Why a fearless and fiery Anglican priest travels to war-torn countries, supports Putin in Syria, and believes that Christians must unite to fight the lies of Western liberal governments
Australian born Anglican priest 'Fighting' Father Dave, 55 years old, is a vivid character, dynamite in a religious world which too often closes its eyes to the lies and crimes of the Western governments and media.
Decades ago, he opened a boxing club in Dulwich Hill, then a drug-ridden, poverty-stricken area of Sydney. Having been a tempestuous teenager himself, he knew that channeling aggression, pain and anger productively could transform the lives of young men.
The liberal press both loves and hates him. On one hand, his work in helping the underprivileged in Sydney cannot possibly be critiqued by even the most virulent of social warriors.
Films have been created with about his life and work. In the very heart of Sydney, a vibrant mural of him sprawls on the wall of a building which, among other things, houses the American embassy. It was done by Luke Cornish, the most famous street artist in Australia. (Though the artist, who won the illustrious Archibald prize for his portrait of another Christian leader, is known for some rather blasphemous artworks, he seems to find the insuppressible life force of some of Sydney's spiritual leaders irresistible).
Yet at the same time, Father Dave has an irritating, uncontainable character trait, one which continues to disrupt the safe, accepted narrative preached by the mainline media.
Namely, he will stop at nothing to fight injustice, whichever side of the barricades it falls on. No one can stop him from voicing his opinion on the "crimes" he believes the civilized West commits in its insatiable desire for power and domination over the rest of the world.
For example, he is outspoken in his passionate support of Russian activity in Syria, and, inversely, his utter horror at the activities of the US, Europe, and his native Australia in the same country.
But he doesn't just denounce--he acts, in his own way. He has been visiting Syria since 2013 and has spoken to everyone he could get his hands on: the prime minister, the Christian leaders, the country's mufti, and the refugee children.
His organization 'Boxers for Peace" holds boxing training sessions and tournaments on Syrian soil where Australians and Syrians build connections through intense physical contact.
In 2016 he held a tournament in Palmyra, Syria.There, Australians and Syrians sparred in an ancient Roman amphitheatre where IS had carried out beheadings just months before. In 2017, the invaluable cultural site would be retaken by the rebels and bombed.
The aim of the tournaments is to bring some healthy pleasure to the Syrian youth, who desperately need a sense normalcy amid the chaos.
But it is also to open the eyes of Australians on the truth of what is really happening in Syria.
"the political front door is closed, I don’t know how to get through there, not my thing, but the back door of religion and sport are wide open, so we go through there, you know? That’s more me anyway. We're creating a grassroots connection"
The story Fr. Dave adds a dissonant chord to the normal media narrative, or as he refers to it, the "incredibly well-coordinated media campaign" that whitewashes crimes.
This is why I think when we did our gig in Palmyra, that got five minutes of coverage from the SBS. If we’d been telling the mainline story, there would have been a whole show devoted to it.
On his track record is also his friendship with Mordecai Vanunu, an Israeli who revealed information about Israel's secret nuclear weapon development program to the British press in 1986. Though initially Fr. Dave did not know about Vanunu's mission, he helped him during his stay in Australia. Vanunu subsequently revealed the documents in the UK, and was kidnapped and imprisoned by the Israeli government,
After this experience, Fr. Dave became an outspoken pro-Palestine speaker and activist. He speaks at conferences, participates and organizes rallies. He also deeply believes that Muslims and Christians must unite to stop "the crimes of the Israeli government" that are being "whitewashed by the media." He has been prohibited from returning to Israel for his activity in support of the Palestinians.
Despite his unconventional involvement in political affairs, Fr. Dave is also the dedicated pastor of a thriving parish. He wears his religious garb during all his outings to the city, removing it only in the boxing ring.
I met with him in a small cafe in Sydney. He had already finished a cup of coffee and the table was in disarray--he had already found people in need. As I came in he was offering to distraught Americans his house to 'rest up.'
Two hours later, he was rushing to the next "Free Assange" event he was leading in the city at noon.
He speaks in stories, so there was much too much information to fit into one article. However, we present here a few segments from our conversation, but we present here a few segments from our conversation, specifically those that reveal his stance on Syria, his opinion of Putin, his take on the role of alternative media and the potential and right of religion to change the political and social scene.
His core belief is that Christians of all dominations, as well as other traditional communities, should join forces to alleviate the suffering in places such as Syria. Only religious institutions, he believes, have the power to counter the evil that is dominating the world, inflicting destruction, and creating a brainwashed global population.
a bastion of freedom
What do you think is most important for Westerners to understand about Syria?
"I appreciate there’s an authoritarian government in some ways but there’s also a great degree of freedom, particularly freedom of religion and freedom of discretion. It’s not like going to Iran or Jordan or let alone Saudi Arabia, where all the women are in black. No, here some women will wear a hijab, most won’t. People dress as they see fit.
There’s a great degree of individual freedom in Syria and I think that’s what people are trying to protect. That’s why the government has such a degree of support.
All my friends in Syria from Christian churches unanimously say that Syria was always a bastion for Christians especially, in terms of freedom of religion. The role of the government was simply secular, to allow a democratic way of life.
Syrian people don’t want to become another Islamic State, where so much repression is involved. The Christians especially don't want that.
You ask the Christians there, the Christian community is 100 % behind the government.
In the last election there, there was what? 78% support for the government?
It isn't about my angle. People call me an apologist for Bashar Assad. I’ve never met Bashar Assad, I know nothing except the name. He may be a gorgeous man, he may be a nasty man, what’s it got to do with me? I’m not Syrian, it’s their choice.
The Syrian people are totally behind their government, so respect the wishes of the Syrian people! It’s got nothing to do with my politics. It’s their choice and it seems to me that they have made their choice obvious.
There are people who claim that Syrian society is very divided. That's rubbish.
The idea that Bashar Assad is allied with the white sectors against the Sunni majority is also ridiculous. The majority ARE Sunni and so is his wife. When you’re there on the ground you know full well, there is no division between the Sunnis and the Shiites, or between the Christians and the Muslims or between the Jews or anybody else that’s there. There’s a very wonderful level of pluralism and inclusiveness within Syrian society, which is exactly the way of live that the people are trying to protect and their own independence from control.
So I’ve got total respect for the Syrian army, for the attempts of the Syrian people to gain independence and freedom, but the military fight is not my fight. But they are fighting against foreign aggression, directed at them directly from the United States, more directly from Saudi Arabia, to a lesser extent Katar, Turkey, and other countries. And the level of destruction, the level of human misery, that has been brought to the Syrian people by the greed that has driven the political agenda is unbelievable.
On Russia and Putin:
"the leader of the moral world"
The russian support in Syria, I tell you, is huge. They love the Russians. It isn’t the same with Iranians, where it’s more at a political level, than at a grassroots level.
But did you see what happened when one of these Russian soldiers that died there? Syrians went out to the streets carrying his photo, in the morning, grieving at a communal level for him.
The point was made: How many Iraqis mourned the death of American soldiers? Not many. The Russians…the people love them there.
So what do you think of Putin?
I have a lot of respect for the man.
Not to say he’s the moral leader of the world, I mean personally I don’t know him, he might be a great guy, he may not be, but the leader of the moral world in the sense of what he’s been standing for is bringing justice, you know what I mean?
As opposed to what America and a number of other countries have been standing for.
He’s standing up for Syria, for instance, has been just admirable, his restraint in response to the horrific and unprovoked violence coming from the US say with this last stupid missile attack and always.
I think that the restraint that Putin has shown in response, he seems to be the only adult in the room, if you look at the way Mr. Trump behaves and also, not just him, but Theresa May in Britain and Macron in France, behaving like petulant children.
My prayers are with him.
The influence he’s had in preventing the complete destruction of Syria is enormous. Maybe Syria will be the Stalingrad... In the sense that the Nazis were turned back at Stalingrad in their expansion, you know?
Well, maybe Syria is going to be where the American Empire is turned back. You just think of the terrible path of destruction that has been wrought through Iraq, Afganistan, to Lybia and Syria. Maybe, I pray to God, it stops here.
all faith communities must join forces against the Western powers
Fr. Dave leads a thriving parish, but in his work on social and political issues, he has worked closely with his fellow Protestant churches, as well as Orthodox, Catholic and even Islamic communities.
What do you think about the role of the churches in Syria?
"I would really like us to send money to the Greek Orthodox Church, which is the biggest Christian church in Syria. They’ve got fantastic aid programs going on throughout Syria, helping people rebuild, not just the Christian communities, but everybody.
My angle on the big picture: we need people of faith to come together. Not to agree on their faith, but to agree on the things they already agree on and to work together.
So I’m trying to work with the Muslim community in the same way. I really believe in this strongly. I’ve just come back from Iran and that’s what I say all the time to everybody there: “If we can’t work together there’s no hope.”
I said, we look, how about we get us Protestants and Catholic churches raising funds through the Orthodox church? I love that concept, you know, because you’re breaching another gap. So it’s a win-win.
Do you think you could find support?
I think we’ve got a lot of goodwill amongst the Christian communities here. I don’t doubt we could mobilize a lot of support from Christian communities in Sydney and support the people of Syria through the Orthodox Church in Damascus.
It seems to me there’s not much you can do on your own, you know what I mean? And we need to work together. The problem is as soon as people get together and form companies and governments, they become corrupt. You know, all power tends to corrupt.
It seems to me the only organizations that are not completely corrupt are faith communities.
I appreciate the church has been as corrupt as anybody at a given time, but the core of the church, in all its manifestations, you still have some key beliefs and ideological commitments that to faith, hope, love and so on. You know? These are still there at the core and that distinguishes us from any number of groups and organizations. Which generally have at their core the bottom line.
So it seems to me the only hope we’ve got to take on the principalities and powers is for faith communities to come together and to try to stand up against this.
And I’m thinking not just different Christian branches of the Christian community and working together with the Islamic community, and people of good will, people whose bottom line is not the bottom line, you know? And pulling those groups together at some level.
Not at a doctrinal level, that’s not going to happen, and that’s not important, but in the practical, hands-on level, to stop this sort of violence which is tearing our world to pieces at the moment and its just destroying the lives of so many millions of people.
The destruction going in Syria is terrible and it’s not the only place.
What do you think is hindering that cooperation?
Tribalism. I think Tribalism is at the heart of every war, every problem. I mean it’s like religion being the opium of the masses, religion is an easy tribal badge to create an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality.
My understanding of the Christian Gospel is that Jesus was very anti-tribal. He was very big on ‘who is my neighbor’ It’s not just my fellow Jew, it’s not just fellow religious person.
That’s part of what we are trying to do with the sport as well. If you’ve seen how our Boxing for Life have overcome the us-them mentality with the Muslim community, in particular. Yeah, I think tribalism is the thing we are fighting all the time. I’m trying to finish this book on how Christians and Muslims can be friends, well I basically have finished it, I just need to get it published, but the angle I’m trying to take in that is that religion always has two sides it.
It has a doctrinal side and it has a tribal side. And we don’t need to downplay what we believe doctrinally, we need to downplay the tribal side, you know what I mean?
No one goes to war over what they believe, really. They go to war over the fact that ‘we’re better than you bastards’ you know what I mean?
It’s the us-them, the tribalism which politicians are drawn to and use as a tool to see their agendas played out. It’s not belief. I mean we often bring that in as the secondary thing, but when you get back to the beliefs and the ideology, you find a core of commitment to justice and to peace and to love and to respect and things like that within all religious traditions. No one’s going to war over that.
Question: You keep talking about uniting…and this implies a common enemy. What is this common enemy?
Saint Paul would say it’s the principalities and powers. I think ultimately it’s a spiritual force that’s trying to degrade humanity and destroy the world. Where we see that manifested most obviously is in the forces of Empire, I think it’s becoming less and less governments and more and more corporations and I think governments do the bidding of corporations, not the other way around.
I think specifically where we need to come together, say to stop the violence in Syria, to say no to attacks on Iran, on Russia, on North Korea, wherever the current…Ultimately I’m told the American empire will fall in 2020 anyway, maybe that’s true, maybe it’s already falling, I don’t know, but another will soon rise to take its place, you know what I mean?
For the sake of humanity, we need to unite against the forces which are trying to destroy the world,
Ultimately it’s a spiritual force we all need to unite against.
But it’s the specific manifestations of that are obvious enough. The butchering of the Palestinian people in Israel for example is a very clear manifestation of that evil, where we need to unite against that. Christians, Muslims, Jews, should be able to unite and stop that. And the forces which are maintaining that are big money, media and governments behind it. I think people of faith could unite to stop that. Likewise what’s happening in Syria.
We’ve got to come together Christians, Muslims, Jews. . Maybe it needs to be done through grassroots level. It won’t be organized through the official channels.
I was at a rally for Julian Assange last week. Who organized it? Socialist alliance. Who was there? Socialist Alliance. I was at a Palestine rally not long before organized by university students. Who was there? University students. When we hold one which is organized by the mosques, you’ve got a couple 1000 people there…because communal organizations bring their entire communities.
When the religious institution organizes it, everyone shows up. The only way we can do this is tap into the communal organizations, into the religious organizations.
If we can’t do that at a community level, we’re never going to make it.
On Australia and the Alternative Media
opinion is shifting, globally
How do you see Australia's role in Syria?
Australians have been involved in the murder of Syrian troops as well, Australia has sanctions on the Syrian people, has helped destroy the ability of the Syrian people to rebuild after the war.
I think John Pill just said that we’re spending millions, billions of dollars perhaps every year, desperately trying to be America’s sheriff in the south Pacific.
Why? You’ve really got to question the wisdom of that. I appreciate there’s an economic dependence, there’s a military dependence, but at what cost? We sell our soul in the process.
Australians are involved in this tour, and we are trying to talk to Australian politicians about it, to those that will listen, and they do, but our foreign policy agenda is do whatever America tells us to do and that’s tragic.
Do you think most Australians agree with what the mainstream media says?
The opinion on Palestine is shifting strongly in Australia, I think. I think in the US as well, but very much so in Australia. People are waking up.
I think we have in this country what you don’t have in the US so much, a healthy suspicion of politicians in this country. People tend to be very cynical about politicians in this country and there’s very little of that sort of flag-waving patriotism here, which I think is a good thing.
I appreciate patriotism can be a positive force, but it very quickly degenerates into a sort of nationalistic tribalism, the ‘we’re better than you bastards’ you know? Personally, I’ve never really understood why I’m supposed to care more about the people born inside the shores of this country than people who were born on the other side, why?
But I appreciate that in America, there’s a real sense of being an American, and taking pride in its history—which is a very checkered history, I think. In this country, I think we know that our history is very checkered.
This country was founded on the invasion of another country, the destruction of the indigenous population. Us white people are here and the blood of the indigenous people is still on our hands and the evidence of that and the ramifications is still around us, you know?
There is a shift. People are more suspicious of mainline media as well and I think there’s a strong grassroots support for the Palestinian people beyond the doves.
And we just need to get past how the mainline media whitewashes the crimes of the Israeli government. People are starting to see through that, it’s such a well-coordinated media campaign, the ABC has been horrendous in that regard, SBS less so, but the ABC won’t even refer the occupied territories any more, they are ‘disputed territory’.
The Zionist agenda has a very strong foothold in there. When it comes to Syria, it’s the exact same thing. For me, I’ve become increasingly convinced not to worry about what the official media says or does, and to just focus on social media and to get message out online, I think that’s where the action is. The alternative media, but also just the social media.
Especially among the young people, there’s a global shift from traditional forms of media and towards social media and that sort of thing.
Here’s the thing: when you get the government saying that Russia or Assad have launched another chemical attack Islamic people and then you get a million people on Facebook saying bullshit it’s not true.
I think that’s why they’re the powers that be are trying so heavily to crack down on alternative forms of media, they’re listing various people, I don’t know how Russian Faith and Russia Insider are going, but I know a lot of the other alternative media sources are just finding themselves de-listed and getting pushed down the ranks.
Yeah, it’s awful, it’s hideous, but it can’t succeed, I think. Hopefully Google itself will become less important if they are becoming more obviously manipulating what people can see.