War reporting

Facts must be respected – even in Syria!

Amid the increasing complexity of the Syrian conflict, a growing number of "critical citizens" are assigning greater credibility to conspiracy theories on the Internet than to UN investigations that are required to meet scientific standards. Essay by Kristin Helberg

How often have you heard it said that truth is the first victim of war? And that – in the Syrian conflict for example – no side can be trusted as they're all simply spreading propaganda and waging a "war of images"? Probably very often. Until some newspaper readers and television viewers decided to no longer believe anything.

And some journalists resignedly turned to reporting on anything deemed to be newsworthy. Toxic gas attack in Syria? "It was Assad", say some, "it was the rebels", others claim.

Ultimately all that's left is the sense of not being able to know anything for sure, because this war presided over the death of truth a long time ago. We've already stumbled into the trap. The trap set by conspiracy theorists and disseminators of fake news, whose most ardent wish is to see anything that was ever investigated, researched, and proven end up in the post-factual graveyard. Where its grave is filled up with so many "alternative facts" that no-one knows anymore what – and above all – whom to believe and hardly anyone is bothering to dig for the truth.

But the truth does exist – and in war, most particularly. After all, it is here that crimes occur that have perpetrators and victims, so that their clarification only brings to light one truth – namely the details of the crime itself.

Don't carry the truth to the grave

The sentence about truth being the victim of war originates from the year 1914. It means that irrespective of the facts, warring parties like to spread their versions of events. This should not result in us carrying truth to the grave, but on the contrary, encourage us to search for it.

But is truth not relative? Doesn't everyone have their own truth? No, everyone has their own perception, their own viewpoint of particular events. In war, this distinction is fundamental: truth can be objectively determined, perception is subjective.

There are as many versions of the war in Syria as there are Syrians. Everyone has good reason to see things the way they do – depending on where and how they have experienced the war. Anyone living on the coast without fear of air raids, or in relative security in the northeastern Kurdish territories, has a different viewpoint to residents of eastern Ghouta or eastern Aleppo, locked in a battle with the regime for years.

Destruction of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus on 23 February 2018 (photo: Getty Images/AFP)
Regions turned to rubble: there are as many versions of the war in Syria as there are Syrians. Everyone has good reason to see things the way they do – depending on where and how they have experienced the war. Anyone living on the coast without fear of air raids, or in relative security in the northeastern Kurdish territories, has a different viewpoint to residents of eastern Ghouta or eastern Aleppo, locked in a battle with the regime for years

Those who have become acquainted with freedom and self-determination in opposition-held regions are going to have different expectations to those people who suffered for four years under the so-called "Islamic State" (IS), only to be subsequently bombed by the United States.

Hiding behind simplified explanations

Moreoever, the Syria conflict also features the assessments of so-called experts. While these should also not be confused with the truth, they are a fundamental part of the overall debate. In the best case scenario, an expert knows the country personally, can speak the language, reads a variety of different sources and adheres to journalistic principles in his research.

Only then can he start trying to piece the puzzle together. Or in other words assess the many thousand pieces of information, opinions, views and reports on Syria on the Internet, contextualise and explain them.

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Comments for this article: Facts must be respected – even in Syria!

One should metion that the "leftists" (Here I don't know the writer's definition of "a leftist"), who say that the Syrian regime is "democratic" are a small minority. Other leftists consider the regime authoritarian, but anti-imperialist. They are also wrong. Putin, Assad, and the Mullahs in Iran do not represent a progressive force to defend. Also, the "forces" of "good" and "evil" mentioned in the article have not decided the outcome of the war. Russia, Iran and Hizbolla on one side and the hypocrisy of the major Western powers on the other side decided. The same powers that protected the Egyptian regime of Sisi and Mubarak before him, chose to help overthrow the Libyan and support the Saudi monarchy in Yemen. The writer is right about some leftists position on Syria, but not right in ignoring the long record of imperialist hypocrisy. Truth is not enough if it doesn't help identifying the bigger game of social relations and state relations. Truth is only a step, but it is not enough if it excludes deeper structural and historical interests of the players involved.

Nadeem23.11.2018 | 18:59 Uhr