By: Khawlah Ghazi
The news of the burning of Syrian opposition newspapers that had manifested their solidarity with the French newspaper "Charlie Hebdo" by al-Nusra Front [NF] received little, if any, attention. This event, despite being a watershed event, had no repercussions on the Syrian arena; the primitive action of burning newspapers seems to signal an attempt to desiccate thought. It is a bonfire that affects ideas and wishes. And, as mundane as it seem given the overall context of the current Syrian situation and its complexities in these regions, it still carries many indicators; as it signals a new strand of terrorism affecting the freedom of thought and expression over all of the Syrian homeland.
It seems as if Syrian journalists are destined to always stand between a rock and a hard place, to always be forced to deal with a surreal situation where things seem to never change. They will always have high hopes, that cannot fly; even if they were to, these hopes and dreams will quickly fall into the trap of Syrian realities and its complexities. Every journalist will feel chagrin over the burning—and preventing the circulation—of these newspapers. They will become despondent by this situation. And while theirs is a daunting and thankless task; it still requires a joint effort with the government as well as with civil society institutions to reach a relatively acceptable professional reality.
Condemnation no longer suffices to stem the practices of those militant Islamic groups. Syrian citizens in these areas [controlled by the Islamic factions] will not take to the street or voice their objection of burning of a newspaper displaying solidarity with another newspaper that has offended the Prophet [Mohammad]. Freedom of expression in those areas is still subject to the mindset prevailing therein.
The burning of these newspapers has also shed light on the importance of their work, as well as to the extent of their role and relative influence; particularly in an environment in sore need of reading newspapers—a daring action on their behalf, given the reality they live in. It also points to the seriousness of the alternative media in providing a more diversified media offering; a media capable of attracting everyone, appealing to more than only one specific target audience. The task of the media operating in the areas beyond the Syrian regime's control is, undoubtedly, extremely difficult. The forming of a religious authority, whose most salient by-product seems to be a restriction of freedoms in the name of religion; added to the absence of civil society activists in those areas—with the overwhelming majority of them having either fled to Turkey or other countries of asylum; have helped to significantly widen the gap between reality and ambition, with regard to the media.
Given the aforementioned reality and its attendant results these newspapers' actions, good intentions notwithstanding, had been an ill-calculated adventure. Solidarity with "Charlie Hebdo" was not a courageous stance taken; rather it was a miscalculation in those areas, providing the dominant groups with an excuse to close a door, through which civilian activists used to reach out to these areas' people.
An additional cause for caution and fear also is that what had happened may easily jeopardize media professionals' lives. Murder is now as mundane and easy as a walk in the park; there is no authority—security, foreign countries, or media organizations—able to provide protection to journalists. Media Work in those areas is extremely risky, and needs to adopt a 'tunnel-digging' approach: step by step, and attempting to circumvent the de facto authorities, which can not be directly confronted. These groups possess their very own means of torture, ad hoc tribunes, security branches, and collaborators in those areas—even beyond their geographical boundaries. The past four years of the Syrian Revolution have actually brought life in these areas back to an arid desert of intellectual stasis for a large segment of youth; youth who could have, otherwise, been counted upon to build a civil and democratic environment. This was helped by a gaping absence of the political opposition's institutions—such as the Interim Government—whose presence is limited to Turkey and who, thus, has managed to distance itself from these areas, despite their being outside regime control. Invoking the air raids as an argument [for this absence on the ground] is but pretext: Those who should be protected from the horrors of the war, and in whose name funding from supporting countries arrives, actually still live in these areas. For all of these as well as other reasons, the poor conditions prevalent in these areas—practically abandoned to their own fate—have become exacerbated.
Therefore, the burning of newspapers, abduction of journalists, and other practices against the unarmed people in the areas beyond regime control are all the responsibility of both the Interim Government and the Coalition. Representing the Syrian people actually is a great responsibility bestowed upon them, not a gratuitous gift or grant handed to them; it is not designed for them to merely receive donations and aid only, or to pose center-stage in conferences and meetings. Otherwise, their existence would be utterly meaningless.
The true freedom of expression that would benefit these areas rests in the media loudly shouting those people in the face—those people who seem to be nothing more than disfigured clones of the Syrian regime's institutions and their modus operandi; to dislodge them, or to force them to work from the Syrian interior. Piecemeal activities will not satisfy the needs of these areas' people, nor will they change the dismal situation that keeps deteriorating, day after day.
* Opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the opnions of Radio Rozana.