Aleppo coverage in Western media indicative of the fundamentalism-imperialism nexus

Social media has been flooded by posts and hashtags expressing sympathy for the victims of the battle of Aleppo, and hate against the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad. If we take stock of the media houses based in Nato countries, and Gulf Co-operation Council countries (GCC), like New York Times and Al Jazeera, we get a picture of a free, rebellious and democratic Aleppo being besieged by a totalitarian and murderous Assad regime.

However, on the other end of the spectrum are news agencies based in Russia and Iran, like RT and Farda News. According to reports published by them, the Syrian Army has liberated Aleppo after four years of brutal occupation by terrorists.

But even if there are contradictory interpretations of events in Aleppo, Indian citizens are primarily being fed the former i.e the US/GCC narrative. According to New York Times, Aleppo’s civilians offer their “final scream”. According to Qatar-based Al Jazeera, there may be no tomorrow for the millions in Aleppo. Syrian forces have been indiscriminately shelling and killing civilians, they say. Qatar has even cancelled its national gala, to mourn the victims of the onslaught.

In this context, let’s closely examine the sources and methods Al Jazeera uses. It follows United Nations (UN) reports when it wishes to, like in the case of the current crisis, and rejects UN as a tool of western imperial powers, like in the case of the Iraq war.

Or take electricity as an example: Many reports over the past few months, including one by the UN, claim that the basic power infrastructure of the city has been impaired, and yet, there are tweets and videos flowing out of the region. All of them show English-speaking Syrians talking about an imminent massacre of civilians.

Interestingly, Al Jazeera Arabic doesn’t talk about the battle in such apocalyptic terms. Even more interestingly, many Saudi Arabia-based Arabic language agencies like Al-Riyadh and Saudi Press Agency are relatively silent about the Aleppo debacle of Saudi-US-backed rebels.

Either the terms of the ongoing conflict are more clear for the average Arabic speaker than the average English reader, or the GCC simply refuses to talk about its defeat. Al Jazeera English is breaking new grounds for Shia-Sunni sectarian divide outside the Arab world. The South Asian and global readers of Al Jazeera English, inevitably, end up being exposed to a sectarian narrative of the Syrian crisis.

Syria's White Helmets have often been portrayed as a bogus group funded by the US. Reuters

Syria's White Helmets have often been portrayed as a bogus group funded by the US. Reuters

Syria’s White Helmets have often been portrayed as a bogus group funded by the US. Reuters

On the other hand, RT published an article, referring to reports by Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett, showing the white helmets, who are being lauded as courageous volunteers of Aleppo by Al Jazeera, saving the same girl three times in as many months, after three different airstrikes. She further argues that most of the reporting done by the anti-Assad agencies is through the news they receive from rebel sources. All of this falls in line with the general Russian and Syrian claim that white helmets are a bogus group funded by US and Saudi Arabia, and are being used as a cover for terrorists.

RT quoted Assad as saying that the West “seemed to care more about saving terrorists than civilians”, He further added that the West is reprimanding him because “we defeated the terrorists more than we should have”.

The Iranian newspapers, much like the Syrian official press, on the other hand, are more direct in portraying the advancing army as a liberating force. The Farda newspaper writes:

ناگفته‌های مردم «حلب» از اسارت در دست تروریست‌ها

با آزادی حلب، رازهای چهار سال اسارت مردم این شهر بزرگ نیز آشکار می‌شود.

(The unspeakable condition of the people under terrorists’ captivity; the liberation of Aleppo has revealed the secrets about the slavery of the population of this great city over the last four years.)

It is crucial that these newspapers do not use the sectarian rhetoric, as the rebels frequently do. For Iran, as well as Syria and Russia, these are terrorist forces backed by western empires. It is important to note that they are refraining from naming even the Saudis directly.

Now let us look closely at the unholy nexus between Islamic fundamentalism and American imperialism against the secular anti-US pro-Iran Assad government. We will have to rewind to the Arab Spring, and observe there were a few countries where popular protests were more manufactured than spontaneous. Libya was engulfed in a civil war, so were Yemen and Syria. Gaddafi was killed by US-backed forces, but Assad survives. The rebels, armed by US and GCC, like al-Nusrah, front are fundamentalist Wahabbi organisations which are strictly anti Shia, and lampoon the evil Shia nexus of Iran-Syria-Hezbollah.

It’s interesting that the US has banned al-Nusrah, calling it a terrorist organisation, but continued to help them as a legitimate rebel group. On the other hand, an overwhelming Sunni army continues to fight for Assad, irrespective of the fundamentalist rebels’ attempts to paint this as a sectarian and religious war. And on the liberal side, these details are conveniently forgotten, instead attention is paid to the alleged cruelty of Assad, and the scale of deaths on the rebel side, on their “freedom-loving” quest.

All of this reminds us of the landmark year of 1979, when the Islamic world started a new chapter in its history; 1979 was a watershed year in Islamic history. Two fundamental things happened: The Iranian revolution, and the war between two superpowers inside the Muslim world, for the first time in Cold War history.

The former was the first successful anti-imperialist and democratic revolution under the banner of Islam. It should be kept in mind that Nasser’s socialist and secular anti-imperialist revolution could be countered by the Saudi monarchy as “anti-Islamic”. However, the revolutionary trends in Iranian Islam are far more significant, as they resulted in the first democracy in the name of Islam, and hence an ideological threat to the Saudi monarchy. Even if we criticise Khomenei’s brand of totalitarianism, we cannot deny that the popular mobilisation produced many varied anti-imperialist figures of radical Islamic reform, whose ideas were more eclectic and influenced post-79 intellectuals throughout the Muslim world.

The reaction from the Saudi camp was immediate. Iraq, supported by Arab countries and the US, attacked Iran in the midst of the revolution, which was then a country fighting with its own army of the pro-US Shah era. Russia, the main coloniser of Muslims across inner Asia for two centuries at the expense of the Persian zone of influence, played an important role in this region’s history. The revolutionary Iran then condemned USSR as an imperial power, and decried Communism as a materialist and anti-Islamic ideology.

The second episode in 1979 started with the intrusion of imperial Russia into Afghanistan, and a similar backing, funding and arming of the anti-Shia fundamentalists there by the US and Saudi camp through Pakistan. Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were the products of these times, just like al-Nusrah and ISIS are the current products of US and Saudi intrusion into Syria and Iraq.

The liberal media like Al Jazeera and New York Times are giving legitimacy to the Saudi brand of Sunni fundamentalism, which is closely linked to US imperialist endeavours in the region. Besides, they possess their own publications funded by their oil money to brainwash the Muslim youth. The anti-Shia rhetoric has been on the rise in west and south Asia and throughout the Muslim world, and it is directly related to the geopolitical struggle against Iran and its allies in the region.

We should not forget that before the US decided to punish Taliban, it was Iran which sustained and supported the Northern Alliance against the extremist group. More recently, it has been Iranian help which has defended Baghdad against ISIS, it is Iran’s help which sustains Hezbollah as the only active ground force against Israeli occupation. And yet an attack on Iran and its allies by the most fundamentalist of Sunni elements, backed by the imperial powers of Saudi and US skips our notice; the violence perpetrated by al-Nusra in Aleppo skips our notice; but all of a sudden, we are very agitated about the few thousands allegedly killed in the same Aleppo.

This propaganda is damaging the core of Muslim society; take for example the suicide attacks on Shias in Pakistan, or increasing popularity of conspiracy theories about Jewish origins of Shi’ism. We need to be critical about the news reports coming out of the conflict zone, as there are parties interested in radicalising the Muslim youth along sectarian lines.

First Published On : Dec 17, 2016 15:31 IST

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