Monday, October 28, 2019

Nafeez Ahmed - State Propaganda in Syria

Nafeez Ahmed looks into what's happening in Syria.

Matt Kennard and Mark Curtis are left-wing, pro Jeremy Corbyn journalists who I greatly respect. They are both very critical of the anti-war left who support Asssad.

Matt Kennard Tweet:

Syria is one of most heavily propagandised conflicts of all time, on both sides. It's near impossible to work out what is going on. The best thing I've read which tries forge a pathway between the competing narratives is by @NafeezAhmed. Read it here

Nafeez Ahmed excerpt from his 146 page book:

On the one hand, critics of Western interventionism in Syria are equated with being deniers of
Assad’s war crimes; on the other, critics of Assad’s war crimes are accused of promoting Western
war and regime change in Syria. The results are palpable. On Syria, parts of the antiwar left
increasingly either deny Russian and Syrian military violence, or justify it; while critics of Assad
increasingly find themselves siding with reactionary Western military responses. But to what
extent are these positions factually and morally tenable?
To answer this question and overcome this impasse, we need a different approach, one that
cultivates collective intelligence. In this investigation, INSURGE intelligence draws on a number of
applied investigative processes to sift through the available data to determine, how can someone
outside of Syria make sense of what is happening?7
 We adopt a holistic approach by navigating
multiple perspectives across the conflict to derive, to the degree possible, validated facts. We
critically interrogate anti-Assad and pro-Assad narratives from a range of journalistic sources to
determine the degree to which they can be verified. We adopt a systemic approach by examining
narratives from a variety of reporting beats – foreign affairs, national security, science, business
and economics, energy and geopolitics: allowing us to begin developing a more integrated vision
of contentious issues: chemical warfare attacks; violence against civilians; the motives of warring
parties; and so on. We ground these approaches in a logic system that helps us, throughout our
analysis, to separate out real insights about the conflict from unfounded assumptions rooted in
questionable bias.
My understanding of the conflict has evolved in many ways as a result of this investigation. Some
of my conclusions were unexpected; in particular, I have learned that the prism through which
I understood the conflict was not only Eurocentric, but over-simplistic and lacking in nuance.
The moral lesson brought home to me is the paramount need for humility and self-reflection in
journalism. Our most unequivocal finding is that no government is telling the full truth about the
war in Syria. Not just a civil war, nor even just a proxy war, Syria is a propaganda war being fought
for competing geopolitical interests. The end-result of this tug of war between pro-interventionist
and anti-interventionist narratives has been the victory of neither, and the entrenchment of
horrendous violence from which the Syrian people on both sides, whether pro- or anti-Assad,
have suffered immeasurably.
As this propaganda escalates, principled journalism has become degraded while observers find
it increasingly difficult to sort fact from fiction. Thus, eclipsed from an increasingly degenerate
public discourse is the reality that both the West and Russia are in the midst of an inter-imperialist
war, of which the Syrian people are victims, and in which their genuine democratic aspirations
are deliberately destroyed.

7 Nafeez Ahmed, ‘Only “collective intelligence” can help us stave off an uninhabitable planet’,


Marian Ruccius said...

Very interesting analysis by Ahmed, but he does not seem to apply the same level of critique and rigour to his analysis of conventional media -- as if only witnesses on the pro-Assad side were subject to intimidation or inducement to report favourably.

It is not a deliberately dishonest account, but he could have put a disclaimer at the beginning to the effect "I will assign more space to the inconsistencies in the "pro-Assad" narrative than to those in the narrative of the pro-rebel/pro-Daesh/pro-Al Nusra side." For instance, he spends a good deal of time trying (rather unsuccessfully) to debunk Robert Fisk, but fails to even consider the role of James Le Mesurier, a former British mercenary with links to the Gulf States, the US and the UK, who is said to have founded the White Helmets in 2013. He also does not examine, for instance, the claim that the White Helmets forcibly displaced the existing Syrian Civil Defence force when the "opposition" moved in. He fails to address entirely (unless I missed it) the shelling of West Aleppo by the rebels. All in all, Ahmed's account appears very parti-pris, albeit not deliberately so. I am not trying at all here to discount the Assad régime's crimes, but at the same time Ahmed's account requires more critical and extensive analysis of western narratives/propaganda. This has the feel of a report that is not deliberately dishonest (since much of his argument is reasoned and reasonable in the way an undergraduate trying to make a case is reasoned or reasonable), but it really does feel like he is trying to get a "good mark." Which is clearly not the case for a fellow like Fisk.

Kaivey said...

I've been on the side of anti-war left, so it was tough reading. Thanks for the analysis.

Marian Ruccius said...

Hi Kaivey, many of his arguments are strong, IMO, but I think he has nonetheless failed to clear up the very muddied waters. At the same time, Vanessa Beeley never criticizes the Assad camp (and Eva Bartlett still less). Theirs have been useful contributions nonetheless, because nothing else has been coming out of the pro-government side. What I think, and I find troubling, is that the shortest course to some form of relative non-violence is likely a return to effective control by Assad over the entirety of Syrian territory (which does not mean that Assad is any less of a criminal than Saddam Hussein, or Hosni Mubarak or Ghaddafi was). I insert a link to a talk by Vanessa Beeley, and let others decide whether she is a *merely* a pro-government propagandist:

Peter Pan said...

Partitioning Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran would lead to fewer deaths in the long run. But no one is interested in redrawing the borders. Installing "democracy" leads to majority rule and corruption, as seen in Iraq. Syria was an example of minority rule and cronyism. Perpetual repression by a central authority is the most expedient solution. Lets not pretend that any actors in this drama are motivated by humanitarianism.