Column: Keeping it Real
The bloody, depressing civil war in Syria has been grinding on for approximately nine years.
In many ways, the war has been fueled by foreign powers backing different sides, be it Russia and Iran with the government or the United States and Turkey with the rebels. Disinformation has and continues to play an important role in shaping public attitudes toward the conflict, convincing Americans that the messy war going on is purely black and white.
Since the start of the war in 2011, America and the West have been adamant in their support for the rebels. The peaceful, secular and democracy-loving protesters were ruthlessly mowed down by Bashar al-Assad’s thugs, and they subsequently revolted into armed rebellion, according to BBC News.
The West, horrified by the slaughter, threw its support for the rebels. al-Assad — portrayed as the archetypal dictator — has been winning the war with brutal Russian support and has committed various war crimes along the way, such as alleged gassings and civilian massacres.
There is a measure of truth in this narrative. Government forces, along with Russian airstrikes, have exacted a heavy toll on civilians. There have been photos leaked from Syrian prisons of killed prisoners of war (POWs), their bodies stacked like cordwood. Government militias have committed massacres. In truth, pro-government forces are guilty of war crimes.
This narrative and its numerous faults were recently put in the spotlight by the Academy Awards-nominated documentary "For Sama," which is essentially a love story between Waad al-Kateab and her husband Hamza al-Kateab, a doctor, set against the backdrop of the Battle of Aleppo.
I choose to mention this documentary because it feeds into Western and American perceptions of the war: innocent civilians getting killed by the Russians, a peaceful revolution foiled by the Assad regime and more. The truth, though, is much darker and twisted than what is commonly understood.
A little research will discover that Hamza al-Kateab is not the purely innocent medical school graduate that the film purports to show. James Foley, a journalist who was beheaded by ISIS in 2014, said how Syrian civilians in rebel-held territory were losing faith in the rebels, according to PRI.
Foley spoke to Hamza al-Kateab about a recent rebel attack using a suicide car bomb on a government building which killed civilians, according to the article. Hamza al-Kateab is described not as a doctor treating civilians, but as a field nurse for the rebels. He defends the suicide bombing and civilian casualties, saying “we are in a war” and that “no civilians should be there.” Ironically, these excuses are exactly what Hamza al-Kateab decries in "For Sama."
This double-standard and obfuscation of facts is typical of the pro-opposition narrative. Another example of double-standard is the denouncement of civilian deaths due to Russian airstrikes in support of the government, accompanied by a noticeable silence on American airstrikes.
Both Americans and Russians have been targeting jihadist groups in Syria, with the Americans hitting ISIS positions in Iraq as well. An accounting of the lives lost shows that Russians have killed approximately 6,000 to 8,000 civilians, while the Americans have killed approximately 8,000 to 13,000 civilians. It is claimed that the Russians are reckless and purposely target civilians — the Americans, mind you, are careful in their bombardments.
The makeup of the rebel forces has also been a point of contention. Those who support the rebels usually say they are moderate — though the word “moderate” is never really defined — and devoted to creating a secular Syria. I agree that those rebels do exist, albeit in an absolute, insignificant minority that has never wielded much influence among most of the insurgents.
The majority of rebels in Syria has been and is some form of Salafi jihadist or Islamist group, such as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and the National Front for Liberation fighting around Idlib, Syria, today, which are headed by fighters who want to institute draconian Sharia law. Even the much-touted Free Syrian Army, which was never as effective as its jihadist counterpart Al-Nusra Front, disintegrated into various Islamist brigades early on in the war.
With their extremism comes various war crimes, such as the recent beheading of pro-government POWs around Idlib. Yet we continue to hear of valiant revolutionaries without mention of their support for destructive ideologies.
Of course, the above points in no way exonerate the Syrian government in any of its war crimes. But it does melt away the aura of untruths surrounding the rebels and reveals their own undefendable corruptions and wrongdoings.
Continuing to buy into the pro-opposition propaganda only perpetuates the useless suffering of the Syrian people on both sides. We must be wary enough to identify the truth and hold all those responsible for crimes accountable.
Only then can peace and justice be restored to the wounded nation of Syria.
Alexander Eid is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media studies. His column, "Keeping it Real," runs on alternate Thursdays.
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