A tale of two cities

1 Dec 2016

Mosul and Aleppo

One of the oft-quoted lines from A Tale of Two Cities is: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” It’s a good reminder of how the Western mainstream media of today looks at the two current era cities that have become the center of attention for the entire world lately – Mosul (Iraq) and Aleppo (Syria). It shows Mosul as a center stage for an apparently classic struggle between forces of evil (Daesh) and liberating forces of good (Western backed Government forces) whereas Aleppo is portrayed as an epitome of conflict between “legitimate” freedom fighters (Western backed) and oppressive Government (Russian backed).

Why is the global media biased in its coverage of the Middle East and how is this channeled? Moreover, what often goes unnoticed is that some influential players in the region, in cahoots with certain elements of mainstream media, are trying to paint the Middle East with a brush of sectarian conflict. Is the situation in the two cities really as different as shown by the mainstream media or are they two sides of the same coin? Moreover, is the real bone of contention in Aleppo and Mosul sectarianism? Or the centuries old sectarian fault lines are being blown out proportion for some sinister reasons? We need to closely analyse the facts in order to address these questions.

Mosul is a city located in the north of Iraq with a population of almost 7 hundred thousand. It has been under the control of the extremist organisation Daesh since 2014. The government of Iraq along with its allies has since been trying to free it. Recently, it was beleaguered by Iraqi army and its allied militias. The assault on Mosul has resulted in the death of many civilians and large scale destruction of infrastructure; thousands of Mosul residents have been displaced but these facts are mostly played down in mainstream media. This is because the Western powers have a huge influence on the global media. However, the treatment of news from another city in the region, Aleppo, by the mainstream media, is quite the opposite.

Aleppo is currently under siege by Bashr-ul- Asad’s army and its allies, backed by Russia. In this sieged city, Free Syrian Army and extremist organisation Al Nusra Front (currently known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham) have been fighting the government forces. Al Nusra Front, branch of the same Al-Qaeda that perpetrated 9/11 attacks as well, is no less dangerous than the Daesh. It, however, has support of a number of powerful and wealthy “Patrons” in the Middle East. Moreover, it has enjoyed immunity from American airstrikes due to its close proximity with Western backed Free Syrian Army in Aleppo.

If we focus our attention to the international media coverage of the two cities for the time being, it becomes clear that while it shows heart wrenching scenes of injured citizens in Aleppo all the time, it completely neglects Mosul in this regard, despite it going through nearly the same scenario. Moreover, the civilian casualties in the Syrian government held areas of Western Aleppo by the rebels are hardly reported. The deaths and suffering of the civilians in both the Eastern and Western parts of the city are more or less the same but that is certainly not what is depicted by the main stream media. This is a manifestation of main stream Media’s double standards, and the fact that the media is biased in what it chooses to show. Similarly, slightly different but relevant example is Yemen.

The poorest country of the Arab world has been subjected to violence and bombings for a long time by the richest countries in the Arab world. We do hear about it every now and then but not as often as we do about Syria. If we closely listen to the pseudo-intellectuals and “senior analysts” in the Western media, it will become distinctly clear that they are biased too. The playing down of situation in Yemen is glaring example of mainstream Medias’ double standards.

With further scrutiny of the facts related to Mosul and Aleppo, we will be able to realise that both the cities are suffering in their own ways. It is not possible that when bombs are dropped on Aleppo, only children and innocent citizens die and when the same happens in Mosul, only the extremists are the ones who perish away. It is media’s responsibility to be unbiased in reporting the real incidents by improving their otherwise biased opinions, instead of distorting the facts.

Now let’s analyse the claimed sectarian dimension of the conflicts in Mosul and Aleppo. The Iraqi government forces have liberated Ramadi and are now working their way to Mosul. A number of armed groups, backed by USA and West, have formed an alliance to take Mosul back from Daesh including Sunni organisations like Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Arabic tribes; Shia militant groups including Hashid Shaabi, Badr organisation and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. Above all, Iraqi army is the major participant of Mosul campaign too which consists of both Shias and Sunnis. This just goes on to indicate that they definitely are not mere sectarian conflicts as some elements of media and regional powers are trying to portray. Highlighting the sectarian dimension of the conflict seems to be a desperate measure from the forces who don’t want stability in Iraq. Attempts to crack open the sectarian fault lines in the context of Mosul offensive is misleading and serves the purpose of Daesh and its backers.

Similarly, in Aleppo, the forces that have surrounded the city including Hezbollah (Shia Lebanese group), IRGC (Iranian Shia militia ), National defense force (a secular force with its members drawn from Syrian minorities, such as Alawites, Christians, Druzes, and Armenians). YPG (Kurd force) and Liwa al-Quds (Palestinian pro government supports Syrian government and is the largest loyalist auxiliary force operating in Aleppo) both comprise of Sunni Muslims. Moreover, Syrian Arab army is strongly pluralistic and close look at its ranks, surprisingly, reveals that its core has significant number of Sunnis. Moreover, this eclectic mix of organisations transcending sectarian and even religious boundaries, helping the Syrian government, is living testimony to the fact that the Syrian war indeed is not a sectarian war as has been portrayed by some elements of media. It seems as last attempt to salvage the dying project of toppling the Asad regime. Probably, revival of Russian- Afghan War styled “Jihad international” was intended to fill the anti-government ranks in both Syria and Iraq, but this plot seems to have miserably failed this time around, in the Middle East.

Published in Pakistan Today on 01-Dec-2016

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