Monday, 5 October 2015

An alternative letters page for The Irish Times

The Irish Times is not the newspaper it once was, and it may be that it simply doesn’t have the budget to be choosy in its foreign correspondents, nor the staff to read all the mail it receives. Below is a recent letter to the paper from a member of the Irish Syria Solidarity Movement, the latest in a series of unpublished letters on the newspaper’s coverage of Syria.

Phenomenal. Another psychedelic “analysis” piece from Michael Jansen on Saturday (Assad remains in power as bulwark against Islamic State). This writer has already in your pages (Op. Ed July 2nd, 2011) spectacularly confused the MASSACRE of Hama (1982) when the current presidential incumbent's father slaughtered up to 40,000 people (estimates vary) in the city of Hama with the BATTLE of Hama (605 BC.) between the Babylonians and the Egyptians. In her latest wide-ranging synopsis of the Syrian and middle-eastern crisis, she has managed in the nearly 1000-word article never once to mention a single human-rights violation by the Assad regime. She gushes of Assad “his army constitutes the only force on the ground countering and containing Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda radicals.” That surreal assessment requires no further comment. She provides no data to back up her outlandish claims such as Assad having the backing of the Kurdish minority. Nor does she provide any analysis on why it would possibly be that people who are being bombed out of opposition-held towns and districts would flee to regime-held districts insofar as that is the case. In the context of the regime's terrorism strategy of barrel-bombing, sniper attacks, chemical weapons attacks, starvation sieges, etc., etc., the conclusion of the analysis: “the flow into government-held areas demonstrates strong aversion to his opponents” really beggars belief.
Yours, etc.
Michael Lenehan

The Irish Times article referred to by the letter is here: Assad remains in power as bulwark against Islamic State (Analysis: Western leaders know Syria president’s army is only ground force in region) by Michael Jansen.

In it, not only does Ms Jansen implicitly deny the existence of Free Syrian Army and Syrian Kurdish forces fighting ISIS, she asserts that “Syrian protests, far smaller than those elsewhere, were within days infiltrated by armed men backed by external interests and powers seeking his overthrow,” a grotesque distortion of the peaceful protests of 2011 that were met with gunfire by the regime, as well as with torture, mutilation, and murder in regime prisons.

And as Michael Lenehan points out, on internally displaced people fleeing violence, Ms Jansen claims that “the flow into government-held areas demonstrates strong aversion to [Assad’s] opponents,” without making any mention of the daily bombing of civilians in opposition-held areas by Assad’s air force.

It’s a miserable state of affairs for Ireland’s old newspaper of record that it should now rely on such a blatant propagandist for the Assad dictatorship to fill its pages.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

London’s refugee march on Twitter

Peter Tatchell demonstrated how to present a clear message:

But his effort wasn’t matched by co-organiser Syria Solidarity UK. It was easier to see Stop The War placards than Syria Solidarity ones. And Stop The War’s visual message was clear.

From Amnesty activist Kristyan Benedict:

From Syrian blogger Maysaloon:

From Mauritanian-American activist Weddady:

From an Assad apologist:

UPDATE – here is Clara’s excellent speech that so annoyed Mr Winstanley:

Friday, 10 July 2015

Never again, and again, and again

Reckless Diplomacy Disguised as Caution Cost Lives in Srebrenica. And It’s Happening Again, This Time in Syria

Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey former Bosnian foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations joined with Najib Ghadbian, Special Representative to US and UN, National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces to write this comparison of two avoidable man-made disasters.
“As Bosnia & Herzegovina’s first Ambassador to the UN and the Syrian opposition’s first Ambassador to the UN, we are struck by the painful parallels between our two conflicts, and how indecision and a lack of moral courage are once again leaving innocent civilians to pay the ultimate price.”
Sacirbey and Ghadbian argue that although a no-fly zone in Syria lacks the wide support given to the no-fly zone in Bosnia, it would be even more effective in saving lives, it would counter extremism, and it would make a political solution more possible. Read the rest.

From an interview with Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and former U.N. humanitarian chief, at Syria Deeply:
“We have Srebrenica happening every few months in Syria in terms of civilians killed and maimed.”
Read the rest: Jan Egeland: It’s Time to Change the Narrative for Syria’s Refugees.

James Bloodworth also writes of UK complicity with the Srebrenica massacre, and compares it with Syria.

For more detail on how British, French, and US government decisions helped pave the way for the Srebrenica massacre, see How Britain and the US decided to abandon Srebrenica to its fate, by Florence Hartmann and Ed Vulliamy.

As it was in Bosnia, so also in Syria it is within the power of the UK, France, and the US, acting singly or together, to stop much of the killing.

The single greatest culprit in the killing of civilians is the Syrian Air Force.

Chart from Violations Documentation Center in Syria report for May 2015. More details.

Last month, 81 NGOs called on the UN Security Council to enforce its own Resolution 2139 to end the barrel bombing. Realistically, this won’t happen by collective Security Council action. Russia has blocked any effective Security Council measure, including blocking a resolution to give the International Criminal Court jurisdiction in Syria. This week Russia even blocked a resolution recognising the Srebrenica massacre as an act of genocide.

On Syria, as on Kosovo, in the absence of Security Council unanimity, individual Security Council member states must act.

Assad’s barrel bombings kill mostly civilians, and mostly in areas not held by ISIS but held by the Syrian rebels who are fighting both Assad and ISIS.

Assad’s air attacks have actually been helping ISIS attack Syrian rebels.

As the greatest danger to civilians, Assad’s air attacks are the greatest driver of refugee flows. The number of refugees has more than doubled since the UK, France, and US, turned away from military intervention in 2013.

Aid for Syria is becoming the most expensive sticking plaster in history, costing billions and still woefully underfunded. The need will not end until the violence is stopped, and the violence is mostly Assad’s.

If you are in the UK, write to your MP here.

If you are in the US, write to Congress here.

Download and share Syria Solidarity UK’s document: Ongoing chemical weapons attacks and bombing of civilians by the Syrian Air Force: A call for action (PDF)

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Yellow cars

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Best Cover Ever: A Will Eisner and Ken Kelley pulp duet

Issue No. 10 of the Warren Spirit – cover drawn by Will Eisner and painted by Ken Kelley. Scan by Rip Jagger.

This post was first written for the Forbidden Planet International blog last year as part of their Best Cover Ever series.

Around the time Warren magazines stopped publishing in the early 1980s, a whole batch of their back issues appeared in a tiny sweet shop on Dominick Street, Galway, where they were watched over by a crotchety shopkeeper who insisted on no reading, or even peeking, before payment was made. I can’t imagine what strange accident brought this fantastically illustrated helping of sex and violence to my home town, but it was a lucky accident for me.

The real oddity in this already unusual presentation was The Spirit.

Nearly all of Warren’s output was horror, fantasy, or science fiction. The Spirit was, I think, Warren’s only non-horror title, only detective title, only humour title, only reprint title. It followed the same physical format as their other magazines, Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella: full colour cover, mostly black and white interior, with one colour story on better paper in the centre of the magazine.

Issue No. 1 had a fully painted cover by Basil Gogos, but issues 2 to 9 used ink drawings by Eisner combined with painted colours by others. Of the issues I have to hand, editor Bill DuBay coloured the cover for No. 2 in this way, and Ken Kelley painted colours for No. 4 and No. 7. This effect gives an interesting tension between parts of the picture delineated in black ink and other parts rendered only in colour paint.

A complete collection of the Warren Spirit covers here.

And a comparison between some of the finished covers and Will Eisner’s initial drawings here.

Complete scans of issue No. 1 (including ads) here.

Issues 10 and 11 returned to fully painted covers, but were to my eye greatly improved compared to the painting for issue No. 1. Both were painted by Ken Kelley and based on Will Eisner’s drawings. A student of Frazetta, Ken Kelley is best known for his fantasy art. His first professional art was for Warren’s Vampirella magazine. The Spirit covers were unusual subjects for him, but I think benefitted greatly from his technique.

Ken Kelley’s website:

The Spirit No. 10’s cover is particularly intense, not just in the death-defying stunts both hero and villain are engaged in, and the distressed state of their female audience, but also in the way Kelley has painted the scene. There is little or no consistency in lighting; instead he has painted each element in the most dramatic way he can. The tension between drawn black line and painted colour seen in earlier covers is still present; most obviously in the interaction between the title lettering and the painted villain hanging onto it, but also in the use of black to pick out certain details in the painting: pistol, eyes, wall cracks. The black lines used to bring forward the Spirit’s right shoe are in extreme contrast to the aerial perspective effect used to make his left shoe recede. This achieves a kind of super-exaggerated 3D effect with no need for glasses.

Other points in the painting also seem tonally and chromatically illogical in terms of any attempt at realism, but make perfect dramatic sense. This is cartoony pulp expressionism, and therefore completely in keeping with the artistic history of The Spirit, continuing Eisner’s initial aims in a paint technique that hadn’t been available to the original newsprint version. And I love it.

Compare the finished cover to Will Eisner’s earlier drawing here.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Video: Peter Tatchell on Syria

Peter Tatchell on why the international community needs to act on Syria.

More from Peter Tatchell at

Via Syria Solidarity UK.