Many of the current theorists in the rise of nationalism point to media as an intrinsic part of maintaining a sense of nationalism. Mass media helps to sustain nationalistic feelings, both in its more aggressive forms (ex: wartime propaganda on both sides during World War II) and its more banal, everyday forms like the national flag, maps of the country, etc. If it can be the basis for a show on comedy central—The Colbert Report---our sense of nationalism in the media must be alive and well in America.
But what does this look like in a country like Syria? NPR recently did a special on the emergence of private radio in Syria. The introduction gives a great sense of the challenges in creating nationalism today:
“The cradle of civilization, the ancient Middle East is young, very young.
About two-thirds of the population is under 30 years old and this Arab
youth bulge is growing up in a different world from their parents'
generation. New technologies are accelerating change, Facebook and
Twitter connect young Arabs to the wider world, and smartphones and
webcams keep them up to date.”(NPR, 2010)
The laws recently changed in Syria, signaling a shift from only government-controlled radio stations to opening up airwaves to private radio stations. It is the sign of changing times in the country, especially in an authoritarian state, making the government-controlled media less relevant to its young citizens. Another quote from the interview says,
“AMOS: The competition is information streaming into the country -televised,
twitted and text. Young Syrians are more informed than ever before.
They can ignore old-style government media, which is little more
Mr. HARLING: I'm not sure who really watches the Syrian media or reads
the Syrian news anymore.” (NPR, 2010)
So what is the government doing to reinforce the sense of nationalism and loyalty in the country? Well, according to my own friend who traveled there and to bloggers on Times.com and private blog sites, the answer is fairly straightforward: put the face of President Bashar Al Assad everywhere—buildings, windows, even graffiti on cars.
Andrew Lee Butters on Time’s Middle East Blog writes, “And why does President Assad have his picture on every government building?” Another, non-journalist blogger writes, “…President Assad, whose slightly geeky features are plastered everywhere…” The smiling face of the president around every corner is a not so subtle call to nationalistic feelings. And the changing nature of today’s media may require this sort of daily reminder to its citizens to maintain control.
Symbols & images are powerful…and useful. The face of Assad on facades of all kinds was sort of a mystery to tourists, but in the context of nationalism & the media, it is just another tool to remind his citizens of where & who they are. And maybe of who’s watching as well.
Deborah Amos, “New Media Strain Government Tolerance in Syria” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129706102
Andrew Lee Butters, “Elections in Syria: Not Looking So Hot.”
David Shillcutt & his photos from travels while teaching in Yemen