Salafists ready to slaughter minorities? Armed terrorists cutting babies’ throats? Foreign conspiracy aimed at unseating the ‘resistance’? A Zionist plot to harm the protectors of “Arab ideals”? Imperialist intervention to dominate the region? Raging gangs in the countryside raping and pillaging? If you have heard these sensational claims, most likely they have stemmed from the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), State TV and privately held media outlets like Al-Dunya TV which amplifies the regime’s rhetoric.
The Assad regime has used the PR resources of the nation to perpetuate a false narrative to instill fear in Syrians, to keep segments of Syrians loyal, and cause informational chaos across the world.
The results have been effective; 15 months into the revolution, despite more than 15,000 dead, over a million displaced, detained or disappeared, the collective punishment and overwhelming evidence documenting regime crimes against humanity, some segments of Syrians still parrot regime narratives as if it is the word of God. Ironically, prior to the start of the revolution, it is commonly known that Syrians refused to rely on State outlets for information. “They even lie about the weather,” I often heard amusingly. The preferred information outlets were always pan-Arab satellite stations due to the broader and more credible coverage.
Adoption of regime propaganda has had deadly implications by providing air cover for state-sanctioned brutality and collective punishment to ‘weed out terrorists’. More importantly, the regime’s rhetoric dehumanizes the victims, creating a false reality that those being killed are not fellow citizens for those Syrians who choose to accept it.
Outside of Syria, we find Assad’s protectors – the Russians, Iran and China utilizing Syrian state outlets as credible sources of information. Simply look at the latest headlines from RT, PressTV or CCTV and you will see how they mirror the rhetoric of SANA and Al-Dunya.
Even the supposed ‘friends of the Syrian revolution’ often perpetuate regime narratives to justify their own inaction – they have joined in playing up ‘minority safety’ concerns and the ‘Al-Qaeda intrusion’ message – both claims pushed hard by the Assad regime to sew confusion and distrust of the revolution.
Both issues, while obviously concerning, are removed from the reality in Syria. Actually, in spite of deliberate sectarian provocations by the regime there haven’t been widespread attacks on Christians, Druze or Alawis and any such reports have been widely discredited. In fact, every massacre to date has been perpetuated against Sunni villages, towns and neighborhoods. Regarding Al-Qaeda, the horrendous bombs in Damascus in late-December and mid-May have the fingerprints of Syrian intelligence all over them – from the clean up crews, readied state-media coverage and lists of the victims.
The foreign media blackout is the best evidence of regime deception, and citizen journalism has effectively risen to counter this propaganda. Much of what we learn about Syria comes from Local Coordinating Committees (LCC) and citizen journalists who sacrifice their lives daily to share on the ground updates, 24/7 – as it happens – from all corners of Syria. These brave people are literally dying to tell the world what is happening. They have utilized social media outlets such as Youtube, Facebook and Twitter to ensure all aspects of the revolution – raw and unedited – are captured and shared externally.
The successes and failures of this revolution are determined based on the ability of the general populace to conduct and document public acts of defiance against the Assad regime and the regime’s inhumane responses.
From the first day of the revolution, the regime has tried to convince the world that foreign elements on the ground are driving the uprising. This claim is easily rebutted by the masses that have come to the streets in protest – from the trigger demonstrations in March 2011 in Deraa, to half-million protestors in Assi Square, Hama last July, to tens of thousands protesting in Mezze, Damascus in February 2012, to the countless numbers who came out in Syria’s second largest city Aleppo (Halab) in June of this year.
The pace and creativity of civil resistance has also accelerated despite barbaric repercussions. From merchant strikes, to protests, to street theater, each of the past Fridays (day of protest) have seen hundreds of documented flashpoints – for instance, there were an astounding 745 flashpoints on the recent “Friday of Revolutionaries and Merchants” on June 8.
While the militarized element of the revolution (known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA)) has been the center of recent media attention, they exist and thrive due to support from local populace. Practically all males in Syria have to serve in the armed forces and ever increasingly these conscripts are defecting and finding their role in support of the revolution. This is why the regime has spent tremendous energy to categorize them as ‘foreign terrorists’ and ‘armed gangs’.
With that said, the revolution is still grounded in popular civil resistance and the ability of the people to go out every day, in every town, village and city around the country and despite all propaganda, to do what only last year was deemed unthinkable: Publicly reject the Assad regime and ensure that the family mafia that has been in power for over 40 years can no longer rule.