KARACHI: An issue that is vital to the public’s interest is the conflict in Syria, which has embroiled half of the world. However, it is unfortunate that the media in Pakistan has adopted a rather silent stance towards the violence that is ongoing. The rise of the Islamic State is of particular significance to the Pakistani public.
Wars are complicated and the Syrian war is more convoluted than most. The fog of conflict and the attempts by all sides to “spin” events can make verification difficult, and so people need to know how to sort through information, through the help of media. It is possible to provide in-depth, day-to-day coverage of the conflict, with careful analysis of the political, economic, humanitarian and military dimensions. Even a small news organisation can work with local activists, citizen journalists and official sources from all sides to ensure readers are informed and ask challenging questions. The real problem is not the impossibility of “seeing” what is happening in Syria. The downfall for most of the media is that it is so much easier to grab simple, if often misleading, labels rather than deal with the complexity of the crisis.
The outcome is that there are two very different Syrian conflicts. The more prominent is the soap opera in which the villainous Islamic State replaces Assad and extremists replace the insurgency and opposition. Meanwhile, the more substantial Syrian conflict — the one with another 200 deaths daily and 300,000 since 2011, with four million refugees and seven million displaced inside the country — disappears. Neither English nor Urdu media of Pakistan covers the Syrian conflict; it is usually a mere footnote or minor article in the International section. Pakistani news channels do not cover it at all. We have to rely on sources like the BBC and CNN, which only present one narrative as I described earlier, which is quite parochial. I personally gained more knowledge about the complex nature of the Syrian conflict through The New York Times in-depth feature “Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart” by Scott Anderson, than I ever learned through our local papers or television.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2017.