Archive for the ‘Media & conflict’ Category
By Jan Oberg
A moment of world history missed by quite a few
I was in Aleppo December 10-14, 2016 and the Eastern part was finally liberated on the 12th.
Beyond any doubt, this was a world historic moment: because of Aleppo’s importance as city in Syria and the Middle East, its status as UNESCO World Heritage site, as turning point in the soon 6 year long war in and on Syria. And because of the almost 100.000 people who came out of 4,5 years of hell-like occupation and because of the sheer proportions of the destruction.
Remarkably, there were no leading Western media present, also not those who were in Damascus and thus had a media visa. Most reported from very far away or from Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon, Istanbul or Berlin.
I happened to be the only one from Scandinavia and among the first dozen of people – mostly media people – to get into the East of the city and see the devastation and talk with the exhausted but immensely happy people.
I had the opportunity to visit the Hanano district, the old town, Ramouseh, Sheikh Saeed, the huge industrial zone Shaykh Najjar and the Jinin reception zone to which the people in need of humanitarian assistance arrived.
Old media reactions
From a normal professional media perspective, my presence there as well as my photos should, given the importance of Aleppo and its human dimensions – have attracted some interest, perhaps even been seen as a scoop. Particularly by those who had no reporter on the ground.
Well, not exactly so.
TFF’s media list counts some 4000 adresses worldwide – individuals as well as editorial offices – of which about 700 in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. All received a couple of messages that I would be in Syria and how to reach me.
One Danish newspaper, left-wing Arbejderen made an interview upon my return.
No other media did.
Here some examples of how the old media in Scandinavia tried to perform their little tricks. They are all respected, professional media with a record of decency – not sensational yellow press. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jan Oberg
This is one of several stories I just have to tell.
You can see the original in large format here.
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Grateful too if you share with others or on social media. We need help to spread a broader truth about the conflict in and around Syria.
Here a little more as background to the coming series:
TFF Photo Story
Lund, Sweden, December 27, 2016
Of course you have seen media images of the destruction in Syria. But not these taken in mid-December when Eastern Aleppo was liberated.
We live in a time when images – real and fake – influence perceptions more than ever.
My photos are real. Documentary. They reflect my role as witness on the spot at a time when only a handful of Westerners were present.
At a time, too, when all the mainstream media were conspicuously absent – as were the dual-purpose White Helmets who have delivered quite a few of the theatrical images from this war.
As a conflict and peace researcher and photographer I take pride in using not only analytical texts but also the medium of photography.
I am anyhow unable to describe just in words what I have seen.
Thanks to modern technology the small, smart, independent and truthful of this world can compete, to some extent, with the multi-billion dollar marketing and propaganda machines.
This is the first of a series to appear in weeks to come that will give you an impression of both life in Damascus, Eastern Aleppo’s destruction, the destruction in Aleppo’s old town, the human victims of this horrific war on Syria, the celebrations at the liberation of Aleppo etc.
I do not believe that pictures of wars and victims will, in and of themselves, lead people to think of peace. Hiroshima films have done little to eliminate nuclear weapons.
But in this particular case I do believe it is necessary to document just how big, systematic and unjustified the destruction of Aleppo has been – not only for those who built it and lived there over 7000 years but also to humanity, to all of us.
With what right did all the parties contribute to this utterly heartless and meaningless destruction?
How did it come to this surreal level of violence wrought upon a historic cultural and industrial city and its vast majority of innocent fellow human beings?
Will we ever learn – not only that war is stupid but also that this type of destruction cannot conveniently for some be blamed on one single side?
All parties who used violence have blood on their hands.
This is the first of a series of stories that I must tell as a witness to an event that more intelligent and civilised generations in the future will have nothing but contempt for.
And if you ask me which side I am on, the answer is simple:
I’m on No government’s. No military’s. No leader’s.
I’m on the side of the tens of thousands of innocent, suffering Syrian citizens. Nobody deserves this!
I am on the side of the underlying, perfectly legitimate conflicts and not on the side of anybody’s violence.
And I do admit to have a particular problem with those – many – who interfered violently in the internal affairs of Syria and did only harm and no good.
Syria’s future is for the Syrians – all of them – to decide.
TFF Conflict and Peace Report Syria # 2
I’ve only passed through Damascus once before, in 2002 on my way to Baghdad. What meets you today is a beautiful city with checkpoints all over the place, your car trunk will be opened and papers checked. Seemingly useless explosives detectors are used – useless because they don’t catch that many drivers here today have a revolver or hand-grenade under their seat.
But you’d probably be surprised, like I was, at how normal it otherwise feels. At the surface.
Traffic is intense, pollution thick, shops are filled with goods, I see fewer beggars here than in Lund, Sweden. People enjoy excellent food (I haven’t had such good meals for long) at restaurants with live music and entertain themselves at the omnipresent cafés.
As everywhere else in war zones, people whose lives have been shattered in many ways – and there are few here in Damascus who have not been hit one way or the other by the war – do their best to maintain some kind of normality.
I’ve seen it elsewhere such as in Sarajevo – the women in particular dress up elegantly and often sexily in the public space, hang out with friends, drink cappuccinos and check their mobiles incessantly to be and to appear as someone in control although life is close to unbearable. Human pride and determination comes out very strongly in war zones – as much, I would say, as human evil.
That said, for the less privileged life is extremely hard. Prices on many basic good have gone up 10x over the last 5 years. Salaries haven’t followed. A soldier gets about USD 50 a month, people working in offices perhaps US$ 70. Many citizens live on UN food packages.
In short, the same totally inhuman consequences of sanctions – the allegedly “soft” instrument – as in Iraq: only hitting innocent people, destroying the middle class and boosting the already rampant corruption. (More about this later when I know more).
What will surprise you is Read the rest of this entry »
By Jan Oberg
Damascus, Syria, December 9, 2016
I’m writing to you from war-torn Syria where the suffering of the people is beyond comprehension, heart-breaking.
The war in and on Syria has been started in spring 2011 – the underlying conflicts much much earlier.
What our media have shown us is snipers, bombings, killings, ruins, dead bodies and press conferences with Western politicians.
But did you “see” the underlying conflicts?
Get an understanding of what the problems standing between the parties are?
Did you get the impression that weapons is the only thing “they” understand?
Did you feel hopeless about it all? Confused? Depressed because of all the human suffering?
That peace is impossible?
If so it’s because we are missing a huge part of the picture. We need something else.
We need to switch from – repetitive and depressive – war and violence reporting to conflict and peace reporting.
We need a focus on issues, history and structures instead of appointing one side and one person as the problem.
We must supplement the focus on weapons and fighters and focus on human potentials.
We must scrap the garbage theory that peace is about good guys winning and bad ones losing.
We must listen to all the parties, not just out own politicians and media.
And we must look at common interests and ways out of the violence and ask: Who can do what for a better Syria in the future, a Syria with people at peace with each other and the world.
Are you interested in new ways of understanding conflicts?
Then – being in Syria until Christmas – I am available.
In two ways:
1. I will post short articles based upon these other approaches at the TFF Associates blog.
2. I have been here in beautiful, historical Damascus the last 5 days and will go to several places – Aleppo on Saturday.
I’m available to media and others who take interest in what is going on here in a conflict and peace perspective.
Swedish iPhone +46 738 52 52 00
Syrian mobile +963 941 35 36 52
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janoberg.se – for updates, messaging and phone.
By Jan Oberg
These two top officials behind major US wars (Iran/Afghanistan and Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos) and regime change (against Allende, Chile) will speak at the first of a new event, The Nobel Peace Prize Forum Oslo, created by the Nobel Institute in Oslo. More here.
The leaders of the two institutions declare that they are proud to have succeeded in getting these two diplomats to Norway – and the media of course will be there. The event is sponsored by the California-based company InCircl – a marketing and mobile payment company.
These two experts on warfare and interventionism will – Orwellian style – speak about “The United States and World Peace After The Presidential Election”.
This is the country that, since 1980, has intervened violently in Iran, Libya, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kosova/Serbia, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, i.e. 14 Muslim countries. It has some 630 base facilities in 130+ countries. It has its US Special Forces (SOF) in 133 countries.
It has used nuclear weapons without apology and owns the second largest arsenal of nuclear weapons.
The US stands for about 40% of the world’s military expenditures, is the world’s leading arms exporter and has killed more people than anybody else since 1945. It’s the master of (imprecise) drone strikes. It presently supports Saudi Arabia’s bestial war on Yemen and conducts a military build-up in Asia and the Pacific planning, as it seems, for what looks like a future confrontation with China. And not with terribly positive results in its Middle East policies since 1945.
So with all these credentials, please tell us about world peace!
The U.S. should be seen as quite Read the rest of this entry »
By Gareth Porter
The Russian-Syrian bombing campaign in eastern Aleppo, which has ended at least for the time being, has been described in press reports and op-eds as though it were unique in modern military history in its indiscriminateness.
In an usual move for a senior US official, Secretary of State John Kerry called for an investigation of war crimes in Aleppo.
As terrible as that toll of civilian lives is, the United States should drop the stance of moral superiority.
The discussion has been lacking in historical context, however. Certainly the civilian death toll from the bombing and shelling in Aleppo has been high, but many of the strikes may not be all that dissimilar from the major US bombing campaign in Iraq in 2003, nor as indiscriminate as Israel’s recent campaigns in densely populated cities.
The impression that the bombing in Aleppo was uniquely indiscriminate was a result of news reporting and commentary suggesting, by implication, that there are no real military targets in east Aleppo.
By Jan Oberg
Added at the bottom on November 23, 2016:
The – bizarre – White Helmet Mannequin Challenge video;
The Swedish Institute of International Affairs’s event with the White Helmets on November 24;
The Right Livelihood Award Foundation’s Award Ceremony to take place on November 25
While thousands of humanitarian organisations around the world are struggling fiercely with diminishing support from governments and the public, one has achieved a surprising amount of support from Western governments in a surprisingly short period of time and gained a surprising attention from mainstream media and ditto political elites: The Syrian Civil Defence or White Helmets.
Their name of course makes you think of the UN’s Blue Helmets and white is the colour of those who should be protected in harm’s way – and the colour of innocence. However, for many years there has been an Argentinian relief organisation with the same name.
The SCD or White Helmets counts nearly 3.000 rescue workers who operate in very dangerous areas in rebel-held territories in Syria and claims that it has, in three years, rescued about 70.000 lives according to its Twitter account (or 65 per day).
Contrary to what you might think, it isn’t a Syrian organisation because Syria has its own organisation, incidentally also called Syria Civil Defence, which was established in 1953 and is registered with ICDO, the International Civil Defence Organisation, since 1972.
The White Helmets seems to have an annual budget of US$ 30 million and has raised a total support of well over US$ 100 million. And it seems that they operate exclusively in war zones in which the fighting against the Syrian government and the Syrian Arab Army takes place, i.e. in ‘liberated’ areas where hundreds of groups and some 80 countries, mainly NATO members, Gulf states and Saudi-Arabia, operate.
On the White Helmets’ briefing page it is stated that “funding for their humanitarian relief work is received from the aid budgets of Japan, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.”
Here is how the Foreign Ministry in Copenhagen explains the roughly US$ 9 million to the White helmets from Denmark, a country that bombs in both Iraq and Syria.
Other civil society and humanitarian organisations inside Syria have not been so fortunate. You’ve probably not heard that much about the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and its work? How much/little support have they received from Western humanitarian-concerned governments? And in general, civil society organisations in Syria – women, peace, human rights, culture, etc. – have received nothing like US$ 100 million in a few years and no one has such a flashy media appearance as the White Helmets.
The White Helmets was started in 2013 by James Le Mesurier who seems to have tried a little of everything everywhere, including the grey zones of special forces and intelligence in virtually all NATO wars, Yugoslavia in particular. He later set up a foundation in Holland to gather the funds. Here is a recent account by Scott Ritter, former US Marine Corps intelligence officer and weapons inspector in Iraq with tremendous knowledge of things Middle East:
“The organizational underpinnings of the White Helmets can be sourced to a March 2013 meeting in Istanbul between a retired British military officer, James Le Mesurier—who had experience in the murky world of private security companies and the shadowy confluence between national security and intelligence operations and international organizations—and representatives of the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the Qatari Red Crescent Society. Earlier that month, the SNC was given Syria’s seat in the Arab League at a meeting of the league held in Qatar.
At that meeting, the SNC assumed Syria’s seat, and the Arab League authorized member states to actively provide support, including arms and ammunition, to the Syrian rebels. The Qataris, working through the SNC, helped assemble for Le Mesurier $300,000 in seed money from Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom for a seven-day course designed to train and equip a 25-person rescue team, recruited by the SNC, for duty in so-called “liberated areas” of Syria. The SNC made available a pair of Syrian activists—Raed Saleh and Farouq Habib—to assist Le Mesurier in this work.
The group is – as will be seen below – treated as uncontroversial in virtually all Western mainstream media. However, there is enough material with documentation to merit caution. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jan Oberg
Lund, October 26, 2016
Over the last four month, ten articles about the new Cold War have been published on the TFF Associates blog. And on our social media you’ll find hundreds of brilliant, informative posts written by others.
While this new Cold War is certainly different from the first Cold war that ended in 1989, we are not in doubt that there is a new such tragic war and that the risk of military confrontation between Russia and NATO countries in Europe has increased.
We also happen to think it could have been avoided.
This Cold War has to do with, among many other things, NATO’s counterproductive expansion since 1994, the way Yugoslavia broke down and was broken up, with Ukraine and now Syria as well as – perhaps surprisingly to some – the rapidly diminishing political power and legitimacy of the West in the emerging world order.
A reflection on how security politics and media contribute to the closing of the open society
The increasing symbiosis between the political and the leading mainstream media of the Western world implies that, grosso modo, Russia is blamed for having caused this new situation. While Russia is certainly not innocent and it usually does take two to conflict this blame is rather a sign of diminishing capacity (knowledge) and will (economic and intellectual independence and courage) to ask critical questions that now characterise the corporate media.
Defence and security political news coverage, journalistic processing, editing and commentaries have sunk to an intellectual level that is considerably lower than during the first Cold War. The entire field is given low priority by editors. Domestic issues, sports, entertainment, lifestyle etc. have made it to the top.
Out of sync with the globalising world, most media do with 1-2 pages about global affairs out of, say, 40-50 pages and they base this material on the same handful of Western news bureaus.
The double checking of a variety of sources, versatility and multi-perspective coverage are things of the past and we see more uniformity and more subjectivity in the news media coverage than ever.
Add to this that both Russia and NATO countries engage in media management, or propaganda (tax payers footing the bills) which squeezes out comprehensive knowledge and unbiased analyses as well as critical angles on one’s own policies and actions. Read the rest of this entry »
And why Russia doesn’t have to be a threat to the West
By Jan Oberg
TFF Series ”The New Cold War” # 7
If the Ukraine conflict is the centerpiece of the new 2nd Cold War, it is essential to ask: What really happened? What did NATO countries do to cause it? What did Russia do to cause it?
And – if you live in the West, in particular: Did we really have to end in this situation given Russia’s significant weakness over 25 years?
This article argues that the superior West could have played its cards differently and it’s time for self-critical soul-searching and just a little living yourself into the shoes of the other.
If peace rather than war is your true aim.
There was a beginning and a framework
The Ukraine conflict has a 25-years history. Instead of dissolving NATO, the alliance was expanded. Relieved from there being a Soviet Union and a Warsaw Pact, the alliance went as fast it could to do all it wanted. Remember, a series of WW III scenarios has been written in which that war would start with some uncontrollable event in Yugoslavia. Now it could be chopped up – freely and without risk. Serbia was bombed and Kosovo carved out without a UN mandate whatsoever (1999).
How did they think about that in the Kremlin at the time, one must wonder?
Clinton literally did not give a damn about all the promises made to Soviet leader Gorbachev by US leaders such as Bush, James Baker and German leaders including Hans-Dietrich Genscher. (Yes, they were not written down but confirmed by those involved and present).
He began the expansion of NATO in 1994 – in Georgia (see what I refer to elsewhere in this series). All around a Russia on its knees Americans were placed in the offices of prime ministers, defence and foreign ministers – I saw it myself in former Yugoslavia – and met CIA people in Croatia disguised as humanitarian workers. And had a long conversation with the representative of the US in Tblisi in 1994. Historical moment!
The bad Christians, the Orthodox, were the Serbs and Russians and Greeks – all should be antagonized and the good guys in Yugoslavia were those who had been on the fascist side in WWII – the leaderships in Croatia, Muslims in Bosnia and the Kosovo Albanians. The Serb minority that had lived 400 years as a minority in the Croatian republic were, in the common Western discourse, invaders masterminded by strongman Slobodan Milosevic – whom Clinton without hesitation called the new ’Hitler of Europe’.
Ukraine was – and remains – what its name says: the border areas (like Krajina in Croatia). This is where NATO can establish itself as little as Chruschev could get away with deploying nukes in Cuba – considerably further away from the US, but anyhow.
Imagine – with a little bit of empathy (not necessarily sympathy) how Washington would react if today Putin’s Russia was 12 times stronger militarily than the alliance-free US (NATO dissolved 25 years ago) and tried with his alliance of 27 other members to make Canada or Mexico the 29th member. Perhaps most people in the US and Europe would have some sympathy for the negative reaction of Washington. Rand remember, Trump wants to build a wall to Mexico…
The main reason, it is stated again and again, in the Western press, NATO and other political circles is: Ukraine and Crimea. The lie about Putin’s aggression on Ukraine is told so many times that it is becoming the truth. Just see these two recent articles by Newsweek as two of hundreds of articles.
Here’s the chosen story in politics and media alike
The narrative is simplified beyond recognition and goes like this:
Putin (there is always just one top guy in Western eyes and it is one leader at the top like Milosevic, Mohamed Farah Aideed, Saddam Hussein, Moammar Khaddafi, al-Assad) is a bad guy and you know that because out of the blue his suddenly annexed Crimea. By that he changes the borders of Europe and then he gets his disguised soldiers into Eastern Ukraine – a Ukraine that we, in contrast to Bush Senior, care very very much about today.
We care so much about it that Read the rest of this entry »
By Johan Galtung
Journalists, physicians and mediators have one thing in common: they are expected to ask questions. Having worked as a journalist for some time for the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, having a medical family background, and having worked nearly 60 years as a mediator, my obvious conclusion has been for journalists to ask the kind of questions mediators ask, like:
• What does the Middle East look like where you would like to live?
• What is the situation right now?
• Was there a good time, what went wrong, what could have been done?
• What is the worst that happened, and the worst that could happen?
Journalists should not mediate – they are not trained for that. But they could make the world more ready for mediation, also by readers-listeners-viewers.
People will answer, and give interesting answers.
Of decision-makers journalists could also ask questions like:…