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Syria: The Best or the Worst Article Ever?

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Syria, Arts & Culture, Development, Economics & Business, Ethnicity & Race, Freedom of Speech, Governance, International Relations, Literature, Media & Journalism, Travel
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 [1] that he deemed “the best article on Syria in a decade,” he just had to say something [2]:

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 [3]) penned a letter to the editor of National Geographic that was republished on the blog [4] 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 [5] and a lively discussion.

Commenter Alex of Creative Syria [6] 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 [7]:

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 [8] to read both the original article and Imad Moustapha's criticisms before making up their minds.