What do Most Syrians Want for Their Country?
This is surely the most crucial of questions in this conflict, upon which the already highly contentious argument for ‘humanitarian/democratic intervention’ by the West and its allies would surely depend entirely.
However, bar literally a handful of articles that we have come across in the major news providers, it has not been tackled head-on in a real sense in any of the many thousands, probably tens of thousands, of news reports since the conflict began.
It is our contention that what evidence there is – including a YouGov poll of December 2011 – shows overwhelmingly that the great majority of Syrians want to keep their secular religiously tolerant state and that only a shrinking minority are allied with the largely foreign and jihadi dominated militias, seeking a sharia state, and forming the backbone of the military opposition.
No Lessons Acted On From Iraqi Misinformation
We contend that news providers have once again so far failed to put evidence and facts before political influence, whether wittingly or not, in the vast majority of reporting; as we saw so emphatically in the run-up to the Iraq war. At that time the spin emanating from government and passed on unchallenged through news providers centred around rapidly-compiled WMD stories pumped out almost daily and formed into the infamous ‘dodgy dossier’.
The fear which spread among political representatives and the public from the spurious stories created a completely false but effective emotional-logical framework for the invasion to go ahead, despite a backdrop of the biggest national and international demonstrations the world had, and still has, ever seen.
Once again, we are seeing now that news providers are complicit in being the mouthpieces for governments twisting the facts to fit the ends; in this case the end being the toppling of a leader who all the evidence suggests has the support of the majority of citizens in maintaining a secular inclusive state and protecting them from violent largely foreign religious extremists, a central branch of whom the UN and even the USA have classed as terrorists.
In this case, we assert that the spin passed down from politicians to justify ‘arms for peace’, and far too readily echoed by news providers, divides into three main areas: 1) creating a false image of popular support for the military opposition where, in fact, the largely foreign jihadi dominated opposition combatants are seen by the vast majority of Syrian citizens as we would see them – terrorists; 2) unsubstantiated claims of Sarin use and the disregard of clear evidence pointing to opposition use and intended use; 3) the apparent impossibility of reaching a negotiated settlement and the supposed only ‘solution’ to the conflict being to ‘increase the violence to save lives’.
Dramatic Allusions and Serious Flights of Fancy
Returning to “What do Syrians want?”, we have seen that rather than dealing directly with this question as an essential foundation for further commentary, a necessary precursor, instead we have witnessed a subtle and more oblique approach by politicians, routinely followed and echoed by news providers, to provide us with an answer to the issue; not an accurate answer by any means at all, and certainly not a direct or clearly stated one, but an answer for us to carry round in our heads nonetheless.
What we have had on our TVs and in our papers for the last two and a bit years is a nice straightforward narrative to answer that question for us: a simple reliable story of good against evil. Within the narrative presented, we have been powerfully attracted emotionally by the side of the opposition combatants, (or as they have become more sympathetically known ‘the rebels’), and mightily repelled by the government and its forces (portrayed totally unsympathetically as a ‘brutal regime’).
And by being reminded daily with new reports fitting into the same framing of the narrative, our ‘connection’ as news consumers with these apparent ‘freedom fighters for democracy’ has grown and grown. It is not then surprising that in our daily-reinforced empathy, we presume that they must have the support of the vast majority of the Syrian people, and that the ‘villains’ on the government side have next to none. Before presenting evidence against this simplistic and one-sided depiction of events, let’s look at evidence for this misinformation taking place.
The first evidence for this process occurring is the very poor reporting itself, (of which some examples are in the ‘Spin Bin’ – you are also invited to send in your own), which we identify as primarily:
1) The highlighting of events, and angles on events, which put the Syrian opposition forces in a positive light and the Syrian government and its forces in a negative one, and the relative shunning of events which suggest the opposite. This choice in reporting has been undoubtedly true of the Sarin and massacre issues (who can even remember Carla del Ponte discussing evidence against the opposition?) to name but two major ‘footballs’ in this war of words.
2) The completely one-sided use of news sources allied to the Opposition as the basis of a story, and forming the whole bigger STORY, and this being relayed to us by ‘our own’ regular British reporter. Examples of such sources are Al Jazeera (owned by the government of Qatar, siding with and directly supporting the opposition) and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, (an avowedly pro-opposition voice; literally ‘a voice’; despite the name it has often been described as ‘a man in a flat over a shop in Coventry’). It is true that we may often hear on a TV news broadcast that ‘this cannot be independently verified’, but this does not stop the assumedly ‘expert’ and ‘impartial’ reporter from our favourite living room news show developing intrinsically unverified one-sided accounts into rich emotive arguments – in a very similar way to how financial investments are hyped to the limit by aging popular celebrities, with a rapidly-read ass-covering caveat about “down as well as up” in the dying seconds.
The bias of such unverified information toward the opposition viewpoint becomes quite clear to anyone paying attention and looking out for it, and must be known to news providers themselves, yet opposition sources are consistently treated with reverence and apparent sincere belief and emotional attachment by our trusted living-room guides, despite information being classed as ‘unverified’.
By contrast, information from the Syrian government or pro-government sources is mostly ignored entirely. When it is included it is often treated with outright disdain and incredulity by our trusty ‘impartial’ guide. (1) The completely false caveat that ‘foreign media have restricted access’ to government controlled areas is used to cover this failure to present vital counterbalance to the opposition narrative in our ‘free’ media.
There was also a notable failure in these same media to show us the huge rallies held in support of the government during the first year of the conflict – all we saw were comparatively small ‘peaceful pro-democracy protests’ filmed on mobile phones and relayed through dubious activist networks with ‘street cred’ but little else. (2)
The result of this is that we are being provided with an extremely one-sided blinkered version of events, which, in the absence of a proper analytical approach to ‘what Syrians want’, leads us inevitably to form and believe the conclusion that ‘the good guys’ of the piece, the ‘rebels’, “must surely hold the moral highground and lead in popular support over the ‘evil dictator’-led ‘regime’”.
The second and perhaps more significant evidence for this indirect ‘answering’ of the question is apparent when you talk to anyone who gets all their understanding about events in far-flung places in complete faith from the major news providers. I don’t believe you will find a single such person who has anything but emotional support for the ‘rebels’ and complete disdain for the ‘regime’. This is a damning indictment of the uniform black and white manner in which the conflict has been reported; and that is true across the highbrow and lowbrow, paper and TV.
Thankfully, when it comes to armed intervention in Syria less of the public now fit into that category of passive news-believers, largely because of the lies told, and eventually apologised for, (or semi-apologised for, or explained away), regarding the apocalypse dealt to Iraq on false grounds. (3)
It must surely be extremely difficult for anyone to carry out a large survey of Syrian people’s views all over the country during the conflict as it stands now in summer 2013, and those who perhaps could, the Syrian government, would obviously be susceptible to claims of corrupt influence.
So ignoring all reports from sources which have an allegiance to one side or the other – as the major news providers have spectacularly failed to do – and not having the resources to research long enough and in enough depth and then fairly balance ‘unverified’ reports from both camps, (the major news providers do have those facilities but fail to use them impartially in this regard), what is left?
The Doha Debates take place 8 times a year, and are broadcast from Qatar on BBC World, chaired by the ex BBC Tim Sebastian. Topics usually of great importance to the Middle East are discussed and voted on by an audience of a few hundred people.
As part of a Doha Debate, in December 2011 YouGov conducted a highly respectable survey specifically on the situation in Syria, asking respondents from countries across the Arab World a number of questions about the country’s crisis. On the question of whether Assad should stay in power or resign, the figures show clearly that 55% of Syrians polled believed he should stay in power. (4).
And this was before the real nature of the jihadi militias’ ethnic cleansing of Christians, and sharia state goals had become apparent!
The highest selected reasons given for wanting to keep Assad include: “We do not want to see Syria become another Iraq”; “President Assad’s departure would lead to the rise of sectarian violence in the country”; and “Assad’s departure could provide an opportunity for Islamic extremists to gain a foothold in the country”. Although higher numbers of those polled over the whole wider region thought he should resign, regarding actual Syrian citizens’ views the survey was very clear: the majority want him to stay in power to maintain stability and to avoid religious extremism developing in a hitherto religiously-tolerant country. People are sensibly afraid of the jihadi dominated combatants – much more so if they are to be openly supported by the USA and its allies.
This poll was carried out at a time when the extent of foreign jihadi dominance in the opposition was much less known than it has become today. The films of beheadings, cannibalism and executions of blaspheming teenagers, carried out by opposition combatants, among other violent destructive events which Syrians will have witnessed, must surely have increased the support for Assad further.
Not only this, many supporters of the ‘democratic revolution’ at the start have now deserted it; this is epitomised by the disillusionment expressed in an article by an Aleppo citizen prominent in the Twittersphere. The looming reality of Syrians’ future in the hands of ‘the Opposition’ with its criminal and terrorist mercenaries, and a fundamentalist Sharia state allied to the Gulf dictatorships and their Western allies now makes him look to the Syrian army for protection, despite his continuing disdain for the Assad government. (5)
The armed insurgency didn’t reach Aleppo till last July however; people in Homs woke up to its true nature a year earlier, as they witnessed the extreme brutality of the ‘Free Syrian Army’, and the way that their crimes were used as war propaganda against government forces; while we were told repeatedly that these forces were shelling residential neighbourhoods, the civilians in most of Homs were pleading with the government to send the army to protect them. (6)
The truth of this extraordinarily different reality in Syria – that of the people’s support for their government – has been recently emphasised by a simple statistic: out of the estimated 4.5 million internally displaced civilians it appears that about 85% of them have fled not from the Syrian army, but into areas under its protection in the cities of Tartus, Lattakia, and Damascus. As Mother Agnes Mariam has repeatedly said “the rebels have liberated the country – of their inhabitants”! (7)
Interestingly also, the refugees who have been such a focus of attention in our media – those in camps outside Syria in Jordan and Turkey, are dominated by people who have fled from the Syrian army; the majority of these refugees are women and children for a simple reason – their men are fighting in the insurgency. This evidently unrepresentative sample of ‘the Syrian people’ is however virtually the only one to which our media seek access, and the consequences are multiple: by supplying humanitarian aid to this section of the Syrian community we are actually enabling the ‘rebels’ violent campaign; at the same time we deny what the majority of Syrians actually want: their sovereign right to decide on their own fair and representative government without foreign interference, beginning with the rapid expulsion of foreign mercenaries and a return of peace and security. Also contributing to this misreading of Syrian sentiment is the fear and intimidation of people who do not support ‘the revolution’ – the ‘silent majority’. (8)
Mother Agnes, superior of Qara monastery near the Lebanese border, already saw what was instore for Syria early in 2011, and has now inspired and led the ‘Mussalaha’ ( Reconciliation) movement, and finds hope in the spirit of the Syrian people and their love for the independence and inclusiveness of their country. She has moved widely within Syria working to promote this spirit, being welcomed by all groups except for those intent on violent confrontation, from whom she received only death threats. And there are many signs now that this Syrian National spirit is prevailing amongst young men who joined or were recruited into the army of jihadists and terrorists, as they see what is happening to their country; hundreds are now accepting amnesty and joining the ‘National Defence’ force, a convertion daily celebrated on Syrian TV.
1. “Syria blames Al Qaeda after twin car bombs kill dozens in Damascus”:
2. Huge ‘pro-Assad’ demonstrations in Damascus, October 2011:
3. (Lack of public support for Iraq and Syria campaigns)
6. A video made by ‘Syrian Youth’ exposed both this criminality by the FSA, as well as the residents’ support for the Syrian army; Al Jazeera showed footage of a woman crying over the dead body of her son, allegedly shot by soldiers, but in this video we saw the woman screaming that the terrorists had shot her son, and that she wanted the Syrian army to expel them from the city. I can’t provide a link, as this youtube clip has ‘been removed’. However the same false narrative is now being replayed again, as the Syrian army tries to roundup the last group of insurgents in the Old city where they are ‘under siege’. In today’s Telegraph we hear appeals from the rebels, and their supporters in the Syrian Opposition in Istanbul, that the government is ‘using chemical weapons and is going to ‘take Homs’, and we must help, with more weapons:
An extract from this article by Mother Agnes Mariam:
“His Beatitude Gregory III Laham, the Greek-Melkite Patriarch of Antioch and of all the Middle East, telephoned us to express us his profound sorrow and his paternal solidarity. The Patriarch was already shocked by the horrible terrorist bombings in Damascus of the day before. And he wept when informed of the details of the aggression suffered by Father George. Our Patriarch said “The disaster in our beloved Syria is nothing less than the dissolution of the entire society; it is absolute insecurity.”
He continued, “The feeling of the majority of the Syrian people is a deep anxiety. We see that blind acts of violence are everywhere and we have nowhere to take refuge. The danger is for everybody is the current chaos – but especially for the Christians, the Druzes, Alawites, Shiites, and the other religious minorities. Chaos is the strategy of the extremist opposition which is out-of-control and super-armed. Chaos weakens the state and seeks to create a situation of desperation and panic. The mutilations, bombings, and threats have a psychological aim: to bring the population to its knees. At every moment we are in total insecurity. Today in Syria we can no longer speak of a government – opposition division. There is a third element: the criminals who roam freely, taking advantage of the situation. They hide behind the opposition, and they exploit both the lack of armed forces and the absence of UN observers.”