No to western military action against Syria, interview with Jørgen Bæk Simonsen, PhD, professor Copenhagen University, Middle East expert, former Director of The Danish Institute in Damascus

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Interview with Jørgen Bæk Simonsen against western military action in Syria, interviewed by Michelle Rasmussen (Schiller Institute and EIR, Executive Intelligence Review) on August 28, 2013.


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Jørgen Bæk Simonsen, PhD (1951 - ) is a Danish historian whose specialty is the islamic world’s history and culture; In 1992 he became a lecturer at the Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Copenhagen University, 2001-05 Director of the Danish Institute in Damascus, Syria, and since professor at the Institute for Cross-cultural and Regional Studies of Copenhagen University.(fn1: from Den Store Danske Encyclopædi) Jørgen Bæk Simonsen has often participated in the public debate about Islam, and the Middle East.


Jørgen Bæk Simonsen, f. 1951, dansk historiker med speciale i den islamiske verdens historie og kultur; dr.phil. i 1988 på en afhandling om islamisk beskatning. Han blev i 1992 lektor ved Carsten Niebuhr Instituttet, Københavns Universitet, 2001-05 direktør for Det Danske Institut i Damaskus, og herefter professor ved Institut for Tværkulturelle og Regionale Studier, Københavns Universitet. (Den Store Danske Encyclopædi)




No to any western military attack against Syria

Interview with Danish Middle East expert Jørgen Bæk Simonsen.


Jørgen Bæk Simonsen, PhD (1951 - ) is a Danish historian with specialty in the islamic world’s history and culture; In 1992 he became a lecturer at the Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Copenhagen University, 2001-05 Director of the Danish Institute in Damascus, Syria, and since professor at the Institute for Cross-cultural and Regional Studies of Copenhagen University.(fn1: from Den Store Danske Encyclopedi) Jørgen Bæk Simonsen has often participated in the public debate about Islam, and the Middle East.


Interviewed by Michelle Rasmussen, Schiller Institute and EIR, Copenhagen, Denmark


MR: Since we spoke yesterday, there has been a very intensive drumbeat for war, for a military attack against Syria, from the U.S., from Britain, and even the Danish prime minister was out yesterday saying ‘well, if the UN Security Council does not act, then we have to consider actions outside of the UN Security Council,’ and leading up to this, there were increasing statements from the military in the U.S., especially Gen. Dempsy, saying that the Syrian opposition does not represent American interests, statements also from the British military, and the American military saying, ‘one could start a war, but the consequences are unfathomable,’ and what LaRouche and the Schiller Institute have been saying is that the background has not to do with Syria as such, but the intent to create a strategic crisis, to create a confrontation with Russia. So what do you say about this drumbeat for war and the danger that that represents?


Jørgen Bæk Simonsen (JBS): I’ve been following the news throughout yesterday. It was obvious, and even confirmed this morning, and during the early morning hours, it is obvious that when you blow the trumpet, you set something in motion, and being set into motion seems to be as if all the media are reconfirming each other in the presumption that an attack will take place. So, unfortunately, the obvious media concern, and the obvious media interest, unfortunately seems to create a future in the short term that will simply turn into reality, what up to now in the inner political circles are still being discussed. 


MR: You also have the irony of, for example, an op-ed from Tony Blair coming out saying ‘we have to act.’ The same Tony Blair, who, together with Bush, was responsible for the run-up to the Iraq war. Now it has been exposed that the intention was to go for war, and the so-called evidence was cooked up to justify that.


JBS: In this respect, you may say that there something of a kind of repetition of the situation prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The media is referring to American intelligence services that have listened to suspicious talk among generals in the Syrian army, but nothing up to now has been indicating if it is substantial talk, or if it is talk between military employees in the Syrian army who are discussing on the background of official international knowledge that an attack has been conducted. So there seems to be a lot of presumptions and allegations as to what someone said somewhere, and we are unable, actually, as far as I can judge, to have a chance to see and measure the sustainability of the resumptions upon which the assumption that an attack is needed is based.


MR: Part of this is based on that after the war in Iraq, after the war in Libya, there is an increasing opposition from the Congress in the U.S. to allowing the president to go to war outside of the approval of the Congress. In fact, in the last couple of days, there have been increasing calls from the Congress, that this has to be through the Congress, and the excuse is, that because it is obvious that it is not the U.S. mainland which is being attacked, or the British mainland, this is supposed to be under the guise of a humanitarian response, Tony Blair’s expression of the ‘right to protect,’ so that is where this comes in as an excuse.


JBS: Being as it is, I think that we should all do what we possibly can do, wherever we are placed to try to bring some kind of reasonable approach to the problem at hand. History seems to indicate, obviously, that war doesn’t solve any problems. We can see that the problems in Iraq have not been solved. The problems in Afghanistan have not been solved, and of course the allies, with the U.S. and British government in a leading position, can attack Syria by air and by missiles. The possibility is there. They will probably be able to launch their missiles, they will be able to launch their attacks, but this will not change anything on the ground. 

Actually, the possibility that an attack by the western powers, can be cleverly used by the militant jihadi groups, is yet another proof that the West doesn’t care at all about the Muslim world at large. They are just doing and behaving in order to obtain a privileged position that they have already. 


MR: In terms of your view of the opposition on the ground in Syria, which is made up of many different factions. In fact, we got a certain glimpse of some of the aspects of this in Denmark, a couple of days ago, when there was a video put out by a radical Danish Islamist who is down there fighting, threatening assassination of certain figures in Denmark, but what do you say about the claim that the opposition in Syria is democratic, fit to run things afterwards.

JBS: No doubt, there are quite a lot of different democratic supporters among the various groups that all together constitute the Syrian opposition, but the main problem is that the Syrian opposition is also a militant jihadi bunch of people who are having a quite different agenda compared to the more democratic founded groups are predicting. We are in the situation where the internal Syrian disagreements, make it very difficult for us to choose whom to assist and whom to help, because we might end up doing things that will actually enforce and empower the militant Islamists, which, of course, is in nobody’s interest, but the few militant Islamists.


MR: Plus the outside financing. This is being financed by Saudi Arabia, by Qatar, by some of the Gulf interests. 

But the other thing that we are most concerned about is that an attack on Syria, will, or could, lead to an escalation immediately in the region, and put the question to the Russians about how they are going to respond, because they have learned from the situation after Libya, so I both wanted to ask you what you see as the dangers of escalation in the region, and also in terms of the Russian-U.S. situation?


JBS: In my analysis, it is obvious that the reluctance of Russia to engage in any kind of Security Council decision, is based on negative Russian experiences from Libya. I don’t think, on the other hand, that Russia will do anything in case of an attack. I don’t see that Russia either wants, or will benefit from any increased engagement in the conflict on any level. And I don’t see any possibility of an alliance of military value between Russia and China. And I certainly don’t believe that the Islamic Republic of Iran – they will certainly increase their rhetoric, they will increase their attacks on the west, and the U.S. in particular, and I don’t think that they will do anything on an international level.

But what will probably be the result of an international attack on Syria, is the possibility of the jihadis interpreting the situation to support their interpretation of the overall global situation. The young guy you referred to, who has been on Danish television some time during the last week, very clearly indicated, in an interview, that, in his perception and his understanding, Assad is nothing but an unimportant person. So, their struggle is not at all linked to whether or not the Assad regime will survive, or not. Their struggle is linked to a far greater, more total, ongoing fight against the west and the western powers. And any attack that will escallate the situation in the Middle East, will certainly, and predictably, be used and orchestrated by the militant jihadis. 

So it may be that you can give a signal to the regime, that we don’t accept the use of chemical weapons, on the precondition that they are actually those who conducted the attack, but if they did, then you can easily draw a line vis a vis the Syrian regime, but in the analysis of the opposition of the militant jihadis, this doesn’t matter at all. They will use an attack as an extra argument for the need of conducting the struggle. And we might easily predict not state intervention, but having this asymmetric warfare, that we have seen a number of cases of in the recent history of the Middle East. For example, between a nation state, on the one hand, and groups like Hezbollah, on the other.  And this certainly will not bring peace and prosperity to the region.


MR: And then there are also implications if there is response from Hezbollah, or other groupings, then attacking Israel, and Israel responding again, either against Syria, or against Iran.


JBS: Certainly, it is a possibility, but I don’t predict that anyone will intervene in a struggle, or in an attack on behalf of Israel, on Hezbollah in Lebanon. In 2006, it was obvious that nobody cared. Nobody did anything to try to stop the confrontation between Hezbollah, on the one hand, and the state of Israel, on the other. Everyone was saying that it was regrettable that Hezbollah had done something it shouldn’t have done, but nobody, no one interfered on any level.


MR: In terms of the radical jihadis …


JBS: The radical jihadis will not go to war in Lebanon against Israel. The radical jihadis will choose their opponents, and conduct terror actions, far away from Israel. But they will certainly attack persons, buildings, values, and institutions that are linked to the west. They might even, as we have seen this young guy on You Tube in the Danish language, who has invited his Muslim sisters and brothers to take part in the global jihad against the west, thus indicating that attacks might be conducted anywhere else.


MR: My point is that these radical jihadi networks may be the people pulling the triggers, but the whole thing is financed, strategically, from the Saudis, from Qatar, and we have also …


JBS: It might be more fair to say that the probable, and well-argued, and proved financial support of Saudia Arabia, and Qatar, and other private Islamic organizations, to the opposition in Syria, is, of course, an indication of the very many different layers in the conflict in Syria. We all know that the jihadis are paid for, and get their salaries from Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. But what they [the Saudis] will do, in case they [the jihadis] win, is another question. We have seen the Saudi regime be directly offensive, vis a vis their own militant jihadis, in the last two decades. So, on a larger scale, they are certainly not interested in the establishment of any radical Islamic state, anywhere in the region. They are obviously interested in sacking the Assad regime.


MR: We have been looking at the geopolitical aspects of this, with the background of the financial collapse. Because the British empire strategy, has always been, in the Middle East, and other places in the world, to try to use potential conflicts, and actual conflicts, as a way of pitting one potential opponent against the other, and this has been seen so many times in the Middle East. What we have been pointing out, is that there is a British-Saudi strategic alliance, with the intention of trying to have a conflict where the U.S. would be on one side, and Russia and China on the other side, also to prevent a fruitful cooperation between the U.S., Russia and China, for the purposes of setting up a new credit system, and putting the current financial system into bankruptcy. How do you see these geopolitical aspects?


JBS: This geopolitical aspect is – I don’t for a second believe in any global confrontation between Russia and China, on the one hand, and the U.S. and what is left of the former historical British empire, on the other. What I see is very, very close international cooperation between the financially strong groups within each of these countries, working in very fine cooperation with each other, in order to improve their own benefits in the present situation.


MR: What is your message to the Danish government, in light of this talk about whether Denmark should join this coalition, and participate in the bombing.


JBS: I am in no situation to comment and enlighten the Danish government to do either this or that. I’m living in a democratic society, and the present government has a majority in the parliament, and, unfortunately, they can pass a law, indicating that the Danish government is interested in, and willing to take part in the possible attack on Syria.

On a personal point of view, I dislike it, and I disagree.


MR: As the last part, would you just summarize again, why you disagree.


JBS: I disagree, because in my understanding of political conflicts, the military solution never brings a solution of a more permanent status to any conflict. It can prolong a conflict, but it can never solve a conflict.


MR: Is there anything else you would like to say to our viewers?

JBS: No.

MR: I thank you very much for your time, and your comments.

JBS: Thank you.