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White Helmets and Dark Hearts


Refuting the Guardian’s latest squabble on the ISIS supported White Helmets corps.

Refuting the Guardian’s latest squabble on the ISIS supported White Helmets corps. 

By Alamdar Khadr

This article is not a point-by-point rebuttal of the shameful and tendentious hit-piece published by the Guardian on December 18th 2017Others have done an excellent job of pulling apart, piece by piece, the jumble of distortion, half-truth and downright falsehood used by technology journalist Olivia Solon to attempt to rehabilitate the Syrian Civil Defence Corps, also known as the White Helmets, after they were exposed as colluding with some of the most extreme elements fighting against the government of Bashar Al Assad.

Instead, we will take a broader look at how this piece, and many others like it, have served to enable and then prolong a destructive an unnecessary conflict in which the needs of the Syrian people have been subordinated to those of outside actors serving the same imperialist agenda that led to disaster in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

The first thing to note is that Ms Solon is not a Middle East specialist of any description. She is no historian, no political scientist, no sociologist; she is not even a journalist with experience covering the region. An online profile describes her as a “San Francisco-based journalist focusing on technology, science, start-ups and digital culture.” As such, she may have some claim to expertise in assessing how information spreads across digital networks, but she is in no way qualified to ascertain the truth of such information.  In this regard, she has a great deal in common with journalists who have provided material that was uncritically gobbled up by journalists and political actors to use in justifying support for Anti-Assad rebels despite a total lack of expertise in the Middle East, or even the study of war and conflict.

So, a writer armed with little more than a knowledge of startups and soy lattes, goes on to decry the fact that most of the anti-White Helmet material on the internet comes from a small clutch of sources which are later amplified by social media users. In this, she makes a number of (deliberate or otherwise) omissions. The article ignores the fact that, when the mainstream narrative is for war, of course, the voices that go against it will be few and far between – that is literally what a counternarrative is.

It also assumes that there is something nefarious in the fact that ‘anti-imperialist’ activists pick up on these claims and spread them, motivated by a mistrust of the ‘MSM agenda.’ Even if we ignore the fact that the choice of words leaves the author sounding like a Trumpian troll, it seems strange that a technology journalist is so appalled by the power of social media to take power away from a few large news outlets and place it in the hands of ordinary people.

But the biggest failure is that, for all the studies cited, there is not a single one that attempts to explore the equivalent on the other side. There is no mention of how Israeli Hasbara operatives spread divisive sectarian material; there is no acknowledgement of the fact that White Helmet tweets were spread by accounts linked to extremist groups; there is not even the vaguest recognition of cases such as ‘the boy in the ambulance’ who was used as a prop for rebel PR material before his family came out as pro-Assad or of the dozens of articles that appeared before the recapture of East Aleppo alleging that its residents were about to experience genocide. . The Syrian civil war was the first major conflict of the social media age, a study of how information was used as a weapon by both sides would be both illuminating and a contribution to the sum of human knowledge. But Solon’s article is nothing of the sort. Instead it takes a common practice in war – an actor in a conflict attempting to push their version of events – as exceptional or unusual when ‘wrong’ side does it.

Solon’s piece, then, is a piece of propaganda all of its own. The citation of academic studies may appear to give it weight, but without equivalent studies on all sides that took part in the conflict, they are meaningless. The intent in writing it may have been to expose a vast conspiracy of Russians, lefties and Assadists, but the attempt has instead exposed the web of liberal assumptions that allowed the conflict to take place: the assumption that a distant observer is more qualified than those, like Eva Bartlett, who actually dared to go on the ground in Syria; the assumption that the many documented transgressions by the rebels and their backers are misdemeanours that can be overlooked because of the worthiness of their cause; the assumption, at the root of it all, that the Syrian uprising was a genuine indigenous attempt at revolution rather than one of the most egregious examples of ‘astroturfing’ in history.

How do we know it is true? Because there are thousands US troops in Syria than previously admitted; because Israel was, and is, secretly arming the Kurds and providing medical assistance to Al-Nusra operatives; because Qatar (following its recent split with Saudi Arabia) has admitted that Saudi, Turkish and Gulf money and weapons were pouring in to Syria from day one; because, in the end, no power can take and hold territory if it does not enjoy the confidence of the population. None of these things are the product of online propaganda, they are the facts on the ground

There are dozens of examples of the White Helmets being caught in a less than neutral posture. But even if all of these are dismissed as agitprop and fakery, one single incontrovertible fact puts the lie to all of Solon’s arguments. Since 2012, in places where the Red Cross would not dare not go, in places where the Red Crescent was unwelcome, the SCDC operated freely. In the end, if we are to believe her in her version of the White Helmets, we must also believe that immolators and beheaders, murderers, rapists and enslavers had, for no discernable reason, a soft spot for this one humanitarian organization.

And if you believe that, we’re sure that Solon and her Oscar winning allies will have another regime change war to sell you very soon.

Alamdar Khadr is a blogger at the World Shia Forum. He lives with his family in the United States.


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