secret History of America’s Defeat in Syria,
Both the Syrian and Damascus Street can be purchased here: Amazon