Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The house of Assad and the house of Rumour

The House of Pheme [Rumour]
Johann Wilhelm Baur, Edition 1709, Ovid, Met. XII, 46-45
In Metamorphoses, Ovid describes the house where Rumour dwells, at “the middle of the world, between the zones of earth, sea and sky”: “Crowds occupy the hallways, a fickle throng that come and go with myriad rumours, circulating confused words, fiction mixed with truth… This is the haunt of Credulity, rash Error… unreasoning Fear, impulsive Sedition.” At its heart, Rumour herself, her scrutiny ranging the whole universe.

The perfect description of the internet?

A couple of days ago, I tweeted something by the Washington Post’s Liz Sly, on the sheer number of barrel bombs dropped  by Assad’s Damascus regime on the Syrian city of Aleppo, a city inhabited at least three millennia before Ovid was born. Sly documented how, even as Assad’s representatives sat in Geneva ostensibly debating peace, neighbourhoods dominated by the opposition were being decimated. The story is filed from the Turkish border, based on the testimony of refugees, who describe the fear of seeing the barrels unleashed from the warplanes, waiting for them to open up and disperse their deadly cargo; stories of human remains scraped from the rubble, of neighbourhoods depopulated, a city left without life. “The only people left are the poorest of the poor, and they are just waiting for death.”

In the second week of February, 215 bombs, 36.6% of them in Masaken Hanano, 22.7% of them in Industrial City. The bombs have killed hundreds, among the 3,400 estimated to have been killed as Geneva 2 stuttered along. The regime’s calculation is simple: no people in the neighbourhoods = no support for the opposition.

In my view, what is going on probably constitutes a genocide, though the victims are Assad’s “own” people.

Liz Sly retweeted my tweet, so it circulated more widely, and it got more retweets, but also a few hostile replies. I have no particular desire to single out, let alone pick an argument with, the individuals who replied to me. But I found their responses disturbing and instructive.

One, a Dutch tweeter describing himself as “Anarchist” and “Pro-Palestina”, replied “Viva Assad…he s killing AL-CIADA”. A second, apparently a lawyer, said “Maduro’s Venezuela appears to be next in line for this, sadly.” A third, apparently a blonde Giants fan, launched a barrage of tweets, containing links to pro-Assad sources, with messages like these: “You #Vichy urinalists won’t be happy till Syria’s totally destroyed. #Truth” and “#Vichy urinalists see what the #war criminals want them to see”.

In this world, anarchists and libertarians play point for dictators. Pro-Palestinians laud the government that has killed thousands of Palestinians, in Yarmouk and elsewhere. The architects of 9/11 are seen as the creatures of American imperialism. Embattled and under-armed resistance fighters are equated with the Nazi occupation. The victims of industrial-scale slaughter are seen as war criminals. And the testimony of refugees is seen as propaganda while totalitarian state PR machines are hailed as telling the truth.

A quick scan of the three tweeters’ timelines finds a number of shared obsessions. They describe themselves as “conspiracy realists”, with several tweets about chemtrails and GM food. Kremlin and Tehran news sources such as Russia Today and Press TV are used heavily, while the Western “mainstream media” is never trusted.

And again and again, usually with hashtag and a capital T, the word “Truth”.

Having had the scales taken from their eyes, the Truth believers are utterly credulous before any source that says the mainstream media is lying. The denizens of this fickle throng are like kids frozen at that moment in adolescence when they first catch their parents lying and so believe that nothing their elders say can be true. The dispatch of a professional veteran warzone reporter passing on the words of survivors is not trusted, but a blurry YouTube video, which could be from anywhere or anytime, is a first-hand glimpse into “the Truth”.

Where Rumour dwells, the greatest enemies of the truth – and thus of hope for change and peace – are those who speak in the name of #Truth.


Bob-B said...

If you loath the West enough, there is no limit to who you may end up supporting and no limit to what absurd propositions you may end up endorsing.

Anonymous said...

The thing is Bob, Liz Sly of the WashPo is a joke of a journo, who acts as little more than the regurgitator of SNC press releases. Which is, no doubt, where she got the figures from.

I'm a total news junkie, and in my 20 plus years of nerdish interest in current affairs I've _never_* come across a subject as unfairly and dishonestly reported as the war in Syria.
Don't make me dig out that BBC story about Mallula again. Hear about the kidnap demands that al qeada have made for the nuns release? No, I didn't think so...
Doesn't fit the narrative.

"In my view, what is going on probably constitutes a genocide"

Words have meanings and definitions. "Genocide" is highly loaded, and it has a legal definition. Your using the word doesn't make it so.

*The only thing that makes it into the same league of distorted reporting as the war in Syria was the annual release of the British Crime Survey, from the early nineties till around 2008-10. The press manged to spin near 20 years of falling crime rates as an increase in criminality, every single year.


Anonymous said...

Just couldn't resist, bob.

This is what Mallula used to be like, before your and Liz's brave revolution got hold of it...

Now it's an empty ruin, it's churches and holy places occupied by al qeada, and it's religious inhabitants held captive by your heroes.

You must be so proud.

bob said...


I didn't respond to your comments before, but I don't want to leave them un-challenged.

I don't know anything about Liz Sly or her agenda, but it is clear the article I am quoting was filed from the Turkish border; she's reporting human voices not press releases. But whatever, Sly also reports on anti-government atrocities, e.g. this piece on ISIS: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/02/28/syrian-extremists-amputated-a-mans-hand-and-live-tweeted-it/

As for Maaloula, I don't get what your beef is. The BBC put out one report (Lina Sinjab, 18 September) saying Christian villagers doubted jihadist threat, based on a large number of interviews with nuns and others. That article highlighted the earlier period of co-existence in "calmer times"; it portrayed al-Nusra as extremist bad guys; it recorded the de-population of the town due to the fighting. It was not the least dishonest, though hindsight proved it partially wrong in some parts of its prognosis of the al-Nusra threat. This single article counter-balanced a narrative totally dominant in large parts of the mainstream media - the NYT, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail - that Maaloula was being overrun by extremists. (Sources closer to the revolution (e.g. Scott Lucas) constructed a different narrative, one in which the main threat in September was from regime bombing rather than rebel fighters.)

That Lina Sinjab article was one in a sequence of reports on the fighting by Jeremy Bowen. Bowen's reportage, while emphasising regime bombing as well as rebel fighting, does not whitewash the rebels, e.g. from 15 Sept: "Jeremy Bowen has been to meet Christians who fled their homes in Maaloula, some of whom say they were attacked by rebels "with local accents". He says many Syrians no longer trust their old neighbours and that "the religious mosaic of different sects is breaking up"." Bowen also repeatedly described al-Nusra as "al-Qaeda-linked". He also talks about Christian residents volunteering to join the Syrian army to defend against "jihadist al-Nusra" (e.g. 11 Sept). So, plenty of possible quibbles, but on the whole I think the BBC reportage from this period stands up.

The BBC was once again reporting on Maaloula in December, initially from Syrian Observatory reports, and including the kidnapping of the nuns.

The SOHR is part of the voice of the revolution. Al-Nusra are not part of the revolution; they are fighting jihad. There are several military groups that occupy a grey space between those, e.g. Ahrar al-Sham and Qalamoun Liberation front.

The anti-government forces (the "rebels" as the media calls them) are NOT the same as mine and Liz's revolution. As is clear from Sinjab and Bowen's reports, although it woulds be clear to anyone who follows this shit already, there are good guys and bad guys in the anti-government camp. There are, however, only bad guys in the pro-government camp.

bob said...

Oh, and on the nuns, the BBC has reported their plight right up to this month, three times in December and three times in March. The nuns are pretty clear that al-Nusra didn't harm them. Unreported by the BBC, anti-Assad sources say the Syrian gov now has them under house arrest.