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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Syria and Middle East: Whom to believe (and whom not to)

Jiwan Kshetry

When propaganda trumpets truth and acts of vested interests disguise as sheer altruistic deeds, it is often hard to tell black from white. Media play immense role in shaping our ideas and attitudes to every major event. What about the 'changing Middle East' then? Some insights:

First it was believed that the Arabs and Muslims were fundamentally a people suitably ruled by autocrats, backward and non-innovative. (Read Thomas Friedman's 'World is Flat').

Then everyone awoke with the realization that the opposite was indeed true. They were democracy and peace-loving people brave enough to oust the dictators with peaceful revolt. (Read all stuff written during the early days of what was then called 'Arab Spring'.)

Then the script changed even more dramatically. Peaceful attempts of the people were not enough to topple the regimes and foreign bombing was mandated to 'protect' the civilians (See what happened in Libya). Meanwhile some brutal repressions of the popular will were 'acceptable' at worst. (See what happened in Bahrain).

With all this, everything was supposed to fall on place. If only. A big 'if only'. If only the turmoil had not continued in Syria for so long. So what is the significance of the struggle raging in Syria? This is a big question for anyone interested in both international power game as well as the historical trend of different political systems.

With the trend of events over the past year, the perspectives of the changing scenario of Middle East have changed dramatically. The overt optimism all over the world in the early days of revolt about the changing Middle East has now given away to an apprehensive pessimism and this sense is now palpable in columns of analysts throughout the political spectrum.

If Tunisia represents a modest success for the revolt, Egypt's performance can be termed 'dismal'. If Bahrain epitomizes the brutally suppressed rebellion, Libya epitomizes a peaceful movement hijacked by armed militias backed by foreign hands culminating into frank mob rule.

And the ever-lasting injustice to Palestinians with the status quo means that nothing has changed radically after all despite all the boasts about the new Middle East.

But most perplexing question of the moment is which way will Syria take? Though many think Syria is too unique to follow the identical course of any other of its neighbors, a tentative comparison with Bahraini or Libyan way of conclusion of the conflict seems relevant.

What I think Syria will follow or should follow is a matter for a separate article. But here I will recommend the readers to follow some of the relevant sources so that picture of raging conflict in Syria becomes more comprehensive.

1. For those who want to see only the purportedly 'Western' perspective of the conflict (i.e. Bahrainis deserve death from their rulers but Libyans that from rearmed militiamen; Assad is evil dictator but King Abdullah is a good dictator; etc.):
There are so many sources that it is impossible to point them all, starting with CNN and including the NYT and all major or so called 'mainstream' news outlets in west.

2. For those who want to see the opposite perspective of the above one:
State media of Russia and China

3. For those who are fond of giving voice to 'repressed Arabs' but in such a way that that does more to protect than to threaten the status quo (read dominance of US and allies in Middle East):
Aljazeera channel and website

4. For a better balanced approach with co-option of fiery anti-West opinions to the exact opposites:
Asia Times Online

So far as the issue of being objective about such conflicts is concerned, I hardly feel that is feasible. Because same fact or same news is perceived in opposite ways when heard or read by a wealthy American and a starving Palestinian teenager.

And to me choice of sources of information is very important in these days because the thin lines separating outright falsehoods, rumors, semi-truths and truths have blurred so badly that best piece of propaganda sells as the best piece of information.

What will follow in Syria is not clear yet though Assad's fate hangs in balance and the death tolls keep mounting, Syria is an integral part of very complicated system where every media-outlet is hell-bent at throwing maximum light at that part of system which best suits its interest and obliterating the other parts. This is why Syria can not be rationally viewed in isolation and from any single perspective.

Events in Syria are unwelcome but those in 'liberated' Libya are still more disgusting and that is why the western narrative of urgent need to bomb Syria to save civilians has now been far less appealing than it was in Libya's case.

(Comments are welcome. Author can be followed in twitter as @jkshetry )

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