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It all started with the spiky, outlandish Christian Louboutin shoes. According to the “Assad emails” published by the western press, Asma El Assad, the Syrian president’s wife, had bought them from Amazon. This was in 2012, the very beginning of what would later become a full-fledge war.

My first thought was: “You go, girl !”. My second thought was: “Oops, Amazon doesn’t even deliver to Lebanon, where I live, how could it even ship products to Syria ? ”. Of course, the shoe story, as well as most of the supposedly leaked “Assad emails”, turned out to be a fabrication.

Little did I know, in 2012, that the Louboutin story was only the tip of the iceberg of the anti-Assad and anti-Syrian propaganda which would flood the mainstream western news for years to come. This propaganda and distorted reporting not only accompanied the NATO-led offensive on Syria, it also shattered all the respect and appreciation I had had for some of my western friends and colleagues, and reminded me yet again of the double morals of a certain “west”.

In 2012, I joined the media department of a European country’s diplomatic mission in Lebanon. Since my colleagues and I only dealt with hard facts, the distorted and inflammatory reports of western and Gulf region-funded media about the war in Syria were rather transparent to us.

It would take too long to list all the misreporting of the war on Syria, perpetrated by the likes of the BBC, the Washington Post, Le Monde, Al Jazeera and other mainstream western and Gulf Arab media. Beginning with the Assad blame game:  Blame Assad For Everything. At times, it seems as though, should it start raining, that too would be blamed on Assad.

Here are some of the gems.

From the very start, the most basic fact concerning the Syrian war was completely ignored by these media outlets: meaning the legality of NATO and its allies’ so-called intervention in Syria, through the arming of proxy militias. Just as none of them mentioned the plan to topple Assad which, according to former French Foreign Affairs minister Roland Dumas, was being prepared well before the start of the war, at a conference in London in 2009. Ignored was Lebanese journalist Sami Kleib’s 2015 book, where he published verbatim accounts of secret talks between the Syrian President and western and Turkish officials which took place shortly before the war. Judging by those accounts, the war on Syria is a direct consequence of Assad’s not bowing to pressure from Turkey and the US.

Equally ignored was the audio recording of former US Secretary of State John Kerry admitting to backing Daesh.

The tragedy of western mainstream reporting on Syrian war is that it often takes its readership for fifth-graders, or less. Shedding crocodile tears for the civilian victims of Eastern Aleppo in December 2016, like many of her colleagues (where are their tears when children are killed by US strikes on Mossul or Yemen ?), Newsweek Middle East editor Janine di Giovanni writes : “The war in Syria is not simply a war against terrorists – Isis and al-Nusra, […] – although this is the narrative the Russian Federation and its allies want us to believe. It started as a peaceful insurrection in 2011, […], which turned to arms”.

How did it turn to arms, would ask the fifth-grader ? Isn’t it precisely because Assad’s opponents were heavily armed by the US, the UK, France, Turkey and Gulf Arab countries ? Naturally, Ms. Di Giovanni will avoid telling us that.

What she will not tell us either is : Where is that non-terrorist fighting force (referred to by some as “moderate” ) she seems to be hinting at ? Even fifth-graders know by now that it is akin to the Loch Ness monster, which many talk about but nobody was ever able to spot. As for the peaceful demonstrators of the beginnings, it has been documented that they had been infiltrated by agents provocateurs, most probably CIA and MI6 operatives.

Truly peaceful, wise demonstrators who were shot at by Syrian security forces should have gone back home and devised better plans, the very moment they discovered that it was not a simple coup which was being prepared, but something much more deadly and destructive. This idea was suggested by German researcher Reinhard Merkel who, in 2013, wrote a rather exceptional, well-detailed article for the mainstream Frankfurter Allgemeine. An article, which, strangely enough, disappeared from the newspaper’s website for months, before suddenly reappearing.

As events unfolded in Syria, and despite the scarce messages of wisdom from the likes of Reinhard Merkel, I grew more and more disillusioned, even nauseated, by the attitude of most of my western friends and colleagues. Watching an Oscar being awarded to a film white-washing the White Helmets, whose ties to Blackwater/Academi and Al-Qaida have been well documented; hearing that George Clooney is preparing another propaganda film about the White Helmets; that his glamorous wife Amal Clooney is planning to sue the Assad government for human rights breaches (would she ever dare to sue the much less democratic Saudi monarchy ?), all reminded me of Marilyn Manson’s famous song “The Beautiful People” and the moral schizophrenia that the west has reached.

I looked around me, trying to understand. When it came to the western European diplomats I met at work, it wasn’t difficult to see the motivation behind their lies: They were being paid well enough to keep them sound asleep at night. Some of them were critical of their government’s official position, but did not dare say it aloud.

I turned to my other acquaintances from western, enlightened countries. One German History student living in Beirut justified his support for the “rebels” in Syria by saying that Bashar Al Assad is a dictator. Besides the fact that dealing with many a German in everyday situations can amount to psychological torture next to which any dictator’s dungeons would pale in comparison – as I learned at my own expenses -, the assertion that Assad is a dictator is the most ridiculous, absurd argument ever used in justifying the war on Syria.

Compared to most political leaders in Lebanon, the Arab world and beyond, Assad can almost seem like a Nelson Mandela. Can the Turkish or Saudi governments give any lessons in human rights to Assad ? Or even the EU, which is backing armed militias and imposing sanctions, all of which are leading to the destruction of Syria and the death of innocent civilians?

“The regime in Damascus staged bombings in civilian areas, in order to accuse and repress its opponents”, told me one European correspondent in Beirut. “Please stick to the point”, I wanted to answer, but didn’t. The people in power in Damascus are no actual saints, and we’ve known this since 1970, but how would that justify in any way the destruction of a whole country through the arming of fanatical killers? “Well, it is an uprising after all, you know”, was his reply. I was shocked that he would still speak of an “uprising” when the armed groups that his European government are funding are systematically destroying property and killing innocent civilians ? Can someone choosing the language of killing instead of peaceful means ever be called a “moderate”, regardless of their proclaimed ideology ?

By pointing out isolated misdeeds of the “Assad forces”, as they call them (would any of them ever dare say “Erdoğan forces”, for instance ?), through choosing to highlight certain facts and not others, these misguided and misguiding analysts certainly confirm Confucius’ famous words : ”When the wise man points at the moon, the idiot looks at the finger”. They act as if the war on Syria was a football match of sorts, where you have to choose sides, and where they are called upon to count the points. Through doing this, they shift their audience away from the wider geopolitical picture.

I turned yet again to a British journalist with a certain experience in Middle East issues, desperately searching for a hint of lucidity, of detachment from the hysterical anti-Assad campaign which is leading to so much destruction. I asked him about his opinion on the British mainstream press’ obviously biased anti-Assad campaign. He cast his eyes down and abruptly changed the conversation.

Another British journalist who writes about the Middle East assured me that it was the Syrian government forces who were behind the chemical attacks in Ghouta in 2013 and Khan Sheikhoun earlier this year. “Why is that ?“, I enquired. “Well, this is what the US, French and UK intelligence services asserted”. I couldn’t believe my ears. It was as if Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction travesty had never happened.

How can such well-educated, seemingly intelligent people utter such nonsense ?, I asked myself. Are they just trying to deceive their audience or are they also deluding themselves ? And how could they, whether explicitly or implicitly, support one of the most destructive, deadly wars of our times and call it an “uprising” ?  I suddenly remembered George Orwell’s famous unpublished preface to Animal Farms, in which he condemns war propaganda perpetrated by “well-educated” journalists and editors. By “well-educated”, he meant of course “well-programmed”.

These well-educated westerners accept for poorer countries things that they would never accept for their own. I personally happen to think that Theresa May’s multi-billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries is an utter disgrace and a crime, because these weapons end up killing innocent people in Syria and Yemen. I also think that the mass state surveillance system installed in the UK makes the former Soviet and STASI surveillance systems seem amateurish. Based on this, would I support the arming of “rebel” groups in the UK (say, some hooligans, or UKIP members), which would turn the whole country into ashes in order to topple the May regime ? Certainly not. A simple coup would probably do.

I finally realized something I had always suspected, especially after having been treated in a colonialist fashion at that same European diplomatic mission I was working in. The fact that, for many people living in rich western countries, civilians dying from wars initiated by these same western powers is business as usual, a banality engrained in their minds ever since childhood. I realized that western governments find no contradiction at all in defending women’s or gay rights with heated arguments, all the while supporting Islamists like Mohammad Allouche, who represented the “moderate rebels” at the Geneva talks, after having, according to the well-informed Reseauvoltaire website, personally pushed men “accused” of being gay from the rooftops of the Damascus suburbs.

I realized that the British find no contradiction in treating a man who was having a loud argument with his girlfriend in the London metro like a criminal, pushing him to the ground and placing a spit hood on his head, all the while arming fanatical killers in Syria and calling them “moderates”.

And that the French find no contradiction in promoting style, fashion, spiky shoes and sophisticated cuisine around the world, all the while their government arms and trains the so-called “Free Syrian Army”, a member of which once infamously ripped out the heart of a Syrian soldier and ate it on camera (would that inspire the French for a new dish?, I wondered).

Could this be what Noam Chomsky recently termed “the moral crisis of the west” ?

As for westerners living in those poor, war-afflicted countries, they know very well that, push comes to shove, they would be the first to be evacuated to their secure home countries and treated like royalty, while the locals can enjoy the rest of the football game. Having lived my own childhood in a Beirut torn by its civil war, I watched rich Lebanese families, some of them warlords, rush to the safety of their Paris or London apartments. My family could not do the same. For those rich families, the war was little more than a game whose strings they were pulling.

At times I found myself wishing that these arrogant, irresponsible westerners and rich GCC countries experience the same chaos and havoc they are inflicting on others –“maybe that would teach them”- , only to remember that this would not be a solution, that violence breeds more violence, that it is a snake that bites its own tail …

Instead, I found my inspiration in the wise words of Marie Seurat, a filmmaker and novelist from Aleppo, whose husband, French researcher Michel Seurat, was tortured and killed in 1986, most probably by power circles in Damascus. Despite this fact, and despite having her own apartment in Paris, Marie chooses peace over strife in this moving scene of her 2012 documentary “Damas, au péril du souvenir”. Addressing her deceased husband, she tells him that, as much as she hates the people in power in Damascus for what they did to him, she prefers having Assad stay in power rather than seeing her beautiful country reduced to rubble.

Wissam Hojaiban – Writer based in Beirut, Lebanon, with a special interest in the topics of peaceful conflict resolution, anti-colonialism and the inter-connectedness of the human tree.


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