Contradictory propaganda storylines for different audiences of Assad’s supporters — especially, international vs. Arabic and Shia

(This article was previously part of a much longer article which I’ve now subdivided into three. Part 1 Confused about Syria? A recommended reading list, mostly from Syrians’; and Part 3 ‘Information warfare about Syria and its global effects’.)

The regime has four or five separate sets of propaganda terminology and narratives designed for are each major audience cluster of their supporters, and each audience of their supporters is not meant to see what the other audiences see, because the different stories contradict each other.

The Russian media network of overt and covert sites I think deliberately sets off conflicts between different clusters of their followers in order to keep them separate so they don’t see messages not tailored for them (i.e. what Cambridge Analytica called ‘audience segmentation’).

Also in this article: Examples of extremist sectarian statements of genocidal intent by Assad regime supporters and fighters; Network data analyses of the Russian pro-Assad disinformation campaign targeting the international public; and some brief references about the international legal context of the abetment and incitement of atrocity crimes by the pro-Assad media team

The Assad regime has five different varieties of propaganda for different audiences of its supporters. The fifth is distributed by YPG / PYD media, and typically targets a younger, left-wing audience, often identifying as anarchists. The YPG and PYD is only performatively ‘anarchist’, and in actual practice it’s violently authoritarian.

First and most important dimension of difference in pro-Assad propaganda:

Western supporters of Assad are generally told that he is “secular”, but his mostly foreign Shia militias are incited to kill Syrian opposition civilians and combatants using explicitly sectarian extremist terminology and narratives. The Syrian opposition against Assad are mostly Sunnis, because Syria’s pre-war population was about 70–80% Sunni and the regime has used deliberate and gross sectarianisation as a form of divide and conquer strategy, and pro-Assad foreign Shia extremist militias commonly identify them as a group in sectarian terms while stating their intention to kill them all.

The number of named distinct fighting groups does not necessarily correlate with the numbers of fighters in those groups. There are many named Syrian pro-Assad militias but the number of Syrians in the pro-Assad militias now is probably about 20,000, and the rest, the majority now, are non-Syrians.

This fact suggests the following public campaigning points —

“The UK government must immediately pressure the Iraqi government to withdraw its paramilitary groups from Syria — numbering between 20–30+ — most of which form the “Popular Mobilisation Units” (PMU) and all of which operate with official sanction from the central government in Baghdad. Prominent names include:

– Liwa Abul Fadl al-Abbas
– Asai’b Ahl al-Haq
– Harakat al-Nujaba’
– Kata’ib Hezbollah
– Kata’ib al-Imam Ali
– Kata’ib Sayid Al-Shuahada’
– Badr Organisation — Military Wing

Iraqi militias played a crucial role in the capture of Daraya in August and today are the core force of the Assad regime’s ground operation in Aleppo. One of the Iraqi militias currently on the Aleppo frontlines, Harakat Al-Nujaba’a, have called for a Sectarian Cleansing of rebel-held Aleppo’s population as has occurred elsewhere in areas recaptured by the Assad regime, such as Homs and Daraya.

The UK government must stop all weapon supplies, military and economic aid and coordination with the Iraqi government until the withdrawal of all Iraqi militias from Syria is achieved.

– The UK government must immediately pressure the Lebanese government to close its borders to the further entry of Hezbollah troops into Syria in aid of the Assad regime, and must stop all financial and military aid to Lebanon until Hezbollah fully withdraws to the boundaries of the Lebanese state.

– The UK government must immediately pressure the Afghani and Pakistani government to stop turning a blind eye and take steps to stop the rendition of its citizens by Iran and their transfer to Syria to fight for the Assad regime.

– The UK government must immediately pressure the Iranian government — with which it has now normalised diplomatic ties (including the reopening of embassies in London and Tehran) — to withdraw its forces stationed on Syrian territory, including Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and regular army troops, and to stop the sponsoring of Iraqi, Lebanese, Afghani and Pakistani militias fighting overseas in Syria. The UK government must immediately cease all trade contracts being agreed/negotiated between UK companies and firms with Iran until the full withdrawal of Iranian and Iranian-sponsored forces from Syria — in particular contracts pertaining to Iran’s military and aerospace.”

Examples of extremist sectarian statements of genocidal intent by Assad regime supporters and fighters

A twitter thread showing many screenshotted and translated examples of regime supporters saying explicitly extremist sectarian things about Syrian opposition civilians and resistance fighters, and stating genocidal intentions:

The video on the left is of Rania Khalek on the ‘In the Now’ show for Russia Today, claiming that ‘the mainstream media is lying to you’ (‘Lügenpresse’) and all anti-Assad Syrians are ‘terrorists’ and deserve everything they get.

The circled comment in Arabic says: “Inshallah none of you remain to say anything. Yes to burning Ghouta!” — compare what Assadists say in English and in Arabic, and you’ll find they often contradict each other’s storylines.

A group of pro-Assad Shia fighters singing about their intention to kill his enemies, who they identify as a group as Sunnis, with lyrics abusing famous Sunni historic figures. This is evidence for the specific criminal intent (mens rea) of genocide crimes, and incitement to genocide is itself an international criminal offence.

Harakat al Nujba sheikh repeatedly instructing militia men to kill people in E Aleppo “to avenge Imam Hussein” — i.e. intent to destroy a group because of sectarian hatred, a qualifying mens rea of genocide.

“One of the most prominent of those leaders is Akram al-Kaabi, from the Iraqi militia Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba, who arrived in Aleppo last weekend. Surrounded by Shia iconography in the town of al-’Ais, near Aleppo, he praised his followers’ willingness to fight far from home and described them as part of an “army of resistance” defending the Shia faith from usurpers.
“Why are you going to Syria? Because we are in the axis of resistance, and the axis of resistance has many battles all over the world,” al-Kaabi said. “If we had to go to the farthest point of the world, we would go.”
In a speech to his fighters which was filmed and shared on social media, al-Kaabi said: “Youth like you are conducting jihad inside Iraq and outside Iraq, your path of jihad is blessed.”’”

Video of an Alawi pro-Assad militia torturing a man and forcing him to ‘worship’ Bashar al-Assad (1m:35s)— I can’t embed the video because it’s marked as ‘graphic’ on Facebook — it is indeed extremely distressing to watch.

Video of a former Hezbollah leader explaining and condemning current Hezbollah for siding with Assad.

Video of Hezbollah militias abusing civilians who were forcibly expelled from E Aleppo in late December 2016.

In Mosul, Iraq, not in Syria, but one of the same Shia militias, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, who are also fighting in Syria —

About Youtube and Facebook deleting video evidence which may be needed for international criminal prosecutions —

Not explicitly identifying the opposition in sectarian terms, but explicitly stating the regime’s intention is to exterminate everyone who opposes them:

Fares Shehabi is a regime official and spokesman.

‘@SyrianGirl1982’ is probably Maram Susli, and she lives in Australia. ‘Cockroaches’ is exactly what Hassan Ngeze, Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, founders of a radio station called Radio Télévision Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM), called Tutsis in Rwanda, when they were publicly and directly inciting genocide crimes against them, and they were convicted for it by the Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 1997.

The (regime appointed) imam of the Ummayad mosque in Damascus issuing a fatwa on 4 March to kill everyone in E Ghouta.

Network data analyses of the Russian pro-Assad disinformation campaign targeting the international public

From April 2017, after Khan Sheykoon sarin attack —

The only error in the article above is that it says the pro-Assad propaganda is only an Alt-Right problem — unfortunately, it’s common on the far left too.

First major published network analysis of the pro-Assad Russian disinformation campaign on social media —

Network data analysis showing how conspiracy theories about the Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets) volunteers in opposition areas are instrumentalised by the Assad regime and the Kremlin to normalise fascism internationally.

To make it perfectly clear — there are absolutely no grounds for the pro-Assad media team’s repeated claims and assertions that the White Helmets are involved in terrorist activities — it is a total lie, built up by repetition and pseudo-independent corroboration with their covertly associated media sites. They also explicitly, publicly abet and incite attacks on humanitarian rescue workers, which is itself arguably an international criminal offence, under Article 8 (2) (b) (iii) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Alexander Reid Ross’s two articles explaining the results of some network analyses of right and left-wing media sites significantly associated with the Russian regime’s own media and Kremlin official statements were originally published in SPLC but were pulled after Max Blumenthal made spurious defamation litigation threats, but are still perfectly valid —

Network mapping of hard left and far right pro-Assad ‘alternative news’ sites and political groups and their connections to the Kremlin.

If you don’t have time to read everything, just look closely at the graphs.

A point of circumstantial evidence after the fact is a simple indicator why I consider Blumenthal’s complaint to be utterly dishonest —

I don’t want to directly link to RT, but there is an indirect link here.

How the two articles above got pulled by SPLC following Blumenthal’s spurious complaints and accusations of defamation, via Fox News and RT —

Max Blumenthal was an invited speaker (and probably paid the same as Mike Flynn was, i.e. $40,000) at Russia Today’s 10 year anniversary conference in 2015, headlined ‘Information, Messages, Politics: The Shape-Shifting Powers of Today’s World’, on a panel called ‘InfoWar: Will there be a winner?’. He regularly appears on Russia Today (example) and Kremlin associated media, and argues their side in issues ranging from Syria to Ukraine to the Russian regime campaign of cyber attacks and collusion with the Trump election campaign team on the 2016 US presidential election (more examples).

Fast initial network analysis of pro-Assad social media team’s propaganda work so far about the attack yesterday in Douma, thread —

Unsurprisingly, the same user accounts on Twitter have also been promoting Russian propaganda about #Skripal #Pizzagate and #SyriaHoax before.

THREAD counting twelve alternative theories that the pro-Assad media team have come up with so far.

Patrick Hilsman: “I’ll be tweeting out and tracking various regime counter-narratives regarding the latest Douma attack. 
Theory #1: There was no CW attack because despite years of taking to shelters, Douma residents somehow poisoned themselves with carbon monoxide. More to follow no doubt.

International legal context of the abetment and incitement of atrocity crimes by the pro-Assad media team

In particular in relation to their abetment and incitement of widespread and systematic attacks on humanitarian rescue workers in opposition areas —

Gregory Gordon, 2012, Formulating a New Atrocity Speech Offense: Incitement to Commit War Crimes, in Loyola University Chicago Law Journal.

Article 7 (1) (k) of the ICC Statute applies when war crimes are coordinated in a widespread or systematic way. (See also the ICC page explaining the factors of international criminal offences in general.)

“Article 3.c of the Genocide Convention 1951 states that “direct and public incitement to commit genocide” is a crime, and it is a crime subject to universal jurisdiction (HRW explanation on universal jurisdiction).

Generally speaking, “incitement” means encouraging or persuading another to commit an offense by way of communication, for example by employing broadcasts, publications, drawings, images, or speeches.

It is “public” under international law if it is communicated to a number of individuals in a public place or to members of a population at large by such means as the mass media. Among other things, its “public” nature distinguishes it from an act of private incitement (which could be punishable under the Genocide Convention as “complicity in genocide” or possibly not punishable at all). Incitement to genocide must also be proven to be “direct,” meaning that both the speaker and the listener understand the speech to be a call to action. Prosecutors have found it challenging to prove what “direct” may mean in different cultures, as well as its meaning to a given speaker. Moreover, public incitement to genocide can be prosecuted even if genocide is never perpetrated. Lawyers therefore classify the infraction an “inchoate crime”: a proof of result is not necessary for the crime to have been committed, only that it had the potential to spur genocidal violence. It is intent of the speaker that matters, not the effectiveness of the speech in causing criminal action. This distinction helps to make the law preventative, rather than reactive.”

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