From ‘Syria’ With Love

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Like the PLO (Jenin) and the KLA (Kosovo), Americans are lying for their cause—fame and a seat on Oprah’s (concave) couch.

BY NEBOJSA MALIC

The most curious thing about the case of Amina Arraf is that it was exposed as a fraud.

For those unfamiliar with the story, a blogger purporting to be a young Syrian woman (“Gay Girl in Damascus”) has been posting for the last several months – by the strangest of coincidences, just as the anti-government protests in Syria got going. Then, on June 6, a post purportedly from the blogger’s cousin claimed she had been detained by the Syrian police, whereabouts and fate unknown. This caused an uproar on the blogs, Facebook, Twitter and whatnot, as the entire conflict in Syria came to be seen through the prism of “Amina Arraf,” a Damascene lesbian.

Except she was a fraud. “Amina Arraf” was actually an American man, (aptly) named Tom McMaster. All the photos featured on the blog were from his Syrian trip. The photo purporting to be Amina was of Jelena Lecic, a London-dwelling Serb. The speed with which the hoax unraveled was simply amazing.

McMaster’s “apology” on the blog rang hollow: “While the narrative voice may have been fictional, the facts on this blog are true and not misleading as to the situation on the ground.”

Well, all right then. It doesn’t matter that Tom just lied to the entire world for months. Or that he hasn’t given anyone any reason to believe he actually knows what is actually going on in Syria. It doesn’t matter – he FEELS strongly about it, so he’ll just make up some stuff and serve it with a side of gay rights. The audience will love it.
Both the mainstream media and the internet, suckered by McMaster’s sock-puppetry, are now making excuses. Well, Assad’s Syria is a repressive dictatorship, so there was no way to verify the story, and uh…

Horse-hockey! People didn’t bother challenging the Araf fiction because it was a fiction they wanted to believe. The story had it all – a plucky young woman, gay no less, going up against an “oppressive” regime Washington has hated for a long time. Even now, when the whole thing has been exposed as a massive fraud, most people take the underlying assumptions behind it in stride: that the government in Damascus is evil and needs to be overthrown. Why, they are sending tanks against its own people! (Psst: so did Clinton at Waco.)

It isn’t the first time something like this is happening. Back in 1998, a CBC reporter named Nancy Durham visited the Serbian province of Kosovo, covering a terrorist outfit known as the “Kosovo Liberation Army.” She was told a heart-rending story by a girl, Rajmonda, who claimed to have lost her sister to “Serbian aggressors.” The story aired in January 1999, just as the Western public opinion was mobilizing for a war on Serbia (then still called Yugoslavia). The war began in March and lasted till June, when NATO occupied Kosovo and let the KLA run wild. Returning to look in on Rajmonda, Durham found her family very much alive and well. She had been conned. The whole thing was a KLA trick. Anything for the cause. Yet even as Nancy Durham apologized for being duped and, in turn, duping her audience (the only reporter covering the Balkans that has done so), she still called Rajmonda’s town by its Albanian name, Skenderaj (instead of Srbica). It was a reflection of the “reality” the KLA was creating with the help of NATO troops and the mosaic of lies such as Rajmonda’s story, which they’d fed to all the Western reporters.

Jack Kelley, a USA Today reporter, was busted in 2004 for making up many of his stories. He also covered the conflict in Yugoslavia, and his story of a war diary “proving” Serb atrocities fell firmly into the fake category. Interestingly enough, the source Kelley quoted, “humanitarian activist” Natasa Kandic, weaseled out of the entire affair claiming that, while she personally hadn’t seen the diary in question, surely the claim of atrocities contained therein was true. You see, Kandic makes a pretty penny spinning tall tales of Serbian atrocities, and even gets access to the New York Times editorial pages. The fact that she’d fed Kelley a line of bull never hurt her reputation – because the publishers of her drivel wanted and needed her atrocity porn to be true.

Last, but not least, I vividly remember this sort of behavior during the Bosnian War (1992-1995). During the last year of the war, I worked with a host of Western journalists covering the war from Sarajevo, where I used to live. As their interpreter, I accompanied them to interviews and also translated the local media coverage. Imagine my surprise a year later, when I came across some of their archived articles while I was studying in the US (thanks to the wonders of computerized university libraries, then in infancy) and discovered a substantially different account of what had taken place.

We saw the same things, heard the same words, yet they reported something quite unlike what I had seen and heard. They reported what the audiences back home wanted to hear: vicious villains and virtuous victims, black hats and white hats, and in the end a noble West riding to the rescue, too late for many but better late than never. Some went on to become celebrities, others got into positions of power from which to start more “humanitarian” crusades. And their myth about the Bosnian War still stands, despite the steady trickle of revelations about its fictional character.

In 2004, an unnamed Bush administration official (later said to have been Karl Rove), contemptuously dismissed NY Times reporter Ron Suskind as someone belonging to the “reality-based community“:

“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

While it sounds like unbelievable hubris, I don’t doubt for a moment that Rove (if that was indeed him) fully believed this then, or that he still does. It helps explain the entire Bush presidency, but also that of his successor. It doesn’t matter what actually goes on, only what people believe is going on. Everything becomes contingent on perception management. It’s Orwellian. It’s Hollywood. It’s the world our rules live in, and most of us go along.

To borrow a famous line from an Aaron Sorkin play, we can’t handle the truth. We want the lies, because the lies are what we’ve been conditioned to expect and digest. And our rulers believe they can will the world to conform to their desires. They were proven wrong over a thousand years ago, by a Viking named Knud who shamed his fawning courtiers by pretending to believe their platitudes and trying to command the tide.

Knud went on to conquer England. Modern-day emperor wannabes can’t even conquer Afghanistan, and not for the lack of trying. But in the minds of their subjects and their own, they are all-powerful, invincible and unquestionable, even as the tide is coming.

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Nebojsa Malic has been the Balkans columnist for Antiwar.com since 2000, and blogs at grayfalcon.blogspot.com. This editorial is exclusive to Barely A Blog.

7 thoughts on “From ‘Syria’ With Love

  1. Michael Marks

    Perhaps you have heard the phrase “perception is reality”. There is a measure of truth to the phrase. However, if the prsim of perception is so warped perception and reality have very little to do with one another.

  2. Abelard Lindsey

    The Amina Arraf story is roll-on-the-floor hilarious! The legacy media fell for it hook, line, and sinker because they WANTED to believe it was real. This is a very typical behavior of liberals and especially of liberal journalists. They want something to be real bad enough that they decide that it must be real even though they do no fact-checking at all. Because, of course, it is too deliciously real and therefor must be accepted as real.

    Remember the George Bush National Guard memos that turned out to be fabrications. It was the same phenomenon. Dan Rather and the rest of the legacy media wanted it to be real so much that they decided it was real. So, they ran the story, and the rest is, as they put it, history.

  3. Milos

    The media and the politicians are a spitting image of the electorate. The masses can’t handle the truth, they want to believe the demagoguery of the candidates. It’s the same in any country.

  4. Jim

    I hear the ‘lesbian’ that outed him is a man as well.

    You can’t make this stuff up.

  5. Myron in Detroit

    We also have the Mexican invasion of the US in 1846, the boiler room of the Maine, the “unarmed” Lusitania whose ammunition stores blew up in 1915, the Gulf of Tonkin, and the infamous Iraqi sadism in the Kuwaiti hospital hoax done by a PR firm:

    http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/medsearch/FocusAreas/riegle_report/hearing/hearing_s04.htm

    And the false testimony of the Solicitor General to the Supreme Court in 1944’s Korematsu vs. US about the Japanese-American “threat” that our Naval Intelligence said was non-existent.

  6. Myron in Detroit

    Famous quote of “journalist” William Randolph Hearst: “Your furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war”

    http://academic2.american.edu/~wjc/wjc3/notlikely.htm

    There is some statement that truth is one of the first casualties of war but it appears that truth is often killed as a prelude to war. Yep, those sadistic bastards of XYZistan committed this concocted atrocity which requires us to go in to protect “democracy” ….

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