Is Facebook Censoring the Syrian Opposition?
Last December, a woman from the Syrian community in Toronto reached out to me for help after a Syrian opposition Facebook page, for which she was an administrator, was expunged from the internet. She told me that Facebook had deleted the page, called Likes for Syria, in mid December, by which time it had garnered more than 80,000 “likes.” Several Syrian Canadians had organized the page shortly after the revolution in Syria began, back in 2011, and used it as a tool for posting news stories about the crisis, spreading messages of hope, and creating awareness in the Western world—something that many feel is desperately needed.
“We feel like our freedom of speech has been totally taken away,” said Faris Alshawaf, another administrator for Likes for Syria. “We have a right to talk about what is happening.” Facebook had removed the page once before but quickly republished it after administrators made an appeal. Just days later, Facebook deleted the page a second time.
Eva O’Leary and Harry Griffin on Photographing the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg
Eva O’Leary and Harry Griffin
are photographers who work together. Last year they funded a project called Devil’s Den
using Kickstarter. For it, they photographed reenactors and spectators at the 150th-anniversary commemoration of the battle of Gettysburg. Juxtapositions within their images lay bare the differences between then and now. The project is featured in Mossless
Issue 3, which is also currently on Kickstarter
. We spoke with Eva and Harry about preconceptions drawn from history books, crowdfunding as a strategy for self-publishing, and the nature of collaboration.
Mossless: What made you want to shoot the Gettysburg reenactment?
Eva and Harry: The idea evolved from a shared interest. We had talked about collaborating before, but were waiting for the right idea. Some family had participated in the reenactment before, and they were talking about going again.
Gettysburg is a town of 7,645 residents. Once a year, in the last week of July, approximately 50,000 people travel from all over the world to bask in the glory, fascination, and nostalgia of a war fought in 1863. This year was the 150th anniversary and was particularly huge.
What surprised you most about it all?
The first time we went to Walmart and saw a rebel sharpshooter buying toilet paper.
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Syria’s Christian Minority Are Fighting Back
The security office is so neatly tucked away into a small side street that it’s a little difficult to take it seriously as a threatening resistance operation. Inside, young guys are sitting around with rifles, some in uniform, others in civilian clothes. It’s a typical scene in today’s Syria, a country with more armed groups than is possible to count, except for the fact that the office is so clean you could eat off the floor, and most of the men are strikingly well-groomed. Also, the sign on the office wall is in a language other than Arabic or Kurdish, the two main languages of the region, and there is a cross in its center.
Sutoro, the name the organization goes under,means “police” in Syriac, the language of theAssyrian Christians of the area—the Hasakah Governorate in the northeast of the country. The group has been described as a Christian militia, but it’s really a neighborhood watch, albeit with arrest powers and automatic weapons. Its members patrol the streets of Qahtaniya, Al-Malikiyah and Qamishli, towns and cities where people—mostly Kurds, but also Christians and Sunni Arabs—are locked in a brutal struggle against Islamist militants, some of them with ties to al Qaeda.
Syria’s Christians—many of whom are richer and more comfortable than the country’s mostly poor Sunni majority—have mostly featured in the news as victims of the country’s civil war. The fightingbetween Islamist rebels and government forces in Maaloula, a Christian town north of Damascus where Aramaic, the language of Christ, is still spoken, has been widely reported and seen as another ominous development for a community that was, until a few years ago, thriving not just in Syria but also in Iraq. Since the conflict began, 450,000 Christians are thought to have left the country, more than a quarter of the original total. But some are now resisting.
Syria’s Revolutionaries Are Fighting Back Against Foreign Jihadists
As the revolutions of our time tend to, it started with a Facebook post. “Together for a Day of Rage in Syria to end the state of emergency in Syria and end corruption,” read the post back in February 2011. One revolution, two bloody years, and 11 dark months later, came more Facebook posts—this time calling for: “A day of Anger against ISIS.”
The posts sparked protests on Friday that, once again, turned into armed conflict and a variety of rebel groups are now fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) across Aleppo and Idlib governorates. Activists are calling it “another revolution.” Things are getting pretty meta in northern Syria.
Widespread anger at the repressive and arbitrary nature of ISIS’s methods in northern Syria has been growing since the group arrived in the country in May 2013. ISIS’s primary goal extends further than simply the formation of an Islamic state in Syria, a view shared by the more fundamentalist Islamic brigades within the country. Rather, ISIS, wish to see the restoration of the caliphate across the Levant, a region consisting of much of the eastern Mediterranean and stretching into Iraq.
Syria’s Rebel Press Is Fighting Back Against Jihadists
Rami Al Razzouk was traveling between Raqqa and Tabaqa in northeastern Syria when he was kidnapped at a checkpoint by ISIS. The al Qaeda offshoot seized him as he was on his way to conduct an interview as part of his work as a journalist on ANA Radio. After he was taken, ISIS used his key to raid the premises of the Raqqa-based radio station later that same day. Two weeks after that, they broke in again and confiscated all of the station’s equipment and data. Apparently there isn’t much space for a free press in the Islamic caliphate that ISIS are trying to create.
Outraged, the ANA New Media Association—the network behind the station—has decided to go head to head with the extremist group’s “deliberate strategy to crush press freedom and impose censorship upon the Syrian people.” As ISIS continues to oppress the fledgling media landscape in the north and east of Syria, ANA has pledged to whip up a storm of protest every time a journalist or activist is targeted by the jihadis. This is a pretty brave step considering ISIS has beheaded so many of their enemies that they recently got confused and beheaded one of their allies.
On Monday, the network launched a campaign backed by 21 Syrian media organizations and 50 international organizations, encouraging the continued growth of Syria’s burgeoning free press. Astatement from the campaign read, “We demand the immediate release of all detained journalists and citizen journalists held by the regime, ISIS or any other group. Additionally, we call on international media and those organizations in support of press freedom to join this initiative and to take relevant action for the safety of journalists and freedom of speech in Syria.”
Jihad Selfies: British Extremists in Syria Love Social Media
After being publicly sacked by al Qaeda leader Aymann al-Zawahiri and accidentally beheadinga fighter from one of their main allies in Syria, it’s fair to say the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)’s PR campaign has suffered in recent weeks. So, like any half decent group of militant extremists, they obviously want to address this slip. Unfortunately, a traditional media outreach is very difficult for them, given ISIS’s policy of kidnapping journalists. So they’ve turned, like many before them, to social media.
Over the past few weeks, foreign fighters from ISIS and their subgroup the Muhajireen Brigade have been busy uploading selfies across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, in an effort to publicize their cause and win more recruits to the Syrian jihad. They offer a bizarre and fascinating look inside Syria’s most feared and least understood militant groups.
On paper, the Muhajireen Brigade are separate to ISIS, but they’re considered by some analysts to be a front group for the larger jihadist outfit. The social media evidence seems to support this view.
This picture (above) shows British fighter Ibrahim al-Mazwagi in battle with Omar Shishani, a Georgian Chechen who formerly led the Muhajireen Brigade, and is now ISIS’s military commander in Northern Syria.
Al-Mazwagi was killed in battle in February, aged 21. This is a collage made to honor him as a martyr, along with his friend and fellow casualty, Abu Qudama.
Above are two other recent British martyrs, Choukri Ellekhlifi, 22, and Mohammed el-Araj, 23. The pair are shown here at a jihadist internet café in Atmeh, a Syrian border town that is now firmly under ISIS control.
Black Gold Blues: The Hazards and Horrors of the Makeshift Oil Industry in Rebel-Controlled Syria
Deir ez-Zor, Syria’s sixth-largest city, is also the country’s oil capital. For four decades, the al-Assad regime (first run by Hafez, and now by his son Bashar) struck deals with Western oil companies like Shell and Total that resulted in the extraction of as much as 27,000 barrels of black gold from the sand every day. A pittance compared with other Middle Eastern countries’ production, but it made Syria a bona fide oil-exporting nation. At least this was the case until international sanctions were imposed in 2011 in response to the regime’s crackdown on the antigovernment protests, which quickly morphed into a civil war.
Located in the middle of the desert and less than 100 miles from the Iraq border, Deir ez-Zor dominates the eastern portion of the country and has had a long, fruitful relationship with the petroleum industry: before the war, its 220,000 inhabitants often worked for oil companies as engineers, technicians, and laborers.
Downtown Deir ez-Zor is still home to many modern glass-walled buildings erected by Western firms, but in the past two years, they’ve been largely abandoned as the battles between the rebels and al-Assad’s forces, each of whom hold portions of the city, have left them pockmarked, windowless, and scarred.
When I visited Deir ez-Zor in September, there were snipers lurking on roofs as combatants exchanged fire from Kalashnikovs, mortars, and heavy machine guns below. Beyond the city limits the suburbs give way to the mostly empty desert where the oil wells are located and where the rebels—most of them hard-line jihadists, and many of them with ties to al Qaeda—are in complete control. It’s a very different place than it was prerevolution, but it is still an oil town, albeit one of an entirely new sort. Instead of multinational corporations, it’s now the Islamist rebels who are providing jobs to the locals.
Ground Zero: Za’atari Refugee Camp
If the severity of a conflict can, at least in part, be measured by the number of refugees it creates, the Za’atari camp in Jordan is a disturbing reflection of just how bad the civil war in Syria has gotten: when it opened, Za’atari had just 100 families. Today, it has about 120,000 residents. Located 18 miles south of the Syrian border, it’s the fourth largest city in Jordan and the second largest refugee camp in the world.
Since July 2012, when the camp was opened by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Jordanian government, Za’atari has become home for the huge numbers of Syrians who’ve fled the violence and trauma of their country’s civil war since it began in March 2011.
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The Families of Colombia’s ‘False Positive’ Victims Are Still Fighting for Justice
I arrived in Soacha, a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Bogota, on an overcast July afternoon. We had driven away from the city center and the building that dominates its skyline—a huge structure covered in LED lights that slowly change color; a gaudy beacon for Colombia’s wealthy elite—and had pulled up on a residential side street.
I was there with the NGO Justice for Colombia to hear about the country’s ‘false positives' scandal, which first broke five years ago and shows no sign of relenting any time soon. The scandal has its roots in the Colombian 50-year civil war between the government and the left-wing peasant insurgent group FARC. In the early 2000s, then-president Alvaro Uribe, out of an apparent concern for the army’s reputation, started putting pressure on soldiers to increase their kill figures.
According to media reports, soldiers were promised cash payments and more vacation time if they produced the bodies of dead FARC guerrillas—an accusation the government denies. In an effort to increase their quotas, soldiers allegedly started luring young, impoverished men away from their homes with the offer of work. Once away from their families, the soldiers executed the men, dressed them up in guerrilla uniforms, and presented them as combat kills. Many victims were dismembered and buried hundreds of miles away from their families.
The National Victims Movement protests against the state’s “false positive” scandal. (Photo courtesy of Justice for Colombia)
When the scandal broke, the Colombian government insisted false positives were isolated incidents. By 2012, however, nearly 3,000 murders were recorded and, in 2007—the worst year for this type of killing—one in every five combat kills recorded was a false positive. In Soacha, 19 mothers lost their sons in the false positives scandal, and so far only one of them has seen the killers convicted, but his conviction was appealed and the main defendant, an army major, became a fugitive.
After parking up among the ownerless dogs and football-playing boys that seem ubiquitous in Bogota’s suburbs, I was led up some steps to a little house set back from the street. Waiting for me were three women, smartly dressed, warm and hospitable. They shook my hand and sat me down. As I waited for the rest of my group to file in, I noticed school pictures on the wall of young boys in suits—the dead sons of the women I’d just met.