Viewing conflicts through the eye of Counterinsurgency COIN – Since 2007
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is commonly used as a standalone source for news and statistics. Just this week, news agency AFP carried this story: “Syrian forces pounded Aleppo and Deir Ezzor provinces as at least 35 people were killed on Sunday across the country, among them 17 civilians, a watchdog reported.” Various atrocities and casualty numbers are listed, all from a single source: “Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP by phone.”
Statistic after horrific statistic pours from “the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” (AP). It’s hard to find a news report about Syria that doesn’t cite them. But who are they? “They” are Rami Abdulrahman (or Rami Abdel Rahman), who lives in Coventry.
According to a Reuters report in December of last year: “When he isn’t fielding calls from international media, Abdulrahman is a few minutes down the road at his clothes shop, which he runs with his wife.”
When the Guardian’s Middle East live blog cited “Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” it also linked to a sceptical article in the Modern Tokyo Times – an article which suggested news outlets could be a bit “more objective about their sources” when quoting “this so-called entity”, the SOHR.
That name, the “Syrian Observatory of Human Rights”, sound so grand, so unimpeachable, so objective. And yet when Abdulrahman and his “Britain-based NGO” (AFP/NOW Lebanon) are the sole source for so many news stories about such an important subject, it would seem reasonable to submit this body to a little more scrutiny than it’s had to date.
The Observatory is by no means the only Syrian news source to be quoted freely with little or no scrutiny …
The relationship between Ausama Monajed, the SNC, the Henry Jackson hawks and an unquestioning media can be seen in the case of Hamza Fakher. On 1 January, Nick Cohen wrote in the Observer: “To grasp the scale of the barbarism, listen to Hamza Fakher, a pro-democracy activist, who is one of the most reliable sources on the crimes the regime’s news blackout hides.”
He goes on to recount Fakher’s horrific tales of torture and mass murder. Fakher tells Cohen of a new hot-plate torture technique that he’s heard about: “imagine all the melting flesh reaching the bone before the detainee falls on the plate”. The following day, Shamik Das, writing on “evidence-based” progressive blog Left Foot Forward, quotes the same source: “Hamza Fakher, a pro-democracy activist, describes the sickening reality …” – and the account of atrocities given to Cohen is repeated.
So, who exactly is this “pro-democracy activist”, Hamza Fakher?
Fakher, it turns out, is the co-author of Revolution in Danger , a “Henry Jackson Society Strategic Briefing”, published in February of this year. He co-wrote this briefing paper with the Henry Jackson Society’s communications director, Michael Weiss. And when he’s not co-writing Henry Jackson Society strategic briefings, Fakher is the communication manager of the London-based Strategic Research and Communication Centre (SRCC). According to their website, “He joined the centre in 2011 and has been in charge of the centre’s communication strategy and products.”
As you may recall, the SRCC is run by one Ausama Monajed: “Mr Monajed founded the centre in 2010. He is widely quoted and interviewed in international press and media outlets. He previously worked as communication consultant in Europe and the US and formerly served as the director of Barada Television …”.
Monajed is Fakher’s boss.
If this wasn’t enough, for a final Washington twist, on the board of the Strategic Research and Communication Centre sits Murhaf Jouejati, a professor at the National Defence University in DC – “the premier center for Joint Professional Military Education (JPME)” which is “under the direction of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
If you happen to be planning a trip to Monajed’s “Strategic Research and Communication Centre”, you’ll find it here: Strategic Research & Communication Centre, Office 36, 88-90 Hatton Garden, Holborn, London EC1N 8PN.
Office 36 at 88-90 Hatton Garden is also where you’ll find the London headquarters of The Fake Tan Company, Supercar 4 U Limited, Moola loans (a “trusted loans company”), Ultimate Screeding (for all your screeding needs), and The London School of Attraction – “a London-based training company which helps men develop the skills and confidence to meet and attract women.” And about a hundred other businesses besides. It’s a virtual office. There’s something oddly appropriate about this. A “communication centre” that doesn’t even have a centre – a grand name but no physical substance.
That’s the reality of Hamza Fakher. On 27 May, Shamik Das of Left Foot Forwardquotes again from Fakher’s account of atrocities, which he now describes as an “eyewitness account” (which Cohen never said it was) and which by now has hardened into “the record of the Assad regime”.
So, a report of atrocities given by a Henry Jackson Society strategist, who is the communications manager of Mosafed’s PR department, has acquired the gravitas of a historical “record”.
This is not to suggest that the account of atrocities must be untrue, but how many of those who give it currency are scrutinising its origins?
And let’s not forget, whatever destabilisation has been done in the realm of news and public opinion is being carried out twofold on the ground. We already know that (at the very least) “the Central Intelligence Agency and State Department … are helping the opposition Free Syrian Army develop logistical routes for moving supplies into Syria and providing communications training.”
The bombs doors are open. The plans have been drawn up.
This has been brewing for a time. The sheer energy and meticulous planning that’s gone into this change of regime – it’s breathtaking. The soft power and political reach of the big foundations and policy bodies is vast, but scrutiny is no respecter of fancy titles and fellowships and “strategy briefings”. Executive director of what, it asks. Having “democracy” or “human rights” in your job title doesn’t give you a free pass.
And if you’re a “communications director” it means your words should be weighed extra carefully. Weiss and Fakher, both communications directors – PR professionals. At the Chatham House event in June 2011, Monajed is listed as: “Ausama Monajed, director of communications, National Initiative for Change” and he was head of PR for the MJD. The creator of the news website NOW Lebanon, Eli Khoury, is a Saatchi advertising executive. These communications directors are working hard to create what Tamara Wittes called a “positive brand”.
They’re selling the idea of military intervention and regime change, and the mainstream news is hungry to buy. Many of the “activists” and spokespeople representing the Syrian opposition are closely (and in many cases financially) interlinked with the US and London – the very people who would be doing the intervening. Which means information and statistics from these sources isn’t necessarily pure news – it’s a sales pitch, a PR campaign.
But it’s never too late to ask questions, to scrutinise sources. Asking questions doesn’t make you a cheerleader for Assad – that’s a false argument. It just makes you less susceptible to spin. The good news is, there’s a sceptic born every minute.
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