“Return to Homs” at Hebden Bridge Trades Club

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Images of the people of Syria, those most often ignored in any discussion outside Syria about the war in their country. (Images taken in 2012 and beyond, from Syrian TV and the internet)

The film “The Return to Homs” is to be shown on 13 August 2015 at the Hebden Bridge Trades Club, West Yorkshire, England.

The synopsis of the film (Wikipedia) –

In the middle of Syrian Civil War, the film follows, 19-year-old national football team goalkeeper, Abdul Baset Al-Sarout and 24-year-old Ossama, his media activist and journalist friend, their daily life in the city of Homs which has become a bombed-out ghost town by Syrian Army on Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad orders. Their homes, lives and dreams destroyed and in order to gain freedom, they are forced to change course Baset and Ossama turned from peaceful protesters into rebel insurgents.

More than forty years ago, I saw “The Battle of Algiers” at my local film society.  The war in Algeria against the French colonial government was brutal; there were atrocities committed by all sides.  However, in my mind the continued occupation of Algeria by French forces was wrong.  The local Algerians were fighting for freedom from a foreign colonial power.

A comment on “The Battle of Algiers” (Wikipedia) –

The film has been critically celebrated and often taken, by insurgent groups and states alike, as an important commentary on urban guerrilla warfare

“The Battle of Algiers” was shown by film societies rather than by mainstream cinemas, and its audiences would have included many anti-Vietnam War activists.  I was one of them.  In the late 60s and early 70s, with other student activists, I participated in demonstrations against the wars in Indo-China, against the US “military industrial complex”, and against my country’s blind acceptance of American foreign policy. If there were heroes in the wars in Indo-China for the people I marched with, they were those who stood up to the US war machine. So at marches, one of the chants often heard was, “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; Dare to Struggle; Dare to Win”.  Vietnamese guerrillas were fighting a sophisticated foreign war machine.  Propaganda prevailed in the mainstream western media. The challenge to that came from those who researched the war, from intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky, and anti-war activists, such as Dorothy Day.  There were also few journalists who were prepared to risk their careers to present some of the truth behind the war. Two things were pivotal in bringing hundreds of thousands of protestors into the streets: the deaths of Americans and Australians in the war and the conscription of 18-year-old men – sons, brothers, husbands, boyfriends – for the war.  Britain did not have the same direct involvement in the Vietnam War as Australia had so there would not have been such a strong anti-war movement; however, Britain did provide covert support for America’s wars in Indo-China. 

In Algeria and in Vietnam, insurgents were fighting foreign interference, the armies of colonial or ‘imperial’ countries and the local forces that supported those foreign powers.  For many of my activist friends the main enemies were America’s foreign policy and the US military industrial complex.

In the last three decades or more, the United States has shifted its wars to the Middle East. It seems to have learnt some important lessons from Vietnam: (1) for an imperial power to win a war, it is necessary to commandeer the insurgency (whether overtly or covertly); (2) an army dependent on conscription must be avoided; (3) the mainstream discourse on war and peace must be limited, so NGOs and the mainstream media reports must align as closely as possible with the US Administration’s narrative; (4) there must be no images of the suffering of the people (in the war in Syria, for example) unless that suffering can be blamed on the ‘enemy’.

In the Middle Eastern wars, the victims are the general public, the local communities, the wider society and the apparatus of states, for example, schools, hospitals, utilities, armies.  It is not just governments that are targeted. But lives, cultures, history, social cohesion are all targeted. It is a killing field. And the western world watches perplexed and numb. So it continues.

For most people in Syria, the battle lines are clear: the regular Syrian army is fighting forces that are supported, trained and/or funded by foreign powers, which include the US, Britain, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel.

In February 2012, there was covert support from some of these powers for the ‘revolutionaries’ in Homs, and foreign journalists then crossed illegally into Syria to report favorably on this ‘revolution’.  Yet, there was virtually no reporting on the forced removal of people from their homes so residential areas could be occupied and controlled by the ‘rebels’.  The ‘revolution’ relied on terror and intimidation.  Tens of thousands of these people in Homs were Christians: victims of the ‘revolution’.

In the BBC’s Panorama report “Saving Syria’s Children”, BBC journalists worked with representatives from a UK charity which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood in order to present a picture of the war in Syria which would garner either support and outrage from the wider community or bewilderment and apathy.

In Algeria, the local people fought for freedom against French rule.

In Syria, ‘rebels’ backed by the United States, Britain, and France fight the Syrian national army.

A read of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ could help us make more sense of the world today than our local newspaper or a BBC report can.

And a little film by Issa Touma, a photographer in Aleppo, Syria, taken from his kitchen window can help us make more sense of the ‘revolution’ in Homs than the celebrated “Return to Homs”.

The Syria I knew and loved, the pre-war Syria, is described beautifully by Brad Hoff, a US marine veteran, who spent time studying Arabic in Syria.

May we all give consideration to the plight of Syrians and the role of western media outlets, NGOs and governments in determining the course of the war in Syria.

Inevitably our communities are impacted by the lies, the hatred and bigotry which are necessary ingredients for the war against Syria to be prosecuted.  The war against Syria challenges us.  It would be in our interests to look in the mirror.

Susan Dirgham

National coordinator of “Australians for Reconciliation” in Syria (AMRIS)


12 August 2015


My letter to the Hebden Bridge Trades Club

August 10th 2015

Dear Mr Coneys, Mr Ives, Mr Stutt, Ms Kirby, and other officials at the Trades Club,

I understand from Twitter that you will be showing “Return to Homs” at the Club on 13 August.

Since the crisis in Syria, I have been an activist working to expose those forces trying to destroy Syria.  I taught at the British Council in Damascus for two years, so got to know hundreds of Syrians and came to love Syria.  The people I knew in the classrooms and the society I felt very much at home in is rarely if ever presented in the western mainstream media. A Syria is being presented that most Syrians wouldn’t recognise and it is populated by men with guns who spread terror and chaos among the civilian population.

I uploaded a short video onto Vimeo in 2012.  In it I included images of Syrian women and an interview with Mother Agnes Mariam.  https://vimeo.com/56420545  I asked Alan Lonergan, an activist friend visiting Melbourne from Ireland, to interview Mother Agnes. I hope you have a chance to watch it.  It’s very short.

Also, more recently, I have interviewed Alan about the ‘revolution’ in Homs.  That interview with references and comments can be found at this link: http://socratesandsyria.com/2015/05/05/syria-christians-and-rebels-in-homs-the-un-baroness-amos-ngos/

I believe the producer of “Return to Homs” is Orwa Nyrabia.  A friend at the British Council introduced me to Orwa in 2009.  I was in Damascus to act as a producer for Australian film maker and cartoonist Bruce Petty, who wanted to interview Syrian intellectuals. The subject Bruce chose to work his questions around was ‘Utopia’.  Bruce didn’t receive any funding to complete the film, so unfortunately there is no public record of the great interviews he conducted. The film is in his drawer still. The university students and intellectuals like Orwa spoke freely about their concerns.  Though now when I listen to a short interview I conducted with Orwa after Bruce had completed a much longer one, I realise he does not speak plainly, at all.  But to some, his dissembling may make him sound like an intellectual and he may present as an expert on Syria – if you don’t know any other Syrians.  So he has a following.  Please see one short Twitter conversation I had with Orwa copied below.

“New America” interviewed Orwa and that interview is available on Youtube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=im6vBhihEso  I was so keen to work out his views that I transcribed much of the interview   Not everyone would condemn Orwa for being interviewed by “New America”, but I do.  Washington and its allies are mounting a very sophisticated campaign against Syria, and he is part of that machinery.   I only pray they do not win this war and that the people of Syria and their society survive.

I haven’t uploaded Orwa’s interview onto the internet.  However, there is a much more interesting interview of a Syrian woman I conducted (she was interesting – I was pretty incompetent).  For a better understanding of Syria before the war, I recommend listening to her. https://taoismandsufis.wordpress.com/thoughts-on-life-a-syrian-woman/

I would be very happy to have a conversation with you about Syria.  It is not just an issue.  We are talking about millions of lives and a society and culture.  Its heart is being torn out of it.   If you are interested in alternative documentaries about Syria, I would recommend “Manufacturing Dissent – The Truth about Syria”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtYvDCEKKTY  Note Mohamad Rafea, the Palestinian Syrian actor who appeared in it; soon after the documentary was completed, he was abducted and killed.  That’s terror.

Kind regards,


PS   On a completely different subject, you might like to invite Wesley, a Melbourne busker to the Trades Hall one day. 🙂  I recorded him singing  “Any day now – I shall be released”  a couple of years ago. Please see https://taoismandsufis.wordpress.com/melbourne-buskers-music-and-magic/  #Magic.

Images below taken in Syria before 2011 by the author

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