On May 26th, the world woke to the horrors of the Houla Massacre committed in Syria by pro-Assad militias. This barbaric crime was harsh reminder to the terrors of this now 15- month conflict. Between 10,000 to 13,000 lives have been lost since the conflict started; the numbers are only going to increase the country slowly propels towards civil war.

The UN reports that 108 people were killed in the massacre. In particular, it was the brutal murder of 49 children and 34 women that outraged the world. One could not have expected the barbarism and savagery to reach levels this ruthless. Gunmen attacked the most vulnerable people to terrorize the population, attacking them at close range and sparing no one.

11-year old Ali El-Sayed’s family was exterminated before him. He survived to tell the story by pretending to be dead, being soaked in the blood of his six year old brother, while gunmen went on their murderous rampage. His is just one of thousands of unimaginable horror stories; most of which we will never get to hear. Some media outlets went as far as publishing images of corpses of the dead children, with hopes of ‘shocking us’ as one editor explained. With the world falling deaf to the screams of Syrian victims, perhaps such measures are necessary to wake us all up.

It is perhaps to the credit of these journalists that international reaction to the massacre was swift and loud. Syrian diplomats have since been expelled from numerous Western nations including the US, UK and Canada. The UN Security Council unanimously condemned the Syrian government; China and Russia agreeing on a resolution to the conflict for the first time. Even Syria’s long time supporters felt embarrassed standing by the tyrannical regime for once. Though, both nations continue to oppose tougher sanctions against Syria.

The world has expressed its disgust with the atrocious crime that took place. But will Bahar al-Assad face any repercussions? Robert Fisk thinks he will get away. Assad got away with Deraa and Homs; and he will get away with Houla too. Fisk argues that the Middle-East is littered with a hundred Houlas with ‘their dead children piled among the statistics, with knives and ropes as well as guns among the murder weapons’. It was Bashar’s Uncle Rafat’s Special Forces that carried out the massacre of insurgents in Hama in 1982. Today, the he lives between London and Paris – what is to say Assad would be in any different a position?

The Future of Syria

Everyone agrees that something needs to be done about the worsening situation in Syria; what exactly, no body’s sure. The UN special convoy’s peace plan brokered by Kofi Annan in March has ended in catastrophic failure with none of its conditions being met. It echoes the failure of similar plans in Bosnia and Rwanda; it has actually given political cover to a regime that continues its brutality without fail. As Philip Gourevitch explains, Annan’s plan ‘is another soap bubble, and the U.N. military observers who are supposed to monitor it are useless—or worse: when the butchery began in Houla, the regime told the U.N. monitors to stay away, which they did, bringing back bad memories, from the mid-nineties, of the false promises of protection that were extended, under the U.N. flag, to the people of Bosnia and Rwanda before they were abandoned to their killers’.

Congressman Keith Ellison too feels the UN peace plan has failed. He called for the international community to establish a ‘safe zone’ in Turkey that would protect fleeing Syrians; even if it means having to proceed without support from China and Russia. This safe zone will be protected by military forces, including those of the US, and would strike back if faced with regression from Syrian forces. The UN Security Council can play a much stronger role but its arms are paralyzed by Russian and China. Vladimir Putin’s minster stated that there would be no mingling with Syria’s internal affairs and that any military intervention would be premature.

Washington Post called for a stronger US leadership in mitigating the conflict. They too called for establishment of safe zones along or inside Syria’s border – which are to be guarded with the help of Turkish forces. So far the States has acted like a helpless player and has continued to pin the blame on Russia and China. With two on going conflicts in the Middle-East and an upcoming presidential election, a US led military intervention is unlikely. Nor is there any reason to assume they would be welcomed by the Arabs or hailed as liberators if any positive outcome ensues. A situation like that in Afghanistan is more likely to immerge in the case of such an intervention.

Turkey, along with Arab allies, who have a more favourable position in the region need to step up and play a more active role in stabilizing the conflict. Instead of waiting for the West to play its political and bureaucratic games, it is time for them take on leadership of that region and answer the call of the Syrian people. These initiatives need to be backed by Western powers and supported by any means possible. It is unlikely that such an initiative will take place, but it is one that would be likely welcomed.

The savagery demonstrated in Houla Massacre sends the message that nothing is off limits, nothing is sacred and nothing remains inviolable. It is this type of ruthlessness and disregard for divinely ordained sanctity that every tyrant has an eventual downfall. It will not be long before Bashar Assad will be humiliated and ousted – the question is how and when. Let us hope that those in power can learn from history and prevent catastrophes of the past from reoccurring. For the rest of us, dua is our main weapon. Please keep the people of Syria in your prayers.

First published June 1st 


The Israeli propaganda machine is in full swing this time of the year. Israel’s image as the ‘only liberal democracy in the Middle East’ continues to be tarnished as Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) and BDS (Boycotts, Divestments, Sanctions) grow as a grass roots movements on campuses across the globe. Israel’s positive image in the North American psyche is the one thing which has allowed it to continue its brutality against the Palestinians without any backlash from the general public. The fact that its image is slowly undergoing a seismic shift shakes Israel to the core.

Israel’s nervousness and isolation is best indicated by the attempts to counter this movement. It has organized massive public relation campaigns, initiated events such as Israel Peace Week and has sent out delegations on speaking tours all over the world. Condemnation of IAW pour in from right-wing politicians and media outlets continue to brand the event as a hate fest which is rooted in misinformation and anti-Semitism.

All this comes at a time when informed commentators agree that Israel implements a system of apartheid. A recent report by the United Nations concluded that Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories ‘exhibit features of colonialism and apartheid’. B’Tasleem, Israel’s leading human rights organization, published in its report Land Grab that Israel ‘has created a system of legally sanctioned separation based on discrimination that has, perhaps, no parallel any where in the world since the apartheid regime of South Africa’. The Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa also concluded in its legal study that Israel is guilty of apartheid crimes.

Why use ‘apartheid’ ?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a multi-faceted one. At the core of it lies an illegal occupation coupled with innumerable human rights violations, war crimes, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, colonialism and apartheid. Solidarity activists of the past largely focused their struggle around ending the occupation, human rights violations and state-sponsored terrorism.

Focusing on the apartheid nature of the occupation represents a newer strategy in the movement, and perhaps the most effective one to date. This is a dimension of the conflict which was ignored largely in the past; partially because it is something which has developed overtime. It is the aspect of the conflict which affects Palestinians everyday.  Apartheid is a term which stirs strong emotions in the Western psyche; by exposing Israel as a perpetrator of this crime one has a much higher chance of changing public opinion towards the Zionist state. This has also allowed activists to structure their strategies in a similar fashion to the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980’s. The apartheid policies of South Africa ended shortly after US withdrew its support for the regime. By forcing our governments to change their unequivocal support of Israel, we have the greatest chance of aiding an end to the conflict.

Israeli Apartheid Week is a unique (and proud!) Canadian contribution to the Palestinian solidarity movement. It started off in 2005 at the University of Toronto by a group of dedicated student activists. It was shortly followed by the BDS Call (Boycotts, Divestments, Sanctions) made by 170 Palestinian civil societies. Through lectures, protests, concerts and film screenings, this week is dedicated to raising awareness about the atrocities being committed against the Palestinian people. It also focuses on measures that can be employed by average citizens to help end Israeli apartheid. The event is now organized on university campuses in over a 100 cities across the globe.

Success of the anti-apartheid movement for South Africa was rooted in educating the public about this inhumane system. Given the lack of knowledge about this issue amongst the masses and to emulate former movement, this series will seek to inform people about what apartheid is, why it applies to Israel and how we can help fight it.

Next Post: What is Apartheid?

First published on March 30th, 2012 


On the second day of his inauguration, President Obama signed executive orders calling for the closure of Guantanamo Bay within a year. Three years later and as his first term approaches an end, the notorious detention facility, illegal by international standards, remains open with no signs of a closure.

Guantanamo Bay violates every possible standard laid out for an imprisonment facility; hence the rationale for building it on a naval base in Cuba. It denies prisoners protections guaranteed by the Geneva conventions, holds them indefinitely without laying charges and effectively bars them from having any chances at a fair trial.

Injustice and lies are the foundational pillars that hold up Guntanamo Bay. Prisoners at the facility are subjected to unprecedented forms of torture. This includes solitary confinement, forced feedings, sexual abuse, waterboarding and beatings. Many inmates have tried to commit suicide; six have so far have succeeded. Lakhdar Boumedine, who went on a hunger strike and was held for seven years without explanation, recalled: “Twice each day my captors would shove a tube up my nose, down my throat and into my stomach so they could pour food into me”.

Murat Kurnaz of Germany was captured while in Pakstian studying the religious sciences and wrongly detained for five years. He explained: ‘There were more beatings, endless solitary confinement, freezing temperatures and extreme heat, days of forced sleeplessness”. An FBI agent once observed that, “On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more”. What is sickening is that abuse at other U.S. detention facilities, such as Abu Ghraib and Bagram, is far worse.

Many of the ‘war combatants’ at the facility have been innocent civilians with no evidence of terrorist activities. They were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time and were caught while fleeing the invasion of Afghanistan. The Tipton Three and many others fall in this category. Some were simply handed over to the Americans based on shady evidence in return for thousands of dollars. Kurnaz was an example of this.

Since most of the inmates at the facility are Muslims, religious persecution has been a complaint as well. There have been horror stories of Qurans being defaced and flushed down toilets. Prisoners have been reprimanded for praying in congregation. Some even reported attempts by guards to get them to renounce their religion.

Civil liberty groups rejoiced as Obama came into office, but his efforts to actually shut down Gitmo are laughable. The President has since signed executive orders that formalize the indefinite detention of prisoners at the facility. To top up the Patriot Act, he also added new provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act that codify the indefinite detention of American citizens suspected of terrorism. The NDAA also forbids the government from using money to build a new prison or to bring detainees to the U.S., even to face trial. This virtually ends any possibility of shutting down the prison and effectively builds on the detention scheme laid out by the Bush administration.

This establishment creates a two tiered justice system; one for the bad and one for the worst. The irony is, many times the evidence against the latter is so poor that it is insufficient to lay charges or bring them to trial. Guantanamo Bay is an apparatus that gives Americans satisfaction that the perpetrators of terrorism are being punished and their country is secure. This comes at the high cost of sacrifices in human rights, civil liberties and rule of law,not to mention the millions of tax dollars spent on it.

Once the beacon of freedom, liberty and justice; America is slowly losing her status as the bastion of democracy. Illegal wars, extra judicial killings, arrests of innocent civilians, opportunist and hypocritical foreign policies all add to the abuses going on at Guantanamo Bay. Ten years past 9/11 and after the killing of Osama Bin Laden, there are no signs of an end to this disgraceful institution.

Action Item:
Amnesty Internatinal Petition : End Detention at Gitmo

More information:

Guantanamo: By the Numbers
Notes From a Guantánamo Survivor


Updated version of this post on MuslimMatters

As the Middle East continues to be enveloped in political turmoil and media outlets bombard us constantly with new information, I for one had started to become desensitized to the gravity of the situation there. As sad as it sounds, after a while the stories about dreadful combat and war just become headlines you skim over. However, I was reminded of the harsh reality of the human struggle in Bahrain when I heard the heart breaking story of Zainab al-Khawaja.

Zainab al Khawaja is the daughter of a prominent Bahraini human rights activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. Her father has been instrumental in reporting human right abuses in Bahrain and has been in an outspoken advocate of civil rights and democracy. He recently also spoke about putting the Bahraini king on trial for perpetrating widespread corruption and crime.

About two weeks ago, security forces stormed Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja’s house and arrested him after savagely brutalizing him in front of his family. He was repeatedly beaten and was pounded to the point of unconsciousness; all this despite him offering to surrender voluntarily. When Zainab and her family tried to interfere, the women were thrust aside and her husband and brother-in-law were beaten up and arrested as well. This incident happened only after three weeks of Zainab’s uncle being arrested in a similar fashion.

Having not heard a word about her family’s whereabouts for three days, Zainab’s desperation led her to take extreme measures. In order to protest this injustice and to bring the world’s attention to her cause she decided to go on a hunger strike. She marked the beginning of her hunger strike with an open letter to the President of the United States posted on her blog, AngryArabiya.

Western powers have been opportunistic as usual when it comes to opposing regimes on humanitarian grounds. Zainab in her letter addresses President Obama and pleads to withdraw his support of the monarchy in Bahrain. If he is vocal in speaking out and helping the humanitarian cause in Libya, then at the very least he should quit supporting the Bahraini dictator she argued. Intervention from the West is based on interest, not principle it appears.

Zainab’s cause did gain reasonable attention, perhaps not as much as it deserved though. The story was blogged around and reported on websites of many major news outlets including The NewYork Times, The Guardian and BBC; I myself heard her narrative on CBC Radio. Her determination inspired hundreds of people in Bahrain, USA and Saudi Arabia who went on hunger strike to protest as well.

Suffering from extreme weakness, Zainab ended her hunger strike on its 10th day after persuasion from human right groups who wanted her to continue speaking and fighting. She also heard from her father for the first time; almost two weeks since the arrest. He called her and requested clothes for his trial; when asked about his situation he responded simply, ‘the oppression is great’. When lawyers, human rights groups and Zainab’s family went for her father’s trial they were turned away and were told they had no such person in custody. Zainab is still waiting to meet her father.

Zainab’s struggle, or her jihad, serves as a role model for those wanting to fight injustice and protest Western foreign policy. Her non-violent methodology has proved to be far more successful and demonstrates that civil disobedience, though not as dramatic, can still be quite effective and inspirational.


After hearing about the crazy protests in Toronto this Saturday, I decided to take a stroll downtown on Sunday to take a look at the damage that was done and to see if I could get a glimpse of the action myself. Things of that magnitude never happen in Canada so it was a once in a life time opportunity. I’ve never really been to a protest or witnessed vandalism of that sort so curiosity dragged me to the core of Toronto where the G20 was happening.

My bag was thoroughly searched as soon as I got out of Union station; apparently the police was given full permission to go through everyone’s stuff. I started walking around to see if any protests were going on. The downtown area was pretty much empty around 4:30pm, with the exception of a small group of people protesting by King and Bay. They were just sitting in a circle peacefully surrounded by police; there wasn’t much action there. I then starting walking North. The vandalism from yesterday was still quite apparent; windows of nearly every other store were smashed up till Dundas Street. The Eaton Center was almost empty; nothing like what you’d normally see on a Sunday. I made my way up to Queens Park and it was deserted too. ‘I missed all the action’ I thought to myself. After surveying most of the downtown core, I started walking back to Union station to head home.

I saw a girl handcuffed and being questioned by a few cops on University Avenue as I was heading back. I decided to stand and watch what was going on. All of sudden this officer turns around and yells at me, ‘What the hell you doing standing behind my back you creep!! Get back!! Do you know this girl??!! This is none of your business! Get Back you Creep!!’. I was infuriated at the unnecessary rudeness demonstrated by this officer but there wasn’t much I could do. ‘Try being a little nicer’ I whispered. Two cops came up to me and started searching my backpack (this was the third time now) and questioning me. I protested when the officer pulled out my journal and started skimming through my notes, ‘So you guys are just gonna violate our basic right today’ I said. He bluntly responded, ‘Right now, you have no rights’. I was about to experience that statement in full force a few minutes later.

I was ready to go back home after this quick confrontation with the police. However, walking back I saw a large group of protestors rallying westward on Queen Street. I got a little excited and quickly joined them. There must have been over a thousand odd people, it was a pretty large group. After walking with the group for a few blocks I started to realize that most of the people weren’t really protesting anything significant. I heard them chant random things such as ‘Whose Streets? Our Streets!’ every once in while; only a few people actually had banners and signs. Majority of the crowd comprised of curious young adults and teenagers walking along peacefully and taking pictures; trying to be a part of the G20 experience. I’d say may be about 50-100 people were actually a part of the protest, the rest were random folks like myself who just wanted to check out what was happening.

The ‘protestors’ were finally stopped by a wall of police officers and their bikes at Queen and Spadina. We couldn’t go forward or turn southward on Spadina. I don’t really know what the police wanted us to do. The protestors started chanting, ‘Let us through! Let us through!’ but the police wouldn’t budge. People settled down in the middle of the intersection and starting protesting in various ways. One guy started throwing out monopoly money in the crowd while dancing with a boom box on his shoulders, thus symbolizing the money wasted on this summit. Another guy was holding a sign that read ‘Everything is OK!’. He would go up to the police ocassionaly and say things like, ‘Are you guys a fan of oppression?!’ and ‘You guys need to quit your jobs and start doing something more meaningful with your lives!’. Others just sat around in circles and sang songs like ‘We shall over come…’ and ‘Oh Canada’. There were journalists taking video footage and reporting live from the scene. With the exception of the southbound traffic being blocked on Spadina, everything was very peaceful. It was quite the party actually.

After about fifteen minutes our so we started noticing riot police arrive in their vans in the distance; it was about 6 pm at this point. They parked on the south side of Spadina. People started booing and expressed disappointment, ‘Oh Right, cuz we are just that scary’ one protester exclaimed. After about 10 minutes they quickly marched up and instantaneously replaced the regular police officers and their bikes. Their sheer presence was intimidating and I got a little frightened. I decided I was going to head back. Some protestors continued and chanted, ‘You’re sexy! You’re cute! Take off your riot suit!’ Only a few minutes later another group of riot police marched up from behind the first group in their usual robotic swagger and quickly blocked off the eastern end of Queen Street. They pushed and knocked over innocent bystanders as they did so. We were blocked from three sides now. I was only thinking about heading northwards when I saw another group block the North end of the intersection. Th intersection at Queen and Spadina was blocked off from all four corners now.

Panic was in the air at this time as most of the people were just innocent bystanders and curious onlookers checking out the protest. It wasn’t fun and games any more. Police in riot gear are scary as hell and to top that they were screaming and yelling at us, telling us to move back while banging on their shields with the batons and marching forward. Amongst those corralled were journalists, seniors, young teenagers and dogs. Most people just wanted to get out of there but there were no options. Tensions were running high. I heard some people started to cry out of fear and anxiety. The officer in command went around telling the police, ‘If they cross the line, they are under arrest’.

We asked the riot police how we could get out. Many of them were just as clueless as we were and some told us to just calm down and they’ll soon give us a way out. I thought this was their way of breaking up the crowd and clearing the intersection; it worked fairly well as we were pushed to the sides and the intersection was cleared up in just a few minutes. I figured they’d let us go soon. All of a sudden I saw a group of 4 or 5 officers violently jump one guy from the crowd and took him in. He was pinned against the floor and handcuffed. I figured he might be one of the violent protesters they were searching for from yesterday. A few minutes later another guy was taken in, not as violently this time. This procedure was repeated several times. So much so that at one point it seemed that they were doing it completely randomly; if you were close enough they’d grab you. I decided to stand as far as I could from the frontline where they were snatching people.

After about an hour or so, rumors started spreading around in the crowd that we were all under arrest. I was horrified when I heard the news. Will I have a criminal record now? That’s gonna ruin my future I thought. How am I going to tell my folks at home where I am? My mum would freak if I told her I got arrested. How am I gonna explain my absence from work? What will my manager think? All these thoughts were running wild in my head as I stood there helplessly waiting. I was beginning to regret my decision to come downtown. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, it started raining cats and dogs. I don’t think it has ever rained as hard. It continued to pour and pour. Some people had umbrellas and others didn’t. Luckily I had mine and a group of people flocked under it as soon as I held it up.

There were several media personnel from stations such as CP24, CTV and 680 News. This gave me some hope as I thought they’d get us out of here; however after sometime most of these people had disappeared. Either they too were arrested or were allowed to leave because of their special name tags, I don’t quite know. I started asking the riot police for updates and they confirmed the rumors about all of us being arrested. They told us that they only quick way to get out of the rain was to voluntarily get arrested; they’ll eventually come get all of us anyways. About two hours later several people lined up and voluntarily turned themselves in out of desperation. I too thought about doing the same but later decided against it, ‘they’ll have to come get me if they want me’ I told myself.

The crowd was slowly shrinking. People were hungry, cold and wet; many feared they’d contract hypothermia. The rain wouldn’t stop and the cops weren’t making things easy. No official instructions were given to us and we weren’t told what they were going to do with us. All the information received was either rumors or information individuals received after inquiring with some officers which was later spread around. Many officers wouldn’t even answer questions. At one point they stopped arresting volunteers. We were told that there wasn’t any room to put us and they were waiting for buses to come that would take us to the detention centre. I saw buses arrive at around 8:45 pm. Some were TTC streetcars and others were large Greyhound style buses.

At one point even the riot police put their guards down. They started chatting and joking around with those that were corralled; even they recognized that something wasn’t right. By this time people had made new friends within the crowd. I met this poor woman who was on a lunch break from work and got stuck here. People continued complaining about how their rights were violated and how they’d sue the city as soon as they got out. Many compared the treatment to that of the Nazi’s. I soon realized that this experience was a slight preview into the lives of those that are oppressed around the world. The Palestinians go through oppression far worse than this on a daily basis. This feeling of complete helplessness and subjugation is something I’ve never experienced. I thank God for the freedoms he’s blessed us with in this land.

At about 9:40 pm, over 3 hours after this episode began an officer came out and made an inaudible announcement. Shortly after, the riot police magically dispersed and those remaining in the crowd were allowed to go free. There were still around 100 odd people left. The crowd dispersed immediately and people started running home as soon as they were released. Bystanders clapped and cheered us on as we made our way out; we felt like heroes. There were reporters standing outside filming us and taking interviews, I even managed to make my way onto live television. It was quite the moment.

I came looking for an adventure and I got more than what I asked for. In the five hours that I spent in Toronto, I’ve learned lessons worth a lifetime. Its hard to believe that things of this nature could happen in a free democratic state like Canada; I’ve learned to not take our freedom for granted. As frustrastring as the situation was, I must say that the experience was certianly unforgettable. I returned home, tired yet thankful, only to hear the ‘I told you so’ lecture conveniently prepared by my mother.

More on this :
The National Post
The Star
Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Report – see page 4
Blog TO