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The Pros of History Teaching

A secondary school that asked pupils to list the “pros and cons” of slavery for homework has come under fire from parents, who say it is “racist, inappropriate and offensive”.

The exercise was given to Year 11 GCSE pupils, aged between 15 and 16, by a history teacher at the Hazeley Academy in Milton Keynes, and was derived from an AQA teacher’s guide on “Britain: migration, empires and people” study topic.

In the module, students are asked to examine the reasons why the British Empire pursued the transatlantic slave trade instead of piracy, with the stated aim to show how “plantations proved to be more profitable than piracy”.

As homework for the course, a teacher at Hazeley Academy asked students to list the “pros” and “cons” of slavery in a table, seen by HuffPost UK.

Sabrina Aries, the mother of a student who complained that the exercise was inappropriate, said she swiftly raised the issue with the headteacher, both via email and in person.

More on Huffington Post

This article tells us little about the methodology and scope of the history lessons during which students were asked to list the pros of slavery (though I am not impressed by the photograph of an answer template). There is definitely a case for understanding the motivations and belief systems of abusers and abusive structures but to talk about the ‘pros’ of slavery is wholly insensitive and like talking about the pros of genocide, rape or child abuse.

History teaching at its best can offer invaluable insights into who we are as humans and into the way we treat each other. It can help us think about today, about how we go here and where we we need to go and so on. But because it is a powerful educational tool it has to be used carefully and sensitively with regard to content and methodology. I don’t think that history can be properly studied without also studying ethics. ‘Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.’ is a well known saying but I think the truth is that we are doomed to repeat history if we do not take ethical lessons from it. Britain benefited enormously from being a slave trader in the past, Britain benefits enormously from being an arms trader in the present. Unless we are able to use history in the context of ethical dialogue it is worse than useless, it is a tool of oppression. A story like this should prompt a discussion about the purposes of teaching history and maybe the purposes of education in general. It is not simply an issue about the ‘politically correct’ use of language.

Aleppo Celebrates

At the beginning of December the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and their allies complete their liberation of East Aleppo from the terrorists who have occupied it for almost four years.

The majority of the media in the US and UK continue to portray Assad as the bloody handed ‘Butcher of Damascus’ indiscriminately slaughtering civilians in his war against the heroic anti-Assad ‘rebels’. This cartoon, showing a concerned US trying to reason with China and Russia who are seen as enabling Assad, is particularly ironic as it is the groups Assad is fighting that actually do behead people.

News out of Syria uses pictures and interviews with children in ‘rebel’ held sections of Aleppo to justify claims that the Syrian government and the Russians are committing war crimes in their bid to oust ‘moderate rebels’. These reports are biased and designed to garner support for US attacks against Syrian and Russian forces or at least to get the Russians to back down in the face of direct confrontation with US and allied forces.

There is very little evidence that there are any ‘moderate rebels’ in the disputed East Aleppo, rather they are ‘takfiri’ extremists of the worst kind. These extremists are supported by the US and UK governments and by our political and media establishments. In the following video posted by ‘Syrian Girl’ (Maram Susli) these monsters show their true colours as they prepare to behead a 12 year old boy.

You will hear calls of ‘takfir’; Wikipedia notes “In Islamic law, takfir or takfeer (Arabic: تكفير‎‎ takfīr) refers to the practice of excommunication, one Muslim declaring another Muslim as kafir (non-believer). The act which precipitates takfir is termed the mukaffir. An ill-founded takfir accusation is a major forbidden act.”

That the war caused devastation in Aleppo is obvious but the videos of people leaving the areas of Aleppo that the SAA has retaken show people who seem happy with what has happened.

At the same time we see videos and tweets from inside rebel held Aleppo suggesting that the SAA and pro-Assad militias are going around killing civilians:

Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations gives this extraordinary performance characterising what is supposedly happening in Aleppo as one of those events that defines modern evil. She castigates the Syrian, Russian and Iranian governments for supporting this evilower’s :

Power’s rant is part of a narrative that sees Assad’s ‘regime’ as wholly responsible for the 400,000 plus deaths in Syria’s conflict. This is the accusation that Jon Snow of Channel 4 levels at Bouthaina Shaaban, Bashar al Assad’s media advisor:

Shaaban argues that the war is not the fault of the Syrian government. Terrorists are coming for all over the world with the support of western governments. Her point is difficult to deny unless we ignore this evidence of a US plan to take down several Middle East countries including Syria:

1. First testimony from General Wesley Clark that Syria was on a list of seven countries that the US planned to overthrow:

2. Testimony for former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas that the UK was involved in plotting against the Syrian government:

3. US Vice President Joe Biden says that Daesh (Isis/Isil) was created through funding and support from America’s allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. He suggests that they have now seen the danger and have stopped funding Daesh and the more extreme armed opposition, that they are now in alliance with the US to stop Daesh. Still he says:

“Our allies in the region are our largest problem in Syria.”

4. General Michael Flynn a former US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) chief admits that his agency in 2012 concluded that the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda in Iraq were the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria and that in 2012 the US was helping coordinate arms transfers to those same groups.

Flynn believes that the US should have supported the Free Syrian Army (FSA) more strongly at the beginning of the insurgency and that it was the failure to do so that led to the insurgency becoming dominated by these ‘more extreme’ elements. Flynn admits the US intention to bring down the Syrian state and implies that he shared this intention but he is critical of the Obama administration for failing to take more robust action earlier and for then supporting the extremists.

It is wholly evident that it is the US and its allies rather than the Assad administration that are primarily responsible for the conflict and its consequences for Syria and Syrian people. But the mainstream media narrative is that the US is interested only in preventing an impending humanitarian disaster being perpetrated by Assad and his allies. This Vox video is typical of that narrative:

But the narrative, always threadbare, has been exposed by commentators like Ben Swan:

As independent journalists like Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett and Anglican priest Andrew Ashdown report from Aleppo we hear from people who have been held hostage by the so called rebels. They tell horror stories of their treatment under the terrorists and thank the Syrian Arab Army for their liberation. We see video after video of Aleppo citizens celebrating:

Eventually the joy of Syrians at the liberation is undeniable. We see Syrian Christians celebrating Christmas together with Syrian Muslims.

10 facts the government doesn’t want you to know about Syria

I found this article ‘published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence’ by Ian Sinclair on the Open Democracy UK site and decided to republish it here.

Following the Paris terrorist attacks on 13 November 2015, the British government has got its wish to join the air campaign against Islamic State (IS or ISIS) in Syria, winning the parliamentary vote on 2 December 2015.

With many of the government’s dubious assertions often either repeated or not examined by the media, in addition to the government choosing not to relay inconvenient information, here is a list of ten key facts that are essential to understanding the West’s involvement in Syria.

Fact 1: The West has been involved in the Syrian conflict since 2012

The dominant narrative, repeatedly pushed by the liberal media, is that the West has declined to get involved in the Syrian conflict, its inaction leading to the conflict escalating out of control.

In the real world the US started helping to arm the Syrian rebels trying to overthrow the Syrian government from summer 2012 onwards. By March 2013 the New York Times was quoting experts who said these arms shipments totalled 3,500 tons of military equipment. Citing Jordanian security sources, in the same month the Guardian reported that US, UK and French personnel were training Syrian rebels in Jordan. Later that year the New York Times noted that US and UK intelligence services were secretly working with Saudi Arabia to deliver weapons to the rebels. The US and UK cooperation with Saudi Arabia was covert, the report explained, because “American and British intelligence and Arab governments… do not want their support publicly known”. By June 2015 US officials told the Washington Post that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had trained and equipped 10,000 Syrian rebels at a cost of $1bn.

Fact 2: The West has known that extremists were prominent in the Syrian insurgency, and that the arms they sent into Syria have often ended up in the hands of extremists, since 2012

After “extensive interviews with Syria policymakers from the Obama Administration” McClatchy’s
Hannah Allam recently noted the Obama Administration “was warned early on [in 2012] that al Qaida-linked fighters were gaining prominence within the anti-Assad struggle.”

Despite this, from 2012 the US has given a wink and a nod to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to support the Syrian rebels. This use of proxies has continued despite it being clear since at least October 2012 that arms provided by Qatar and Saudi Arabia were going to hardline Islamic jihadists – a  front page New York Times headline stating ‘Rebel Arms Flow is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria’.

What is essential to understand here is that the US already knew Qatar had a predilection for
arming extremists, following the December 2012 New York Times online headline: ‘US-Approved Arms for Libya Rebels Fell Into Jihadis’ Hands’. Quoting US officials and foreign diplomats, the report summarises: “The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants”. US officials were aware of this “Within weeks of endorsing Qatar’s plan to send weapons there in spring 2011”, the New York Times notes.

Fact 3: The US has encouraged ‘moderate’ rebel groups to work with the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and has probably knowingly supported jihadis itself

In May 2015, Charles Lister, a leading expert on the Syrian insurgency, wrote about the US-led operations room in southern Turkey which co-ordinates the lethal support given to opposition groups in Syria, noting the US-led operations room “specifically encouraged a closer co-operation with Islamists commanding frontline operations,” including the Nusra Front. Furthermore, in July 2015 the New York Times reported that although the US-trained Division 30 Syrian rebels were attacked by the Nusra Front when they entered Syria after their training, US officials said “they expected the Nusra Front to welcome Division 30 as an ally in its fight against the Islamic State.”
In addition, a formerly classified US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) report from 2012 noted that “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI (al-Qaida in Iraq) are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” The next sentence of the report is as follows: “The West, Gulf countries and Turkey support the opposition”. US support for “the crazies” in Syria was confirmed by General Michael T Flynn, the Director of the DIA from 2012-14, in an interview with journalist Mehdi Hasan on Al-Jazeera in July 2015.

Fact 4: The West has prolonged the fighting and blocked a peaceful solution to the conflict

According to the prime minister’s official response to the Foreign Affairs Select
Committee report on UK military action in Syria ,“since the start of the crisis the UK has worked for a political solution in Syria”.

In reality, by arming and training the Syrian opposition the West has helped to intensify and prolong the conflict. In May 2013 Julien Barnes-Dacey and Daniel Levy of the European Council on Foreign Relations warned the “Western arming of rebels is ill-advised given its… encouragement of escalation and maximalism”. In the same month Dr Christopher Phillips, an Associate Fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, noted that arming the rebels “will likely exacerbate and prolong the civil war”. More than two years later in October 2015 the New York Times noted that increased levels of US support to the rebels (and Russian support
to the Syrian government) “have raised morale on both sides of the conflict, broadening war aims and hardening political positions, making a diplomatic settlement all the more unlikely.”

In addition, Avi Shlaim, Professor Emeritus at Oxford University, recently explained that Western insistence that Syrian president Bashar Assad must step down sabotaged Kofi Annan’s UN efforts to set up a peace deal and forced Kofi Annan to resign. Hugh Roberts, the former Director of the North Africa Project at the International Crisis Group, echoes this analysis: “The Western powers… sabotaged the efforts of the UN special envoys, Kofi Annan and then Lakhdar Brahimi, to broker a political compromise that would have ended the fighting”, he wrote in the London Review of Books. Roberts concludes that “Western policy has been a disgrace and Britain’s contribution to it should be a matter of national shame.”

Fact 5: The West has helped to create the conditions in Syria and Iraq that have allowed IS to grow and prosper

The role of the US-UK invasion and occupation of Iraq in the rise of IS is relatively well known. But very few people make the connection between Western intervention in Syria and the growth of IS. In August 2014, the Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn, argued that the “US government as a whole – and foreign powers steer away from one very crucial aspect of the rise of ISIS, which is that in Syria, the West backed the uprising against President Assad, and still does, and this enabled ISIS to develop, gain military experience and then use it back in Iraq.”

This is because, as two former NATO Secretary-Generals, Javier Solana and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, warned in June 2013: “Rather than secure humanitarian space and empower a political transition, Western military engagement in Syria is likely to provoke further escalation on all sides, deepening the civil war and strengthening the forces of extremism, sectarianism and criminality gaining strength across the country.” [my emphasis added] The Executive Director of the women’s human rights organisation MADRE, Yifat Susskind, agrees, noting in May 2013 that: “Funnelling more arms to the [Syrian] opposition would fuel their brutal battle tactics, intensify the war, and further diminish chances of a democratic outcome for Syria.”

Fact 6: The West’s allies in the region have been supporting extremists in Syria, including IS

As mentioned above, the West, as well as working closely with its allies in the region – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar – to arm the rebels, has also allowed them to support the more extreme Syrian rebel groups. US Vice-President Joe Biden said in October 2014: “Our allies in the region were our largest problem”. Referring to Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, Biden explained “They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially
have a proxy Sunni-Shia war. What did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad; except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and Al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world”.

According to an August 2014 article in the Washington Post, Turkey “rolled out the red carpet” to Islamic State and other jihadists fighting the Syrian Government. Wounded jihadists from IS and the Nusra Front were treated
at Turkish hospitals while Turkish border towns became way stations for moving foreign fighters and arms into Syria. IS “were able to grow in power partly by using the border region of a NATO member – Turkey – as a strategically vital supply route and entry point to wage their war”, the Washington Post notes. Similarly, the Guardian’s Martin Chulov reported in November 2015 that “over the past two years several senior ISIS
members have told the Guardian that Turkey preferred to stay out of their way and rarely tackled them directly.”

Fact 7: Western airstrikes in Syria and Iraq have killed hundreds of civilians

Speaking to the House of Commons, the prime minister said there has been “no reports of civilian casualties” from the more than 300 UK airstrikes in Iraq on IS. The government’s claim was helpfully repeated by Labour MP Dan Jarvis and the media, with Iain Dale arguing the French airstrikes immediately after the attacks in Paris “targeted the training camps. So they are not targeting civilians. If you look at the number of civilian deaths from American and French airstrikes they are very, very small.”

Contrast Jarvis’s and Dale’s wishful thinking with the recent Mirror report that noted “Anti-ISIS activists in Syria claim a stadium, a museum, medical clinics and a political building have been hit after France launched airstrikes in retaliation for the Paris terror attack”. More broadly, in August 2015 Air Wars, an organisation run by a team of independent journalists, estimated that the 5,700 air strikes against IS in Syria and Iraq has killed more than 450 civilians, including more than 100 children.

Fact 8: Western bombing of IS is counterproductive and has likely boosted recruitment to the group

In his official response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on UK military action in Syria, the prime minister stated: “I believe that we should now take the decision to extend British airstrikes against ISIL into Syria, as an integral part of our comprehensive strategy to degrade ISIL and reduce the threat it poses to us.”

The problem with this argument is that Western bombing, as Professor of Peace Studies Paul Rogers explains, plays into IS’s narrative that it is the guardian of Islam under attack from “crusader” forces. Jurgen Todenhofer, a German author who spent ten days with IS in 2014, argues that Western airstrikes “will fill ISIS fighters with joy”, with the inevitable civilian casualties that come from bombing drawing in fresh recruits for their cause. James Comey, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), concurs, telling Congress in September 2014 that US bombing of IS in Iraq had increased support for the group.

This helps to explain why although “the US-led bombing campaign has killed an estimated 20,000 Islamic State fighters”, according to senior US military official quoted in an October 2015 USA Today report, IS’s “overall force… remains about where it was when the bombing started: 20,000 to 30,000 fighters.”

Fact 9: Western airstrikes will likely contribute to the refugee crisis

In his official response to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on UK military action in Syria,
the prime minister expressed concern that “Half the population of Syria have been forced to flee their homes” with “over 4 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries” and “a further 6.5 million people are displaced inside the country”.

However, in November 2015 a group of Middle East specialists from the University of Oxford and the School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) urged the government to reflect on whether the UK joining the air campaign in Syria will “impact on the refugee crisis.” Neil Quilliam, the acting head of the
Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House, was blunter in his warning, noting that “there is a significant risk that, by increasing the violence through airstrikes, the UK will further contribute to the flow of refugees from Syria”. As was Melanie Ward, the Associate Director at the International Rescue Committee, who said an upsurge in air strikes in Syria “inevitably risks” an increase in people fleeing the conflict.

Fact 10: The Government’s claim that there are 70,000 moderate Syrian rebels willing to work with the West is completely bogus

According to the prime minister’s official response to the Foreign Affairs Select
Committee report on UK military action in Syria “there are about 70,000 Syrian opposition fighters on the ground who do not belong to extremist groups.”

The Guardian reported that this claim “prompted an awkward stand-off” in the Commons Defence Committee, with the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff refusing to provide a
breakdown of which groups made up the 70,000 figure. Pressed by committee chair Julian Lewis MP to identify the groups, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MP replied feebly: “We will certainly reflect on that.” With pressure mounting The Times revealed the Ministry of Defence had warned the prime minister against claiming there were 70,000 moderate rebels ready to fight IS, fearing it would echo Tony Blair’s ‘dodgy dossier’.

After travelling to Cairo, Amman and Beirut as a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi argued that the government figure of 70,000 “must be treated with caution.” According to the military experts she met while on the official trip, there would be a struggle to find 20,000, she said.

Cockburn believes the existence of 70,000 moderate Syrian rebels willing to work with the West in fighting IS “is very debatable”. David Wearing, a Lecturer and Researcher on the Middle East at SOAS agrees, calling it “a completely nonsense number”. Professor Joshua Landis, the Director of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, is also dismissive, as is Aymenn al-Tamimi, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum and specialist on the Syrian insurgency. Tamimi, according to Cockburn, warns that rebel groups “commonly exaggerate their numbers, are very fragmented and have
failed to unite, despite years of war.” Furthermore he notes that the rebel groups often pretend to the outside world to be more moderate than they actually are.

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