The deniers of Russian, Iranian, and Syrian regime war crimes will go down in history as accomplices to Syria's war criminals.
If there was one word, apt to summarise the speeches of both Bashar Jaafari, Assad’s envoy to the UN, and his Russian counterpart Vasily Nebenzya speeches to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) regarding their current murderous efforts in Ghouta, it would be denial.
It’s a cliche to say that truth is the first casualty of war, but the simple act of denying truth is an extremely effective weapon not merely of war, but of genocide and mass murder.
Both Jaafari and Nebenzya had one unified message on the situation: the victims in Ghouta, of which parts of the world have momentarily taken notice, are not really victims at all. Jaafari claims the world has it topsy-turvy - the ‘massacre’ isn’t happening in eastern Ghouta at all, but rather in regime-held areas of Damascus.
The innocents murdered recently by Assad and Russia in eastern Ghouta, don’t exist according to Jaafari, but rather have been concocted by the western media and a campaign of ‘fake news’.
Jaafari claims the people they are killing are “terrorists”, who have been “recruited from all over the world by the US” to attack Syria.
Again, taking aim at the ‘mainstream media’ reporting on the massacre in Ghouta, Nebenzya claimed that there was “massive coordinated psychosis”, which was “spread by global media outlets”.
The reporting was “clearly superficial”, given that it didn’t report that Russia was not murdering civilians but doing the world a favour by killing “terrorists”.
One might think that this kind of propaganda is self-defeating, given its absurd nature in the face of the slaughter in Ghouta being incontrovertibly documented.
But we live in a ‘post-truth’ world, where truth too often does not function so much as a point of orientation or understanding as it does as something that one embraces when it’s convenient to a preconceived worldview, dogma or narrative. Or that one denies and obscures when it’s inconvenient to these things.
Assad, and especially Russia, go out of their way to saturate social media and the ‘alternative media’ with misinformation and disinformation for one reason – they know that it is effective.
In the post-9/11 period, in the long ignominious shadow of the Iraq war and the ‘War on Terror’, it might be said that there is an epistemological crisis, typified by the idea that whatever ‘the establishment’ (of which the ‘mainstream media’ is allegedly part of and serves) says is false.
Everything the ‘mainstream media’ or ‘establishment politicians’ say can be discarded without refutation. This has created a vacuum that has, in part, been filled by Russian-funded and Russian-friendly media outlets, never mind the political ramifications.
It’s for these reasons that the denial of the crimes of Assad, Iran and Russia in Syria have been so profuse in the seven years of the conflict. At every step, the crimes of the regime and its allies have been obscured, denied and justified by formal and informal actors working in coordination – the pro-Russia dregs of internet trolling.
The Max Blumenthals, Max Abrahms, Vanessa Beeleys, Tim Andersons and Rania Khaleks of the world, probably aren’t working for the Kremlin, but they’re working towards the Kremlin.
Appealing to the vast reserves of Islamophobia that were built up in the West during the ‘War on Terror’ era, Assad and Russia have with relative ease slandered Muslim men with guns as ‘Al Qaeda’ and ‘terrorists’.
What they fear more than anything, however, is humanitarian forces like the White Helmets or merely the everyday people of Syria who come to momentary prominence around the world by documenting genocide first hand.
It’s much harder to demonise volunteers who rush into gassed and bombed buildings, or kids documenting the apocalypse armed only with camera phones. These people represent precisely what Assad and Russia are trying to eradicate.
While these forces want to keep people’s minds on ‘Al Qaeda’ (al-Qaeda has no presence in eastern Ghouta, while its former affiliate has just 300 members out of a population of 400,000) and ‘terrorists’, it’s people like the 15-year-old Muhammad Najem who explicitly present the human side of the atrocities being carried out.
Najem takes ‘selfies’ or short videos of himself against the backdrop of buildings that have just been hit by Russian and regime attacks. Najem’s technique is frighteningly austere, as is his calm as he observes and listens to the hell of rocket and bomb attacks around him – pounding his neighbourhood. It’s not just the fact that as an observer you know that at any minute he could be incinerated, but you know that he also knows this.
In one video, after a nearby airstrike and the sound of sirens and the crying of children, Najem turns to the camera, to you, and says “we are killed by your silence”.
In another statement, he calls out those responsible, lamenting that “Assad, Putin and Khamenei killed our childhood” and “the children of Ghouta die every day by the bombing of Assad and Russia”.
Well, they can’t have that.
Cue the attack dogs, both state ones and the network of sleazy social media trolls. RT carried a piece claiming slandering both Najem and Bana Alabed, who live tweeted the brutal fall of Aleppo (and was targeted by the same sleazy network of pro-Russia, pro-Assad trolls), claiming that she was exploited by her ‘terrorist’ father into lies about Russian and regime atrocities in Aleppo. They claim Najem is Ghouta’s version of Bana – a young media-friendly face who is distorting reality on behalf of ‘Al Qaeda’ groups.
Indeed, just a day before Najem’s own home was hit by an airstrike, two RT employees accused Najem of being a ‘crisis actor’ (an actor paid to portray a victim of a disaster).
We saw the same process with the White Helmets, with the mobilisation of pro-Kremlin forces, from TV channels to trolls to ‘analysts’ and ‘journalists’, accusing them of everything from being supporters of Al Qaeda and ‘terrorism to ‘shills’ for ‘regime change’ and the ‘Illuminati’.
The Russian reality distortion and denial machine also kicked into gear after the Syrian filmmaker Feras Fayyad’s film The Last Men in Aleppo, which documents the life of White Helmet volunteers as they struggle to save civilian life in Russia-bombarded Aleppo, was nominated for an Oscar. As reported in the New York Times, the Russian media described his film as a ‘thinly disguised Al Qaeda promotional vehicle’.
During their most recent speeches to the UNSC, both Jaafari and Nebenzya singled out the White Helmets for attack. The latter claimed that they’re “affiliated with terrorist groups” (which is how Russia justifies its vicious targeting of these first responders as they rush to save civilians that Russia claims are really terrorists) and the former claiming that the White Helmets are training civilians in Ghouta to “act out chemical attacks”.
Russian state media followed suit, claiming that the White Helmets were “planning another chemical farce” in “the last terrorist enclave” of Ghouta. Here this slander acquires a more terrifyingly ominous quality, not simply given Assad’s previous mass murder of people in Ghouta using sarin, but that this propaganda about the White Helmets staging chemical attacks preceded the most recent use of poison gas in Ghouta a few days ago, with one baby being suffocated to death.
Indulging these lies quite literally paves the way for murder.
Russia wants to silence all coverage of the reality of its role in the Syrian genocide, but when it cannot silence it seeks the next best thing: denial and distortion.
Genocide deniers, the most infamous of which are Holocaust deniers, do not seek merely to push crude propaganda for a political cause they support, but they seek to deliver a ‘final insult’ to their victims by denying their victimhood.
If this is monstrous when it occurs as historical revisionism, it’s even worse when the genocide is still unfolding.
While Assad and Russia seeks to literally eradicate people like Muhammad Najem and the White Helmets and all those who seek to live free of him and his allies, they and their privileged mouthpieces seek to eradicate their voices and delegitimise their victimhood as they face what the UN secretary-general called ‘hell on earth’.
It will be recorded in history as 'intellectual' dehumanisation and justification that necessarily accompanied Syria’s genocide.
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