Friday, January 13, 2012

The Lousy Arab

I’ve been following the Angry Arab blog since 2005. In those days, the blog was a breath of fresh air, written by an Arab political commentator in the US who was against the Iraq war and who was not scared of speaking his mind on Israel.
As the Arab Spring took off, Asad Abukhalil was fully supportive of the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. His support, however, didn’t extend to the further manifestations of the ripple effect. Abukhalil seemed hesitant to express any support for the protest movement in Syria from its onset, although he offered some condemnation of the Syrian regime. One may detect Abukhalil’s hesitance through unverified letters by his anonymous leftist friends, who suddenly had business that required extensive travel around Syria, where they reported ominous indications that the opposition movement was sectarian, violent, anti-Hezbollah, and probably soft on Israel.
Abukhalil’s stance toward Syria shifted drastically from hesitance (or indifference) to manic hysteria after the formation of the Syrian National Council. His tone became hostile towards the SNC and he resorted to false accusations to smear their image (I will get to that later in this article). One may not totally agree with SNC’s performance, or lack there of, however the revolution needed political representation and after six months and several attempts by opposition groups to consolidate, the SNC became the legitimate representative of the protest movement. The SNC, and its lead representative Burhan Ghalioun, were thrown into the fray with little preparation time and a lot of urgency, due to the regime’s brutal crackdown on the protesters, and the growing death toll.
Assad Abukhalil’s latest piece sums up his position on Syria’s uprising. Rather than directly state his stance against the revolution, he resorts to criticizing what he perceives to be the unprofessionalism of its media coverage, but with infusions of his own doubts and biases against the revolution.
It’s also noteworthy that, in the course of criticizing western media coverage of the Syrian uprising, Asad Abukhalil doesn’t offer one single link to samples of this slanted coverage. Perhaps he believes his lousy blog is a sufficient reference and no further explanation is needed.
This particular article asks more questions than it answers. Abukhalil offers no explanation for the alleged bias of western media except that the Syrian regime is an enemy of the US and Israel, and therefore is being unfairly portrayed. Abukhalil in actuality, fails to show how or why the Syrian regime is an enemy of the US and Israel.
So in order to compliment Asad Abukhalil’s article, I’ve addressed some of the questions he had put forward:
Every demonstration is massive, and every strike is successful, and every Friday has topped the previous Friday in the size of protesters. But how true is that?
As’ad Abukhalil fails to cite one single media outlet that listed the 400 or so protests that took place last Friday, or called each one of them “massive”. Nor could any TV station realistically show all of the protests’ videos uploaded to the internet. In fact, Al Jazeera Mubasher (live) often uses split screens to show several protests taking place simultaneously on Fridays, and each one of them would, indeed, be massive.
…. there was no explanation provided for the resilience that has characterized the regime thus far. How does one explain that there has been not one diplomatic defection and no major government defection?
In fact, two Members of Parliament from Daraa resigned in April and then retracted their resignations.
The answer is, of course, regime intimidation of them and their family members.
One should also not forget the rigorous vetting process for Syrian diplomats. It’s safe to assume that Syrian diplomatic missions around the world act more as shabbiha outposts, and less as embassies or consulates. As’ad Abukhalil considers the brutality, immorality and tashbeeh of the regime to be signs of resilience. If the Syrian regime were to eventually crush the rebellion through its deadly crackdown on protesters, and the widespread use of detention, torture and murder, Abukhalil would conclude the regime had been resilient.
During the early days of the Syrian revolution, Syrian-American pianist Malik Jandali’s parents were brutally beaten in Homs by regime thugs because of Jandali’s performance in an anti-regime rally in Washington. Jandali didn’t publish the pictures of their bruises or tell their story to the media until after his parents left Syria. Even then, his vacant home in Homs was ransacked to punish him for publishing the pictures of his beaten parents. Such is the immorality of this regime.
Why is it difficult for the media to even inform the readers of what is happening?
Does As’ad Abukhalil himself know what’s happening? And if he does, why doesn’t he tell us? Why does he keep claiming that he trusts no one on Syria – neither Al Jazeera nor the regime affiliated Al Douniya TV?
The Syrian regime has tried with all its might to control the information trickling out the country, in order for their (fabricated) version of events to appear credible and uncontested. Syria’s activists, however, have managed to beat this blackout by relying on the Internet and, when that is cut off by the regime, on satellite phones. Syria’s activists have vigilantly recorded the opposition’s protests, documented security forces abuses and kept tallies of the names of those arrested or killed. Because of the heavy clamp-down on Local Coordination Committees (online underground groups in Syria that coordinate protests and broadcast news to the outside world) these committees have to work in absolute secrecy and sometimes make mistakes. The few networks or sources that consistently reported rumors or downright false news without backing them up have been weeded out and excommunicated by the majority of the Syrian opposition.
It’s worth noting that As’ad Abukhalil himself relies on news reports from his “comrades” and “correspondents” in Bahrain and elsewhere and post them on his blog unverified. In fact, just today he posted an update from a Saudi opposition group on Facebook without apparent verification.
Why are they insisting that the token Christian representative in the executive body of the Syrian National Council is a true representative of all Syrian Christians?
Actually, Asad Abukhalil, in his comment on Burhan Ghalioun’s interview with the WSJ, said that Ghalioun failed to explain why the SNC is devoid of Christians. Ghalioun had in fact not addressed this matter since the SNC does indeed have Christian members. I’ve contacted Dima Mousa, Christian member of the SNC, and asked her to enlighten Abukhalil. Upon realizing that there are indeed diverse elements within the SNC, Abukhalil resorted to calling the minority representatives ‘tokens’.
Does Abukhalil believe that Fadwa Suleiman, the Alawite Syrian actress protester, seen here dancing and singing in a Homsi protest, is also a token?
If the Angry Arab is looking for a Lebanese system of confessional democracy, he’ll be disappointed.
Are we now to trust the propaganda outlets of the ruling dynasties of Qatar and Saudi Arabia?
Unless one believes regime claims that studios in Doha resemble Syrian cities and Syria’s protests are being staged and filmed from Doha, one can’t honestly say that Al Jazeera is facbricating news. Al Jazeera is relying on information published online by the LLCs or on eyewitness statements or phone calls with spokespersons of the LLCs in Syria. It is not a difficult task to corroborate these statements with other sources or videos posted online later. That, actually, is the likely scenario most of the time: a tweet or Facebook update announces a protest setting off from neighborhood X and proceeding down a certain street. Later, a collation of videos would prove that the tweets (or Facebook updates) were more or less correct, barring a marginal variation of how the human eye estimates numbers.
If, like me, you’ve been closely following the Angry Arab blog, you’d find that he is typically full of praise for Al Jazeera, its richness and professionalism. But when it covers Syria, Abukhalil believes it is a different story.
Finally, in order to assess Abukhalil’s own coverage of the Syrian uprising, I would like to bring to your attention the following posts (selected randomly):
In trying to explain why there has been no defections, Asad Abukhalil fails to mention the fear of retribution by the regime (as mentioned above).
Here Asad Abukhalil explains why the Syrian revolution doesn’t have the same popularity among Arab youth like the Egyptian revolution did. He attributed that to Egyptian youth refusal to call for Nato intervention. Never mind that the Syrian regime has been far more brutal. Never mind that the Egyptian revolution was concluded in 18 days. Never mind that the Egyptian and the Tunisian revolution were for the most part televised, while Syrian activists had to make up for that by relying on youtube videos. I’m not justifying calls for Nato here, but if you want to compare, at least do it in context. And at any rate, the Syrian revolution being “non-sexy” doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an overwhelming support in the Arab world. We are sorry if we can’t entertain you, Abukhalil. If you’re looking for sexiness, you can always ask the Egyptians for an encore.
Here Asad Abukhalil describes Ma’moun Humsi as a significant opposition figure. Mamoun Humsi, in reality, is a cringe-worthy lone figure in the Syrian oppositions that no one listens to. Asad Abukhalil ignores the courageous and influential figures of the revolution, likeMeshaal Tammo and Riad Saif, and focuses instead on Mamoun Humsi, whom he inflates and gives undue importance to.  If one is unfamiliar with the Syrian uprising one would think the entire opposition is calling for extermination of Alawites.
Here Asad Abukhalil claims that Burhan Ghalioun (head of Syrian National Council) was justifying the absence of Kurds and Christians in the SNC in this interview with the WSJ. If you read the paragraph in question, you’d realize that Ghalioun was explaining why it’s difficult to unite the opposition. Not justifying the absence of anyone.

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