Now that the war in Syria seems to be finally winding down, it occurred to us that it would be a good idea to use it to exemplify how the news we are exposed to are manipulated at level of primary sources. The propaganda war that accompanied the real war was long and furious. That the conflict lasted so long might be precisely why it was possible to dismantle the lies before the region could be completely destroyed and the whole subject swept under the rug.
When things work out in terms of propaganda, you’ll end up with a Lybia; the overthrow of the dictator Gaddafi was designed and executed by Western governments, based on lies about African mercenaries working for the super evil dictator who took turns carrying out mass rape orgies using State provided Viagra, among other Hollywood tales. The information war created the legitimacy necessary to turn a country which previously had some of the best quality of life indicators in Africa into a ruin where jihadist bands control vasts swathes of territory and human slavery has returned. Hillary Clinton bragged about her role in the events. In a famous CBS video, she giddily comments, between laughs, the death of Gaddafi, dragged into the desert, beaten and sodomized with a bayonet, until someone finally shot him.
These interventions are praised by the Western press, under cover of some sort of defense of human rights, even when they originate with Donald Trump.
Chinese whispers journalism
The Syrian war is underway since 2011, involving regional and world powers, jihadist bands and revolutionary groups. Each side has its own agenda, which it tries to promote using the means at its disposal. If Russia Today and Sputnik have turned into the mouthpieces for the Assad government to the world, the giant Western channels (CNN, BBC, France 24, Washington Post, etc.) have turned into a vehicle for jihadist propaganda. We should remember that, excluding rare exceptions and until recently, as the Syrian government retook a large part of its territory, there were no Western media journalists operating in Syria.
The reason is simple: from the onset of the conflict, journalists that tried to report from Al-Qaeda controlled areas (which rebranded itself several times, to Al-Qaeda Jabhat al-Nusra, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and Tahrir al-Sham) were kidnapped and only released after ransoms were payed. Those that ventured into Islamic State controlled areas were simply murdered. There were a few rare occasions in which jihadist supporters were allowed into their territory, and even they admit that there were times when their bearded friends almost screwed them over.
Without journalists in place, these friends of the jihadists and their representatives were rebranded as local “activists”. Their reports of women who committed mass suicide to avoid being raped by the Syrian army, of children burned alive and summary executions of civilians, echoed in the Western press. That same press didn’t even bother explaining that they were literally publishing public statements from the jihadist forces – namely from the Levant Front.
This includes a famous UN report, stating that they “received reports” from undisclosed sources that pro-government forces murdered 82 civilians in four Aleppo neighborhoods. The report also states that it was difficult to confirm whether the information was true, while omitting that the four neighborhoods were active combat zones from which the jihadists were being expelled. This didn’t stop a bunch of media publishing headlines such as “The UN says that the Syrian government murdered 82 civilians”, or any such similar variation, employing the UN’s appearance of respectability to give added credibility to poorly sourced misinformation.
Curiously, Islamic State allowed Vice to film a “documentary” about daily life under the Caliphate; as expected the TV crew was accompanied, surveilled and controlled at all time by Islamic State members. On the government side, some journalists were allowed to report from army controlled regions; but when the government didn’t like a particular reporter, they would simply revoke or not issue reporting licenses or refuse entrance into government controlled regions.
With the war ending and with Western journalists once more allowed to enter the zones liberated by the Syrian army which were previously controlled by the “moderate rebels”, there are finally some confessions that maybe – just maybe – life under any one of the foreign mercenaries factions that follow an ultra violent and sectarian ideology wasn’t all that great. As for the evidence of the slaughters and mass rapes committed by government forces and their allies in Aleppo, it never surfaced, the whole topic fading to silence.
Rebranding the head-choppers
If, on the one hand, the brutality and savagery of Islamic State quickly made it impossible to build a narrative about pro democracy underdogs, the more cool headed and media savvy al-Nusra Front and their acolytes allowed for their direct sponsors (Saudi Arabia and Turkey, e.g.) and Western supporters (USA and Great Britain, e.g.), to build a PR campaign about the so called Free Syrian Army (FSA). These bearded chaps belonging to the FSA were presented as pro-Western and pro-Democracy progressives, fighting bravely against the villainous dictator Assad.
However, as early as 2012, it was literally impossible to deny that the al-Nusra Front was a jihadist group that allied, defeated or controlled the multiple factions inside the FSA that hadn’t simply joined al-Nusra or avoided destruction by Islamic State. Such jihadist domination over the groups that fight against Assad’s government, when written about by the serious Western press, are blamed on Assad, as explained below:
The origins of this dynamic lie with President Bashar al-Assad, who was quick to label the peaceful protest movement of early 2011 as a “foreign conspiracy.” This conspiracy, Assad claimed in mid-2011, was one being led by Sunni “terrorists” — many dozens if not hundreds of which he had released from prison in March, May, and June 2011. Assad’s sectarian framing of the crisis and his cynical positioning of himself as the protector of Syria’s minorities not only allowed him to bolster his base, but also guaranteed that extremists within the opposition would gradually see their sectarian narrative thrive.
– Charles Lister on Foreign Policy, March 15, 2017
So Assad is a genius of rhetoric, able to pretend that he is the Syrian minorities protector, to the point that people will join his army to fight against those nice pro-democracy bearded fellows, without ever realizing that they are being fooled. He is even able to convince the nice bearded fellows to become jihadists, simply by calling them jihadists; no small feat. Such explanations for manichaean children about “Assad being so evil that he created ISIS” were one of the pillars upon which the “we meant well” progressive types supported the war of aggression against Syria.
End of part one. Part two here.
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