As more and more news about the plight of Ghouta reaches the world people are deeply concerned.
Al Jazeera reports,
More than 440 civilians have died in just six days in Eastern Ghouta alone.
The area is now being hit by incendiary bombs that are appearing in the night skies, weapons that are intended to start large fires when they hit the ground.
There are many reasons to stand by the people, as the Guardian today reports: ‘We can change this reality’: the women sharing news of war in Ghouta.
One troubling feature of the war is the attempts of pro-Assad groups to smear those under attack.
Just to cite one example, French comrades are disgusted by pro-Assad supporters who have been calling the inhabitants of Ghouta ‘cafards’, cockroaches.
As they point out one of the nerve centres for pro-Assad propaganda in the Francophone world is the UPR, Union Populaire Républicaine.
They describe themselves as the “mouvement de libération nationale” for French people. The ideology of the party is a Eurosceptic and seeks the withdrawal of France from the European Union and NATO. They seek nationalisation of entities such as TF1, La Poste, Gaz de France, motorways (privately managed at present), water management and troubled banks.
Its leader, François Asselineau, a hard-right sovereigntist, is also known for his conspiracy theories.
This is just one example of the international reach of Pro-Assad propagandists.
At the end of last year the following indicated the direction the regime’s supporters were going in.
The Syrian volunteer rescue workers known as the White Helmets have become the target of an extraordinary disinformation campaign that positions them as an al-Qaida-linked terrorist organisation.
The Guardian has uncovered how this counter-narrative is propagated online by a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government (which provides military support to the Syrian regime).
The White Helmets, officially known as the Syria Civil Defence, is a humanitarian organisation made up of 3,400 volunteers – former teachers, engineers, tailors and firefighters – who rush to pull people from the rubble when bombs rain down on Syrian civilians. They’ve been credited with saving thousands of civilians during the country’s continuing civil war.
They have also exposed, through first-hand video footage, war crimes including a chemical attack in April. Their work was the subject of an Oscar-winning Netflix documentary and the recipient of two Nobel peace prize nominations.
Despite this positive international recognition, there’s a counter-narrative pushed by a vocal network of individuals who write for alternative news sites countering the “MSM agenda”. Their views align with the positions of Syria and Russia and attract an enormous online audience, amplified by high-profile alt-right personalities, appearances on Russian state TV and an army of Twitter bots.
The way the Russian propaganda machine has targeted the White Helmets is a neat case study in the prevailing information wars. It exposes just how rumours, conspiracy theories and half-truths bubble to the top of YouTube, Google and Twitter search algorithms.
Here, this week, is a deeply saddening account of the effect these lies can have.
The background of this unrelenting human suffering are the increasingly high-pitched squeals emanating from the keyboards and social media accounts of Western supporters and defenders of Assad.
An amalgam of far-left and far-right bloggers, cranks, conspiracy theorists and loons have converged since the beginning of the conflict to disseminate pro-Russia generated propaganda that serves only to conceal both Russia and Assad’s war crimes, and smear victims of their genocide.
No doubt you’ve heard each one of these entirely and widely debunked pro-Assad conspiracy theories by now: that the peaceful protests against Assad were the product of a foreign driven “regime change” operation; that the White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group that has been credited with saving more than 100,000 lives in rebel held territory, is somehow either a “regime change” propaganda tool or a public relations front for al Qaeda or both; that Assad didn’t use chemical weapons but the rebels used them on their own families to gain international sympathy; that Assad is fighting “terrorists,”; that the entirety or majority of Assad’s opponents are foreign-born jihadists; that the rebels poisoned Damascus’ water supply; and so on and so on.
The purpose of this article is not to debunk all of these smears, false narratives, and crackpot conspiracies. They’ve been comprehensively debunked and discredited here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and also here.
“The sad thing is that so many Syrian activists and journalists spend a lot of time refuting these s**t conspiracies because they can have such a damaging impact on real people and their lives,” tweeted Leila al Shami, a Syrian human rights activist and author, in response to a claim that the White Helmets belong to Al Qaeda.
These pro-Assad conspiracies have gotten so out of hand that Vanessa Beeley — who has become one of the most prominent dispensers of total and utter nonsense — called on Russia to carry out airstrikes against the White Helmets, and for me to be imprisoned for “enabling the destruction of Syria and its people”.
Others like Eva Bartlett have falsely accused the White Helmets of either being a figment of Hollywood’s imagination, or staging their videos.
Patrick Hilsman, a freelance journalist who has visited rebel held territory three times, laughed when I mentioned these claims about the White Helmets.
“I first encountered them by simply asking my driver what the building to our right was, and he said ‘It’s civil defense.’ We then walked in unannounced and encountered people without weapons, hard at the unglamorous work of digging a well,” he told me.
“I wasn’t helped by any think tank, no one told me what to say, no one warned the rescuers to start acting for the freelancers with their crappy cameras.”
Unfortunately, however, pro-Assad/Russia loons and propagandists have been so effective in muddying the waters, casting aspersions on Assad’s victims, and deflecting criticism away from this century’s most brutal dictator that they undermine any coordinated and sustained international effort to protect the Syrian people from a genocide.
So I asked a number of Syrians what damage these debunked conspiracy theories have imparted on the Syrian people and the pro-democracy revolution.
“This propaganda facilitates the gas attacks, hospital bombings, sectarian cleansing, and so on, “Robin Yassin-Kassab, co-author of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War, told me.
“It also contributes to the general demonization of Muslims and Arabs in our culture. Beyond hurting Syrians, Arabs and Muslims, it is also damaging our civic and political life in the West, but the main purpose of this propaganda, because it has been carefully planted and guided, is to distract attention from the crimes committed by Assad and the Iranian and Russian occupations against civilians in Syria, and to prevent solidarity with those victims.”
When I interviewed Alaa al Ahmad, a Syrian journalist, he told me finds it deeply distressing to read pro-Assad Westerners describe him and the 300,000 other Syrians he is trapped alongside with in besieged Eastern Ghouta as a “terrorist,” asking, “Am I terrorist because I demand a civil state and I fight the factions that seek to establish an Islamic caliphate or the like?”
Qusay Noor, another Syrian journalist who is documenting the Assad’s regimes crimes against humanity in Ghouta also believes these conspiracy theories are meant only to smear Assad’s opposition as “terrorists,” and thus have only empowered Assad’s authoritarian rule, setting back the ideals of the revolution.
Ultimately, these conspiracy theories will evaporate any international pressure on the Assad regime, and at a time when Syrians need that pressure the most.
“It is essential the international community remains united with those in Syria who want a democratic solution, free from Assad and free from terrorism. That is why we need the international community to apply pressure on Russia to cease its bombing and its support for Assad, so that we can work towards a peaceful political settlement,” writes Mardini.
And when all has been said and done, a peaceful political settlement was the only thing demanded of Assad in the first place, seven long and bloody years ago.
For an important summary of more ‘fake news’ about Syria see: Truth wars, continued Bob From Brockley.
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