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SYRIA: Pro-Regime Change Academic Bias in UK

by | Tuesday, 10th July 2018
The Toran Center for Strategic Studies appears to have been established in early 2016, just after Russia had intervened in Syria in September 2015, at the request of the internationally recognised government there.

Toran means "the mother nation of all Turks worldwide" according to Ali Mourad, an investigative journalist, based in Beirut.

According to the Toran website:

The Toran Center for Strategic Research and Studies was founded on the premise that establishing an intellectual structure based on scholarly foundations would give the readers a greater understanding of current policies and make future strategies more foreseeable.

The following are excerpts from the Toran Mission, Values and Goals statement on their website:

Approach reality through all its dimensions and contexts, analyze all possible steps and paths thereto, and come up with recommendations and mechanisms to put before stakeholders and decision-makers.

Integrity and credibility: through raising all issues without bias, or data content or output alteration, so that all our work is founded on the basis of full credibility.

To provide scholarly proposals to research institutions and strategic studies centers to interact with them in a participatory manner, and process them in line with the Syrian society’s requirements and aspirations.

To activate the role of civil society through the establishment of channels of communication between officials and civil society institutions in a manner that guarantees control and rationalization of the relationship between the parties and building them on scholarly foundations.

There is a strong claim of no "bias" and a "scholarly" approach to research and analysis which would suggest transparency and the inclusion of diverging views particularly on Syria where the dominant narrative in the West has been the criminalisation of the Syrian government and their allies.

The Toran Center Structure - Professor Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas
Professor Scott Lucas at the Toran Website

One of the consultants at the Toran Center is Professor Scott Lucas. Lucas is a Professor of American Studies at Birmingham University in the UK. Lucas is also a political blogger at his own website, EA Worldview and provides public comment on the Syrian conflict. He is considered an "expert" on Syria and the Middle East by his University and is often cited by mainstream media in the UK who presume Lucas to be an "unbiased" academic source.

Lucas has been instrumental in providing comment for a number of smear pieces in the UK mainstream media that have targeted academics, Prof. Piers Robinson and Prof. Tim Hayward in particular alongside their colleagues in the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media

Independent journalists (including myself) such as Eva Bartlett and Patrick Henningsen have also been the targets of these smears with Lucas providing the back up:

"Official Russian government channels are not the only sources of misleading information. Lucas pointed to a coterie of Western social media personalities and bloggers who have concentrated their efforts on running interference for the Assad regime." - Snopes 

Articles that have appeared in the Guardian, The Times, Snopes, the BBC have all relied heavily on Lucas to reinforce their claims against academics and journalists who have dared to counter or even question the U.K state-aligned narrative on Syria.

Lucas has also waged an intense Twitter campaign against Robinson and Hayward:

Scott Lucas attacks Piers Robinson and Tim Hayward on Twitter

In one article produced for the Conversation in October 2016, Lucas defends the UK FCO-financed White Helmets who have been exposed as a propaganda construct created by the UK, US and financed by NATO-member-states and Qatar to lobby for escalated NATO military intervention in Syria in order to secure "regime change".

The White Helmets are proven to be embedded with and affiliated to some of the most hard line extremist and sectarian armed groups in occupying Syria, including Jaish Al Islam in Douma and Nusra Front (Al Qaeda) in most "opposition" controlled areas.

Alongside the Conversation article, it is stated that Lucas' only affiliation is to his Birmingham University post. It is hard to determine when Lucas joined Toran but we do know Toran was in existence prior to October 2016 and that Lucas is definitely still a consultant there, following questions I put to the Toran Centre a few days ago.

Scott Lucas claims no affiliations other than Birmingham University

Lucas is vehemently opposed to the Syrian government and Russia. This is clear from the views expressed and amplified in his blog, EA Worldview.

Scott Lucas blames Assad

Researchers at Toran Center 

A number of researchers work at the Toran Center and clearly collaborate with Lucas.

Dima Moussa 

Dima Moussa

In May 2018, Syrian-American lawyer, Dima Moussa was elected as one of three Vice Presidents of the Syrian National Coalition. The SNC evolved out of splits within the original Syrian National Council that had been backed by Hillary Clinton early on in the Syrian conflict.

"On 12 November 2012 the exiled movement restructured itself to try to present a more united front to its Western and Arab backers. A number of Syrian opposition groups, including the Syrian National Council, created a new coalition that they hope would be recognized as the single representative of the broad anti-Assad movement." ~ National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces

The New York Times in December 2012:

(Hillary) Clinton is also expected to announce U.S. recognition of the group as "the legitimate representative" of the Syrian people, anointing it as the transition authority that would take over after Assad's anticipated fall and following in the footsteps of France, Britain, Spain, Italy and other nations. [...] Now that there is a new opposition formed, we are going to be doing what we can to support that opposition," Clinton told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday. She urged a political settlement, which the Syrian regime has steadfastly rejected, and said Assad's fall is inevitable."

Moussa is also closely connected to the White Helmet organisaton according to her LinkedIn page.

January 2013 - October 2014, Moussa worked as consultant and project manager at ARK Group DMCC with a focus on the Middle East region.

The founder of the White Helmets, ex-British military officer, James Le Mesurier worked for ARK Group when he established the White Helmets in Turkey and Jordan.  Moussa was with ARK during this period.

Le Mesurier then went on to set up Mayday Rescue, ostensibly in the Netherlands (Wayback Machine shows the Mayday address in Dubai) as an intermediary to receive and transfer funds from the UK FCO CSSF to the White Helmets.

May 2016 - August 2017, Moussa was Organisational Development Director at Mayday Rescue where she clearly had a close working relationship with the White Helmet group.

In a Mayday Rescue job application, posted on the UN Careers website, that provided Moussa's email as the contact for applicants, the Mayday support role for the White Helmets was described thus:

"A principal focus of our effort is on the provision of support to Syria Civil Defence (The White Helmets), a volunteer organisation working to save the lives of civilians in Syria. They have saved the lives of more than 80,000 people since March 2013."

Asaad Hanna

Asaad Hanna

Since 2017, Asaad Hanna has been the Media and Advocacy Manager for the White Helmets. He is a regular contributor to Chatham House a British Government-linked policy institute, to TRT - Turkish State media and to the Washington Post.

None of these media outlets can be described as unbiased with regards to the Syrian conflict, having been instrumental in supporting the NATO-member-state regime change objectives from the beginning.

June 2014 - May 2017, Hanna was a political officer for the Free Syrian Army and was based at the political offices in Istanbul.

In 2017, Hanna was a media adviser to the Saudi-backed opposition figures that formed the HNC (High Negotiations Committee).

Hanna joined the Toran Center as a researcher in 2017 and is based at their offices in Rehanly, Turkey.

All this information has been taken from Hanna's personal CV

Majdi Nema

Mahdi Nema

Majdi Nema was a leader of Jaish Al Islam until September 2016 when he allegedly quit after an interview with Elizabeth Tsurkov, a research fellow at the Israeli Forum for Regional Thinking focusing on Syria. During the interview, it is alleged that Tsurkov revealed Nema's true identity - his nom de guerre had been Islam Alloush and this led to his leaving Jaish Al Islam for his own security. 

The Toran Center have informed me that Nema is the contact point for information on the administration and financial records of the centre. I have also been reliably informed, by sources on the ground, that Turkey is the primary source of funding for this organisation but have not been able to find accounts evidence to support that claim.

It is worth noting that Lucas regularly cites or tags Tsurkov at EA Worldview.

Saudi-financed Jaish Al Islam are one of the most brutal and extremist groups inside Syria. They were the occupiers of Douma in Eastern Ghouta until its final liberation in April 2018 under the shadow of another alleged chemical attack 'by the Syrian Arab Army' on the 7th April.

A chemical attack reported by the White Helmets among other Western assets on the ground in Ghouta who worked alongside Jaish Al Islam and appeared to support and facilitate their oppression of Syrian civilians under their control.

A chemical attack that was used to justify the U.K, U.S, French unlawful aggression against Syria on the 14th April before the OPCW had been able to identify what "chemicals", if any, had been used.

A chemical attack claim that has been proven highly contentious by the OPCW interim report, 6th July 2018, that has determined no Sarin traces were present at the scene of the alleged attack:

"No organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected, either in the environmental samples or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties"

Equally claims of the use of chlorine gas were rendered questionable:

"Various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples from Locations 2 and 4, along with residues of explosive"

Jaish Al Islam were responsible for the caging of civilians as human shields in November 2015. Reports have claimed these civilians were later executed. The majority of the civilians belonged to the Alawite sect, regularly targeted by the sectarian factions who have invaded Syria since 2011.

Many of  the civilians who were caged had been kidnapped from Adra (North East of Ghouta) by Jaish Al Islam and associated armed groups in 2013. The Adra massacre was one of the most horrifying sectarian mass murders committted by the so-called "moderates" since 2011. Professor Tim Anderson, author of The Dirty War on Syria, investigated this crime against the Syrian people:

“Civilians told us that the workers of an Adra bakery were all executed and burned [in bakery ovens] during the first hours of the attack.” She said ‘whole families were massacred.” - The Liberation of the Syrian City of Adra. Held Hostage by US Sponsored Death Squads

Scott Lucas appeared to justify the caging of civilians in a Twitter debate where he defended such tactics as desperate measures taken against the Syrian Arab Army push back against foreign invaders and extremist occupiers of their capital city.

Lucas did not provide any context to this hideous abuse of civilians in Douma. He did not mention the history of the Adra massacre and kidnappings. Nor did he mention the daily mortar fire into Damascus city centre from Douma and other extremist-occupied areas of Eastern Ghouta.

From December 2012 - February 2018, 14,800 mortars were fired by the armed factions into Damascus, targeting crowded civilian areas, school children and residential quarters. According to official statistics in Damascus, 11,000 were killed, 1500 of those were children and 30,000 were permanently disabled by those mortars in the same time period. Lucas fails to mention these deaths and mutilations of Syrians when defending the actions of Jaish Al Islam.

This video shows the horror of an incoming attack from Jaish Al Islam in Douma, during Easter 2018, when the streets of Damascus were packed with people celebrating. Warning: this is very real and distressing footage of the effects of mortars and rockets launched into civilian areas:

Since the SAA allied liberation of Eastern Ghouta and the south of Damascus from terrorist occupation (ISIS in the south) the hell cannon have fallen silent and civilians have returned to a semblance of normality.

Jaish Al Islam were also responsible for the Al Tawba jail (Repentance prison) that held thousands of Syrian civilians underground for the years that JAI were in control of Douma. The prisoners, including children, were forced to dig the underground tunnels used by the militants and the victims who were released spoke of abuse and torture by JAI. 

I was also in Damascus during the release of kidnap victims by Jaish Al Islam and the evacuation of JAI militants from Douma under the Russian brokered Amnesty and Reconciliaiton agreements. This video was filmed after the first kidnap victims had arrived in Damascus city centre to be reunited with their families. WATCH:

This violent sectarianism was not a feature of Syrian culture or society prior to the presence of militant Islamist ideologues like Jaish Al Islam who imposed their elitist vision of Islam upon every inch of territory they ruled over.

While Nema may have changed allegiance and adopted another rebrand or moniker, as with all these shape changes from terrorist to extremist to alleged "moderate" group - the fundamental ideology remains the same and is transferred from one brand to the next. It is a marketing ploy, nothing more to provide camouflage for the Western backed armed groups.

Capt. Rashid Al Hourani

Rashid Hourani

Al Hourani is most closely associated with the Homs Liberation Movement, although in some reports he is linked to the splinter group, Tahrir Al Watan that has connections to Nour Al Din Zinki, beheaders of 12 year old Palestinian child, Abdullah Issa in 2016.

"The (Homs Liberation) Movement is an Islamist faction known to be a close military ally of the official al Qaeda franchise in Syria known as Jabhat al-Nusra." ~ Syria 'Rebels' Plan Suicide Attacks

Video of Homs Liberation Movement (HLM) at work:

Hourani's membership of the HLM means there is potential of a connection to Farouq Al Habib who was the founder of the Homs Revolutionary Council. These "revolutionary" councils effectively acted as an interface between NATO-member and Gulf States and their proxy armed groups.

Farouq Al Habib and Raed Saleh receive Atlantic Council's Freedom Award, June 2016 Poland. (Photo: MTV)

Habib is currently Syria Programme Manager of Mayday Rescue/White Helmets and is often seen on the world stage advocating an escalation in US Coalition military intervention to support the "revolution" and of course, the White Helmets "first responders".

While there is no overt connection between Hourani and Habib on the Toran Centre website, it is not too far fetched to assume there would have been a link between the two pivotal members of the Homs Revolutionary Council and its military wing.

Ahmad Abazeid

Ahmad Abazeid appears to be a contributor to the Toran Center. His article "How did Ahrar Al Sham Collapse" was published in January 2018 and "revised" by Lucas.

Abazeid is described as a "Syrian revolutionary writer-analyst" by Sam Heller, a senior analyst at the Crisis Group, based in Beirut, Lebanon. Heller's focus is on "non-state" armed groups and he has had some interaction with the Toran Center which he describes as "opposition-leaning" in his article - Russia is in Charge in Syria, written in June 2016.

A stroll through Abazeid's social media accounts certainly demonstrates his "opposition-leaning". The most striking examples being his clear allegiance and admiration for the former leader of Jaish Al Islam, Zahran Alloush who was killed in December 2015 in Eastern Ghouta:

It is interesting to note that Ahrar Al Sham and Jaish Al Islam were both mentioned in recent questions to Alistair Burt of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in March and June 2018:

A 2016 article in the Guardian - How Britain Funds the Propaganda War - exposed the UK FCO creation and financing of a PR operation, Incostrat, to clean up the image of the "moderate opposition". Jaish Al Islam were one of the armed groups to receive the make-over with public funds through the Conflict Stability and Security Fund - which has also been used to bankroll the White Helmets almost £39m since their establishment in March 2013.

French analyst Thierry Meyssan also believed Ahrar Al Sham were included in the UK FCO-financed Incostrat whitewash campaign:

A heated dispute opposed Russia and the United States at the UN concerning the Army of Islam (Jaysh al-islam) and the Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant (Ahrar al-Sham). Moscow intended to add them to the list of «terrorist organisations», while Washington still wants to consider them as a 'moderate armed group'.

The Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant is also supervised by the British. Like the Army of Islam, its communications are handled by InCoStrat.

Interestingly it is a Spanish student who "studied at Birmingham University" who was leading the rebranding operation for Ahrar Al Sham in 2016. Labib Al Nahhas the "foreign affairs minister" for the Islamist group traveled to Washington towards the end of December 2015. He had opinion pieces published in the Telegraph and the Washington Post.

This RT report covers the controversy surrounding Ahrar Al Sham, including the sectarian massacre of Alawite civilians committed by this "moderate" group in the town of Al Zara in Homs Province.

Conclusions

The Toran Center must be described as "opposition-leaning" in the extreme when considering the Islamist armed groups represented among its researchers. Sources in Turkey also told me that Capt. Hourani is the main player in this organisation and he is one of the leading figures of the so-called Syrian "revolution" with strong ties to many of the armed groups who have been power multiplied by external forces and governments.

Lucas has affiliated himself to an organisation that has clear bias towards the Syrian armed and extremist opposition. Through the Toran centre Lucas is linked to Dima Moussa of the Syrian National Coalition and it is very likely that Moussa played a role in the creation and promotion of the White Helmets until she left Mayday Rescue in 2017.

Asaad Hanna is the Media and Advocacy manager for the White Helmets. It is hard to see how Lucas can argue a non-partisan position when he is collaborating with such primary players in the US Coalition regime change operation. Lucas defends the White Helmets vehemently without ever examining the evidence of their multi-million financing from governments invested in regime change in Syria or their close allegiance to the extremist and terrorist groups operating alongside them, many of whom are also financed, equipped or armed by the same governments. 

When asked on Twitter about these connections, Lucas deflected and went on the offensive, which is his MO:

I had previously asked Prof. Piers Robinson for a statement regarding Academic transparency and the declaration of any affiliations when presenting an argument or research. This was his response which I am quoting in full:

Generally speaking, academics are expected to ‘openly declare and justify all real or potential conflicts of interest’. As a researcher working on the Syrian war, if I was working for, or affiliated to, one side or other in that conflict, I would feel compelled to be open and transparent about it. 

As it is, I have no affiliation, paid or otherwise, with any of the actors in the conflict. As a researcher and academic my only commitment is to the production of rigorous and independent research. 

Being open about conflicts of interest, potential or real, is important to do, not only when conducting research or discussing research findings, but also, and especially so, when providing public comment on the war. The public, when listening to an academic, will normally presume that he or she is in some way neutral or independent with respect to the issue he or she is discussing. 

Being affiliated to, or working for, any particular side would bring that neutrality/independence into question. At the very least, audiences should be made aware of such affiliations.

Lucas projects his own clear bias onto independent researchers, analysts, academics, journalists with varying degrees of condescension while he is violating pretty much all the ethical standards described by Robinson. 

Lucas dismisses all arguments or statements that counter his position on Syria even when they come from Syrians as can be seen from this Twitter exchange between Lucas and Syrian analyst and journalist, Kevork Almassian:

Lucas is not a major ‘influencer’; he is a useful talking head for mainstream media in their attempts to discredit independent analysis of the Syrian conflict. Lucas’ impact is hugely reliant upon Twitter where his audience has been dwindling for some time but the more important questions concern the possible infiltration of Academic institutions and the extent to which corporate media and Academia rely upon "experts" like Lucas to bolster and corroborate their narrow view of any given conflict or UK State foreign policy. 

To echo Lucas himself, commenting in the Guardian, is he deliberately producing “agitation propaganda” to protect the UK/US Syria project or does he genuinely not realise he is “being used as a pawn” in the greater geopolitical chess game played by global experts in regime change and hybrid wars that violate international law with every move?

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