Thursday, June 13, 2013

Massacre in Hatlah: or how to report about--and justify--massacres by Syrian armed opposition. Some lessons from Anne Barnard, the newly appointed Beirut Bureau chief for the Times

1) Identify the sect of the victims in the headline itself so as to clearly tell the reader that the victims--women and children included--belong to the enemy sect:  "Dozens of Shiites Reported Killed in Raid by Syria Rebels." 2) Never confirm the story of a massacre by armed Syrian groups.  This is why the headline should say:  "reported killed".  Human Rights Watch (the propaganda arm of the Hariri family and its March 14 coalition in Beirut) may in fact announce the launch of an investigation but will either never complete the investigation or would state that results are inconclusive due to the murky nature of war.  3) When reporting of the sectarian massacres, immediately add something about the sectarian nature of the conflict to tell readers that both sides do it:  "the latest in a string of massacres underscoring the increasingly sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict."  4) Deflate the casualty figure:  "the latest in a string of massacres underscoring the increasingly sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict."  Notice that even pro-Syrian armed groups in the media put the figure at 60 but Barnard, typically rendering a propaganda help to the armed opposition, provides the smallest figure.  5) Associate the confirmed story of the massacre of civilians to the Syrian regime so that it won't be believable by the reader:  "The Syrian government called the killings...a massacre of civilians." You read that and think that, well, it can't be true because the Syrian government lies.  6) After you cynically use the statement by the Syrian government (and since when does Ms. Barnard cares to cover what the Syrian regime says (in translation of course, given her language deficiency in the job), you provide the counter-claim by the armed groups that you have spent more than a year lionizing, romantacizing, and promoting:  "Antigovernment activists put the toll at 60 and said most of the dead were pro-government militia fighters who had attacked rebels one day earlier."  Notice that she put the claim by the armed groups that those villagers were attacking rebels without any comment, and without telling readers that those are a small minority of Shi`ites living among Sunnis. So the notion that a small group of Shi`ites living among Sunnis decide out of the blue to start attacking the sectarian rebels is just not believable. Just as the story that the `Alawites of Jabal Muhsin (a mere 5% of the population of Tripoli) would decide to attack Tripoli is also not believable. And notice that the Syrians of Hatlah (just as the `Alawites of Jabal Muhsin) just decide to attack the Sunni rebels when the latter groups are most angry: like about the retreat of fighters in Qusayr or the fall of Qusayr recently.  7) After you allow the armed groups to lie about the sectarian massacre that they have perpetrated and lied about, you immediately add a voice of "reason" from their ranks:  "But some of the activists nonetheless condemned the Hatlah attack as destructive revenge..." But who are those activists, you are not told. What do they do and where are they? You are not told.  They are mentioned to tell you that even among the sectarian killers and butchers there are nice people who are very reasonable.  8) Blame the massacre on a fringe extremist group:  "jubilant gunmen brandished black flags often used by the extremist Al Nusra Front and other Islamist fighting groups."  9) Even try to find excuses for the sectarian language of sectarian armed groups and make their sectarian rhetoric reasonable and even historical:  "Some extremist Sunnis refer to Shiites as rejectionists because the sect arose from a group that rejected the early successors of the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century."  Imagine if a reporter in the Times is found to have provided excuses or even explanations for the hateful language of Nazi groups.  10) Immediately go back to the standard propaganda narrative that those armed groups were unarmed civilians but only became armed sectarians because of the deeds of the government:  "The Syrian conflict began as a popular uprising demanding political rights, but gradually has taken on a more sectarian tone. As the conflict became militarized, with the government cracking down on demonstrators, some of its opponents, mostly Sunni army defectors and others, took up arms."  11) Tell the readers that actions by the Shi`ites justified the killing of Shi`ite villagers as in:  "Shiite fighters from Lebanon and Iraq have also entered Syria to defend Shiite shrines and fight alongside a government they see as protecting their interests." 12) Tell readers that sectarian massacres occurred or may have occurred but only because of the deeds of the other side:  "Sectarian tensions grew in recent weeks as Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group, fought a full-scale battle in Syria, helping the government to recapture the town of Qusayr last week".  13) Present the sectarian crimes and massacres of the Syrian armed groups, just as you cover Israeli crimes, as mere "retaliation" or "reprisals":  "Syrian rebels fired rockets at Shiite neighborhoods in retaliation."   Notice how the world retaliation is used: that because Hizbullah fought in Qusayr, then the killing of civilians in Ba`albak and Hirmil is mere retaliation.  Imagine if someone's cousin is killed, and then he goes out and kills strangers. Would that be seen as retaliation? But that is the propaganda logic of Anne Barnard.  14) Then you basically say that the dead civilians were mere paramilitary groups, as if they were examined by Ms. Barnard:  "The Syrian government has created paramilitary fighting groups across the country, arming residents to protect their areas. The government has heavily recruited for the militias in Alawite, Shiite and Christian areas."  15) You then justify the murder by those civilians by reminding the readers that crimes were committed by pro-regime groups, as if they were related to those dead villagers:  "Some of the militias have been accused of massacring Sunni civilians, as in the May attacks in the coastal towns of Bayda and Banias."  16) You then to justify the sectarian killing you try to tell readers that "the enemy side (the side of the regime) is itself sectarian:  "Some opponents of Mr. Assad accuse his supporters of playing on minority fears and more recently of using sectarian slogans. A video said to have been leaked from a recent recruiting session in the largely Shiite village of Nabl in the northern province of Aleppo, for example, showed a crowd of recruits praising Hussein, a central figure in Shiism, and the recruiter promising, “We will fight under the banner of Hussein.”"  Look at the flimsy evidence presented by Ms. Barnard. She (and her March 14 staffers in Beirut because Barnard merely writes in English what Hariri media in Beirut is saying) tells readers that the name of Husayn was invoked, as if that in itself is sectarian, especially when Husayn is also the grandson of the Prophet, and accepted as such by Sunnis.  So Ms. Barnard, let me ask you: if Jews were to invoke Moses, would you consider that sectarian?  17) You then make the victims (villagers in the beginning of the article) a militia (at the end of the article) by citing a propaganda arm of the Qatari government:  "The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an antigovernment watchdog group based in Britain with a network of contacts across Syria, said the Hatlah attack killed 60 people, mostly from a pro-government militia." 18) When all is tried to provide excuses and justification for the killers, you then say that "most" of the victims were part of a militia.  So it does not matter how many women and children are killed, just call them "mostly a militia".  19) As if all that is not enough, you pack more lies and fabrications into the article:  "A rebel spokesman, Omar Abu Layla, said the fighters had captured militiamen who told them they were planning to attack rebel leaders."  So you cite a leader of the killers to the effect  that the victims were planning to attack their killers in advance, never mind that those villagers belong to a minority sect in the region.  So those surrounded Shi`ites were planning to attack rebel Sunni leaders just for fun.  How much sense does that make really? 20) Finally, you basically do a pitch on behalf of the rebels and call on the US to arm and even claim that the massacre occurred because the US failed to provide arms for the rebels, as bizarre as that is:  "He added, “Since the moderate Syrians were left powerless, we will see more such attacks.” He was referring to the reluctance of the United States and others among the Syrian uprising’s international backers to provide direct military support."