DENYING THE OBVIOUS

Chapter 2: The ‘propaganda’ professors

The ‘Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media’

In 2018 Miller surfaced again, this time on the advisory board of the “Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media”, a newly-formed organisation based in Britain which was later to play a central role in disputing the use of chemical weapons. The group consisted mainly of university professors and researchers though none were recognised authorities on Syria or chemical weapons. “At present,” the group’s website announced, “there exists an urgent need for rigorous academic analysis of media reporting of this war, the role that propaganda has played in terms of shaping perceptions of the conflict and how these relate to broader geo-strategic process within the [Middle East] region and beyond.”

A nerve agent attack in Britain

The chemical weapons issue took an unexpected turn in March 2018 when Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre in the English city of Salisbury — poisoned by a nerve agent. As with the sarin attacks in Syria, there was one very obvious suspect.

Patterns of denial

The information war over Syria took place mainly on the internet where it had the potential to reach a wide audience and almost anyone could join in. On a more limited scale, though, its precursors could be found in previous conflicts where academics and others denied or minimised atrocities and rejected the generally-accepted version of events. Mass killings by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during the 1970s were one example and the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 during the war in former Yugoslavia was another. In both those cases, some of the arguments deployed were remarkably similar to those heard years later in connection with Syria: although reports of the atrocities were well-documented, dismissing them as propaganda supported the deniers’ political narrative of western imperialism and media complicity.

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Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: www.al-bab.com. Author of 'Arabs Without God'.

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Brian Whitaker

Former Middle East editor of the Guardian. Website: www.al-bab.com. Author of 'Arabs Without God'.