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D-Day for Damascus?
Call for regime change signals Libya replay
Amid the outcry over the Syrian government’s crackdown on protesters, and now President Obama’s demand that dictator Bashar al-Assad step down, the “world community” is not in the mood for nuance. Yet nuance is precisely what is needed in what has to be one of the most delicate – and complex – socio-political landscapes in the Middle East.
The media narrative, as always, pits Good Guys (the protesters) against Bad Guys (the regime), but reality is rarely so simple and clear-cut, and in this case that caveat needs to be doubly emphasized. We are told all the violence is being visited by one side (the regime) against the other (the protesters), but the International Crisis Group – no friend of the regime, and hardly a principled opponent of US intervention – has a different perspective in their report on the crisis:
“Protesters claim they are entirely peaceful, but that assertion is hard to reconcile with witness testimony and with the vicious murder of several security officers. More plausibly, criminal networks, some armed Islamist groups, elements supported from outside and some demonstrators acting in self defense have taken up arms.”
The report goes on to say “but that is a marginal piece of the story,” telling us that “the vast majority of casualties have been peaceful protesters, and the vast majority of the violence has been perpetrated by the security services.” Yet this doesn’t tell us anything about the character of the violence on the part of the “Good Guys”: is it organized violence, or random incidents? Are the protesters engaged in a campaign of organized provocation, seeking to incite the regime to higher levels of violence in order to justify foreign intervention?
In understanding what is going on in Syria, the reporting of Joshua Landis, who blogs at “Syria Comment,” is invaluable. Landis is director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, where he is an associate professor, currently living in Syria. While the Western media glosses over reports of violence by the protesters, Landis is in a position to report the actual facts, and he has done so:
“This controversy arose in April during the protests in Banyas, when nine soldiers were killed while traveling down the main highway in two transport vehicles outside of the city. Activists claimed that soldiers in Banyas were executed by fellow soldiers for refusing to shoot at demonstrators.
“This story turned out to be fictional, but was carried by most of the Western Press and never corrected. I wrote about this controversy on April 14 under the title: Western Press Misled – Who Shot the Nine Soldiers in Banyas? Not Syrian Security Forces. The reason I took an interest in this story is because my wife’s cousin, Lt. Col. Yasir Qash`ur, was one of the nine soldiers killed on April 10. We know him well. We spoke with Yasir’s brother-in-law, Colonel `Uday Ahmad, who was sitting in the back seat of the truck in which Yasir and several of the nine soldiers were killed.
“Uday told us that two military trucks were ambushed as they crossed a highway bridge by well armed men who were hiding behind the median of the highway and on the tops of buildings at the edge of the road. They raked the two trucks with automatic fire, killing nine. The incident had nothing to do with soldiers refusing orders. His description of what happened so contradicted the reports I was reading in the press that I began to dig around. Later video footage of the shooting surfaced and was shown on Syrian TV. It corroborated Uday’s story.”
Prof. Landis goes on to say that “Western press and analysts did not want to recognize that armed elements were becoming active. They preferred to tell a simple story of good people fighting bad people.” He reiterates the ICG’s evaluation that the majority of protesters were peaceful, and adds: “One only wonders why that story could not have been told without also covering the reality – that armed elements, whose agenda was not peaceful, were also playing a role.”
We don’t need to wonder. Reality is the enemy of the Western media, which insists on presenting its preconceived narrative as fact: and, of course, it’s just a coincidence this narrative fits in rather neatly with US government objectives and propaganda.
Who are these armed groups, who is arming them, and what is their agenda? These are questions the “international community” is not at all interested in asking, let alone answering – perhaps because some of the governments now condemning the violence in Syria had a hand in provoking it.
Again, claims by the opposition and their Western supporters that some 100 Syrian military were killed in Jisr ash-Shaghour for refusing to fire on their fellow Syrians were repeated uncritically by Western media. As it turns out, however, those soldiers were killed by “armed gangs,” as the Syrian government calls them: Landis claims videos