The West’s war on Syria, and rapidly heating cold war on Russia, have involved extensive use of smear. Of unsubstantiated or even disproved allegations repeated in our not-so free mediauntil even those who rightly or wrongly – usually wrongly – deem themselves critical thinkers assume, no-smoke-without-fire fashion, there must be truth to them. This conclusion is seldom drawn by the conscious mind. That’s not how propaganda works: witness on the one hand that near universal belief that ‘adverts don’t sway me in the slightest’; on the other those misguided capitalists who, oblivious to our immunity to it, continue to throw vast sums at that propaganda form we call commercial advertising.
Putin – my, how we feted his predecessor, the drunken Yeltsin, as he oversaw Russia’s descent to basket case status while Wall Street drooled over the spoils! – and Assad feature hardly less frequently on our screens and front pages than do ads for new cars and sofas. The stakes are higher, though, which explains two aspects of their demonisation not shared by commercials.
One is the cynicism with which charities have allowed themselves to be used. In most cases this has involved the naivity or worse of big names, either unaware of the threat to ‘the brand’, else willing to risk it for short term gain. See in this respect Professor Tim Hayward on an Amnesty International throwing – I’m being kind here – caution to the wind on Syria. But in at least one case ‘the brand’ was corrupt at birth. I mean the White Helmets: brainchild of Brit mercenary James Le Mesurier, recipient of well over $120 million in funding from the USA and other states overtly seeking Assad’s removal, and – to a degree of certainty very much higher than that of Damascus having used sarin gas on its own people – in cahoots with Islamist terrorism.
The other, related, is the equal cynicism – or, at a stretch, starry eyed credulity – with which our media inflate the value of ‘information’ from risible sources. One such is the grandiosely titled Syrian Observatory on Human Rights, routinely quoted by BBC, Guardian and even – to their undying shame – ‘far left’ media in reporting alleged abuses by the Syrian authorities, without informing us that, to quote from the post just linked:
SOHR is the one man band of Rami Abdul Rahman, a disgruntled Syrian who lives in Coventry and hasn’t set foot in Syria since 2003. His methods are opaque to say the least but seem to rely on what I’ll call ‘cascade inquiry’, whereby he phones a handful of pals inside Syria. They in turn phone their pals, who phone theirs. But who are these pals? Rumours abound that Rahman is affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, rivals to more recent Saudi backed Wahabbi groups led by Al Qaeda and ISIS, but nevertheless willing to work with Daesh to end Syria’s secularism and impose theocratic Sunni rule on Shia, Christian, Druze and Alawi alike. (Nor is there any evidence of widespread Muslim Brotherhood support from Syrian Sunnis, most of whom see Islam and Islamism as poles apart and value their secularist, authoritarian but religiously tolerant state.)
Then there’s Bellingcat, the organisation founded by one Eliot Higgins: Media Studies drop-out and author of – I feel a professional slight here, having taught digital arts at Sheffield University – digitally altered images that serve NATO objectives in an ongoing Russia demonisation which endangers us all.
(Worse by far of course is the fact his amateurish images – these for instance, offered as proof that Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was downed in July 2014 by Russian missiles – would have earned him a fail in my Photoshop class.)
Fortunately I need spend few words on Bellingcat/Higgins. That take-down has already been done, most recently in Catte’s excellent OffGuardian piece of two days ago. What I have not seen till now though is any questioning of Bellingcat’s credentials in mainstream media. So let me hand you over, without further ado and with hearty if surprised approval, to Mary Dejevsky: not known as a Kremlin stooge or Putin troll. Yet here she is, in today’s Independent, asking in all sincerity and with admirable bluntness just WTF is Bellingcat?
Who knows, such questions might in their own quiet way help avert WW3. We can but hope.