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Syria: Banksy’s Crude Politics

Banksy’s video satirizing the Syrian civil war, entitled “Rebel Rocket Attack,” left Syrians and keen watchers of the conflict confused and disappointed.

The video, released on October 6, has since been viewed by over five million users on YouTube with over 25,000 likes and approximately 5,000 dislikes. Promoting the video, the anonymous British graffiti artist posted a trailer on Instagram with the following remark:

I'm not posting any pictures today. Not after this shocking footage has emerged. Go to banksy.co.uk for the full video

The trailer received over 3,000 likes and around 300 comments filled with mixed emotions.

In what appeared to be amateur rebel footage, the spoof begins with two rebels aiming a hand held missile launcher at an object in the sky. The actual audio is taken from a video of Mennegh Airport in Syria’s war-torn Aleppo posted on February 23, as Nader pointed out. A voice in the background yells, “Go back, go back, go back,” and another documents the footage saying, “God is the greatest; Aleppo’s military council air defense battalion.” Moments after firing, Disney’s Dumbo falls from the sky, battered and bruised. The masked rebels, wearing shalwar kameez, dance around and on top of the deceased cartoon character in celebration. A child, dressed in a similar attire to the adults, enters the scene, looks at Dumbo and then kicks the rebel holding the launcher. Throughout the video, the rebels are heard shouting the infamous Takbir, a chant often used by Islamists during protests and moderate Muslims praising God, “Allahu Akbar,” meaning God is the Greatest.

While the video left many wondering what “Allahu Akbar” means, it was also met with critical analysis of Banksy’s leftist views. The Washington Post’s Max Fisher writes about the work’s awkward politics:

Unlike his West Bank work, it's not really dealing with the conflict or its larger issues, even from a one-sided ideological perspective. It's not getting to the core issues, but rather sticks on one of the few aspects that European and Arab leftist movements feel comfortable addressing, and ignores all the rest. That doesn't mean the video is bad or wrong as a piece of political art, of course

Similarly, Syrian blogger Darthnader looks at the work through the eyes of Edward Said, adding that both imagery and context are offensive. He asks:

So what exactly is the message? That the Syrian regime warplanes are analogous to poor flying elephants? That the rebels in Syria are a bunch of ragtag buffoons going around trying to kill even the poorest creatures?

Twitter user MadeInNablus echoes his views:

Some even questioned the video’s purpose, concluding that Banksy tackled an issue that he “does not understand enough about,” argues Lebanese satirist Karl Sharro on PRI. Evidently, Paul Woodward of War in Context also says that it was devoid of any real meaning:

Banksy’s latest stunt is just that: a stunt which calls for attention yet speaks of little more than the universal desire to be noticed. It is a shout to be heard made by someone who has nothing to say — not a sharp piece of political commentary.

Others believed that Banksy sided with Assad, and condemned him for mocking a resistance that began with freedom graffiti. Rana Kabbani tweets:

While some dismissed the video as a stunt, others emphasized that it only gained attention because of the international fame Banksy has gained over the years. However, many others, specifically Syrians, did not care for it, as Twitter user Donatella points out:


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  • tommymiles

    I think this Global Voices piece speaks to the disconnect between Syrian rebel activists & the rest of the world. One that Syrian rebel activists, not the rest of the world, needs to address.

    There is a language of demand, coming from a movement that refuses to recognize why outsiders might have reservations about them, that while understandable from the inside, does not augur a good post-war Syria. Banksy has a point: they just don’t like it. This gives rebel activists an opportunity to discuss honestly the out-of-control nature of their movement, funded as it is by Gulf states and others who are successful imposing their goals on what was a popular revolution. This opportunity best presented itself when activists for the Syrian rebels found themselves publicly rebuffed by much of the world left when they attempted to enlist Western elites and militaries into their war. This was unlikely to happen — unlikely to happen in a way that would do anything but strengthen Assad — but I seen zero self criticism amongst the Syrian rebel activists about this. You’ve allied yourself to the worst of both sides on the horrendous imperialist world war of the last decade. You don’t expect the rest of us to be left with serious questions about you?

    Solidarity is earned, not demanded.

    Banksy is giving you — by ‘you’ I mean the mostly foreign or foreign based media activists of the Syrian rebel movement writ large — another opportunity to have this critical discussion. To be clear what you’re fighting for exactly. But all I hear is rebel supporters who will not pick that opportunity up, but instead damn those who raise legitimate worries.

    You’re perceived — rightly or wrongly — by the people outside the region who most admired you two years ago, as the sort of folks who would kill a beloved children’s cartoon character. And your response is to damn us for it.

    • Casandra

      Maybe Dumbo isn’t Assad or the gov’t, but rather everything that is
      good and pure about the revolutionary heart. How many of these rebels
      are being fed, supplied and in every way propped up by forces that
      oppress and deny the value of so many millions of other people all over
      the world, making those forces aspirations their own? Is God’s Greatness
      most apparent when pissing on the fervent, tender seed of revolution/
      global awakening? Evidently some Syrian rebels and/or their supporters are offended by Banksy’s video, but it doesn’t appear he’s too impressed with them, either.

  • Casandra

    Maybe Dumbo isn’t Assad or the gov’t, but rather everything that is
    good and pure about the revolutionary heart. How many of these rebels
    are being fed, supplied and in every way propped up by forces that
    oppress and deny the value of so many millions of other people all over
    the world, making those forces aspirations their own? Is God’s Greatness
    most apparent when pissing on the fervent, tender seed of revolution/
    global awakening? Evidently some Syrian rebels and/or their supporters are offended by Banksy’s video, but it doesn’t appear he’s too impressed with them, either.

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