The silence. On the blogosphere. On the streets.
Today, London held one of the first events dedicated to the Syrian Golan Heights for a long time. There was a day-long series of talks and discussions by journalists, diplomats and Syrianists at SOAS.
The Golan – chaired by Fawaz Akhras, British-Syrian Society
-Roots of the conflict (George Joffe, Cambridge & KCL)
-Colonisation of the Golan (Neil Quilliam, Control Risks)
-Personal stories (Dr. Ghassan Shannan, from the Golan & Ata Farhat, Syria TV, from the Golan and formerly imprisoned by Israel)
Strategic Signifcance of the Golan – chaired by Patrick Seale
-Water resources (Dr. Mark Zeitoun, LSE)
-The military balance (Tim Collins OBE, former colonel)
-Economic value of the Golan (Abdelkader Husrieh, economist)
Legal Perspectives – chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
-International law and the Israeli occupation of the Golan (John McHugo, lawyer, CAABU board member)
-Israel, the Golan Heights and International Humanitarian Law (Guy Goodwin Gill, expert in International Refugee Law, former UK High Commission for Refugees)
Prospects for Peace – chaired by Charles Glass
-The Golan: the key to peace or a cause of war? (Dr. Sami Khiyami, Syrian Ambassador to the UK)
Roundtable on the Golan and the Media
-Ghayth Armanazi (Syrian Media Centre)
-Patrick Seale (Writer)
-Ian Black (The Guardian)
-Sharif Nashashibi (Arab Media Watch)
Three things stuck in my mind.
First – the Golan is the hidden occupation. The irony – it’s the most quiet front in the region. But if nothing happens, there’s no journalistic interest, and nothing will change.
Syria’s Ambassador tried to claim there’s a conspiracy in the media. With intelligence services controlling what is written. The CIA, Mossad and MI5 are the reason no-one knows about the Golan. The Guardian’s Ian Black was sitting opposite the Ambassador as he made these comments. He was dismayed, and laughed at the suggestion.
The Arab conspiracy complex is something I have to fight against. There is no conspiracy. It is just that supporters of the other side are so much better at getting their message out. There is no mind-control.
Of course, Syria is to blame for not pushing the story – and today was about changing that. But is preaching to the converted in an academic environment going to raise awareness? Wassim wasn’t impressed.
Second – how close Syria’s Ambassador came to justifying dictatorship. Of course, he wasn’t referring to Syria. It was in the abstract. Of course. The argument is that democratically elected leaders aren’t held accountable for four or five years (we were talking about the Iraq war – 2 million people marching in the streets of London couldn’t change Blair’s mind). In a dictatorship, his argument went, leaders have to be much quicker in reacting to public opinion to maintain the frail mandate they cling on to.
It’s a valid claim and an interesting critique of democracy. I’m not sure if that justifies dictatorship though.
And third – how many Syrianists I know in London, and how nice it was to find them again.