Ideological Manipulations with the Syrian Civil War


  • Üllar Peterson




media-manipulations, Syrian civil war, Arab Spring, mosque, friday sermon – ḫutba, Darʿā 2011, National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, FSA, SOHR, propaganda-war


The Syrian Civil War that began amid the turmoil of the Arab Spring has been amply but superficially covered in the Western mainstream media. Four main media narratives are discernible that turn out to be propagandistic manipulations if scrutinized in the light of first-hand sources. The first media manipulation concerning the Syrian Civil War is the notion of the “peaceful beginnings of the Syrian revolution in D arʿā in March 2011 and its violent suppression by the Syrian regime.” According to first-hand sources from March 2011, the Darʿā event presents itself as a typical mosque-coordinated and ḫutba-provoked “Angry Friday” phenomenon that soon transformed into an armed rebellion against the government. But some months later the notions of the “peacefulness of the protesters” and the “brutality of the regime” were invoked by NGOs, and such conscious misconception was later fostered by the Western mass media and in literature that came out on the subject. The second set of manipulations to appear concerns the activities of the main Syrian rebel resistance organisation, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces. It was formed in Qatar in 2012 and was financed by Syrian political opponents. This organization has been officially recognized by the West as sole representative of the Syrians, but it is mostly operated by radical Sunni Muslims who declare to the West that its aims are democracy, civil liberties and protecting Syrians from the inhumane Assad regime, whilst its Arabic message remains pro-sharia. The real aim of this organization is to incite the West to attack the Syrian regime. One brazen example of not only manipulation but outright lies is the situation concerning the Free Syrian Army (FSA) which was an effective anti-government armed movement from 2011– 2012. In the Western mass media the FSA was presented as a defender of Syrian democracy and human rights in spite of its leaders’ clear pro-sharia statements. Although the FSA had been dissolved by 2014, its name was effectively used in the West beyond this date to justify sending weapons to the rebels in spite of the fact that most of them are hard-line Islamists. The topic of civilian casualties has been a tool of propaganda for the regime as well as for its opponents as both sides try to exaggerate the crimes of the opposing side. From 2011 – 2013 the opposition was successful in its anti-government media war and it spread heavily manipulated data into the Western media through its main vectors such as the SOHR, the Violations Documentation Centre in Syria, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Syrian Centre for Statistics and Research, and other NGOs, claiming that the Syrian regime was responsible for most of the civilian casualties. The Syrian regime later regained some equilibrium in the propaganda war and by 2013 the Western media had started to turn its attention towards the crimes perpetuated by the rebels. Nevertheless, this pro-rebel and pro-Sunni hard-line stance clearly persists in the West. Although the exact number of casualties is impossible to determine, if the available statistics are correlated by available neutral, e.g., Kurdish, sources there appear three approximately equal categories of Syrian civil war victims regime supporters/soldiers, anti-regime militants, and civilians. Judged by the available statistics on Aleppo from 2016, it might be argued that pro-rebel sources consciously manipulate the number of civilian casualties in order to incite anti-regime momentum in the Western press. Judging by these four ideological manipulations fostered by the Sunni rebels, it might be argued that a de facto Western-Islamist alliance against the Syrian regime has been operating since the beginning of the civil war.


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