Syrian Civil War
Stories of individuals from the Syrian diaspora on
their view on the civil war
COURSE:Bachelor Thesis – Global Studies 15 ECTS
PROGRAM: International Work – Global Studies
AUTHORS: David Karlsson, Liiban Guyo
EXAMINATOR: Åsa Westermark
JÖNKÖPING UNIVERSITY Bachelor Thesis 15 ECTS School of Education and Communication Spring 2021 International Work – Global Studies
David Karlsson & Liiban Guyo
Framing the Syrian Civil War
Stories of individuals from the Syrian diaspora on their view on the civil war Number of pages: 35
The Syrian Civil War has displaced millions of Syria’s inhabitants both around the region and throughout the world. These individuals carry different experiences, views, and perceptions regarding what they have left and their views on the conflict. This study seeks to identify the dominant frames used by 11 Syrian diaspora individuals living in Sweden when framing the Syrian Civil War. It also aims to identify individuals' views of the civil war. The study uses a qualitative framing analysis and applies Kuyper’s function of frames in a total of 11 semi-structured interviews. The study examines interviewees' frames regarding (a) The Arab Spring
demonstrations, (b) The Syrian regime, and (c) International Interests. The study found the
following frames on (a) horria (freedom), shohada al-thowra (martyrs of the revolution),
extremist opposition, (b) dictatorial, dictatorship, fakher (pride), and (c) natural resources, the USA and Russia. The study argues that interviewees adopt different frames based on three
factors, (I) media consumption, (II) sectarian affiliation, and (III) geographical origin.
Keywords: Framing, framing analysis, Syria, Syrian Civil War, Syrian diaspora
Postal address: Street address: Telephone: Fax:
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JÖNKÖPING UNIVERSITY Kandidatuppsats 15 hp Högskolan För Lärande Och Kommunikation Vårtermin 2021 Internationellt arbete – inriktning globala studier
David Karlsson & Liiban Guyo
Gestaltning av syriska inbördeskriget
Berättelser från individer inom den syriska diasporan om deras syn på inbördeskriget Antal sidor: 35
Inbördeskriget i Syrien har fördrivit miljontals av Syriens invånare både runt om i regionen och över hela världen. Dessa individer har olika erfarenheter, åsikter och uppfattningar och syn på konflikten. Denna studie syftar till att identifiera dominerande gestaltningar som används av 11 syriska diaspora-individer som bor i Sverige vid gestaltning av det syriska inbördeskriget. Studien syftar också till att identifiera individers syn på inbördeskriget. I studien används en kvalitativ gestaltningsanalys och tillämpar Kuypers funktion av gestaltningar i totalt 11 semistrukturerade intervjuer. Studien granskar respondenternas gestaltningar angående (a)
demonstrationerna under den Arabiska Våren (b) den Syriska regimen och (c) internationella intressen. Studien fann följande gestaltningar (a) horria (frihet), shohada al-thowra
(revolutionens martyrer), extremistisk opposition, (b) diktatur, diktatur, fakher (stolthet) och (c)
naturresurser, USA och Ryssland. Studien hävdar att intervjuade antar olika gestaltning baserat
på tre faktorer, (I) mediekonsumtion, (II) sekteristisk tillhörighet och (III) geografiskt ursprung.
Nyckelord: Gestaltning, gestaltningsanalys, Syrien, Syriska inbördeskriget, syrisk diaspora.
Postadress: Adress: Telefon: Fax:
Högskolan för lärande Gjuterigatan 5 036-101000 036-162585 och kommunikation
(HLK) Box 1026
We would like to express thankfulness and gratitude to everyone who made the writing of this thesis possible. First and foremost, our gratitude goes out to the 11 Syrians who wanted to take part in this study and share their thoughts and emotions with us.
Thank you, and may God richly bless you!
We also want to extend our gratitude to Magdalena Carlén, who unselfishly helped us through the writing process with support and constructive criticism. Thank you!
We also want to thank our mentor Johanna Bergström who helped us through this process with her expertise, sharp and valuable criticism as well as encouragements.
Lastly, we would like to thank family and friends who has supported us through thick and thin. Thank you and we love you!
Table of Content
1. Introduction ... 1
2. Aim and Research Questions ... 2
3. Definitions ... 2
4. Background ... 3
4.1 The History of Syria ... 3
4.2 The Syrian Civil War ... 4
5. Previous Research ... 5
5.1 The Sectarian Angle ... 5
5.2 The Media Angle ... 6
5.3 The Framing and Comparative Angle ... 7
6. Theoretical Framework ... 7
6.1 Framing ... 8
6.2 Frames and Conflict ... 8
6.3 Frames and Media ... 9
6.4 Frames and Individuals ... 9
7. Methodology and Material ...10
7.1 Methodological foundation...10
7.2 Delimitation ...11
7.3 Methodological Consideration ...11
7.4 Selection Group ...12
7.5 Research Method and Application ...12
7.6 Methodological Analysis Application...13
7.7 Ethical Considerations ...14
7.8 Reflexive Analysis ...15
8. Results ...16
8.1 General Framing of The Syrian Civil War...17
8.1.2 Geopolitical Interests ... 18
8.1.3 Impunity ... 19
8.1.4 Nepotism ... 20
8.1.5 Individual Viewpoints ... 21
8.2 Framing the Conflict ...22
8.2.1 Problems ... 22
8.2.2 Causes ... 24
8.2.3 Moral Judgments ... 25
8.2.4 Remedies ... 27
9. Analysis and Discussion ...28
9.1 Framing of the Arab Spring demonstrations ...28
9.2 Framing of the Syrian Regime ...31
9.3 Framing of International Interests ...32
10. Reflection and Future Research ...33
11. Conclusion ...34
Appendix 1 – Table of Interviews ...44
Appendix 2 - Table of the Individuals’ Frames ...45
ينقزمتلماو بعش نم ءايحلأاو ءادهشلل دلمجا
باذعلا ليل في لافطلأل دلمجا
Honor, to the martyrs and the living among my people, the torn apart and the steadfast. Honor to the children in the night of agony
(Abd-al Wahab al-Bayati, 1956, own translation).
So begins the poem of the Iraqi poet Abd al-Wahab al-Bayati, written in 1956; it could have been written in a contemporary context, describing the pain and agony of the Middle Eastern peoples. In 2011, people, experiencing similar agony as described by Al-Bayati, took to the street as a storm of revolutions spread throughout several authoritarian regimes in North Africa and the Middle East. Protests that started in Tunisia spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, where leader after leader faced outrage from their own people. Through the sharing of a com-mon language, Arabic, the shared call of the protestors was Ashshaʻb yurīd isqāṭ an-niẓām (the people want the downfall of the government) (Al-Jazeera, 2011). What ensued after the spring of 2011, "the Arab Spring", were the downfalls of several long-term rulers in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen (Gerges, 2015). Despite the temporary success of the revolutions, which resulted in regime changes in the different countries, in hindsight, the peoples have had to pay a high price for the subsequent power struggles, which proceeded as different groups tried to gain the power of the various states. A regime that, despite erupting demonstrations in the country, internal civil warfare, and a vast amount of human suffering, was able to remain intact was the Syrian. Through the leadership of Bashar al-Assad, the regime remained unbroken, despite facing military struggles against groups such as the Islamic State and
Jabhat-an-Nusrah (the Al-Nusra Front), and with the involvement of several foreign interests, such as
Russia, Iran, Turkey, and the United States (McHugo, 2014).
Several years have passed since the start of the Arab Spring, revolutions have come and gone, and civil wars have erupted. The Syrian Civil War has scattered millions of inhabitants both around the region and throughout the world (UNHCR, 2021). Sweden is one of the coun-tries which has received many Syrian refugees within the last decade. Syrians make out the largest foreign-born group in Sweden (SCB, 2021). This group, defined as the Syrian diaspora, is diverse and consists of individuals from different ethnic and religious groups (Lundgren Jörum, 2015). When it comes to individuals who have fled their countries and experienced con-flict, they come with different experiences, views, and perceptions regarding what they have left behind. When expressing and portraying an event or situation, a person is framing reality as they perceive it. Goffman (1974) identified framing as the "organization of experience," and this understanding was the starting point for this study. It aimed at examining how individuals from the Syrian diaspora depict the conflict that affects their lives. This research has taken place within the context of the protracted conflict and post-uprising setting. Syrian individuals were interviewed, and the interviews were analyzed from a frame analysis perspective. Since the view of the Syrian Civil War is differing depending on several different factors, this study will address the problem of framing a conflict by displaying several different views and frames by individuals addressing the same civil war.
2. Aim and Research Questions
The purpose of this study is to analyze the stories of individuals in the Syrian diaspora regarding how different experiences and other aspects bring about different views and descriptions of the Syrian Civil War.
The research questions are:
• How do Syrian diaspora individuals view the Syrian Civil War? • How do Syrian diaspora individuals frame the Syrian Civil War?
• What causes the individuals in this study to frame the conflict in a certain way?
This section will define keywords and phrases that are reoccurring throughout the study.
The Arab Spring – The Arab Spring is defined as the umbrella term of the pro-democracy movements in the Middle East and North Africa between the years 2010-2011 (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2021).
The Syrian Civil War– In this research, the Syrian Civil War refers to the armed civil war that erupted in 2012, after the Arab Spring protests in Syria. The conflict is complex in nature, with numerous actors, local, regional, and global, that have taken part in the war (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2020). The conflict is still ongoing (Global Conflict Tracker, 2021).
Sectarianism – In this study, the following use of the two-fold explanation proposed by Saouli
(2019, p.69) will be used: firstly, "that sectarianism is a social actor's (individual or group) feeling of belonging, devotion, and allegiance to a sectarian community within a social context". However, the second factor also pointed out that "when sectarianism becomes intricately tied to political questions – such as national identity, statehood, or political representation – then sectarian communities become contexts of and vehicles to political mobilization" (Ibid.).
Syrian diaspora – This study will use the definition, which suggests that diaspora is "people
who come from a particular nation, or whose ancestors came from it, but who now live in many distinct parts of the world" (Collins, 2021). Syrians refer to inhabitants or former inhabitants of Syria. They can constitute everything from Muslim groups such as Sunni, Alawi, Ismailis, Druze, Shi'a, and Kurds to Christian groups such as Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Roman Orthodox, and others (Abboud, 2018, p.6).
Following is a brief background summarizing Syria’s history and significant events shaping the country and its region. The second part addresses the Syrian Civil War and the events that led up to it.
4.1 The History of Syria
Syria is situated in a region with a rich and complex history. It is essential to get at least a background understanding of the land, now called Syria, to comprehend contemporary tensions.
Syria has been contested through millennia. Regional powers such as the Babylonians and the Persian Empire has occupied the land. The Arameans also inhabited parts of Syria and founded the city, today known as Damascus, being one of the longest inhabited cities in the world (Burns, 2005). In around 300 B.C. Alexander the Great conquered Syria, which profoundly impacted the spread of the Hellenistic culture to the region. After the death of Alexander, Greater Syria was partitioned into two dynasties and, in 64 B.C, was conquered by the Romans. After several centuries of Roman rule, Greater Syria was conquered by the Arab Muslims, which established an Umayyad and Abbasid rule successively between 661-1258. Despite being under pressure by other Muslim tribes such as the Fatimids and the Seljuks, they kept control over the majority of Greater Syria throughout the centuries. In the year 1260, the Mameluke Sultanate overthrew the Abbasid rule over Greater Syria and reigned consequentially for around 250 years. In 1516, the Ottoman dynasty took over Greater Syria, establishing a power that would reign for more than 400 years in the region (McHugo, 2014; Commins & Lesch, 2013).
The end of the Ottoman Empire was one of the most impactful events for the Middle Eastern region and Syria in particular. The Ottomans entered the First World War and experienced a successive loss. What followed was that the Ottoman Empire was divided into British and French mandates through the signing of the Sykes-Picot agreement, through which Syria was controlled by the French (Ibid.). During the end of the Ottoman era and throughout the French Mandate, the modern social-economic structures of Syria were formed through the creation of the property owners and merchant classes that constituted the Syrian elite (Abboud, 2018). After the fall of the French Mandate, post-WWII, Syria experienced several internal struggles, leading up to the overtaking of power by the Arab Socialist Ba'th Party in 1963. In 1968-1969 the Ba'th Party experienced an internal power struggle between the then de-facto leader, Salah Jadid, and the defense minister Hafez al-Assad. Al-Assad and his allies ended up seizing power over the party and hence the rule of the country in 1970 (McHugo, 2014; Commins & Lesch, 2013). What proceeded the overtaking of the party was a "corrective revolution" (ةيحيحصتلا ةكرحلا al-Ḥarakah at-Taṣḥīḥīyah) which sought to correct the present inequities of the country where the ruling nobility of the landlord-merchant class had been the greatest beneficiaries. Through the country's political changes, peasants, minorities, rural communities, and parts of the bourgeoise gained more influence. However, by sacrificing democracy, the country was strictly ruled by the Ba'th and its head, Hafez al-Assad (Abboud, 2018, p. 17-19).
Even though al-Assad managed to reform the country, liberalize the economy, create a stable regime, and expand the educational system, the leader formed Syria into a "personal
dictatorship" (Ma'oz, 2006). Abboud (2018) identifies the four pillars on which al-Assad built his rule: the Ba'th party, corporatism, state bureaucracy, and the Syrian army. By closely tying these different actors to the state and, in extension to himself, al-Assad created a tight alliance against outside forces. Ever since Syria's independence in 1946, and through the reign of Hafez al-Assad, the Arabist Ba'th party has had Islamists and specifically the Muslim Brotherhood as its most potent regional and national adversaries. As has been the case in many other countries in the Middle East, more secular-leaning Arabists have clashed with religious Islamists over political power and influence as their foundational visions for the countries were divided (Gerges, 2018).
At the end of the 1980s, Syria liberalized the economy to a more capitalist system that significantly affected manufacturing cities such as Aleppo, strategically placed close to Turkey and the continent (Lawson, 1997). Despite the increasing economic growth and liberalization of the economy, most of the wealth was concentrated to the Sunni bourgeoisie and the political and army elite, mostly Alawis (Abboud, 2018, p. 35), closely tied to the al-Assad family. At the end of the 20th century, as the country was facing an economic crisis, living standards decreased,
and the national economy stagnated (Perthes, 2001). 4.2 The Syrian Civil War
On Saturday, 10 June 2000, the then Syrian president Hafiz Assad died. His son Bashar al-Assad took over, and his presidency brought hope. Expectations that it would bring about much-needed political reforms and allow political openness were high among the citizens. Bashar al-Assad showed in the first months of his rule a sense of tolerance towards his government's critics. The political reforms approach got the name "Damascus Spring", which later, as time passed, changed into a heavy-handed approach in dealing with opposers, dissidents, and people of different opinions (Scheller, 2005). During the first decade, between the years 2000-2010, of his tenure as a president, al-Assad's success was built upon his managing of foreign politics and stabilizing the economy and politics of Syria.
Nevertheless, towards the end of that same decade, he ascended to power, Syria experienced a severe drought that led to an economic crisis. The rural areas and periphery suffered most due to the government's cancellation of grants prior to the drought. A social crisis emerged as well because of the natural increase of the population of Syria. Demographically, most of the population consisted of youth that lacked employment, especially in rural areas, and felt deprived of future hope. These two events acted as a catalyst in social unrest and the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in 2011 (Zisser, 2017).
On March 18, 2011, a protest and social uproar broke out in Da'ra city and other parts of the nation, particularly in rural areas like Hama and Baniyas. The rural and peripheral areas that once made the Ba'th party's substantial backbone contradicted the Syrian government. This social unrest signaled the appearance of the Arab Spring, a phenomenon witnessed in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. Demonstrations started spreading throughout the nation like wildfire, which resulted in the Syrian government deploying the military to stop the protesters in April 2011. This decision exacerbated the situation and infuriated the public, who reacted by mobilizing themselves. The ordinary protesters got more support as more people and cities joined the struggle, which in turn led to an extensive famous uprising opposing Bashar al-Assad's regime and lastly became a brutal civil war (Lesch, 2012; Starr, 2012). Internally the
Syrian civil war took different turns and appeared in different natures. It had an ethnic dimension and later a religious label stamped on it. The unrest was perceived as a holy war by some people, both citizens of Syria and other individuals who arrived in Syria during that period of chaos. They joined forces to fight the Alawi and their Shiite allies compromising of Iran and Hezbollah.
Externally Syria turned out to be a place for global (the USA and Russia) and regional (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, and Qatar) struggle. Geopolitical rivalry played out between the powerful and influential nations in the region and worldwide. Many hoped the intervention and involvement of the international community would affect the crisis in a positive direction. However, it aggravated and made the war an ongoing one as Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah sided with Bashar in the fight. At the same time, countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar helped the rebels. The fact that the government of Syria had support from Iran, China, and Russia meant that powerful states were taking a stand for them in the regional and international arena, ready to do anything at their disposal to lend a helping hand. These forces have on many occasions offered military support in cases of deteriorating situations of war or showed up in diplomacy through vetoing resolutions against its ally Syria (Abboud, 2016; Ajami, 2012).
5. Previous Research
Previous research on the topic of the Syrian Civil War is vast. A literature review was conducted on the Syrian Civil War, and the literature regarding the role of framing analysis within a Middle Eastern context was also examined. When studying the literature, three specific themes, which are referred to as “angles”, emerged: "the media angle", "the sectarian and ethnoreligious angle" and lastly, "the framing and comparative angle". Following is a summary of those three angles.
5.1 The Sectarian Angle
Syria's history has been characterized by ethnoreligious and political conflict up to its independence from the occupation of France in 1946 (McHugo, 2014). When examining the sectarian or ethnic angle, from a broader scope, several studies have been conducted regarding sectarianism or ethnicism within other Middle Eastern conflicts. Stevenson Murer (2012, p.562) equates “ethnic” conflict with “communal” conflict and problematizes how “sectarian” or “ethnic” conflicts are being framed. The study on sectarian angle investigates how different actors within or outside a particular conflict are framing “the communal” based on their interpretation of ethnic and collective forms of violence (Ibid. p.562). Therefore, many contemporary social science articles are approaching and referring to the country's current political state from the sectarian angle (Phillips, 2015; Lesch, 2011; Bakour, 2020). The elements of sectarianism have a crucial role (Conde, 2012; Corstange & York, 2018; Bordenkircher, 2020). Therefore, Sectarianism has been a common ground most analysts and authors have taken when defining the Syrian political situation post-Arab Spring. There seem to be two identified opposing sides on the spectrum of the current political conflict, "the regime" and "the opposition" (Lundgren Jörum, 2012; Samer, 2018; Lesch, 2011; Conde, 2012, Gani, 2015). The literature further acknowledges that sectarian aspects of the conflict have ramifications within a regional political context. Bordenkircher (2020), in his article, is using
the sectarian elements of the Lebanese political struggles as an informative tool to understand and interpret other political conflicts of similar nature, such as the Syrian. Syria’s patron-client relationship with specifically Iran but also Russia is an issue that is mentioned. It is emphasized that the sectarian Shia bond between the client (Syrian regime) and the patron (such as Iran) plays a significant part in the regime’s legitimization of specific actions during conflicts (Ibid. p.46)
While most of the literature agrees upon some specific common grounds about sectarianism, there are some discrepancies in how the issue is to be interpreted and framed within the current conflict. Philips (2015) questions the dominating narrative of the conflict by challenging “the simplified primordialst” narrative of the conflict, which attaches religious affiliation or ethnic heritage with a specific political position. Sectarianism is argued to be complex and varying significantly over space and time (Ibid. p. 358). In contrast to Philips, Lundgren Jörum (2012) uses the dualistic regime versus opposition as a prerequisite for which the conflict is studied, looking at how the two sides framed the conflict. The author found out that the Syrian regime frames the conflict with one consistent version. At the same time, the opposition is much more disparate and less united in communicating their message and goals (Ibid. p.13).
One sectarian affiliation which has been investigated in earlier research is the Alawites. This group plays a significant role within the sectarian and ethnoreligious angle. The Alawite sect, regarded as a branch within the Shiite tradition, is the sect with which Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad and past leader Hafez al-Assad affiliates. Antonio Conde (2012) discusses the sectarian significance of the Alawites within a Syrian context. In his article, Conde examines the different frames used by different sides during the 2011 Arab Spring mobilizations. Within this context, the Alawites are mentioned as an important group to understand. The articles point to the fact that religious leaders among the Alawites tried to disassociate themselves from the regime as it sided with the opposition. The disassociation was done because of the general belief, inside Syria and abroad, that the Alawite sect ruled the country. However, the regime took advantage of the sectarian elements of the conflict to recruit and attach specific groups to specific sides of the conflict (Ibid. p.125-126).
5.2 The Media Angle
The second aspect that other studies based their research upon are the media angle or media framing. The studies indicate that conflicts are portrayed in media differently depending on the local audience (Ha, 2017; Melki, 2014; Al-Nahed, 2015). Melki (2014) and Cozma & Kozman (2015) reveal a pattern whereby media houses in different camps differed in how they framed conflicts and therefore depicted and covered the conflict between Lebanon and Israel variously and the Syrian Civil War, respectively. By pointing to these distinctions, the conclusion is that the different news outlets tend to frame conflicts in favor of the supported actor within the local context of the news company (Melki, 2014. p.179-180).
Taking a similar approach, Al-Nahed analyses different media stations framing of the Libyan Uprising during the Arab Spring in 2011. By analyzing the Arabic and English sections of the two news outlets Al-Jazeera and BBC, Al-Nahed concluded that out of the four news outlets, the Arabic section of the Al-Jazeera was the channel most affected by its Qatari political context (Al-Nahed, 2015. p.265). The approach of studying news outlets is the same as Cozma
and Kozman's (2015) study of the USA's two main elite media outlets, the New York Times and the Washington Post. By studying the reporting within a context of conflict framing, some interesting conclusions emerge. The studies suggest that the diplomatic interests of the different countries involved in a conflict reflect news articles and reports. The newspapers primarily applied focus towards the diplomacy efforts of different countries and organizations with specific interests in the region (Ibid. p.678). Lastly, conflict framing is the most prevalent within news coverage since it is selling and attracts viewers (Ibid. p.671).
5.3 The Framing and Comparative Angle
The third identified angle is the aspect of framing conflicts, especially in the context of the Middle East, and comparing how those conflicts were framed. In his study on Hezbollah in Lebanon, Nilsson (2020) approaches the organization from a framing analysis perspective. In his framing analysis of the speeches of the Hezbollah leader in Lebanon, Nilsson was able to find the concept of resistance (“muqawama” in Arabic) as used often by the leader Hassan Nasrallah (Ibid. p. 1600). Within the scope of resistance, three reoccurring frames were identified, diversity of resistance, normalization of resistance, and social dimensions of
resistance (Ibid. p.1600-1607). The framing from within the different political groups and sects
is a thought-provoking aspect and approach that not much of current scientific literature has considered. Sumaya Al-Nahed analyzes how different media stations were framing the Libyan Uprising during the Arab Spring in 2011. By analyzing the Arabic and English sections of the two news outlets Al-Jazeera and BBC, Al-Nahed concluded that out of the four news outlets, the Arabic section of the Al-Jazeera was the channel most affected by its Qatari political context (Al-Nahed, 2015. p.265).
When looking at frames and comparison, the use of specific keywords and phrases are important. A reoccurring frame within the study of the Arab Spring demonstration is the concept of martyrdom. Sumiala and Korpiola (2017, p.53) define martyrdom as a “symbolic death” that can merge with “religious, cultural and political aspirations”. Furthermore, Khosrokhavar (2014), in his investigation on different labels of martyrdom during the Arab Spring, states that “[t]he new type of martyrdom can be qualified as a ‘civil sphere sacred death’. The notion of the civil sphere gives its meaning to this martyrdom based on two related topics: the notion of the citizen’s dignity (karāma) and their right to social justice and solidarity”. This could be viewed as a “secular martyrdom” since it “is not framed within a religious mold and takes on a social meaning, autonomous from the religious garb” (Ibid.). Previous research on the Syrian Civil War and framing within a Middle Eastern context is vast, and this section has identified the essentials.
6. Theoretical Framework
The concept of frames and framing will reoccur in this study; therefore, it is vital to clarify and define framing and how it can relate to conflict, media, and individuals, which this section covers.
8 6.1 Framing
This research project has been analyzed through a comparative frame analysis method and has chosen the definition of framing analysis suggested by Goffman (1974, p. 10f), where frames are referred to as the "definitions of a situation […] built up in accordance with principles of organization which governs events – at least social ones – and our subjective involvement in them". When applying the frame analysis, Nilsson (2020) states that "framing is the process whereby communicators act – consciously or not – to construct a particular point of view that encourages the facts of a given situation to be viewed in a particular manner, with some facts made more or less noticeable (even ignored) than others". The following description will be used as the core theoretical framework to identify frames: frames act to “define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgments and suggest remedies” (Kuypers, 2009). Looking back at Goffman's definition of a situation, it is important to acknowledge that even though people define situations, they are usually not authors of those definitions themselves. These definitions can be classified as "mechanical adherence to rules" rather than a process where people actively and creatively take part in the activity (Ritzer, 2010, p. 380ff). Taking this into consideration, when framing a particular phenomenon, such as a conflict, people tend to use words, expressions, and manifestations which are based on the presupposed frames. Goffman's aim with examining frames was to understand the ontology of the social scene or the authenticity of what is being played out or depicted (Chambliss, 2005, p.289).
Through the investigative approach of everyday situations, Goffman aimed to identify the invisible structures that control these circumstances by categorizing these structures as "schemata of interpretation", which allow individuals to arrange, organize, and describe within their lives and the outside world (Ibid.). Further, a comparative element will occur throughout the analysis. Kuypers (2009, p. 185) suggests that a comparative analysis is beneficial to identify specific frames used by different actors. By comparing individuals' framing, this study will analyze how the same phenomenon, the Syrian Civil War, can be framed differently. Thus, “framing makes some ideas more salient than others while making some ideas virtually invisible to an audience. Often the best way to detect this is to examine more than a single […] story” (Ibid.). Following is a discussion on the relevance of the framework within the study context.
6.2 Frames and Conflict
Even though Goffman focuses on everyday social scenes, the frame analysis method has been implemented within social movement theory (Nilsson, 2020; Snow et al., 1986), suggesting that it would be applicable when analyzing a more extensive social phenomenon, such as a social movement. Hence, it will be suitable to apply the frame analysis model when studying, interpreting, and understanding a conflict since it could be seen as a social phenomenon appearing within various societal levels. The term conflict within research is seen as significant by sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, economists, and political scientists (An Editorial, 1957, p.1). Further, conflicts appear in social circumstances: "among members of a family, between labor and management, between political parties, and even within a single mind, as well as among nations" (Ibid.). In addition to this, there is an acknowledgment of the importance of conflict as a studied social issue. Fink (1968) suggests a general definition of social conflict that would fit within all mentioned research fields. The definition suggested is: "any social
situation or process in which two or more social entities are linked by at least one form of antagonistic psychological relation or at least one form of antagonistic interaction" (Ibid. p.456).
6.3 Frames and Media
Frame analysis is most prevalent within journalistic studies where the analytical method has been applied to examine news channels framing of conflicts and other wide-scale social phenomena (Al-Nahed, 2015; Cozma & Kozman, 2015; Melki, 2014; Swolfs, 2018; Ha, 2017). Even though Goffman considers framing an unconscious action done by individuals, there are other views on how framing can be used. Kuypers (2010) suggests that frames can act to "dominate news cover" and that studies have found that "press inserts its own political perspective into its framing process" (D'Angelo, 2002, p. 876). D'Angelo recognizes three main paradigms within the studies of news-framing, the cognitive, the critical, and the constructivist (Ibid.). Cognitivists are "interested in detecting thoughts that mirror propositions encoded in frames". At the same time, researchers within the critical paradigm suggest that "frames are the outcome of newsgathering routines by which journalists convey information about issues and events from the perspective of values held by political and economic elites". Constructivists propose that journalists are processing information and are creating packages of interpretation of sponsors who are invested to "both reflect and add to the 'issue culture' of the topic" (Ibid. p.876-877). Kuypers (2009, p. 183) suggests that media act as “agenda-setters” when choosing to focus on particular events over others. Finally, Entman (2006) describes that the specific properties that frames consist of are “keywords, metaphors, concepts, symbols, visual images”.
6.4 Frames and Individuals
Considering that the frame analysis is prevalent within the study of news framing and social movement theory, the choice of method can seem unjustified within the context of this study. However, this study suggests that individuals are also crucial "framers" when it comes to their individual experiences of a large-scale social phenomenon such as a conflict. Lewis and Nichols (2011) argue that individuals and the public are "no longer the passive consumer[s] of media messages; [t]he[y] can now be creator, publisher, producer, and broadcaster". The social media activity of the interview subjects was not explicitly addressed in the interviews. However, it is still an aspect that justifies the use of the frame analysis method within this study, considering that the frames shared by the interviewees might also be used when framing the conflict as they act within a social media context. According to the information shared with the researchers, the respondents are active on social media and can influence others. Interacting within these contexts, they comment and engage within their frames and perceptions of the conflict and current situation.
Further, when considering individuals' roles as framers, they share and frame their perspectives as they see fit and described reality according to their convictions. All interviewees within this study engaged in rhetoric to convince that their interpretations were the closest ones to reality. Kuypers (2009) states that rhetoric “acts to provide good reasons for their audience to agree with them”. Further, rhetoric “works both at a public and a personal level” (Ibid.). The responders were not asked to persuade either of the researchers explicitly. However, it is suggested that rhetoric “does not always have to be intentional to have a persuading effect” (Ibid.). Quigley (1998) states that “[t]he need to identify arises out of division; human beings
are born and exists as biologically separate beings and therefore seek to identify, through communication, in order to overcome separateness”. The rhetorical aspect will be important when analyzing the used frames by the individuals. When Nilsson (2020) in his study investigates frames used by Hezbollah; one entity is being analyzed. Two news outlets are analyzed in the case of Cozma and Kozman (2015).
This study examined 11 individual framers; hence it was not an all-encompassing analysis. Instead, it identified individual frames that were found thought-provoking. Further, it is important to notice that the responders are not “representatives” of their identified religious or ethnic groups. Therefore, it is not suggested that the conclusions that have been arrived at are generalizations of the groups, which the individuals identify themselves, as a whole. As previously mentioned, this study keeps its main focus on the distinct definition of the function of frames provided by Kuypers, namely, to “define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgments and suggest remedies”.
7. Methodology and Material
This section addresses the research method and the analytical method as well as the necessary methodological foundations on which the study is based. Additionally, the application of the framing analysis is also reflected upon. Thereafter, delimitations of the studies are considered as well as ethical elements that were deemed important. Lastly, a reflexive analysis was conducted where the researchers examined their own positions within the study.
7.1 Methodological foundation
Carefully selected study methods are the core of scientific research, regardless of field (May, 2011, p.9). It has been essential to investigate what questions should be answered and how we would like them answered. Firstly, qualitative research was decided upon since the interest of the study has been to generate theories from people's projection and framing of a conflict. The qualitative methods emphasize the inductive perspective, where theories develop by applying the method (Bryman, 2018, p. 61). Secondly, an essential element within this study is the fundamental acknowledgment that the interpretive approach is vital to understand social phenomena, such as framing. The interpretive epistemology suggests that understanding a social environment depends on how participants within that environment interpret it (Ibid. p. 455).
Further, this study consists of an investigative approach and research model (Swanson, 2015). The reason for this is the lack of research that explicitly discusses the Syrian view and framing of the civil war. Thus, an approach based on a qualitative study was the most suitable model to collect data (Cropley, 2015). The main advantage of qualitative research is its ability to investigate how people with their own words and minds make sense of their life experiences. This detail is communicated in everyday language, applying daily notions (Ibid.).
Additionally, qualitative research aims to understand social reality (Leavy, 2014. p. 2), which is essential within this study. Leavy (Ibid.p.2ff) identifies three elements that research consists of, philosophical, praxis, and ethics. As specified before, this study takes an interpretive approach to the philosophical element. When it comes to praxis, the appropriate
applicable method was considered. The different praxis within a social research study can be viewed as tools that fit differently according to the intended purpose (Trost, 2010. p. 11). When reflecting on this, it was carefully thought through to use the qualitative interview method as our research method to understand individuals' perceptions. Thomas and Thomas (1928, s.572) formulated: "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences". Thus, people's definitions and perceptions of reality will have real-life consequences for them as individuals and the social context within which they operate.
Consequently, people's perceptions of reality – framing – and their experience are important aspects to consider together with their ramifications. Hence, the decision to use qualitative interviews as the research method of choice allows for flexibility and adaptability according to where the interviewee wants to take the interview (Bryman, 2018, p.562). Finally, within the three elements of research, the element of ethics is regarded as the principal to consider when reflecting on a research project and its implementation (Leavy, 2014; Bryman, 2018; May, 2011). The element of ethics within this project will be elaborated on further down; however, here, it can be stated that ethics is the bridging of the praxis and the philosophical element. Ethical considerations play a vital role regarding how we view people taking part in the study and how we think through the interactions, avoid exploitation, and protect the integrity of the participants (Leavy, 2014, p.5).
It is essential to set the parameters within which this study will be conducted. These could be viewed as conscious limitations set by the authors (Theofanidis & Fountouki, 2019, p. 157). The study only covers a few Syrian diaspora individuals residing in Sweden. Lack of adequate time and economic constraints has limited the study to only 11 individuals. For the study to reach the level of generalization, the result must be based on a study that represents a larger population. A representative sample must be composed of a group that holds the many distinct categories of the population (Jacobsen, 2017). This study does not and is only limited to those interviewed and not representative to all Syrian diasporas.
7.3 Methodological Consideration
It could be argued that the narrative analysis would be a good analytical method since it equips the researcher with a helpful instrument to understand the plurality and levels a story consists of, instead of viewing all stories as well organized, original and incorporated units (Andrews et al., 2004). However, Coffey and Atkinson (1996) say that narration should be understood from the perspective that it makes sense for the history teller. Therefore, narrative analysis aims to attract a recreated depiction of the respondent on the connection between the different course of events and between context and incidents. Thus, the search for the form and functions of the narration is, therefore, the definition of narrative analysis. Miller (2000) says that “when a narrative interview in an investigation is much more based on life history or biography, then the focus is to get the respondents perspective rather than objective facts”. Since this study aims to examine how Syrian diaspora individuals frame the Syrian conflict, the whole life history of the individuals interviewed is not the main focus but rather how the individuals view and depict the conflict specifically as a phenomenon.
12 7.4 Selection Group
It is challenging to identify a selection group of individuals that should take place in a qualitative study. When conducting qualitative research, one aspect that needs to be considered is data saturation (Bryman, 2018, p. 506). According to Trost (2010, p.137), the representative selection groups are irrelevant from a statistical perspective since qualitative research is more subjective and looks at other data points than the quantitative. Trost continues by writing that “in qualitative studies you want as big of a variation as possible and not several similar” (Ibid, own translation). This study has applied a “convenience sampling approach” (Ibid, p. 138), or what is often referred to as a “non-random sampling” (Onwuegbuzie & Collins, 2007, p. 287). Since the goal of this study was to “obtain insights into a phenomenon, individuals or events” (Ibid.), the decision was made to find diaspora individuals who may have different viewpoints and insights into the contemporary conflict of Syria. When considering the potential sensitivity of the study topic and the limited time frame, the decision was made to send out a public invitation on social media, and through personal contacts, gather a suitable sample group. It is vital to note that, before the interviews were conducted, none of the interviewed persons had any significant close personal connection to the researchers.
The largest identified groups (see Table 1) of the participants (five) identified as “Sunni Muslim” while two identified as “only Muslims” (non-sectarian). Three identified as Christians, one as a former Sunni Muslim, one as Roman Orthodox, and one as only Christian. Lastly, one person did not specify his religious affiliation. All respondents were in the same age bracket, approximately between 20 to 30 years old. Arabic was the dominant interview language, where seven interviews were conducted in Arabic, two in Swedish and two in English. One of the researchers conducted six of the interviews, while five were conducted by the other.
Respondent Alias* Gender Date of Interview Interviewer Religion (as identified by themselves) Interview language Person 1 Rami Man 16-4-2021 David Christian (originally Sunni Muslim) Arabic
Person 2 Mahmoud Man 17-4-2021 David Sunni Muslim Arabic
Person 3 Qotayba Man 17-4-2021 David Not defined Arabic
Person 4 Rima Woman 17-4-2021 David Christian Roman Orthodox Arabic
Person 5 George Man 19-4-2021 David Christian Arabic
Person 6 Lana Woman 23-4-2021 David Muslim (non-sectarian) Arabic
Person 7 Imad Man 18-4-2021 Liiban Sunni Muslim Swedish
Person 8 Hindi Man 18-04-2021 Liiban Sunni Muslim Arabic
Person 9 Kamal Man 17-04-2021 Liiban Sunni Muslim Swedish Person 10 Meimun Woman 20-04-2021 Liiban Sunni Muslim English Person 11 Amal Woman 05-05-2021 Liiban Sunni (non-sectarian) English
7.5 Research Method and Application
As mentioned above, in-depth interviews were decided and carried out with Syrian diaspora individuals to understand how they view and frame the Syrian Civil War and its current state.
The interviews were done with eleven Syrian diaspora individuals residing in Sweden. The respondents were all interviewed following an interview guide (see Appendix) formed by the researchers. The questions were connected with Kuypers (2009) definition of framing. The questions were formed as open-ended, allowing for more in-depth answers from the respondents with expressions of emotions, experience, and opinion (Gu, 2013. p.507). The interviews conducted were semi-structured interviews with in-depth elements as in-depth interviews are seen as "one-on-one encounters between an interviewer and an interviewee, with the goal being to understand the interviewee's perceptions and experiences" (Ibid. p. 507). According to Alvesson (2011, p.22), an interview focuses on a more genuine human interaction. The goal is to "create contact, trust, and engagement" as a prerequisite to investigating and understanding peoples' inner thoughts as well as experienced and perceived social reality. These considerations were important when conducting the study since the specific emphasis on the perception and experience of individuals are two essentials within the frame analysis approach.
A public note was written to find suitable interview participants, which was then published on social media platforms to attract independent and voluntary respondents. The participants were contacted through mutual acquaintances, phone calls, and email correspondence, where they received detailed information about the overall goal of the research. After that, an appointment for the interview was booked. Before the interview, each respondent was briefed, and details of the structure of the interview session were given.
Most of the interviewees had spent less than eight years in Sweden. Therefore, the persons were allowed to be interviewed in Swedish, Arabic, or English, depending on what language they felt most comfortable with. Both researchers have good knowledge of all three languages and were confident to offer that option to the interviewees. Since qualitative interviews aim at reaching deeper within the subjects' perceptions and experiences, it is crucial for them to feel comfortable in how they express themselves, hence, the option to use their preferred language (Alvesson, 2011, p.14). The interview took place using the application Zoom, where both researchers individually conducted their respective interviews. The reason for doing the interviews online was due to the flexibility of conducting online interviews and because none of the researchers were in close proximation to the interviewees. There are advantages to online interviews, such as flexibility, speed, and cost-effectiveness, but also obstacles in terms of the distraction for participants and interviewers, failing technology, and the limited use of body language (James & Busher, 2016, p. 9). Considering the obstacles to meet with the respondents face-to-face, a method that resembles the version was considered hence deciding on the synchronous online interview (O'Connor & Madge, 2017, p. 421). The interviews were recorded on Zoom and later transcribed. The data collected was then analyzed using the framing analysis as previously explained. Once transcribed, the recordings were deleted in order to protect the integrity of the interviewees.
7.6 Methodological Analysis Application
Before analyzing the collected data in this study, a guide was formed to reach coherency when conducting the analysis. When looking at frame analysis, researchers apply different analytical methodologies (Nilsson, 2020). This analysis will apply the qualitative data analysis suggested by Miles and Huberman (1984, p.21-23), where the analysis is divided into three sections,
were identified using the definition of frames, suggested by Kuypers (2009) “define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgments and suggest remedies”. It was thereafter used as the foundation for the study. It is argued that codes have a lot of synonyms, such as themes, tendencies, etcetera. (Ibid. p. 45-46). Further, Bell (2005, p. 215) argues that it is not the words themselves that are relevant but their meaning. Considering this, the decision to use the divergent functions of frames, as codes suggested by Kuypers seems adequate. Apart from the four different codes (problems, causes, moral judgments, and remedies), one general code concerning the framing of the conflict was established to answer the first research question.
How do Syrian diaspora individuals view the Syrian Civil War?
The electronic coding of the data was done using the software MAXQDA2020. Bryman (2018, p. 722-725) elaborates upon the pros and cons of using coding software. One aspect that could be lacking when using software is losing some of the contexts within the data. However, one of the software benefits is that it adds effectiveness to the coding and analytical process, and this is the basis for using the coding software. The first step in the analytical phase was to condense data because of interpretation, organize it, and eventually sort the relevant data according to the predetermined codes. The four codes which were deemed relevant were the following: "problems", "causes", "moral judgments", and "remedies", all according to the definition by Kuypers. The relevant passages within the transcription were grouped according to these codes. Within each specific code, keywords and key phrases were identified as applicable within the frame analysis. Each keyword or phrase was color-coded as follows: yellow for "problems", green for "causes", turquoise for "moral judgments", and purple for "remedies". What followed was a clustering of keywords and phrases following their different codes, which was done in the form of a table where each interviewed person received a row.
The different codes constituted one column each (See Appendix.). “Framing devices” was looked for, such as “keywords, metaphors, concepts, and labels (names)” (Kuypers, 2009) and then inserted into each column. When referring to keywords and phrases within the different codes, the different frames that the individuals chose to describe the conflict were addressed. After categorizing the different frames, the gathered results were subdivided under different topics and headlines that constituted the main themes. Strauss and Corbin (1990) mention several significant criteria when identifying themes within a qualitative analysis. One of the criteria is the relevance of the different themes which are detected. Another aspect is that theme needs to be constantly reoccurring within the analyzed data. These aspects exist within the collected data as the interviews are formed around the different themes suggested in the results section.
7.7 Ethical Considerations
It is vital to consider ethics when conducting scientific research in general (Bos, 2020) and when interacting with people specifically (Bryman, 2018, p.170). The general ethical idea and goal within the scientific field and tradition, to "understand the world systematically and methodically, while being as unbiased as possible", is applied to this study (Bos, 2020, p. 20). Specific ethical principle within the Swedish scientific community has been applied: to prevent harm, fraud, and false pretenses, to not intrude on participants private life, to give adequate information about the purpose of the study, to get consent, to keep participants confidential and to only use the collected data for the intended purposes (Diener & Crandall, 1978). In the context
of this study, people of specific vulnerable backgrounds were dealt with, namely people who have fled war and conflict. These individuals were interviewed with the intent to investigate their perception of the conflict and country from which they have left or fled. Even though consent was reached, particular caution was taken when conducting the interview and being transparent about the study's aim and purpose.
Cultural sensitivity has been an important aspect when preparing for and conducting the interviews ethically and cautiously. Culture is a significant and challenging aspect in immigrants' lives regarding social interactions and emotional expressions (Foner, 1997. p.962). When considering the cultural sensitivity, it was decided upon, as researchers, to take a more active part in the interviews. When referring to interviews where the interviewer takes a more active part in the interview, Alvesson (2011, p.22f) is using the term "romanticism" (own translation). By applying this conceptual approach, the interviewer creates a closer connection to the person being interviewed, allowing for cultural sensitivity to be a more integral part of the communication. Fontana and Frey (1994) suggest that this approach produces honesty, makes the interview sounder and more trustworthy because it treats the interview subject as equal to the interviewer. The interviews were semi-structured and carried some control elements. For example, the interview subjects had to go and which questions to answer.
The attempt was made to take a semi-active part in the interviews, asking people to elaborate on emotions and thoughts and communicate sympathetic responses when something sad or emotional was mentioned. Apart from this, knowledge was attained regarding the individuals' cultural backgrounds to maintain a relation to the respondents during the interviews. It was also significant to gather adequate information about the nature and elements of the conflicts to grasp and relate to the references of the respondents. The gathering of adequate information has been done by reading books and previous research on Syria's conflict and current situation.
7.8 Reflexive Analysis
This section will mention the reflexive process throughout the project. In-text, it will be limited to this passage only as we try not to let the reflexive aspects lead to a potential self-absorption within and throughout this study (Lee & Hassard, 1999). However, we examined our position reflexively throughout the study process. The reflexive approach has become more critical within social science research. In fact, "reflexivity is wrapped up in intellectual craftsmanship, and we are personally involved in every research project we work on" (Lumsden, 2019, p.1). Furthermore, reflexivity is not a one-time thing within a research project; instead, it must be constantly considered throughout the research process (Ibid. p. 3). Therefore, it is without a doubt essential to bear in mind explicit distortions and biases that may occur in the researchers' understanding of truth (Jacobsen, 2017).
Since we are studying a sensitive issue, particularly for the participants involved, it is essential to have a reflexive perspective on our role as researchers, interviewers, and data analysts. Also, how our respective positions, views, and ethnic and religious backgrounds may affect the study. Adopting a reflexive approach is beneficial for us as researchers and helps the readers by showing awareness of the role of our values in our work (Lumsden, 2019. p.156). This study is predicated on a qualitative interview method. It, therefore, needs to be an elaboration on the role of communication in a reflexive manner. The kind of communication
taking place during the interviews could be classified as intercultural according to the definition stating that: "situated communication between individuals or groups of different linguistic and cultural origins" (Lanqua, n.d). As authors, we acknowledge that intercultural communication can be challenging. One of the challenges of intercultural communication is the language aspect of communication. Language is an integral part of which culture manifests itself on an individual, group, and societal level (Stier, 2019, p. 60). Even though both researchers speak and understand Arabic, in which most of the interviews were conducted, neither one has a Syrian background which creates an obstacle as language is closely intertwined with the culture in which it operates. Furthermore, language exists within the "socially inherited assemblage of practices and beliefs that determines the texture of our lives" (Sapir, 1921, p. 221).
Another aspect that needs to be expanded upon is the embedded meanings of language within diverse cultures. Here, two concepts prevalent within intercultural communication will be considered: high-context cultures and low-context cultures. Middle Eastern cultures are within high-context cultures (Hall, 1981). Within these cultures, the unsaid, unspoken, and unobtrusive are highly valued. In high contexts, the focus is on the receiver of what is spoken, where how something is said is more important than what is said (Stier, 2019, p.65). Therefore, a crucial point within this study is the understanding of both contexts. Since the act of framing is being done verbally, through communication, the researcher's relation to high and low-context cultures will be explained. Both researchers live and act within a low-low-context culture, where the verbal, what is said, is the essential part of the communication, which can also be said of the interviewees (Ibid. p. 64). One of the researchers has grown up and lived most of his life within a low context culture, although spending several years in the Middle East where, as mentioned, the high context is dominant. The other researcher comes from most of his life and has lived within a high-context, East African culture. These aspects are essential to be aware of as interviews are being conducted and when stepping into the analytical phase. Considering that one of the researchers is from a low context, one pitfall we must be cautious of is the possibility of falling into a more direct literal interpretation of the data.
Nevertheless, the same person has spent several years in a Middle Eastern culture. The other researcher is aware of the aspects and mechanisms at play within a high-context culture. In conclusion, it can be important to emphasize the more “neutral” role that we as researchers can step into when conducting the study. This is possible since none of us have a close connection to the country, giving the interviewees a greater sense of neutrality.
This part presents the collected data as it has been collected, studied, coded, and thematized. The results section will consist of two parts. The first part will present the individuals' general view on the Syrian Civil War hence answering the first research question: How do Syrian
diaspora individuals view the Syrian Civil War?
Furthermore, the second part will address the individuals’ problem definitions, diagnose causes, moral judgments, and suggestions for remedies. In doing so, answering the second research question: How do Syrian diaspora individuals frame the Syrian Civil War?
The distinction made between view and frame was done to first give the individuals’ general view of the conflict and then to examine the distinct frames within which they operate as they tell their stories.
8.1 General Framing of The Syrian Civil War
The processed data and the relevant identified themes from the interviews are presented in the Appendix (Table 2.). The themes deemed relevant were reoccurring and foundational elements of which the individuals' different stories were built upon. The columns are grouped into five sections, where the first section has identified specific important themes and critical phrases as each person shared their general thoughts on the conflict. Further, the different elements of framing make up the other four columns. Following is an exposition of the interview data.
The first reoccurring theme which played a significant part in all the responders' answers and reflections was the sectarian aspect regarding the general view of the conflict. All interviewees agreed that sectarianism was a factor that played a significant part in the conflict and what lead to the contemporary situation in the country. Some of the interviewees expressed that racism, whether intra-religious or inter-religious or ethnic, was something that had been prevalent in Syrian society for a long time. When asked about if the racism was deep-rooted or whether it had evolved over time, Qotayba stated that:
I understand the question. The war paved the way for the situation that we are in now. When people say ‘He is Sunni’ or ‘He is Shi'a’ or ‘He is Christian’ […] This was present in Syria, but it was hidden […], But the racism was not just between religious or ethnic groups […] But Sunnis against Sunnis, and Christians against Christians […] Because what spread was that ‘This person has more money, or that person is well-educated’. So, societal differences played a huge part.
Rima, a Christian Roman Orthodox, expressed that she disagreed with labeling the eruptions of demonstrations in 2011 and 2012 as a revolution. To her, what occurred was a struggle between international powers, and the sectarian element played a crucial role in explaining what she believed were the goals of the demonstrations and their outbreaks. Rima stated that:
Where is the ‘revolution’? In a revolution, there need to be goals […] What are the goals? To remove an Alawi president and bring a Sunni in his place? These goals are despicable […] Bring me anyone who can convince me that it is a revolution. They say that they want freedom. Show me any place in the world where there is freedom.
Rima did seem to agree with Qotayba. According to her, religious and sectarian struggles are at the core of some of the elements within the conflict. Mahmoud, a Sunni Muslim, differed from Rima when describing the beginning of the demonstrations. He explicitly pointed out that:
It is not a sectarian revolution. Everyone took part in the revolution, at the beginning, Muslim, Christian, Assyrian, Shi'a, and Druze. The people that took part in the demonstrations were of every religious and ethnic group in Syria.
According to Mahmoud, the regime and political leaders of the country should carry the blame for the “sectarianizing” of the conflict. He stated that: “The Syrian regime contributed to the militarization of the conflict. It also planted a sectarian seed within the revolution, which allowed it to take a sectarian turn.” Consequently, Mahmoud agreed that the conflict had taken a sectarian turn, but in contrast to Rima, he argued that turn was because of the regime pushing it towards that point, rather than it being the essential nature of the revolution from its genesis. However, he mentioned that “of course the revolution will be predominantly Sunni since 85% of the country are Sunnis”. One of the interviewed persons who had a different background compared to the other responders was George. George is a Christian who did his military service in the Syrian army at the start of the conflict. George had taken many positions regarding his perspective on the conflict. According to him, since there was no “third option”, to turn to the regime was the safest option for him and his family as belonging to a minority.
I was in support of the regime because, as I saw it, it was the only military safeguard for us minorities […] But I turned from the opposition to the regime because I could not find a third option. So, I felt like I was in a position to choose between an extremist opposition and a dictatorial regime […], and I chose the dictatorship.
George was the only person who explicitly pointed out the struggle of “choosing a side” within the conflict even though all persons mentioned, in one way or another, that they were against the killing of innocent people. Lana, a Muslim woman from the northern parts of Syria, was more hesitant to share her political views regarding the conflict. She expressed that, according to her, the revolution started “peacefully and then it developed into a sectarian conflict with Free Syrian Army, Daesh (IS) and the Nusra Front.”
8.1.2 Geopolitical Interests
The second aspect which was frequent in the data material was the responders' view on foreign interest as a general influence on the conflict.
Rami expressed that he believes several foreign interests have played a significant role in the internal politics of Syria. According to Rami, one of those powers is Turkey, which is interested in “creating a new Ottoman Empire or Islamic Empire”. Apart from Turkey, Rami mentions Russia as a country which “wants positions in the Mediterranean Sea.” Other countries that Rami pointed to as influential were the Arab Peninsula countries, the U.S., and Israel.
Qotayba used a more thorough description to paint a picture of the different interests and which areas they control:
Unfortunately, at the moment, in the northern parts of Syria that Turkey control, the fighters and young men are going there and volunteer to fight under the revolutionary flag […] they receive salaries from Turkey because they are forced to, in order to eat.
He went on explaining the situation in the northeastern parts of Syria, the parts where he is originally from: