Posted by Joshua on Monday, August 29th, 2011
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.
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.