‘The Suffering Grasses’ documentary paints a twisted, myopic picture of Syrian conflict
By End the Lie
“The Suffering Grasses,” a documentary by Iara Lee, presents a woefully myopic and one-sided picture of the Syrian conflict, giving uninformed viewers a completely erroneous picture of what has gone on since 2011 and what is going on today.
Most recently, the Arab League has approved the open arming of Syrian rebels with the approval of the United States (though the US has helped funnel arms to rebels for quite a while now) and United Nations peacekeepers were taken hostage by Syrian rebels in Golan Heights.
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The documentary was screened at California State University, Northridge on March 6 and was followed by a question and answer period featuring Syrian artist Fadia Afashe and actor Jihad Abdo.
During this question and answer period, the two avoided directly answering questions about the al-Nusra Front, or Jabhat al-Nusra, the prominent Syrian rebel group that was listed as a terrorist organization by the United States in 2012.
They similarly did not condemn the taking of UN hostages but instead talked about how people are forced to think terrorism is the only viable route when made to feel powerless and hopeless.
The documentary, created with the help of the Cultures of Resistance Network Foundation and an anonymous donor, avoided the issue of terrorism committed by opposition forces entirely.
This is completely misleading and even news outlets that have a clearly pro-opposition perspective like Al Arabiya print articles recognizing that Jabhat al-Nusra “in the words of the head of the Free Syrian Army Salim Idriss has more resources than the FSA itself and enjoys tactical ground advantage.”
According to a March 4 GlobalPost article, “To date, members of al-Nusra have claimed responsibility for more than 600 attacks, which have killed hundreds of Syrians, both military and civilian.”
While it is impossible to accurately number the al-Nusra fighters in Syria, one of the leaders of al-Nusra, Al-Amir Gazi al-Haj, told GlobalPost that they have “representatives in every village in the country.”
Perhaps most worrisome for the many Christians and other minorities in Syria, “Al-Haj and his men say they are fighting to establish an Islamic state under Sharia law,” according to GlobalPost.
Yet this is another area the documentary chose to gloss over, once again giving the ignorant viewer a wholly inaccurate image of the conflict.
The documentary never mentioned the sectarian violence in Syria save once occasion when someone claimed that there was not, in fact, sectarian conflicts but instead it was all created by the Assad regime.
While one might claim that this is a new problem and thus the documentary, which was completed in 2012 according to IMDB, did not have to cover something that was a minor issue at the time of filming, one would be wholly incorrect.
Even The New York Times reported in 2011, “A harrowing sectarian war has spread across the Syrian city of Homs this month, with supporters and opponents of the government blamed for beheadings, rival gangs carrying out tit-for-tat kidnappings, minorities fleeing for their native villages, and taxi drivers too fearful of drive-by shootings to ply the streets.”
This is not isolated and to put the blame entirely on the government is to simply ignore reality.
I think I must make it clear that I am not a supporter of the Assad government and I do not deny that the government has been behind some inexcusable actions. Personally, I believe we should do everything we can to alleviate the suffering in Syria and protect the lives of individuals on both sides.
However, does that mean that we should pretend the opposition is faultless? Does that mean we need to ignore the sectarian conflict? Should we simply ignore the quite prominent presence of terrorists amongst the Syrian opposition? Should a skewed image of one side be presented along with highly emotional images to influence ignorant audiences?
In my humble opinion, it is not our place to decide who should live and who should die. However, those who gloss over al-Nusra and the other terrorists in the violent opposition who indiscriminately kill in the name of toppling Assad clearly think one person’s life is worth less than another.
I am not the only one who was concerned by this documentary and the picture it painted. Two peace activists, a CSUN graduate and her friend, were handing out literature after the screening. Among the literature was an article by activist, screenwriter and retired teacher Carol Frances entitled, “One Response to The Suffering Grasses.”
In her article, Frances writes, “It seems that in bringing us together to make us grieve for the suffering people, we are being indoctrinated with the real agenda as an undercurrent into our subconsciousness.”
“It doesn’t do us any service to give us simplistic answers that will make it easier for the U.S. to do to Syria what it has done to the Philippines, Hiroshima, Viet Nam, Central America, Yugoslavia, Haiti, Iran, Iraq Afghanistan, and countless other peoples,” Frances writes.
Other materials included “U.S. & Syria: Facts you should know” by Joyce Chediac and “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung confirms: Houla massacre committed by Syrian ‘rebels’” by Clara Weiss.
One of the more disturbing aspects of the entire experience was the reaction of some of the audience.
At one point, a video of a child barely able to speak is shown holding a toy gun in front of a Syrian flag giving a speech reminiscent of martyrdom videos. While one might see this as a tragic image of indoctrination and the destruction of innocence, the audience laughed.
Sure, Syrian rebels posting a video announcement to YouTube complete with Free Syrian Army banners and a statement about fighting Assad’s government while holding toy guns might be somewhat humorous, the videos of parents coaxing children into saying violent messages should not encourage laughs from the audience.
It was not just once, similar reactions occurred at least three times when children who likely had no idea what they were actually talking about discussed violence against the Syrian government.
Are these the kinds of reactions the filmmakers are hoping to get? Do they really want Western audiences to think such images are cute or endearing? One can only guess.
Representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also spoke briefly, emphasizing the “non-political” nature of the organization several times.
In reality, as David Forsythe, the Charles J. Mach Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln pointed out in a 2001 paper, “If we make a realistic analysis rather than a legalistic one or one for public relations, we have to admit that the overall mandate requires UNHCR to be a political agency in the sense of trying to influence public authorities to protect refugees and those in a refugee like situation.”
While the UNHCR might like to call their activities “humanitarian advocacy and management,” Forsythe writes, “These semantics, as well as reference to legal rights, would allow the agency to maintain the fiction that it is totally non-political, or humanitarian, or neutral. But analytically or realistically speaking, this is indeed a fiction.”
That’s not to say that the UNHCR shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing in helping Syrian refugees, but to say the organization is entirely non-political, as the representatives did multiple times, isn’t all that accurate.
Overall, the production quality of “The Suffering Grasses” was impressive and it was clearly a well executed film. The problem is that it gives the uninformed viewer a wholly inaccurate and misleading view of what is going on in Syria.
Hopefully the claims made in the film spur those who have less information on the horrific situation to actually look into what was said and find out for themselves just how accurate it is.
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