BREAKING NEWS (10/6/13): Syrian rebels attack Christian neighborhood and church in Damascus on Sunday morning

LEVANT REPORT – On Sunday morning (10/6), a barrage of  mortar shells were fired from rebel positions in the outskirts of Damascus and rained down on Qassaa (locally referred to as “Assaa”) – the largest Christian neighborhood of Damascus.

Syrian Arab News Agency is reporting at least 8 killed and over 24 injured in the attack. Most of these casualties include Christians, as church services were being held in the area at the very moment of the strikes.

Holy Cross Church, the largest church in the Syrian capital, which serves over 10,000 Orthodox Christians, received a direct hit (see photo above). Our sources in Damascus confirm that the church was hit as a baptismal service was in progress.

It is unclear which rebel group carried out the attack, but the Christian districts of Damascus have received intermittent mortar and sniper fire from rebel strongholds on the city’s outskirts for the past year.

The governments of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar are currently supplying the bulk of the Syrian rebels with weapons, money, and communications equipment.

For further coverage of the attack on Qassaa:


Imperial Democracy: The Bigger Question behind the Proposed Intervention in Syria

by Zac Wingerd

(editorial note: though the administration’s plan for a strike on Syria failed, the U.S. is still, through diplomatic channels, pushing for military consequences should Syria not follow through with chemical disarmament.)

This is not just about the Syria question, but about the pattern of deceit and imperialism that we as US citizens have had to endure and pay for with our taxes and our lives.  We must not live in a bubble surrounded by only likeminded friends and listening only to our flavor of partisan network news (CNN, FOX, etc.).  To be well informed means to consider not only what our government-influenced media is telling us, but also what Britain, Russia, China, the Middle East and other nations, whether allies or enemies, have to say about us and the situation of the world.  We need international friends to counterbalance what our government wants us to believe.  To be honest about the world requires a healthy skepticism.  If I am to improve myself as an individual, I must constantly evaluate myself as well as listen to the criticism of both my friends and foes.  The same applies to us as citizens of a nation.  We must figure out who we really are, not based on nostalgia, but on reality and that requires criticism and deconstruction.

Who ultimately benefits from US intervention in Syria?  The terrorists (al Qaeda, Al-Nursa Front, etc.) would reap the immediate reward advancing their cause to establish a Sharia law state with the persecution of religious minorities and women.  Of course our military industrial complex would benefit as the companies who supply the tools and accoutrements of death always have (read Major General Smedley Butler’s “War is a Racket”).

Who would suffer because of our intervention?  Initially innocent Syrian men, women, and children who will die simply so Obama and Kerry can “save face” by carrying out their threat.  Do not believe the propaganda about our precision weapons that will allow us only to strike the military, as we said the same thing about Iraq, and yet our air strikes killed far more Iraqi citizens than soldiers.  The next victims will be the US troops who signed up to defend our country, not to support extremist rebels in a Syrian civil war.  That aside, most troops will do their duty and fight as we will inevitably be pulled into a greater conflict.  Besides the soldiers who die in this needless action, those who live have to deal with the realities of seeing and causing the death of innocents.  Next victim will be the taxpayer whose money will not go to improve education or healthcare, but will be used to murder humans and support the very groups that have attacked us in the past and perhaps will use the same money and weapons to attack us in the future.  Assad is not a threat to the USA, but extreme Islamists are and it is they we currently support.

We must evaluate our empire.  At what point will our aggressiveness come back to haunt us as we have already experienced?  If we continue to go it alone sooner or later we will find ourselves devoid of allies and the combined efforts of other nations (think Russia, China, Iran, etc.) could humble us economically and/or militarily.  Let us not fall into the trap of the Romans who characterized their empire as eternal.  Our decadence and immoral actions weaken us and a decision must be made to acquiesce to federal tyranny or demand the rights of citizens to speak up for other people around the world who suffer because of our hubris.

In recent years we have become more dependent on the federal government for bailouts and welfare.  This dependence keeps Washington in a dominant position over the states and over individuals.  Instead of truly “fixing” the economy the federal government has only seized more power and punished those that dare to expose the abuses.  Sadly, as long as we are making it financially most of us ignore the abuses of our government.

Bush’s, and later Obama’s, policies allowed our empire to tyrannize its citizens, provoke needless wars, cost the US dearly in tax dollars, and support the deaths of US troops and citizens as well as innocents in the Middle East. My opinion is that we need to dismantle the empire and try to create a peace-loving republic. We can squabble about domestic issues, but if we do not get our foreign policy under control our problems at home will only continue as what we do abroad often comes back to bite us. End the empire and then we can try to reconfigure the republic.

We need to be critical of the assumptions the president has made about Syrians and the Syrian government.  The misinformation to justify his murder of innocents is sickening. Every time I hear him condemn Assad for murdering his own people I remember that our president has murdered innocent US citizens through the use of drones and has not answered for it. It is one thing to act as an immoral and selfish empire and quite another to propound that we are a “force for good” in the world.

We ought to note which of our congressional representatives have supported the lead of the president toward bloodshed and which have been willing to work for peace.  I believe their comments on this issue are telling and should be considered as we look for a 2016 presidential candidate.  Do we want to keep the Bush/Obama legacy of empire and intervention or build a republic where the federal government is balanced internally by stronger state governments and internationally by the United Nations?

Your tax dollars at work – Meet the Tawhid Brigade

Syrian Rebels Tawhid

Back in November of 2012, the Tawhid Brigade declared support for the Syrian National Coalition – the American and Gulf sponsored opposition council said to represent the Free Syrian Army. The world was told that the Syrian National Coalition represented “moderates” and pro-democracy fighters. Such groups as the Tawhid Brigade collectively received millions of dollars from Washington in “non-lethal aid” early in the uprising, and more recently, the U.S. government has publicly admitted to weapons shipments.

Does anyone believe these are “moderates” worthy of U.S. aid?

At the end of September, the Tawhid Brigade and other Islamist factions announced the formation of a new Islamic coalition. The new coalition defines itself against the SNC and has now grown to 30+ Islamist groups. Though Washington will now attempt to distance itself from these reactionary groups, the fact is such outfits as the Tawhid Brigade have been the beneficiaries of American funding for the past year.

Anyone with an inkling of experience on the ground in the Middle East knows that Salafists are not hard to spot.  Salafists (alternately called Wahhabis) emphasize a return to the purity of early Islam, and adopt certain external distinctives. One of the most evident distinctives is seen in facial hair: the beard is unkept and grows freely, while the upper lip is kept clean shaven.

Throughout the entirety of the Syrian crisis, major media networks have unwittingly promoted Salafists (the most extreme of the extreme Islamists) as Jeffersonian democrats and “freedom fighters” worthy of Western aid and help (just turn on CNN, FOX, NBC, CBS, etc… and play “spot the Salafi” during the Syrian battle footage as pundits narrate “the fight for freedom against a tyrant”). The mainstream media, consisting mostly of reporters and pundits who have never spent time in the Middle East, has merely parroted the line of the American political class throughout the conflict.

The rebels are not hiding who they are.

The average American, with just a little information (on something as seemingly arbitrary as facial hair) , can spot what mainstream media is either too dumb or too ideologically blind to see: Washington is diverting our tax dollars to fanatics bent on the total reconfiguring of Syria as a hardline Islamic state.

Common Misconceptions: “All Middle-Easterners are Muslim.”


There are over 14 million Christians living in the Middle East (most are Orthodox, followed by Catholics). These Christian communities, in their ancient origins, predate the existence of Islam. Arabic as a spoken language was used by Christians six centuries prior to the writing of the Koran, and Church history testifies to the presence of at least one Arab bishop at the Council of Nicaea. Historic Jewish communities are also present in the old districts of cities like Damascus, Tehran, Alexandria, Cairo, Baghdad, Tunis, and Casablanca. Offshoot Islamic groups, distinct enough to be considered unique religious traditions, are found throughout the Levant states – they include Druze, Alawites, and Ismailis.

Within Islam itself, the Sunni-Shia divide is of huge significance. This divide is a major factor that accounts for the Saudi-Iranian power-struggle and the Iran-Iraq rivalry during Saddam’s rule. Failure to understand such differences and nuances in Middle East religion has led, and continues to lead, to major policy failures on the part of the western powers. The toppling of Saddam Hussein, who kept a firm grip on his majority Shia citizenry, was the biggest gift the west could have ever given the Ayatollahs. The U.S. empowered the Shia opposition, and the Shia-led Iraqi government is now cozying up to Iran – supposedly enemy #1 since 1979. It goes without saying that the American invasion and subsequent policies set the stage for a sectarian Sunni-Shia civil war that continues to rage.

More importantly, such ignorance is disastrous for the minority religious communities themselves as western “democracy projects” almost always exclusively empower Sunni and Shia majorities. Iraqi Christians, for example, enjoyed stability and protection under Saddam’s secular Baathist regime; American intervention, however, unleashed a bloodbath on this fragile minority community. International news, on a near weekly basis, reported the kidnapping of Christians, beheading of priests, firebombing of churches, attacks on Sunday services, and confiscation of homes and property in the years following the U.S. invasion. Estimates are commonly put at 500,000 Iraqi Christians who fled the burning country. American media, on the whole, hardly touched the subject of post-Saddam Christian persecution – this was partly due to cultural ignorance, but it was also due to the media’s towing of the “we are bringers of democracy and enlightenment” line. Talk of extermination of Iraq’s Christian population would look bad for the bringers of civilization. One wonders where the U.S. and coalition forces were as Christian communities and churches endured daily attack by local and foreign radicals. One wonders how the western coalition forces, at least culturally Christian in their identity, neglected the “religiocide” in their midst.

Disturbingly, Syria is now being slowly liquidated of its Christians. America and NATO countries continue to give political and material support to a Syrian rebel movement that is bent on exterminating Christians, Alawites, Shiites, and Druze. One popular chant among America’s “freedom fighters” in Syria goes “Christians to Lebanon and Alawites to the sea…”

The Myth of Arab Spring

Bab Tuma blast
The so-called “Arab Spring” – a term invented in the corridors of Western capitals, has resulted not in greater democracy and individual liberties across the Middle East, but in the political and military ascendancy of radical Islamist groups from North Africa to the Levant. It would shock most Americans to know that Washington has aided, and is currently aiding, radical Islamic groups that are indistinguishable from Al-Qaeda throughout the course of these revolutions. This occurred openly and most directly in Libya, and is now occurring clandestinely in Syria.

Throughout the course of the American-led NATO intervention against Gadhafi, there was a steady stream of jihadi fighters returning to Libya from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan where they had waged a guerilla insurgency against American and allied forces. These extremists had been unwelcomed and actively persecuted in Gadhafi’s Libya, yet were incorporated with ease into the NATO-backed rebel forces of the emerging new Libya. The terrorists of Eastern battlefields became, seemingly overnight, U.S. friends and allies in the fight to topple Gadhafi.

The same scenario has been present in Syria for the past year-and-a-half, where Afghan, Libyan, Iraqi, Saudi, and Chechen mujahedeen are flooding Syria with the direct support and approval of NATO powers, as well as the Gulf Cooperation Council (the American-backed gulf monarchies: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and others). Acknowledgement of the true magnitude of rebel atrocities in Syria is only now emerging through a reluctant international press – a press so blindly committed to romantic notions of vague and undefined “democratic rights” that it cannot see the terrorism in its midst. Consider the opening line of just one CNN late 2012 exclusive interview and article with the innocuous title “An afternoon with a Syrian bombmaker”: With the precision of a master chef, Sheik Omar adjusts the intensity of the flame under his pan…

The summer prior to this CNN interview, German intelligence (the BND) estimated that around 90 terrorist attacks had been carried out by Al-Qaeda linked groups in Syria from late December to early July of 2012. This includes suicide bombs, car bombs, and mortar strikes against civilian populated areas and city centers.

Americans are, on the whole, unaware of the true nature of the Syrian opposition (and Libyan opposition before) and the Arab Spring in general, because American media, from NBC to CNN to FOX to major and local papers, have uncritically played the part of propaganda tool for the rebel opposition and their advocates in Western governments. Ordinary Americans are kept in ignorance, exposed only to the moralistic clichés and sound bites of self-proclaimed experts and reporters who have typically never spent time in the Middle East, who don’t speak Arabic, or who have never engaged in a serious study of Mid-East history. Those who fit such basic qualifications are excluded from mainstream coverage as real analysis threatens to expose the false narrative.

Levant Report