Syria’s Extremist Opposition

How Western Media Have Whitewashed the Rebels' Record

Rebel fighters stand guard as a convoy of buses carrying Sunni rebels and civilians, who were evacuated from Zabadani and Madaya, as part of a reciprocal evacuation deal for four besieged towns, travel in al-Rashideen to journey towards rebel-held Idlib, Syria, April 2017. Ammar Abdullah / REUTERS

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was “coming to an end.” But with the rapid decline of both the Islamic State (or ISIS) and foreign support for the so-called rebels, this notion is wishful thinking for most of the international community. For years, news of Assad’s demise has been greatly exaggerated. So too have the negative consequences of his survival, not because of his record but because the most likely alternative to his rule has been even worse, at least as far as U.S. national security is concerned.

Few observers even know what they’ve been advocating, given the pro-rebel bias among Western media outlets. Although they have assiduously broadcast the blood on Assad’s hands, these outlets have also tended to whitewash the rebels to sell the case for regime change. Take, for instance, the Syrian refugee crisis. The conventional wisdom holds that the refugees are pro-rebel, even though detailed survey research finds that the reality is far more nuanced. Most refugees say they fled Assad. But they also say they fled the armed opposition. By far, the most common explanation was that refugees fled both. Honest reporting about all sides of the conflict is imperative for governments and citizens around the world to understand the nature of the regime and the opposition alike.

To appreciate the pro-rebel bias dominant in Western outlets, compare this past spring’s heavy media coverage of the April 4 chemical attack in the Idlib town of Khan Shaykhun to the comparatively little attention given to the suicide attack in the al-Rashideen neighborhood of western Aleppo that occurred on April 15. As a terrorism researcher, I received nonstop interview requests about the former but almost none about the latter.

One explanation for the disparity in media attention is that only the Khan Shaykhun massacre involved Sarin gas, a chemical weapon of mass destruction often seen as taboo in the international community for its

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