No Bullet Holes in Bab Touma; Several Accounts of Life in Syria

An intrepid reporter working for the SC community has cleared up a mystery. Over a week ago I published an article in which the author Ammar Shami wrote that “armed men sprayed bullets” at a church front in Bab Touma during the opening weeks of the revolt. The article was entitled “Did Syria Use Tanks and Gun Boats to Shell Hama and Latakia?,” which set off a heated debate. A commentator who goes by the name, “Some Guy in Damascus” immediately disputed the claim that a gunman had shot up the front of a Bab Touma church and set out to prove it. This weekend Some Guy in Damascus went to investigate the churches of Bab Touma and found no evidence of bullet holes on any of the church fronts. He posted this short video on Youtube of himself in front of al Saleeb Church in Damascus by way of proof that he has investigated the churches of Bab Touma and found no evidence of bullet holes.

We have yet to hear back from the author of the original article, explaining his account that contradicts SGID’s findings.

I want to thank SGID for his intrepid reporting. Again this story underlines how difficult it is to rely on reports coming out of Syria, when there are no professional journalist to count on. It is also underlines how important it is for journalists, publishers, and bloggers, such as myself, to publish corrections and counter evidence when we find out that we have made a mistake or published articles based on erroneous accounts. We continue to await a professional treatment of the main contentions of Shami’s article – that the Syrian army did not use gunships to shell Latakia or tanks to shell Hama, as most journalists have reported. Certainly his broader claims are now in doubt too.

I apologize for the false report and thank Some Guy in Damascus for his video, good humor, and reporting in these dark times. Joshua Landis

Here are several accounts and short articles

The foreign media ban and its effect on the Syrian perception of the uprising
By Daniel Paul-Schultz (A Master’s student who recently returned from a year in Damascus)
For Syria Comment, 6/24/2011

The Syrian uprising, while influenced by the unrest in the rest of the Arab world, is set apart by the impact of the foreign media ban. No foreign reporters have been allowed to operate freely inside Syria since the protests began in the middle of March. While Arabic and English foreign media networks such as Aljazeera and BBC have consistently shown footage of the massive protests in Yemen, and have even filmed the rebels in Libya, there have been no independent reports coming out of Syria. Instead, the foreign media has been forced to rely largely on a mixture of YouTube videos and telephone conversations with both pro and anti government Syrians. This lack of firm sourcing has caused many Syrians, who generally have equal access to state and foreign news sources, to discount the foreign media as at best subjective, and at worst actively fomenting discord. As a result, the propaganda effort launched by the Syrian has benefited immensely.

While state Syrian television has always been the propaganda arm of the government, its role has become more crucial as the protests have escalated, and with them the violence of the government’s reaction. On a typical Friday, while shows grainy footage of alleged protests from around the country, the state television attempts to reassure the country that nothing is actually happening by showing videos of calm streets in major cities and interviews with mothers in the parks with their children rejoicing that the country is free of the ‘armed terrorist gangs’ whom the government blames for the deaths during the protests.

I spent the last nine months in Syria, and although many young educated Syrians I spoke to did not believe the government’s story, many more Syrians considered the state news reports to be accurate. This may be due to the propaganda embedded in the curriculum through the education system that strongly discourages any questioning or distrust of the regime. It is also due to the fact that Syrian society is replete with conspiracy theories that accuse Israel, the United States and the Gulf states of plotting against Syria. Accordingly, foreign media organizations, along with other outside groups such as human rights groups and other non-governmental organizations, are viewed with distrust by many Syrians, and with the government’s encouragement, seen as potential agents for foreign interests.

The foreign media ban has been an invaluable instrument for the Syrian government because it forces the foreign media to rely on unreliable eyewitness accounts from protesters rather than on neutral and more informed testimony from journalists. While channels such as BCC Arabic dutifully interview Syrian government spokespeople every day, they are quite aware that they will always receive the same rehearsed line blaming armed terrorist gangs for all deaths and denying even the existence of protests in the country. Therefore, to learn any real information, the networks are forced to rely almost exclusively on phone calls with various protesters who own satellite phones.

While these activists are certainly courageous, their testimony is not unbiased. They have a clear vested interest in portraying the events in a particular way that promotes their perspectives. Though their information is undoubtedly accurate to some extent, it is often relayed by the foreign networks as fact rather than opinion. This reliance on vague and unverifiable information ultimately undermines the credibility of the foreign media with their Syrian audience, to the great benefit of the Syrian government.

There is no easy solution to the dilemma facing the Arabic foreign media. Attempts to openly defy the ban on foreign media put reporters in significant danger, as the case of Dorothy Parvaz illustrates. Moreover, in an age of increased competition for the speedy conveyance of news, simply refusing to report on Syria is not an option for major news outlets.

One option, however, is for the networks to become more transparent in detailing exactly how they arrive at specific information, without revealing the names of any sources. For instance, networks could choose to explain to the viewers the specific procedures they go through in order to verify the death of a protester, the size of a protest, and claims made of human rights violations during the unrest.

The networks might also stress, when possible, that the information they are reporting comes from multiple independent sources. While these sources cannot be identified by name for theirown safety, giving ancillary details about their job or age will give more confidence to the Syrian public that this information is accurate.

Although these options will not necessarily cause a rapid change in the of average Syrians, it may convince some doubters that the protests are in fact real and that the government propaganda is in fact lies. While the Syrian public is not the only target of the foreign media, it is the group for which the foreign media has the potential to have the most significant impact. It is therefore imperative that the networks take stronger measures to convince Syrians that they, and not the Syrian government, are reporting the truth.

A Syrian Friend in Beirut

I’m amazed of how fast the Syrian business community are beginning to dump Bashar and the regime. I have also met very rich and influential Syrian business people here in Beirut who are ready to accept mayhem and chaos in return for the departure of Assad and the regime. Just last year, I swear, they were arguing with me how great the regime and Bashar were. Last year, they insisted that Bashar was moving in the right direction. When I asked them about the sanctions, they now say that sanctions are good because they will force Bashar to leave. Now of course these do not represent the majority, but I’m shocked. Damascus looks normal. But it is simmering from the inside.

Another Syrian friend

I’m meeting more and more people wanting violence as means of “resistance” to the brutal regime.

An Atassi – one of the thousands

In the end, revolutions are so seldom about the people, especially if the people are not what they need to be. I might not be old enough, but I know that the Alawites have paid a high and heavy price to get to where they are today.

More than any other minority in the Levant, Alawites paid with their blood for centuries of abuse by the Sunni majority. And they have nowhere to go.

They were poor and hungry (many still are, unfortunately). They were denied the very basic of human rights and dignity. My grandfather used to tell me that in Homs, the Alawites were not even allowed to walk the sidewalks, they needed to be on the street like the rest of the animals.

No one will sell them anything, and few bought from them. Why?  They are heretics and the enemy of God and His Messenger.

They were so poor, living over land that cannot be properly cultivated, they sold their daughters to homes in Homs, Hama, Lattakia and other major cities so they can survive with the few pennies that we threw at them.

We continuously deny the horrible facts in our history and we continuously pretend that other sects and religions coexisted peacefully in Syria. Baloney. Not true! And our history is written by Sunni historians or historians that were enriched by the Sunnis.

I am a Muslim Sunni and I know; I am ashamed of my sect and my people and my religion for not coming in full force to repent and pay back for the severe injustices they were perpetrated on other sects – all in the name of we are Muslim and we Muslims are good.

The only time I will trust Syrians with democracy is when I see heads of families treating their families with respect. When adult children are free to make choices away from family and tribal pressures. When families tell their children about the value of the Syrian mosaic and how to respect and treasure diversity in Syria. When they tell their children that we have abused minorities and it’s time to talk about it.

I will trust my fellow Syrians when I see them revolt and getting disgusted when a brother slaughters his sister because he thought she harmed the family honor.

I trust Syrians when they start trusting one another because they all belong to the same institutions of law and order.

Until we start a national dialogue, and until the MBs apologize for the killings they committed, and the regime erects monuments for the people they killed, and the Sunni admits their unmistakable prejudices, and until the people break the taboo of not talking about sectarian hatred and cynicism, and until the people are genuinely free as individual people, and until relations between religious sects becomes a national topic that is taught in classrooms, and until the constitution is clearly written to protect the minorities from the oppression of the majority, and to protect the Syrians from their own government, I’m doomed to not trust any outcome.

It’s amusing to me when i hear people talking about Article 8, and how to remove it and by when, at the time when the whole country is boiling with sectarian hatred and terrible class relations. Talk about misaligned priorities.

I am currently a rebel on the loose looking for a revolution that fits my definition.

Muhammad writes:

Yesterday one of my friends reminded me of a conversation a while back when I stated that I would vote for Bashar if he stood in an election. It gave me insight how much my position has shifted during the last 5 months. I’m sure there are millions of stories similar to mine. Bashar has lost his biggest asset and rather than being a strength to the regime he is now a liability.

A little story from my home city (Edleb). Edleb has seen massive demos for a while. The first casualty was over a month ago and it resulted in a significant shift of mood in the city. Before then, there used to be pro-regime demos. After that guy got killed (he was shot while still inside the mosque – they were trying to stop the demos early) none of this happens. A lot of people who used to be pro-regime came to his funeral and stated through speakers their “repentance”. The participation in the strike after his death was easily 95%. Adunnya channel tried to play a really dirty game by blaming his murder on another family in the city. The two families the biggest in Edleb in terms of numbers. It did not work well for Adunnya. The second family set up their own funeral for the martyr and the two locations became permanent anti-regime demos for days. The city became a completely different place following this event.

In terms of demos Edleb is on a par with Deir Alzor & Hama (considering it is smaller city). It has seen relatively very little bloodshed (I think 4 killed so far) although there has been a lot of violence on the streets between the police and the demonstrators. It is the only Governorate Centre currently that sees one large demo daily instead of multiple small once. There are areas the demos don’t go through (mainly by the last standing statue of Hafez). The army surrounds the city but as for now it has not gone in (snipers were deployed at one time though). I’m not sure whether the government has too much on their hands currently or whether they are afraid of a massive refugees movement similar to Jisr (we are about 20 km from the Turkish border) should the army go in.

Comments (114)


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101. Akbar Palace said:

Tara,

Denying the holocaust is perfectly legal in the US. Where did you get the idea it is not legal?

To my knowledge, only Germany has laws against denying the holocaust.

There was a case in the US where a holocaust-denier wrote a book and made his denial a statement of fact. A woman sued him and won her case. I’ll try to find it.

Hate is legal, as long as no one gets hurt.q:o)

See http://WWW.hdot.org

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August 29th, 2011, 10:49 pm

 

102. True said:

@ ABUGHASSAN

Eyid Mubarak,
What’s the update on your medical expedition to Syria?

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August 29th, 2011, 10:54 pm

 

103. Tara said:

AP

I am not discussing legality. I am discussing how freedom of speech when preaching hatred is not acceptable. I do not see difference between anti semitism such as perpetuating the “blood libel” and “the protocol of the elder of Zion” and preaching hatred against islam. Both are” legal” but not acceptable. If anything, I always thought Jews should not condone religious hatred as they have already been there and suffered consequences.

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August 29th, 2011, 11:05 pm

 

104. Haytham Khoury said:

@ Norman #97.

That is completely true. The Ba’ath arose as a Nationalistic party with Islamic soul.

Michel Aflak gave a lecture with title “The Arabic Prophet” to praise the Prophet Mohamed character (I think it was 1947).

The atheist (or rather anti religion nature of Ba’ath started to emerge in the 60s, due to Salah Jedid (who adopted communist type ideology) influence. Thereafter, Hafez Assad used that in a selective way (whenever suited him he encouraged religiousness and in the remaining time he was anti religion).

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August 29th, 2011, 11:31 pm

 

105. Akbar Palace said:

I am not discussing legality. I am discussing how freedom of speech when preaching hatred is not acceptable.

Tara,

“Freedom of Speech” is a legal construct. It is GUARANTEED by the US Constitution. If you mean it is unacceptable in the workplace or in social situations, yes, I agree it is not acceptable.

If, however, you are discussing holocaust denial at a KKK meeting or on an Aryan Nation or jihadist website, I suppose it would be perfectly “acceptable”.

Hope that answers your question.

If anything, I always thought Jews should not condone religious hatred as they have already been there and suffered consequences.

Jews counter this by teaching the public as much as they can about the horrors of hate. This includes books, websites, and lectures. Oh, and movies!

Lastly, hate isn’t just a “jew thing”, many other people suffer from hate: christians. muslims, …you name it…

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August 29th, 2011, 11:53 pm

 

106. Husam said:

Tara:

AKHRA-Palace is an old timer parrot and a liar, just like the mnhebaks here:

David Irving, described the Nazi gas chambers as a ‘fairtale’, languishes in jail in Austria, where it is a crime to deny the Holocaust. Source: the London Times.

Holocaust denial is explicitly or implicitly illegal in 16 countries: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Switzerland.[

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August 30th, 2011, 12:11 am

 

107. NK said:

Eid Mubarak everyone.

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August 30th, 2011, 12:13 am

 

108. Husam said:

Tara FYI,

Various convictions for speaking out on the Holocaust:

Jean-Marie Le Pen

France, Germany

fines[52]

Feb. 27, 1998

Roger Garaudy

France

imprisonment (suspended), ₣240,000 fine[53]

Jul. 21, 1998

Jürgen Graf

Switzerland

15 months imprisonment (fled Switzerland to avoid sentence)[54]

Jul. 21, 1998

Gerhard Förster

Switzerland

12 months imprisonment, disgorgement[55]

May 27, 1999

Jean Plantin

France

6 months imprisonment (suspended), fine, damages[56]

Apr. 11, 2000

Gaston-Armand Amaudruz

Switzerland

1 year imprisonment, damages[57]

Feb. 20, 2006

David Irving

Austria

1 year imprisonment[58]

Mar. 15, 2006

Germar Rudolf

Germany

2½ years imprisonment[59]

Oct. 3, 2006

Robert Faurisson

France

€7,500 fine, 3 months probation[60]

Feb. 15, 2007

Ernst Zündel

Germany

5 years imprisonment[61]

Jan. 14, 2008

Wolfgang Fröhlich

Austria

6½ years imprisonment[62]

Jan. 15, 2008

Sylvia Stolz

Germany

3½ years imprisonment[63]

Mar. 11, 2009

Horst Mahler

Germany

5 years imprisonment[64]

Oct. 23, 2009

Dirk Zimmerman

Germany

9 months imprisonment[65]

Oct. 27, 2009

Richard Williamson

Germany

€12,000 fine[66]

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August 30th, 2011, 12:20 am

 

109. Akbar Palace said:

Husam,

Thanks for the full list. I guess lots of people in the ME like Ahmadinejad are safe. Notice the US is missing too.

http://WWW.memri.org/subject/en/92.htm

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August 30th, 2011, 12:27 am

 

110. Revlon said:

83. Dear Abughassan:
“I may be different from many Syrians due to the fact that I have blood ties to both alawis and Sunnis ,this made me less likely to look at this crisis from a sectarian angle”

That is a bi-sectarian angle! I do not see it as less sectarian!

“No future government in Syria can survive and thrive if it treats minorities as second class citizens,especially alawis who are not the same community today compared to 50 years ago”

– Prior to independence, there were Alawi as well as Sunni Landlords, and understandably more of the latter.
– Peasants of both were abused by their respective landlords..
– Propotionately, but not in absolute numbers, more Alawi ladies worked as house aids because of their permissive religion/tradition, as opposed to similarly deprived, yet more conservative Sunnies!
– Poverty was common in the county side in Syria and in the desert. Such included as many Sunnis as Alawis.
– After the independence, there was some discrimination in public jobs, favouring the rich and religious elites. That affected as many Sunnis as Alawis. However, there was no discrimination in the army on the basis of sect, otherwise, none of the current Alawi military mobsters would have had a chance to commit the crimes they have have been committing for over 4 decades!
– After independence, It was Asad Sr who deliberately and systematically practiced discrimination on the basis of sect across all facets of life, including employment, even in private sector, by the current minority rule.

It is not the minorities who need protection from becoming second class citizens again, but the majority.

Laws should be in place to ensure that, no single minority group, sectarian or otherwise would be allowed to lay its grip on absolute power in Syria.

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August 30th, 2011, 4:45 am

 

111. Revlon said:

Dear SGID, in reference to this post:
“81. Pas Coolsaid:
Was it Bab Touma?
but to really invalidate the claim one would have to check the handful of churches in the vicinity of Abasiyeen. Also, the border between (new) Bab Touma and Kasaa seemed somewhat blurry to me while living in Dimashq, so possibly this can be a reason for having checked the wrong area”

My hunch is that it would be ill-advised to pursue this investigation any further.

Eid Mubarak!

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August 30th, 2011, 5:19 am

 

112. Humanist said:

Hello all,

Was not going to write here again, but as I am very interested in different islamic and pseudo-islamic sects I have a question (preferably to those with “inside” knowledghe).

Is it true what is written here?:

http://syriaexposed.blogspot.com/2005/03/myth-no-7-alawie-is-still-religious.html

As I understand the text, “modern” alawites in Syria are religiously really NO different from moderate sunni muslims. Correct?

So what is the alawi-sunni conflict all about? Is it just tribal?

(It seems to me, in the end most so called religious/sectarian conflicts in middle east is just about TRIBALISM…)

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August 30th, 2011, 5:20 am

 

113. Humanist said:

Also, isn’t Assad and all his family officially SUNNI? (they even converted it seems)

So how can someone (even prof. Landis himself) say Alawites rule Syria, when they aren’t even recognised as a sect and have to behave like Sunnis to become accepted by the “majority”?

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August 30th, 2011, 7:00 am

 

114. Ammar Shami said:

Great, I don’t check up on the blog for a few days and this happens. With all respect to SGID, this video is not exactly investigative reporting. The church is in the frame for 3 seconds max. I appreciate the humor but more time was spent filming the paper notes than the church. As you can all imagine I was upset by seeing this so i went down to the church and i took some pictures. I sent them to Mr. Landis, so it’s up to him to see whether my claims could be supported or not.

To make a long story short, I went to my dentist in late April, early May. I was told by him that a church was shot at earlier that day, I didn’t believe it right away. But when another patient supported the doctors claims and offered to take me to show me herself, i couldn’t say no, especially since it was the church she belonged to. I saw the wall of the church did indeed have holes in it. She even went into detail about the Suzuki loading truck that drove by the church during the shooting and described the sound of the shots. Now i have called many people liars, but not a nice old church lady, nor a doctor.

The fact of the matter is, this part of the article was the part that meant the least to me. Prof. Landis will tell you that I also mentioned Shiaa mosques being demolished during the uprising and the mosque that was raided by U.S. marines in Saudi Arabia. All i was trying to get at, is that an army with the majority of it’s profesional soldiers being Alawite, shooting at a Sunni mosque is somehow much more news worthy that a church or Shiaa mosque. But sadly, my article had to be shorter so i left the church example.

I’m willing to take that part of the article out. But i am not willing to say that this video posted is proof of “no bullet holes in bab touma” nor is it proof that the incident didn’t happen. There is another follower of the blog by the name of Anton who also supported my claim, and i would like to hear what he has to say before the church story is taken out. Unlike Tara, I am actually apologize if I was wrong, and will not blame it on the Mokhabarat instead. If i was duped by a nice old church lady, and a doctor, then i deserve to apologize to all of you.

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September 1st, 2011, 4:56 am

 

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