The Church of England Vicar and the Enthusiastic Public Relations Spokesman for Assad’s Syrian Genocide.
[Posted by Lara Keller 7/2/18]
We all should all know and care, and mostly don’t, that since 2011 the Assad regime in Syria has responded to demands by the Syrian people for an end to brutal exploitative dictatorship by committing genocide. Indeed not knowing and not caring has enabled him to do this with Russian backing. This is industrial scale oppression, with the Assad regime responsible for around 95% of the causalities. The regime has murdered at least 200,000 Syrians, 10,000s of men, women and children have been tortured to death, and millions have been impoverished, besieged and often starved.
The regime even before 2011 had a reputation in the region for the most oppressive security system in the Middle East, which is cursed by self-serving dictatorships. Hafez Assad took advantage of a turbulent era in Syrian history to launch a military coup in 1970. He had a clear plan to setup an elitist dictatorship built on a large security apparatus that systematically used the threat of torture to control Syrians. His inspiration was Ceaușescu’s infamous Romanian regime. Naturally Hafez passed the private estate previously known as Syria to his son Bashar in 2000, and nothing really changed in the core values of the regime.
The reaction of progressives in the West has often angered and sometimes utterly disgusted me. A small army of apologists have emerged to support Assad. Not all of them from the usual candidates for dictator-philia from the far right and the far left. In the UK for example there are people from the Anti-War movement, Pro-Palestinian groups, the Green Party, the dominant Corbyn wing of the Labour Party, the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, a handful of journalists and even clergy from the Church of England. Some of this can be explained by casual ignorance. Some by wilful ignorance, based on supporting “issues” that feel right and so avoiding problems outside of core concerns.
The attitudes of many Anti-War and Pro-Palestinian groups has become a damaging bitter mockery. At an anti-war demonstration against Western intervention in Syria I saw a banner from an English group from safest Dorset with “Everybody Deserves Love” splashed on it. It is impossible to support pacifism in the face of a regime run by criminal thugs who have no concept of shame. Pacifism does not work when children are tortured to death in front of their parents, when hospitals are double tapped by Russian jets and Sarin is used to paralyse the lungs of civilians. Indifference is not love. Zionists are killing and oppressing ordinary Palestinians, while Assad’s militias are killing ordinary Syrians. Both groups are mostly Sunni Muslim Arabs. What exactly is the difference between Zionism and Assadism?
There is a secondary line of defence when the apologists claim that the Western media is lying. All the evidence of the Assad holocaust of many types and thousands of sources is just denied as one great incredible conspiracy. There are even widely circulated crudely absurdist claims that the buildings in the blitzed opposition areas where blown up by the opposition, or that the White Helmets rescue works are evil murderers.
There is the more subtle argument that the regime is not responsible for Sarin gas attacks, because it is winning and does not need to use methods which might provoke hostile Western intervention. The reality is that foreign Shia militias and Russian military are winning against an isolated armed Syrian opposition abandoned by the West. Assad struggles to get Syrians to fight for him, but needs to show his military are a strong force capable of perpetuating Assad clique control. Hence his testing of the international reaction to the use of Sarin in reconquering Idlib province.
There is the argument that the opposition to Assad is and has always been composed of Fundamentalist Islamists. Armed groups run by extremists (like HTS, formerly al-Nusra) have become powerful, because the regime used military force to crush an initially peaceful protest against dictatorship, while the West gave very limited supplies to the moderate armed opposition. The extremists – well-financed by other Middle East dictatorships like the Saudis – were allowed to fill the vacuum, as occurred in post-Gaddafi Libya. Leaflets and speeches do not stop modern weaponry.
This leaves the apologists who are not ideological cranks and who do have a detailed knowledge of Syria. A good example is the Reverend Andrew Ashdown, a vicar in the Church of England. He has been organising tours of the Holy Land for thirty years, and has often visited Syria before 2011 and since. He enthusiastically pushes in lectures, articles, broadcasts and social media, the key points of the Assad regime PR campaign:
(i) Assad regime is popular with the vast majority of Syrians.
(ii) Opposition to the Assad regime is confined to fundamentalist terrorists.
(iii) Evidence that the regime is responsible for mass murder and mass torture is fabricated. The Assad Holocaust does not exist.
(iv) Assad’s Syria is not a kleptomaniac brutal police state.
(v) Assad is the protector of minorities in Syria. In particular Christians.
The Church of England is perceived as a morally concerned organisation that can be trusted but is rather spineless. Ashdown uses the appearance of a vicar to give his Assad PR credibility. The church has been contacted many times, and has done very little to stop this abuse of its reputation. He is no longer a parish vicar, but still has the permission of his bishop to conduct Anglican services. He still lives in a comfortable house provided by the church. His wife the Reverend Victoria Ashdown is a vicar of the parish of North Baddesley (between Southampton and Romsey in Hampshire, UK) and publically supports his stance on the Assad regime. She reposts his social media statements, and has even posed in front of the two star Syrian flag (used exclusively by the regime) for her parish Facebook Account.
There are many Christians in the Church of England who are rightly concerned about the survival of Christian communities in the Middle East against attacks by fundamentalist islamists. They mostly know very little about the Assad regime and make the mistake of believing Assad PR and reluctantly supporting the regime. It obviously helps in the deception that a knowledgeable Church of England vicar like Andrew Ashdown is doing the PR. Andrew Ashdown has detailed knowledge of the regime, and so has no reasonable excuse of ignorance.
Where is Christian love in the Assad regime and its holocaust? Christianity is not tribal. God is not a Christian. In Assad’s Syria the leaders of minorities (including Christians) are approved and effectively appointed by the regime, owe their privileges to it, and in return police their communities. The regime even uses housing policy to segrate and divide Syrian society. Christians are used rather than protected. The perception – supplied by people like Ashdown – that Christians support dictatorships in the region gives fuel to the anti-Christian bigotry of the fundamentalist islamists.
God gives us spiritual life, despite our religion or lack of it. Respect for that life in others is the obvious root of Christian love. The Assad regime is the absolute reality of total contempt for this. Anglicans Priests are prevented from joining far right organisations like in the UK like the British National Party and the National Front. Why is Ashdown allowed to do PR for a brutal dictatorship responsible for genocide? The church can and should stop him and his wife “officiating at services” and enjoying the financial and accommodation support of the church, until they are able to completely and publically repudiate their belief and support for the Assad regime. Why is the Church of England vicar and the enthusiastic Public Relations spokesman for Assad’s Syrian Genocide the same person?
Here is a sample of his grossly deceptive self-promotion used in a recent lecture tour of Scotland:
“Rev Andrew Ashdown is an Anglican priest. He has been travelling and leading groups to the Middle East for over 30 years. For years he has engaged with Christians, Muslims and Jews in Israel-Palestine conflict and he has met with many religious and political leaders in Palestine, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria……….”
Typical Andrew Ashdown Facebook Post: Andrew Ashdown, September 5, 2017
“A year ago today I had the privilege of meeting President Assad. It was an in-depth two hour open and honest meeting where many challenging subjects were discussed, and we were met with great courtesy. But, we were vilified for meeting him. BBC, ITV, and Channel 4 News all slated us. The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Times all criticised us for meeting a ‘monster’. I was slated in the Church Times. And ever since, I have been put very much at arm’s length by the Church hierarchy and by my own Bishop. The fact that we met and brought messages from many religious leaders in Syria was ignored. But I have no regrets. And I make no apology to anyone for meeting the President. I am glad we did so. One year on, even Syria’s enemies are acknowledging that the President will stay, and are ending their support for the western-backed multiple Al-Qaeda linked terrorist groups who have brought such death, destruction and havoc to the country, and who are being defeated on all fronts by the Syrian Army with the help of Russia and Hezbollah. And wherever they are being defeated, a semblance of ‘normal’ life is returning to communities – and people are returning too. The progress in Aleppo particularly in the past months has been immense, and its citizens are clearly delighted and relieved to be free of the groups (that the west supported) that terrorised the city for so long. President Assad’s personal popularity with a large majority of the Syrian people is immense. I hope and pray that a peace will be achieved soon. Peace has been so elusive partly because of the international community’s refusal to put aside their own agendas, to listen to the Syrian people, to stop fuelling the violence, and to engage the people who actually have power in the country. Healing will take much longer. But the will and the resilience of the Syrian people does make it possible. It is not up to us to dictate Syria’s future, and violence achieves nothing. If only we could accept that, and encourage a genuine process of dialogue, peace and reconciliation for the sake of the Syrian people. History has always proven that the path of peace has been achieved by talking, not by bombing! It is a shame that we have been vilified for talking – whilst other Church leaders and politicians have openly supported the path of bombing.”