My paper is mostly
going to be based on the second theme regarding the dialogic condition of the press.
Here, I would like to discuss a salient issue which is the Syrian War.
According to a study by UNICEF, 2016 has been the most horrific year for the
children of Syria. More than 600 children were killed during a year and more
than a 1000 children under the age of 14 were recruited to fight in the battle
field. This is just the children’s story; more than 400,000 men and women have
lost their lives to this war and many more have been displaced from their
homes. The question is why is there a silence on the Syrian war? Social media
and the press are perhaps not playing the role they are entitled to play in
this situation.

As a citizen of
Pakistan, I feel that we are entitled with only a limited dialogic condition as
not our press, nor our social media are able to raise a strong voice against
the shocking atrocities taking place in Syria. While the enlightened world
mourns Manchester, cries for Paris, grieves for Brussels, the silence
surrounding the Syrian War has been haunting to say the least. An amalgam of
the sinister pursuits of international powers and stakeholders, the proxy war
destroying all livelihoods in Syria is perhaps the worst affliction on humanity
since World War II. 400,000 casualties, 7 million internally displaced persons
and 4 million refugees later, those with vested interests continue to inflict
shocking atrocities on the people of Syria. And yet, the world watches with
eerie apathy. Perhaps there are merits not met by Syria, merits worthy of
condemnation from international leaders. Perhaps the terrorism fueled
calamities in other parts of the world are more worthy of outcry by public and
leaders alike. For the Muslim world, it wouldn’t be the first time. After all, Islamophobia
is no controllable disease and a major impact is the subsequent disengagement
of various people all around the world in regard to the mass killing of
Muslims. The missing media coverage of the Syrian War, which was very much
present during the Gaza conflict in 2008, is questionable. With constantly
breaking news, political analysts taking their rounds, headline after headline,
it was the talk of the town. Media coverage has the potential to go rather far
in its effectiveness: as NGOs and the general public get instigated and appeal
for a halt on mass affliction, pressure does eventually build up and world
leaders are subsequently compelled to give explanations. Some wonder whether
one reason for lack of uproar is the nature of the Syrian War: locked in civil
conflict, it is hard to tell the hero from the villain.  In the case of Gaza, however, there was a
clear and single offender, so condemnation was no complicated matter. Some
wonder whether the intensity of the Gaza episode is what created uproar across
the world, while the mass destruction in Syria, drawn over two years, is akin
to a slow-killing torture chamber. The recent massacre of the Rohingya
population in Myanmar is another example. The media has been aggressive; the
public has been loud, both on social media and in demonstrations. The general
public has so much as appealed to the withdrawal of the Nobel Peace Prize
awarded to Aung San Suu Kyi. With this level of involvement, one begs to
wonder, why the silence for Syria? Perhaps the moral slip identified by Fisk
fits in here: a Muslim death matters less when the killer is a fellow muslim.

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The crisis in Syria has
led to one of the most massive refugee flow after the 40’s. Data from the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reveals that over 4,000,000
Syrians were compelled to flea away from their homeland. Seeds of the Syrian
war were sowed back in 2011, when pro democratic protests took place in Syria
against the detention of a group of students who demonstrated revolutionary
behavior in their college. This eventually led to an open fire at the protestors,
making matters graver. The social and political turmoil to follow was to
pressurize the president Bashar al-Assad to resign but instead, the
authoritative bodies only made their retaliation to the protests harsher. This
in turn caused the number of protesters and their severity to expand
exponentially, making matters worse. The protests went from being peaceful to steadily
violent with full-fledged weaponry collision between both sides. It didn’t take
long for the violence to intensify to a level that it could pass for civil war.
By early 2012, rebel battalions came into being and the cities, towns and
villages of the once peaceful and harmonious Syria turned into gory
battlefields. According to a survey by the United Nations, by August 2013, more
than 90,000 people had lost their lives to the turmoil.  By 2015, the numeral had ascended to over
250,000, making matters further more adverse that they already were. To sum up,
the war can basically be described as a series of turmoil between two political
groups, one supporting the President and the other opposing him.

It’s heart breaking to vision
how it all began with ingenuous graffiti, turned into a protest, developed into
a revolution, got into the wrong hands of super powers and finally advanced
into one of the most savage power struggles of the 21st century, resulting
into slavery, displacement of thousands of families and the loss of millions of
lives. Syria, a country smaller than the state of Victoria, which has the
population of almost exactly as that of Australia and borders with Turkey,
Iraq, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, is a center of interest to many super powers
in the world because of its geopolitical importance. Unfortunately, this has
turned out to become the direct or indirect cause of the colossal genocide of
the Syrian civilians. All they ever dreamt of was reforming from oppression to
freedom, from corruption to rule of law, from justice for the elite only to
justice for all, from dictatorship to democracy and division of powers
uniformly amongst all the natives, and finally from controlled press and media
to free speech. These were the very basic rights of the Syrian people which
they were continuously denied off until eventually war broke out. The fact that
it turned into a humanitarian catastrophe is rather pitiful. The presence of
sectarian conflict in the Middle East proved to make matters worse in regard to
the Syrian war. The Shia Sunni dispute dates back hundreds of years and sprung
from religious controversies between the two sects. This conflict has further
inflamed the war condition as it has divided the Islamic world further, with
Iran supporting Basharul Assad and Saudi Arab siding with the rebels.

At its core, the
outbreak in Syria cannot be labeled as a purely religious dispute. However, the
sectarian divide of the Islamic world has undeniably escalated the affair. While
sectarianism represents real religious differences and illustrates a certain
“otherness”, in the background there is greed, power and establishment of
territory. The Sunni Shia divide dates back to 1400 years ago however the
aggression and violence that has erupted between the two sects is a rather
recent phenomena. There was a time in the Muslim world when Sunni Muslims, Shia
and Christians all lived side by side, peacefully, when it was considered
disrespectful to inquire about personal beliefs, a time when intermarriage was
common. They share faith in the same book, the Quran, believe in the Prophet
Muhammad and offer the same prayer; rituals however, are distinct, as well as
certain interpretations of Law. The most vicious sectarian violence has been
directed by clerics or by political motives rather than erupting spontaneously.
Militant groups, many of which are state-sponsored, are the dominant agents in
sectarian clashes. After years of violence however, cases of individually
motivated attacks against the Shiite minority group have also been seen to
occur.  In countries where the divide
between sects is dominant, political alliances are to some extent swung by
religious sentiment. Syrian President Bashar-ul-Assad has been in power since
1970 and depends on Allawies – a Syrian Shiite sect comprising 13% of Syria’s
population- as a support for his authority. Other countries in the region have
also experienced higher political participation by the Shia community, much to
the alarm of Sunni governments, especially Saudi Arabia. In Lebanon, Hezbollah
(the Lebanese Shia militia) has turned out to be the strongest party and
political movement. In Yemen, a radical Shia group known as the Houthis has
managed to overthrow the local government. As Shia power swells, the Saudi
government worries about its own political grasp.

As with racism, the
sectarian struggle is strongly fueled by political motives, vested interests
and has become a tool conveniently used by Islamic and Western governments
alike. Sectarian tensions are considered as growing threats to international
peace and security. Rising militancy has been one of the biggest concerns:
common thought may suggest that this is the aftermath of sectarian violence,
but a closer look offers the possibility of a bi-directional causality, a
vicious cyclical reaction, so to say. The Sunni Shia divide is also responsible
for a rapidly increasing humanitarian crisis. The Syrian War alone has created
4 million refugees and millions of internally displaced persons. Neighboring
countries struggle to provide humanitarian aid and services to the mortified
evacuees. The refugee crisis has affected Europe as well, and while some
countries have had generous and welcoming resettling policies, much remains to
be done for this traumatized population. The sectarian conflict in the Middle
East has aggravated to an extent that experts warn of a complete transformation
of the current map. Militant group strongholds in the region threaten the
territorial integrity and political stability of Middle Eastern countries.
Consequently, Shifting borders and the emergence of new areas of influence
based on sect has become a norm in the 21st century.

Every generation has
its humanitarian catastrophe; ours is the Syrian war. We know that added to the
mental trauma, added to the physical disfigurement, added to bereavement is the
outrageous reality that all of this is avoidable and all of this is manmade and
perhaps that is what the paradox is. Why do we have much greater empathy for
things that we cannot control such as earthquakes and tsunamis and so little
empathy for things which we can and should control like war and conflict? In
this era of connectivity, why are we not close to the beings and their
suffering in Syria? In this age of instantaneous communications, how are we
unaware of their state? Perhaps we choose to close our eyes at the appalling
atrocities taking place in Syria. Perhaps it is so because of the alienation of
the general public from state matters such as war. I believe that with the
freedom of dialogic condition with regard to social media and press, the world
altogether can raise a voice for the sufferings of the people of Syria and can
spread awareness.  We can see social
media and press promoting so many ills yet a matter. The role of press and
social media is being underestimated with regard to the war condition in Syria.
If liberated in terms of dialogic condition, I believe a great change could be
brought about.

Nadia Ahmad

Pakistan