Opinion Jun07 2016, Amsterdam

Narrating Syria, Part 2: Contesting the Narrative

In the previous article on the western media’s representation of Syria and the wider Middle East, I described my growing dissatisfaction with the mainstream reporting of the region. That article and this one are intended to draw attention to the ways in which we in Europe share responsibility for the instability in the region, and the ways in which the mainstream reporting seeks to conceal this reality.

Returning to my own transition away from the mainstream position. It was a move brought about after a period spent debating Middle Eastern affairs with my manager at work (someone committed to an anti-establishment worldview who dabbled in conspiracy theories).

The transition manifested itself in different ways. Whereas I would maintain the more mainstream position at work (playing devil’s advocate for the most part) I gradually found myself adopting my manager’s position when speaking to other people about geopolitics outside of work (which truth be told wasn’t that often). In these situations I initially came across as a bit of a conspiracy theorist myself (when you’re saying things about international affairs that most people haven’t heard about you’re bound to). But I eventually developed a means of making a clear argument that could plant the seed of doubt in the mind of the other person.

This typically involved me making two interrelated points.

First I would draw their attention to America. I would remind them that America is the hegemonic power in the world. It defines the terms of the system we live in. It has control of the IMF, it heads up NATO and the G7 group of leading economic powers, it has by far the most foreign military bases (with no other country having more than a few bases that extend beyond their immediate sphere of influence), but most importantly, it controls the worlds reserve currency. America is the hegemonic power, and anything that happens arises from a series of conditions which it has a large responsibility for.

“America is the hegemonic power in the world. It defines the terms of the system we live in.”

The second thing I would draw their attention to leads on from the first thing, that much of what is happening in the Middle East and elsewhere arises from America’s attempt to maintain this hegemony. This has been the main driver of American policy since at least the 1980s with the emergence of neo-conservativism and the rise of a series of so-called neo-conservatives to positions of influence in the U.S. Defence and State Departments during the Reagan administration. To summarise their view, they hold that America is good, capitalism and consumerism are good, democracy and freedom, in the very narrow sense that they defined it, are good and it is the duty of America to spread this ideology to the rest of the world, by force if necessary.

Add to this a highly influential book by Polish-American political scientist and geostrategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard, which identified Eurasia as the region over which America must assert its hegemony in order to maintain global hegemony and you have the basic explanation for why things happen the way they have in international politics. Because the centre of Eurasia encompasses the following countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria (in addition to the -stans, who we can expect to hear from more in the coming decades). It would be an understatement to say that these countries crop up in the news disproportionately.

And by offering these two (and a half) points I arrived at the kind of structural argument that I had lacked in the three instances I outlined in the previous article. It was an argument of my own, more modest and less conspiratorial than anything my manager or the Druze taxi driver held but still clearer and more consistent than anything we are offered by the mainstream media.

To apply this structure to Syria and finally arrive at the vital European connection, this country has descended into chaos because it lies at the crossroads between two prospective pipelines, one intended to go through a series of countries allied to America: Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria (supposing it would become an American ally after Assad’s overthrow) and Turkey; the other intended to go through countries with an ambivalent or hostile relationship to America: Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Both pipelines are directed at the highly lucrative European market.

PipelinesCompeting Pipelines (Zero Hedge)

Syria never had a chance! A pro-Iranian country at the crossroads between two competing pipelines both of which represented the two sides in the wider conflict for hegemony over central Eurasia, conflict was bound to flare up here as soon as there was a peep of “Arab-spring” unrest. There was too much at stake for it to be left alone.

There’s an obvious reason why this is not explained to us by the mainstream media in Europe: it supports the fundamental neo-conservative premise that the west should have global pre-eminence, and to explain things in this way would be to expose the hugely destabilising effect that following through with this viewpoint has on the world. It’s also an argument which lays much of the blame at our feet and reminds us that the solution requires something from us. We are dependent on energy from Eurasia and we in Europe directly support America through NATO (with the exception of Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta and Sweden, all EU member states are a part of NATO), an organisation which has since 2001 conducted operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and several other countries.

So we in Europe have a lot of responsibility for what is happening in Syria and in the wider region. The countries I just listed are also among the most common places from which refugees have come from. Again we have a lot of responsibility for creating the refugee crisis, something which is rearely mentioned in mainstream reporting.

But as I write all this, I’m very conscious that I’ve painted a quite hopeless and depressing picture. It’s another big structure which elides any human element. Without developing it further I am at risk of the same kind of information-driven approach adopted by the mainstream media, an approach which has made it incredibly difficult to relate our own lives to the Middle East.

So, in the next article I would like to venture a curious co-incidence that goes some of the way to explaining how our own lives can fit into the Syrian conflict.