As the turmoil in Syria rages on a new front in the battle for dominance appears to have opened up. The propaganda war reached a new heights today with the publicising of a video of a Free Syrian Army rebel leader Abu Sakar ripping out the heart of a dead Syrian soldier and appearing to eat it (see the video below). The video was released by the Syrian Authorities. In the video (below) Sakar is seen cutting out the heart as he says “I swear to God we will eat your hearts and your livers, you soldiers of Bashar the dog.” Human Rights Watch have confirmed the authenticity of the video.
Up until now the Syrian authorities seemed to be lagging far behind in terms of their use of social media to try to influence an outcome in the war. Opposition forces have used Youtube and other social media sites extremely effectively over the last 2 years to portray the government forces as brutal heartless killers. Showing dead civilians massacred by the Syrian army and in particular images of dead children has steadfastly sealed in the Syrian authorities as the baddies and the opposition as the good guys. Hearts and minds are easily coerced through the proliferation of social media. Yes, the world has picked a side already, but today’s video release may just change all that.
Abu Sakar’s shocking action may signal a worrying intensification in the war that is increasingly being characterised by religious sectarianism. Sakar is heard on the video instructing his rebels to take the hearts out of Bashar Assad’s Alawite minority religious group (an offshoot of Shia Islam). It is clearly a signal being sent to slaughter more innocent people just because of the religious minority from which they come from. Western government’s keen on supporting the rebels in an attempt to wrestle control from Assad will not welcome this video.
Mutilating an enemy’s body is a war crime. Western governments cannot be seen to condone this. Whereas in the past unscrupulous and extremely dangerous men were frequently propped up and armed to the teeth by Western governments intent of regime change around the world, the openness and quick flow of information on social media may to some extent impede such a thing happening nowadays. Assad may, like he did last week, effectively one day decide to stop all internet access in the country in an attempt to control the flow of information. Or the next day, like with this video release, he might decide to use it to his advantage. The rebels have been doing it for two years now, and for all intents and purposes it has worked extremely well for them.
Up until now (in the eyes of most of the international community) it was pretty much a given of which side is right and which side of wrong. The information war pretty much decided that early on when rebels, building on experiences during the Arab Spring, used the internet to gain a strong moral upper hand on Assad’s crimes. Today that upper hand looks a little limp. Assad and Sakar may not want us to think so, but the reality is that there are no good guys in this war.
Abu Sakar Cutting out the Heart of Syrian Soldier and Eating it