The Explanation (BBC) There has been much about Turkiye and Syria in the news since the recent earthquakes and so I decided to go back and review what has happened in Syria in recent years. How Syria’s Peaceful Uprising Became a Civil War takes us back to July 2000. Lina Sinjab, a BBC Middle East correspondent, explains how the conflict in her native country began. Bashar al-Assad had inherited the presidency from his father and Syria became, in effect, a dictatorship without a dictator. In 2011 the Arab Spring emerged across the Middle East, evoking a military crackdown in Syria despite the peaceful nature of the demonstrations. Russia and Iran backed the government, while the Americans backed the Kurds and Islamic groups. This U.S. support changed in 2013 when ISIS became involved, prompting the US and a coalition of Arab states to fight against ISIS. Assad used chemical weapons against his people, something that Barak Obama had seen as a ‘red line’ but no action was taken. By this time, Russia’s support for the regime was overt. A huge refugee flow ensued, cutting Syria’s population from 21 million to 6 million. Then the podcast finished with a very abrupt ending.
The Daily (NYT) A Crisis Within a Crisis in effect picks up where the previous podcast left off and asks why, after the earthquake, it has been so hard to get aid to Syria. It returns briefly to the Arab Spring, and the clampdown by the al-Assad government, and the fleeing of doctors from the country once hospitals began being targetted. Western sanctions were imposed against the as-Assad government, although the United Nations continued operating within Government-held areas with Al-Assad’s permission after agreeing to recognize the sovereignty of his government. In 2014 a UN resolution enabled the UN to send aid into areas that were not under the control of the Al-Assad govt. As a result, aid groups established bases containing workers and supplies on the border of Turkiye and Syria as a staging ground to move into Syria. This is the area that was impacted by the earthquake. It took four days for the first supplies to arrive from Turkiye to Syria, and even then it was a shipment that had been put together before the earthquake, so it contained none of the emergency supplies or help that was required. Since then Al-Assad has agreed to open two more crossing points. The Syrian government is asking for sanctions to be lifted, but the UK and US are unlikely to send direct aid. The earthquake has come at a time when the US had already begun easing sanctions, and the Syrian government had begun re-engaging.
Archive on Four (BBC) What Has Media Training Done to Government? Featuring a wealth of mainly-British political interviewers, this episode looks at the rise of ‘media training’, often conducted by former interviewers themselves. As the episode points out, media training comes from a place of fear- fear by the interviewer that they won’t get anything; fear from the interviewee that they will says something they didn’t mean to say. It is now an industry in its own right, where the journalists become celebrities themselves, making the whole field more competitive. It is marketing-oriented, and it weaponizes the unintentional.
Emperors of Rome Episode XL What is an Emperor? goes back to look at the way that the concept of ’emperor’ had changed from the time of Julius Caesar through to the death of Domitian. In that 150 years, the republic was almost back to a monarchy in all but name. Caesar was not an Emperor officially, because he was not a Princeps. He saw himself within a Republican mould, taking on the title of ‘dictator’ -itself a Republican term- and just extending his term again..and again.. and again. Augustus was the first emperor because he could veto anything, getting his powers from the Senate. The influence of the army became increasingly important, as did the power of the imperial household. Deification after death gradually became normalized. So why didn’t the Senate reassert its power? Probably because the conjunction of the interests of the military and the emperor had become normalized. Episode XLI Nerva. Nerva was one of the last Italian emperors, coming to power after Domitian was assassinated. We don’t know much about his early life but he came from a high-born consular family and was close to the imperial family- for example, his grandfather went into voluntary exile with Tiberius, although he distanced himself later. Nerva is seen as the first of the ‘five good emperors’. The senate put him forward as emperor, so there was no return to the Republic, but he never had the support of the army. The army insisted that he nominate a successor, so he named and adopted Trajan from the military ranks. He was only there for 16 months before dying of natural causes. Episode XLII is a bit different- it’s called A Lesson in Latin followed by Interlude Latin Pronunciation (Actually, I’d quite like to learn Latin). Rhiannon and Matt start by going through some common Latin phrases that are still in use today. But how do we know what Latin sounded like? Mainly from grammarians, especially Quintillian, who declared that if people spelled correctly, the pronunciation would be correct. (A bit like Spanish, really)
Kerning Cultures Viva Brother Nagi. Nagi was a Yemeni immigrant to America, where he worked in agriculture- as many Yemini immigrants do. He was born in Yemen, where he was politically active and moved to America as a 20-year-old in 1967, part of a wave of immigrants from Yemen who arrived after the 1965 Immigration Act removed quotas. There had been industrial action in the agricultural section since the 1970s, and in 1973 strikes broke out again when the Teamsters Union contracted a sweetheart deal with the growers. Nagy became a picket captain in the grape strike led by Cesar Chavez. He was beaten to death by a county sheriff outside a restaurant in Lamont California. A huge funeral march was held, and a boycott of grapes and fruits took off amongst consumers. Two years later in 1975 the law was finally changed to allow farm workers to assemble, have union representation and bargain.
Take Me To Your Leader (ABC) In this episode Hamish Macdonald looks at Mohammed bin Salman. Along with journalists Graeme Wood and Karen House, he interviews ‘Sultan’, a gay Saudi journalist, who sought and received refuge in Australia after a journalist he was ‘minding’ went rogue. MBS is the grandson of King Abdulaziz, and probably the most ‘Saudi’ amongst possible heirs as he did not have the Oxford University/Rich British life that many of his other relatives had. Young people see him as a progressive modern, but not Western, leader. In November 2017, now Crown Prince, as part of an anti-corruption purge, he ‘held’ 400 members of the elite in the Ritz Carlton Hotel and forced to repay their debts. He has developed Vision 2030 which envisions a modern, cutting edge city housing 9 million people on a 170 km. block of land. He had a close relationship with Trump, but not Biden, and he takes Putin’s calls but not Biden’s.