Nothing entertains me more than reading the news wires after the weekly Friday anti-regime demonstrations in Syria. A small sample:
AP, Friday, April 13: “The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group, estimated that tens of thousands of protesters calling for Assad’s ouster marched in cities and towns across Syria.”
AFP, Friday, April 27: “Tens of thousands of people protested today in various areas of the country,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Britain-based group, told AFP.”
AFP, Friday, April 6: “Tens of thousands of Syrian protesters took to the streets on Friday under fire from regime forces…. activists said.”
AP, Friday April 27: “Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets across Syria for weekly anti-regime marches after Muslim noon prayers Friday. Amateur video from the central city of Homs… showed rows of men lining up in a main street, holding each other by the shoulders as they sang and danced.”
These figures wouldn’t be so important were the Syrian opposition not considered by mainstream Western and Arab media as synonymous with “the Syrian people” as a whole.
To make this assumption, or rather, this ardent desire, correspond to its own politically constructed reality, the corporate media has been reporting protests “tens of thousands” strong since the very beginning of the uprising back in March 2011.
However, in a grudging deference to the massive numbers who have demonstrated in support of Assad (disingenuously described in the mere “thousands”), and a consequent awareness of how deeply contested the issue of Assad’s popular legitimacy has become, the media is now compelled to attribute such numbers to “expert” authority.
In this specific case, that authority is none other than head of the SOHR, Rami Abdulrahman, an alias for Osama Ali Suleiman, a shop-owner based in Coventry England, who works from his living room. As reported by Reuters here:
With only a few hours sleep, a phone glued to his ear and another two ringing, the fast-talking director of arguably Syria’s most high-profile human rights group is a very busy man…. the talk of gunfire and death incongruous with his two bedroom terraced home in Coventry, from where he runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.When he isn’t fielding calls from international media, Abdulrahman is a few minutes down the road at his clothes shop, which he runs with his wife. Cited by virtually every major news outlet since an uprising against the iron rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March, the observatory has been a key source of news on the events in Syria.Surrounded by the trappings of family life — a glitter-spangled card made by his young daughter, a monkey doll with “Best Dad” on its belly — Abdulrahman sits with a laptop and phones and pieces together accounts of conflict and rights abuses before uploading news to the internet.
|The director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdulrahman, speaks on the phone in his home in Coventry|
Of further interest is the fact that a rival SOHR group, Syriahr.org, claimed in an open letter earlier this year that Rami/Osama took over the original SOHR website and essentially reduced it to a one man show. In effect, both AP’s and AFP’s assertions that the April protests numbered in the tens of thousands is based on the report of one man who dishes out figures from his Coventry living room.
Of course, as shown above, there are instances when news agencies diversify their sources and refer to “activists” who confirm this number for them, or alternatively, they employ other media sources such as Youtube videos uploaded by citizen-journalists/activists. These have become the new “expert authorities” whose testimonies are translated as verifiable fact, in other words, news.
And the images they show of “rows of men lining up in a main street, holding each other by the shoulders as they sang and danced” translates itself into empirical evidence of tens of thousands of protesters demonstrating for their rights across Syria.
The mainstream media’s audacious and liberal use of factoids aside, what truly boggles the mind, is how the ordinarily discerning Arab public has become swayed by such slipshod, unsophisticated information warfare. The threshold for a story’s believability has dropped to an all-time low (or to borrow one FB user’s pun, “al Jazeero”) whereby flimsy evidence has now succeeded in bypassing the mind’s critical faculty, otherwise known as a state of hypnosis. But then again that has always been the aim of Empire’s information war: to mass-hypnotize the collective Arab consciousness into submission. In a 2008 speech, Seyyid Hassan Nasrallah alluded to the “huge media capacities at the level of the Western world and the Arab world whose media is regrettably penetrated by the Americans and the Zionists in an unprecedented way,” and went on to declare that “If they wipe out this awareness, they reach a point where they make us surrender and give up.”
If this same media can do so with the crudest of means, then its job of expunging our awareness and intellectually colonizing our minds is made that much easier.