Monday,20 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)
Monday,20 August, 2018
Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Listen to Syrians

The tragedy in Syria is that the war being fought in the name of the Syrian people has little to do with them. Their voices are either ignored or manipulated to achieve other political ends, writes Ramzy Baroud

Al-Ahram Weekly

Imagine the Syrian war from the point of view of ordinary Syrians from a variety of backgrounds. They are most likely to offer a different perspective and to hold entirely different expectations than most other parties involved.

A resident of Idlib, a villager from Deraa, a housewife, a teacher, a nurse or an unemployed former prisoner from anywhere else in Syria would distinguish their relationship to the war in terminology and overall understanding that is partially, or entirely, opposed to the narrative communicated by CNN, Al-Jazeera, Russia Today, the BBC, Press TV and every available media platform that is concerned with the outcome of the war.

These media tailor their coverage and, when necessary, as is often the case, slant their focus in ways that communicate their editorial agendas, which, unsurprisingly, are often linked to the larger political agenda of their respective governments. They may purport to speak in accordance with some imaginary moral line, but frankly none of them do.

Surely, the stories of ordinary Syrians are not prepared in advance or communicated via press conferences in so articulate, guarded and predictable a manner. That is a job that has been reserved for, and perfected by, politicians who represent countries with vested interests in the war.

But how could a story that is so thoroughly covered and discussed around the clock in so exhaustive a fashion be so far removed from reality?

Of course, there is no single truth in explaining the war in Syria, and not even an unfiltered people’s narrative can change that. The Russians, for example, justify their latest intervention as needed action to stave off the progress of the Islamic State (IS) group. And yet the Russians are being accused by everyone else, save Iran, of targeting other, non-IS, opposition groups.

The Russians, in turn, accuse everyone else, except for Iran, of either initiating the problem in the first place, empowering or funding IS, or failing to do anything meaningful to bring the war to an end.

If seen from each others’ perspectives —the Arab (especially Gulf countries), Turkey, Iran, Hezbollah, Jordan, the United States, European countries, and so on —every country seems to communicate its understanding of the war, thus explaining the nature of its involvement by using all sorts of upright and righteous rationales. It seems as if they are all united by their love of the Syrian people and the sanctity of their lives.

Considering that more than 300,000 Syrians have been killed in the war so far, with many more wounded, and six million becoming desolate refugees, one can be certain of the fact that none of these governments actually care for Syrian lives —including, sadly, their government and the opposition. To be less crude, we can be certain that the survival of the Syrian nation is not a top priority for those who are using Syria as a ground for their proxy war.

Those who perished in Syria have been victimised by all warring parties, and the bullets that killed, the shells that devastated neighbourhoods, and the rockets that randomly toppled homes originate from too many directions to count.

In other words, there should no longer be any room for a polarising narrative about Syria, as in good guys versus bad guys; evil regime versus opposition, or terrorists versus a sovereign government; or regional forces that are attempting to invite stability and peace versus others espousing chaos.

These thoughts, and more, crossed my mind as I began recording the experiences of Syrian and Palestinian refugees who managed to reach Europe via Turkey and Greece. After reading countless articles about the war, listening to a thousand news broadcasts, consulting with dozens of “experts”, Arab and non-Arab alike, I found the hours I spent with the refugees far more enriching and informative.

When it was explained to me, for example, how the Yarmouk siege came about, and after I cross-referenced the information with other refugees —who may hold a different political perspective on the war —I found out that our understanding of what took place in the refugee camp was almost completely misguided or, rather, politicised and thus slanted, self-serving and generally untrue.

Khaled’s journey from Damascus to Idlib, Homs, Hama, all the way to Qamishli, then to the Turkish border deprives the narrative of its polarisation: he was targeted by everyone. Indeed, his suffering continued even when he crossed the Turkish border, took a boat to Lesbos, attempted to enter Macedonia, then Serbia, and so on. It took him four months to reach Sweden, with about ten different stops in different jails.

 His narrative contained no references, in any collective sense, to good guys versus bad guys. Any act of kindness he encountered on his journey was surely a random one, and depended entirely on the goodness of ordinary people, like himself.

The same sentiment was conveyed by Maysam’s story, whose peers at the Syrian Red Crescent Society were arrested and tortured because they treated fighters from the Free Syrian Army at the Palestine Hospital. She fled before the mukhabarat (state security) came looking for her at her house in the Zahra neighbourhood in Damascus.

Many more are no longer able to tell their own story of the war because they were killed, either by Syrian government forces, the opposition, other parties or US-led air strikes. A particularity moving account was of the execution of a 16-year-old girl in a public square near Al-Hajar Al-Aswad, after she confessed to being a “spy” for the regime.

The “confession” was exacted after she was shot, at point-blank range, in the palm of her right hand. They claimed that she placed GPS devices in opposition areas so that the army could guide its missiles based on signals it received. The Syrian army’s barrel bombs, of course, are not smart bombs and, in fact, none exist. The teenager was shot in the face six times.

Ordinary Syrians’ narratives are often used in media coverage of the war, but in a selective fashion, never in an honest and true sampling. Al-Mayadeen’s version of “average Syrians” is almost entirely different to that of Al-Jazeera. Syrians are used to support media agendas, as their country’s war is used to advance political agendas.

When the conflict is over, the warring parties will reach the conclusion that they have either achieved their objectives or can no longer do so; only Syrians will be left to put their lives back together. When the remaining dead are buried, the missing found or declared dead, the prisoners released or kept indefinitely, winning and losing will cease to hold any meaning at all.

The tragedy in Syria is that the war fought in the name of the Syrian people has little to do with the rights of the Syrian people, and the voices of Syrians are either entirely neglected or used and manipulated to achieve specific political ends. When it is all over, media jackals are likely to fan the flames of some other conflict in some other place.

Certainly, it is already late for too many Syrians whose stories were buried with them. But it is not too late for those who are still alive. We need to listen to the Syrian people, who have been at the receiving end of death, but are yet to articulate their own aspirations for life, and their ongoing tragedies.

The writer is founder of

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