How propaganda trips to Syria are helping Assad get away with murder

How propaganda trips to Syria are helping Assad get away with murder
Comment: Spreading Assad and Putin's propaganda, these personalities are shamelessly pushing the narrative of a genocidal Syrian regime, writes Sam Hamad.
6 min read
18 Sep, 2019
More than half a million people have been killed in Syria's civil war [Getty]
Just over a year ago I wrote about how the normalisation of Assad and Russia's genocidal crimes in Syria had been bolstered by a nest of online "alternative media" figures. 

I made the point that these people, while claiming independence from Damascus and Moscow, still pushed every single propaganda narrative that emanated from those respective regimes. 

Previously, these types could be dismissed as sleazy mercenaries and the purveyors of base propaganda. This is still an adequate description of their work, but we now live in an era where many turn to the overwhelmingly pro-Russian and, in the context of the "Arab spring", counter-revolutionary "alternative media" for information. 

It's not just the "passive" masses who are subject to this post-truth contaminant, but it's policymakers, decision makers and opinion shapers, all of which fuels a vicious cycle of misinformation.    

As a result, these people, who would previously be confined to the darkest, most feculent corners of the internet, are finding themselves and their propaganda catapulted to new heights of plausibility. 

It's no surprise then, that Assad has recently hosted one of his most devoted servants and one of the main culprits in the dissemination of genocidal propaganda in the West, Max Blumenthal. Blumenthal's history as a propagandist for the Putin regime has been well documented.

Though he might be considered part of the "alt-left", it's of little surprise that it was the European far-right who were the guests of Assad's rump regime immediately prior to his visit.  When it comes to Syria, Blumenthal and fellow propagandist Rania Khalek are on the same page as Europe's rising neo-Nazis and fascists.

These people are finding themselves and their propaganda catapulted to new heights of plausibility

It's not a simple case of "guilt by association", but they are literally part of the same propaganda machine utilised by Assad and Russia to fully normalise their genocide.

It's now far too late to try to win the great battle of narratives that came with the war in Syria - the Islamophobic "War on Terror" narrative of Assad and Russia, amplified by people like Blumenthal and Khalek, found a captive audience in a West that was primed for it. 

This is not to say Assad and Putin's trolls have had it all their own way. But they've successfully muddied the waters enough to ensure that the dominant narrative regarding Syria in the West is, at worst, outright pro-Assad with a tacit or open justification of genocide, and at best, simply one of confusion and "unknowable-ness".

But to those naive-yet-honest types who previously gave the likes of Blumenthal and Khalek the "benefit of the doubt" regarding accusations that they were "pro-Assad" (as opposed to unbiased truth seekers), I'd just ask you to look at their junket to Assadland.  

It's not really something that can be questioned anymore.

The White Helmets were one of the great thorns in Assad and Putin's sides, given they were an unarmed, selfless humanitarian force that voluntarily risked their own lives to save those of others who had been caught up in Assad and Russia's merciless bombing. 

Read more: The destruction of Idlib will find its way to Europe's shores

The world empathises with this. Far from the misunderstood and ideologically loaded horror stories of "jihadists" in connection to Syria's revolution, the White Helmets were the antithesis of both the images of IS that pro-regime forces exploited, and Assad and Putin's genocidal crimes.  

They were proof, if it was needed, that the greater criminality lay at the hands of Assad and Russia. This led to widespread positive media exposure for the people of Syria, including academy award-winning documentaries and countless features in the mainstream media.

Of course, this could not stand.

A wave of propaganda was orchestrated against the White Helmets, including an absurd two-part "expose" cobbled together by Blumenthal, which, in keeping with the racist core of pro-Assad/Russia propaganda in the West, spuriously linked the group to - quelle surprise - "jihadism" and "western regime change". He continues to push this line on speaking tours around the US. Genocide, it seems is a lucrative industry.

The next thing you know Roger Waters, he of Pink Floyd fame, was live onstage in Barcelona calling the White Helmets a "fake organisation that exists only to create propaganda for the jihadists and terrorists".

Though Blumenthal's piece was published in something called the "Grayzone Project", it might as well have been on RT, Sputnik or even SANA. The entire purpose of it was to push regime propaganda to defame the White Helmets, all the better to justify the extermination of the group and those they try to save.  

You could go through every regime or Russian crime that makes headlines in the West, such as its various gas attacks against civilians, and you'll find at every turn Blumenthal or some other propagandist popping up to muddy the waters with denialism or justification. If they don't succeed in turning you into a genocide-justifying jihadist-hunter like Roger Waters, they will at the very least plant the seeds of doubt from which distortion ultimately grows. 

He'll show you areas of Syria, such as Idlib where the regime and Russia murder and cleanse hundreds of thousands of people

And, wittingly or unwittingly, this is their job.

With Blumenthal taking selfies in Assadland, while heavily pushing the notion of Assad as "saviour of the Christians", a narrative usually beloved of the Islamophobic far-right, the nature of his pro-Assad activity reveals itself to those who might have doubts. 

This isn't even sophisticated or even accidentally clever - it's simply the crude activities of a propagandist pushing a narrative designed to justify genocide. He'll show you areas of Syria under regime control, areas that might have been ethnically cleansed, and he'll show you "safety" and "harmony".

Then he'll show you areas of Syria, such as Idlib, where the regime and Russia murder and cleanse hundreds of thousands of people, including so many women and children, and he'll show you the brave and noble Assad and Russia fighting "western-backed jihadis".

Blumenthal is a hugely privileged figure who can waltz around Damascus without any fear. But just out of sight, lying beyond these islands of phoney tranquillity, are areas maintained by constant violence and terror. 

Anyone who participates in the normalisation of Baathist Syria is merely providing fodder to the global far-right

Ultimately, Blumenthal, and anyone else who participates in the normalisation of Baathist Syria, is merely providing fodder to the global far-right and racist asylum processes that want to send refugees back. Judges can cite sources such as Blumenthal's propaganda trip as evidence that life in Syria is rosy in cases regarding deportations of Syrian asylum seekers, regardless of the reality that many face torture and death on return.

Blumenthal's propaganda trip to Damascus is only worthy of comment because it demonstrates one small, but particularly squalid, component of how Assad got and is getting away with the crime of genocide.

That Blumenthal in his ultra-privileged hubris chooses to record his own culpability in justifying that genocide, may one day come back to haunt him in a major way.

We can but hope.  

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.