Fate of ‘flower of Syria’ offers cautionary tale
Fatat Malouk said she has no doubt: The burned, mutilated and seemingly unrecognizable body parts that she viewed in a Syrian military hospital in September were the remains of her child — the victim, she said, of government thugs who snatched the teenager off the street.
“My heart tells me this was my daughter,” Malouk said.
Her daughter, Zaynab Hosni, 18, was posthumously immortalized as “the flower of Syria,” and her gruesome fate, captured on amateur video, became a graphic rallying cry for the Syrian opposition.
So it came as a shock when a seemingly healthy Zaynab turned up last month on Syrian television.
“I am alive,” declared the veiled young woman, speaking in a monotone and flashing her plastic identity card for the camera.
She hadn’t been abducted, she said, but ran away to escape abuse from her brothers. She was living with relatives in Syria and planning to get married and have children.
It was an extraordinary propaganda coup for the Syrian government, which daily lashes out at sundry media “fabrications” designed to foment sedition amid a bloody crackdown on unrest that has left an estimated 3,500 civilians dead.
The episode was a cautionary tale for journalists, human rights investigators and others who largely have been barred from entering Syria. Instead of their own observation, they must rely heavily on amateur videos, Skype conversations, Facebook postings and other bits of often secondhand information to piece together what is happening in an uprising with competing narratives.
But the story of Zaynab Hosni, from the central city of Homs, a focal point and sectarian fault line of the Syrian uprising, also illustrates the paranoia and suspicion nurtured in more than four decades of autocratic rule.
Conspiracy theories about Zaynab’s fate abound, many centering on the cunning of Syrian intelligence, skilled practitioners of intrigue and obfuscation.
Her older brother Yousef, speaking from a safe house outside the Lebanese capital, said, “There is a level of lies here that no one can imagine.”