Aleppo violence: Why 140 characters on Twitter cannot explain the complexities of a 5-year-long brutal civil war in Syria

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Updated: May 18, 2020 7:00 PM

Social media gives its users a pseudo sense of empowerment and in recent times, political worthiness, but can it solve a civil war?

aleppo, syria, aleppo syria, syrian war, aleppo war, syria news, aleppo news, civil war, syria civil war, bashar al assad, isis, syria rebels, syria isis, assad aleppo, syria social media, syria twitter, syria facebook, aleppo twitter, aleppo facebook, aleppo social mediaA Syrian man holds the body of his son in Aleppo, Syria on October 3, 2012. The Syrian Army killed the boy. (Picture: Associated Press)

It is an undeniable fact that social media gives its users a pseudo sense of empowerment and in recent times, political worthiness. One can argue whether virtual protests help in any way but if it doesn’t can we truly say it is harmless? Social media reports on the Syrian insurgency has the ability to portray an illusion of authenticity, as it is almost a spontaneous activity of the current generation who are used to their mobile devices and self-publication, but is the content and its access controlled?  Do we really know who is the enemy in this theatre of terror? Is the depicted enemy really the enemy or has it been made so for mere symbolic importance?

With the new ceasefire ‘surrender deal’ agreed upon in the Syrian ‘war zone’ city of Aleppo, the government has taken over the eastern part of the city and Russia has ended all military action, while the rest of Syria is controlled by the rebels, ISIS and Kurdish forces. But everyone knows, this is not the end, as the city has been passed between the regime and the ‘rebels’ for years now. As the promised political and economic reforms fail to eventuate, this spectre of blood will continue. As three to four lakh people already dead, and millions displaced, if one follows the conflict in Syria, the ground protests have been going down, as more and more people are turning to online media which gives them a sense of change, but that has also led to demobilisation at the ground level.

Social media, indubitably, can not be blamed for that situation as the sole reason, in the same way, the conflict in the country cannot be understood in a series of 140 characters. But the moot point is that online one-liners, likes and retweets cannot bring down an unscrupulous leader who has a brutal repressive army and determined to use it at will. But to delve into this deeper, the question that comes to mind is can there ever be a ‘real’ true narrative in a civil war, especially in a region which is mired with conflicts involved with international actors? These kind of conflicts are not two-dimensional, but rather a combination of perplexing processes that provide shelter to a greater mix of identities and their activities. Syrian government forces have moved to the final rebel area of eastern Aleppo and the next war on the different stories revolving around the important incident has been rising on Facebook and Twitter.

Syria is not even the first war where the media has been the battleground but the recent expansion of Facebook and Twitter has sped up the process. Interestingly, this has helped the terrorists in many regions too, simply because the polarisation on social media breeds a simple dichotomy of good and bad and also relieves people of the hindrances of mainstream media. However, one cannot blame Syria altogether. Social media should also consider the political struggles of Egypt and Tunisia. We never thought about the absence of a proper opposition in Syria. Egypt had experience of opposition but Syria didn’t. Mired in all pervasive, total surveillance how could Syria have a great opposition ever? The Internet provides terrorists with the same thing it does to other people, planning, organisation, proselytising, ‘believer’s education and also entertainment.

Now, that Bashar al-Assad’s army has taken back the control of eastern Aleppo, many new stories might come to the surface, most important of which is why were the thousands of people trapped in the city were not able to leave when the government and Russian forces bombarded the city? We will also know about the ‘rebels’ who most of the world supports, as of now. After all, they included Al-Qaeda too.

We can search for answers to why people with interwoven imagery of democracy, heroism and suffering supported the rebels while they were defending east Aleppo. However, anyone changing direction today from the deeply ambiguous Syrian tragedy will face the repetition of ad nauseam and the stream will lose focus as usual. Following the intensification of the battle between government forces and rebel groups, an increasing number of journalists have been kidnapped and killed and that had led to the Syrian citizens to pick up their camera phones and report on events. So, how can we expect a clear picture of the complexity of a war zone that Syria is, in a line, marinated by personal opinions, written in shorthand on a social media platform? And there is no perfect answer to that too.

Syria has been reported among the worst countries in the world for journalists and that has led to the decrease in a number of ground reportage where the tweeted texts and videos are the only source of information to create stories. But there is always a question hanging over the fact of validation. Many believe this is the highest amateur reliant journalism in a long time. Media houses have been relying on anonymous citizen ‘journalists’ in the country for reportage. It is new impossible for journalists to reach Aleppo, and the verification can only be done by cross-referencing claims from individuals and the data already present. But how can you trust the narratives totally?

In a wider sense, there are already two narratives, one which depicts the rebels who are fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s evil empire with Russian President Vladimir Putin, to be good people. This easily directs to a fall of Aleppo. But in another perspective, which depicts the rebels to be extremists and Islamic fundamentalists who support Russia and Syrian regime army and believe them to be Aleppo’s liberators.

If we consider this view, eastern Aleppo can be taken back. It is indeed true, that Bashar al-Assad’s regime is filled with cruelty as his war against anyone against him being on the throne, has led to vast destruction, and needless to name the innumerable executions and torture. Additionally, there was hidden government militia whose activities under the name of ethnic cleansing was as despicable as it gets. Indeed, we should care about the pictures of doctors, volunteers and normal citizens and we should fear for their lives. But at the same time, can we really support the ‘rebels’, at the same time tut-tut at the ruthless ISIS, especially after they seiged Mosul? These rebels who many on social media, support are one of the most frightening fighters in the Middle-East. The notable thing is how has this story been reported? If Syrian Army has taken back Aleppo, why do we hashtag it ‘fallofAleppo’, while in other cases it would have been ‘alepporecapturedfromrebels’.

Going by both the narratives (what is the journalistic narrative here anyway?), there is no basis for any. But it is true that even though the regime lost Palmyra, the capturing of Aleppo will prevent the ISIS, Salafist groups and Al-Qaeda from claiming a base. This is because Aleppo was one the economic powerhouse of the country being a gateway between Syria and Turkey, and along with Damascus, Hama and Homs, it forms the backbone.

Meanwhile, we cannot ignore the iniquities of the government regime but we also cannot obscure the brutality of the ‘rebels’ in Aleppo. But whatever our behaviour on social media is, neither the Syrians nor the Russians will pay any heed to out woeful wails. The virtual reality curbed the resilience and fueled the brutality. The West too has not done much, other than mere words of diplomacy, but if history is any proof, brute force cannot impose democracy. For now, the brutal shellings and bombing will continue, citizens will keep witnessing the worst ravages of war and the brutish reality will indicate a path towards a more unstable world; after all Twitter can make you win the US elections, but can it fight you a war?

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