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Syria: The Best or the Worst Article Ever?

One of many billboards featuring President Bashar al-Assad (photo by jilliancyork)

One of many billboards in Syria featuring President Bashar al-Assad (photo by jilliancyork)

Syrian bloggers frequently decry travel writing about their country – often it's too stereotypical, sometimes downright false. And for a country considered long “isolated” at least from the United States, it can be particularly frustrating to see such writing promoted as accurate. Therefore, when popular Syrian blogger Sasa, who pens the blog Syria News Wire spotted a recent piece in National Geographic that he deemed “the best article on Syria in a decade,” he just had to say something:

This article is the real Syria. It is a checklist of points which Syrians know about their country, but which foreign journalists skip over, in the rush to confirm their own stereotypes.

Unsurprisingly, in a country often divided, not everyone agreed with Sasa's interpretation of the article. Syrian Ambassador to the United States Imad Moustapha (himself a blogger) penned a letter to the editor of National Geographic that was republished on the blog Syria Comment, calling the National Geographic article a “misrepresentation of the Syria that I belong to.” Though Syria Comment‘s Joshua Landis didn't comment on the article himself, his posting sparked over eighty comments and a lively discussion.

Commenter Alex of Creative Syria was critical of the National Geographic article, stating:

I have no problem with most of what was written .. by I have an issue with the obvious impression the article leaves through its 90% emphasis on negativity … I don’t think an American reading it will hesitate to cancel his planned first vacation in Syria. Who wants to enjoy lunch in Bab Touma if poor brave Syrian people fighting for democracy are being tortured next door in Bab Touma?

Another commenter, Ghassan, liked the article:

the articale is rational, reasonable, and accurate . my support to NG, and to the free press and speach which do not exist in syria.

Norman, also commenting on Landis's post, aptly remarked:

It is interesting how Syria loving Syrians can disagree on the same article.

Other bloggers outside of Syria had strong feelings about the National Geographic article as well. Evan Hill, who writes for group blog The Majlis, felt that the article displayed Syria as behind the times, stating:

We're left with a Syria that seems stuck, economically and politically, in a mindset that's at least 40 decades old. The manager of a government-owned cotton plant, oblivious to or concealing any knowledge of the workplace dangers there, stares at Belt in seeming confusion when asked if he's ever made a profit. Academics and activists still fear the intelligence services created many years ago by Assad's father to destroy the opposition when his famed political wiliness wouldn't work.

After reading all of the criticism, Syria News Wire urged readers to read both the original article and Imad Moustapha's criticisms before making up their minds.

7 comments

  • well, if you take politics out of this, you end up with a typical article about Syria by a foriegn journalist, however with more candor this time.
    I thought it was good btw.

  • Alan

    I visit Syria twice a year to visit and taste the delights that this country has to offer and thank the President for making my visits safe. I have never felt threatened whilst walking through the steets at one oclock in the morning. The people love their President and call him ‘Father’.
    I cannot ever remember hearing a western President being called ‘Father’!
    I only wish we had a strong leaders.
    I say to the critics of Syria, clean up your own house first!

    • Are you serious? The president doesn’t get credit for making your visit safe! It’s the hospitable and friendly nature of the people that preceded the current president and his father.
      Also, I don’t know which Syrians you hang with.. but none of the Syrian I know “love their President and call him ‘father’.” That sir, is absurd. And I know because I’m Syrian.
      If you want strong leaders I suggest you move to China, North Korea, Cuba, or just stay in Syria because those are a really welcoming crowd.
      I’m surprised you didn’t argue that Saddam was loved and that he, too, was a strong leader.

      • Austin

        Fancy seeing you here, Anas! I was one of Justine’s friends in Damascus, in case you don’t remember.

        Reading Alan’s comments, it’s difficult to tell if he’s being serious or not, although I certainly hope he is not. If he is, then it’s just another reason why I hate hearing white tourists talk about the Middle East; I assume he’s white because you sure as hell wouldn’t want to visit Syria twice a year just for kicks if you’re black or Asian. But that’s a different story. أو ممكن خطه حلو بس

        • Damn, it’s a small world! Nice “seeing” here Austin.

          Alan is blissfully oblivious to the situation in Syria and can’t really tell the difference between criticizing Syria and criticizing the President or the regime.

          You’re absolutely right with everything you said, and it is very likely that خطه حلو.

          Salam.

  • Syria is a country lacks freedom and the people living under terror and fear through, good hope of freedom for the Syrian people..

  • […] Global Voices: Syria: The Best or the Worst Article Ever? 2009-11-03 One of many billboards in Syria featuring President Bashar al-Assad (photo by jilliancyork) Syrian bloggers frequently decry travel writing about their country – often it’s too stereotypical, sometimes downright false. And for a country considered … […]

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