In all the stories we are seeing about the liberation of Aleppo, one thing is for certain – it’s virtually impossible any longer to tell facts from fiction.
On 13 December I was sitting in a bar in London, killing time before meeting friends for dinner. I was browsing through my Facebook news feed, and came across heartbreaking stories of people saying their final goodbyes from inside east Aleppo. The stories were simultaneously sickening and heartrending, and I found myself wiping away tears as I struggled to comprehend the inhumanity of what I was reading – how was it possible that innocent civilians were being lined up and shot in the street by government forces in another part of the world, while I sat comfortable and warm in a bar listening to Christmas songs being played in the background? The small part of my brain that questioned how it was possible that these messages were being recorded and transmitted at all – in all the bombing and shelling, how is it possible that the ordinary citizens of Aleppo still get strong enough 3G or 4G signals to transmit their desperate messages to the outside world – was overruled by the greater emotional response to what I was reading and seeing.
All over the mainstream media, were reports confirming the narrative that Assad’s forces, backed by Russia, were committing unspeakable atrocities in the final days of the siege of Aleppo. In the UK House of Commons, George Osborne attacked a ‘vacuum of Western leadership’ that he believes has contributed to the current situation, and took personal responsibility for his part in the UK government’s failure to intervene in 2013. Various mainstream news sites ran articles heavily criticising Ed Miliband for his role in blocking our intervention, and Barack Obama for his willingness to sit back and do nothing once he heard that the UK was not going to get involved.
But then yesterday, 15 December, I started to hear a very different narrative.
First, on Twitter, I came across this snippet from a United Nations press conference, in which a Canadian journalist, Eva Bartlett, explains that there are no international organisations on the ground in East Aleppo and that everything we are therefore hearing about what is going on there, is coming from sources whose credibility is questionable to say the least. According to Miss Bartlett, the Syrian people overwhelmingly support Assad and the atrocities we are hearing about are being committed by terrorist organisations rather than by the Assad regime.
Next, there is this video which exposes many of the “civilians” in those goodbye videos as activists and propagandists with their own, unknown, agendas.
I spent a bit of time Googling Bilal Abdul Kareem, the ‘US journalist’ who appears in so many of the supposed front-line reports from East Aleppo. His website describes his extensive experience working in Syria and Egypt with “respectable Islamic fighters calling for Islamic law” – as well as a series of YouTube interviews that Kareem carried out with Abu Qatada, publicising Qatada’s views on Al Qaeda. Suddenly Kareem’s comments that he has not seen any “terrorist activity” in east Aleppo took on a different slant – clearly he and I have different definitions of the word “terrorist”
I also spent a lot of time trying to find out a bit more about Eva Bartlett – is she truly as “independent” as she is touted to be? She certainly is not lying when she claims to have been on the ground in Syria – her Facebook page, along with that of another journalist friend of hers, Vanessa Beeley, shows countless pictures of them in Aleppo and other parts of Syria. Bartlett and Beeley tell a very different story of what is happening in Aleppo, to that which we are reading about in the mainstream media.
But can they be believed? Are they, as some people have suggested, simply propagandists for Russia and the Assad regime? Certainly they both clearly support the Assad regime, and are at pains to point out to the world that it is Western-backed terrorists, and not the Russia-backed regime, that have been preventing civilians from escaping from eastern Aleppo. And Beeley, in an interview on the RT news channel, asks the same question I was asking myself earlier, as to how those ‘final messages’ came to be recorded and transmitted – according to her, there is no 3G coverage in eastern Aleppo, so how are these messages being transmitted to the outside world? The interview is available at below link – it’s worth watching the entire video if you have the time, but for those who don’t, the comment about lack of 3G coverage is at 07:40
Another section worth watching is at 15:20, in which a spokesperson for the United Nations states that it’s impossible to say who is responsible for the killing of civilians in Aleppo. So why are the western mainstream media so certain that it’s Assad’s forces who are to blame? And if Assad’s forces are so feared, why are people celebrating the liberation, in the streets of west Aleppo? And why is the US state department denying that they have seen reports of these celebrations?
Let’s not forget that up until a few months ago, the mainstream media were reporting how jihadists and terrorists were occupying Aleppo – but remarkably, since September, the words “jihadist” and “terrorist” have been dropped from their narrative and replaced with the word “rebels” with its far more positive connotations of decent citizens wanting to overthrow a despotic regime. The below video provides a very clear hypothesis as to why the narrative changed in September – because up until that point, President Obama was considering joining forces with Putin in defeating the terrorist forces in Syria, but once that plan got sabotaged by the US Department of Defence, the narrative was changed to depict the terrorists as “rebels”.
There are numerous certainties about the war in Aleppo – the scale of destruction, the mass casualties, the thousands of people who are now homeless, wounded, starving, cannot be denied. But I wonder if we will ever really know the full truth about the roles that the Assad regime, Russia, the US, the UK and other Western nations have played in what surely must be one of the worst humanitarian disasters of modern times. I certainly don’t believe the narrative that the worst failing of the UK and US was not getting involved in 2013 – throughout the conflict we have been involved, in providing arms and backing for rebel forces in their attempts to overthrow the Assad regime. But just as questions have been raised as to whether we were right to support the overthrow of what we saw as brutal dictatorships in Iraq and Libya, and whether our interference in those countries has simply further destabilised them, I believe the same questions need to be asked about our continued support for regime change in Syria. In our support for the rebels / terrorists, are we honestly to believe that a moderate alternative will be installed in the event that Assad is defeated? Are we forgetting that most of these rebel organisations are staunch Islamist groups dedicated to the implementation of Islamist law? It is hard to believe that the situation in Syria could get any worse, but I suspect that a defeat of the Assad regime by Islamist rebels would soon make that possible.