Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Syria: Everything is normal

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A thought-provoking (in a strange sort of way) article from the New York Times: Life in Syria’s Capital Remains Barely Touched by Rebellion

Just ignore the part about Aleppo being the second-largest city (news sources have been getting this one wrong for months). Damascus is the second-largest. Aleppo is the largest. Which is not to say that Damascus isn’t important.

But Damascus, be it at the beauty salon, in its somnolent neighborhoods or in its fear-stricken mosques, remains the linchpin, a reality that even activists acknowledge. Until protests reach this capital, their thinking goes, Syria’s leadership will avoid the fate of its ossified equivalents in places like Egypt and Tunisia. And so far, Damascus — along with Aleppo, the nation’s second-largest city — has stayed firmly on the margins, as anger builds toward both cities from Syrians bearing the brunt of the uprising. “Trust me, everything is normal,” insisted a manicurist at the salon.

Everything is normal

Of course, the article is suggesting that the manicurist who insists that “everything is normal” is in denial, fearful, or—most likely—misinformed.

Her version of events is one that is repeated daily by Syrian state news media and television channels close to the government: that the country is facing a foreign conspiracy to divide it and that security forces are battling armed Islamist extremists who are terrorizing residents and have killed 500 police officers and soldiers so far.

In other words, Syrian state news media is claiming (directly or indirectly) that foreign Sunni Muslims are inciting (and likely supplying/funding) a Sunni uprising against Syria’s Alawi (Shi’a) government. Propaganda? No doubt. Propaganda that had been scoffed at by news outlets for months.

A different kind of normal

But before this article joins the rest of the West in condemning al-Assad and his crazy propaganda, it puts an unfamiliar spin on the usual story:

Across from her, a bride-to-be in her mid-20s said that she had not turned on the television for days. She did not want to stress herself out with the news of the uprising, she said, as activists here and elsewhere tried to spread the unrest to Damascus.

On the day before her wedding, several relatives called to ask about the situation in her neighborhood. “Everything was quiet,” she kept repeating to them. Curious, she finally relented and turned on the news to find out that Arabic-language satellite channels were reporting demonstrations in her street. There were none, she insisted.

“Everything is normal, just don’t watch Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya,” one of the manicurists said. “They are spreading lies. Watch only Syrian channels to learn the truth.” And off she went to discuss nail polish.

Wait. Who’s lying? Unless the editorial staff on the New York Times threw this in just to discredit every other news source it could think of, this raises some serious questions about the motive of the article. Why were Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya—two Sunni-owned news agencies (Qatari and Saudi, respectively)—reporting demonstrations in Damascus that weren’t actually happening? And why did the Times care to mention it?

If it is indeed true that Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya were televising false news in favor of the uprising, al-Assad’s claims of “foreign plots” already don’t seem that far off. And since the article leaves us no reason to doubt the truthfulness of the interviewed bride-to-be, we are left with a much more confusing picture of the Syrian revolt than when we started.

Which is not to say that everything isn’t normal.

Written by M. James

September 6, 2011 at 10:41 pm

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