Will the West ever listen to Bashar al-Assad?

By IndepthAfrica
In Middle East
Aug 8th, 2012
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An interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad taken by a prominent German writer Jürgen Todenhöfer and broadcast by ARD in July is still sparkling criticism and outrage all over the western media community.

The New York Times has edicated a long article to the issue, telling how the 71-year-old writer and former judge, publishing executive and onetime member of Parliament is drastically trying to defend himself against the accusations that “he has spoken to a dictator”.

Indeed, it is not the content of the interview that matters, but the very fact that, trying to keep himself within an unbiased line, Mr. Todenhöfer paid much more attention to what Syrian President had to say rather than attempting to impose his own views and opinion on the interviewed person. Quite naturally, such unbiased approach (which, by the way, is an ABC for any interviewer) arouse a wave of sharp criticism. Mr. Todenhöfer’s critics accused him of giving Mr. Assad a propaganda platform. The writer had to resort to a defensive line. “They said, ‘You speak to dictators,’ ” The NY Times quotes him as saying. “I thought it was important that we listen to this guy, whether we hate him or not.”

In fact, there is a sharp gap between Jürgen Todenhöfer’s interview with Bashar Assad and the previous one the Syrian leader had given to a Western journalist in December last year. That one was taken by a prominent American TV show host Barbara Walters who did not hesitate to bounce on President Assad with the usual liberal ardor. Not surprisingly, that interview, in which the interviewer’s words were much better audible than those of the interviewed person, produced a totally different impression on the Western media which highly praised the veteran US journalist and called the conversation a “public relations disaster” for Bashar Assad.

So, what is the fault the Western media community is finding with Mr. Todenhöfer? He explained it in the following way.

Speaking over phone from Munich, Mr. Todenhöfer said the Syrian conflict had been distorted by half-truths and fictions — much of it, in his opinion, by the opposition figures who want the world to see Mr. Assad as a butcher. “Lying is the most effective weapon in wars,” he said.

A year or slightly more ago, it took Western media a lot of pain to picture Syrian protesters as innocent pacifists and children with olive branches. Since then, events on the ground have made it even a much more difficult task. The atrocities committed by the insurgents, the indiscriminate killings of all those accused of sympathizing with the President (including innocent children) have been reported to numerous international fora by agencies that in no way can be labeled as Bashar Assad sympathizers. But – “it has been said much more than three times” that Bashar Assad is a dictator, and his opponents are fighting for democracy. The fact that they are fighting with overt and covert foreign support, much too often received from regimes like the one in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern states (no less dictatorial and authoritarian than the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria) does not seem to matter.

What does matter is the global aspiration of all American presidents (irrespective of them being liberal or conservative). And that is – establishing the total US supremacy in the “Great Middle East”. At the moment, the US does not seem to have guts to wage an open military operation against Iran which is the biggest obstacle for such supremacy. And this forces the US strategists to resort to tactics of eliminating Iran’s remaining allies – the weak links of which Syria is the last remaining in the area.

Mr. Todenhöfer’s interview with Bashar Assad appeared at a wrong time in a wrong place. The timing was wrong because the West is quite ready to start a “humanitarian invasion”. The place was wrong because the German (and European) public is not as blindfolded as the American one. Therefore, the interview had some chances to be heard.

This is something that the US strategists are not ready to endure. So, they had no other choice than to pounce upon the German interviewer. And forget the basics of journalism and freedom of expression!

Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies

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