11 Apr 2013

Shocking footage from Syria to make us stop and think

It is the simplest thing to want to do in theory. It is the most incredibly difficult to do in practice.

To go to Syria and once there, try to speak to both sides of the war in the same place, where people are fighting each other from positions perhaps one mile apart, day in, day out.

God knows, I can speak from personal experience on how difficult and dangerous it is to achieve.

Next week Channel 4 will broadcast a truly remarkable film which will do just that in a way I guarantee you will not have seen before. I urge anybody who wonders what this war has now become, to sit down, turn off the mobile and watch.

Olly Lambert’s film is an extraordinary achievement. I will have more to say next week.

But for tonight, on the day Human Rights Watch accuses the Syrian air force of multiple war crimes in bombing civilian areas, extracts from Olly Lambert’s film give you a terrifying, up-close sense of what it is like to be in a village when the government MiGs come over on a bombing run.

It all raises grave questions – but the accusation of war crimes is the obvious and easy bit. Things are never so simple.

There are questions too for the various rebel groups who clearly live in, fight from, and take cover in, civilian villages and towns.

Be in no doubt if this happened in the US, would Washington not carpet-bomb Detroit housing projects full of al-Qaeda gunmen? Would the British government not blitz rebel held housing estates in  Wolverhampton?

The film shows that brutal reality. So just when you want to scream and point the finger, you pause. This is stop and think television and you will have a first glimpse on the programme tonight.

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Channel 4 Dispatches Syria: Across the Lines will be broadcast at 10pm on 17 April


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7 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    The British government and its actions?

    Like Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland?

    Or for that matter like the IRA bombing in Omagh and elsewhere?

    In war, it is always the innocent who suffer most.

    After Syria comes Africa (the French are in Mali permanently now) or maybe Iran or North Korea. Do you think it coincidental these suddenly appear on the radar screen as Iraq and Afghanistan start to wind down?

    Tragic as it is, Syria is symptomatic. And STILL we don’t know of the West’s full role in this, though now the rogue states that are the US and the UK now talk openly of arming the anti-Assad forces.

    Are we at war with East Asia or EurAsia? Or both at the same time?

  2. paul says:

    would have been more noble to have employed the same unbiased reporting from Gaza!

  3. sjxt says:

    “Be in no doubt if this happened in the US, would Washington not carpet-bomb Detroit housing projects full of al-Qaeda gunmen? Would the British government not blitz rebel held housing estates in Wolverhampton?”

    Absurd argument. In case you hadn’t noticed citizens in the UK and US have the options of removing their government by the ballot box. And were those governments to remove that option and start gunning down demonstrators and “carpet bombing and blitzing”, to use your terms, the recalcitrant citizenry, I dare say they might find they had a civil war on their hands rather like Bashar Assad, with their opponents equally willing to accept help from wherever and whoever on the basis of that age old principle, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

    And while we’re at it, re “the various rebel groups who clearly live in, fight from, and take cover in, civilian villages and towns”, can you just remind us of any civil war – or any other war for that matter – where one or both sides “lives in, fights from, and takes cover in entirely uninhabited areas or “non-civilian” (if such a thing ever exists?) villages and towns”?

    Taking over the inhabited parts of a country from your opponents and defending your own inhabited areas is pretty much what wars are all about and have been since time immemorial, and what both sides in this conflict are trying to do here, right?

    It is, in fact, pretty much what wars by definition are.

    That’s not a justification for anything, just a statement of the obvious and one of several hundred reasons why wars are generally a bad idea.

    There’s a valid debate about who started this one and the rights and wrongs of the underlying issues being fought over.

    But just to criticise the rebels – or even Assad for that matter – in vacuo for fighting in the inhabited areas of Syria as opposed to some sandy spot in the middle of nowhere to achieve heaven knows what seems, frankly, rather silly, describing not a war at all but some sort of pointless activity hitherto unknown to humankind.

  4. Hus says:

    Did you apply this same argument to Israeli actions against Hamas and Hezbollah “who clearly live in, fight from, and take cover in, civilian villages and towns” ?

  5. helen says:

    Olly Lambert’s video/documentary is for sure one of the most thought provoking pieces of work I have seen since the revolution began. He was really ‘in there’ with the people, feeling their pain and anguish and it shows through his work. Not one person I have shared it with has been able to watch it without being brought to tears, the reality of the assault of a government on its own people, through the use of aircraft bombardments, horrifically shows in every shot and every word. Its very refreshing to see a journalist use his time on Syrian soil in this way, rather than those who prefer to be lead around and shown where to go by Assad’s brutal Regime. I guess there are those who sit in comfy hotels writing about horrific massacres, and comparing the Syrian Regime’s acts to those of the freedom fighters, and there are those who actually go out there seeing for themselves and finding the pain. Respect to Olly Lambert, a brave and honest man.

  6. Susan Dirgham says:

    There are so many sides to a war. If Western journalists had been in Dresden or Tokyo to witness the carpet bombings of those cities during the war, to share the experience of those victims, there would have been a very different perspective of WW2 among the general public in the West. Perhaps Hiroshima wouldn’t have happened? If Western journalists had shown the terror inflicted on people by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War and only focused on that, not on the US atrocities, perhaps there would have been no peace movement.

    How many Western reporters are ‘allowed’ by their editors and media managers to present the point of view of Syrians who suffer the terror of the ‘rebels’? For example, there were reports that 80,000 Christians were forced to flee their homes in Homs in 2012. What reporters have presented the terror they must have experienced to flee their homes? What Western reporters have informed us of the fatwas issued by extremist clerics in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the main two countries funding the militias? Most people in the Middle East know that Sheik Qaradawi said on Al-Jazeera in 2011, ‘if it is necessary to kill one third of the Syrian population to topple the heretical regime, so be it’. Why don’t people in the West know about this support for the killings of more than 7 million people? How has his support for genocide affected the war on the ground in Syria? Has his support for genocide (what else can it be called) led to killing sprees across Syria? Two young nephews of a friend of mine were killed on April 17 2011. They were some of the first young civilian victims. Another young victim is Sari Saoud, a Christian boy killed in Homs in 2011. Why isn’t his name a household word in the West? His killing illustrates how children (from all backgrounds) have been killed to instil terror into communities and to produce propaganda.

    Why aren’t these questions explored by journalists? Why haven’t governments condemned Sheikh Qaradawi? Would they if he had urged his followers to overthrow the ‘heretical’ US or UK government in the same terms?

    We must feel for all the victims of this war, of any war. But there is so much we are not being told about this conflict that we must be told in order to stop the war and prevent more people being killed. There is a war propaganda machine at work much as there was in the lead up to the Iraq War. But the war in Syria will be even more catastrophic if it is not stopped and if there is not a peaceful political solution soon.

  7. Richard Wolfe says:

    Excellent and extremely courageous documentary last night showing the true misery and terror being experienced by those poor Sunni peoples of Syria. Well done Channel 4 for showing the full horror of the situation there. Richard Wolfe

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