Center for Strategic Communication

By Chris Lundry

Indonesian Islamist site featured a story on Syria’s embattled leader Bashar al-Assad which states that his looming demise is the culmination of a “Western Plot.” This “news” is fascinating for those who have paid even just a little attention to events as they unfold in Syria.

Didn’t the US and the West equivocate for months as Assad murdered his own people? Was that part of the plan?

Was part of the Western plan to bring in armed and trained domestic and foreign Islamists – some with ties to known terrorist organizations – bent on creating an Islamic state in Syria? Wouldn’t that make them pawns of the West?

To be fair, despite the title (“The Western Plan Reveals the Fact that the end of Assad is Very Close”), the article portrays the conflict’s end game as a struggle between Islamists and the West, specifically citing the race to secure Assad’s stockpile of chemical and biological weapons.

The conspiracy of the West, it continues, is a conspiracy against the Syrian (Islamist) revolution. In the Islamists’ eyes, the revolution against Assad is unified and Islamist; any other opposition to Assad is tainted by association with the West, which really wants Assad to stay in power.

Confused yet?  Despite reading the story a few times, I admit confusion as well.

The conflict in Syria is fluid and complicated. Attempts such as this to portray it in good versus evil terms inherently fall into conspiratorial and contradictory language. As a communication tactic, I doubt it is particularly persuasive.

When the United States and the West pursue political goals that are congruous with those of Islamist extremists (the ousting of Qaddafi from Libya, for example, and now Assad), the stories the latter tells dissolve into conspiracy and contradiction.

While I don’t underestimate the power of some conspiracies to gain some support – see, for example, the staying power of 9/11 “truthers” – ultimately that support remains limited as the stories people tell don’t fit the narrative; they simply don’t make sense. Some, however, will hold on for dear life, disregard the evidence, and claim that skeptics are “in on it.”

As Assad’s inevitable demise approaches, the big question will be whether Syria’s Islamists can strike political bargains with the secular nationalists. The answer to that question will hold the future for Syria.