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The PR Weakness of the Resistance Axis in Syria

The purpose of this column is not to study the functionality and the legitimacy of the Syrian government, but the weakness in the public relations sphere on the Syrian front of a far more potent and globally relevant force, namely the Resistance Axis, led by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Since the start of the crisis in Syria, Corporate media hijacked the narrative to declare a “revolution” on behalf of the opposition: a democracy loving populace fighting for their freedom against the “tyrant.” Five years passed and with the “revolution” proving that it was and is a proxy war, and the  “revolutionaries” having a mixture of organ eating and children slaughtering militias, the Syrian bloodbath is still viewed by the masses of the MENA region as a ‘’revolution.’’

Many variables contributed to the success of this false narrative. While the people of Syria had legitimate grievances against the corrupt and previously unelected regime, this proxy war was not caused by sectarian grievances, as the corporate narrative often suggests, implicitly and explicitly. The link between “sectarianism” and “revolution” however, have done wonders to cater to both the western audience with an orientalist view of the Middle East and a Muslim Arab audience feeling weak and divided and needing an enemy to unite against.

The maintenance of this narrative is also attributed to the fact that the anti-Syrian government forces, inside and outside Syria, played the sectarian card very well. Its supporters, mainly, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Hizbullah did a poor job in the initial year of the uprising deterring the sectarian message of the anti-Assad forces.

From the start of the proxy war, it was clear that the Islamic Republic of Iran and Hizbullah will defend their strategic alliance with the Syrian government. It was also evident that NATO governments, through their regional vassals’ will employ the sectarian narrative in order to turn the regional masses against Shia Iran and Hizbullah. This gave them the numbers advantage. Iran and Hizbullah clearly failed to make adequate PR preparations to deter this evident sectarian narrative that could have been foreseen years prior to the proxy-war.  

So, what was the narrative and how did they fail? The anti-Shia sectarian narrative pushed by the GCC and its Syrian proxies consists of two basic components; 1) The Shias are not Muslims and 2) Their resistance credentials are a pretence. Both of these narratives could have been easily tackled at the very start of the proxy-war in Syria, but instead, both Iran and Hizbullah chose to emphasize on the realpolitik rationale of their position.

Basic examination of Iranian government statements from 2011-2012 shows a greater emphasis on the sacredness of governmental and state sovereignty, rather than the sacredness of the Islamic theory of governance. This provided an ammunition for the GCC narrative to push the message of heretical and double-faced Shias, which is and was the main driving mobilization tool of the anti-Assad forces.

It took about a year for Iran’s Islamic governing establishment to fully open up about the Islamic basis of their policy and regional developments. This factor could partly be explained within the overall intellectual crisis of the Muslim world which lacks confidence in presenting and reasoning within its own indigenous framework of thought.

Iran’s and Hizbullah’s initial ‘’Westphalia’’ rationalization of their position in Syria did win them a favourable platform within some Western policy and intellectual circles, but the conflict being primarily a regional one, regional grievances should have been tackled first. Without tackling the sectarian narrative of the Syrian proxy-war, the conflict is not going to come to an end anytime soon.

The Resistance Axis possesses enough Sunni Islamic allies worldwide in order to discredit the shallow sectarian narrative of the events in Syria. But it is going to take some time, as it appears that for bureaucratic reasons, the alliance is not functioning in an organized manner. Until that happens, senseless violence fuelled by baseless and blind sectarianism will go on.  

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