Part 1 here:
BANA: The Heartbreaking Story of Child Exploitation, Propaganda and Media Falsehood
By Tim Hayward: “This is child exploitation to create the propaganda that promoted the terrorists in East Aleppo and was being used to destroy Syria” ~ Khaled Iskef
Bana is safe now in Turkey, and my dearest wish for her is that she be able to lead a peaceful and happy life. I hope her parents can make that possible. In this piece I shall not be referring to a little Syrian girl, now 8 and settled in a new country. For her, my heart desires nothing but good things.
I shall be speaking of the internet phenomenon @AlabedBana and of the adults responsible for creating it. To speak of family members is unavoidable.
To start with a simple and very obvious fact: the @AlabedBana Twitter account was not initiated or run by a 7 year old girl from Aleppo, even if one was used as its living avatar. Anybody confused or doubtful on this point quite honestly needs to think a bit harder. I am writing for adults. I should add, though, that I am presuming no more good sense in readers than I would expect from any of the kids I know.
What was intuitively obvious before about the spuriousness of the tale – and yet resisted as ‘conspiracy theory nonsense’ in the corporate media and its penumbra of disinformationists – is now also empirically demonstrable.
Bana with her mother Fatema. ( Photo: Screenshot)
Since the fighting stopped in Aleppo, the verifiable truth about people, places and events there during the time of the occupation and siege has been coming out. It differs from almost everything we were encouraged to believe by the massed corporate media of the world. The twitter account @AlabedBana is one of the most conspicuous examples. Another is the image of the little boy Omran, who we’ll also have a brief mention of at the end.
What I am going on to write here now involves no in-depth research or analysis on my part. That has been done by Khaled Iskif, a journalist from Aleppo. (I commend his video about @AlabedBana and other videos covering various previously unrecorded aspects of the situation in Aleppo. He regularly adds videos to his Youtube channel). He lives in the Western part of town that was protected by the government while the Eastern part was held hostage. He is now able to go across and track down various locations that have become familiar to us from the video reports earlier transmitted via the Aleppo Media Center (in Turkey) and onward through the world’s corporate media.
Khaled Iskef’s full report on video.
In this latest video, Khaled takes us on a short walk around the Alabed house and environs, accompanied by Nour Al Ali doing the filming and photography. They show us into the Alabed house, and then into the Al Nusra headquarters adjacent to it.
The proximity of the house to the Al Nusra headquarters is demonstrated – each a few meters from a shared street corner. This explains why the house was in an area being bombed. About 100 men were quartered in the basement of the adjacent building, according to a local witness interviewed.
We learn about the Alabed family. The paternal grandfather was running a weapons dealership and repair workshop for Al Nusra and other militant groups; his sons worked there; one of them had served a criminal sentence, even before the war, for gun smuggling; and we are shown a photo of the now famous granddaughter at about 3 years posing with a serious-looking weapon that is as big as her.
Her father Ghassan worked as a lawyer, before joining the armed groups. We see photos of Ghassan, armed, with the militant factions Al Nusra and the Islamic Safwat Brigade. We see documents showing he served in the Sharia Court based in the ‘Eye Hospital’. Amidst other papers strewn about the abandoned house is one that indicates he was ‘assistant director of the Civil Registry of Aleppo Council’ – a “rebel” organisation with links to foreign states and armed groups in the governorate.
Another document shows he worked as a military trainer and investigating judge for the Islamic Safwa brigades. Prior to 2015 he had been working with ISIS in the Sharia court in the Eye Hospital. We see a photo of him brandishing an AK47 beneath an ISIS flag; and another of him in the midst of an armed Asafwa group. We see him with four brothers, each holding a serious weapon, outside the store.
Also lying around is a dog-eared piece of paper with one of Bana’s famous #StandWithAleppo messages on.
Outside, and a few steps just around the corner, we are taken into the basement. We are now inside the headquarters of Al Nusra. There we see rolled militant flags, Turkish supplies, and a prison.
On this and the other videos there is much more to see. So I recommend them. They don’t have the slick production values of Channel 4 and the other corporate media outlets. What they do offer is honest and dispassionate testimony. Or as dispassionate as a participant observer can be under the circumstances.
As a resident of Aleppo, Khaled is visibly affected by the whole situation. He expresses something close to despair about “the exploitation of children in politically motivated attempts to distort the image of his government.” His fellow citizens in that part of town have confirmed on the video that they had been human shields for the militants.
Khaled also has a word about the little boy Omran who, photographed in the orange-seated ambulance, was another major media sensation in the West. We meet Omran today in videos with Khaled (and others, like this and this). He is in Aleppo, back in his original home, not Turkey. He was thrust into the world’s media spotlight against his family’s wishes. His family is glad Aleppo was liberated from the likes of those that created the propaganda for #Bana.
Tim Hayward is a Professor of Environmental Political Theory, founding Director of the Just World Institute and the Ethics Forum. Beyond Edinburgh I administer the Political Theory Email List, including its facebook page and am a founding member of the Britain and Ireland Association for Political Thought.