My paper is mostlygoing 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 thechildren of Syria.
More than 600 children were killed during a year and morethan a 1000 children under the age of 14 were recruited to fight in the battlefield. This is just the children’s story; more than 400,000 men and women havelost their lives to this war and many more have been displaced from theirhomes. The question is why is there a silence on the Syrian war? Social mediaand the press are perhaps not playing the role they are entitled to play inthis situation. As a citizen ofPakistan, I feel that we are entitled with only a limited dialogic condition asnot our press, nor our social media are able to raise a strong voice againstthe shocking atrocities taking place in Syria. While the enlightened worldmourns Manchester, cries for Paris, grieves for Brussels, the silencesurrounding the Syrian War has been haunting to say the least.
An amalgam ofthe sinister pursuits of international powers and stakeholders, the proxy wardestroying all livelihoods in Syria is perhaps the worst affliction on humanitysince World War II. 400,000 casualties, 7 million internally displaced personsand 4 million refugees later, those with vested interests continue to inflictshocking atrocities on the people of Syria. And yet, the world watches witheerie apathy.
Perhaps there are merits not met by Syria, merits worthy ofcondemnation from international leaders. Perhaps the terrorism fueledcalamities in other parts of the world are more worthy of outcry by public andleaders alike. For the Muslim world, it wouldn’t be the first time. After all, Islamophobiais no controllable disease and a major impact is the subsequent disengagementof various people all around the world in regard to the mass killing ofMuslims.
The missing media coverage of the Syrian War, which was very muchpresent during the Gaza conflict in 2008, is questionable. With constantlybreaking news, political analysts taking their rounds, headline after headline,it was the talk of the town. Media coverage has the potential to go rather farin its effectiveness: as NGOs and the general public get instigated and appealfor a halt on mass affliction, pressure does eventually build up and worldleaders are subsequently compelled to give explanations.
Some wonder whetherone reason for lack of uproar is the nature of the Syrian War: locked in civilconflict, it is hard to tell the hero from the villain. In the case of Gaza, however, there was aclear and single offender, so condemnation was no complicated matter. Somewonder whether the intensity of the Gaza episode is what created uproar acrossthe world, while the mass destruction in Syria, drawn over two years, is akinto a slow-killing torture chamber. The recent massacre of the Rohingyapopulation in Myanmar is another example.
The media has been aggressive; thepublic has been loud, both on social media and in demonstrations. The generalpublic has so much as appealed to the withdrawal of the Nobel Peace Prizeawarded to Aung San Suu Kyi. With this level of involvement, one begs towonder, why the silence for Syria? Perhaps the moral slip identified by Fiskfits in here: a Muslim death matters less when the killer is a fellow muslim.The crisis in Syria hasled to one of the most massive refugee flow after the 40’s. Data from theUnited Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reveals that over 4,000,000Syrians were compelled to flea away from their homeland. Seeds of the Syrianwar were sowed back in 2011, when pro democratic protests took place in Syriaagainst the detention of a group of students who demonstrated revolutionarybehavior in their college. This eventually led to an open fire at the protestors,making matters graver.
The social and political turmoil to follow was topressurize the president Bashar al-Assad to resign but instead, theauthoritative bodies only made their retaliation to the protests harsher. Thisin turn caused the number of protesters and their severity to expandexponentially, making matters worse. The protests went from being peaceful to steadilyviolent with full-fledged weaponry collision between both sides. It didn’t takelong 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 andvillages of the once peaceful and harmonious Syria turned into gorybattlefields. According to a survey by the United Nations, by August 2013, morethan 90,000 people had lost their lives to the turmoil. By 2015, the numeral had ascended to over250,000, 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 politicalgroups, one supporting the President and the other opposing him.
It’s heart breaking to visionhow it all began with ingenuous graffiti, turned into a protest, developed intoa revolution, got into the wrong hands of super powers and finally advancedinto one of the most savage power struggles of the 21st century, resultinginto slavery, displacement of thousands of families and the loss of millions oflives. Syria, a country smaller than the state of Victoria, which has thepopulation of almost exactly as that of Australia and borders with Turkey,Iraq, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, is a center of interest to many super powersin the world because of its geopolitical importance. Unfortunately, this hasturned out to become the direct or indirect cause of the colossal genocide ofthe Syrian civilians. All they ever dreamt of was reforming from oppression tofreedom, from corruption to rule of law, from justice for the elite only tojustice for all, from dictatorship to democracy and division of powersuniformly amongst all the natives, and finally from controlled press and mediato free speech.
These were the very basic rights of the Syrian people whichthey were continuously denied off until eventually war broke out. The fact thatit turned into a humanitarian catastrophe is rather pitiful. The presence ofsectarian conflict in the Middle East proved to make matters worse in regard tothe Syrian war. The Shia Sunni dispute dates back hundreds of years and sprungfrom religious controversies between the two sects. This conflict has furtherinflamed the war condition as it has divided the Islamic world further, withIran supporting Basharul Assad and Saudi Arab siding with the rebels.At its core, theoutbreak in Syria cannot be labeled as a purely religious dispute. However, thesectarian divide of the Islamic world has undeniably escalated the affair.
Whilesectarianism represents real religious differences and illustrates a certain”otherness”, in the background there is greed, power and establishment ofterritory. The Sunni Shia divide dates back to 1400 years ago however theaggression and violence that has erupted between the two sects is a ratherrecent phenomena. There was a time in the Muslim world when Sunni Muslims, Shiaand Christians all lived side by side, peacefully, when it was considereddisrespectful to inquire about personal beliefs, a time when intermarriage wascommon. They share faith in the same book, the Quran, believe in the ProphetMuhammad and offer the same prayer; rituals however, are distinct, as well ascertain interpretations of Law. The most vicious sectarian violence has beendirected by clerics or by political motives rather than erupting spontaneously.Militant groups, many of which are state-sponsored, are the dominant agents insectarian clashes. After years of violence however, cases of individuallymotivated attacks against the Shiite minority group have also been seen tooccur.
In countries where the dividebetween sects is dominant, political alliances are to some extent swung byreligious sentiment. Syrian President Bashar-ul-Assad has been in power since1970 and depends on Allawies – a Syrian Shiite sect comprising 13% of Syria’spopulation- as a support for his authority. Other countries in the region havealso experienced higher political participation by the Shia community, much tothe alarm of Sunni governments, especially Saudi Arabia. In Lebanon, Hezbollah(the Lebanese Shia militia) has turned out to be the strongest party andpolitical movement. In Yemen, a radical Shia group known as the Houthis hasmanaged to overthrow the local government.
As Shia power swells, the Saudigovernment worries about its own political grasp. As with racism, thesectarian struggle is strongly fueled by political motives, vested interestsand has become a tool conveniently used by Islamic and Western governmentsalike. Sectarian tensions are considered as growing threats to internationalpeace 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, avicious cyclical reaction, so to say. The Sunni Shia divide is also responsiblefor a rapidly increasing humanitarian crisis.
The Syrian War alone has created4 million refugees and millions of internally displaced persons. Neighboringcountries struggle to provide humanitarian aid and services to the mortifiedevacuees. The refugee crisis has affected Europe as well, and while somecountries have had generous and welcoming resettling policies, much remains tobe done for this traumatized population.
The sectarian conflict in the MiddleEast has aggravated to an extent that experts warn of a complete transformationof the current map. Militant group strongholds in the region threaten theterritorial integrity and political stability of Middle Eastern countries.Consequently, Shifting borders and the emergence of new areas of influencebased on sect has become a norm in the 21st century.Every generation hasits humanitarian catastrophe; ours is the Syrian war. We know that added to themental trauma, added to the physical disfigurement, added to bereavement is theoutrageous reality that all of this is avoidable and all of this is manmade andperhaps that is what the paradox is.
Why do we have much greater empathy forthings that we cannot control such as earthquakes and tsunamis and so littleempathy for things which we can and should control like war and conflict? Inthis era of connectivity, why are we not close to the beings and theirsuffering in Syria? In this age of instantaneous communications, how are weunaware of their state? Perhaps we choose to close our eyes at the appallingatrocities taking place in Syria. Perhaps it is so because of the alienation ofthe general public from state matters such as war. I believe that with thefreedom of dialogic condition with regard to social media and press, the worldaltogether can raise a voice for the sufferings of the people of Syria and canspread awareness. We can see socialmedia and press promoting so many ills yet a matter.
The role of press andsocial 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 bebrought about. Nadia Ahmad Pakistan