By Josh Shahryar and John Horne
If you're anti-intervention, your headline should include the words "Iraq", "Imperialism", "Drones", "Islamophobia" and "Palestine". If you're pro-intervention, use the words, "Israel", "Iran", "Heinous" and "Not Iraq". “War”, "Humanity" and "Children" can be used by both sides.
Start with what you saw about Syria on television last week, or the week before.
Note how you haven't slept for several nights since, thinking about what you saw --- it will beef up your credentials as a war weary non-Syrian. For research, it's bad form to read any writing from journalists who have been following Syria for nearly 3 years. There are shorter summaries, that use smaller words, written by people who are just learning themselves. Mention their work so it aligns with your own short-comings.
Explaining the complexities of life in war-torn Syria defeats the purpose of your article. Nuance is a friend of your enemy, no matter what side you're on. If you can’t convey the entire situation in a sentence, maybe this job isn’t for you.
Syria was a peaceful land, filled with rivers of honey and mountains of whipped cream before "all of this" happened. Or it was a giant desert, filled with camel-riding Arabs. Neither matters since your piece is not really about Syria. Never mention that its population is close to 23 million. Numbers only matter if they're about how many people died or were liberated in Iraq.
Be original and use the term "Arab Winter." Be brief, and don't linger on any topic for too long. It's boring and might expose gaps in your knowledge. Everybody else has forgotten that the US, UK and others recognize the Syrian opposition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, so you might as well too.
Don't explain the difference between Shia and Alawite in detail. It's like trying to explain the difference between fried rice and broiled corn to a cat. He won't eat it if he knows. If you’re Arab, emphasize that fact, since all Arabs are exactly alike and every Arab speaks for all Arabdom. Be sure to divide the entire population of Syria into "good guys" and "bad guys". Pretend the Kurds don't exist. It's easier to make your case that way and continues a long tradition.
Just use "al-Qaeda" as shorthand for Jabhat Al Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Of course, if you're anti-intervention, then just use "al-Qaeda" as shorthand for the Free Syrian Army. Throw in at least one outlandish claim about the rebels from a single, unverified source.
Mention the name of at least one Syrian friend you've had drinks with in Washington D.C. It bolsters your claim of having intimate knowledge of the situation. Even better, if you once spent a weekend in Aleppo or Damascus. Devote at least two paragraphs to how it transformed your life, even if you've never mentioned that before writing this article.
If you're pro-intervention, mention the words "Israel" and "security" several times. If you're against it, mention Iran and the various abuses it has had to suffer at the hands of the West. You're only peppering in Syria here and there to ensure that your journalistic integrity remains intact.
Treat the article as if it were a minimalist work of art.
If you're pro, don't mention Saudi Arabia, at any cost. Don’t talk about past US interventions unless the outcome was positive or too distant for the memory of your audience. If you're anti, the Bosnian, Kosovo or Libyan wars did NOT happen. You must state strongly how any external interference in Syria will make the situation worse, whilst pretending that Russia, Iran, Saudi, Lebanon, Turkey, US, UK, and half the world have sat on their hands and whistled since 2011.
Don’t talk to any actual Syrians. They will only complicate the argument. Use various tweets by @The_47th, @NuffSilence and @AlexanderPageSY out of context to hide the fact that your piece doesn’t include interviews and to appeal to your millennial readers who can't get enough of Twitter.
If anti-intervention, talk about US imperialism wherever possible. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Palestine will do very nicely as examples. Don't bring up US interventions in Latin America. Your audience only knows about them if they're a die-hard Immortal Technique fan. To ensure everyone knows how deeply you feel the pain and suffering caused by the indiscriminate murder of huge numbers of civilians, add that you own a copy of Hotel Rwanda.
If pro-intervention, demonstrate your credibility by saying "I was against the Iraq war, but the situation in Syria is different and demands ‘humanitarian intervention’”. Hopefully nobody will ask you about the Democratic Republic of Congo or Sudan in the comments.
For maximum impact, use a photo of either dead children or a jihadist committing an atrocity. The more emotions the image stirs, the less you have to worry about the quality of your argument. Don't consult multiple sources and experts on the chemical weapons claims. Just find the one which supports your position the strongest and stick with it.
Exploit the refugees. Either criticize the West for not doing enough to help, or hammer home the fact that Assad has created over 2 million. Avoid writing about Syria's massive rape crisis. Women in war only matter when they’ve lost a man from their family.
When sharing your article on social media, tweet something like "I give my thoughts on the Syria debate", because although this isn't about you, there's always the chance that an editor might ask you to write another piece or do a TV interview. Intervention debates can be great for a journalist's career.
Your last paragraph should include something about Obama lacking a spine or George Bush being a cowboy. Conclude with how you're only doing this so you can sleep better at night or be on the right side of history, since those are the only outcomes of this war that truly matter.
(Inspired by Binyavanga Wainaina's amazing essay "How to Write About Africa")