Friday, December 23, 2016

Moral Authority in Real Time

"No other leader in the region -- not Saddam Hussein in Iraq, nor Moammar Gadhafi in Libya -- has relied as heavily on propaganda as Assad."
"His PR teams and state media are churning out a steady stream of partially or completely fabricated new stories about acts of terror against Christians, al-Qaeda's rise to power, and the imminent destabilization of the entire region."
Der Spiegel investigation, 2013

"The point of modern propaganda isn't only to misinform or push an agenda."
"It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth."
Garry Kasparov, Russian chest grandmaster, human rights activist

Buses are seen during an evacuation operation of Syrian militants and civilians from eastern Aleppo, on December 21, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
With the considerable assistance of new media taking the place of old media, harnessing YouTube, Twitter, Skype and iPads, propagandists tasked with spreading the truth as seen by ideological and religious, tribal and sectarian groups, national or regional, in conflict or in supporting roles, shape the stories that they require to be disseminated and heralded as truth, in a stranger-than-fiction situation where the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad has seen fit to kill an estimated 107 journalists in the past five years, replacing them with his official news feed beloved of his supporters.

When Assad was interviewed on American media sites at a time when his disenchanted Sunni citizens were still merely clamouring for reform through the medium of orderly and civil protests, he warned that they were in reality terrorists that needed to be vanquished, for if the government of Syria allowed that kind of disloyal, disruptive activity to go on, it would spread, and it would invite into Syria all manner of Islamist scum to challenge his legal government. And, he warned darkly, if Syria fell, the violence that would roil his country would impact all of the Middle East.

That prediction and the smearing of the intentions of the Syrian civilians who rued his rule led to the arrest, torture and murder of Syrian children and their disloyal parents. In turn leading the protesters to become militant, prepared to challenge their persecutor in the same violent manner that his military did them, unleashing a full-fledged civil war. One that has managed to create 11 million refugees as Syrians were forced to flee their homes for fear of sarin attacks, helicopter gunships targeting food lines at bakeries, and finally barrel bombs.

Still, the rebels, acknowledged by the West and half-heartedly supported with light weaponry and cheers, were on the verge of not only holding their own despite the regime's support by Hezbollah and Iran's al Quds forces and Shiite militias, but of coming close to toppling their tyrant. The country approached being divided into three portions; for majority Sunnis, minority Shiite Alawites and Syrian Kurds. Until Moscow decided that it had business in Syria, establishing an air base and a deep sea port and relishing the bombing of 'rebel' bases and civilian hospitals while gloating they were fighting Islamic State.

Starvation sieges represent a medieval conflict construct of considerable efficacy and cruelty. Over a five-year-period and growing, the Syrian regime succeeded in extinguishing a half-million Syrian lives. And though the United Nations muttered haplessly words like 'war crimes' atrocities' and 'genocide', the Security Council came nowhere near unanimity as Russia deigned not to recognize the utility of conciliation over extermination.

Russia was pleased to ape the Syrian regime's line that Assad was front and centre in the battle against terrorism. Even while the terrorists, as horrible as their traditional medieval killings celebrated in video and glossy print and Internet publications might be, couldn't hold a burning candle to illuminate the far ghastlier killing machine whose effectiveness the Syrian regime had finessed. And just as Islamic State took pride in the efficacy of their PR campaigns in bringing in new recruits, Assad saw the value of his own PR campaign to convince the gullible and his followers that he was a saviour not a savage.

The Kremlin was more than glad to add its own information highway warfare stratagems through the propaganda of English language RT network. Failing to impress one of its most vociferous critics, author of Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped, by Garry Kasparov. Murdering journalists has its upside; they are no longer capable of writing the truth for publication. What takes their place is the PR machinery that spreads another version of 'truth' through Twitter and YouTube; the displacement of verity for innuendo and lies.

The courageous White Helmet Syrians risking their lives to save wounded Syrians felled by the regime's death machine are portrayed as terrorists. And eventually Aleppo falls, after months of brutal siege, heartless bombardment of heritage and civilian areas, pulverizing civilization into the dust of pain and misery and suffering children whose wounds cannot be treated because medical clinics and hospitals have been bombed, medical personnel targeted for death, and malnourishment stalked eastern Aleppo.

Forcing those left whole and hungry out of Aleppo, Bashar al-Assad has given Shiite-held western Aleppo cause for celebration. Enabling him to jubilantly declare victory, to take possession of a wasteland that once was a thriving metropolis, the commercial engine of the nation that once was.

A man waves a Syrian national flag to a convoy carrying the last rebel fighters out of Aleppo. Photograph: Xinhua/Barcroft Images

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