Industrial Cracks

This blog is a glimpse into the mind of a history nerd sitting behind a laptop screen. Enjoy a series of ideas he hopes to be thought provoking.
I am quite proud of my Contemplations and Discussing Islam pages. Feel free to contact me anytime.

What is life supposed to be?

I find that very question is a false illusion. A picture of life is artificially manufactured through envy, greed, lust, power, among other things

We look at what other people have and we aspire towards it. We add different parameters of life from other people and their accomplishments. We look at others and compare our lives to theirs, and feel unsatisfied with our lives.

After all, others lives are beautiful to see aren’t they? They seem so perfect, we see all the beauty in them. We don’t see their hardship, we don’t see what they had to go through to achieve what they did. We see the beauty because that is what they want to show us. We see love, power, wealth, and we aspire towards it because it is shown-off.

It is the culture of this society, to show off. Whether it is love, or money, or power. Under the guise of freedom of expression, everything is allowed. The haves show off, and the have-nots feel envious.

Thus a picture is manufactured in the minds of those who do not have. Out of envy, out of ambition and, most importantly, out of the showing-off of those who have. It is a picture that tells us we should have this. This is what living life means. Sooner or later, something new comes along which is added to the picture as well. We are never satisfied.

The grand reality of it all is much different. This is all an illusion, this is only temporary. Once that is realized, these expressions of love, power, and wealth become meaningless. They become trivial.

Everything in our perfect picture of life is temporary. It doesn’t define what life is. The grand reality of this life is death. It is assured to us all. What matters is the afterlife. That is what we should add to our picture of life. Not the wealth of others, nor the lust of lovers, nothing but death and what follows death. When we realize this, we will know to work towards that afterlife. The illusion of life will be shattered, we will constantly work towards afterlife.

Of course, along the way, it is good to have wealth, it is good to experience love, it is good to have power. But all those things should be secondary to the grand reality of afterlife. They should not be achieved by giving up on afterlife. Rather they should be achieved in a way that will make the afterlife better for us.

 I know Islam isn’t really a political entity in Venezuela.

But amongst the two theories of role of government, he followed closer to the Islamic view of role of government which dictates that a government is supposed to LEAD the people towards the better, not keep the people happy and fat as is the western model of governance.

I held him in great respect and admired what he did for his people.

Innalilahe Wainna Alihe Rajeoon

Chavez may be gone, but he will be immortalized in the revolution.

on Acceptance of death and logic

so the life sentence is a cruel and unusual punishment and the death sentence isn’t? life sentence allows them to think over their deeds + gives them time to repent! you’re straying from the point.

Indeed life sentence is a cruel and unusual punishment. It takes away all hope of leading a good life, all hope of aspirations and what good does thinking about an action does if there is no chance of repentance and starting over!

Innalilahe Wa InnaAlihe Rajeoon

We are from God and to God we shall all return. Death is not something torturous, nor is it cruel. Death is basically life going back to where it came from. For those commit an evil act in this world, facing the punishment for it is a form of repentance in the afterlife. For those who have committed grave sins such as taking someone’s life or spreading corruption in society, according to Allah death through legitimate judicial means is the way they should leave this world. 

How am i deviating from the point? At first you say about the right of taking life, so i explain in what circumstances taking life is legitimate according to God. Then you point out how what if we are not sure, and i explain how the way of making sure in this world is explained to us through use of reason and evidence and testimony, if we have made sure using those means, then our duty is done and it becomes our responsibility to pass judgement. Then you mention how imprisonment for life is better alternative, to that i explain how imprisonment for life is actually very cruel since it takes away hope and chance of repentance through punishment. Not to mention the injustice that lies in imprisonment for life. Where is the deviation from the point in all of this? i have answered each of your objections through reason and evidence using the Quran as well.

All of that has been presented to you already. Acceptance or denial of it is at your disposal. But remember, as a friend i remind you, if something is explained in a logical manner, then going against it for the sake of personal feelings or emotions is a very very grave sin. It is indeed a sin which burns away all of ones good deeds. I may not have presented this as logically as i could have. You, the one who is reading it, knows better. But as a friend i am telling you, if it makes sense to your logic through the use of evidence that i have provided, please do not deny it.

iA kheir. 

Regarding the death penalty

what allows us to take away lives that God put on this earth?

"…that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land - it is as if he had slain mankind entirely….” Quran 5:32


"… And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden [to be killed] except by [legal] right. This has He instructed you that you may use reason.” Quran 6:151

Indeed it is not up to us to take away any soul given life by God unless it is by a legal right. Even within legal right, God has clearly put regulations establishing only the life of one who has committed murder or spread corruption in the land can be taken through legal means. 

Hence passing death penalty on these people who have spread corruption in the land; through a judicial process which reached it’s decision after ample evidence was provided, is promoted in Islam. 

Unlike in the U.S where we gave more money to the bankers who spread corruption, the death penalty will ensure that no bankers in the future try to pull the same. Indeed there is wisdom in God’s decree.

Iran to hang 4 bankers on fraud charges

 Iran’s judiciary system recently completed prosecuting the biggest banking fraud case in the nation’s history. Judiciary spokesman Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei told reporters that four people have been officially sentenced to death on charges of corruption and “disrupting the country’s economic system.” 

Elite criminals shouldn’t be treated differently than any other criminal; they should be prosecuted, not protected. 

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un- Quran 2:156

 ’Surely we belong to God and to Him shall we return’

Indeed this is a verse that we are to recite upon hearing of death or misfortune. Powerful words that strengthen the person’s heart and brings them to reality after a misfortune has befallen them. We do belong to God, and to God we will all return. Such eloquence tears through the sadness, the anger, and the regrets of those who surround the soul which has been called back. 

lately, i have become saddened. I have come to realize how common this verse has become. Everyday we hear of more deaths, more souls returning back, more hearts filled with grief and anger. Yet for all those hearts, the strength of these words is alone to sustain them through their suffering. 

Such a beautiful blessing is it not? This universal statement helping people through misfortune.

As the pearl of soul joined the shell of body,
Nourished by the Water of Life it took the form of man.
When the pearl was finished, when the shell was shattered-
It came to adorn the ear of the King (God).

—    Baba Afdal Kashani

Israel’s war of aggression against Gaza


I told my Russian friend yesterday about war in Gaza and said it was a war of aggression, and he agreed that was the case. This is different from the mass media, as Electronic Intifada reports: “international academics who recently participated in a conference on linguistics at the Islamic University of Gaza which decries major media outlets’ failure to report on recent killings of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces in Gaza.” Even though the war hasn’t completely ramped up, I believe that Israel is committing crimes against peace (starting a war of aggression), war crimes (violating the laws of war and wanton killing) and crimes against humanity (murdering Palestinian civilians).

Of course, I am using definitions from the London Charter of the International Military Tribunal which formulated the “Nuremberg Principles.” In this article, you’ll learn how Israel has committed war crimes in its war of aggression, as I go through the applicable laws of war. Starting with the UN Charter, the core of international law, there are some clear violations. One could try to justify this war under Article 1, Clause 1, as “maintain[ing] international peace and security” and removing “threats to the peace,” but yet this action violates that because it making more violence, not peace in anyway. Hamas’s right to self defense in firing rockets into Israel shows that Israel’s war is not one that is bringing peace. Article 51 gives a state the right to retaliate if an “armed attack occurs,” yet only one anti-tank missile fell into Israel before the war, which doesn’t constitute this, meaning this article is being violated. Additionally, since Israel assassinated the commander of Hamas before the war when peace was being negotiated means Israel by engaging in this war instead of peaceful diplomacy is violating Article 2, Clause 3 and Clause 4 through the action of the war itself. Since Israel isn’t seeking peace, but wants an expanded armed conflict in Gaza, this violates Article 33 which says “the parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all seek solution by…peaceful means.” In summary, Israel has violated these parts in the UN Charter:

  • Article 1, Clause 1 
  • Article 2, Clause 3
  • Article 2, Section 4 
  • Article 33
  • Article 51

Now I turn to the little-known Hague Conventions. Israel has only ratified the 1907 one, so I’ll just mention that one. For the issue of peace, since Israel went to war rather than solve its disputes diplomatically, it violated Article 1 of the CONVENTION FOR THE PACIFIC SETTLEMENT OF INTERNATIONAL DISPUTES (1907) , which states: “the Contracting Powers agree to use their best efforts to ensure the pacific settlement of international differences.” Has Israel really used its “best efforts?” No, it hasn’t. Also, it hasn’t followed the procedure set out in the rest of the treaty to have a mediator come to the conflict, which means article 2, which requires mediation of a conflict, is being violated.

After this, I turn to the Geneva Conventions. In this case, one parts of the Fourth Geneva Convention applies to this conflict. Article 3, section 1, clearly says that “the following acts are and shall remain prohibited…violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture,” which seems to be the only article that applies now since there aren’t boots on the ground at this time. By killing over 30 and wounding more than 250, the state of Israel has clearly violated this section of the Geneva Conventions.’s Jason Ditz elaborates: “Israeli warplanes attacked the Interior Ministry today in the Gaza Strip and killed two senior Hamas military commanders in some of what were ultimately at least 200 distinct attacks against the tiny strip today alone. Other strikes hit refugee camps in the strip, and several children were among the dead overall. The bulk of the strikes never had any obvious target and seemingly just hit random residential neighborhoods. Estimates on the ground say that some 250 civilians have been wounded since Israel started the war on Wednesday…The relative lack of retaliation [from Hamas] doesn’t appear to enter into the equation for Israeli officials right now…and other suggesting that the attacks on the strip could go on for weeks, regardless of the reaction or lack thereof.” The factors I just described make it seem that more of the Hague Conventions are being violated. These include parts of the CONVENTION RESPECTING THE LAWS AND CUSTOMS OF WAR ON LAND (1907) including Article 25 which says that it is prohibited to “to kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army…To employ arms, projectiles, or material of a nature to cause superfluous injury” and Article 26 which reads as follows: “The attack or bombardment of towns, villages, habitations or buildings which are not defended, is prohibited.” The bombing of a refugee camp and fact bombs are going everywhere without aim is a violation of these two articles. This convention and Article I of CONVENTION RELATIVE TO THE OPENING OF HOSTILITIES (1907) have sections saying the aggressor nation must either have a “reasoned declaration of war or of an ultimatum with conditional declaration of war.” Israel, in bombing Gaza, supposedly in “retaliation” has not done this in the slightest.

If the Manual of the Laws and Customs of War at Oxford, a basis for International Law was applicable, then Israel would have violated Article 15 (“Open towns, agglomerations of dwellings, or villages which are not defended can neither be attacked nor bombarded”) and Art. 13. (Saying it was forbidden to “Murder by treachery of individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army…employment of arms, projectiles or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering…[and] Any destruction or seizure of the enemy’s property that is not imperatively demanded by the necessity of war”). Additionally, this war would have violated, if in effect, the 1938 Amsterdam Draft Convention for the Protection of Civilian Populations Against New Engines of War. Specifically articles 2 (“The bombardment by whatever means of towns, ports, villages or buildings which are undefended is prohibited in all circumstances. A town, port, village or isolated building shall be considered undefended provided that not only (a) no combatant troops, but also (b) no military, naval or air establishment, or barracks, arsenal, munition stores or factories, aerodromes or aeroplane workshops or ships of war, naval dockyards, forts, or fortifications for defensive or offensive purposes, or entrenchments”), Article 3 (“The bombardment by whatever means of towns, ports, villages or buildings which are defended is prohibited at any time (whether at night or day) when objects of military character cannot be clearly recognized”) and Article 4 (“Aerial bombardment for the purpose of terrorising the civilian population is expressly prohibited.”)

To conclude, I’d like to summarize what war crimes Israel has committed in terms of violations of the laws of war, which are as follows:

  • Violation of Article 1, Clause 1; Article 2, Clauses 3 & 4; Article 33; and Article 51 of the U.N. Charter
  • Violation of Article 3, section 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention
  • Violation of Articles 25 and 26 of the CONVENTION RESPECTING THE LAWS AND CUSTOMS OF WAR ON LAND (1907) 

In order to spread this information, I’d say you should talk with your co-workers, friends, students or others about the war crimes Israel is committing in Gaza, then participate in and/or help organize direct action against this war, as its going to get worse, not better and more Palestinians will die at the mercy of a US-backed military force, so this must be stopped as soon as possible.

By Burkely Hermann, the sole HermannView blogger

(via hermannview-deactivated20130527)

Two Killed as Hard-liners Attack Shia School Group

Two people were killed and five were injured in an attack on a group of Shia students and teachers in Sampang, East Java, on Sunday. 

Around 30 Shiites, most of them children, were traveling from Nangkernang village on the island of Madura, bound for Bangil in East Java. 

Shortly into their trip, they were stopped by about 500 men from mainstream Muslim groups, preventing them from continuing, said Umi Kulsum, who was at the scene. 

“Two people died, Hamama and Tohir,” she said. “Five were wounded as they were trying to protect the women and children. I was petrified. 

“When the incident happened, there weren’t any police officers. The mob had swords and machetes, and they attacked all of the adult males who were trying to protect the women and children.” 

Among the group were five of Umi’s children, who were taken away from her. 

The children in the group studied at a Shia boarding school in Bangil and had returned to Sampang, their hometown, to celebrate Idul Fitri with their families. 

The mob then torched four homes belonging to the Shiite community, including one belonging to Umi and her husband, Shia cleric Tajul Muluk. 

The Shia community in Sampang has been the target of violent attacks and incidents of intimidation in the past. 

On Dec. 29, Shiites in Nangkernang was attacked by hard-line Muslim groups, who set fire to hundreds of homes and a Shia Islamic school, displacing 500 Shiites from their village. 

Police instead charged Tajul with blasphemy, and the Ministry of Religious Affairs office in Sampang said it would “supervise” hundreds of Shia to learn Sunni Islam. 

Last month, a district court in East Java sentenced the Shia cleric to two years in prison for blasphemy after reportedly telling students that the Koran was not the original holy text for Muslims, an allegation Tajul’s legal team repeatedly denied. 

According to Tajul’s lawyers, the prosecutors in the case portrayed the Shiite faith as subservient to the Sunni majority, helping to raise the religious tensions during the proceedings. 

New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the government to drop all charges against Tajul and demanded that it amend or repeal its blasphemy law. 

With the ongoing tension and intimidation against the group, Umi said she had requested police come to ensure a safe passage for the convoy of children, but police never came. Hours after the incident, eight police officers arrived at the scene. 

East Java Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Hilman Thayib said police deployed 300 officers from precincts across Madura to Nangkernang, as well as one company from the East Java Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) unit to prevent violence. 

Umi identified the attackers as followers of Roisul Hukama, a local Nahdlatul Ulama leader who has been fanning hatred toward the local Shia community. 

“How many lives must fall until police and the government intervene?” Umi asked. 

“Our children have stopped going to school for five months. My husband is in jail, and my whole life is under terror.” 

House of Representatives member Eva Kusuma Sundari, from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), condemned the attack. 

“There must not be anymore victims,” she said. “Police must move quickly and safeguard the security and safety of the people attacked.” 

Of the 220 million Muslims in the country, there are only around one million Shiites, according to estimates. Most of the rest practice some form of Sunni Islam. 

The Freedom of Religion and Faith Advocacy Working Group (AKBB) said that Sunnis and Shiites follow different interpretations of Islam that have been accepted by Muslim groups around the globe since the beginning of the religion in the eighth century. 

Intimidation toward and attacks on Shiites have also been recorded in Pasuruan and Bangil, both in East Java.

Why Do We Fear Death?


The fear of death, for most of the people, is not a matter which requires any evidence because it is totally obvious and we also see that a lot of people manifest extra-ordinary sensitivity with respect to the term ‘death’ and its reality. Thus the actual matter is self-evident.  That which requires proof and an answer is the reason for this fear and alarm as to why we fear death?

 Reasons for the Fear of Death

In answer to this question, it is possible to mention some reasons, which have also appeared in our traditions, and which are as follows:

1. Not having a correct insight

 In the previous discussions, we had mentioned that a lot of people considered death to be an eternal destruction of themselves. Consequently, it is but natural that they fear death and visualize it dark and gloomy, because the love for permanence and eternity is one of the natural instincts of people and each one in his own way, tries to protect himself  from calamities and diseases and ensure his own permanence, and death, in his view,  is greater and more pain-inflicting than any disease or calamity, because it is the start of his everlasting extinction.

Nevertheless, if the alarm and fear of death is as a result of non-recognition of the reality of death, then for the removal of this fear, it is vital that its reality, which is found in the Islamic insight, be understood and with regard to it, a strong conviction be developed. If a person bases his views regarding death on correct foundations, many of his fears regarding death will cease to exist because, once he comprehends that with death, he shall enter into a world, more extensive and eternal and also that he shall be liberated from the material, natural and corporeal shackles, how then would he consider it to be abominable and hateful.

 2. A new and an unfamiliar path

One of the causes due to which man tends to fear death is that man, after death, steps onto an entirely new path and embarks upon an entirely new journey. Man, usually tends to travel on frightful paths, over which he has traveled a number of times and has not encountered any trouble, better than paths which are comparatively safer, but which are totally new.  Since, the path being new and unfamiliar, it becomes reason for hesitation and anxiety, especially since no one, who has traveled this path, has brought any news about it, for the others. 

Anyway, if the fear of death is due to the place and path being unfamiliar, then it is necessary that the reality of death be completely comprehended and one’s conviction strengthened.  In addition to this, it is necessary to obtain the necessary information by means of the Revelation and the traditions of the Infallible Imams (a.s.) and the righteous people, regarding the stages, places of danger and the other particularities of death and after it, then believe in them and prepare oneself to encounter them.  Just like a person, who during the course of a journey, finds himself lonely and unaware of his whereabouts, manages to lessen his perplexity with the help of necessary information, maps and equipment’s, we too must obtain the map of the way and the necessary information from authentic and reliable sources.

دخل علىّ بن محمّد (عليهما السلام) على مريض من اصحابه و هو يبكى و يجزع من الموت. فقال له: يا عبد الله تخاف من الموت لانّك لا تعرفه, أرأيتك اذا اتّسخت و تقذّرت و تأذّيت من كثرة القذر و الوسخ عليك و اصابك قروح و جرب و علمت انّ الغسل في حمّام يزيل ذلك كلّه أما تريدان تدخله فتغتسل ذلك عنك او ما تكره ان تدخله فيبقي ذلك عليك؟  قال: بلى يابن رسول الله.  قال: فذلك الموت هو ذلك الحمّام…


In a tradition from Imàm ‘Alى ibn Muĥammed (‘a), it is narrated that he (‘a) approached one of his companions who was sick and in a state of crying and grieving and complaining due to fear of death.  The Imàm (‘a) then addressed him saying: “O servant of Allàh, you fear death because you do not comprehend it”.  Then the Imàm (‘a) presented an example and said “If you had become dirty, and due to the excess of dirt and dirtiness you were in suffering and inconvenience, and you knew that the cure for all this lay in your taking a shower, would you wish to go to a bath and clean yourself or would you wish to remain in the same state of dirtiness and as a result continue to undergo the suffering.”  The sick man said, “ Yes, I would wish to take the shower “.  Then the Imam (‘a) replied “death (for you) is the very same shower…”[64]

The point to be considered in the above tradition is that, the sick person was one of the companions of the Imam (‘a) and was aware of the Islamic insight regarding death, but in spite of this, was intensely fearful of death.  And so, the Imàm (‘a) by presenting an example explained to him the states and circumstances after death and thus calmed him.

3. Lack of preparation

Some of the people have comprehended the reality of death and are also aware of the Islamic insight regarding death.  On the other hand, they have also obtained some information regarding the stations and the journey after death, however, in spite of all this, they still fear death.  This fear is not due to the two reasons previously mentioned but because they have not made available for themselves the tools and things necessary for this journey of theirs, while, on the contrary they have been paying more-than-necessary importance to their present lives; like a person who knows that he would have to spend the rest of his life in another country, but has not collected any money for his journey.  Instead, all that he has gathered is in the form of house, shop, land or other things which, presently, are neither capable of being changed, nor transferred.  In other words, he has strived and worked and collected a capital, but the capital is such that it cannot be transferred and there is also nobody who will buy it.  In short, it is not useful in any way for the objective, which he had in mind.  It was because of this that Imàm Husaىn (‘a) said:

 انّكم اخربتم آخرتكم و عمرتك دنياكم فأنتم تكرهون النقلة من العمران الى الخراب

 “You have ruined and destroyed your hereafter and instead have made habitable the present life.  So you do not like the transfer from a habitated and comfortable place to a ruined and destroyed one.” [65]

This kind of fear of death, which results from the lack of preparedness and the absence of the provisions of the journey usually occurs with the believers, which in reality is not fear of death but instead, fear of not possessing the sufficient provisions necessary for this journey.

Another point is that such a fear is usually mixed with eagerness.  Because, on the one hand, a believer is eager for the Divine meeting and also for the companionship of the Righteous people.  On the other hand, due to lack of sufficient piety and the necessary provisions, finds himself in a state of anxiety and fear, whereas the unbelievers do not possess such a fear and eagerness.  They fear the actual death, because they consider it to be a complete annihilation.  Of course, it could be said that the fear of the unbelievers could have a universal meaning, and the causes of it could be those mentioned and also those not mentioned. 

Nevertheless, death or transfer into another world is a universal law, acceptance of which or fear of which shall create no change in the law itself, and finally sooner or later, everyone shall taste the nectar or the poison of death.  That, which is more important than death, is the preparation for it, and Insha-Allàh, Allàh shall bestow such a success upon us.


[64] Ma’anil Akhbàr, Pg. 290

[65] Ma’anil Akhbar, Pg. 289

Questioning the Syrian "Casualty List."


By: Sharmine Narwani

Published Tuesday, February 28, 2012  

“Perception is 100 percent of politics,” the old adage goes. Say something three, five, seven times, and you start to believe it in the same way you “know” aspirin is good for the heart.

Sometimes though, perception is a dangerous thing. In the dirty game of politics, it is the perception – not the facts of an issue – that invariably wins the day.

In the case of the raging conflict over Syria, the one fundamental issue that motors the entire international debate on the crisis is the death toll and its corollary: the Syrian casualty list.

The “list” has become widely recognized – if not specifically, then certainly when the numbers are bandied about: 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 – sometimes more. These are not mere numbers; they represent dead Syrians.

But this is where the dangers of perception begin. There are many competing Syrian casualty lists with different counts – how does one, for instance gauge if X is an accurate number of deaths? How have the deaths been verified? Who verifies them and do they have a vested interest? Are the dead all civilians? Are they pro-regime or anti-regime civilians? Do these lists include the approximately 2,000 dead Syrian security forces? Do they include members of armed groups? How does the list-aggregator tell the difference between a civilian and a plain-clothes militia member?

Even the logistics baffle. How do they make accurate counts across Syria every single day? A member of the Lebanese fact-finding team investigating the 15 May 2011 shooting deaths of Palestinian protesters by Israelis at the Lebanese border told me that it took them three weeks to discover there were only six fatalities, and not the 11 counted on the day of the incident. And in that case, the entire confrontation lasted a mere few hours.

How then does one count 20, 40, or 200 casualties in a few hours while conflict continues to rage around them?

My first port of call in trying to answer these questions about the casualty list was the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which seemed likely to be the most reliable source of information on the Syrian death toll – until it stopped keeping track last month.

The UN began its effort to provide a Syrian casualty count in September 2011, based primarily on lists provided by five different sources. Three of their sources were named: The Violations Documenting Center (VDC), the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) and the Syrian Shuhada website. At that time, the lists varied in number from around 2,400 to 3,800 victims.

The non-UN casualty list most frequently quoted in the general media is the one from the Syrian Observatory – or SOHR.

Last month, SOHR made some headlines of its own when news of a rift over political viewpoints and body counts erupted. Two competing SOHRs claimed authenticity, but the group headed by Rami Abdul Rahman is the one recognized by Amnesty International.

OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville stated during a phone interview that the UN evaluates its sources to check “whether they are reliable,” but appeared to create distance from SOHR later – during the group’s public spat – by saying: “The (UN) colleague most involved with the lists…had no direct contact with the Syrian Observatory, though we did look at their numbers. This was not a group we had any prior knowledge of, and it was not based in the region, so we were somewhat wary of it.”

Colville explains that the UN sought at all times “to make cautious estimates” and that “we have reasonable confidence that the rounded figures are not far off.”

While “also getting evidence from victims and defectors – some who corroborated specific names,” the UN, says Colville, “is not in a position to cross-check names and will never be in a position to do that.”

I spoke to him again after the UN decided to halt its casualty count in late January. “It was never easy to verify, but it was a little bit clearer before. The composition of the conflict has changed. It’s become much more complex, fragmented,” Colville says. “While we have no doubt there are civilian and military casualties…we can’t really quantify it.”

“The lists are clear – the question is whether we can fully endorse their accuracy,” he explains, citing the “higher numbers” as an obstacle to verification.

The Casualty Lists Up Close: Some Stories Behind the Numbers

Because the UN has stopped its casualty count, reporters have started reverting back to their original Syrian death toll sources. The SOHR is still the most prominent among them.

Abdul Rahman’s SOHR does not make its list available to the general public, but in early February I found a link to a list on the other SOHR website and decided to take a look. The database lists the victim’s name, age, gender, city, province, and date of death – when available. In December 2011, for instance, the list names around 77 registered casualties with no identifying information provided. In total, there are around 260 unknowns on the list.

Around that time, I had come across my first list of Syrians killed in the crisis, reportedly compiled in coordination with the SOHR, that contained the names of Palestinian refugees killed by Israeli fire on the Golan Heights on 15 May 2011 and 5 June 2011 when protesters congregated on Syria’s armistice line with Israel. So my first check was to see if that kind of glaring error appears in the SOHR list I investigate in this piece.

To my amazement, the entire list of victims from those two days were included in the SOHR casualty count – four from May 15 (#5160 to #5163) and 25 victims of Israeli fire from June 5 (#4629 to #4653). The list even identifies the deaths as taking place in Quneitra, which is in the Golan Heights.

It also didn’t take long to find the names of well-publicized pro-regime Syrians on the SOHR list and match them with YouTube footage of their funerals. The reason behind searching for funeral links is that pro-regime and anti-regime funerals differ quite starkly in the slogans they chant and the posters/signs/flags on display. Below, is a list of eight of these individuals, including their number, name, date and place of death on the casualty list – followed by our video link and further details if available:

#5939, Mohammad Abdo Khadour, 4/19/11, Hama, off-duty Colonel in Syrian army, shot in his car and died from multiple bullet wounds. Funeral link.

#5941, Iyad Harfoush, 4-18-11, Homs, off-duty Commander in Syrian army. In a video, his wife says someone started shooting in the mostly pro-regime al Zahra neighborhood of Homs – Harfoush went out to investigate the incident and was killed. Funeral link.

#5969, Abdo al Tallawi, 4/17/11, Homs, General in Syrian army killed alongside his two sons and a nephew. Funeral footage shows all four victims. The others are also on the list at #5948, Ahmad al Tallawi, #5958, Khader al Tallawi and #5972, Ali al Tallawi, all in Homs, Funeral link.

#6021, Nidal Janoud, 11/4/11, Tartous, an Alawite who was severely slashed by his assailants. The bearded gentleman to the right of the photo, and a second suspect, are now standing trial for the murder. Photo link.

#6022, Yasar Qash’ur, 11/4/11, Tartous, Lieutenant Colonel in the Syrian army, killed alongside 8 others in an ambush on a bus in Banyas, Funeral link.

#6129, Hassan al-Ma’ala, 4/5/11, policeman, suburbs of Damascus, Funeral link.

#6130, Hamid al Khateeb, 4/5/11, policeman, suburbs of Damascus, Funeral link.

#6044, Waeb Issa, 10/4/11, Tartous, Colonel in Syrian army, Funeral link.

Besides featuring on the SOHR list, Lt. Col. Yasar Qashur, Iyad Harfoush, Mohammad Abdo Khadour and General Abdo al Tallawi and his two sons and nephew also appear on two of the other casualty lists – the VDC and Syrian Shuhada – both used by the United Nations to compile their numbers.

Nir Rosen, an American journalist who spent several months insides Syria’s hot spots in 2011, with notable access to armed opposition groups, reported in a recent Al Jazeera interview:

“Every day the opposition gives a death toll, usually without any explanation of the cause of the deaths. Many of those reported killed are in fact dead opposition fighters, but the cause of their death is hidden and they are described in reports as innocent civilians killed by security forces, as if they were all merely protesting or sitting in their homes. Of course, those deaths still happen regularly as well.”

“And, every day, members of the Syrian army, security agencies and the vague paramilitary and militia phenomenon known as shabiha [“thugs”] are also killed by anti-regime fighters,” Rosen continues.

The report issued in January by Arab League Monitors after their month-long observer mission in Syria – widely ignored by the international media – also witnessed acts of violence by armed opposition groups against both civilians and security forces.

The Report states: “In Homs, Idlib and Hama, the observer mission witnessed acts of violence being committed against government forces and civilians…Examples of those acts include the bombing of a civilian bus, killing eight persons and injuring others, including women and children…In another incident in Homs, a police bus was blown up, killing two police officers.” The observers also point out that “some of the armed groups were using flares and armour-piercing projectiles.“

Importantly, the report further confirms obfuscation of casualty information when it states: “the media exaggerated the nature of the incidents and the number of persons killed in incidents and protests in certain towns.”

On February 3, the eve of the UN Security Council vote on Syria, news broke out that a massacre was taking place in Homs, with the general media assuming it was true and that all violence was being committed by the Syrian government. The SOHR’s Rami Abdul Rahman was widely quoted in the media as claiming the death toll to be at 217. The Local Coordination Committees (LCCs), which provide information to the VDC, called it at “more than 200,” and the Syrian National Council (SNC), a self-styled government in absentia of mainly expats, claimed 260 victims.

The next day, the casualty count had been revised down to 55 by the LCCs. (link:

Even if the count is at 55 – that is still a large number of victims by any measure. But were these deaths caused by the Syrian government, by opposition gunmen or in the crossfire between the two groups? That is still the question that needs to break through the deafening narratives, lists, and body counts.

In International Law, Detail Counts

While the overwhelming perception of Syrian casualties thus far has been that they are primarily unarmed civilians deliberately targeted by government forces, it has become obvious these casualties are also likely to include: Civilians caught in the crossfire between government forces and opposition gunmen; victims of deliberate violence by armed groups; “dead opposition fighters” whose attire do not distinguish them from regular civilians; and members of the Syrian security forces, both on and off duty.

Even if we could verify the names and numbers on a Syrian casualty list, we still don’t know their stories, which if revealed, may pose an entirely different picture of what is going on in Syria today

These questions are vitally important to understand the burden of responsibility in this conflict. International law provides for different measures of conflict: the two most frequently used gauges for this are the Principle of Necessity, i.e., using force only when it is necessary, and the Principle of Proportionality, i.e., the use of force proportional to the threat posed.

In the case of Syria – like in Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt and Libya – it is widely believed that the government used unnecessary force in the first instance. Syrian President Bashar Assad, like many of these Arab rulers, has as much as admitted to “mistakes” in the first months of protests. These mistakes include some shooting deaths and detaining a much larger number of protesters than expected, some of whom were allegedly tortured.

Let us assume, without question, that the Syrian government was over zealous in its use of force initially, and therefore violated the Principle of Necessity. I tend to believe this version because it has been so-stated by the Arab League’s observer mission – the first and only boots-on-the-ground monitors investigating the crisis from within the country.

However – and this is where the casualty lists come in – there is not yet nearly enough evidence, not by any measure acceptable at a court of law, that the Syrian government has violated the Principle of Proportionality. Claims that the regime has used disproportionate force in dealing with the crisis are, today, difficult to ascertain, in large part because opponents have been using weapons against security forces and pro-regime civilians almost since the onset of protests.

Assuming that the number of casualties provided by the UN’s OHCHR is around the 5,000-mark, the last official figure provided by the group. The question is whether this is a highly disproportionate number of deaths when contrasted directly with the approximately 2,000 soldiers of the regular Syrian army and other security forces who have been reportedly killed since April 2011.

When you calculate the deaths of the government forces in the past 11 months, they amount to about six a day. Contrast that with frequent death toll totals of around 15+ each day disseminated by activists – many of whom are potentially neither civilian casualties nor victims of targeted violence – and there is close to enough parity to suggest a conflict where the acts of violence may be somewhat equal on both sides.

Last Sunday, as Syrians went to the polls to vote on a constitutional referendum, Reuters reports – quoting the SOHR – that 9 civilians and 4 soldiers were killed in Homs, and that elsewhere in Syria there were 8 civilian and 10 security forces casualties. That is 17 civilians and 14 regime forces – where are the opposition gunmen in that number? Were none killed? Or are they embedded in the “civilian” count?

Defectors or Regular Soldiers?

There have also been allegations that many, if not most, of the soldiers killed in clashes or attacks have been defectors shot by other members of the regular army. There is very little evidence to support this as anything more than a limited phenomenon. Logically, it would be near impossible for the Syrian army to stay intact if it was turning on its rank-and-file soldiers in this manner – and the armed forces have remained remarkably cohesive given the length and intensity of the conflict in Syria.

In addition, the names, rank and cities of each of the dead soldiers are widely publicized by state-owned media each day, often accompanied by televised funerals. It would be fairly simple for the organized opposition to single out by name the defectors they include on their casualty lists, which has not happened.

The very first incident of casualties from the Syrian regular army that I could verify dates to 10 April 2011, when gunmen shot up a bus of soldiers travelling through Banyas, in Tartous, killing nine. This incident took place a mere few weeks after the first peaceful protests broke out in Syria, and so traces violence against government forces back to the start of political upheaval in the country.

“Witnesses” quoted by the BBC, Al Jazeera and The Guardian insisted that the nine dead soldiers were “defectors” who had been shot by the Syrian army for refusing orders to shoot at demonstrators.

Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, debunked that version on his Syria Comment website. Another surviving soldier on the bus – a relation of Lt. Col. Yasar Qashur, #6022 on the SOHR list, whose funeral I link to above – denied that they were defectors too. But the narrative that dead soldiers are mostly defectors shot by their own troops has stuck throughout this conflict – though less so, as evidence of gunmen targeting Syrian forces and pro-regime civilians becomes belatedly apparent.

The VDC – another of the UN’s OHCHR sources for casualty counts – alleges that 6,399 civilians and 1,680 army defectors were killed in Syria during the period from 15 March 2011 to 15 February 2012. All security forces killed in Syria during the past 11 months were “defectors?” Not a single soldier, policeman or intelligence official was killed in Syria except those forces who opposed the regime? This is the kind of mindless narrative of this conflict that continues unchecked. Worse yet, this exact VDC statistic is included in the latest UN report on Syria issued last week.

Humanitarian Crisis or Just Plain Violence?

While few doubt the Syrian government’s violent suppression of this revolt, it is increasingly clear that in addition to the issue of disproportionally, there is the question of whether there is a “humanitarian crisis” as suggested by some western and Arab leaders since last year. I sought some answers during a trip to Damascus in early January 2012 where I spoke to a select few NGOs that enjoyed rare access to all parts of the country.

Given that words like “massacre” and “slaughter” and “humanitarian crisis” are being used in reference to Syria, I asked International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Spokesman Saleh Dabbakeh at the time how many calls for urgent medical assistance his organization had received in 2011. His response was shocking. “Only one that I recall,” said Dabbakeh. Where was that, I asked? “Quneitra National Hospital in the Golan,” he replied, “last June.” This was when Israeli troops fired on Syrian and Palestinian protesters marching to the 1973 armistice line with the Jewish state. Those same protesters that ended up on SOHR’s casualty list.

A Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) worker confirmed that, recalling that his organization treated hundreds of casualties from the highly-publicized incident.

As the level of violence has escalated, however, the situation has deteriorated, and the ICRC now has received more calls for medical assistance – mainly from private hospitals in Homs. The SARC today has nine different points in Homs where it provides such assistance. The only two places they do not currently serve are the neighborhoods of Bab Amr and Inshaat “because the security situation does not allow for it – for their own safety, there is fighting there.”

During a phone call last Thursday, one NGO officer, explained that the measure for a “humanitarian crisis” is in level of access to basic staples, services and medical care. He told me off the record that “There is a humanitarian crisis in (i.e.) Baba Amro today, but not in Syria. If the fighting finishes tomorrow, there will be enough food and medical supplies.”

“Syria has enough food to feed itself for a long time. The medical sector still functions very well. There isn’t enough pressure on the medical sector to create a crisis,” he elaborated. “A humanitarian crisis is when a large number of a given population does not have access to medical aid, food, water, electricity, etc – when the system cannot any longer respond to the needs of the population.”

But an international human rights worker also cautions: “the killing is happening on both sides – the other side is no better.”

People have to stop this knee-jerk, opportunistic, hysterical obsession with numbers of dead Syrians, and ask instead: “who are these people and who killed them?” That is the very least these victims deserve. Anything less would render their tragic deaths utterly meaningless. Lack of transparency along the supply-chain of information and its dissemination – on both sides – is tantamount to making the Syrian story all about perception, and not facts. It is a hollow achievement and people will die in ever greater numbers.