Posted by on April 08, 2013 in Blog

Last week, the New York Times ran a story on Syria that featured a photo of a Syrian rebel fighter amidst the ruins of Deir Al-Zour with a rifle in hand. Surrounded by the detritus of war, he sits on a ruined sofa with a grim or tired expression. Behind him are bullet holes, collapsing homes, and an endless sea of rubble. In the printed edition, the caption below the photo reads, “Syria’s Insurgents Make Gains.”

Many have written ably about the inherent problems of Western reporting on the Syrian uprising, but I think this picture sums up one of the fundamental concerns rather succinctly. The eagerness of many outlets to cheer on the military “advance” of the Syrian rebels – and thus the further militarization of the Syrian conflict – often eclipses the suffering and devastation that goes along with it.

That is not to say that one should not eagerly hope for the fall of the murderous Assad regime. Rather, we must also begin to think about what comes next. If the goal is to build a free and democratic Syria – for which the elimination of Bashar Al-Assad is a necessary but not sufficient step – some regard must be given to the collapsing infrastructure, the rising sectarianism, and the endemic spread of hunger, displacement, and rape that has followed closely behind the armed uprising. These blights are not only a terrible price paid by the Syrian people today; they will also undermine the future prosperity, stability, and unity of whatever comes in the wake of Assad’s fall.

Bassam Haddad, Director of the Middle East Studies Program at George Mason University, provides a helpful dose of perspective on the actual state of “opposition gains”:

Pegging one’s view and prognosis on advances and retreats here and there has been a tremendous source of irresponsible reporting and analysis. When we zoom out figuratively, the view becomes clearer: the battlefield has been marked mainly by entrenchment rather than fundamental gains for any side for months. 

More importantly, however, he calls on all of us who work or write on Syria to remember the bigger picture:

Analysts, including myself, are not absolved. We all participate in creating perceptions that shape reality and, sometimes, policy. Yet we are getting Syria wrong more often than not, and that is a direct consequence of pegging our interpretation on events as opposed to legacies, history, and a dynamic conception of the strategic playing field. 

In that vein, the Atlantic compiled a series of photos from Syria, including the one used by the New York Times above. It is aptly titled “Syria in Ruins,” and it provides a much more complete picture. It may be heart-breaking, but it’s also more honest.

comments powered by Disqus