Wednesday, August 1, 2018


Questioning the Ownership of Voices in Conflicts.
By Intibah Kadi
1 August 2018

The horrific 2013 Lattakia and 2018 Sweida Massacres in Syria both were met with international “mainstream media” (MSM) silence. In the five years between these two massacres, thousands of other events have also missed being covered by the MSM or at best received scant attention. Instead, fabricated events are promoted and done to death as representing the real stories of Syria, the most notable being that of BBC Panorama’s “Saving Syria’s Children”, the “White Helmets” phenomenon and the most dangerous of all, the alleged chemical weapons attacks. [1],[2],[3],[4],[5].

Is this failure after all these years to get the truth out into the more commonly read media the fault of activists and their supporters? Can it merely be attributed to the determination of the forces that wish to bring the Syrian government down to silence the truth?  If one maintains that high profile activists for the truth about Syria have made inroads in informing the wider public in the West, then did the recent Sweida massacres get a better coverage in the MSM?  CBS News, Agent France Presse and Reuters reported on it, but these were not taken up widely as news items by other MSM. Reuters repeated the mischievous questions of Walid Jumblatt, leader of a section of the Druze, conveniently ignoring local facts on the ground as to the known identity of some of these attackers and of course the backers of such terrorists. [6], [7].

Or merely, has the case all these years been that the reports and analysis of the real issues pertaining to Syria are discussed in forums and media that have the readership and support of the “already converted”? Are these in some cases “echo chambers” as some have claimed? And, if this is the case, why did it never go beyond that? Could there be other reasons why there is almost no success in getting these stories out to the wider media?

In the early years of the Syria defence movement, the activists were sticklers for ensuring accuracy and integrity in their reports and advocacy activities. Syrians were firmly in charge of and in control of their movement. They also knew humility and honesty was necessary for the credibility of their work and hence needed to be open and real in meeting and dealing with justified criticisms about Syria and her government, ensuring they never were dismissed as “propagandists” and manufacturers of false narratives. They knew that they had to maintain the moral upper ground and walk the talk when exposing the complicity of much of the mainstream media in the war machine targeting the Syrian state. 

The precursor to the largest Syrian led Facebook group was called “Peaceful Reforms”, with mostly Syrian and other Levantine activists in it who endeavoured to turn around Syrians and others from the region who were buying the narrative and sectarian talk of the Free Syria Army (FSA), and remember, when it gradually became evident that the attack on the State and people of Syria was taking on a “Islamist” nature some of the FSA supporters walked away from them. After all these years it is a given that this was happening but, in the beginning it was not something talked about. It was Ghassan Kadi who first wrote about the employment, fermentation and recruitment based on Islamist, fundamentalist passions in the effort to topple the Syrian government and that those movements had an axe to grind with the Syrian government.[8]

This is lost on the more recent activists who largely demonstrate they are oblivious of the history of the movement, taking for granted the hard won gains, achievements and shared knowledge of the movement and treating them as something that was always known. It was this level of honesty, humility and openness for dialogue with almost anyone that the earlier activists displayed that slowly and surely won them friends and made inroads into opening minds among some journalists in the MSM or other widely read media and people of influence. Skilled journalists can always find ways to get subtle messages across without losing their jobs. Journalists do change jobs too. Relationship building with suitable people of influence in the media was important. Every day we see evidence in the media of reports that surprise us with their honesty. Even if these are dismissed as cynical displays of “balanced reporting”, nevertheless they surely have some value, and on this premise, the efforts of the earlier activists were made.

Did the Syrian activists and their friends lose out on their careful relationship building and long term strategies of attracting the support of potentially open minded journalists from the mainstream media? If so, at what point did they start to lose that battle and endeavour? Were there any particular issues that caused a steep decline or division between the serious advocate for Syria and their approaches to potential allies in mainstream media?

The early activists endeavoured to operate in a demeanour of politeness, civility, showing respect, demonstrating concern and willingness to help fill in the gaps of knowledge or understanding of these journalists and other people of influence. They knew that in a sense they were ambassadors for Syria. Building bridges to understanding was in the uppermost mind of every serious activist’s mind. Even when the chances of getting these points across successfully were exceedingly slim, never was it acceptable to pursue, persecute and bully media or other influential figures that they disagreed with.  With the future always an unknown, how was one to know whether any of these media or influential people may at some point start questioning and start listening, at least on some points? 

In recent times, negative, somewhat aggressive engagement by a number of fairly newly arrived “Syria activists” with mainstream media journalists has, in effect, at least temporarily, caused a shift in focus on emerging, more big picture issues, with “combatants” getting bogged down in details and technicalities, whilst not putting these into the perspective of a wider understanding of why the war on Syria is wrong.  Perhaps this more militant approach is in line with particular anti-imperialist activist frameworks commonly employed in the West amongst its adherents.  Another issue of concern in this contact between mainstream media and the newer “Syria activists” is that some of their treatment of research, fact finding and debunking has been called into question and it appears that there have been instances where this has given their critics in the MSM ammunition. One area of concern for the Syria defence movement is that these newer “Syria activists” became engrossed in a narrow range of topics which tended to drown out other important issues and voices from the region.

Contrary to the overwhelming anti-Empire support activists gave to Iraq during its invasion and all its consequences, when those same forces attacked Syria, and for similar reasons, Syria did not receive such support and solidarity. As a matter of fact some leading figures in the Gaza Flotilla movement supported the Free Syria Army (FSA). Nevertheless, a development in the Syria support movement occurred with the entrance of a new breed of “Syria activists” which included some members of this category and some who had been active on Iraq and Palestine in the alternative media. Their motivations for activism tended to be steeped in broader political views and causes compared to the Indigenous based ones who were mostly concerned with fighting for their country and culture. In previous years to their arrival, bringing these international, “anti-Empire” activists on board for Syria was a huge and mostly futile struggle. Midway through the war on Syria a number of them suddenly turned up.

By mid to late 2013 it had become clear to Syria’s enemies that taking down the government of Syria was no walk in the park. Moderators of social media (Facebook) based Syria defence groups noticed a surge in what appeared to be supporters from predominately the West. Suddenly, the largest Syria support group on Facebook experienced a change in tone in the group and its dynamics where a whole new culture emerged incompatible with the Syrian culture and existing modus operandi. Instead of focusing on fact finding to debunk the lies of the MSM, the tone changed to panic ridden posts, discussions about the imminent bombing of Syria, even nuclear strikes on Syria and also on Yemen which were the work of pop-science fantasy and irrationality. On 11 June, 2012, in his own article, Ghassan Kadi foresaw the potential for these problems to affect the movement [9] and later on wrote more on it including publishing an article about the USA having repeatedly tried and failed to bomb Syria.[10]

Many of the newcomers disappeared as quickly as they had appeared but some remained, working to ensure their particular frameworks for understanding the world were adopted for the case of Syria. They refused to accept that the indigenous activists had their own frameworks and approaches and this caused divisions. In time most of  Syrians and others from the region who had come to engage with the supporters of their cause walked away returning to their own Arabic language based groups.  From there, fairly rapidly, the newcomers moved the movement away towards Twitter; a place where most Syrians don’t engage in. However, Twitter was a good way to reach journalists from the MSM and other people of influence. On that forum, in recent times, highly volatile exchanges have occurred between the new activists speaking on behalf of Syria and MSM journalists accused of being biased. The question is whether this “war” on Twitter has damaged the movement that Syrians originally envisaged. 

With the entry of Russia into Syria, by invitation, in late 2015, Russian media took a great interest in news from Syria. Syrian activists and writers had largely been unable to access the Russian international media and have their voices heard, but suddenly these new activists, foreign voices for Syria, were increasingly given a platform. The “war” continued between some of these activists and their supporters and those in the MSM who they accused of biased coverage on Syria, with each accusing the other of being tools of Empire/governments and vehicles of propaganda.  Perhaps had the values and strategies of the earlier Syrian custodians of the movement been upheld and their voices amplified as legitimate testifiers of the Syrian story, such strong accusations of propaganda, unprofessionalism and in some cases “fake news” may not have occurred, casting a negative shadow on the movement. This was the dilemma of accepting any voice for Syria versus maintaining the integrity of the Syrian voice, its values and strategies. The writer, a year ago, after stumbling across a NATO research document, pondered on these questions in light of that research. [11]

How, in the future, do the voices of those whose countries are under attack ensure they get heard out in the international arena? How do they tell their story, as it is, and without any meddling? These are the witnesses to the crimes of the “Empire”. The “Empire” has every reason to fear them and find ways to mute them or silence them. How do movements in the future that aim to defend their country or cause ensure they keep control of their movement, their agendas and strategies? How do these movements navigate the very deceptive, complex ways that can see their causes derailed, hijacked and destroyed? [12] How do they discern unhealthy agenda ridden “help” from unconditional, empowering help so that they can find ways to get their message across to potential listening ears in the MSM and to other people of influence?

*The writer is married to a well-known Lebanese-Syrian analyst and has been active in challenging the mainstream narratives about Syria since the beginning of the war. Both write under pseudonyms.

[1] Ogarite Dandache, a Lebanese based journalist for Al Mayadeen, presented the whole story of what happened to the people of those villages in Lattakia in her documentary some time later. The link to her documentary with explanations in English can be found here. Our work on this was presented erroneously elsewhere as the work of others

[2]At that stage the Western dominant media took its news of Syria from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) and yet not a single news item in the mainstream was promptly published at or around the time of this massacre. SOHR reported on August 6, 2013 “Latakia province: Reports that rebel fighters took hold of the villages of Obin and A'ramo in the Jabal al-Akrad area of Reef Latakia in the midst of clashes between rebel and regular forces in the area”.

 [3] Over two months later, in The Guardian, finally a report, although vague and sketchy, emerged of this terrible atrocity.

[4] Human Rights Watch which had played a key role in misrepresenting facts as if to assist regime change in Libya and Syria, surprisingly produced this report.

[5] In the months and years following this massacre, the odd article appeared that referred to the incident. For example, in April 2014 it was reported that a terrorist freed from Guantanamo had participated in the crime,

1 comment:

  1. Keep posting your news and views. The truth will be heard xx