Some Questions on the Houla Massacre...and Beyond
It is not known who perpetrated the Houla massacre. It is certain though that both sides (the Syrian regime army and the gangs operating under the banner of the Free Syrian Army) have a record of brutality and disregard for human lives to qualify them to do the job.
What is certain is that Houla was a propaganda blitz that dominated Western as well as Arab (Saudi-funded and Qatari-funded) media. The romanticizing of the so-called “Syrian Revolution” (the deeds of the Free Syrian Army and Syrian National Council and the Muslim Brotherhood deserve the label of revolution as much as George W. Bush deserves the Nobel Peace Prize and as much as Bashar Assad deserves to serve as president of Syria) clashes with the actual record of the armed groups operating under the umbrella of the FSA.
But it is time that we raise questions and we expose lies surrounding the Syrian uprising. Let us first remember that Western media basically surrender control of their editorial policies to their governments when they decide to go against a developing country. We remember that few raised questions about the wisdom of forming an army of militant Muslims in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The cause of what later produced al-Qaeda was championed. I remember Dan Rather in Afghan clothes riding a horse and reporting on the “heroes” of the fight against communism. Lies and fabrications and exaggerations were the symptom of the coverage of Afghanistan at the time. And when the communist regime fell and was later replaced by the Taliban, there were no demands for accountability and no one asked Dan Rather if he ever met Bin Laden during his media stunt in Afghanistan.
When Western governments were preparing for the invasion of Libya (you were led to believe that only Qatari forces were on the grounds in Libya by the way, given their battle-tested experience), the West’s media yet again published unsubstantiated reports and claims about what was happening in Libya.
The same media that stood silent when all Western leaders groveled before Gaddafi suddenly woke up to the reality of dictatorship in Libya. All sorts of claims were made: the number of 100,000 dead was thrown about casually (of course, it later proved to be untrue), and reports of foreign mercenary armies were a staple of the coverage (that was also untrue and the reports themselves fueled a racist anti-black campaign by the Libyan fighters after “liberation”).
Whatever happened to that woman who made that claim about being raped by Gaddafi’s soldiers? Why was she deported from Qatar and what became of her? No one asked, and the media turned the page and started another campaign.
It should be mentioned that some decent journalists may feel pressured to toe the line not only by the conventional wisdom of the establishment around them but also because the regime (whether in Libya or in Syria) is an awful dictatorial regime that does not deserve to last one day longer.
But it should be stressed that the well-funded (mostly by Qatar, UAE, and Saudi Arabia) press offices of the exile Syrian opposition constantly and daily feed the Western media a large supply of lies, exaggerations, fabrications, and wild scenarios. These media offices (like the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – and for everything else that propaganda requires) never have to account for their information or claims.
They provide names of people inside Syria and Western correspondents merely Skype with them. Those whose names are provided by the press offices of the Syrian exile opposition merely confirm or reiterate or repeat verbatim whatever is being said by the exile offices. There have been videos shown on Youtube (since Youtube is the favorite source for Western media on Syria) in which injuries are faked and children are coached to speak about their experiences. All that never makes it into Western media.
Even the obvious lies never get challenged. From very early on, there were many lies spread that have yet to be exposed. For months, Syrian opposition exile groups insisted that there were no armed opposition groups and they stressed that their movement is purely peaceful (and when pictures of armed men were displayed, they were dismissed as enemy propaganda).
Yet, suddenly and without explanation, the same groups started to brag about and praise the armed opposition groups who ostensibly were leading a purely peaceful revolution. The propaganda agenda was clearly exhibited with the various statements (especially by exile opposition figures in Western and Saudi media) to the effect that the Syrian regime is being assisted by fighters from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah, and the Mahdi Army.
The sectarian motives were obvious, and no one asked the basic logical questions. Why would an army experienced in shooting at its own people resort to the assistance of Hezbollah fighters who are trained in fighting the Israeli army? What kind of assistance would Hezbollah fighters bring to the picture? And why would the large Syrian Army need additional men?
Furthermore, the notion that the Syrian army would need the Mahdi Army (which is always appropriately described in the Western press as the “rag-tag” army) was not dismissed. The Western media promoted those accusations although the “evidence” that was often talked about on TV never materialized, despite the kidnapping of Iranian civilians in Syria. It is likely that Russian special forces assisted the Syrian Army in Baba Amr (according to one of my sources) but that is never mentioned in the press because Russia is not a Shia country.
Similarly, the Syrian exile opposition also duped the Western press (and Western audiences in workshops, conferences, and panels) to think that the Syrian uprising is led by liberal peaceful feminists (and they would often name a woman or two), and would insist that the Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with the uprising in Syria.
Of course, now we know better. Various leading figures in the Syrian National Council admitted belatedly that indeed the Muslim Brotherhood is running the show, and only after a year of the uprising did some in the Western press publish articles about the influence and clout of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Houla story is still murky. No one knows what happened. We know that there are innocent civilians who were killed. We know that both sides are exchanging accusations and we know that both sides are habitual liars. But we can raise some questions:
-Why have the Western media ignored stories of kidnappings and killings of civilians by the gangs of Free Syrian Army (which is really merely a name used by a variety of gangs and bands largely with Islamist – and in some cases Bin Ladenite – ideology)?
-Why were there no attempts made at deconstructing the stories spread by the exile Syrian opposition. Initially, they claimed that the Syrian Army killed those civilians by shelling. It was only the other day when the UN stated that less than 20 were killed by the shelling (and the 20 are not a small number and they should be added to the disgraceful list of crimes committed by the regime that should be overthrown and brought to justice), and that most were killed at close range. There were claims of knife attacks but it seems that most were shot.
-Why was there an attempt to make it as though the Houla massacre was a sectarian crime (by Shia/Alawis against Sunnis) when it is emerging that maybe a third of the victims were Shia. Were there sectarian killings going on in the region in the days preceding the massacre? Why has there not been in the Western press any reference to the sectarian kidnappings (by Salafi armed groups in Daraa comprising even some Libyans according to Al-Akhbar correspondent who visited the scene) against Druze in the Sweida region (the Druze, in turn, kidnapped people from Daraa before the matter was resolved and hostages exchanged.
-Why did the media not notice that the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian National Council, and the Muslim Brotherhood all admitted that they were in touch with the sectarian group that kidnapped the Lebanese Shia pilgrims? In fact, famed liberal Syrian dissident, Haytham al-Malih, told a newspaper owned by a Saudi prince (Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat) that he supported the kidnapping and called on the kidnappers to not release the pilgrims.
Is it possible to believe the story that was told: that Shia and Alawis who reside in a predominantly Sunni area decided to suddenly turn against the majority and butcher them? And how did the surviving victims know the sectarian identity of their killers? Well, according to the Neil MacFarquhar, they bizarrely told them, “we are shabiha.” They all but left pictures of Bashar Assad behind them. Another story (wildly circulated on Twitter) has a more bizarre twist: apparently, the killers had “Shia slogans written on their foreheads” (the story was written by a Western reporter and then circulated by Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (who will soon direct a news station owned by the Prince Al-Walid bin Talal).
With this you know that Nazi style bigotry is dominating the coverage and that sectarian armed groups are purposefully fanning the flames of sectarian hatred. Civil war is no more a danger in Syria. It is a matter of a policy eagerly sought by Salafi groups and their sponsors in the Gulf countries.
This does not settle it. We still don’t know what happened in Houla. But a healthy dosage of skepticism is in order in the case of Syria especially as Western governments seems to pushing in the direction of military intervention.
There are many sides of the story but the Western media is only covering one side. (Neil MacFarquhar flat out lied when he claimed twice in the New York Times that Syrian TV does not mention the armed clashes in Syria). To be sure, both sides can’t be believed and their claims can’t be taken at face value, but it is high time that real investigation of the Syrian story be undertaken by people who are not beholden to governments – East or West.