A few days ago, I found myself at an Arabic restaurant in Falls Church, Virginia, which apparently doubled as some kind of family-friendly dance spot. While the DJ, who happened to be Syrian, played all kinds of music he would agree to play Saudi music –not very popular with anyone other than Saudis–only if one of the nice Saudi homeboys populating the venue would give him a tip. Only once payment was received did the DJ play the music Saudis are so fond of.
For me, the incident brought to mind the Syrian opposition and the support it is rumored to have received from certain Gulf regimes. The Syrian National Council (SNC), which includes elements with strictly Islamist persuasions as well as more left-leaning voices, has yet to agree on anything beyond the necessity of removing President Bashar Al-Assad. The divisions within the SNC are hard to miss; even its allies and supporters have expressed concerns over these internal rifts.
Indeed, in the larger context of the Arab Spring, no country’s internal struggle has been more defined by division than that of Syria. Unfortunately, the mainstream media narrative has more or less ignored this important factor in favor of creating a loud anti-Assad din. The truth is the Syrian opposition is not united, does not enjoy the full support of the Syrian people, and is largely foreign-funded. We simply cannot ignore these facts.
Like most Arabs, when the Syrian revolution began, I was 100 percent behind it. But as time passed, the revolution transformed from a local movement into a far larger, multinational plot. All of a sudden, countries with dismal human rights records are backing the Syrian revolutionaries while preaching democracy to the Syrian regime.
To be clear, I am neither a supporter of Assad, nor his military apparatus. Its human rights abuses are well documented and many people have been killed in this bloody conflict. There is no denying this. Still, I wish that more people would also have the intellectual courage to acknowledge that armed militias have orchestrated many random acts of violence in Syria, and that these groups are a very real part of the disjointed opposition movement working to bring down the Assad regime. There is no organic and beneficent Syrian opposition movement, supported by all the country’s civilians and united under the umbrella of the SNC.
The one-sidedness of the Syrian story surprises me a great deal. According to most of the Arab and American media, you are either with the revolution or an indifferent bully. Many media outlets have gone to great lengths to advance this narrative, and the debunked stories and false reports have made me cynical about the whole Arab Spring ordeal. YouTube is loaded with revolutionary videos where creative editing is the star. People originally reported to have disappeared or been assassinated have turned up alive and well.
A major TV network contacted me recently regarding the possibility of conducting an interview about the music of the Syrian revolution. After some discussion back and forth, this was their response to me:
Sorry we won’t be proceeding with this story in this angle. But it was very nice speaking with you. I will keep your contact information and maybe we’ll be in touch again if we end up doing a story on this in the near future.
These media outlets do no one a favor by covering one side and overlooking the other. The voice being neglected is the voice of the Syrian people, not the regime. The fact is large swaths of the Syrian and Arab populations do in fact still support the Assad regime. Last summer, a group of Syrian-American Christians took a bus from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C. and held a protest in support of Assad. The same happened in Canada. Iraq, a staunch American ally, continues to support the regime. Dahi Khalfan, Lieutenant General of Dubai, has warned against the dangers of letting Syria fall under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the entertainment world, the vast majority of Arab artists in music, TV, and film stand firmly next to Assad. Lebanese and non-Lebanese artists alike have released droves of songs supporting Assad, and these are the same singers who celebrated the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Some might argue that these artists may fear the wrath of the regime. By the same token, however, one must admit that a great deal of these entertainers have willingly chosen to support the Syrian regime. Take for example, legendary singer Wadih El Safi who is almost 91 years old. A man at this age, who has nothing to lose, has chosen to be a vocal supporter of the regime in Syria. Other singers in their 20s, such as Nancy Zabalawy, have also expressed their support for the regime. Since the start of the Syrian revolution, only two songs have criticized Assad while twenty songs, recorded by Syrian and other Arab singers, have celebrated him. In comparison, during Egypt’s revolution there were only two songs that were pro Mubarak and a 100 against him.
Those who want to topple the regime in Syria with the help of foreign troops would be the first to decry the aftermath. Syria is a complicated issue. What is not complicated is freedom and dignity, which the people demand. While I stand firmly with the Syrians and applaud them for standing up and demanding their rights, the noise induced by the anti-Assad campaign is making it impossible to hear what the people really want.
*Hanitizer is a native of Palestine and a passionate commentator on Arabic pop culture and things that make people laugh. He runs HotArabicMusic and has written for a number of blogs, including KABOBfest, Cracked, and Huffington Post. Hani, who holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration, is a concerned citizen and lives in Washington, DC.