Alex Thomson is Channel4 correspondent. He went into Syria with an official visa and followed UN observers to Qusayr. There, he was in contact with rebels. According to him, rebels led him in trap so he can be killed by the Syrian army. Here is the story on his blog.
The problem in his story is not in the scoop in itself (rebels trying to make him killed by the regime so Assad get to look bad) which seems possible. But the story appears to be extremely ideological and this trend to doubt the authenticity of what Alex Thomson claims is true.
The Irish UN officer in charge,Mark Reynolds, came over: “Usual rules Alex OK? We’re not responsible for you guys. If you get into trouble we’ll leave you, yes? You’re on your own.” “Yup – no problem Mark. Understood.”
I always say that, sort of assuming it will never come to that in any case.
In these first lines is already something bothering. Going to cover a war zone precisely implies that one is going to get into trouble and there will be danger and risks. This risk is taken by the journalist because it is part of his job to risk his life to get the information out to the world. But if Alex thinks this risk does not exist, what does that tells us about his ethics. What exactly is doing Alex Thomson in Syria thinking he will not get into trouble? Is he ready to take the role of the journalist who risk his life in the sake of the information? He wants to go to Qusayr in the “rebel” zone with the UN.
After a long and dusty half-hour of tracks across olive groves, we arrive at al Qusayr, to the predictable crowd scene.
“The predictable crowd scene” is the first expression of Alex’s ideology. For him, it is a “crowd scene”, a gathering with no individuals, no human beings, no motives, no slogans, no speech or voice, just a “crowd scene”. This is how Alex conceives what is probably a gathering of civilians shouting to the UN observers their suffering from the massacres. These “predictable crowd scenes” are an essential part of the information and of history. They are the proofs of the massacres, of the UN powerlessness but also proofs of UN presence so these massacres are not committed without the world knowing. Men and women who lost sons, daughters, fathers, mothers and sisters, who get slaughtered and they want to tell the UN observers: a “predictable crowd scene”…
How is this scene so predictable? Does Alex thinks these massacres are so numerous that they became common? Why not tell anything about it so? Does he thins it is a game that these people are playing? Rushing to UN observers like kids? Does Alex refers here to the general trend of the Arabs to produce these kind of scenes and to give these kind of images? These people are so predictable, they do not have suffering, no pain, no reasons, no condition, they do not even exist. This is not even a real crowd with real human beings in it but only a scene, transient and melodramatic, just for the show. And Alex thinks it is not even a good show: it is predictable, the scenario is badly written so Alex will try to write a better one.
The UN settles down for a long meeting with the civilian and military leaders here. It looks much like an Afghan “shura” to me. Everyone is cross legged on the cushions around the room, except it is Turkish coffee passed round rather than chai.
This meeting who may have some very interesting informations is also considered as a common oriental scene without any kind of interest. Who are these leaders? How many civilian leaders? How many military leaders? What is the difference between the two? What do they say? Alex is not interested. For him it is an Afghan “shura” like any other. These people are all the same, tribal culture and sitting cross legged on the floor except some are drinking tea and other are drinking coffee. It is the only difference for Alex. Revolutionary leaders meeting UN observers for a whole afternoon in the middle of Syria is not at all surprising because… he saw the same scene in Afghanistan. A tribal Afghan = a revolutionary Syrian, one drinks tea, the other drinks coffee but the fact that they are all sitting on cushion on the floor makes them automatically similar cases.
Alex does not ask himself for one second about any difference: political, national, language, personal, individual or historical. « Looks like an Afghan shura to me » been there, done that… What these people say or what topics they are discussing has absolutely no kind of interest. These are savages sitting on the floor drinking hot beverages.
We settle down to filming outside. The women and boys bring us oranges and chairs in the heat. Shell fragments are produced to be filmed. They explain how the shelling will begin again as soon as we leave – a claim which, by its nature, must remain untested, though there is certainly extensive shell damage in some parts of town here.
Note here that Alex is posing the scene as completely normal. Not a single word or nice adjective in his paper thanking these people who offer him oranges and chairs (so he does not have to sit on the floor like a savage). However, Alex has to stress that the information he is given together with the oranges “by its nature must remain untested”. Choice of the word “untested” is curious though this claim has indeed been tested on multiple occasion. Shelling do arrive as soon as the UN leaves a village. But it is “by its nature” that Alex rejects this information and indicates that it “must” remain rejected despite any proofs he is given.
So we while away the time, waiting for the UN to move – they’re the only way across the lines with any degree of safety of course.
Here and together with the previous paragraph, Alex indicates clearly what he is doing in Syria. He does not come to look for information as he rejects the informations that he is given. He does not care about what the UN is doing as he only sit his ass on a chair eating oranges and waiting for the UN finishes so he can move. What Alex wants to do is to use the UN as a shield so he can cross the lines. This could have an interest if the journalistic goal was to follow the work of the UN observers but Alex has already indicated he could not care less about what the UN is doing.
Alex wants to willingly go in the middle of fire lines but protected by the UN. Alex wants the no man’s land. The grey area in the middle of “both sides” at an equal distance between them. From there he can say: here things are grey, both sides are firing each other in a perfectly equal manner and with perfectly equal motivations with no consideration whatsoever for the weapons or the cause of any of both sides. Both sides can be there melted together in indistinct grey. It is what Alex wants as a scoop and is is predictably what he is going to find because, in a very logical manner, when you go sit in the middle of a no man’s land you are going to get bullets from everyone.
Alex Is impatient. He is visibly not here to listen to the testimony of the inhabitants or to film any proof of the shelling. He does not really believe in these anyway.
But time drags. Our deadline begins to loom.
This very sentence shows all the extent of contempt Alex has toward the situation and the life of the people around him to their very existence. Alex’s “deadline” is more important of course than these meetings between revolutionaries and the UN. His little stupid scoop consisting in going filming bullets in the middle of crossed line of fire is more important than anything revolutionaries have to say to the UN or even the life of people around him. He was duly told that shelling will begin again as soon as UN leaves. This “time drags” is for now the very surviving of the people who gave him oranges but Alex does not even conceive it.
And there’s this really irritating guy who claims to be from “rebel intelligence” and won’t quite accept that we have a visa from the government. In his book foreign journos are people smuggled in from Lebanon illegally and that’s that. We don’t fit his profile.
Here was also an interesting information discarded as a “claim”: revolutionaries have sat up an intelligence service. But for Alex it is another unverifiable “claim” he will not bother to verify. Alex is here again extremely disdainful toward this man and all the stakes that constitutes the verification of his ID. « in his book », Alex knows it completely without needing to read a line. He won’t even imagine that the suspicion about his official visa can be justified. Here Alex lies by omission.
Let’s get back to how things are in the reality: Alex arrives in rebel zone with an official stamp from Bachar al Assad and a van and crew coming directly from Damascus. It could be somehow justified that revolutionaries are getting a bit suspicious. The very meaning of this official stamp indicates Alex is going to give equal credit to “both sides”. An activity which, by its nature, is going to harm the rebel’s cause. This rebel that Alex considers dumb and annoying knows perfectly what the regime does when they deliver an official visa to a foreign journalist. In a very legitimate way, he is suspicious toward the journalist who has agreed to play Assad’s game. He also has to protect himself, his family and friends and his revolutionary cause from any infiltration by Assad’s agents and Alex with his official visa is a suspect. In truth, Alex takes the regime sides and here is how:
First, he supposes that the regime visa is valid for all Syrian territory and indicates that he does not find normal that it becomes suspect in rebel zone. Here it is not normal that one does not accept the official stamp. Just by labelling the ID verification as “annoying”, Alex indicates that he thinks Assad’s flag is supposed to fly over all Syria.
Also Alex led his reader to think that the regime never used any journalist nor did it infiltrate any agent in rebel zone disguised as foreign journalists. A story duly told by Jonathan Littell in his Carnets de Homs. Such a stratagem is completely probable and Alex is lying by omission when he refuses to acknowledge that revolutionary has perfectly good reasons to verify his ID.
Eventually Alex does no conceive one moment what could happen in a reversed case: a case where he would come to Damascus from the rebel area with no official stamp on his passport. He would of course be arrested, probably tortured and most certainly knows it would be crazy just to think of trying the experiment. However he found completely normal to try the experiment in this way: from regime official to rebel area is a profile completely acceptable in his eyes and he finds a bit annoying to be asked questions.
Tired of waiting for the useless UN to end their useless cushion-on-the-floor meeting, he takes the initiative.
We decide to ask for an escort out the safe way we came in. Both sides, both checkpoints will remember our vehicle.
Simply, Alex is incredible. After having written that the UN convoy was the only way with a certain degree of safety, he asks to the one guy who thinks he is a regime agent for a rebel escort to got back to the other side. It comes hard to understand what Alex thinks is the situation here: revolutionaries are going to escort him nicely to the last rebel check point and then he is going to simply drive to the army checkpoint praying for everyone to remember his vehicles and that no one questions to hard the little trips he takes between them?
If it is really the case why ask for a escort for that?
Actually Alex is here building carefully the scenario that is going to happen to him: please could you escort me to the middle of the no man’s land so I can get shot at?
Suddenly four men in a black car beckon us to follow. We move out behind. We are led another route. Led in fact, straight into a free-fire zone. Told by the Free Syrian Army to follow a road that was blocked off in the middle of no-man’s-land.
Remember Alex just asked for an escort. SO maybe these 4 men in a black car could be his escort but he does not indicate any such thing. Alex is in the middle of the no man’s land on a blocked road which was exactly the location where he wanted to go initially. FSA told him this road because it is the road whare he wants to go: Alex wants to pass check points from both sides and predictably there is going to be an area between them that is called a no man’s land and where both sides fire on sight. And predictably the 4 guys in the black car are not going to risk their lives under a rain of bullets to protect the imbecile who wants to go get stuck in the middle.
So Thomson get shot at, he is really really afraid and turns back.
Predictably the black car was there which had led us to the trap. They roared off as soon as we re-appeared.
« Predictably » again. For Thomson this car is waiting “predictably” because he does not want to think of any other possibility. It was predictable this car would be here because it was what Thomson predicted. Maybe this car just waited for Thomson to make a very predictable drive back as soon as he would realise that one get shot at when one gets in the no man’s land. Called a no man’s land for a reason. Maybe this car was checking if he was alive? Alex does not want to think about that. The only reason for this car to be here was that it was predicted. The duality and treason of the Arab is just as predictable as the “crowd scene” , it is in their nature.
I’m quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian Army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus.
That conviction only strengthened half an hour later when our four friends in the same beaten-up black car suddenly pulled out of a side-street, blocking us from the UN vehicles ahead.
The UN duly drove back past us, witnessed us surrounded by shouting militia, and left town.
Eventually we got out too and on the right route, back to Damascus.
Here is the scoop Alex wanted all along. He went into the no man’s land from the rebel zone, get shot at and so concludes the rebels led him into a trap. That the regime fired on him is no problem at all, still rebels fault. His conviction is reinforced because the rebels prevented him from following the UN half an hour later. For him it is part of the plan. Maybe the rebels just prevented him from getting shot at a second time. Maybe they took the time to negociate a safe passage for him so he could go back to Damascus. Curious enough there is absolutely no detail whatsoever on how he got back. “Eventually we got out too,” funny how time drags now. How? why? at what time? in what conditions? Nothing. Alex wanted to go in the no man’s land and thought that this little tribal meeting was taking too long so he decides to go alone, gets shot at, comes back and finds a conspiracy in the fact he is not allowed to go back with the UN after all.
But of utmost importance is the conclusion Alex wanted that is a model of ideological construction:
In a war where they slit the throats of toddlers back to the spine, what’s the big deal in sending a van full of journalists into the killing zone?
It was nothing personal.
First, Alex put his little fear in perspective of the massacre of 100 people. For him, these things arrive in a war where “they” slit throats so it is normal that “they” send journalist to death. In this general “they”, of course, it is implied that the same “they” are responsible for both events. “They” in Alex story are the revolutionaries and he identifies them clearly as responsible. Then, Alex spreads the idea that “they” are also responsible for the massacre just by not defining who are these “they” who slits throats.
« it was nothing personal » in the form of a paternalist “it is normal”. They, these people, undistinct, with no soul who kills and massacre themselves with no cause nor guilt tried to get me killed but it is not personal. It is in their Arab nature to do that, who am I to judge? They are like that, the situation is like that and Alex is filled with empathy and understanding for the savage nature of the Arab savages.
Alex’s ideology is this: these people (let’s call them arabs but maybe also Afghans who looks very much like them), these people massacre and get journalists massacred. With no cause, no reasons, no revolution, no politics, no surprise (“predictable”). And this is what a war zone looks like in the middle east: all the same, all without any other cause or any other reason than being the nature of the middle east.
And it is this ideology that Alex is going to promote in an interview with Russia Today where he details his story.
Now let’s say for people not as familiar with the media world as is Alex Thomson that going to be interviewed by Russia Today (Putin’s TV) is not completely innocent from an ideological point of view.
In the interview, what comes out the most is the word “both sides” which appears no less than 10 times so he can penetrate deeply in the brain. Let’s examine the passages where “both sides” occurs so we can grasp the ideas hidden behind this “both sides”
Russia Today : Thomson’s mission to Syria was unique in a way, as he was reporting on both sides of the conflict, interviewing both Assad loyalists and rebels (this is introduction)
‘Both sides involved in very dirty tactics’ (this is the title of the interview written very very big)
AT : By and large, when we spoke to Syrian people on both sides of the war, they were pretty honest and pretty straightforward in their assessments of the situation. That was the situation in places like Homs, on both sides, in Houla, on both sides. It was certainly the case on one side in al-Qubair. But when we got to the rebel side of al-Qubair, there was something different and for the first time, we encountered a degree of hostility and suspicion about us, because they had never seen foreign journalists who had a visa from Damascus, who were in the country legally, not illegally. And that immediately aroused suspicion on their part. »
Here, “both sides” is used to show how rebels are different. It is “both sides” all the time until Qusayr where suddenly rebels are not “both sides” at all. After having strike a perfect balance, Alex uses al Qusayr to unbalance things is disfavour of the rebels.
It is very unusual, almost unheard of, to do the kind of things that we were doing, which is to go from Damascus, cross the lines with the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and talk to both sides.
What Alex is doint is actually very well known and he is not the first to try the “both sides” with a visa from the regime. All those who tried this had the open goal of putting Assad’s regime and rebels on the exact same plan. It is an ideological manipulation as proven by the next question from Russia Today:
RT: So can it be that your willingness to talk to both sides was the reason why the rebels wanted to set you up?
Let’s translate: Is it because the rebels did not accept this ideology that you get yourself into danger? And the anwser of Alex Thomson which should be carved in stone:
AT: That’s certainly possibly the case.
In the “both sides” ideology, things can certainly become possible…
(…) I’m not angry about it, I’m not upset about it, this is a war and these things will be done. Both sides are involved in very dirty tactics in this war. This is a nasty and dirty war on both sides.
Here “both sides” is uses clearly to make the rebels responsible (but not guilty) of the “very dirty tactics”
RT: So are Assad’s troops mostly responsible for this violence?
AT: No, it’s a war. Both sides are responsible.
Here clearly Both sides is used to take the direct defence of Bashar al Assad. “both sides” and “it’s a war” are used to answer a firm “no” to the question of Assad’s troops responsibility in the violence.
One can conclude from that analysis of Alex’s ideology that his little adventure does not constitutes an irrefutable and objective proof but an ideological story of an adventure more wished than lived and looking to balance the rebels and the regime. This balance once stroke is unbalanced in disfavour of the rebels because it is on this story that Alex tries to get the media focus.
Clausewitz, the one who gives the war a definition told us that “war is the continuation of politics by other means”. To eliminate all politics from the journalistic cover of a war by putting “both sides” on the same level is a ideological negation of the reality. It implies that there are no killer nor victims, no innocents nor guilty, no oppressor nor oppressed, no master nor slaves, no genocide maker nor genocide victims…
This ideology is called negationism
And your ideology, Alex, has to be fought against, nothing personal.