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Social Media Buzz: Cleric’s Death Unites Many Syrians in Condemnation

Millions of Syrians are using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Skype to disseminate and discuss the conflict. Each week Syria Deeply monitors the online conversation in English and Arabic, pulling out the highlights in a feature called the Social Media Buzz.

Written by Mohammed Sergie Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

The assassination of an octogenarian Islamic scholar allied with the Assad regime united loyalists and many opposition groups in condemnation, and even sparked a rare debate within opposition ranks on the celebration of death in Syria.

Social media activity spiked on Thursday after an alleged suicide bomber killed Mohammed Said Ramadan Al Bouti, the most senior Sunni cleric who supported the Assad regime’s crackdown on peaceful protesters and its military campaign across the country, along with 48 worshippers attending his lesson at a mosque in Damascus on Thursday.

Rumors and speculation dominated the online conversations. Some theorized that Bouti was about to defect and was executed on Wednesday, and the regime staged the bombing a day later to win Sunni supporters. Many questioned how a sole suicide bomber penetrated the tight security in central Damascus. One Facebook post noted that the regime has failed to protect its top officials and institutions in most provinces, but has maintained control of Latakia and Tartous which has large Alawite populations, concluding that the government is only interested in protecting Alawites and not all Syrians.

(Bouti’s daughter denied that her father was planning to defect in an interview with Al Jazeera).

Government media coverage received its usual ridicule by regime opponents. State television paraded so-called survivors who were reportedly attending Bouti’s religious lessons. But one of them turned out to be a frequent bystander in government reports, his tank top and gold necklace clashing with the normal dress code of pious Muslims (left). Another worshipper sported a tattoo of a woman on his chest.

Despite the apparently staged state TV coverage, many opposition activists also appeared genuinely distraught at Bouti’s death, and condemnations for the bombing poured in from prominent leaders, including Moaz Al Khatib, the president of the National Coalition. Khatib, who resigned his post on Sunday, held the regime responsible for the bombing that killed Bouti.

Twitter and Facebook lit up with celebratory comments, with some activists hurling insults at the dead sheikh and praying that he end up in hell. A more measured response from a former political detainee (below), reduced Bouti’s lifeworks to his political decision to support the Assad regime.

This clash in reactions to Bouti’s death led to a debate within opposition circles about how Syrians should respond to the violence in the country and whether those who were loyal to the regime deserve to be mourned. After tens of thousands of anonymous deaths in Syria, the loss of Bouti – who commanded broad respect from Syrians, Arabs and Muslims throughout the world for his decades of Islamic scholarship – reiterated that the conflict is gradually erasing Syria’s culture, heritage and humanity.

> There are some Syrians who are getting comfortable cheering when other Syrians get killed. That’s a tragic state of affairs… > — Maysaloon (@Maysaloon) March 22, 2013

As many grieved the loss of a part of Syria’s character, a video that went viral last week demonstrated a creative spirit that is rising from the horrors of war.

Activists in Douma, a Damascus suburb that has been shelled for months, have found a new use for the bullet casings and bomb remains that litter their city. In a YouTube video, an activist displayed a functional guitar made from the body of large ordnance, a walking cane constructed from empty machine gun casings, a cluster bomb drum set, and a motorcycle fitted with an assortment of bomb pieces.

The short film, called “Art of Surviving,” can be seen below with English subtitles.

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