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Published on July 3rd, 2013 | by Usman Butt
Image © Artur Andrychowski


The Syrian Bride

The Syrian Bride: Beautifying brutality

Sex is a weapon of war. In the Second World War, the BBC would broadcast German erotica at German soldiers and sailors. They got an actress to pretend she was a German housewife of a solider at war. She got lonely and began having secret affairs and she would speak in a quiet but alluring voice. She would go into detail and her broadcast would be followed by the news, which mostly featured German defeats. The whole exercise was designed to demoralise the Germans. The woman broadcast was every German housewife. It was the first attempt at what in US military cultural mythology is called the ‘dear John’ letter. Since the Second World War, sex as a weapon of war, has moved on and is being used by the Israeli government and the Syrian regime.

In 2005, the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister’s office and the Finance Ministry decided to launch ‘Brand Israel’. The idea was to‘re-brand’ Israel, in the West in general and in America in-particular, from ‘religious and militaristic’ to ‘relevant and modern’. The decision was taken after three-years of consultation with American PR and marketing firms. Israel’s brutal occupation of the Palestinians was having a corrosive effect on the country’s public image aboard. They were being seen as a war-zone with a war-like people who were backwards. This perception alarmed the Israeli government. Israel relies of heavy support from its allies especially the United States and changing attitudes in the United States could be dangerous for Israel. ‘Brand Israel’ was not Israel’s first attempt at creating positive public relations (PR). The roots of Israeli PR in Europe and America go back to the 1982 Lebanon war.

After Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, they carried out a series of brutal massacres and were involved in the massacre of Sabra and Shatilla in which between 762 and 3, 500 Palestinians were killed. The war was a PR disaster for Israel. They had failed to control the message aboard. It led to protests against Israel in the United States which included a young PHD student called Norman Finkelstein, who held up a sign saying “Israeli Nazis stop your holocaust in Lebanon”. It was then that Israel decided it needed good PR in the West and to control the message. The Israeli PR industry was born. ‘Brand Israel’ is follow-on from this established tradition. One of the central themes of ‘Brand Israel’ is to project Israel as a sexy place to be. The Israeli Foreign Ministry helped sponsor semi-nude photo shoots of Israeli female soldiers.

What pro-Palestinian activists called ‘beautifying the occupation’, the Israeli government began releasing things such as the IDF (Israeli Army) calendar girls and sponsoring Israeli models aboard. They then moved onto homosexuality, making Israel appear to be a ‘gay’ friendly country in what some call ‘pink washing’. More recently, a group called ‘Artists 4 Israel’ have launched a condom range called “F**k It, I love Israel”, which they distribute in Ibiza club resorts, the condoms contain pro-Israeli and anti-Arab messages.

If you juxtapose this image of new ‘sexy’ Israel with the image of ‘bearded’ Palestinians, you can see what the psychological effects are meant to be. Israel is young, modern and beautiful. They love life. Palestinians are oppressive, religious and warlike. They love death. It doesn’t matter that this is not true. What matters is perception.  The Israeli army also uses sex as a weapon against it’s Arab enemies. There is a famous Lebanese story where a group of Lebanese male fighters take to the mountains to resist Israel. They hide there for months with no women. They are eventually caught by Israel and they are then knocked unconscious and taken to a prisoner camp. When they wake up, they are in a tent and they leave the tent to find they are in an Israeli army female nudist colony. The fighters lose their will to fight.

Israel’s PR is so successful that the Syrians have adopted aspects of its strategy including sex as a weapon of war. The Assad regime uses ‘beautiful’ Syrian women both abroad and at home to present the ‘beautiful face’ of an ‘ugly regime’. The first case of this was his PR woman, 23-year old, Sheherazad Jaafari who is the daughter of the Syrian ambassador to the UN. Called ‘Sherry’ for short, she is described as glamorous, sultry, ‘western’ and liberal by some newspapers. She was Assad’s PR woman at the beginning of the uprising, she tried to get US PR firms to advice the Syrian government on how to put a ‘positive’ spin on the massacres. ‘Sherry’ usual refers to President Assad as ‘the dude’ in-front of western journalists and is said to be ‘Assad-love-struck’. She caused a media storm last year when it was revealed that she used her connection to American-Journalist Barbara Walters to get into Columbia University in New York despite her involvement with the Syrian regime.

The Assad regime has also launched a YouTube war. One popular YouTube channel is ‘Syrian Girl’ who is described as along the same lines as ‘Sherri’. Mimi Al-Laham or ‘Syrian Girl’ is said to be the daughter of a former minister. Her YouTube videos get a lot of hits. So much so that she features on news channels. She has appeared on Australian TV show ‘Insight’ and is a regular on Iranian Press-TV. I would even put Dr Halla Diyab in the ‘category’ as a regime apologist. The Syrian director based in London is known for her controversial dramas and filmmaking. Before the uprising it was hard to imagine describing her as a ‘Assadist’ but since the uprising she has been arguing against the opposition. She is careful not to be ‘openly Assadist’ but her arguments are rooted in the ‘Assadist’ discourse in how she frames the rebels and the future of Syria. As seen in this CNN interview. It is interesting to note that it is not only Israel that informs our debate about the Middle East. You will notice ‘Assadist’ discourse on Syria too (The rebels are Al-Qadea, conflict is religious). Assad also targets his own population with ‘beautiful, liberated women’- as is the case in Al-Akbariya station. You need to juxtapose the images of ‘beautiful and liberated’ women who even serve in the army– with that of the ‘bearded’ ‘Al-Qaeda’ rebels and you will understand Assad is presenting you with a false choice. Freedom and liberation or oppression and darkness.

Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.

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About the Author

Usman Butt

Usman graduated in 2012 with an MA in Palestine Studies from the University Of Exeter. Before that he read Arabic Language and International Relations at the University of Westminster. Amongst his proudest achievements include winning a muffin for public speaking, winning a Lego set at age 5 and helping Palestinian refugees learn English. Usually writes about genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, Israel/Palestinian politics, Iranian/Syrian/Lebanese politics, the Arab Spring, philosophy, religion, British politics, Foreign Policy, history and social issues. He enjoys writing as he sees it as an outlet to express his opinions about the public discourse on these issues. He believes writing is a good way of keeping productive and teaching yourself new things.

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