Weekly media digest

Michel Kilo's death, the pitfalls of the 'Caliphate' podcast, and racism towards refugees in Germany

SyriaUntold brings you the latest edition of our digest. We want to share with you the news, features, investigative pieces and long-form essays that we're reading this week.

23 April 2021

Illustration by Rami Khoury

A Syrian hero has died, and the hope he carried risks dying with him (The National)

“The start of the week brought with it two important milestones for Syria. On Sunday, the parliament in Damascus, loyal to President Bashar Al Assad, announced that presidential elections would be held on May 26. Even after 10 years of an uprising in which half a million died and half the country was displaced, the result is pre-ordained. Mr Al Assad will win.

A day later, Michel Kilo, a long-time dissident, intellectual and political prisoner who pioneered calls for democratic reform under Mr Al Assad’s regime and that of his father Hafez, died in exile in Paris from Covid-19. His death was mourned by a broad swathe of Syrians in exile and opponents of the regime who saw in Kilo a principled voice for freedom.” Read more

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How an email sting operation unearthed a pro-Assad conspiracy—and Russia’s role in it (Newlines Magazine)

“During a three-month correspondence with someone he believed to be a Russian intelligence officer, a British academic has unmasked a global network of Russian diplomats and conspiracy theorists seeking to undermine the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the Hague-based intergovernmental watchdog that has been investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria.” Read more

Sign of the times: Caliphate and the perils of reporting online (Harper’s Magazine)

“Callimachi was the face of the podcast, and since its unraveling, she has become a lightning rod for criticism—accused of everything from sensationalism to Islamophobia. Callimachi’s reporting record is thick with errors, and she deserves her share of blame for the project’s failure, but the real problem, according to five Times journalists I spoke with, is that senior editors ignored numerous warnings about her work long before the making of Caliphate. Three Times journalists who cover the Middle East, who all asked to speak anonymously so as not to risk their jobs, told me that they and several of their colleagues had raised concerns with senior editors about Callimachi’s methods beginning with her first stories for the paper in 2014. They were ignored or intimidated into silence.” Read more

Fleeing a modern war, Syrians seek refuge in ancient ruins (The New York Times)

“As Syria’s 10-year civil war has displaced millions of people, families like Abu Ramadan’s have sought refuge from a modern war behind the walls of dozens of ancient villages sprinkled across the hills of the country’s northwest, a region still out of the control of President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Since their original owners left them between the eighth and 10th centuries, these ruins have remained in remarkably good condition for more than 1,000 years, their stone structures largely withstanding the passing of empires and battering by the wind and rain.” Read more

Germany grapples with racism after threats derail refugee's candidacy for Parliament (NPR)

“When Alaows fled the war in Syria in 2015, he thought he was leaving the threat of violence behind him. ‘The whole reason I came to Europe was so that I could live in safety and with dignity,’ he said.

That has not come to pass. Citing death threats and a racist offensive against him and people close to him, Alaows withdrew his candidacy to represent the constituency of Oberhausen, in North Rhine-Westphalia state, in parliament on March 30.

The intolerance and intimidation Alaows faces have been widely condemned but are nothing new for Muslim and nonwhite public figures, or for politicians who openly support refugees.” Read more

Syrian missile strike triggers alarms near Israeli nuclear facility and retaliatory attack (The Washington Post)

“The exchange came during an escalating confrontation between regional adversaries Israel and Iran, which controls militias in Syria and along with Russia is one of the main military backers of President Bashar al-Assad. Israeli strikes against Iranian-backed targets in Syria have become increasingly common in recent months.” Read more

An early promise broken: Inside Biden’s reversal on refugees (The New York Times)

“Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken was in the Oval Office, pleading with President Biden.

In the meeting, on March 3, Mr. Blinken implored the president to end Trump-era restrictions on immigration and to allow tens of thousands of desperate refugees fleeing war, poverty and natural disasters into the United States, according to several people familiar with the exchange.

But Mr. Biden, already under intense political pressure because of the surge of migrant children at the border with Mexico, was unmoved. The attitude of the president during the meeting, according to one person to whom the conversation was later described, was, essentially: Why are you bothering me with this?” Read more

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