Doublespeak on Syria by Lebanese “Rejectionists”

Elie Chalala

Unquestionably, the state-run Syrian media, print and TV, has become a laughing stock of most observers, including the pro and anti-Assad forces. But perhaps most perplexing in the midst of the Arab Spring have been the positions taken by sections of the Lebanese media, mainly those allied with the Assad regime.

Many have noted that this particular group of media producers is still living in the pre-new media age.  A simpler time, when it was easy to deny facts, when Youtube, Facebook, cell phone cameras, were not there to capture images of state terror.  Even in the age of the new media, when killers and assassins cannot go undetected, un-photographed, the pro-Syrian Lebanese media remains unmoved, claiming some of the scenes broadcast on TV and the internet as mere fabrication.

Some social scientists rightly distinguish between conventional and new media, arguing that the first was the main tool used by dictatorial regimes and the second is  utilized by civil society, mainly because is falls beyond the control of the authoritarian state.  The pro-Assad forces seem to have closed their ears and shut their eyes to the circumstances of this new media landscape and its impact on political life.

While the facts of the Arab Spring are being televised by a diverse satellite media –Al Jazeera, Al Arabiyya, BBC Arabic and scores of new media outlets, few journalists capture the amnesia of some Lebanese politicians and media better than Khaled Saghieh of Al Akhbar newspaper, which gives very qualified support to the Arab Spring.

Nothing better in describing what goes in Lebanon than what Saghieh labeled as “The Bending Theory,” a term borrowed from the Syrian comedian Dareed Laham, who developed this expression in one of his famous comedies, “Cheers to a Homeland.”  Nowadays, this comedian shamelessly moves from one TV station to another parroting the exact lines of the Assad regime, from the roles of “external forces” to “Western “conspiracies” against Syria.

Perplexing about Lebanese pundits is that what they accept for themselves, they do not wish for the Syrians. For example they wish the Syrian people would embrace President Assad’s explanation of the popular uprising against his regime:  The uprising is the result of foreign powers, Western and Israeli, attempting to force Syria to “bend” or submit to them. This theory, in the opinion of Saghieh, is stretched to mean that giving in to the aspirations of the Syrian people amount to “bending” to the will of foreign powers.

This group of Lebanese journalists and politicians, who make the rounds from one TV to the other, faithfully preach “linking the absence of democracy” with “rejectinonism,” that is, opposition to Israel and Western interests.  In other words, the struggle against Israel justifies the absence of democracy. But these “TV stars” are not troubled by downplaying the demands for freedom and democracy as long as they live in Lebanon and not Syria, Saghieh wrote in his column. While these same people are free to criticize the Lebanese government and advocate different social and economic policies, they effortlessly jump onto the nearest available Syrian and Lebanese TV to slander those calling for freedom as the agents of “external conspiracies” against Syria. The implication of such doublespeak is that “freedom is only worthy of the Lebanese,” and not in Syria where “salafis” and “conspirators” pervade.

Saghieh concludes that according to these Lebanese pundits, “democracy in Syria” amounts to “bending” or submitting to outsiders as well as “abandoning dignity, the dignity of not only the regime but the nation as a whole.” By the same standard, “democracy or any form of political participation in government becomes a proof of weakness rather than a sign of strength.”