Propaganda – the spreading of false or misleading information in order to further a political or ideological cause – is by definition only effective to the extent that its recipients are willing to suspend disbelief. The challenge for those engaged in disseminating propaganda is not to make the mistake of crossing the line between the plausible and implausible, the possible and impossible. Do so and like a vampire being exposed to daylight, the façade of verisimilitude required to provide the message you are trying to impart with enough credence to pass muster is stripped away to reveal its half-truths, untruths, and willful distortions.
A recent article carried by UK’s liberal newspaper of record, the Guardian, titled ‘How Syria’s White Helmets became victims of an online propaganda machine’, purports to expose three prominent dissenting voices of the West’s official narrative of the conflict in Syria, lampooning their criticisms of the White Helmets, a western-funded and supported civil defence organization, impugning said journalists’ motives and credentials.
The White Helmets are an organization elevated to near-mythical status by Western journalists and politicians in recent years. When you consider that it is difficult to be seen to be lending support to people and groups with a penchant for hacking off people’s heads for the crime of daring to pray in a certain way, throwing others off tall buildings for daring to be gay, or raping women because they can, this makes sense. In other words, embracing the White Helmets as a surrogate for a Syrian opposition dominated by Islamists and Salafi-jihadis allows the group’s supporters in the West a moral safety valve when it comes to sustaining their position of regime change at all cost.
Olivia Solon kicks off her Guardian article thus: “The Syrian volunteer rescue workers known as the White Helmets have become the target of an extraordinary disinformation campaign that positions them as an al-Qaida linked terrorist organisation.”
Though I certainly would not describe the White Helmets as a ‘terrorist organisation’, it is undeniable the group operates in those parts of Syria controlled by the al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front (renamed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in 2016) and other Salafi-jihadi groups, and has done since established in 2013 by retired British army officer James Le Mesurier. Are we expected to believe that such groups allow the White Helmets to operate freely and independently?
In a wide-ranging 2016 article, former US marine and UN weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, described Le Mesurier as a man who “had experience in the murky world of private security companies and the shadowy confluence between national security and intelligence operations and international organizations.” Meanwhile, of the White Helmets themselves, Ritter writes: “There is a symbiotic, hand-in-glove relationship between the anti-Assad rhetoric of the ostensibly “neutral and impartial” White Helmets and the policy objectives of their funders, a relationship that embodies the notion of a quid pro quo relationship between the two. With their training, equipment and logistical sustainment underwritten exclusively by donations from Western governments (primarily the U.S. and U.K.), the White Helmets serve as a virtual echo chamber for American and British politicians and officials.”
In her Guardian article, Ms Solon contradicts her own claim, mentioned earlier, that an “extraordinary disinformation campaign” is being waged against the White Helmets, when she reveals that “one former White Helmet was fired after he was filmed assisting armed militants in disposing of the mutilated corpses of pro-Assad fighters, and others have been photographed with guns despite marketing themselves as unarmed. There is also footage of White Helmets taking a body away from an execution carried out by rebel militants, which critics claim shows they are “assisting” executions.”
The clincher in the article is provided by one of Ms Solon’s sources, Sam Woolley, whom we are informed: “studies computational propaganda at the University of Oxford.” Mr Woolley argues, “It’s all part of an effort to delegitimise western efforts to stabilise (my emphasis) Syria.” One can only surmise that Mr Woolley was mistaken or temporarily confused and meant to say, “western efforts to destabilise Syria.”
But then one person’s idea of destabilization is another person’s idea of stabilization. Indeed there are those who believe that “destroying the village in order to save it” is an entirely rational concept, justifying thereby the destruction of Iraq and Libya in recent years. After all, such people do actually exist. The vast network of neocon think tanks operating in Washington and across the West is stuffed full of them.
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