Earlier this week, I was filming a feature on life on the frontlines of Aleppo, Syria. I was camping out with the men of Noor Den al-Zenke batallion, who man a two-block stretch of back streets that now forms the final line between government troops and opposition forces.
This narrow street had become a makeshift home for the men. Lounge chairs salvaged from abandoned homes formed an area for chatting and drinking tea. Meals were prepared on a grass mat in the middle of the street. We slept in a room on the lower floor in case of air raids. Lookouts were posted at each street corner to both watch and listen for new sniper positions and approaching troops and tanks.
On this morning, the men were relaxed and joking around as they cleaned their area from a tank attack the day before. That time, they had been prepared and the tank had fired too short. This time, the assault came with little warning.
As the cloud of smoke engulfed the street we ran back and frantically waited for the others to escape through the dust and debris. But no one came. In that split second, three men were reduced to broken, bleeding masses.
After a few minutes of disorientation, a vehicle arrived to transport the bodies. The survivors washed away the blood and flesh in a heartbreaking clean up.
New fighters came to take their posts. And the battle continued.
I didn’t want to show the photos because they are pretty disturbing, but it gives you an idea of what the situation in Syria is like. Click the link if you want to see the images.
“Sex sells — but can it sell a bloody Middle Eastern revolution pitting disparate armed factions against an entrenched autocrat?” asks Cara Parks over at Foreign Policy. The above photo accompanies the article.
It should be noted that the author is not responsible for the images, but she surely doesn’t offer any critical commentary on the sexualization and objectification of a violent struggle against a brutal regime. She argues towards the end that this meme could potentially bring the Syrian uprising to mainstream media headlines, drawing more needed attention to the conflict. But I struggle to understand how this sort of attention will do anything but turn the uprising into something it’s quickly evolving into: a spectacle.
Let’s set aside the implication of political interests from some of the world’s most powerful and corrupt regimes. The author perpetuates the idea that the Middle East is a region inhabited by two kinds of humans: the sexualized object that needs to be tamed, and the violent object that needs to be tamed. In this case, this image and article embodies both these kinds of humans in one well-packaged meme. I say object because the author effectively hijacked his identity, imposing her own definitions strictly limited to physical identifiers, such as “his nonchalant stride, close-cropped dark hair, chiseled chin, and steely-eyed intensity, this freedom fighter’s sculpted physique…” No mention of his struggle, his cause, his goals, his experiences, no mention of even his fucking name.
Great work FP. Awesome job Cara Parks.
In my nine years as a journalist I was accused of being an agent for the Americans, Iranians, Israelis, Qataris, the Afghan government and others. We journalists are used to these silly and ignorant slurs. The Taliban sentenced me to execution once because they thought I was a spy. But they are less sophisticated than others, I thought. So while I feel it is beneath me to respond to the contemptible people who now accuse of being an agent for the Syrian regime, I must do so anyway.
I have been accused of having “contact” with the Syrian regime. Of course this is true. I am not ashamed of it. I am a journalist. It is my job. We struggle to obtain contacts and access. This is the currency of our profession. I spent four months in Syria during the uprising writing and filming for al Jazeera. Though my last article was published by Foreign Policy .
I requested and received two visas which allowed me to enter Syria. No conditions or limitations were placed on me. I tried to help other journalists enter Syria one way or another as well. In January I was in touch with my friend, the late Anthony Shadid, who was frustrated that he was being denied a visa and was asking me for advice on whether he could get a visa or from where he should try to enter.
In the past I have requested and received access from American military Public Affairs Officers to embed in Iraq or Afghanistan, from Mahdi Army leaders in Sadr City, al Shabab commanders in Somalia, Mexican drug cartel leaders, Mujahedin leaders in Falluja, former Taliban Minister of Defense Mullah Baradar, and worst of all even from the Israeli Government Press Office so that I could operate in Occupied Palestine.
Some journalists compromise their work to obtain access and the privileges that come with it. I never have. As my work shows. And which is why I lose access as much as I gain it. Doing your job right often means burning those bridges and later losing access, but that’s part of the process of finding out truths people dont want to be revealed. The goal of my work has always been to challenge and subvert those in power. Any power. My own views on journalism can be found here.
I believe the trove of leaked emails from the Syrian government are indeed all real. The emails which contain my name are certainly real, I don’t mind saying. They are from people who were introduced to me and other western journalists as media and public relations advisers to the Syrian government or the president himself. They are the same people who arranged for the ABC News interview with Barbara Walters, for the Sunday Times interview with Bashar al Assad, for Agence France Presse, and for others to enter Syria. This is normal. How else does a journalist enter a country such as Syria?
In November 2011 after al Jazeera conducted a live interview with Iran’s president Ahmedinajad, I tried to persuade media advisers to the Syrian president that they should grant a similar one to al Jazeera’s English network. I sent them several emails trying to persuade them it was a good idea, including an email with my CV and biography. I also met with these media officials to try to persuade them.
And as this November email also shows, I forwarded them a link to a BBC program on Syria done by the heroic Paul Wood in order to try to persuade them that journalists are coming in anyway and they might as well let al Jazeera in formally.
Importantly, the fact that I had to send my resume and biography to establish my credentials for an interview bid with Assad and the very need for sending these things shows I was not an agent for them. And I never communicated any information to the authorities that was not already in the public domain by that point. It was normal for journalists to receive visas by communicating with the Syrian government back in November and I was not the only one. Now it is assumed that journalists have to sneak into Syria.
They did not want to let media they perceived as “hostile” to enter Syria so I sent links or told them about the many excellent (in my view) news programs that had already been aired by journalists from BBC, Sky News and other European agencies who had sneaked into Homs, meaning it was pointless to deny al Jazeera access when everybody can get in.
I did not inform on journalists who were already in Syria. In fact in my four months in Syria I never crossed paths with a journalist who had sneaked into the country and like the rest of us, I only found out that they had been in Syria once they left and published their stories or aired their news programs. These journalists, like Paul Wood, Ghaith Abdul Ahad, or my late friends Anthony Shadid and Marie Colvin did amazing and important work. But because they were “embedded” with the opposition in one location their view was limited. My visa allowed me to travel throughout the country and obtain a more holistic picture of the situation. There is nothing else in English, Arabic or any other language as extensive as the coverage of Syria I was able to provide based on a visa that allowed me entry and my own resourcefulness which made it possible for me to travel from Daraa to Idlib unhindered.
I’m not sure what to think. The English translations of the e-mails I’ve read don’t seem to really support the wilder allegations. It looks like Rosen had contact with Syrian government officials, but I think anyone who has read his works would know that. Unless more evidence comes out against him, I’m willing to believe his side.
I hope he’s telling the truth.
(Sorry this is unrelated to the majority of what I’ve been blogging about tonight, but this also may turn into a huge story if it is true.)
One of the emails alleging that Nir Rosen had contacts in the Syrian intelligence agency. It’s been translated into English.
Again, these emails haven’t been validated, but if this is true, it’s going to destroy his career (which it should.) What’s sad is that I already see conservatives on twitter using it as proof that anyone critical of American policy is suspect. It’s going to give them cover to their racism against Arab-American reporters.
Leaked email from Assad reveals that Nir Rosen may have been informing on journalists while in Syria.
I sincerely hope this turns out to be false, but if it is true, wow.
“This map presents a situational update of reported protests and violent clashes in cities and towns across the Syrian Arab Republic as reported between 4 and 12March 2012, related to the flare-up of violence and the presence of Arab League observers. Also depicted are the cumulative numbers of reported deaths since March 2011 aggregated by Governorate, and Syrian refugee camps that have been opened along the border in Turkey and Lebanon. Further, the spatial distribution of the dominant ethnic/religious communities in the country has been included as background context to the larger social and political uprising occurring within the country.”
Today is the one year anniversary of the Syrian uprising.
The Muslim Fundamentalist Palestinian party-militia Hamas, based largely in the Gaza Strip has abruptly broken with its long-time patron, Syria.
The leadership has scattered from its offices in Syria to elsewhere in the region, especially Egypt and Qatar.
Hamas, although considered an international terrorist group by Washington, is actually just a local, organized resistance movement on behalf of the Palestinians (who are stateless and rights-less).
The startling development could signal a further evolution of the organization away from violent tactics, and toward a firmer alliance with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar, under the impact of the Arab Spring. In turn that move implies cooler relations with Syria and Iran.
Read the full article for more on what this means and the future of HAMAS.
A French photojournalist reveals graphic pictures of what is happening to people in the under-sieg e Syrian city of Homs.