Sales of George Orwell’s 1984 shot up by 7000% on Amazon.com in June following Edward Snowden’s allegations of US government invasion of privacy. Snowden’s subsequent exile and disappearance undoubtedly assisted sales.
In the novel 1984 first published in 1948, Orwell describes a “reduced language” called Newspeak, created by a totalitarian state as a tool to limit free thought, and concepts that pose a threat to the regime such as freedom, self-expression, individuality and peace. This short paper seeks to explore some of the Newspeakvocabulary introduced to the Syrian conflict and overall highlight an agenda of misinformation dissemination.
Newspeak is to be spoken in staccato rhythms with syllables that are easy to pronounce. This is to make speech more automatic and unconscious and reduce the likelihood of thought. Thomas Pynchon once said, “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers.” Questions destabilize International Relations (IR) structures and orders.
Within the Syrian conflict paradigm, the world is receiving Newspeak which is reducing the “likelihood of thought.” For example on June 14, the White House approved sending "small arms, ammunitions and anti-tank weapons" to the “moderate Islamist” Syrian rebels. The project aims to “selectively arm” Syrian rebels and not the “pro-al-Qaeda” ones. US Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes described the approval as an “increase in the size and scope of the assistance." The memory span of US foreign policy bureaucrats appears to be stinted. The flooding of NATO weapons to Libya’s TNC continue to reverberate globally. The weapons helped to assassinate a US ambassador, topple the Malian government, and conduct terrorist operations in Algeria and the Horn of Africa. Furthermore, the UN has correlated the arms proliferation with escalating Elephant poaching rates.
The support boost to the rebels comes a week after French investigators found on “reasonable grounds” that “unspecified chemical weapons attacks” were deployed by the Al Assad "regime." The apparent use of chemical weapons is the "crossed red line" which gives impetus for increased western aggression, more specifically a “no-fly zone.” The White House claims that the Assad government deployed chemical weapons “including the nerve agent Sarin, killing in multiple attacks up to 150 people in 2012.” The evidence is "to some degree of varying confidence." The White House though has failed to mention where the weapons were deployed. According to an “anonymous” exiled Syrian chemical weapons scientist, the regime has some “700 tonnes of Sarin and some 3000 aerial bombs which can be filled with the agent.” Yet, a Google Image search of “Syrian Army” does not show one soldier equipped with a gas mask. If chemical weapons were deployed in 2012, surely photographers would have captured at least 1 of Assad’s troops with a gas mask galloping around in 2013? The “propaganda” is perjurious, even more so in light of General Collin Powell’s Iraqi “mobile anthrax laboratory”.
When the US pulled out of Iraq in December 2011, news agencies worldwide regurgitated that 100,000 died. Not one South African news agency refuted this claim even though in 2006, the BBC noted over 600,000 deaths. Various Russian Times (RT) articles put the death toll at around 300,000 and 650,000. Various Chinese news agencies reported a death toll of over 1 million. Furthermore, various informed non-partisan organizations have put the death toll as high as 3.3 million. So why is there such a blatant attempt to re-write history? The underlining premise applies in Syria. Between March and November 2011, the UN estimated some 3500 deaths. In September 2012, a report gave the death toll at 20,000. But by May of this year the UN estimated some 93000 deaths. How the UN creates this figure is beyond comprehension. There is no reliable source of data for the death toll. What is clear though is that the Iraq war was more violently intense over a decade yet the emotive “death-toll” figures make no sense.
The issue of "Syrian Defectors" adds to the mysterious death-toll count. On November 23, 2011, the leader of the "Free Syrian Army", Col. Riad al-Assad, acknowledged that he has “some 15,000 defectors under his command.” In December 2012, the New York Times, reported that Chief of the Military Police Maj. Gen Abdul Aziz Jassem al-Shalla, defected and in April 2013, General Zaher al-Saket defected. Accordi
Like in Iraq and Libya, Newspeak vigorously sows seeds of mistrust between different religious and ethnic groups. According to a BBC expert, the Syrian army is dominated by President Assad’s "Alawite" ethnic group. Another BBC article describes the Alawite’s as a "heretic sect.” According to a 2010 report, Syria has roughly 750 000 active, reserve and paramilitary troops which is a high figure for a country with a 2012 population of roughly 23 million. Being that Alawite’s consist of 11% of the population, it is not feasible that a Syrian army consists entirely of Alawite’s who are committed to ethnic cleansing. ng to Aljazeera, until May 2013 some 82 senior military and security officials have defected. Defections as a metric then should technically mean that Bashar would have been toppled months ago or is very near to being toppled. This though is not congruent with the Syrian army’s recent gains. To what extent does information provided reflect the reality?
Newspeak does not only attempt to censor and alter words but also “phase out” terms. “International Law” can be included in here. UN Charter Article 2(4) spells it out in unequivocal terms: "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” Supporting a side in a civil war, arming a side in a civil war, and seeking violence instead of dialogue are all against international law.
Overall "Newspeak" seeks to censor and subtly influence modes of thinking through linguistic framing. The most disturbing trend though is that whatever the West manufactures, Africans tend to go along with. In an era where the US and its "allies" are persecuting whistleblowers such as Manning, Assange and Snowden, there needs to be an escape from neo-colonial misinformation. Instead, South Africa's own media agencies facilitate the language of Newspeak; News24 republished an Associated Press (AP) piece on Syria, Timeslive republished a Reuter’s piece on Syria, and the M&G, who declare to be "Africa’s best read”, have no story. Sowetanlive, re-publish a piece from SAPA-AFP which noted how the Syrian Government could possibly deploy gas. According to the SABC online, some 71 Syrian officers including 6 generals defected to Turkey in the "single biggest desertation in months." The African "storytellers" are nowhere to be found; instead regurgitated CIA misinformation is provided with an outcome of more war and violence.
Anton M. Pillay is a Student at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa