“Peace for Syria” –
the democratic media supplies its audience with war propaganda
1. “Our Arab rebellion”
When unrest was first reported 18 months ago, it was immediately clear to the western media: Syria is now gripped by the “Arab rebellion.” Already this catchword born in early 2011 on Cairo’s Tahir square provides everything one needs to know about events there. Because with the word it is certain that the states and regimes which this rebellion is directed against deserve to be overthrown – no matter whether the polity they govern is a case of Arab socialism, secular nationalism, western-oriented dictatorship or, already before the unrest, a so-called “failed” state. Just as unimportant for understanding and assessing the uprisings is what forces are rising up for what reasons, what their ideas are for reorganizing power in the countries, and also which sectors of the population fear the uprising more than the existing regime. And it also doesn’t matter at all that quite different sorts of discontent have arisen in the different countries. Because wherever there is the “Arab rebellion,” it is always the same: The people, that absolutely entitled uniform collective, are opposing the rule because they are gripped by the desire for freedom, for being governed the way “we” appreciate and inspire the world. And the order against which the insurgency is aimed is thereby only distinguishable as a hateful dictatorship. Since the critical issue is to decide whether “we” can allow the downfall of veteran Western governors in Tunisia and Egypt – in Yemen, Libya and Syria, things are different anyway – “Arab rebellion” is a code word for desirable chaos in western interests on the southern and eastern edges of the Mediterranean: the friends of turmoil and revolution in the western capitals see an opportunity in the toppling of regimes and an entire region becoming ripe for reorganization, and by no means leave the success of the uprisings to the local actors. Because once it is certain where freedom and where oppression are located and for whom “we” have to be, then it does no harm at all that it becomes known that, first, the insurgent peoples are not even in agreement among themselves; and second, that those who wage the struggle do not do so on their own with their own resources, but with weapons, fighters, logistics and money from outside. The “Arab rebellion,” the good cause of the people who discover their love of freedom, simply needs and deserves the support of good in the world, in Syria as in Libya and everywhere else: otherwise they surely wouldn’t have a chance against dictators.
2. “Difficult but objective reporting” or war propaganda?
Citizens in the countries of the west, as is proper in democracies, are of course caught up in “our” engagement with Syrian issues by their media, i.e. supplied with war propaganda so that they understand which side deserves “our” support and which side death. This pre-fixed partisanship selects the images and stories – always showing victims on the side of the rebels and the civilian population, and looking for perpetrators on the side of the regime. In this way, the reader is engrossed in the partisan perspective of the reporting:
This logic is already followed in introducing the reports: major Western media outlets consistently boycott announcements and materials from SANA, the official Syrian news agency – that’s the propaganda from the regime – and piggyback mainly on images posted on the internet by the insurgents or broadcasts by Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, stations owned by Gulf monarchies that are involved in the conflict. This assures the audience that it already knows that truth is always the first casualty in war and that testing the veracity of the material is unfortunately not possible because the Syrian government makes reporting from the country by the free press impossible. The media people thus know that they make themselves mouthpieces for the atrocity propaganda of a party to civil war. That one has surely been pre-warned about the unreliability of the information, thereby this propaganda remains the only and valid information about the acts and aims of the warring parties, which the western audience gets served. And if the smear campaign should perhaps not be true, Assad is to blame anyway; he should have simply handed over the self-representation of his state to Western camera crews.
In this sense, it is clear who is to blame for the endless bloodshed:
– For months, the impression is given that the Syrian army shoots without provocation at peaceful demonstrators; since it is impossible to ignore that mass marches which storm police stations and lynch public servants are not quite the same as a Tea Party demonstration, hence some of the peaceful demonstrators must have been well armed, the weaponization is explained, like the killings by the rebels, as a desperate and indignant reaction to the regime’s unprovoked murders: deserters from Assad’s army who could not shoot at their compatriots in good conscience brought along their weapons.
– Then there are pictures of the government’s helicopter gunships and aircraft which bombard urban districts. The images, which should speak for themselves, do not: It still needs to be clarified who commits an atrocity against innocent civilians there: In this case, the images are to be understood in such a way that the Syrian government, which wages the battle wherever it is presented, indiscriminately bombs residential areas because it wants to kill as many people as possible. In different wars with different partisanships, this accusation is directed at the forces that hide in residential areas and use the residents as human shields.
– After one year, the public learns that foreign mercenaries and Islamists are on the front lines in the “civil war” and carry their jihad along with their weapons to Syria. This isn’t pretty, according to our media – one certainly knows: Al Qaeda and so – , but the fundamental sorting into friend and foe can’t be rattled: interpreted as a reaction to a government that murders its popular base without reason, even the will to an Islamist revolution is understandable.
– If massacres and human rights violations by the anti-Assad forces are exposed, then the atrocities committed by factions in the civil war does not put them on the same moral level, but only shows how much even the good have been brutalized by the freedom struggle forced on them by the regime. For them, savagery is an expression of the uncontrolled rage that has built up over years of oppression – even when the offender did not come from Syria; for the Assad regime, the same is an expression of its character.
3. “Chances for Peace” – strategic briefings in the democratic media
Meanwhile, reports pile up which tell not only of the struggle by the Syrians against their oppressor, but of a proxy war, first by nearby states Saudi Arabia and Iran who strive for regional supremacy, second by the world powers U.S.A. and Russia together with China who slug it out on Syrian soil. The people – barely the subject of the “Arab rebellion” – now plays the role of pawns and victims of a competition for global power. The condemnation of Assad doesn’t relativize this at all. He has to – again in the interests of innocent civilians – leave the field even faster, so that the conflict between world powers is resolved and peace can be restored. In addition to the moral evaluation of the warring parties, the press supplies the public with appraisals of the maneuvers of the regimes and the efficiency of the insurgents, and here the good guys get not only good grades.
One hears that Assad and his gang are trying to appease the discontent with reforms: they have lifted the state of emergency law, scheduled and implemented new elections, allowed new parties, launched the drafting of a new constitution and economic reforms. Whether the changes could satisfy the alleged Syrian longing for democratic government or remedy the widespread poverty, and whether that would settle the reasons the Syrians have for their protest, is not deemed worth assessing by western commentators. Assad’s reforms are seen through as “sham concessions in order to retain power” – and makes clear the one true concession that would satisfy our demand for reform. Not only U.S. Secretary of State Clinton instantly recognizes the “ploy” to avoid the immediate departure that is really due; the whole Western public presents itself as the contracting authority of the uprising: it spells out to the rebellious Syrians which result of their uprising would make it happy and which result is out of the question.
From this standpoint, the press looks very critically at the will of the Syrian people whose backs they purport to have: the political forces in the country who reject interference from outside and want to negotiate with Assad about the future of the country just inconvenience the image and get no voice in the Western media. The masses who repeatedly demonstrate for Assad are certainly not to be taken seriously: they are commandeered by the regime to cheer it on. But even the enemies of the regime leave much to be desired: politically presentable substitute leaders who have been sitting in exile for decades have no influence at home and no command over the local militias and the jihadists and all the gunmen in the country do not cooperate together politically. The diverse forces just have no common goal in their war – except in the negative one that Assad must go. But for our war, which they should be so kind as to carry out acceptably, that’s not good. They are exhorted to a unity they neither have nor find necessary, even less so for foreign observers.
So the news reader is not only invited to take theoretical sides by distinguishing good and evil when “people far away in the Arab world bash each other,” so that he can keep his fingers crossed in spirit for the objects of his sympathy. As an American, a European, a Westerner, he is furthermore to accustom himself to being a member of a faction in the war with a stake in it; to also make it his concern that Assad falls. Who the Syrian president disturbs with what, what that gets in the way of, and why all that matters to “us,” the Western reader doesn’t need to know, if all he knows is which side he is on. But he ought to.
[Translated from GegenStandpunkt Marburg radio broadcast, November 14, 2012]