The legality and the justifications for the recent airstrikes in Syria have been questioned on both sides of the Atlantic. Nearly every mainstream outlet has unequivocally pushed the line that the chemical attacks which provoked a response from the UK, US, and France were perpetrated by Assad on his own people as a part of his oppressive and dictatorial regime. The BBC then released an article condemning ‘The online activists pushing conspiracy theories’, for daring to question the legitimacy of reports over the use of chemical weapons — despite admitting of ‘the uncertainty about what happened in Douma’.
Robert Fisk, an award-winning journalist for the Independent, was one of the first to visit the site of the alleged chemical attacks and reported with great scepticism over whether these attacks had taken place at all. The seven-time Press Awards Foreign Journalist of the Year spoke to doctors and civilians on the ground and found that people were confused and conflicted about questions over an alleged gas attack.
Fisk goes on to discuss the claims by the US and France that they have evidence of a chemical attack taking place. Yet he also remarks at the level of dispute surrounding the nature of the gas attacks, even within Douma itself:
‘There are the many people I talked to amid the ruins of the town who said they had “never believed in” gas stories — which were usually put about, they claimed, by the armed Islamist groups’.
One of the doctors that Fisk spoke to on the ground gave him a tour of some of the tunnels that people are forced to live in, the same ones that they took shelter in during the night of the alleged chemical attacks. He explained that,
‘There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night — but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia — not gas poisoning’.
Independent journalists like Jimmy Dore, Carla Ortiz, Pearson Sharpe, and Lee Camp have all openly dismissed (or at least placed serious doubt in) the chemical attacks narrative pushed by mainstream media outlets. Part of the story is built on the idea that Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people before — both in 2013 and in 2017 — although the UN was never able to accurately assign blame to the Assad regime for these attacks. There have been unsubstantiated theories floated that they were committed by rebel forces in the past, to draw Western intervention against the Syrian leader, or simply as false flag attacks that facilitate Western intervention in Syria.
Several days after the Syria bombing, the BBC published this article entitled ‘Syria war: The online activists pushing conspiracy theories’. The language used in the BBC article to describe anyone not towing the mainstream line is rather quite shocking, they declare that:
‘They’ve seized on a theory being floated by Russian officials and state-owned media outlets that the attacks were “staged” or were a “false flag” operation, carried out by jihadist groups or spies in order to put the blame on the Assad government and provide a justification for Western intervention’.
The uncertainty surrounding the alleged use of chemical weapons makes the BBC’s condemnation of anyone daring to question their narrative rather bewildering. There are several possible explanations for the BBC’s campaign to counter online narratives that contradict the mainstream narrative of the Syrian chemical weapons attack:
1. The BBC are becoming increasingly concerned about the power of independent digital media. Having seen the power that it held at the last election, especially it’s influence over younger generations, they are making a concerted effort to discredit their reporting as they watch an entire generation turn away from traditional outlets (at the cost of their TV license funding) towards independent reporting. They could be reacting to the generally ‘left-wing’ and pro-Corbyn stances of online media outlets in an attempt to push the political conversation back to the ‘centre’ and away from dangerous socialist ideas.
2. The BBC, in an effort to protect their pro-war ‘establishment’ stance, is attempting to promptly crush all anti-interventionist voices that are popping up around the internet. Pro-war establishment narratives need to be propped up in order to ensure public support for further intervention in Syria.
3. They are genuinely concerned about the Syrian people suffering under the rule of Assad and about misinformation and ‘junk news’ being spread online, and are doing everything they can to ensure that truth rises to the top of the pile. Humanitarian assistance for the people of Syria is paramount to their motives and supporting their cause is crucial to fostering peace and prosperity in the Middle East.
After the troubles that have come from intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is natural that the public be wary of more intervention in the Middle East. They were openly lied to by the UK and US administrations, as well as the media at large, when there was no substantial evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, in order to push for intervention in Iraq. After a more than decade-long conflict things are no better in Iraq, arguably worse with the emergence of IS in the past few years.
Given that it was recently discovered that the BBC ran a half-century campaign in conjunction with MI5 from the mid 1930s to the ’90s to prevent ‘left-wing’ journalists from rising too high in the BBC, is it really out of the question to hold doubts over their motives to discredit and demonise all alternative voices and narratives?
So why was the BBC so keen to smear any voices contradicting their line over the Syrian chemical attacks? We will probably gain a better perspective if/when inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have had access to the site and had time to compile their report. Until then we can only speculate as to the BBC’s motives and the true story of what took place in Douma.
By Josh Hamilton
Editor in Chief at www.thejist.co.uk