No kidding: Read The Onion if you want to understand Syria

The Monitor's Syria correspondent says that some of the best analysis of Syria's conflict has come from the satirical news source. 

AP
Members of Syrian national parties and syndicates stage a sit in at Youssef al-Azmeh Square during a protest against a possible US military strike against their country in Damascus, Syria, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013.

There's little to laugh about when it comes to Syria, but when it comes to understanding what's happening there, some of the best analysis comes in the form of a joke.

The Onion, a satirical newspaper, has managed to find ways not to just joke about Syria, but to do it in a way that makes sense of the situation. Their writers have started to hit their stride, consistently nailing it with surprisingly salient analysis

It can be exasperating playing it straight when you write news about a situation that regularly produces absurd scenarios. The Onion’s format allows its writers to plainly make sense of ridiculous situations that can be difficult to explain or fully appreciate in a normal news article.

During many of the trips I made into Syria, I met conservative people who supported the insurgents who used to fight Americans in Iraq, yet these same people were now calling for the same US soldiers they wanted to kill six or seven years ago in Iraq to come to their aid with an intervention in Syria.

Meanwhile, as of at least March, the CIA has been compiling a list of targets for potential future drone strikes inside opposition-controlled Syria, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Onion managed to explain this dark, complicated reality in just one fake headline: “Target Of Future Drone Attack Urges American Intervention In Syria.”

Perhaps nowhere have I seen such a clear explanation of the difficulty Obama faces in finding the right response to Syria than in an Onion op-ed written as though Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were the author. It concisely and coherently broke down the challenges facing the White House in such a way that anyone could understand why it’s apparently been so difficult for Obama to make a decision.

As The Onion explained in another article, it’s also the reason this likely could have happened: “Obama Throws Up Right There During Syria Meeting.”

The Onion has often distinguished itself for providing the right mix of smarts and humor to capture the zeitgeist of a historic moment. Their first issue published in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks is warmly remembered by many as one of the first light moments that helped people begin moving forward after the attacks.

For all these reasons, when you look at the Twitter feeds and Facebook pages of most journalists covering Syria, you’re likely to find numerous Onion articles posted alongside in-depth, serious reporting.  

And really, when the public debate hangs so heavily on comparing a potential Syria intervention to the Iraq war, sometimes it takes an Onion headline like this one to remind us that regardless of where you stand on the debate, you can only get so far comparing two different conflicts: Obama Assures Americans This Will Not Be Another 1456 Ottoman Siege Of Belgrade.

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About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

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The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

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