Despite the tremendous amount of respect which I have for the British Broadcasting Corporation, I couldn’t help wondering if I was watching fact or fiction when it came to the BBC’s recent documentary: “A History of Syria with Dan Snow.”
Indeed, the narrative of the film repeatedly – if not obsessively – insinuated that what’s happening in Syria today was “written”; or in other words, it was mystically meant to happen (just like some conspiracy theorists believe that the Egyptian revolution was also “written” due to a curse which dates back to the days of the Pharaohs!)
However, Dan Snow got so carried away with this narrative (and I fully understand its appeal given the historic similarities), that he missed what many believe was a key instigator of the Syrian revolution.
I am of course referring to the 2011 Syrian regime abduction and abuse of Syrian school children who wrote anti-Assad graffiti in the small city of Daraa; an incident which rival news broadcaster CNN described at one point as the “spark that lit the Syrian flame.”
Rather, the documentary went on to suggest that twenty years after the 1982 Hama Massacre, the Muslim Brotherhood have risen once again and returned for their revenge.
It goes on to insinuate that the fight over Syria was “destined,” given that it has for much of its history been ruled by the Sunni majority, whilst the Alawites took refuge in the mountains; and now it was the time for the Sunnis to take back what they believe is rightfully theirs.
‘Deceiving’ and ‘One-Sided’
It is almost surreal that the Assad regime’s infamous prisons, its torture legacy, widespread corruption and longtime oppression of the Syrian people failed to be portrayed adequately in the film.
The British media seems to be pre-occupied by Orientalist fantasies instead of rallying to end the plight of the Syrian people.Faisal J. Abbas
However, even at the few incidents were there was a mere mention of the regime’s security apparatus; there were immediate and appalling justifications made by longtime Assad-loyalist and biographer Patrick Seale as well as Buthaina Shaaban, a regime official and expert spin-doctor.
On the other hand, all the Syrian opposition alliance got in terms of exposure were two unidentified veiled fighters who spoke on behalf of the Free Syrian Army.
Given all this, I wasn’t surprised to read a story on this website which revealed that there are prominent London-based Syrians who are demanding an apology from the BBC over what they described as a “deceiving” and “one-sided” documentary.
For its part, the BBC defended “A History of Syria.”
“We're satisfied the description of events is balanced and impartial and the program is made in accordance to our editorial guidelines meeting our usual rigorous journalistic standards,” a BBC spokesperson told Al Arabiya.
However, many Syrians have told Al Arabiya that they are suspicious of the access that Snow was given inside Syria at these critical times; and even with the access that the BBC got, there were questions raised regarding what they choose to do with it.
Instead of travelling to Daraa to see what is left of it or its abducted children or visiting the infamous “Mazzeh” prison in Damascus, there was too much focus on the Roman ruins in Lebanon and too much narration about Arab and Islamic heritage.
If I were to guess, I wouldn’t be surprised if the production team actually proposed that Dan Snow does the final scene somewhere in an old bazaar, bringing in a snake-charmer in the background; and while we are at it, perhaps he should have recorded his stand-up on a flying-carpet… this would have ticked all the boxes!
It is painful to see that as Bashar al-Assad continues to massacre his people; that while the death toll of innocent lives has surpassed tens of thousands, the British media seems to be pre-occupied by Orientalist fantasies instead of rallying to end the plight of the Syrian people.
It is equally painful to have to remind an honorable colleague, and a reputable journalist of the caliber of Mr. Snow, that the children who were abducted and abused in Daraa weren’t part of the Muslim Brotherhood nor are the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries members of al-Qaeda.
While we are at it, I might as well break the news to those who watched “A History of Syria” that there is no Cave of Wonders, nor is there a lamp that will produce a genie if you rub it!
Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist who is working on an upcoming book on Arab Media. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.