Syrian criticism of 'fake hero' Ahed only empowers our oppressors

Syrian criticism of 'fake hero' Ahed only empowers our oppressors
Comment: Resentment towards Ahed Tamimi is misplaced and harming the struggles of Syrians and Palestinians alike, writes Loubna Mrie.
6 min read
09 Aug, 2018
Tamimi's father (left) has voiced his support for the Syrian government [Anadolu]
"How could we be fooled by this fake hero?" asked Haidara Suliman, a loyalist to the Syrian government on his Facebook page. Attached was an audio clip of 17-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi's recent interview with Al-Madeena FM, a pro-government Damascus radio station.

Suliman is the son of Bahjat Suliman, the former Syria ambassador to Jordan, and the owner of United Media Group. Print magazines that are loyal to Assad.

Shortly after his post, others followed Haidara's lead, expressing their confusion over why the radio station celebrated Ahed Tamimi's release from Israeli prison, despite "being part of the conspiracy against the Syrian state and its president, Bashar al-Assad."

I clicked on the audio link to see what the commotion was about:

It's an interview from 30 July on Almadeena FM. Tamimi, who turned 17 in prison, and her family were on air as special guests, the day after her release from eight months behind bars for slapping an Israeli soldier in the Occupied West Bank.

Ahed Tamimi was introduced as much of the world saw her: an icon.

The host showered her with praise, and told her how the Syrian people are listening to her, that they are proud of her, and that they want to know how they can continue support the Palestinian cause in their fight for self-determination.

With poise, she thanked the host and the Syrian people for their outpouring of support, but reminded them that there are many other Palestinian minors held in Israeli jails, deprived of their childhood and their families.  

"What do you tell the Syrian soldiers who have been away from their homes and families and fighting for their cause for the past seven years?" asked the host. Ahed simply responded, "God bless Syria. God bless the Syrian people." The brief interview ends, and is followed with a song by Lebanese singer Julia Boutros, 'From detention come back to us. Come back to the light.'

Her refusal to say 'God bless the Syrian Army' and sending her prayers to the Syrian people as a whole was considered enough evidence to brand her 'Zionist spy'

Other than the striking irony of the fact that Ahed Tamimi's release is being celebrated by a government under which thousands of people, some even younger than her, have gone missing for taking part in protests on the streets, the interview was simply ordinary, at best.

She gave short answers, and nothing went wrong. But this wasn't business as usual. As I read through comments and posts on Facebook, I realised that Tamimi's straightforward interview would come back to haunt her.

Although she never made public statements about her stances on Syria, her refusal to say "God bless the Syrian Army" and sending her prayers to the Syrian people as a whole was considered enough evidence to brand her "Zionist spy". As Haidara said, "a fake hero that doesn't deserve our support", and a "brainwashed young, young girl". This was just the tip of the iceberg concerning the ludicrous smears and accusations she has had to deal with since the interview.

This incident points to the root cause which sparked the Syrian uprising, and later on the divisions that occurred during the ongoing conflict. For supporters of the Syrian government, Syria is its president and the army, full stop.

Haidara Suliman's Facebook post reads: "We keep promoting
this fake hero. I hope the hosts would ask her and her dad's
opinion on the master of the country, the Asaad, the Bashar, and also the 
Syrian Arab army."

To only state, "God bless Syria and the Syrian people" is simply not sufficient. For them, the president, Bashar al-Assad and the army, should be always mentioned and praised. Otherwise, you are a traitor.

The extreme backlash following a five-minute interview shows how after seven years of war, the mentality of "Assad or we burn the country" - a slogan which soldiers spray painted on the walls of houses and neighbourhoods they had just destroyed - is still the same, and even more extreme. For them, Syria is its president and the army, not its people.

Surprisingly, some Syrians who stand on the complete opposite side of Haidara when it comes to the current conflict at home, have also labeled Tamimi as a "spy" or "fake hero," but for different reasons.

The primary reason is Tamimi's father, Bassem Tamimi, whose views on Syria have upset those who oppose Assad.

He has often shared posts on social media about his support for the Syrian government, calling Syrians who oppose the government "terrorists and paid agents". 

Last year Syrian activists took to Facebook and twitter to confront Bassem Tamimi, and asked him to stand with the freedom of the Syrian people, as they stood with the freedom of his daughter.

Two days later, Bassem was live on Al-Jazeera Arabic TV and was asked about his views on Syria. The iconic Palestinian activist's father did not deny his support for Assad. However, He said that solidarity with his daughter, Ahed, should not be affected by his personal views.

Although Ahed Tamimi, as noted above, never explicitly mentioned where she stood when it comes to the Syrian conflict, her father's stance has created a sense of resentment towards her - and unfairly so, as she has been smeared for opinions that were never hers to begin with.

But her father's support for the Syrian president and his government is not the only reason for their unfair resentment towards her, the media attention has irked them, too. 

It is possible to express anger without smearing Ahed Tamimi, who herself is well aware of poor media representation

One of the most repeated comments on videos and articles related to Ahed Tamimi in Syria's pro-opposition news groups are questions about why the media is obsessed with a free and physically healthy Ahed Tamimi, while the names thousands of Syrians who have died under torture in government prisons are going public after years of obscurity.

They feel resentment towards her because of the media's neglect of their suffering.

Photos have been shared on Facebook and Twitter of Ahed Tamimi juxtaposed with a picture of the dead body of Rehab Allawi, a 25-year-old Syrian activist from Deir az-Zour, whose photo was leaked in Caesar's files in 2015. She was executed by the Syrian government.

Although such frustration and anger with the media is completely understandable and justified, it is possible to express anger without smearing Ahed Tamimi, who herself is well aware of poor media representation.

After all, she recognises that unlike many other Palestinian children locked up in Israeli jails, she received more media coverage and attention. She recently said "I was lucky there was a camera there and taped what happened. Others did not have that."

Read more: What's next for the left's troubled relationship with Syria?

The continued separation of Ahed Tamimi from the wider Palestinian struggle against oppression is disturbing, to say the least, and her physical appearance continues to be unduly emphasised in coverage.

The fact of the matter is that she is a representative of the wider Palestinian struggle, where over 350 children remain in Israeli prisons, and many more Palestinians continue to languish in their struggle for self-determination.

And in that wider struggle against oppression - including in Syria - Ahed Tamimi is not less significant or less important than others.

To compare her and Palestinian activists being detained by the Israeli military in occupied territory with the detention of Syrians by the Syrian army is unproductive and only beneficial to the oppressors.

Loubna Mrie is a Syrian activist who covered Syria as a photojournalist for Reuters. Her writing has been published in Time, The Nation, Foreign affairs among others.

Follow her on Twitter: @loubnamrie

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.