Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

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This was first published at Foreign Policy.

From the start of the Syrian revolution, the Assad regime’s media have portrayed the overwhelmingly peaceful grassroots protest movement as a foreign-backed military assault. Its preferred catchall term to describe the tens of thousands of patriots it has kidnapped and tortured, as well as the thousands it has murdered, is “armed gangs.” Despite a series of televised “confessions,” the regime has not provided any serious proof of the supposed American-French-Qaeda-Israeli-Saudi-Qatari plot against the homeland. Nor has it explained the evident contradictions between its narrative and the thousands of YouTube videos and eyewitness accounts of security forces shooting rifles and artillery straight into unarmed crowds.

Of course it hasn’t. Yet its propaganda is taken seriously by Russian and Chinese state media, certain infantile leftists, and a vaguely prominent American academic.

Tragically, the propaganda is also taken seriously by members of Syria’s minority sects — not by all of them by any stretch, but perhaps by a majority. It’s tragic because perceived minority support for this sadistic regime will inevitably tarnish intersectarian relations in Syria in the future.

Those Sunni Syrians who are (understandably) enraged by the minorities’ siding with the dictatorship should remember first that many Alawis and Christians, as well as many more Druze and Ismailis, have joined the revolution and that many have paid the price. Second, Sunnis should remember that Alawis and Christians have good reason to fear change, if not to believe the propaganda.

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Syria: Inside the Secret Revolution

After Libya, will Syria be the next Arab dictatorship to fall to people power? For months, a popular uprising has been fighting an unseen and bloody battle against the Syrian regime. Panorama has been filming inside Syria, and can now tell the full story of those struggling against President Assad and the truth about his brutal crackdown against his own people.

Zainab al-Hosni

She was eighteen, from Homs. The regime wanted to get its hands on her brother Muhammad, an activist on the run, so it arrested her instead, as bait. Shortly afterwards the insecurity forces caught Muhammad, and shortly after that they summoned Muhammad’s mother to pick up his corpse. The corpse was burnt and punctured by bullets. While in the morgue, by chance, the mother found Zainab’s corpse too. Zainab’s arms had been cut off. Part of her body had been skinned. She had been decapitated.

During the battle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the regime in the early eighties the regime committed massacres. But it never tortured children and women to death. This style of barbarism is an innovation. Does it need to be said that it’s an innovation which doesn’t suit Syrian values? There are still some people, astoundingly, who tell us that this regime of the psychopathically ill is capable of ‘reform’.

Hafez al-Asad was a ruthless dictator of great but flawed intelligence. His sons do not qualify as dictators. To call them dictators is to insult dictators. They are a foul mix of pervert, monster, idiot, and spoiled brat. Each moment they remain at liberty is another catastrophe.

Beyond that, for Zainab, I can say nothing more.

UPDATE: – It now appears the regime is playing a clever sick game. Zainab has turned up on regime TV alive. The regime did kill her brother, and did label some other person’s dismembered corpse as Zainab’s, no doubt to discredit the accounts of the revolutionaries. So whose corpse did they dismember? This theatre reminds me of the time a few months ago when a French TV channel received a communication from a known contact at the Syrian embassy in Paris telling them the ambassador had resigned. The channel reported the story, then the next day the ambassador turned up to denounce the ‘lies’. Here’s Rime Allaf’s comment on Facebook:

The Zeinab story: the lie is the regime’s and the regime’s alone. The regime first came to arrest her (the real Zeinab), then first returned the body of her brother to the family (he died under torture), then told the family come take your daughter too – and gave them a burned beheaded body, unrecognizable, in pieces. That body, of course, still is a martyr, we just don’t know whose it is. The family was told by the regime that this was their daughter, they didn’t just find the corpse in the street, and it’s not the opponents of the regime who made this up. And after everyone got all worked up, they deliver “the victim who simply ran away” because – to boot – her brothers (who must be “extremists”) were abusing her.

The point is that the regime is not only criminal but criminally stupid, as if these games can prove anything about the “armed terrorist gangs” and about the “lying activists” and as if we’re supposed to forget the whole sequence of events, and only watch the Syrian television clip like idiots and say oh, the opposition lied. (Ironically, the criminal Taleb Ibrahim the other day claimed on television these same gangs had killed Zeinab.)

Meltdown – The men who crashed the world

The first of Al Jazeera’s four-part investigation into a world of greed and recklessness that brought down the financial world.

UPDATE: Our readers Delia and Richard inform us that this excellent series is actually a production of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Winds of Change: Cinema from Muslim Societies

The Institute of Contemporary Arts in London is hosting a film festival starting tomorrow. The festival begins with the discussion – ‘Is there a Muslim world?’ Panelists include Hamid Dabashi, Ziauddin Sardar, and me. Of the films being shown, I strongly recommend Salt of this Sea, a Palestinian film starring Suheir Hammad and Salah Bakri, and Hatem Ali’s The Long Night, on Syrian political prisoners and their families. I’m introducing that one. The ICA blurb is below. I hope to see you there.

The Arab Spring is the starting point for films selected for a festival at the Institute of Contemporary Arts from 21 September that, like this year’s mass demonstrations for democracy across Arab regions, is concerned with civic freedom; human rights; gender and social equality; the challenges of modernity; and the place of religion within social structures.

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