Monday July 17, 2017
When taxi and bus drivers take journalists into Syria via the Beirut-Damascus Highway these days, there's a common greeting that has become a kind of local tradition as the drivers pull into their Damascus area destinations. They confidently tell their passengers: "welcome to the real Syria." Local Syrians living in government areas are all too aware of how the outside world perceives the government and the cities under its control. After years of often deceptive imagery and footage produced by opposition fighters coordinating with an eager Western press bent on vilifying Assad as "worse than Hitler", many average Syrian citizens increasingly take to social media to post images and scenes of Syria that present a different vision: they see their war-torn land as fundamentally secular, religiously plural, socially tolerant, and slowly returning to normalcy under stabilizing government institutions.
As the most intense phase of fighting in Aleppo was unfolding in 2016, veteran journalist Stephen Kinzer took to the editorial pages of the Boston Globe to remind Americans that the media has created a fantasy land concerning Syria. Kinzer painted a picture quite opposite the common perception:
Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press... For three years, violent militants have run Aleppo. Their rule began with a wave of repression. They posted notices warning residents: “Don’t send your children to school. If you do, we will get the backpack and you will get the coffin.” Then they destroyed factories, hoping that unemployed workers would have no recourse other than to become fighters. They trucked looted machinery to Turkey and sold it...Now, during the first summer of relative calm Aleppo residents have seen in over four years of grinding conflict, the city commonly referred as "the jewel of Syria" is once again rising from the ashes.
The United States has the power to decree the death of nations. It can do so with popular support because many Americans — and many journalists — are content with the official story.