Since the protests began, the Syrian government has been making it very difficult for reporters to do their jobs. And the tragic loss this week of two photojournalists reminds us that many reporters regularly put themselves through unimaginable dangers to record the news for us. Nevertheless the Western media is not doing a very good job presenting a variety of Syrian voices today. As Anthony Shadid laments in the below article, a small minority of Syrian activists and exiles are speaking for the nation. Even Al Jazeera is generating dissatisfaction among some in Syria and Lebanon. Perhaps this means that the network is doing its job well. But it may also mean that it is committing an injustice against those Syrians who do not support the unrest. In either case we are in need of thoughtful and nuanced accounts like the one Shadid offers below. We must question all sources, not only state propaganda. The ongoing protests in Syria have been brutally repressed and this violence should be condemned. But the situation is not black and white. Why do people keep forcing others to take sides? With or against? Injustice is not so selective and these days the right and left certainly blur. Calling the tens of thousands of people in the streets "a revolution" in a country that has a population of around 21 million is anything but democratic and just. Of course the situation may change, but so far the vast majority of Syrians have not been protesting. We can debate or disagree with their reasons why but we should not ignore their voices or attempt to speak for them without first trying to listen.
Exiles Shaping World’s Image of Syria Revolt
Exiles Shaping World’s Image of Syria Revolt
By Anthony Shadid
The New York Times
April 23, 2011
BEIRUT, Lebanon — On the bloodiest day of Syria’s uprising, Rami Nakhle’s fingers drifted over the keyboard in a room silent but for the news bulletins of Al Jazeera, yet filled with the commotion on his computer screen.
As the events unfolded Friday, user names flashed and faded. Twitter flickered with agitprop and trash talk. And Facebook glided past Gmail and Skype as Mr. Nakhle joined a coterie of exiled Syrians fomenting, reporting and, most remarkably, shaping the greatest challenge to four decades of the Assad family’s rule in Syria.
“Can you hear it?” Mr. Nakhle cried, showing a video of chants for the government’s fall. “This is Syria, man! Unbelievable.”
Unlike the revolts in Egypt, Tunisia and even Libya, which were televised to the world, Syria’s revolt is distinguished by the power of a self-styled vanguard abroad to ferry out images and news that are anarchic and illuminating, if incomplete.
For weeks now, the small number of activists, spanning the Middle East, Europe and the United States, have coordinated across almost every time zone and managed to smuggle hundreds of satellite and mobile phones, modems, laptops and cameras into Syria. There, compatriots elude surveillance with e-mailed software and upload videos on dial-up connections.
Their work has ensured what was once impossible.
In 1982, Syria’s government managed to hide, for a time, its massacre of at least 10,000 people in Hama in a brutal crackdown of an Islamist revolt. But Saturday, the world could witness, in almost real time, the chants of anger and cries for the fallen as security forces fired on the funerals for Friday’s dead.
The activists have staggered the government of President Bashar al-Assad, forcing it to face the reality that it has almost entirely ceded the narrative of the revolt to its opponents at home and abroad.
“The government’s paranoid style has become obvious,” said Joshua Landis, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma. “These activists have completely flipped the balance of power on the regime, and that’s all due to social media.”
Still, though few question the breadth of the uprising, there are differences on its depth in towns and cities. Cyberactivists outside of Syria fashion slogans of unity for a revolt that the government insists is inspired by militant Islamists. The voices of protesters smuggled abroad have drowned out the sentiments of the president’s supporters, who include the prosperous elite and frightened minorities of Christians and heterodox Muslim sects.
Mr. Nakhle, 28, finds himself in an unlikely locale to wage that contest. Imbued with youthful idealism, he left his hometown in 2006 for Damascus, where he discovered the Internet.
“A completely new world for me,” he called it, and he soon broadened his activism with Internet campaigns to free political prisoners and, more dramatically, end Syria’s equivalent of martial law. He came up with a pseudonym, Malath Aumran — an inside joke based on family nicknames — and came up with a portrait for Twitter and Facebook that was a composite photograph of 32 men.
By last December, the secret police were pursuing him. “That’s all they need — suspicions,” he said.
In a harrowing journey the next month, smugglers on motorcycles carried him to the border, where he narrowly escaped the police and spent the night in a rocky valley before making his way to a working-class neighborhood here. Frills are few; in a sparse apartment, cigarettes, tea, Nescafé, sugar and a drink from boiled leaves of yerba maté crowd his coffee table.
“I’m a cyberactivist,” he said. “As long as I have the Internet, that’s it.”
Gaunt and with bloodshot blue-green eyes, Mr. Nakhle navigated a cascade of information Friday — a frenetic conversation on Skype with 15 people in Syria, a snippet of video from Tartus, a phone call from a friend in Damascus, and queries from journalists for contacts in remote towns. Someone he believed to be a secret police officer flashed him a taunting message: “There is news that a member of your family has been taken by security services.” Mr. Nakhle changed the sim card on his phone and called home, without taking his eyes off his computer screen. The news proved false.
A message came in via Skype that a protest was dispersed in Aleppo.
“I won’t publish this one,” he said knowingly.
Mr. Nakhle is part of a network that literally spans the globe, whose members include a Syrian-American woman in Chicago who said she grew tired of simply watching Al Jazeera and Ausama Monajed, a Damascus-born activist in London who drives with his Internet-enabled laptop open in the passenger seat, running speech-to-text software.
Mr. Monajed estimates that 18 to 20 people are engaged in helping coordinate and cover the protests full time, though he boasts that he can find someone in his broader community to translate English to French at 4 a.m. He has a contact in every Syrian province, who in turn have their networks of 10 people.
“And the regime can’t do anything about it,” he said.
Several say they relied on Syrian businessmen — abroad or in Syria — to finance one of their most impressive feats. After witnessing the Egyptian government’s success in shutting down the Internet and mobile phone networks in January, they made a concerted attempt to circumvent a similar move by delivering satellite phones and modems across Syria. Ammar Abdulhamid, an activist in Maryland, estimated that they delivered 100 satellite phones, along with hundreds of cameras and laptops.
The impromptu network has been allowed to guide events against a government that hews to the Soviet-era notion of Information Ministries and communiqués.
A Facebook page called Syria Revolution, administered from abroad, has become the pulpit for the revolt — its statements de facto policy of the uprising.
Mr. Nakhle said he had urged people to use slogans that are free of the sectarian or religious bent popular with Islamic activists. “We have to worry about these people,” he admitted.
The unprecedented power of the long-distance activists to shape the message troubled Camille Otrakji, a Damascus-born political blogger who lives in Montreal. Where others see coordination, he sees manipulation, arguing that the activists’ mastery of image belies a revolt more sectarian than national, and deaf to the fears of minorities.
“I call it deception,” said Mr. Otrakji, a somewhat lonely voice in the Internet tumult. “It’s like putting something on the wrapping of a product which has nothing to do with what’s inside. This is all being manipulated.”
Katherine Zoepf contributed reporting from New York, and an employee of The New York Times from Damascus, Syria.