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The Solidarity Collective: The beginning of dialogue

Solidarity Collective | 26.11.2013 02:54 | Analysis | Education | Repression | Liverpool | London

The Solidarity Collective was been brought together in difficult circumstances, following what we believe to be attacks on freedom of speech, expression and association within wider activist networks.

We feel that we must contribute to the debate about the inclusion of Mother Agnes at a Stop The War Coalition event in London. Following the threats to withdraw by Jeremy Scahill and Owen Jones, Mother Agnes has removed herself from the panel. We have been watching this story develop since Sunday 17th of November. Unlike others we have thoroughly researched the issues and showed restraint in responding, avoiding reacting in a knee jerk fashion. This is our position- taking into account all the facts we have managed to establish.
The ‘No Platform’ strategy by proxy is totally unacceptable and although not all of us in the collective would endorse the views of Mother Agnes we defend her right to express them. Having spent a number of days researching Mother Agnes and her involvement in Syria, we could find nothing to suggest she is pro-Assad. In fact when researching, we found an open letter, published in a newspaper, addressed to President Assad, which was highly critical of the regimes treatment of prisoners and injured. Even if she was, we believe she still has the right to her opinion. We are not advocating support for either side. We are saying that there is clearly a pro-intervention/pro-war agenda at work and we cannot stand by and not raise our voices to support the right of Freedom of Speech.
Our concern for the suppression of Freedom of Speech is the very issue that brought us together. Similar to the attacks on an anti-war activist at the Anarchist Bookfair and the Chelsea Manning Fund Raising event, ( in this case a considerable level of disinformation and lies, which are being reported on and exposed by Indymedia. With that in mind we are calling on activists to question everything before they make up their own minds. It may be worth noting that these attacks on activists, which have been going on for a number of years, may be being manipulated by state players who are certainly benefitting from the attendant angst and discrediting of the movement.
We fully support the brave move by the London Catholic Worker group based at Guiseppe Conlon House who have invited Mother Agnes to a meeting during their retreat. It is only when we are fully informed on the Syrian conflict by those who live daily with the consequences that we will be be in a position to make decisions.
Mother Agnes-Mariam de la Croix is an unlikely target for left-wingers and anti-war activists. As the head of the Musalaha (‘reconciliation’) organisation in Syria she was a key figure in orchestrating the evacuation of 5,000 (mainly women and children) from the besieged town of Moadamiya on 13th October 2013 which involved great personal risk in having to secure the trust of both government forces and leaders of the Free Syrian Army. Historically, she has been critical of the government generally as well as condemning violence from both sides of the struggle but defends their right to retain power over Syria as she fears instability, the potential subversion of a revolution by foreign powers and, fundamentally, cannot condone the violent means used by the rebels.
However on 16th November 2013 Mother Agnes was compelled to write to the Stop the War Coalition withdrawing her participation in their anti-war conference in response to threats they had received from prominent journalists Owen Jones and Jeremy Scahill to refuse to attend unless she was dropped from the speakers list. Their actions appear to have been prompted initially by tweets from Muhammed Idrees Ahmad and his Pulse Media site urging them to undertake the course they have embarked upon. He has been strident from the outset of the Syrian conflict in support of Western intervention. Left wing media in the UK has also been subject to an insidious deluge of propaganda questioning the validity of her accounts of the conflict, what her position is and her involvement with the Assad regime. A marvellous smear campaign as designed by Michael D Weiss has done much to further the cause of promoting her as an Assad apologist and all round devious character. Incidentally some of the highlights of his CV are as follows: former director of Zionist pressure group Just Journalism whose stated concerns included ‘how Israel and Middle East issues are reported in UK media’, former fellow at Neo-Conservative war lobby think-tank Henry Jackson Society, he is a lead rebel advocate with Now Lebanon and also the author of proposals for US intervention for the Syrian opposition.
Much of the slander is sustained by her self proclaimed mission to provide what she believes are the true narratives of the conflict which are routinely, she says, misrepresented in global media. One such incident is the August 21st 2013 chemical attack in Damascus. The accepted truth as ‘assessed’ by the US government is that the attack was carried out by the Assad Regime. There was a threat of mass-resignation of CIA workers who refused to have their names attached to the document published pertaining to this ‘fact’. Mother Agnes as well as some credible impartial sources insist that it is much more likely that this was a rebel attack.
Surely, if anything, the contentiousness of her pronouncements underpin the importance of her attendance at the Stop the War event? Never mind the fact that she may well be well informed due to the fact of being a first-hand witness and the fact that her views are shared by a significant portion of Syrian society- if there are activists who truly believe she is a malevolent influence should they not relish the chance to challenge her? The ‘No Platform’ paradigm of the ‘selective free-speech’ contingent of activism is a nonsense that reeks of fanaticism, obstinate ignorance and creates bitter divisions between people who are all apparently intent on working towards peace. Our consensus is critical of the idea that somehow blood could be spared by foreign military intervention in Syria; “the path to freedom and equality is a peaceful one.”(Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate).

The Solidarity Collective is committed to seeking out truth through absolute freedom of speech and supports people’s universal right to be heard. Over the coming weeks we will be meeting and discussing the difficulties that we have faced over the last number of years. We are aiming to come up with alternative to deal with conflict within the wider activist networks and we would ask people to keep an open mind. The latest incident included physical attacks on peace activists and staff at a fundraiser for Chelsea Manning. Again we see the emerging pattern of a verbal and /or physical attack followed by online justification and a smear campaign afterwards, presented as objective and factual. For example, this latest statement: (

We would call on those people behind the various smear campaigns and incidents of violence against other activists, to consider the effects of this behaviour on individuals, their families, communities and the wider activist movements. We believe that the removal of some of these vicious blog posts and statements would be positive step in the right direction.

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Hide the following 11 comments


26.11.2013 13:48

1. I think it's great that you are in favour of having a dialogue about these issues. I'm not convinced that the indymedia comments system is going to work as a forum for this. I think face-to-face communication lends itself much better to real compassion and understanding, and is less prone to deliberate trolling/shit-stirring by state agents. Also, there is a perception now that indymedia moderators are not impartial in these disagreements. But let's do our best with what is available, and hope to ignore the more rabid commentators.

2. You say that you have researched and want to avoid knee-jerk responses. This is a good approach but the way you have framed and phrased things does feel a bit biased to me; for instance you haven't gone out of your way to acknowledge why some people might feel "No Platform" to be a useful/justified approach in some circumstances. Dialogue can only really work when the people in the conversation are not just listening to each other but actually working hard to really understand each other's feelings and ideas.

3. On a more abstract note, do your members believe in absolute freedom of speech in all circumstances? Would London Catholic Worker folks host NF or EDL speakers who are "no platformed" elsewhere? If not, why not? I understand this is an extreme example and there are some very important differences, but I am interested in your reply as a way of understanding what the underlying principles of your thinking are.



26.11.2013 14:06

Just a couple of points, this is not from the London Catholic Worker, therefore you would need to address that comment to them.

We are not seeking a debate on Indymedia but we do welcome your comments and I have now put them to the mailing list for discussion.

Statement of purpose.

Solidarity Collective

we love autocrats

26.11.2013 14:28

In the name of "solidary" we're supposed to champion a supporter of the autocrat dictator Assad. In the name of "freedom"?

No platform it is.


@we love autocrats

26.11.2013 14:35

We have stated that during our research on Mother Agnes we could find nothing to support your allegations, we have also spoken to her and found nothing that suggests she is pro Assad.

You seem to have information available to you to suggest she is, would you mind sharing that please?

Solidarity Collective

Fr Paolo dall’Oglio

26.11.2013 14:40

Many of the people who have said Mother Agnes is Pro Assad have been unable to provide any evidence, as demonstrated by the comment about. In most cases they reference an Italian priest called Fr Paolo dall’Oglio,

Here is what we have been able to establish about the priest. This priest was quoted by Owen Jones, Pulse Media and Peter Tatchell

"There are no native clergy supporting the position of the European Paolo dall’’Oglio and few, very few, if any of Syria’s Christian community who support him. I travelled to Lebanon last October 2012 and met Christian refugees from the districts of Homs, Qusayr and Rableh, none of them when asked could understand why Paolo dall’Oglio was behaving in the way that he had and they most certainly did not approve. Before he left Syria Paolo dall’Oglio was actively covering for the actions of sectarian rebels within the diocese of Homs, Hama and Nabek. Many Christians in the diocese were deeply upset that the Italian cleric had cast doubt within the foreign media as to the true suffering they were experiencing at the hands of these armed rebels.

It is true that Paolo dall’Oglio made statements in 2011 regarding the so called “Arab Spring” and that Syrian government threatened him with expulsion, however a campaign was mounted by friends of the priest and the government relented and he was allowed remain in the country (the matter was reported in the print edition of the Holy Land Review Magazine of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land). Paolo dall’Oglio since leaving Syria has allowed people to falsely believe that the state had expelled him. This priest, who followed the Syriac Catholic tradition, was not expelled by the Syrian government rather he was expelled from Syria by H.E. Msgr. Theophilus George Kassab

Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Homs and Hama, Nabek and dependencies on foot of his subterfuge with sectarian Islamist rebels and the grave upset that he caused to the faithful of the diocese. After his expulsion the Superior General of the Jesuit order in Syria issued a statement to dissociate themselves from the actions of Paolo dall’Oglio, (please see attached document called “jesuits declaration in english”).

Strangely the European Fr. Paolo dall’Oglio has been extolled in the Western media as the “Peacemaker Priest” while the voice of hundreds of the indigenous clergy from Syria have been diligently ignored (see some quotes below)! None of those in the western media interviewing dall’Oglio have ever bothered to ask him why he waited 30 years in Syria before speaking out. Nor has anyone asked him about his controversial statements supporting Jihadists, the use of armed force, and in respect of al-Qaeda comments such as the following – in loose translation from Italian; “I stress that they are brothers and sisters in humanity. During my conversations with them, I recognized the men and women who have a passion religion, a religious sentiment that I share.” (see attached document “130507dallogliolindell” in Italian only). Moreover no one in the western media has bothered to concern themselves with his assertion that there may be moral justification for the use of chemical weapons in Syria based on the premise that if they are used by your friend to kill your enemy it may ok, here in loose translation is what dall’Oglio wrote in an article for the Italian edition of the Huffington Post;

“But look at the thing from the ethical point of view of the Syrian revolution. Let us assume for a moment that we had taken the arsenals of chemical weapons stolen from the regime heroically conquered. Imagine having the ability to use them against the armed forces of the regime to resolve the conflict in our favor and save the people from certain death. What would be immoral? All possible weapons are used against us..”

The genesis of his current dispute with the Syrian government appears to have had nothing to do with reform or democratization but rather it stemmed from a dispute in 2009/2010 when the Syrian government reneged on a land deal to assign to him control of public land surrounding his monetary. This matter is actually referenced in the U.S. State Department, Freedom of Religion Report 2012 (Syria)

One is left to wonder how, if this priest was so strongly and vehemently opposed to the Syrian government that he was in the months prior to the supposed uprising happy to negotiate with them in seeking the transfer of publicly owned land into the ownership /control of his institution!

U.S. Secretary of State says opposition will protect minorities, but Christian clerics in the region believe otherwise:

“Christians have not received one reassuring sign from the various groups

that make up the rebel militia or from Islamist fundamentalists. So if there is a ceasefire, all Christians will think about doing is fleeing.” The Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, Boutros Maryayati.

“This interest, on the part of the United States or of Europe, for human rights or for the defense of the weak, no one believes. No one believes it!,” Archbishop Laham, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.<<img src="/img/extlink.gif" border="0"/>>

“This attack [at Maaloula] by the rebel forces, who are supported by the U.S. government, is an unspeakable act of terror, and speaks volumes to the viciousness of those rebel forces who seek to overthrow the Syrian government. Apparently there is nothing that is sacred to these people, and it is very disturbing that these same people are being supported by our government.” Metropolitan Philip Saliba, Archbishop of New York and Metropolitan of All North America.

“Christians in the Middle East have been not only abandoned, but we have been lied to and betrayed by Western nations, like the United States and the European Union,” Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan, Syriac Catholic Church.

“Will the displacement of Christians from Syria, their killing and slaughter and the destruction of their churches lead to an alleged democracy?” Archbishop Theodosios, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

The Syrian Army is protecting the Christian community [in Aleppo]but if [the Army] leaves, they will be massacred.” Father Raymond Moussalli, Patriarchal vicar of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Jordan"


is she pro-Assad?

26.11.2013 15:46

"Historically, she has been critical of the government generally as well as condemning violence from both sides of the struggle but defends their right to retain power over Syria as she fears instability, the potential subversion of a revolution by foreign powers and, fundamentally, cannot condone the violent means used by the rebels."

I think it's worth pointing out that "defending [the Assad govt's] right to retain power over Syria", is, arguably, "pro-Assad". You've done a good job explaining why she holds this position so I can certainly see where she's coming from, but it's not hard to see why she's perceived as "pro-Assad" when she's defending the "right" of a brutal dictator to rule Syria.


dialogue with who?

28.11.2013 12:52

It strikes me that the "dialogue" you talk about is yet again a dialogue amongst British leftists, not one that involves Syrian or other Arab or Kurdish comrades who are actually on the front line of this shit. Your assessment of Mother Agnes seemed entirely based on English language media reports. Have you tried contacting Syrian anarchists, or other revolutionaries, to ask why they view Mother Agnes as a stooge of the Assad regime? (tahriricn might be a good place to start).

Otherwise this seems like another case of what Syrian comrades have been repeatedly complaining about, that once again rather than giving active solidarity US and European lefties/activists stage second hand (and second language) debates over their struggles to fight out their own factional agendas. See Shiar's articles on this point:

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lol, 'solidarity'

29.11.2013 16:12

To be honest I'd just ignore them mate. It's a group of dodgy people with their own agenda - just look at who's in the photo.


The photo above looks like it was taken from..

30.11.2013 21:05

..a Monthy Python scene.. without the humour that is..

Sr Contrition

As an outsider...

03.12.2013 20:37

As an outsider, tbh it *looks* like there are state agents on every side of these "free speech" debates, stoking tensions.

Posting images and full details of activists online, is not going to quell tensions and create a united movement against the state. It is going to divide it and create infighting - scaring away newcomers too. This is what people at the fundraiser in Liverpool have done, with the direct support of the indymedia collective.

Maybe look at the stick in your own eye, before trying to get the speck of dust outta your brother's?

And, Catholic people: whatever happened to reconciliation, and loving your enemy no matter what? I really don't know what to make of all that's gone on here, if I'm honest. But one thing I am sure about - I don't like hypocrites.


Sr. Contrition such a Brit, think outside of yr Brit box think"Blues Brothers"..

04.12.2013 08:45

Sr. Contrition such a Brit, think outside of yr Brit box think"Blues Brothers"..
why push an Italian American, a Paletinian nun and an Irish-Australian through a Brit prism of Monty Python?
Is it because you think your empire is still reelevant and not merteely an aircraft carrier for the United States. Empire's die but the self entitlement of being a Brit lives on.

Think Blues Brothers if searching for an analogy.
Try this clip.

The nun from the war zone the Catholic Worker orphans from the imperial centres stoking the sectarian war across the Middle East are "on a mission from God".

Free speech, discussion, discernment, accountability are all cwntral to working out how to proceed.

If it's a choice between the universal phenomenon of 1.2billion Catholics, the church of the poor and some intersectionalist cult in blighty. You really have to make it for yourself.

Meanwhile,the Brits and Yanks are going to have a lot of trouble taking back South America after taking a rest from killing Catholics and concentrating on Muslims for the last 12 years!

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