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Moe Ali Nayel Headshot

When Rumors Turn Into Facts In The Mainstream Media

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The story of Hezbollah's involvement in crushing Syrian protests is based on rumor and heresy alone. It remains unsubstantiated by any hard evidence, and yet some journalists are insisting upon it as if it were fact. As if the Syrian regime lacks its own oppressive forces. The other day I saw a friend making fun of a story on her Facebook wall: "Hezbollah's secret war on Syrian rebels." If Michael Weiss knows anything about the region he knows that a "secret war on Syrian rebels" by Hezbollah would never be able to be kept secret.

As a Lebanese fixer based in Beirut, Lebanon, I have worked with many journalists in the past year covering the Syrian revolution from this side of the border. In this role I've traveled from Beirut, up north to Wadi Khalid and further east to the Beqaa. As a curious journalist myself, I took a trip to Homs last summer. In the last five months I have interviewed countless Syrian refugees. One phenomenon I have noticed repeated is this claim that Hezbollah is helping the Syrian regime. On asking how, stories vary: some say Hezbollah have sent 5000+ fighters, others that Hezbollah is directing the Syrian army.

Amongst these refugees, there is an oft-repeated paranoia that Hezbollah will come and kidnap them. This is always followed by the inevitable question, directed at me: where do you come from? And even more bluntly -- "are you a Sunni or Shiia?" I always ask these refugees if they have any concrete evidence to support their claims, but am yet to hear any concrete evidence. The answer is always the same: "I know people that have heard other people talking about it." In many interviews someone, sitting amongst their friends and relatives, interrupts my requests for evidence with words such as, "there is nothing to prove the party is involved, but people are afraid and just talk, and so rumors become facts." Some, though, are not so easily sold on these rumors. Rumors are, after all, inevitably abundant in times of division. When I've asked trusted Syria activists in Beirut and Syria about Hezbollah's involvement, they have denied it. This intervention by wise men/women is comforting: there are people not willing to buy into rumors, especially the type supported by a nasty sectarian background surfacing on a land fertile for sectarian strife.

Rumors that are being reported in the news as facts are further harming those who want to really understand the truth of these times. An incident recently confirmed the kind of harm that is being done. When I called a doctor in Arsal, Beqa'a, to schedule an interview, the word journalist was greeted with an angry rant: "I have nothing to say, or show, to journalists; forget about our appointment. Don't come over here: you are giving us a headache instead of helping us". I asked what the problem was; his answer was simple and delivered abruptly before he hung up: "you journalists are harming us." Another source, whose family home is in Arsal, H.Hujairy, confirmed the doctor's words: "there are people in Arsal who are not happy with how journalists flooded their village hungry for any story about the Free Syrian Army and the gun smuggling." Hujairy also commented on another story being reported in some places, the story that Hezbollah are attempting to crack down on Syrian refugees in Arsal -- "I know you journalists; you just want any story that has the word 'Hezbollah' in it." He told me "they (Hezbollah) never kidnapped or tried to intimidate anyone from Arsal, they know it's not in their interest to do so in our village. Even in 2008 when things were tense between us, Hezbollah did not enter the village to intimidate anyone." He further explained, "we might have clashed with the Amal Movement in the past but not Hezbollah." The reports that Hezbollah entered the village were clarified by Hujairy thus: "People got confused when the Lebanese army intelligence drove into town in their GMC SUVs with their black tinted windows: the same kind of cars known to be driven by Hezbollah. Some thought it was Hezbollah but later they found it wasn't. Don't forget that Arsal is one Sunni village surrounded by Shiia villages, and since 2008 people in Arsal are wary".

Stories that keep floating around about Hezbollah's involvement in the oppression in Syria still lack evidence and they are based only on sectarian paranoia. It is obvious which kinds of journalists are pushing such rumors as evidence to further agitate the public opinion: notice the silence of the few experienced journalists on such a story.

In some cases the journalist(s) I've worked with knew how to differentiate rumor(s) from facts, but lately the new wave of journalists don't care or lack the experience to question rumors. It's as if the inexperienced journalist has a radar in their head programmed to keywords like 'foreign intervention,' 'Free Syrian Army,' and 'Hezbollah,' and even when I've insisted there was something wrong in the story being told to us, it hasn't mattered. In the presence of these keywords all other important stories go by the wayside. And so it becomes clear how business owned journalism is being used to make rumors into facts and with these so-called facts, foreign policy becomes further embedded.

News that is obviously fabricated, or in most cases not thoroughly investigated, but written from behind desks in the U.S., Europe, and east Beirut, angers me because I value the integrity of investigative journalism. Moreover, I hate seeing how the Syrian peoples' uprising has been manipulated to serve as a tool for some political agendas. It looks like the counter-revolution has found the season to take a punch at Iran and Hezbollah through the ongoing revolution in Syria.