Over 150 people attended the ‘After the War on Syria’ conference, over 18-19 April at the University of Sydney. Seventeen papers were presented and each of five sessions saw enthusiastic and extended participation by the audience.
This was the first Australian academic conference on the Syrian conflict in its six long years.
The range of presentations dealt with geopolitics, imperialism, the human rights industry, political Islam, minorities, the big powers’ balkanisation plans, media manipulation and war propaganda.
Question sessions of more than an hour followed each set of presentations. A powerful response from the audience led to resolutions and the creation of a new social media group, the Syrian Sovereignty Action Network (SSAN).
Those involved in planning the conference were attacked by tabloid journalists such as Andrew Bolt at the Herald Sun, who claimed critical discussion of the war on Syria meant that Australian universities were in “decline”. Brilliant! Junk food vendors complaining about nutrition classes. Pretending concern for university standards, and trying to disqualify critical discussion of the war on Syria, the corporate media called me a “gasbag” and a “boffin”, our group “uni loonies” and the conference a “pro-Assad push”. Everything except reasonable discussion.
The corporate media attention incited some hate mail, but many curious people were attracted to the conference. The media attacks certainly increased our attendance figures. Around 100 people attended each of the five sessions.
On the first day researcher Jay Tharappel spoke of ‘Syria & the Confusion of the Western Left’.
Scientist and Syrian blogger Maram Susli spoke to ‘Balkanisation and ethnic cleansing in Syria and Iraq’, followed by postgraduate student Thomas Costigan on ‘The War on Syria: the origins of regime change’, and then Dr Hatem el Zein over ‘The Conflict over the Future of Syria from Hezbollah’s Perspective: The Axis of Resistance at Stake’.
In the second session Karim Pourhamzavi presented his paper titled ‘Trump’s administration and the future of jihad: the role and future of ‘Political Islam’ in the region’, followed by Paul Antonopoulos on ‘Turkey’s Neo-Ottoman Imperial Ambitions on Syria’.
Marisa Della Gatta presented a paper following Paul titled: ‘The Politics of fearfulness on Syrians: fears of sectarianism, Islamism and Islamophobia’. The last presentation, with a poem ‘Mr War’, was from young student Pola Fanous.
In the third (evening) session Dr Nicholas al Jeloo’s paper was ‘After the War: Effects on Syria’s Cultural Diversity’, alongside Maram Susli on ‘How the wars in Syria and Iraq are linked’ and Marwa Osman from Lebanon on ‘Transformation of the Axis of Resistance at the Syrian Crossroad’. Video of all these presentations, plus the subsequent discussion sections, is being posted online.
On the second day the morning session comprised Dr Drew Cottle’s presentation ‘The Syrian war and the Strategic Logic of US Imperialism’ and Dr Tim Anderson’s paper ‘The human rights industry during humanitarian war’.
The final afternoon session had four papers. Suzan Hanna spoke on ‘The mirage of sovereignty and the ‘white man’s burden’: The role of media in the modern imperialism of Syria’; while young student Tianna Sukkarieh spoke to her paper ‘How have the western and corporate media presented this war? Western Media and the Syrian MacGuffin’. Dr Therese Taylor provided literary and political analysis of the ‘Gay Girl Blogger – the politics of a cyber-hoax’. She was followed by our last presenter, lawyer Sam Saadat, who examined principles of justice during the Syrian conflict.
Videos of all the presentations and Question and Answer sessions have either been uploaded or will be uploaded in the coming days on the Centre for Counter Hegemonic Studies YouTube Channel.
Resolutions urged by the audience and passed in the final session stated that this conference:
· Supports the self-determination of the Syrian people; only they can determine the fate of Syria,
· Calls on the Australian Government to withdraw all military presence and action from Syria, without request from and permission of the Syrian Government,
· Demands that the Australian Government drops all economic sanctions on Syria, as they only exacerbate the suffering of the Syrian people,
· Demands that the corporate and state media tell the truth about Syria.
Research papers based on the presentations, after a refereeing process, will be published online at the Centre for Counter Hegemonic Studies.
Dr Tim Anderson is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney and a member of Hands Off Syria. He is also the author of “The Dirty War on Syria: Washington, Regime Change and Resistance” which can be purchased here.