Official Health and Religious Delegation from the Syrian Arab Republic to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, of the Oireachtas (Legislature) of the Republic of Ireland, Thursday, 1st December 2016.

Some notes on this event follow

I have been much troubled since I heard via this blog, here, then here, in the early hours of Friday, 2nd December that a delegation of Assad acolytes had intruded upon my Irish space, albeit 100 miles from where I live and well-separated from me by the mighty river Shannon. This delegation incorporated as its front-runners the following (and I quote the Oireachtas directly – except the Arabic version in parentheses, their Facebook thumbnails and, for the two Christian bodies, the name of the Church):

Dr Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, Grand Mufti of Syria

(‎سماحة مفتي الجمهورية العربية السورية د. أحمد بدر الدين حسون‎)

mufti-10603760_775616092502983_5866245986752857556_n

—–

Mr Gregory III Laham, Patriarch of Antioch, East, Alexandria and Jerusalem

(البطريرك غريغوريوس الثالث لحام بطريرك أنطاكية والقدس وسائر المشرق للروم الملكيين الكاثوليك)

laham-12109216_10153662469874267_5682584702293882068_nMelkite (Greek) Catholic Church

—–

Mr Ignatius Aphrem II of Antioch – Patriarch of Antioch

(قداسة مار إغناطيوس أفرام الثاني بطريرك أنطاكية وسائر المشرق، الرئيس الأعلى للكنيسة السريانية الأرثوذكسية في العالم)

aphrem-15078892_1081854781912287_5691928063660961887_nSyriac Orthodox Church

—–

Dr Ahmad al Khaddour, Cardiothoracic Surgeon, and Dr Bashir Mohammad, Cardiac Surgeon.

ii) Their mission was to present a case against sanctions upon Syria, on the grounds of degradation of medical facilities in government-controlled areas through lack of medical supplies and also a shortage of food. This confused me from the outset as Russia has a well-established line of supply of “matériel” to the Syrian government, and indeed, in addition, set up at an indeterminate point tented hospitals in Aleppo West (one of these shelled by rebels recently and so in the news). Furthermore, food bags labelled in Russian have been handed to Aleppines migrating from East to West of late, according to RT and Reuters: Syrians that evacuated eastern Aleppo reach out for Russian food aid in government-controlled Jibreen area in Aleppo, Syria November 30, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki. I have no doubt that life in most of Syria at the moment can be very difficult for ordinary people on either side of the divide. However, the government is getting an immense amount of support from Russia – and elsewhere. Is it only in the form of ammunition? Quite possibly the delegation was not worried by current sanctions. US sanctions, to name one batch, have existed against Syria since 2004. For example, in 2011, a new crop was issued “on Syrian individuals and entities”, the reason: “… [their] involvement in proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; association with al Qaida, the Taliban or Osama bin Laden; or destabilizing activities in Iraq and Lebanon; or benefiting from public corruption.” Maybe the bills passed in Congress in the middle of last month were the real concern, the potential target Russian supplies to Syria: Washington Post. I don’t know. But, the stated humanitarian and peaceful purpose of this delegation to Ireland smelt very odd.

iii) The reason for this is not the Syrian government’s bombardment of rebel-held areas, but the same government’s distinctly unpeaceful response to peaceful protests in 2011. This response – unfortunately for it – defined it, in perpetuity, as it can only be seen at absolute best as a deliberate assault on the wrong people, if it is true armed insurrectionists were also busy (and cutting off people’s heads, as Assad claimed in a recent interview: 38 minutes in) – that being so, why kill the playgroup to catch the child-molester hiding in it? Not a very clever approach, and Assad isn’t stupid. And it is that response which turned Turkey from a friend into an enemy, a move Assad may soon regret.

iv) To remind myself of the many videos watched during the demonstration phase of the Syrian revolution (a phase, incidentally, which has never died out), I consulted my archive and was saddened to note that many of the YouTube accounts which hosted those videos have been deleted by YouTube’s administrators. However, a few survive. I was glad this video (at end of paragraph) was in one of those accounts, as I remembered it well. A man in the back of a truck videos demonstrators taking cover behind their vehicles. You can hear bullets hitting the sides of his truck. And then someone by a car is brought down and the videographer jumps out to record the bloody evidence. This occurred on a motorway near Homs. There was a worse one from the same or similar incident, by Homs, in which a youth with a bullet wound to his temple is dragged away by friends, his blood arching in a single stream from his head like a fountain. However, that video may be the victim of a dead bookmark. But, this surviving one, to which I have referred, paints the picture well enough: VIDEO.

v) The following month (June, 2011) these two videos appeared making a joke statement about the advanced state of the revolutionaries’ armaments, firecrackers used for bullets and a belt of what looks like aubergine worn for grenades: JOKE1, JOKE2.

vi) To my mind, any government which greets unarmed citizens, whatever they may be up to, with even only a few aimed bullets, most passing overhead, and during one single incident must be held to severe account; and one which fires yet and yet again into the bodies of demonstrators, over months and in multiple locations, has gone beyond censure and has defined itself as a monstrosity, meet for excision, and not a government. So, this is why I did not trust, and still do not, the motives of the Syrian peace delegation to Ireland, its prime members emerging from within the Damascene establishment and far from strangers to Bashar al Assad, the commander of the men who fired the guns in 2011: Facebook, 21 Dec. 2014. Each tolerates him, at minimum, and, judging by remarks made by them and also by elements within the Catholic Church here in Ireland, supports the received wisdom of Assad’s secularity being preferable to Islamist terrorism, which ignores the régime’s own history of killing: as stated, just one dead protester is enough to put that government in the moral dock and thus incapable of protecting a morally-rooted organisation such as a church, other than by renouncing its misdeeds (indeed, in a “Damascus moment” – we have yet to see it) or the protected entity becoming corrupt. The tolerance is thus a form of blindness, compounded by the instinct of self-preservation, the latter understandable but not an excuse. The two Syrian Christian churches in this plenipotentiary triumvirate (the Syriac Orthodox Church, under Aphrem, and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, under Laham) have ignored the tenets of their own faith and of its founder, who chose death over expediency. If the only defence against murderers is a murderer, then the Christian must eschew that defence and embrace God’s. Not easy. Further, each church suffered the kidnapping of a senior prelate in Aleppo in 2013. I remember a terrible video of a Christian priest or monk awaiting execution by knife by a butcher-type imbecile and a mob, many excited children among them, from 2012 or 2013. He knelt, deeply in prayer. And Ignatius Aphrem himself was the target of a suicide attack in his home town of Qamishli only this summer. Assad must seem like, or must be viewed as, an angel to those who have not felt his type of knife, or iron bar, on the back of their necks, do not fear that they will and are concomitantly grateful. Though the mufti’s motives are less clear. In his submission to the committee he recounted how he refused the invitation of foreign peers, indeed possibly superiors, to leave Syria in 2011. “Five days later” his youngest son, Saria, was assassinated. He linked the two events, these occurring in the latter part of that year.

vii) As regards this same Grand Mufti, I cannot comment on the directives of his own faith, as I have never lived within that faith and so do not know it. The testaments made before the Oireachtas (collective term for both houses of the Irish parliament, thus akin to Congress, though in Ireland the term also incorporates the presidency) committee by the two Christians contained little substance, if plenty of aspiration. However, one can examine more closely Hassoun’s utterances, at the beginning and whilst he was being questioned. Indeed, the point of this encounter, and indeed the whole visit, was him. The other elements, including the two doctors, were torch-bearers.

viii) First, here’s a picture of him in the dining hall on the 30th last month at Trinity College, Ireland’s most venerable university:

trinity-mufti-dining-room-15193553_1237495029648418_2609608701267502584_nFacebook, “Dr. Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun”

ix) It is an astonishing sight when one has generally only seen this man at prayer beside his president in Syria – and he is frequently seen thus. Will Asma be the next visitor, before Bashar himself?

x) The morning after that picture was taken he, along with the rest of the delegation of five, if the two surgeons are included, attended Committee Room 1 at Leinster House, the hub of Ireland’s democratic system, as therein sit both legislative assemblies, but especially of the two Dáil Éireann, the predominant seat of power in this country. They faced the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, an audience in the small gallery to one side. The proceedings were recorded on video as follows:

1. Opening preamble by Brendan Smith, TD, chairman, and submissions by Aphrem, Dr Ahmad al Khaddour (briefly – he has however been banging the sanctions drum since at least January), Laham and Dr Bashir Mohammad (who speaks in the same measured tones and with the same accent in English about presumably EU sanctions – “this difficult relation with Europe” – on the government side affecting hospitals as did Dr. Osman al-Haj Osman*, four years ago, about Syrian-government bombs on the rebel side affecting hospitals) – Dr. Mohammad’s submission continues into the next video. The gentleman delivering papers and acting as interpreter for Hassoun is the Very Rev. Raban Joseph Bali of the Syriac church, being Patriarchal Secretary and Media Office Director by title. This video does not start recording until 30:06:

VIDEO 1.

2. Dr. Mohammad concludes. The Grand Mufti, incidentally a Sunni, then makes his submission over approximately 16 minutes (4:32-20:54). Right at the beginning he states that he is not speaking in English because he knows only the languages of “the Bible, Gospel and Old Testament, and the Quran” – so, Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and Arabic… but, he does not spell out these languages but uses instead an emotive metaphor which attaches piety to his stated ignorance of English. He thanks specifically Declan Hayes for fixing the trip to Ireland and agitates his clasped hands in gratitude in the direction of the gallery, where presumably Mr Hayes was sitting. He declares that “the mufti is a secular mufti” which is a contradiction in terms. The priestly part of any church cannot be secular, by definition, unless the priests are not priests but, say, politicians masquerading as priests – which makes them secular by being religious fakes. He refers to the Syrian revolution as a revolution to “kill men” – this again is highly emotive talk which makes no sense, unless he means the revolution consists of a revolution against peace for the sake of never-ending war, and is thus a revolution by idiots… I am not sure even the most extreme of the extremists seek never to win, which is what never-ending war means. Questions are then asked by Noel Grealish TD, Senator Mark Daly, Senator Ivana Bacik (a lawyer of mixed Irish/Czech origin) and Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD. Questions and answers then traverse randomly back and forth between some of the parties, especially between Aphrem, Hassoun and Bacik, with the chairman chipping in, though mainly to advise that the meeting is running over time and has to stop. During these exchanges Hassoun, addressing a question about civilians killed by the Syrian military, answers by asking for a list of people thus killed. In his interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda, itemised above (third paragraph), Assad, when asked for the names of the unarmed opposition, did not answer but offered to give the journalist a list. Here’s the second file for the delegation’s submission to the committee:

VIDEO 2.

xi) Concerning Declan Hayes, my first leads to his involvement in the visit from Syria came from RT, then Morning Star, though Mr Hayes in fact appears in a captionless photograph in the CatholicIreland.net link above (sixth paragraph). He appears to be a very “driven” individual. Here he is in Tehran. In the second of these two low-res videos he can be seen accompanying the delegation as it walks to Leinster House. He’s chatting mainly to Aphrem. Also visible – mainly from his hat – in the first low-res video is George Galloway, accompanying the delegation. Declan cross-refers to George quite a lot on Twitter, also to Father Dave – both, Hayes and Dave, have it in for Bana Alabed, needless to say. Hayes’ website also uses the “taigs” moniker. The site covering the Syrian visit is here. It includes the schedule. I think Declan is also “riposte” on this blog. Anyhow, enough about him.

xii) Later that morning, one week ago, Robin Yassin-Kassab, who is known to this blog, made a submission to the committee, which I only viewed a short while ago:

VIDEO 3 (starts at 16:56) and VIDEO 4.

xiii) Its elements of clarity have cheered me up. A chill had entered my heart when I heard of this visitation within our midst here in Ireland, as if the Devil incarnate and his gormless handmaidens, hastened by malignant spirits emerging from native burrows, had come amongst us, in the false personification of Jesus and his disciples, to mock us. But rivers still flow. And lies cannot swim.

*more on Dr. Osman