A week in Iran

On the set of Hamghesse with Roohulla Rezvi
On the set of Hamghesse with Roohulla Rezvi
hanging with the studio audience after the show
hanging with the studio audience after the show
on Farda News with Sheikh Mohebbi
Half way up Mount Kolakchai with the lads
At the top of Mount Kolakchai!
with Sheikh Mansour at the top of Tehran Tower
catching up with an old friend - Sheikh Mohamad Reza Zaeri
lunching with the lads

Hi Fighter,

At time of writing, I’m on a plane home after a week in Tehran. With the miracle of in-flight Internet, I thought I’d share something of the experience with you while I can, as I fear I’ll be overwhelmed with work once I hit the ground!

I was flown to Iran primarily to appear in a TV show called ‘Hamghesse’ (which just means ‘stories‘). It’s a one-hour show, so I got to share quite a few stories, and most of the rest of my time was filled with interviews with different Iranian print and radio media.

I also got to catch up with some old friends – most importantly with my dear brother, Sheikh Mansour Leghaei! It was great to see him though, in truth, we didn’t end up having as much time together as we’d hoped. I seemed to have endless interviews and he struggled to free himself from the phone! Even so, it was good for my soul to see him

One question I was asked time and time again in the media interviews was ‘What’s it like for an Australian visiting Iran?’ The question reflected the fact that Iran doesn’t get many Aussie tourists, and I think the Iranians genuinely don’t understand why.

I had to say that for the average Australian, Iran is very confronting. Most people from our culture find the enforced dress-code, where women must wear a scarf to cover their heads whenever in public, very off-putting. The no-alcohol rule likewise seems unreasonable to a lot of us. Indeed, I suspect that for most of us, Iran is not one of countries we’d most like to visit, so let me offer you a few reasons why you should go:

  • Iranians are amongst the most gracious and gentle people I’ve met
  • The hospitality shown to foreigners is extraordinary
  • Taking a drive in a taxi in Tehran is an experience everybody should have at least once in their lives (and probably best only once)
  • You get a lot of bang for your buck!

With regards to this last point, I spent most of my week with zero Iranian money in my pocket (as my hosts insisted on paying for everything). Even so, I managed to get my hands on the equivalent of $5 USD at one point and with it I bought:

  1. A bowl of blackberries!
  2. A ticket across town on the subway
  3. Two pairs of socks (from the subway sock-salesman)
  4. An ice-cream and a drink for my friend Ali, on arrival at our destination!

And the word on the street in Tehran is that compulsory veiling may soon be a thing of the past. Indeed, There’s a #MeninHijab social media campaign going on at the moment where Iranian men are putting on hijabs in support of their female partners, protesting the compulsory veiling laws! (see some great #MeninHijab images here).

Peace in Palmyra – Virtual Tour!


You will remember (I hope) the ‘Peace in Palmyra’ exhibition that we held in our church’s Community Centre a little over a month ago, celebrating the Boxers for Peace visit to Syria a month earlier, and our time in liberated Palmyra more specifically.

The exhibition was a great success, with hundreds of visitors enjoying Tom Toby’s amazing images of life and hope in Syria. The only problem was that most of our supporters couldn’t make it to Dulwich Hill, so I put together a virtual tour of the exhibition before I took everything down. Enjoy! 🙂


I still have about half of these wonderful pictures stored in my dining room at the moment and I’m keen to sell them to anyone who is interested, both to cover the cost of the exhibition and to help fund our further work. If you’d like to have one of these amazing artworks hanging in your living-room, the costs are as follows:

  • 12 by 8 inch (30 cm x 20 cm) $150 AUD
  • 30 by 20 inch (76 cm x 51 cm) $400 AUD

Call me or email me if you’re interested and we can work out how to get the artworks to you. All my contact details are here.

IMG_3102_small

I’ll close with this image of myself and Sheikh Mansour at the base of the Tehran Tower, and with a piece of trivia about the Tehran subway system that I bet you didn’t know!

The first two and last two carriages on every train are designated ‘women only’. Even so, the carriages in between are NOT men-only. In other words, women can choose to travel with the men if they wish but they also have the option of girls-only carriages (and it seemed that most choose to take that option)!

I’ll be in contact again soon. Pray for me, that I don’t get too overwhelmed as I get back into the thick of things this week. As I mentioned last time, we do need more help here, and if you’re feeling called to join the team, I’m keen to hear from you!

May the Lord bless you and strengthen you for the work for which you have been called.

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.holytrinity.org.au
www.binacrombi.com.au
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.prayersforsyria.com
www.zerocostwebsite.net
www.dulwichhillgym.com
www.warriorweekends.com
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. Support the work of the Fighting Fathers by joining our online community at  www.fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month and the first month is free.

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About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

What’s really happening in Syria?

Training with the Syrian Olympic Boxing Team
Training with the Syrian Olympic Boxing Team
A big day at Lattakia stadium!
Lots of the kids who trained with us were living in UNICEF tents that ringed the stadium
Training with the young people of Tartous!
Singing and dancing is very much a part of the culture!
At the gym in Tartous - boys will be boys!
with one of the young disabled veterans of Tartous
The art school in Damascus is full of kids!
The kids insisted on giving us some of their artworks
Damascus swimming centre where 1000+ kids get lessons each week
Back with the kids of Yarmouk
Working the pads with the kids of Yarmouk
we did lots of media interviews
with Syrian Prime Minister, Wael Nader al-Halqi
back with my beloved Mufti - Dr Hassoun
the Mufti is one of the most beautiful men I have ever met

Hi Fighter,

I apologise for the increasing gaps in communication. In truth, I simply have more to do than I can handle. There will be an appeal for help in the latter half of this missive. If you want to avoid hearing me grovel just quit after the sermon. 😉

This is the first chance I’ve had to share with you some of the photographic highlights of our last trip to Syria in late July. What a beautiful time it was, and what beautiful people! Once again the experience was one of hospitality and grace (mixed in with plenty of boxing). I came back full of hope for for the country and its people, though the subsequent moves being made by the US, NATO and my own country (Australia) to escalate the violence do bring me to tears.

Sometimes I don’t know which is worse – the way the West imposes its agenda on Syria at the cost of the lives of millions of people, or that it does so under the banner of humanitarian aid! In truth, these are days of shame for all of us who are a part of the ungodly coalition intent on destroying Syria, and it could backfire horribly. Australia has always been the ‘lucky country’ but by God we are pushing our luck at the moment!

I am regularly being asked what is going to happen next with Syria. I am no prophet, of course, but for the sake of those who would like my take on the subject, the future of Syria seems to be being determined by foreign governments, each of whom have their own agenda. It is a complex situation but I offer the following pointers:

  • Qatar wants a change of government so that it can pipe gas through Syria into Europe. Their agenda is straightforward.
  • Saudi Arabia and Israel are more interested in weakening Iran which threatens to overtake both countries economically (nb. the threat is economic, not existential). Syria is Iran’s main ally in the region (the only other being Hezbollah in Lebanon) and so destroying Syria will significantly weaken Iran.
  • Turkey’s militancy is being driven less by Iran than by the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood (though Turkish President Erdogan seems to also have a personal issue with Syrian President Assad).
  • The US is trying to back its allies in the region (Israel, the Saudis, Turkey, etc.) and are also interested in weakening Iran. Mr Obama is also still dealing with the embarrassment resulting from the fact that he told President Assad to stand down four years ago and he still hasn’t done as he was told!

These are the chief factors that have led to the war of foreign aggression against Syria. Let’s be clear about this: It is not a civil war and I doubt if it ever was. Certainly there aren’t many Syrians left on the rebel side now. We spoke to a young man in Tartous last month who was in a wheelchair. He’d been shot through the spine while fighting at Dier Yasir. We asked him ‘who were you facing there?’ He said ‘Libyans, British and French’. We said ‘no Syrians?’ He laughed.

So, given the foreign interests of this coalition of violence, why hasn’t Syria as we know it been wiped off the map? Here are some of the balancing factors:

  • Iran doesn’t want to lose its main ally in the region and hence has been giving financial and military support to the Syrian government.
  • Russia gives support too as it wants to maintain its military presence in the region (though its naval base at Tartous).
  • The uprising against Saudi hegemony in Yemen is forcing the Saudis to fight a battle on two fronts.

And so the future of Syria seems to depend on the wheelings and dealings of these foreign players, and a number of factors could tip the balance either way.

On the one hand:

  1. Iran could strike a deal with the US such that it would withdraw support from Syria in exchange for the lifting of all sanctions. This now seems unlikely.
  2. Russia might abandon Syria in order to buy time for the looming conflict with NATO in the Ukraine. This looks less likely now than it did a month ago.
  3. Israel might attack Lebanon (as it has been threatening to do) which will lead to the recall of all Hezbollah forces from Syria, thus weakening the Syrian Army.

On the other hand:

  1. Yemen may continue to resist the murderous Saudi onslaught (which is almost not being reported on anywhere) and may prove to be the end of the house of Saud. If this happens ISIS will shrivel up and die very quickly without funding.
  2. If the US does lift economic sanctions on Iran, the Saudis (and even the Israelis) may decide to cut their losses and work for economic cooperation rather than for the subjugation of their Persian neighbours. If this happens, once again, ISIS will shrivel up and die overnight.

As I said, it’s a complex picture, and the above analysis also leaves two vital factors out of the equation:

  • The extraordinary resilience of the Syrian people
  • The mysterious workings of Almighty God

Personally I am full of hope, as my faith is in God and in the Syrian people. Having said that, I won’t be surprised if God’s will is accomplished through the human agency of Iran, Russia, Hassan Nasrallah, and the people of Yemen.

Forgive me if I’ve bored you with the above analysis but I find that a lot of people are confused as to what is really going on and I thought it would be good to put it on paper.

If, on the other hand, you’d like to explore these matters with me further (and you’re in Sydney) I’ll be speaking at three different Syria forums over the next week:

  1. Sunday 13th – No Australian War on Syria Rally – from 11am at Sydney Town Hall. I’ll be addressing the rally at around 12.30
  2. Thursday 17th – The Geopolitics of the Syrian Crisis – 6.30pm at Sydney Uni. I’ll speak alongside Dr Tim Anderson and others who were on our recent trip.
  3. Friday 18th – Updates from the Axis of Resistance – 6.30pm at Coronation Hall, Arncliffe. This will be our team debrief with our supporters.

If you’re able to attend any of these events, the links above will take you to their respective Facebook Events Pages where you can get more info. And if you can’t make it, just keep track of what’s being published on my Syria blog: www.prayersforsyria.com

Sermon Time

From violence to sex – this missive has everything! 😉

Yes, my featured sermon for this missive is on the Song of Songs – certainly the most raunchy piece of literature in the entire Bible and also one of the most controversial.

The book is controversial for two reasons:

  1. It is entirely about sex and romance
  2. It doesn’t mention God at all!

What is this book doing in the Bible? That’s a question that a lot of believers have asked over the last few thousand years. Even so, some of us believe that this little book may have a lot to teach us about love and life and even about God!

(for the written version of this sermon, click here, and for the audio-only, here)

I warned you earlier that this post would include an appeal for help. Here it is:

…. HELP! 🙁

The problem is that I have more work than I am able to handle at the moment, including five speaking engagements in the next seven days, and beyond that I can see a giant tidal wave coming towards me associated with the completion of our new Youth and Community Centre and the 100-year anniversary of our church building!

Highlights include:

  • October 4-6: I fight for the Australian Masters (ie. old bastards) Boxing Title
  • October 16: Book-launch of A Church for our Times’ celebrating our 100-years!
  • October 23-25: A big Warrior Weekend of fight-training and prayer at Binacrombi
  • October 29: ‘Friends of Sabeel, Australia’ Annual General Meeting
  • Mid-November: work should be completed on our new hall complex
  • late-November: re-starting Trinity’s Youth Drop-in Centre
  • November 22: Jubilate Singers (our community choir) fundraiser concert
  • November 29: Fight-Night fundraiser in the new hall
  • December 5: Anniversary dinner to mark my 25th year in Dulwich Hill
  • December 6: special Centenary service followed by the official hall opening
  • December 25: Christmas

You are invited to all of the above events, including the Friends of Sabeel, Australia AGM (which is a Christian group focused on Palestinian human rights). Moreover, you are invited to help me survive this cavalcade of events, especially the re-starting of the Youth Drop-in Centre and the Fight-night fundraiser.

The good news is that we are offering a paid part-time position for a new youth worker. Just email me if you want the details. The not-so-good news is that I’m going to need voluntary helpers too, at least for the short term. And I don’t just need volunteer youth workers, but also web assistants, events coordinators, and just about anybody who thinks they can help me balance this intimidating schedule!

Email me if you’re interested in the paid position or a voluntary position, or a voluntary position that might turn into a paid position. Either way, I’m keen to hear from you.

Till next time, may the Lord bless you and strengthen you for the work for which you have been called.

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.holytrinity.org.au
www.binacrombi.com.au
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.prayersforsyria.com
www.zerocostwebsite.net
www.dulwichhillgym.com
www.warriorweekends.com
www.boxersforpeace.com
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. Support the work of the Fighting Fathers by joining our online community atwww.fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month and the first month is free.

Please follow and like us:

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

Peace Pilgrimage to Syria – peace work in Iran

Hi Fighter,

Once again it’s been too long since I’ve posted. 🙁

I’m back in Oz now, well ensconced with my family. Even so, a large part of my heart remains in Syria. So many memories and images continue to turn over in my mind.
Not all of them are good but all are full of life and colour.

I’m sorry that I haven’t posted all the pics and videos from our pilgrimage up here yet. That’s partly because I’ve been under the gun since I got back. It’s also because we’ve been waiting to see whether any TV stations are going to screen our footage. Things are still unclear but we know that they won’t screen our material if we’ve already publicly released it. My plan is to share the images of Sol and me boxing with kids in the streets of Syria next week if we haven’t heard from them.

In the meantime I thought I’d publish a series of images and videos that won’t be of interest to the networks as they concern our week in Iran during which we made our preparations. We secured the medicines and toys we were taking with us and we met with some wonderful Iranian peace activists, many of whom went on to join us in Syria..

Meet the team - Sam and Ulrike
Meet the team - Mairead, Ulrike and Carmel
Meet the team - Denning
Meet the team - Dave and Mohamed Reva
Meet the team - Roohulla
Meet the team - John
Meet the team - Mairead and Solomon
Meet the team - Dave & Ali
Meet the team
Meet the team

Four videos are thumbnailed below. Just click one to watch it.

  1. The first video is a three-minute offering from our man, Denning. It’s an overview of the week that is as brief as it is artistic. 🙂
  2. The second is a Press TV report on the delegation. We actually received a lot of media attention. Unfortunately it was all from Iranian or Syrian media.
  3. The third is a talk I gave on “the role of religions in bringing peace” in Qom. Denning has edited it down to 3 minutes which is about as long as I had to prepare it!
  4. The fourth is a wonderful 10-minute compilation of our time in Iran, put together by a wonderful young Iranian film-maker, Mehdi Khoshnejad.

The last of these videos is actually longer than the other three put together. Even so, it is worth watching. It features our time touring one of the ancient mosques in Esfahan wherein there is a special spot marked on the floor from which you can sing and somehow join in the chorus of your own echo!

Denning's Tehran video
Press TV report
Talk at the Armenian Church in Qom
Mehdi Khoshnejad's video

Let me end today by sharing with you the wonderful way in which I met my friend Mohamed Reva (featured in one of the pics up the top).

We were in Tehran, gathered together for a delegates meeting in the lobby of our hotel. I hadn’t met Sheikh Mohamed Reva at that point but he was a part of the gathering.

After the meeting he came across the room and grabbed my hand enthusiastically. “My name is Mohamed Reva”, he said. “I knew you were a special person the first moment I saw you. I am very keen to meet you.”

“Brother”, I said, “I am not special. It is simply the Spirit of God in you recognising the Spirit of God in me. We were connected in this way long before we met.” Mohamed smiled and nodded.

In some ways that experience summed up my pilgrimage to Iran and Syria this time. We generally think of a pilgrimage as a journey that leads to a destination of great spiritual significance. My experience was that wherever I went I found the Spirit of God already there to welcome me! What a wonderful privilege! 🙂

I’ll be back with you again next week.

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.holytrinity.org.au
www.binacrombi.com.au
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.prayersforsyria.com
www.zerocostwebsite.net
www.dulwichhillgym.com
www.warriorweekends.com
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. If you’d like to see what I’m writing, I’ve just published a new article on www.prayersforsyria.com entitled, Why the Syrian rebellion may soon collapse like a house of cards!” I know that most commentators are convinced that the warring in Syria will go on and on with no near end in sight. I am far more optimistic. 🙂

P.P.S. Support the work of the Fighting Fathers by joining our online community at  www.fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month and the first month is free.

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About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

Peace Pilgrimage to Syria – April 9th, 2014

G’day Fighter,

It’s Father Dave here back with you and I’m still in Iran – all ready for the flight into Damascus!

The team is fully assembled and we’ve bought up more than $20,000 USD worth of medical supplies, ready to take in with us and distribute to hospitals and medical centres where they are most needed. Of that 20k I’m proud to say that $2,800 AUD was contributed by Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, the Imam Husain Islamic Centre of Earlwood and members of our Fighting Fighters online community.

In addition to the medicines we are also taking in a stockpile of toys for Syrian children, donated separately by a generous soul here in Tehran.

So many wonderful things have happened since I last posted that I don’t know where to start. Even so, I’ve been warned that my posts are a bit long so I will abbreviate my experience over the last week to a series of dot points.

Meeting up again with dear Mairead in Tehran
at the Peace Museum of Tehran
After speaking at the Armenian Church
The hat seems to have a alluring power over Iranian women!
at our 'Pilgrimage of Peace' press conference
at our 'Pilgrimage of Peace' press conference
at the Armenian Church in Esfahan
Christians and Muslims united for peace
Religions United for Peace conference

We’ve covered plenty of territory across Iran over the last few days, moving between Tehran, Esfahan and Qom. Personal highlights for me have included:

  • Catching up with some people who are very special to me, including dear Mairead Maguire and and Mother Agnes. These women are both my heroes and mentors.
  • Visiting the Peace Museum in Tehran – a place where the main exhibits were the living survivors of gas attacks in the Iran-Iraq war! These amazing men shared their experiences of living with chronic illness resulting from exposure to mustard gas and gave me a far deeper appreciation of the horrors of gas warfare.
  • Visiting ‘The Tower’ in Tehran, and finding that no less than eight girls there asked me whether they could have their picture taken with me!  Of course, being a gracious soul, I agreed, and went to take off my hat. On each occasion though the girls would ask shyly, “Oh … would you mind leaving the hat on?” Evidently my Confederate battle-hat has strange magnetic powers!
  • Praying with the Armenian Church of Esfahan – one of a number of thriving churches we’ve seen in Iran. I had the privilege of speaking to the assembled guests there on the subject of “the role of religion in bringing peace to the world” (though I would have liked more than half an hour’s notice that I had been scheduled to speak).
  • Meeting with the President of the ‘University of Religions’ in Qom and hearing how they try to engage in creative dialogue between different religions and religious sects in an attempt to model peaceful coexistence to the world!
  • Participating in a series of peace gatherings organised by our Iranian hosts that featured not only great speakers but also children displaying their artworks!

And without wanting to detract from the wonder of all those experiences in Iran, I must confess that I missed one really special event that took place back in Sydney last Saturday that I did not want to miss – the fifth birthday party of my youngest daughter, Francesa.

Francesca turns 5

Francesca turns 5

Happy birthday, baby girl. Dad is looking forward to seeing you again very soon.

We are ready to leave for Damascus. For security reasons I can’t give the exact details of when that will happen but be assured that you’ll be receiving images and other updates from me as soon as I’m able to send them to you. Until then, I remain …

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.holytrinity.org.au
www.binacrombi.com.au
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.prayersforsyria.com
www.zerocostwebsite.net
www.dulwichhillgym.com
www.warriorweekends.com
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. If you’d like to see a video of some coverage given to our visit by Press TV, click here.

P.P.S. Support the work of the Fighting Fathers by joining our online community at  www.fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month and the first month is free.

Please follow and like us:

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

Weekly Missive – August 28th, 2013

Hi Fighter,

Are we on the eve of Armageddon?

Love Syria

It’s Father Dave, and I confess that as I write to you today I’m feeling sick in my stomach.

It’s not something that I ate or drank (though I have had a second glass of red tonight to steel my nerves). It’s Syria, and it’s what I’m seeing on the news!

I’ve been watching and listening to European leaders and US and Israeli officials all talking about how urgent it is that we start bombing Bashar Al-Assad into submission, and all this before the UN inspectors have produced a single finding!

I remember having the same sick and sinking feeling on the eve of the Iraq invasion. I remember thinking then, “No. Surely they won’t do it. They’re not that stupid. They know there are no ‘weapons of mass destruction’. It’s all just saber rattling!” And now … 1,000,000 dead Iraqi’s later … history seems to be repeating itself!

Here’s how the scenario plays out in my mind:

  1. The US and NATO attack Syrian government forces on the pretext of the chemical weapon attacks.
  2. The government falls and the country crumbles into uncontrollable sectarian violence with jihadists gaining control of major areas (as in Iraq)
  3. Lebanon’s infrastructure cannot withstand the further influx of refugees (already almost 50% of the size of its citizenry) and so it falls into anarchy as well
  4. Iran is now left without allies (which I believe is one of the main aims of the game) and so Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities, confident that Iran will not retaliate.
  5. Iran declares war on Israel and the regional war against the Shi’a goes into overdrive.
  6. Shi’a majorities in Bahrain and Iraq and elsewhere rise up and turn the entire Middle East into a cauldron of bloody violence.
  7. Israel eventually becomes the focus of the wrath of all its neighbours.
  8. The reverberations are felt throughout the world. Terrorist acts take place in every major city. There is widespread religious and ethnic violence, reprisals, etc.
  9. It all climaxes with some massive nuclear detonations.
  10. Everyone looks back and realises that there never were any chemical weapons attacks carried out by the Syrian government.

You might think this is all very fanciful, but I have military friends in the US that were put on ‘Class 1 Alert’ on the weekend, indicating possible immediate deployment to Syria! Meanwhile, my sources in Damascus are expecting the bombing to start on Tuesday!

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

with Mairead Maguire - my hero!

with Mairead Maguire – my hero!

Amidst all the beating of war-drums, I was greatly encouraged to hear the lone voice of my friend (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) Mairead Maguire, calling upon her Foreign Minister to stop agitating for war! Says Mairead:

“Arming rebels and authorizing military action by USA/NATO forces will not solve the problem facing Syria, but indeed could lead to the death of thousands of Syrians, the breaking-up of Syria, and it falling under the control of violent fundamentalist jihadist forces. It will mean the further fleeing of Syrians into surrounding countries which will themselves  become destabilised. The entire Middle East will become unstable and violence will spiral out of control.”

You can read Mairead’s complete press release here.

And while Mairead Fights the Good Fight in Britain, my dear friend Ghinwa (who you met last week) is just fighting to stay alive in Damascus!

Ghinwa visting the Ummayyad Mosque in Damascus

Ghinwa visiting the Ummayyad Mosque (Damascus)

Ghinwa and her family are on the move, looking for somewhere safe to shelter. They have lost many friends and family members. As an Alawite, Ghinwa knows she is a target to Jabhat Al-Nusra and the armies of foreign mercenaries that besiege her city.

We haven’t been able to secure a time yet when Ghinwa can join us for a conference call and it will have to wait until she finds somewhere safe to stay. In the meantime, let me share with you our latest text exchanges:

 Ghinwa: I was supposed to contact with you on Sunday but I was caught in Damascus because of clashes on the way back home. I was lucky on Monday to avoid mortar shells. Anyhow, we are all OK. Trying to find a safe place to move on to in Damascus …

Dave: You are in my constant prayers, my friend – you and your dear sister. I hope we can speak again soon. … Just let me know if you want to do that phone conference.

Ghinwa: I wanted to do that but every day something new happens. I was unable to leave home in the past two days, and until now … there are clashes in the area around the place I live in. There are military operations now around Damascus, heavy clashes around us, I have information that there are around 4,000 Al-Nusra fighters in Muadamia. This morning those fighters used chemical weapons against the Syrian Army…

After the massacres against Alawites that killed some 350-400 people (we have the names of 256 persons of them) two massacres took place – one against Christians in Wadi-Alnasara area. 20 Christian people were killed there in what Islamist fighters called the Islamist battle to control Wadi Al-Nasara, meaning “Christans’ Vallley”, and a massacre against Kurds that killed more than 200 Kurds.

… I don’t know what to say!

Dave: God bless you, my sister. It tears at my heart to hear these things. Out here we are being told of various accusations against the government for the use of chemical weapons. I have no idea whether there is any truth to these but certainly things are terrible.

Ghinwa: Yes, I know these stories, but I know the accusations to the government are not true. When I checked videos on the Internet, telling the story that the government used chemicals against people in Ghota, I noticed those videos were uploaded to YouTube before the time the alleged massacre took place…

We see the same people in three different videos. Each video claims that those were killed in a different place. The only difference is that they changed the places of the bodies and arranged the scene in a different way. They put once that those people were killed in Kafr – batna, and the other video tells those where killed in Irbeen area.

I’ll check the videos and send them by email if you wish, Father.

Dave: I will publish what you send me, sister, and try to get the word out. My only concern is whether it’s putting you at any greater risk by having your name and face associated with this information.

Ghinwa: I am already on their death lists. Belonging to Alawites is a justification to kill me. It is something I was born with, not something I chose. So no problems of putting my name and pictures there.

Ghinwa with our delegation in Damascus

Ghinwa with our delegation in Damascus

In case you think Ghinwa’s claims about the videos are outrageous, I note that Veterans News Now are reporting that Al Jazeera and Reuters published news of the latest Syrian massacre one day before it happened (see here)!

Faith without Love = Fundamentalism

As we all know, the looming war on Syria is not just a political issue. It’s also a faith issue.

In the New Testament “Letter to the Hebrews” (chapter 11) the author eulogises over all the wonderful things that people have accomplished throughout history through their faith. When I read this though the first thing that occurred to me was that Al Qaeda and Jabhat Al-Nusra also claim to be ‘faith organisations’ , though it seems to be a very different sort of faith to anything I’m familiar with.

How do we distinguish between good faith and bad faith? As a child I once believed that anybody who espoused the Christian faith must be a person of good faith whereas all members of other faiths are the bad guys. Then I studied the history of the church and realised (to use Desmond Tutu’s phrase) that “God is not a Christian”.

I believe the New Testament itself gives us a straightforward way of distinguishing between the faith that kills and the faith that gives life, and I it’s something that I think all Christian people need to take to heart.

[imaioVideo v=1]

If you can’t view this video, click here

Vote Wikileaks!

Let me conclude this week’s missive with a shameless plug to all my fellow Australians: vote Wikileaks at the coming elections!

As George Galloway said when he was with us, if Australia votes in Julian Assange as a Senator we’ll be sending a message around the globe saying that Australia does not accept the ways that governments lie to their people and engage in murderous wars without the consent of the voting public!

And while the Wikileaks Party may not be the most polished and professional outfit in comparison to the more established party machines, one great thing Wikileaks does have is a solid policy on Syria (click here)!

with John Shipton (Julian Assange's dad) after church

with John Shipton (Julian Assange’s dad) after church (click to enlarge)

Let me conclude this missive with the same question with which I started:

Are we on the eve of Armageddon?

I think we could be. In my mathematical reckoning FSA+USA=WWIII

But don’t take my word for it. Let’s hear what some of the leaders of the churches in Syria and around the world believe:

“if there is an armed intervention, that would mean, I believe, a world war” 
Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, President of Caritas Syria

The West thinks that with the Sunnis in government democracy will replace the dictatorship, but this is a great illusion: regime change by force, without giving security to the secular parties of inspiration, will trigger a conflict worse than in Iraq.”
Syriac Catholic Patriarch, Youssef III Younan

“the situation in the Middle East is becoming more and more critical as each day passes… there is a plan to destroy the Arab world for political and economic interests.”
Maronite Patriarch, Cardinal Bechara Rai

Once again, as was the case in Iraq, the United States is acting as an international executioner … Once again thousands of lives will be sacrificed on the altar of an imaginary democracy; among them there are, first of all, Christians, about whose fate no one cares.”
Metropolitan Hilarion, Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate.

Will you pray with me, fighter, as I pray with so many sisters and brothers across the world that this threat to unleash all hell on the people of Syria will come to nothing?

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.zerocostwebsite.net
www.prayersforsyria.com
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. And as I’m apt to remind you, if you’d like to support our work, the best way is to become a financial member at fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month but it makes all the difference at this end!

 

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About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

Monday Missive – May 27th, 2013

Hi Fighter,

You’ll have to forgive me for the gap between missives.

The last one (May 13) was sent out while I was still in Iran, enjoying a short respite with my dear friend Sheikh Mansour Leghaei. It was a two-day stopover between Syria and Sydney. I wish it had been longer.

Since I got back in the country my feet have barely touched the ground! I’ve been preoccupied both with my Syrian experience and with issues associated with the burning down of our Church Hall/Youth Centre, which happened only a week before I left.

Receiving a gift from Dr Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria

I was overwhelmed to receive this gift from Dr Hassoun, the Grand Mufti of Syria

Making Sense of Syria

The more I reflect on the so-called ‘civil war’ in Syria, the more I become convinced that we could be on the edge of World War III.

As I understand it, the goal of those who are fueling the violence is to isolate Iran by severely weakening its only allies in the region – Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Having seen first-hand the terrible overcrowding of refugee camps in Lebanon, I can appreciate that all it will take to completely destabilize that country is to push another million displaced Syrians over the border. There are already close to a million refugees (mainly Palestinian) in Lebanon – a country that is already overcrowded with its native population of 4.3 million. Another million people will certainly break the back of the country’s infrastructure, and that is exactly what is envisaged should the strife in Syria continue for much longer.

So the world’s power-brokers play their games (and I hear on the news tonight that both Britain and France are now champing at the bit to pour more ammunition into the fray) while the Syrian people pay the price with their blood. The big oil and arms manufacturers are (quite literally) making a killing in Syria. It is entirely demonic!

We don’t see this side of the story, of course. Indeed, we don’t see much of the story at all in this country. It seems that all ‘Western’ media have been extracted from Damascus (with the curious exception of CNN)! The major Australian media companies are refusing to even purchase stories and photos from independent journalists and photographers in  government-controlled areas on the pretext that it puts them in danger! We had an excellent journo and cameraman with us in Lebanon from Australian SBS television but he was pulled out and sent home before we crossed the Syrian border!

Whatever the reason behind the media blanket over Damascus, it means that most of us only see the conflict from the perspective of those embedded amidst the attacking rebel forces. This means that we only hear one side of the story. Moreover, it means that we only ever see Syria as a war-zone.

What I saw in Syria was not a war. I saw human beings trying to get on with their lives – lots of wonderful men and women with lovely families who were trying to make the best of their situation and who were committed to bringing about change in their country through dialogue rather than through violence!

God bless the people of Syria! God bless the many people working for peace, especially the religious leaders (both Christian and Islamic), the community leaders, and the young people! We saw so many beautiful young people in their teens and twenty’s who still believe in a bright future for their country and who were still willing to devote themselves to the work of peace. God bless them all!

Talking peace with the Bishops of Damascus

Talking peace with the Bishops of Damascus

Mother Agnes returns to Oz

I will stop eulogising over Syria in a moment, but I must mention two more things first:

Firstly, if you didn’t see the formal statements made by our Mussalaha Peace Delegation to Syria, I commend them to you:

  1. The Concluding Declaration of the Mussalaha Delegation to Syria
  2. The Declaration of the Mussalaha Delegation on the Refugee Situation in Lebanon

Secondly, in case you haven’t heard, know that dear Mother Agnes of Homs is going to be back in Australia in only three weeks time!

Mother Agnes is going to be raising both funds and awareness in this tour and there will be a $100/head fundraiser dinner on the evening of Friday, June 21st. I’ve already booked a table, so if you’d like to join me at my table I’d love your company. Just let me know.

If you can’t afford to join us at the dinner, I’m hoping to have Mother Agnes with us for church with us on the Sunday – June 23rd. That won’t cost you anything (and you even get a free cup of coffee afterwards)! 

with Mother Agnes at the Umayyad mosqe

with Mother Agnes and the team at the Umayyad mosque

Binacrombi Boot Camp II

The Fighting Fathers held another wonderful ‘Boot Camp’ while I was away.

Ange tells me that the program ran exceptionally well. Apparently we not only had Christian and Muslim boys join us this time but a Jewish boy as well. Everybody demonstrated a wonderful camaraderie and commitment to the program, which was both challenging and invigorating!

Congratulations go to Fighting Fathers Mungo McCall, Caine Pennell, Danny Sarkis and Sol Egberime for making the weekend work so well! :-)

Our next Boot Camp is scheduled for the last weekend in July. Given the icy-cold temperatures at Binacrombi at that time of the year, this one will be tailored towards the truly battle-hardened. Book now! 

Binacrombi Boot Camp II

Veterans of the Binacrombi Boot Camp II

Mairead Maguire

As I said before I left for Syria, one of the things I was most looking forward to on the trip was the opportunity to meet one of my great heroes – Maired Maguire.

I know that often when you meet someone whom you’ve admired from afar for many years they turn out to be a bit of a disappointment in person. Not so in this case! Mairead is as inspiring when you get to know her as she is at a distance! More-so in fact! :-)

If you don’t know Mairead’s story and the role she played in the peace process in Northern Ireland (which won her the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976) you can read about her in Wikipedia or in a thousand other places on the web. For the moment, I’ll let my interview with her speak for itself.

[imaioVideo v=1]

If you can’t view the video, click here.

Before I go today I need your help with something:

I’m setting up a website on Syria – a site where I can post articles and videos that will keep us all up-to-date with the news on Syria that you won’t see on TV. I’ve purchased three domain names but I’m not sure which on to use?

  • syria.net.co
  • newsinsyria.com
  • syriaupdate.com

Which one do you think works best? Please email me your thoughts or post them at the end of the blog in the comments section.

OK.

In closing, allow me to share with you some of pics I took in Iran with my friend, Sheikh Mansour.

If you don’t know the history between Mansour and me, and how I fought tooth and nail to prevent his ‘deportation without trial’ a few years ago, it’s all on savethesheikh.com.

Mansour is now back in Esfahan while his sons remain in Australia. His case is still before the United Nations Human Rights Committee for consideration. One day we hope to see him back in Sydney.

In the meantime, Mansour and I are hoping to develop some sort of online inter-faith radio show together. We’ve been planning it for years in fact. If all goes well we might be able to start something even next month! In the meantime, here’s a few photos of me and Mansour in Tehran, Qom and Esfahan (click to enlarge).

A sight for sore eyes – meeting Mansour at the airport

A sight for sore eyes – meeting Mansour at the airport

at the Jamkaran Mosque in Qom with Mansour

at the Jamkaran Mosque in Qom with Mansour

with Mansour in Esfahan

with Mansour in Esfahan

That’s it for today, fighter. I hope to be back with you this time next week.

Until then I remain …

Your brother in the Good Fight,

Dave
www.fatherdave.org
www.fighting-fathers.com
www.zerocostwebsite.net
www.israelandpalestine.org
www.how2changetheworld.com

P.S. And as I’m apt to remind you, if you’d like to support our work, the best way is to become a financial member at fighting-fathers.com. It only costs you $10/month but it makes all the difference at this end!

Please follow and like us:

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four