giles fraser david aaronovitch times syria
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Giles Fraser goes to Syria, and the Times denounces his ‘moral decay’

Giles Fraser visited Syria last week, and did lots of Giles Frasery things: he shook a few grand hands, chewed big political ears, kissed lots of children, prayed a few prayers and took loads of selfies: ‘And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven…’

David Aaronovitch writing in The Times didn’t like this one bit: ‘Bloody dictators love a gullible peacenik‘ he blasted, explaining: ‘By visiting Syria with other Assad stooges, Giles Fraser has delivered a massive propaganda coup to an evil regime’. And the article exudes the sort of pus which comes with the stench of inventive infection, for Aaronovitch is not only devoid of charity, but also of spirituality, seeking at every turn to smear Giles Fraser with the corruption of tyrants and the blood of a thousand murdered souls who must curse this “gullible peacenik” for supping with Satan.

It isn’t that there is no truth: Aaronovitch is too brilliant to slander with total falsehood. It is that partial and potential truths are glued together with a stream of malignant ad hom. Giles Fraser goes to Syria, and by association he is murdering children and torturing dissidents; he is kissing Stalin and hugging Mussolini. Instead of gobbing on a framed portrait of Assad which hangs on the wall, he gazes out of the window and tweets pictures of detention centres and death camps. It isn’t clear why Aaronovitch didn’t go the whole hog with Hitler and accuse Giles Fraser of being a Nazi sympathiser.

Just because he went to Syria and listened to Christians and spoke of peace.

It is a fact that many of Syria’s Christians support Assad, but Aaronovitch doesn’t care about that. Perhaps they’re all just fascists to him, or sympathisers, at least. Giles Fraser cares. He cares so much that he shakes the hand of the Grand Mufti of Syria, Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, and sits and talks about how love is stronger than missiles. It’s the sort of thing Jesus might do. But the Grand Inquisitor is having none of it: “Did you know where his ‘love not missiles’ hand had been, Giles, when you shook it?” probes Aaronovitch.

Good job he wasn’t writing for the Palestine Times in the first century: “This Jesus shakes hands with tax collectors. Does he not know what starvation and suffering they have inflicted?”

“This Jesus sups mint tea with prostitutes. Does he not know what diseases and death they spread?”

“This Jesus talks of good Samaritans, and so delivers a massive propaganda coup to an evil cult.”

Isn’t consorting with sinners what Christians are supposed to do? If we must never shake the hands of those who are tainted, then whose hands may we ever shake? Does David Aaronovitch screen everyone before he publicly associates with them, for fear of being seen to condone their vices, crimes or sin?

People are complicated, and (God knows) the Middle East is complicated. Its religion is murky and the politics muddled. It’s all very messy. Why, then, is a journalist of the intellectual calibre of David Aaronovitch so eager to convey that it is all so very black and white? If Bashar al-Assad is all evil, why is he supported by so many Syrian Christians? Are they all so duped by dreams of peace that they hail Assad as the new messiah? Is Giles Fraser really so dim as to allow “a mixture of idealism, arrogance and wilfulness” to permit him to become a “propaganda tool” of an “bloody dictator”?

And then we get this killer ad hom:

You are the one who sees the truth, when those benighted others back home cannot. You know that democracy is a putrefying corpse. That Jesus loves a radical.

But, Giles, when the portrait on the wall is of a bloody dictator and you instead choose to look out of the window, that odd smell is not apple tea, it’s your own moral decay.

Jesus does indeed love a radical, for to preach love and talk of peace in a world of of hate and conflict is to bring salvation to mankind. And that’s quite radical. To consort with murderers and heal lepers is to enter the fellowship of suffering; to meet the martyrs of faith and resistance; to anticipate the end of this world and the beginning of a world that is new. And that’s quite radical. It is not ‘moral decay’ to see light in the apocalypse, or to tweet a messianic message of hope and eternal life when all around you is suffering and death: it is Christian virtue.

If you were Syriac Orthodox, Mr Aaronovitch, would you rather live under Bashar al-Assad or the al-Nusra Front?

Far easier, of course, to avoid the question, and pontificate in the spiritual sterility of a Times column.