A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, December 4, 2009

That's Their Story and They're Sticking to It

So far at least, the Syrian government seems to be sticking to the "exploding tire" story about the bus in Damascus yesterday, despite the obvious damage shown in photos, like the one at left, but the Iranians apparently haven't gone along with the cover-up and are reporting higher casualty numbers than the Syrians are; I haven't got a good Iranian link right now, but the Israeli media are having fun with it: Jerusalem Post here and Ynet (Yediot Aharanot's English website) here; I may update this a little later when the morning Mideast media appears (though otherwise I'm signing off for the weekend), but so far the Syrians seem to be sticking to their exploding tire story despite the photos of a burned-out bus and some reports suggesting nearby buildings sustained damage. BBC is also a bit skeptical and quotes some as saying the bus was full, not empty; there's video at the BBC link (non-embeddable), and Reuters has a video on YouTube but also won't allow embedding. (Of the biggie news agencies Al-Jazeera is one of the few that lets you embed their videos. Someday they'll learn that free advertising is the cheapest way to get your message out.) In the wilder coffeehouse gossip edges of rumor there've been rumors of a rocket attack, or at least a substantial bomb blast while the bus had 40 or 50 people on it, or of some link to the fact that Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, was in Damascus yesterday (though I don't think he travels by pilgrim bus). I don't want to add any credence to the rumors but they're a reminder that when your official explanation looks patently false, people will believe anything. (It may be worth noting, though, that for once Syria didn't reflexively blame it on Israel. Instead, they denied it happened, despite the photos and videos.)

We may be encountering another one of those instances where the traditional knee-jerk response of an authoritarian state doesn't mesh very well with modern technology: in an age when not only cameras take pictures, but most people's cellphones do, too (so does my daughter's Nintendo DSi portable game system, even), and many also take video, and you can get a digital copy out of the country without having to pass it through a customs check or censor, cover stories that would have worked in 1962 (at least with your own people) don't work so well anymore.

I'm on the weekend now unless something happens that demands comment.

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