The Syrian Regime’s Media Propaganda and The Chemical Attacks, What are the Questions?
On the 24th of August, the Syrian State Television broadcasted throughout the day a video showing a break-in by units of the Syrian Army of a “Den of Terrorists” in the district of Joubar in Damascus. According to the video, the army managed to seize some materials that indicate the terrorist group’s involvement in the attacks on Eastern and Western Ghouta on the 21st of August. It’s known now that those attacks had resulted in a horrific massacre caused by the use of Chemical Weapons (widely believed to be Sarin Gas).
The hourly newscast focused on the report of seizing chemical substances contained in barrels that had the inscription “Made in Saudi” in a very large font. There was no delicate engraving of the country of origin’s name somewhere on the side of of the barrel, nor was it printed on the barrel’s base. The inscription was positioned in the middle of the barrel, and took a large space of its surface.
This barrel sat in a miserable den. It contained several primitive tools, hand grenades, plastic bags, and some syringes. According to the State TV’s report, those were the tools used by the terrorists; but used for what? They did not shell the Syrian army, or even the areas controlled by the Syrian government, they were used to attack the rebel areas. The same areas where those very same terrorists are enjoy great popularity. The terrorists almost bombed themselves.
In the regime’s propaganda’s doctrine, it is not possible for an inscription stating a country of origin but to be so large. Retrospectively, it was not possible for the bags of ecstasy pills distributed to the demonstrators but to be stamped by the Qatari AlJazeera channel’s logo. Unlike the norm, these images do not look naïve, and are not based on prosaic fabrications.
The overall analysis of the regime’s propaganda exposes the basis of its pitiful scenarios; and thus attempts to dismantle it through uncovering this weak narrative and exposing it as fragile lies. I believe this analysis leads us to posing the wrong questions. What is this propaganda seeking in the first place? To whom is it addressed?
A newsreel on the Syrian National TV is careless; it broadcasts an image of a barrel with a large inscription in the middle that says “Made in Saudi”, aiming to convince anyone to believe this tale. Not too long ago, there were similar emerging tales of ecstasy pills and of demonstrators killing themselves to accuse the security forces of the act. The Syrian regime is well aware that it addresses two groups of Syrians, and those behind them, in a world divided on its stance on ousting this regime.
The first group is its supporters, or those who have surrendered to it (by fear or for own gains). Those supporters believe everything the regime says, rather, they want to believe all of its narratives no matter how fraudulent they can be. The regime doesn’t spare any efforts in humiliating this specific group’s intellectual abilities, and in testing the influence of his narratives on their cognitive skills. It doesn’t really matter if they, deep inside, have believed the narratives, as long as they believe and repeat them in public. The regime’s propaganda increasingly mocks those people’s intelligence and logic, and it does so deliberately, intending to test, every time, the level of influence of the narratives and the people’s sincerity in publicly believing them. As Lisa Wedeen mentions it in her book Ambiguities of Domination, this methodology is called the “strategy of domination based on compliance rather than legitimacy”, a concept Wedeen suggests to explain how the Assad regime is truly involved in having its supporters believe its prolifically produced propaganda to strengthen its domination (through titles, speeches, chants, carnivals..etc.). Everyone knows that Syrians don’t actually believe that Assad is the Number One Athlete, nor is the Number One Pharmacist, but the regime’s actions are based on the concept of their supporters believing so.
In revolutionary Syria, a large portion of Syrians have declared boycotting this disgusting type of “belief of allegations”. This divide is large enough to include a crowd from across the world, between those who follow the regime’s propaganda because they don’t want it to be ousted for several reasons, and those who support the declaration of “public falsification” of fabricated narratives.
The regime’s propaganda has also found itself an external group of audience that was very keen to listen. Though this propaganda is still faithful to its main target of humiliating its supporter’s intelligence, and constantly checking their capacity to believe everything thrown at them, it treats its external non-Syrian audience on the basis of equality and desirability. It provides everything this crowd would like to believe, and what fits their intellectual apparatus, political orientation, religious affiliation, and in many cases their preconceived notions and stereotypical ideas, and in other cases what goes along with their personal justifications of their abandonment or reluctance. The image of the chemical barrel that was found with terrorists who oppose the regime and would have been used to wipe out areas controlled by the same terrorists, with a large inscription “Made in Saudi”. For the that audience, this image does not usually undergo any sort of judgement through observance of concrete visible reality, but is actually judged by the aforementioned circumstances. This image today is acceptable for a Lebanese citizen, or a Tunisian, or another living in Brazil or The Vatican or USA. It fits pre-adopted narratives, each according to their stance regarding the situation in Syria. It’s an emphasis of the Wahabi-led conspiracy, or the crimes committed by extremists who hate minorities, or armed men carrying out an Israeli-US plan funded by Saudis to destabilise the axis of defiance. The regime’s propaganda here simply offers everything its external audience looks or even asks for. According to German researcher Bente Scheller, it is a marketing scheme, for a customer-base that needs this kind of product.
But how does the Syrian regime’s propaganda affect the other part of Syrians? Nothing really, as its sole duty inside Syria is to fortify the tyrant’s dominance. The propaganda never attempted to pull or convince those who declare their mutiny, that was the duty of detention centres that warranted returning rebels into the righteous believing state after they’re released, if they were to be released. Today, Syrians have outgrown their norms; old systemic methods of submission are no longer effective. The propaganda speaks to those with least flexibility and using most absurd and humiliating lies (infiltrators, vandals, demonstrating because they’re happy it’s raining, demonstrating in exchange for a small amount of money, shooting themselves, spraying themselves with water that causes hallucination, popping ecstasy pills, terrorists, using chemical weapons against their families) then what? The propaganda deliberately declares to those: “I will crush you as long as I can, and in the least pretty way possible”, while it declares to those who support its opposers: “Accusing me of lying will not put an end to crushing those people. So what are you going to do about it?”. The regime clearly knows that the actual decision makers are not potentially going to do anything. Sympathy and verbal solidarity with the suffering of the people and the legitimacy of their demands are things the regime has got used to ignoring well. In fact, it’s the last thing on its mind.
Translation by Editorayeh