On Lies, Fear and the Construction of Normality… and Rebellion

Yassin Al Haj Saleh

 It was clear that Sheikh Nawaf Ragheb Al Basheer was released, after two months of arrest, only after he was forced to appear on Syrian state television and say what the regime wanted to hear. It is also clear that the regime is not keen on hiding this fact. What they hoped for is not to convince Syrians about the contents of the Sheikh’s talk about the regime and the president, but rather to humiliate the Sheikh as a well known opposition figure.

Previously, the regime followed the same approach with Sheikh Ahmad Sayasenah, the Imam of al-Omari mosque, who is well respected in his hometown of Dar’aa. The aim was also to disgrace the man as a symbol and distort Syrians’ perception of him. The regime has no intention to prove that it is a just and dignified regime. The aim is to humiliate its citizens who oppose the regime and strip them of all dignity.

The regime appears not to be concerned with the fact that although it did not kill Zainab Al Hosni, it did kill another woman, decapitated her, cut away her arms, and burnt her face in such a way to render her unrecognizable. And that it killed Zainab’s brother and that the family received his corpse along with the supposed corpse of Zainab herself. What the regime is concerned about is falsification of widespread reports on Zainab’s killing, to destroy the credibility of those rebelling against it, more than it is concerned about convincing the people of the truth of the regime’s reports and the justice of its actions.

The regime’s propaganda machine paid particular attention to denying the death of Ahmad Beyassi and forcing him to appear on Syrian state television to humiliate him as a symbol as well. Even though this proved that the regime’s security forces and its armed militia “al shabiha” were the ones that humiliated the residents of the township of Baedda and treated them in such a colonial way.

It could be true, that for both the cases of Zainab Al Hosmi and Ahmad Beyassi, the news of their deaths was deliberately leaked in order to deny it later on and thus damage the credibility of the Syrian revolution and media outlets keen on covering it.

These four incidents indicate two things:

First, the strong fundamental ties that link the media and security centers in Syria, the later producing fear and the former creating lies. The link between these two strategic pillars of the regime is not coincidental. The job of the media is to bend the truth, whereas the role of the security forces is to prevent the truth from spreading, i.e. their common dominator is they create barriers to prevent the ruled Syrian masses from forming a clear understanding of the status of the regime and how to best fulfill their own roles in this world. From a different perspective, the media can be seen as a tool to sanctify those acts and a network of temples which are dedicated to the service of the political religion imposed on Syrian people for four decades; in other words, the cult of the leader. Whereas the security forces act as the network of violent tools that are used to punish blasphemy or even doubt about this idol. Therefore, the regime consistently and diligently assigned the management of these two strategic apparatuses to its close trustees. Consequently these two apparatuses cannot and will not be reformed, never. Can fear be reformed? How about lies? Moreover they are not government institutions; they are tools of the current regime, they cannot persist following the fall of the regime, and the regime cannot persist without them.

The second issue is that the regime is not interested in winning the battle for truth, rather it wants everybody to appear as liars, as stated by Arwa Nairbieh a while ago. Or more accurately, to create confusion so that people cannot distinguish between right and wrong and between true and fale. The regime knows that it cannot say the truth or make the effort to enable the public to know it. As a result it prefers that there is no truth in the first place, so that everything being said is dismissed as lies and fabrications. Consequently, things fall to relativism. “Is our media not objective? But absolute objectivity is non-existent” [the regime asks and answers rhetorically]. Eventually, deliberate falsifications become akin to unconscious bias, lying akin to ideology, the [government] Baath newspaper akin to the Independent, and Syrian State television akin to Al Jazeera (“The Sow” in the slang used by the regime’s hardcore Syrian supporters) [In Arabic “Al Jazeera” and sow “al-Khenzeera”  rhyme]

There are other examples [of these rhetoric questions and answers]. “Is there corruption in Syria? But there is corruption everywhere in the world, and corruption is human nature.” Thus cases of corruptions in many countries across the globe are equated with an entity that, at its core, is actively abusing public institutions and the state itself to further its private interests and where the ruling elite is in a prime position to control national resources without any accountability. The aim is also to destroy any criteria that can be used to criticise the status quo. The entire world is corrupt and therefore there is no difference between this corruption and that corruption, and there is nothing that can or must be done about it.

It becomes important to focus on the situation in the detention centers in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghareb because it serves the aim of conveying that the message that arbitrary arrests and torture are normal and they happen everywhere around the globe, including countries which “hold on dearly to democracy”, which makes the arrest of Syrian citizens and their torture by the Syrian security apparatus appear as a normal practice. Have not you seen the “American democracy in Iraq”? It would be excessive scrutiny to state that the Americans torture their non-American enemies, and that the Israelis arrest and torture the Palestinians and not Jewish Israelis, whereas the Syrian intelligence tortures its own citizens. The ultimate aim is not to present clear facts on the issue at hand, but to create a cynical mood and psychological state according to which the world is a dangerous place where reform is futile, and inhabitants are liars and corrupt and cannot be trusted. And thus there is no use in doing anything. Reform or change is meaningless, and it is not possible to do better than how things stand now.

Hence instead of working towards good, justice, truth or freedom, we will despair about the utility of any work and accept the status quo.

And those who still refuse to accept this status quo will be crushed, and labeled as position and power seekers. In other words, they have no principles or causes, and their ultimate aim is to replace those currently in power or “share the cake” with them. Those currently in power might be thieves but they are already well-off, however those opposed to them are hungry thieves, and therefore better the thieves we know than the thieves we don’t. It follows that the status quo is given a negative legitimacy (not as bad as the alternative) although it lacks any positive legitimacy (better than the alternative or the best).

The aim is to create a chaos of values such that people’s perceptions become confused and their sense of justice and their ability to criticize and assess is suppressed. And this is suitable to keep the current status quo forever.

Thus the conclusion becomes “Al Assad or none”! In simple words, there is no alternative. Only chaos, destruction, and civil war will ensue following the demise of this regime.

Even more importantly, all that is attributed to the natural order of things; a fate and not a well-thought and planned construction. Nevertheless, Syrians have rebelled. But that’s why their rebellion is tragic and meaningful.

Original Arabic-version of this article was published on Yassin Al Haj Saleh’s blog

في الكذب والخوف وصناعة الطبيعة… والتمرد

On Lies, Fear and the Construction of Normality… and Rebellion

ياسين الحاج صالح

Yassin Al Haj Saleh

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