Dyer: Aleppo and the Media

The stop-go evacuation of rebel fighters, and civilians, from Aleppo had begun again as I write, but the reason for the last interruption was instructive. It was Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) that burned the buses coming to evacuate the wounded from Foah and Kefraya.

The same organization dominates the rebel forces in Aleppo, and its propaganda has worked very well. According to Western media, the city of Aleppo has not just been “destroyed”; it has been “annihilated”. There has not only been a “massacre”; there has been a “genocide.”

Official sources have not been much better. Last week at the UN Security Council, U.S. ambassador Samantha Power compared what was happening in Aleppo to other scenes of slaughter “that define modern evil, that stain our conscience decades later … Rwanda, Srebrenica and, now, Aleppo.”

Really?

In Rwanda, an estimated 800,000 people, most of them from the Tutsi minority, were murdered by the militia of the Hutu regime in 1994 in a period of three-and-a-half months. About 20 per cent of the country’s population, and up to 70 per cent of its Tutsis, were killed.

In Srebrenica in 1995, 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys, civilians who had been living under UN “protection,” were systematically shot and buried by Serbian troops in a single day. That was a genocide, too, although the numbers were far smaller than in Rwanda. The victims were killed because they were Muslims.

So does Aleppo really belong on this grim list? We don’t know the exact number of civilians who died there, but a reasonable guess would be that between one thousand and several thousand civilians were killed by bombs and shellfire during the final four months of the siege.

But that is what happens in sieges, even when they are conducted by people much nicer than Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Does anybody really believe that the civilian death toll will be lower, if, and when, the Iraqi army retakes the besieged city of Mosul?

Nothing that has happened so far in either city is a patch on what happened to civilians in Leningrad in 1941-42, or in Manila and Berlin in 1945. In the western half of Aleppo, where the regime never lost control, around a million people have gone about their daily lives almost as normal, losing only a dozen or so dead a month to the shells and rockets that the rebels fired into their zone.

I’m not writing this as a defence of the Assad regime, but because we need to understand why the Western media peddled such a distorted picture of what was going on.

The problem was that the 10,000 fighters who controlled eastern Aleppo (but were never mentioned or seen in any of the reports that came out of there) also controlled the people who were doing the blogs and uploading the images. The civilians were the rebels’ most valuable resource. Indeed, they frequently killed civilians who tried to leave.

Some of the bloggers and videographers probably supported the extreme Islamist groups who dominated the rebel forces in eastern Aleppo. Others may have been less keen on their local rulers, although they all backed the revolt against Assad. But they all knew that the penalty for saying, or showing, things that displeased their juhadi rulers would be arrest and torture, perhaps death.

The rebels wanted the siege to be portrayed as a senseless, and brutal, assault on civilians (and only on civilians) because their only hope was to shock and shame foreign powers, especially the United States, into intervening militarily and stopping the siege. It was never likely to happen, but they obviously thought it was worth a try.

And the Western media ran this propaganda because nothing else was available. Foreign journalists did not dare to enter eastern Aleppo because they knew they would be killed. If they were allowed to report freely, it would spoil the rebels’ game.

A lot of news editors understood just what the game was, but they used the material anyway – and they did not warn the audience that it was, in effect, propaganda. So it’s not surprising that even normally sensible grown-ups are resorting to the apocalyptic rhetoric we have been hearing recently.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist.

Just Posted

PHOTOS: Day 1 of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer

Here’s a look at what happened during the first day of the… Continue reading

Calgarian takes gold in women’s speedskating

Brooklyn McDougall competed in long track 1,500-metre speedskating event

Speedskaters pick up Alberta’s first Winter Games medals

Calgary’s Brooklyn McDougall wins gold and Lethbridge’s Kaleb Muller wins silver

Red Deer gymnast hopes to flip his way to a personal best

Zach Blakely is looking forward to the ‘community’ aspect of Games

Youngest Alberta athlete at Red Deer’s Canada Winter Games focuses on the win

Emily Liu, 10, beats much larger table tennis players

VIDEO: Community ‘comes together’ at opening ceremonies

The nation will focus its eyes on Red Deer for the next… Continue reading

South African activists try to protect endangered pangolins

JOHANNESBURG — As World Pangolin Day is marked around the globe, Saturday,… Continue reading

Fourteen ‘dream’ homes ordered evacuated as sinkholes open in Sechelt, B.C.

Greg and Gerry Latham spent Friday morning scrambling to pack up family… Continue reading

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell accused of sexual assault: British newspaper

LONDON — A British newspaper says police in London are investigating an… Continue reading

Graham: U.S. should be stronger on Canadians detained in China

MUNICH — U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham said Friday the response by the… Continue reading

Conservative leaders to attend pro-pipeline rally in Saskatchewan

By Stephanie Taylor THE CANADIAN PRESS MOOSOMIN, Sask. — Federal Tory leader… Continue reading

Games athletes making themselves at home at RDC

Red Deer College’s campus will be home for the athletes during the 2019 Canada Winter Games

Alix resident captures beams of light near Lacombe

Lacombe, Blackfalds, Red Deer photos have since gone viral around the world

Welcome message from the mayor

On behalf of Red Deer city council, the City of Red Deer… Continue reading

Most Read