Public figures must think twice before commenting about someone’s death.
Veteran broadcaster Alan Jones has learned this lesson after "cyber democracy" took Australian decency into its own hands. They have inscribed an epitaph for his career: you reap what you sow.
But it appears that Foreign Minister Bob Carr has learnt nothing about the volatility of the "death sentence". His "brutal and callous" call for the assassination of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad on ABC Four Corners on Monday was utterly un-Australian, and warrants immediate sanction by Julia Gillard.
Our foreign minister represents a liberal democracy where murder is a crime and the death sentence has long been outlawed. Assassination should not be part of Australia’s strategy to end the proxy war between Iran and Israel that is fought on Syrian soil.
Carr’s comments are yet another example of the foreign minister is trying to force-fit the Libyan template over Syrian territory.
Carr’s rationale that "an assassination combined with a major defection … is what is required to get, one, a ceasefire, and, two, political negotiations" smacks of dangerous naivety. It ignores the fact that to the president and his supporters, Syria is fighting its own "war on terror" and defending its sovereign territory. This religious war has been proudly sponsored by the US and its Gulf allies — the undemocratic kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Rather than creating a cease fire, an assassination would escalate the war beyond the five volatile Syrian borders. Does Carr seriously think that Iran, Russia and China would sit idly by as yet another regime is militarily toppled?
Carr concludes that "we’ve got nothing to do but trust the spirit of the Arab Spring". The embers of the Arab Spring were actually extinguished long ago by what he himself calls "religious fanatics … who want another form of dictatorship". The "jihadists," who answer to fatwas from Saudi sheiks for a holy war to ethnically cleanse Syria from non-Sunnis, want a Salafist theocracy, not a secular democracy. Ironically, Carr’s call for an assassination aligns him with Sheikh Muhammad al Zughbey — "your jihad against this infidel criminal and his people is a religious duty".
When asked about the presence of Islamic extremists or al Qaeda in the uprising, Carr insists that "the truth is … nobody knows … outside Damascus, observation doesn’t exist". His sources are all sworn enemies of the Syrian regime — The Friends of Syria, Gulf leaders and Western leaders — and of course they will not concede that extremists have hijacked the uprising.
Inside Syria, observation and monitoring does exist and the al-Qaeda presence has been repeatedly revealed. Journalist Robert Fisk interviewed so-called Syrian rebels inside a Syrian military prison in August, only to find that most were "recycled" foreign mercenaries. Inconvenient facts and counter-narratives such as this cannot be dismissed as pro-Assad propaganda, although Fisk’s piece in particular has drawn some criticism, including from Syrian political dissident Yassin Al-Haj Saleh.
Moreover, Carr has an immediate opportunity to be enlightened by a visiting Syrian nun who has been at the centre of the violence, tending to the war wounded. Despite repeated requests to meet with him, Mother Agnes-Mariam from St James Catholic monastery in Homs has been shunned. She has been forced to flee to Lebanon after being warned that the rebel forces, our allies and future assassins, plotted to abduct her.
Why? Because she was outspoken about the "aggressive armed gangs … abducting people, beheading, bringing terror even to schools". Like Fisk, she confirms that only about one in 20 rebels are Syrian. She has witnessed how the uprising "steadily became a violent Islamist expression against a liberal secular society" and testifies to a "hidden will to empty the Middle East of its Christian presence". This darker truth belies the "spirit of the Arab Spring" in Carr’s fantasy.
Unlike Carr, Mother Agnes has a peaceful solution that is gaining momentum — Mussalaha (reconciliation) — a grass roots movement for dialogue and negotiation among Syrian citizens of all ethnic and religious backgrounds who "reject sectarian violence and are tired of war".
Unlike Carr, her method not assassination and defection, but disarmament — "freeing them of this massive foreign interference and this media instigation for violence". As part of her international peace mission to the Vatican and the EU, she will lead a delegation of Nobel Prize laureates to Syria next month.
It is abhorrent that Carr links assassination with "what Kofi Annan said was essential". Like Mother Agnes, Annan promoted disarmament. Above the negotiation table, the US-Saudi-Qatar axis talked about a political solution, but under the table they sabotaged his "peace plan" with a lucrative supply chain of arms, while criticising those who vetoed more military solutions.
Why is Carr afraid to meet with Mother Agnes? Because she will disarm him of his "just war" theory, and force him to face the facts that he has put us in bed with the terrorists. She may even enlighten him that it was not Libya that endured 17 years of civil war, as he stated, but Lebanon — for 15 years. Like Alan Jones, he should know better, but chooses not to.
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