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After a father forced his daughter to perform jihad al-nikah (“sex jihad”), she ran away to a Syrian Army checkpoint, refusing to become a mere consumer good that is passed from one hand to another. The Syrian government then “saved” the young girl, revealing her full identity to the public on state-run television. The handling of the story of 16-year-old Rawan Qadah, whether true or false, by both the regime and the opposition is one of the worst events to occur in the history of Syrian journalism, and demonstrates the extreme state of the Syrian crisis.

Last September, Syrian state television presented the confession of a young girl it claimed had performed jihad al-nikah with a number of foreigners. Jihad al-nikah is a form of adultery in which a young girl is presented to a group of “jihadis” so that they can spend a few nights with her because they are deprived of women during their “jihad in the name of God.” The men share one or more girls between themselves under a “temporary marriage” that involves the jihadi acknowledging that he married the young girl in front of his fellow “mujahedin.” After he is done with her – usually a day or two later – the fighter passes the girl on to a new man. The Syrian regime’s media has published many reports about the prevalence of this kind of marriage among Islamic extremists, but opposition media outlets (both Islamist and secular) have refuted it, calling it slander and lies from the regime seeking to distort the image of the revolution. Thus, the story remains a controversy with no winner or loser.

Rawan recounted her story on Syrian national television of jihad al-nikah and how her father forced her to perform adultery with a large number of men over the past year. She eventually decided to escape from that life and managed to find her way to a Syrian Army checkpoint where she was provided comfort and security. While Rawan was telling her story, the anchorman asked her questions in his attempt to “reveal the truth to the people.”

Opposition forces, however, claimed that the girl was kidnapped by regime forces a few months ago because her father was a “revolution activist from Deraa,” and that the family was surprised to see Rawan on television admitting to such actions after they had lost contact with her. As people were still trying to comprehend the confessions of Rawan, Syrian media surprised them with yet another 16-year-old girl named Sarah al-Alaweh, once again presenting the girl with her real name and face exposed, claiming that she had also participated in jihad al-nikah with a number of mujahedin.

Killing her would be have been more merciful

A young teenage girl is broadcasted on television to tell millions of viewers what she had done, showing her unblurred face in addition to disclosing where she lives and other personal information. This amounts to an action that can be labeled, at the very least, as a form of “execution” that will leave Rawan psychologically traumatized.

What was the television broadcaster thinking? What did he hope to gain from this? Did he think about his daughters, his sisters? Did he think about any teenage girl that ever passed him in his life? He didn’t think to censor or cover her face. Even murderers have their faces and their identities concealed so as not to destroy their futures – although many have already been condemned to death! This person didn’t even think to hide her identity or use a false name.

Rawan’s story is an example of the level that the crisis in Syria has reached. The Syrian citizen – in spite of his or her belonging or political stance – has become a tool that is thrown around in front of camera lenses, and whose tears and pain are used to attract a foreign intervention, justify a brutal bombing, legitimize arrests, and even to justify the killing and desecration of dead bodies.

Rawan’s story is one of a Syrian girl who became a victim of the brutal civil war that the country is experiencing. It doesn’t matter if she did what they claimed or not. It doesn’t matter if she was innocent or guilty; a criminal or a victim. What matters is how the media dealt with her situation, beginning with the way the Syrian state television presented her, violating all professional journalistic principles, and then how the opposition used the young girl’s story to demonstrate “the wretchedness of the regime to the world.”

After two and a half years of a brutal civil war that has destroyed the futures of many, killed countless civilians, and displaced most, we are still surprised by the level of degradation that the regime and the opposition’s actions have reached. The two have exploited the suffering of Syrian people  for the sake of what they call “the good of the country,” but we’ve come to learn that they are serving their own interests.

What the Syrian media did was a disgrace on all accounts. It was a disgrace because it took advantage of Rawan, who was forced to do something she hated, as she said in the confession which “she was asked to make.” It was a disgrace because it exposed her name and face and instead of rewarding her for seeking the protection of the Syrian army from her criminal father, Syrian media publicized and marketed her story for the world to see. Killing her would have been more merciful.

Ahmad Beetar is a Syrian journalist, blogger and translator from Aleppo.