Show Hide image

The Assad regime is quietly bombing hospitals while the world looks away

After a US strike put paid to Assad's chemical weapons attacks, he went back to attacking medics. 

For Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad, the horrors of the Las Vegas shooting, the North Korean nuclear situation and Brexit are the perfect cover to try to exterminate the opposition in Syria. In the last 10 days, five hospitals run by the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM) have been all but destroyed by Russian and Syrian airstrikes. These hospitals are located in supposedly safe zones in Idlib, a province in the north of Syria, which is policed by the Russian military. 

Over this summer and autumn, the carnage of Las Vegas has been played out one hundred fold every day, in all opposition areas of Syria. The plan appears to be either physically kill all the opposition, or force them out of Syria, creating yet more refugees. 

The world was outraged last Christmas, when thousands were slaughtered in Aleppo by air strikes. Most hospitals were destroyed and many doctors were killed. It was this more than anything which broke the will of the people. Eventually UOSSM and Doctors Under Fire managed to help get the few thousand left to the then-relative safety of Idlib province. Meanwhile, to Assad and Putin, the effectiveness of raising the medical fraternity to the ground was clear. 

Instead of attacking hospitals, the regime looked to its other favourite method of terror - chemical weapons. It conducted two major sarin attacks on 30 March and 4 April 2017, killing and injuring many and terrifying thousands. Donald Trump’s strike on 6 April 2017 put an end to this particular bout of chemical terror, but then the regime and its Russian allies went back to attacking hospitals. They have done so completely unchallenged for the last six months. 

The only apparent hope left is the UN Geneva Process, which is tasked with finding a diplomatic and political solution in the next 18 months. Hitherto, this has had no hope of success. Western governments have directed that Assad must go before negotiations can begin, and it is clear with Putin propping up Assad that this is not going to happen. However, it is also clear that Putin has achieved his strategic objects in Syria, and for a whole host of reasons would like to get out soon.

Trump and France's president Emmanuel Macron have stated that Assad can be part of the transition process, which is the pragmatic approach. If the Syrian people do get free and fair elections, as the UN hopes, they should for the first time have the opportunity to vote for who they want to lead them. It is clear that the British government thinks the same way. Many of the Syrian diaspora, which we support and lobby on behalf of, are also now of this opinion. At last we have some realistic hope that peace is achievable.

Let's be clear, this is not appeasement of Assad - he should face his many victims and accusers in the International Criminal Court in due course, but is the only way to break the political stalemate and the relentless cycle of killing.

We seem to have been in the end game for Syria for years now. However, over the last six months this forgotten war has reached a final tipping point, and our collective political inaction is nothing short of an international disgrace. We allow a permanent member of the UN security council, Russia, to be complicit in war crimes. Russia has destroyed hospitals and killed civilians, breaking every rule of law and decency. The men and women of our military have helped to destroy Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but our political and diplomatic ineptitude is allowing it to regrow in Idlib, Ghouta and the refugee camps of Europe. 

The other members of the UN security council appear completely focused on North Korea, Brexit and their own domestic politics. They appear to be missing the fact that neglecting the cause of peace in Syria is the best recruiting sergeant Islamic State could hire.

If Britain and Europe put half as much effort into Syrian peace as they do into Brexit, if Trump holds Putin to account, and if Assad stays during the transition process, there is just a chance that the UN Geneva Process will provide a decent solution for millions of civilians who have been gassed, bombarded and starved for the last five years.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE is a veteran of two Gulf wars and a chemical weapons expert. He advises the Peshmerga. Dr David Nott OBE is a surgeon who has volunteered in numerous disaster zones. They are both directors of Doctors Under Fire. 


Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Ann Summers can’t claim to empower women when it is teaming up with Pornhub

This is not about mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

I can’t understand why erotic retailers like Ann Summers have persisted into the twenty-first century. The store claims to be “sexy, daring, provocative and naughty”, and somewhat predictably positions itself as empowering for women. As a feminist of the unfashionable type, I can’t help but be suspicious of any form of sexual liberation that can be bought or sold.

And yet, I’d never really thought of Ann Summers as being particularly threatening to the rights of women, more just a faintly depressing reflection of heteronormativity. This changed when I saw they’d teamed-up with Pornhub. The website is reputedly the largest purveyor of online pornography in the world. Pornhub guidelines state that content flagged as  “illegal, unlawful, harassing, harmful, offensive” will be removed. Nonetheless, the site still contains simulated incest and rape with some of the more easily published film titles including “Exploited Teen Asia” (236 million views) and “How to sexually harass your secretary properly” (10.5 million views.)  With campaigns such as #metoo and #timesup are sweeping social media, it seems bizarre that a high street brand would not consider Pornhub merchandise as toxic.

Society is still bound by taboos: our hyper-sexual society glossy magazines like Teen Vogue offer girls tips on receiving anal sex, while advice on pleasuring women is notably rare. As an unabashed wanker, I find it baffling that in the year that largely female audiences queued to watch Fifty Shades Darker, a survey revealed that 20 per cent of U.S. women have never masturbated. It is an odd truth that in our apparently open society, any criticism of pornography or sexual practices is shut down as illiberal. 

Guardian-reading men who wring their hands about Fair Trade coffee will passionately defend the right to view women being abused on film. Conservative men who make claims about morals and marriage are aroused by images that in any other setting would be considered abuse. Pornography is not only misogynistic, but the tropes and language are often also racist. In what other context would racist slurs and scenarios be acceptable?

I have no doubt that some reading this will be burning to point out that feminist pornography exists. In name of course it does, but then again, Theresa May calls herself a feminist when it suits. Whether you believe feminist pornography is either possible or desirable, it is worth remembering that what is marketed as such comprises a tiny portion of the market. This won’t make me popular, but it is worth remembering feminism is not about celebrating every choice a woman makes – it is about analysing the social context in which choices are made. Furthermore, that some women also watch porn is evidence of how patriarchy shapes our desire, not that pornography is woman-friendly.  

Ann Summers parts the net curtains of nation’s suburban bedrooms and offers a glimpse into our peccadillos and preferences. That a mainstream high street retailer blithely offers guidance on hair-pulling, whipping and clamps, as well as a full range of Pornhub branded products is disturbing. This is not about women’s empowerment or mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

We are living in a world saturated with images of women and girls suffering; to pretend that there is no connection between pornography and the four-in-ten teenage girls who say they have been coerced into sex acts is naive in the extreme. For too long the state claimed that violence in the home was a domestic matter. Women and girls are now facing an epidemic of sexual violence behind bedroom doors and it is not a private matter. We need to ask ourselves which matters more: the sexual rights of men or the human rights of women?