Sep 4 9:30 AM

Best of the Web: What to watch, explore and read on Syria

In this March 10, 2012 file photo, Aida cries as she recovers from severe injuries after the Syrian Army shelled her house in Idlib, north Syria. Aida's husband and two of her children were killed after their home was shelled.

The Syrian crisis can be murky, fast-changing and confusing, so we've pulled together the best online reads, watches and interactives to help understand the country's growing civil war, and the quest to end the violence.

What to watch

A pro-Syrian regime protester kisses a portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad during a demonstration in support of their President, in Damascus, Syria, on Wednesday Jan. 4, 2012. Activists accused President Bashar Assad's regime on Wednesday of misleading Arab League observers by taking them only to areas loyal to the government and changing street signs to confuse them. (AP Photo/Muzaffar Salman)
AP Photo/Muzaffar Salman

What's behind the support for Assad?

From April, the hour-long PBS FRONTLINE special Syria Behind the Lines offers a rare look at Syria's civil war from both sides of the lines, including a Syrian loyalist stronghold. If you can’t understand why some Syrians still support Bashar al-Assad's regime, this is the viewing for you.

Beyond chemical weapons

What is it like when bombs fall? The world turned its attention to Syria as news of a suspected chemical weapons attack broke, but almost seemed to ignore how the Syrian air force has been bombing its own people almost daily for the last year. The digital short film The Bombing of al Bara, a companion to the film above (full disclosure: I produced it), illustrates like nothing else the chaos, horror, fear and anger on the ground when bombs fall.

Like "the walking dead"

It's also worth watching last week's BBC report from a playground in northern Syria where an incendiary bomb -- a so-called "conventional weapon" -- exploded. "Arguments about chemical weapons don't matter here," says correspondent Darren Conway. "What does, is just death itself."

This Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012 photo, shows a damaged portrait of former Syrian President Hafez Assad at the entrance of a military academy besieged by rebels during heavy clashes with government forces north of Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/Narciso Contreras)
AP Photo/Narciso Contreras

How did it come to this?

If context is what you’re craving, the FRONTLINE film The Regime Responds traces the roots of the Syrian rebellion with the history you need to understand how embattled president Bashar al-Assad has managed to hold onto power for so long.

And if you're abroad...

We definitely recommend Al Jazeera World's Syria: The Reckoning, which unfortunately isn’t accessible online from the U.S.

What to explore

How is the civil war playing out across Syria?

From the capital and Idlib to Aleppo and Lebanon, The New York Times multimedia feature A Broader Look at the War Across Syria offers a more in-depth look.

Refugee siblings got some refreshing watermelons from the NGO (Rex Features via AP Images)
Rex Features via AP Images

How is it playing out for Syria's neighbors?

The Syrian refugee crisis officially topped 2 million people yesterday. More than 130,000 of those refugees live in the Zaatari refugee camp, a three-square-mile part of the desolate Jordanian desert. The camp is now Jordan's fourth largest city. The BBC has been tracking its sprawl with these satellite images, Zaatari Refugee Camp: Rebuilding Lives in the Desert.

If you want to know where other Syrian refugees are going and how those countries are struggling to keep up, the Guardian has you covered with this interactive map.

The AP maps possible U.S. targets in Syria

What could intervention look like?

The Associated Press maps the possible targets of U.S. airstrikes in Syria, the sites of alleged chemical attacks and where individual world leaders stand on military intervention in its interactive, Syria's Civil War.

The Washington Post's Congressional Syria tracker

Where does Congress stand?

The Washington Post has this useful whip count Where the Votes Stand on Syria that details how members of the House and Senate stand on military action. It's especially fascinating because it illustrates well just how much the Syria question transcends party lines.

But if you want to look up how a particular member is voting, CNN is tracking both the Senate and the House in a way that's less visually compelling, but more searchable.

What about other key players?

Al Jazeera English has a rather brilliant interactive Connecting Syria's Allies and Enemies, which illustrates how key players come down on military intervention in Syria, and the various factors influencing those policies. Israel's positions are particularly interesting, and The New York Times also has a closer look at some of its challenges in influencing the situation.

Al Jazeera English maps Syria's allies and enemies

Are threats of intervention having an effect in Syria?

The regime has warned Syrians to beware of "rumors about the escape of important people from the country" and "videos of people impersonating Syrian officials," according to the Wall Street Journal, and yesterday the Syrian opposition announced that a recently-defected forensic medicine expert has evidence the Assad regime used chemical weapons in last month's attack. 

Al Jazeera English has this excellent visualization of the past diplomats, members of parliament, senior military and security officials, and others who have defected from the Syrian regime in Tracking Syria's Defections.

What to read

What will happen to Syria's Alawites?

Rania Abouzeid explores an underreported front in Syria's war by going Inside the Battle for Assad's Heartland. These mountains in the northwestern province of Latakia are where many believe President Assad and members of his minority sect, the Alawites, may flee to if Damascus falls. Some even suggest he would build an Alawite state there. "The war in Syria is ideological," one rebel tells Abouzeid. "Let's be honest. It's sectarian, and it's civil. It’s us against the Alawites."

Al Nusra
A Syrian boy shouts slogans against the regime in front of a flag of the armed Islamic opposition group, the Nusra front, during a demonstration in the Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria. Arabic on banner in background contains words from the Quran and reads, "There is not God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger, the Nusra front."
Manu Brabo/AP

Are jihadists really running the show?

"Contrary to many media accounts, the war in Syria is not being waged entirely, or even predominantly, by dangerous Islamists and Al Qaeda die-hards," contends the Institute for the Study of War's Elizabeth O'Bagy in her Wall Street Journal story On the Front Lines of Syria's Civil War. This unconventional take is based on her own experience on the ground: numerous trips to Syria's northern provinces of Latakia, Idlib and Aleppo, and hundreds of hours with Syrian opposition groups. O'Bagy, who is also affiliated with the advocacy group the Syrian Emergency Task Force, argues more moderate groups are leading the actual fighting forces, while more extremist groups like Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al Nusra are more dedicated to creating an Islamic emirate in the north of the country.

[UPDATE Sept. 11, 2013: O'Bagy, whose above work was cited by both Secretary of State John Kerry and Senator John McCain in hearings last week, has been terminated from the Institute for the Study of War for misrepresenting her qualifications.]

(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici

How are reporters getting the story in Syria?

With incredible risk, answers Emma Beales in her VICE story More and More Journalists Are Being Kidnapped in Syria. "The biggest threat to journalists is no longer shelling or sniper fire," she writes. "The thing we are most afraid of is that we will disappear." Beales explores the consequences of the heightening risks for on-the-ground reporting in Syria.

Speaking of which, though it's increasingly difficult to report from Syria, that hasn't stopped us from trying to do what we can to hear from Syrians. Watch and read our report from last week.

The case against military intervention...

Why are all of the options on Syria so bad? The International Crisis Group lays it out in its statement, and goes on to argue that the only exit is political. The statement has been generating lots of attention since it was posted online Sunday, and represents a perspective that is resolutely skeptical of military intervention.

Secretary of State John Kerry makes a statement about Syria at the State Department in Washington, Friday, Aug. 30, 2013.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

The case for it...

"Americans are justifiably weary of war, but the lesson of Syria is that shirking from our global responsibilities will only create bigger problems that will eventually raise both the cost and the likelihood of American intervention," writes SAIS dean Vali Nasr his New York Times piece Forcing Obama's Hand in Syria. While he acknowledges that the risks are great and success is uncertain, he argues that inaction poses a greater threat.

A look back at history...

In The New Yorker piece Crossing the LineSteve Coll argues that the Reagan Administration’s "passivity" in response to Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons "proved to be a colossal moral failure and strategic mistake." But the parallels to Syria today aren't so simple. "It is reasonable to ask," he writes, "whether the cause of punishing and deterring the use of chemical weapons is worth the risks."

And a searing critique of American responses

"If your opinion of Syria is actually an opinion about the United States, I have no interest in hearing it, and it’s probably safe to say that most Syrians (or at least all of the ones I know) who are faced with the business end of the regime’s ordinance don’t either," writes Sean Lee in this trenchant post to his blog titled An Open Letter on Syria to Western Narcissists.

And on that note, from Syria Deeply, The Articles Syrians Think You Should Read about Syria.

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Topics
Syria's War

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