Muslim Press has conducted an interview with Madelyn Hoffman to discuss the situation in Syria and the future of Bashar al-Assad in the country.

The following is the full text of the interview:

Muslim Press: How do you see the media's propaganda in reporting the Syrian conflict?

Madelyn Hoffman: The U.S. Peace Council’s Peace and Fact-Finding delegation learned a lot about the Western media’s propaganda campaign during its recent week of discussions with the Syrian people (July 24th – July 30th).

It became clear almost immediately that the Western media focus almost entirely on demonizing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government instead of the role of the U.S. and its allies in supporting foreign mercenary groups in Syria whose mission is to terrorize the Syrian people and undermine the Syrian government.Once the media discussion turns to Assad and his suitability to remain as president, critical analysis of the political agenda of the U.S. and its allies in the region ceases to exist.

There are thousands of such outside mercenaries including some of the very groups the U.S. is purportedly fighting, such as al-Qaedaand ISIS (Daesh). The media’s focus on Assad appears to be deliberate, part of an effort to serve an agenda that will end with an escalation of U.S. military operations in Syria, probably soon after the election of a new U.S. president in November. The media’s efforts are also designed to deflect from discussion of how the U.S. is using terror to destabilize and fight a sovereign government, instead of fighting against that terror.

The media also insist on differentiating between so-called “moderate” rebels,which are being armed and financed by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others,and extremists. Many of the Syrians we talked to told us that in reality there is no difference between these two. As long as a so-called “moderate”fighter has a weapon in his hand that could kill a person standing alongside of him, this distinction becomes meaningless.

The Western media also like to describe the conflict in Syria as a “civil war” instead of what all the people we spoke to called an assault on the whole people of Syria in an attempt to accomplish regime change. In all of this discussion, however, it is rarely mentioned that such an interventionist foreign policy, one with the goal of regime change, is illegal under international law and the United Nations charter.

To that point, when Russia’s role in Syria is described by the Western media, it is criticized as being part of Russia’s imperialistic designs on the country. The media attempt to equate what Russia is doing in Syria with what the U.S. is doing in Syria. What the media fail to say is that the Syrian government asked for Russia’s help in February 2016, five years into the conflict. Unlike U.S. illegalpresence in Syria, the Russian presence is legal. According to UN Charter (Article 52), any country can legally ask for help from other countries if it is militarily attacked.This presence is also, according to many Syrians, responsible for a shift in the balance of power, allowing Syria to gain ground in its war against these outside mercenary forces.

Another important detail almost completely overlooked by Western media is the existence of harsh economic sanctions, unilaterally imposed on the Syrian people by the U.S. and NATO. The Syrian people described these sanctions as economic violence – and explained to us the crippling effect of these sanctions.

First, the sanctions make it difficult for doctors to obtain immunizations for children, filters for dialysis machines and chemotherapy drugs. The sanctions affect education, making it impossible for Syrian students to study overseas. The sanctions also affect industry, denying access to some equipment vital for production processes at certain factories. The sanctions also affect Syrian attorneys belonging to international legal organizations who have expelled Syrian attorneys from the very body that could conceivably assist in making the argument that intervention in Syria by the U.S. and its allies is illegal. Everyone asked us to speak to these sanctions in an effort to have them lifted. Yet the Western media barely mention that these sanctions exist or that such sanctions used in places like Iraq and Iran do nothing to impact the government and everything to hurt innocent civilians.

The Syrian government could not have remained in power for such a long time despite all efforts to topple it unless the Syrian people were united behind their government. The non-violent opposition to Assad, which existed before the conflict began in 2011 and continuesto this day, decided long ago that it would be better for the future of Syria to put their concerns on hold andinstead worktogether with the Syrian governmentto push back against a foreign intervention. This unity was essential to combat the outside forces intent on overthrowingthe Syrian government and then dividing Syria along sectarian lines. If the outside forces succeed, it would represent a tremendous affront to the Syrian people and would erase the country’s long and proud history and culture.

What is also clear is that the Western media have been very effective at deflecting any discussion of these important issues. There is a war going on in Syria between the Syrian Arab Army and outside mercenary forces and a propaganda war going on in the United States and around the world. The “success” of this propaganda is evident over and over again in the lack of real discussion about these issues as members of the delegation report back on what it observed and learned.

MP: How would you compare what you saw in Syria and what people think about it?

Madelyn Hoffman: Our delegation saw a city and a country at war, and at the same time, a country in which people were trying very hard to lead normal lives. They were teachers, students at the university, guests at family gatherings and weddings, parents taking their children to the park, and people going out to dinner with friends.

The University of Damascus is home to many students, both those enrolled at the university and transplanted students forced to leave another university and attend the University of Damascus due to damage to their university caused by shells fired by outside mercenary forces. In fact, our delegation saw damage due to a bomb that hit a rooftop of one of the buildings on the University of Damascus campus. Students were already repairing the damage so that their studies could continue uninterrupted.

While our delegation was in Damascus, there were at least two lethal attacks on the old city of Damascus. One evening there was a car bomb explosion not too far away from our hotel, in the vicinity of government buildings. Life continued on, despite these acts of violence.

Almost everyone in Syria has been directly affected by the violence of this on-going war. Many have lost family members. We visited a community development center serving hundreds of women whose husbands have either gone missing or whose husbands were killed in the conflict, called “martyrs” by the Syrians. The women were learning how to sew and, if necessary, learning how to read and write and engaged in discussions about issues affecting Syria.

The delegation also visited an orphanage, home to about 500 girls whose fathers were killed in the five-year conflict. We didn’t have a chance to visit the orphanage for boys, but staff at the girls’ orphanage suggested that the existing orphanages only begin to address the problem, since there are perhaps 10,000 children now without fathers as a result of the conflict. At this point in our delegation’s visit, the extent of the damage in Syria and its impact on human life was inescapable and deeply troubling.

Our delegation was also struck by the unity of religions in Syria. We visited the site of the centuries-old Christian Shrine of Takla in the town of Maloula. Parts of the Shrine had been seriously damaged by foreign mercenary forces in a battle between the Al-Qaeda linked jihadist Al-Nusra Front and the Syrian Army in September 2013. Much work still needed to be done to repair the damage done in that battle.

When asked what percentage of the Syrian population was Christian and what percentage was Muslim, the delegation consistently received the same replyfrom religious leaders – both Muslim and Christian. “There are 23 million Syrians,” we were told. “So there are 23 million Muslims and 23 million Christians. We don’t look at ourselves in any other way.”

The people of Syria remain united, optimistic and strong. Their strength provides us with even more motivation to work for a change in U.S. foreign policy.

MP: What's your take on the Assad's role in the future of Syria? Is he likely to stay in power?

Madelyn Hoffman: Since 2011, President Assad has initiated a series of democratic political and social reforms that are widely popular and supported by the great majority of the Syrian population, including major opposition forces and parties. That is why all of the non-violent opposition forces are now supporting the government of Syria and President Assad. So, if left to the sovereign decision of the Syrian people, free of all foreign intervention, there is no doubt that President Assad will remain in power.The people of Syria believe that their president and the Syrian Arab Army are doing everything possible to protect them and the sovereignty of their country.

However, it is a historical fact that in every diplomatic negotiation held thus far, the U.S. and the armed opposition it supports haveunequivocally insisted thatAssad step down as a pre-condition of reaching that diplomatic agreement. If the U.S. does not waver from its insistence on Assad’s resignation, it seems likely to relegate the embattled people of Syria to more violence and more war, something that would have terrible consequences both for Syria and for the rest of the world.

As the Grand Mufti said, “A fire was started in Syria. If the fire is not put out in Syria, it may spread to the rest of the world.”

MP: Do you think Assad is still popular in Syria? How do the majority of Syrians think about the conflict?

Madelyn Hoffman: From what our delegation observed, President Assad is still extremely popular in Syria.

Members of the U.S. Peace Council delegation met with a wide range of organizations and individuals, including members of student organizations, faculty and administrators from the University of Damascus, Greek Orthodox Bishops, the Grand Mufti, the head of the Lawyers' Syndicate, the Ministers of Health, Reconciliation, Administration, and Foreign Affairs, members of Parliament, members of the Chamber of Industry, members of the non-violent opposition, as well as widows and orphans created by the last 5 years of war. In all cases, the message to us was very clear – the Syrian people still support President Assad. Of course, the non-violent opposition has its criticisms of the government, but is working with the government. In fact, the leader of the largest opposition party in Syria, Dr. Ali Haider, is the Minister of Reconciliation, in charge of a program to reintegrate any Syrian who decided to take up arms against the government but now regrets that decision. Once the individual gives up his weapon, the local community works with him and the Minister of Reconciliation to welcome him back into Syrian society. Instead of continuing the cycle of violence and retribution, there is an attempt at changing this individual’s living conditions.

The Syrian people are tired of this ongoing conflict and want nothing more than an opportunity to live in peace. For that to happen, they say, the sanctions must be lifted, outside support of the jihadist organizations must cease and decisions about the future of Syria must be left in the hands of the Syrian people.

MP: How do you see the role of Washington in fighting ISIS in Syria?

Madelyn Hoffman: The people in Syria are frustrated and angry at the actions of the U.S. government in their country. The presence of ISIS (Daesh) was pointed out to us on a couple of occasions, particularly as we traveled through the area 20 miles north of Damascus. We were told that ISIS (Daesh) were present behind a row of houses on a nearby ridge.

The U.S. Peace Council delegation concluded that only the Syrian Arab Army and its Russian allies are serious about defeating ISIS. The U.S. government is reluctant to push too hard against ISIS because they fear that if ISIS were defeated, the U.S. would lose a valuable ally in the fight to topple the Syrian government. The U.S. commitment to a forced“regime change” in Syriais a higher priority than eliminating al-Qaeda, ISIS and other organizations using terror against the civilian population in an effort to undermine the Syrian government. Part of the reason the Syrian government asked for help from the Russians was to intensify the efforts to eliminate ISIS from the region.

Syria is now the front line in the United States’ so-called “global war on terror,” only not in the way we might think. In the case of Syria, U.S. has opted to be on the side of the terrorist organizations it claims to be fighting against elsewhere. If the U.S. population only knew what was being done in its name, perhaps the policy would change. If the atrocities committed against civilians by these U.S.-supportedforeign mercenary groups were highlighted and publicized, perhaps the U.S. government would be forced by the public to change direction in Syria.

MP: Do you think the rise of ISIS was a willful decision? (If so, by whom?)

Madelyn Hoffman: In the context of what’s happening in Syria, it’s hard not to conclude that the rise of ISIS is, if not a willful decision, a direct result of U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, followed by the way in which the U.S. structured the new government,dividing it along sectarian lines and excluding the Sunnis, led to the creation and rise of ISIS in Iraq, an ISIS that did not exist in Iraq or elsewhere prior to the March 19th, 2003 invasion. In addition, beginning in 2011, it was widely reported that as the U.S. provided arms and material support to those it labeled “moderate rebels” in Syria, some of those arms were winding up in the hands of ISIS in Iraq. So if not necessarily willful, the rise of ISIS can be seen as a logical consequence of the U.S. policy of intervention in sovereign countries in the Middle East with the express purpose of forced“regime change.”

This is a policy that was first proposed by the neocons, who later put it into action when they took control of the executive branch of the U.S. government during the Bush Administration. And it seems that the Obama administration is continuing the same policy with some minor modifications. So long as this policy continues, we should not be surprised if more terrorist organizations the likes of al-Qaeda and ISIS appear on the scene. In so far as the outcome is concerned, it does not matter if they are created willfully or are the creation of a willful policy.


Written by Madelyn Hoffman, member of the U.S. Peace Council delegation to Syria, July 24 – July 30, 2016