quarta-feira, 8 de março de 2017

Narratives of the war in Syria

Amazing exchange between what appears to be a member of Hezbollah, fighting on Bashar Al Assad’s side, and the member of an armed group opposed to the Syrian government (*).

As far as the Syrian conflict is concerned, this video is quite an incredible moment.

Although I am not necessarily sitting on the fence (I do have a general opinion), I refuse to take sides. First, it would be too easy to do it while living comfortably in Canada. Second, the amplitude and the complexity of this conflict are just too great. Third, I do not speak nor understand any Arabic; it is therefore extremely difficult to decode an historical event in the making that will have an impact for many years to come, in the region and worldwide.

In spite of that, one may still try to make sense of this tragedy out of the big amount of information coming from both sides, be it from mainstream media and press agencies (public & private), independent journalists, civil society, citizens on the site or scholars.

This video showing two parties directly involved in the war actually talking to each other during some kind of truce is really unique. Its narrative differs from the two generally diffused in Europe and North America.

First narrative

The opposition forces consist of foreign paid mercenaries/terrorists hired to topple Bashar Al Assad. He is the legitimate leader of the Syrian people and is fighting back large scale terrorism funded by NATO and Gulf countries, as well as Israel.

The terrorists are radical islamists puppets and ruthless murderers. The Syrian Arab army (SAA) and its allies (Iran and Hezbollah, Russia) fight mostly by the book.

Second narrative

The opposition consists of rebel/freedom fighters that are involved in a true revolution. With the support of the West, they are attempting to overthrow, at any cost, a violent totalitarian regime backed by villains such as Russia and Iran (as well as Hezbollah).

A substantial part of the opposition is made of “moderate” groups, but some “extremists” are also involved. This factor makes it difficult for Western countries to allocate military aid. Another problem is due to Obama’s restraint in the region (as well as other allies). 

This impairs the rebel’s capacity to accomplish their ultimate goal. Added to that, ISIL has worsened the situation by inviting itself into the conflict!

The Kurds are part of this narrative, but are covered as a distinct phenomenon. They appear as a Muslim group carrying some true “Western values” (especially concerning women).

Which narrative should we rely on?

In my opinion, they are both quite toxic because of the propaganda they involve (in amounts so alarming that we seem to be back in time – WWII, Cold war...). Based on some definitions of the term (**), propaganda requires the gathering of material (ideas, facts, allegations, information, opinions, images...) that will be used in order to accomplish a goal that goes way beyond simply reporting or informing (further, promote, publicize one's cause or point of view, especially political; damage an opposing cause; influence people's opinions). The material is spread (deliberately) through means of communication (published, broadcasted). It does not necessarily have to be false, but it always strongly supports one’s side of a story (it is very likely to be biased or to have a misleading nature, often only giving one part of an argument).

The video shown above may be the most accurate narrative out there. Firstly, because of the context it provides:

  • Set somewhere in Syria, but not in Aleppo
Even though this major city has been a key battle of the conflict, the amount of attention it has got may contribute to forget that the war is still occurring in many other places within Syria.
  • Absence of civilians
On top of the hundreds of thousands who died or got injured, the emptiness of the scene also reminds us of the millions that were displaced by the war; bearing in mind that many stayed in war zones. 
  • Destruction
This is one of the most preoccupying aspects of the recent wars in the region (Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and especially Syria – also Somalia and South Sudan?). Added to the dead, the injured and the displaced, the destruction of urban areas seems to have happened in a scale unseen since WWII. 

There is no doubt in my mind genocide has been taking place in these regions for quite a while now (not just in the Darfur). The way it is engineered is new and extremely complex (and therefore difficult to prove as a whole). I am absolutely convinced everything points to the worst phenomenon human beings are capable of, genocide, and to a context that has become all too favorable for the continuing and worsening of this tragedy.
  • Many, many belligerents
Because of the number and characteristics of the parties involved, this conflict is among the most complicated ones ever recorded in modern history. In this case, two “non-state” actors are facing each other, each with their own choices, agendas and connections to state actors. What is being said may just be the most accurate narrative of all.

(*) My interpretation is based on an English translation that I cannot verify (will do at some point). The location is unknown (although some places are mentioned in a longer version of the video) so that it is not possible to identify the armed group that is addressed by Hezbollah. The video was deleted from the account connected to one of the logos appearing on it. The original publisher seems to have been CyberAman.com. Personally, I copied the video from a YouTube account going by the name of Syria HD. The title mentions ISIS, but I doubt it is accurate. Although I cannot verify it, let’s say that using the term ISIS may bring more viewers.

(**) Some online definitions of the term (that comes from Latin and originally described an act of dissemination of religion)
  • Merriam Webster (3) Ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; also:  a public action having such an effect 
  • Google & Oxford (1) Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view. 
  • Cambridge (1) Information, ideas, opinions, or images, often only giving one part of an argument, that are broadcast, published, or in some other way spread with the intention of influencing people's opinions.

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