The West must offer more than its condolences to the Syrian people

By Jonny Cattermole

Following an upsurge in the violence in Syria, the UN passed a resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 500 civilian deaths in the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta last week after an intensification in regime airstrikes, with 121 children amongst the victims.

However, the bombardment of Eastern Ghouta continued regardless, with Iranian and Syrian generals claiming their operations are against terrorists which weren’t covered by the UN resolution. Reports have also emerged of people being taken to hospital with symptoms indicating use of chlorine gas. It is not the first time the government has been accused of using chemical weapons. Turkey also said its operations in Afrin, Northern Syria, would not be affected by the ceasefire. It is going to take more than a toothless UN resolution to end the violence in Syria.

It is not the first time the government has been accused of using chemical weapons.

Since the war began in Syria, the West appears to have been paralysed. Parliament rejected David Cameron’s proposal for airstrikes against the Syrian regime in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians in 2013 whilst Barack Obama’s ‘red line’ proved illusory. Hillary Clinton was decried as a war-hawk for proposing a no-fly zone.

Ironically, the only leader prepared to punish the regime for its depravity was Donald Trump, who ordered attacks on the airbase used to launch the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack. Politicians across the West were, and still are, scarred by Iraq. We should learn the hard-lessons of Iraq, but a Western retreat from the world does nothing to reduce global tyranny and suffering at the hands of despots and dictators.

It’s not the first time we have allowed genocide to take place due to fears of repeating past mistakes; former US special envoy to Somalia Walter Clarke admitted US inaction in the Rwandan genocide in which 800,000 Tutsi were murdered, was for “fear of getting involved in something like a Somalia all over again”.

It’s not the first time we have allowed genocide to take place due to fears of repeating past mistakes

A report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights reported in March 2017 that of the 200,000 civilians killed, 94% were killed by the Syrian-Iranian-Russian alliance. With aerial bombardment being responsible for 57% of the total death toll, how can we see our inaction as anything other than a complete moral failure?

The defence of non-interventionism on the grounds it ‘would end up like Libya’ is an absurd one.

The Libyan civil war ended relatively quickly, and despite becoming a failed state, the Libya Body Count Project puts the number of violent deaths since 2011 at approximately 10,000. With an air-force, Gadhafi could have dragged the conflict out even longer, leaving only more death and destruction. Assad’s air force, and later Russia’s air force, have been responsible for the majority of deaths in the conflict and without air-dominance, the regime would have fallen already.

If you prefer the Syrian situation to the Libyan one because it fits your ideology of anti-imperialism, you are disregarding tangible human suffering. Allowing their hate for the West to blind them to the sufferings of the Syrian people and the brutality of Russian intervention demonstrates the moral bankruptcy of today’s ‘anti-imperialist’ left.

If you prefer the Syrian situation to the Libyan one because it fits your ideology of anti-imperialism, you are disregarding tangible human suffering.

In an illustration of this absurd position, the Stop the War Coalition organised a march against the American attack on the Syrian airbase which was used to launch chemical attacks. At the march, Syrian refugee Hassan Akkad tried to address the crowd, but in widely shared video footage, Hassan could be seen being drowned out by megaphones and chanting. After the encounter, Mr Akkad told the BBC: “I didn’t see them protesting against the chemical attacks, I didn’t see them protesting against Putin bombing Syria for the last two years.”

Describing his encounter, he said “I felt oppressed, it was like being back in Syria. Like how the Syrian police used to mute our voices.” Denying a Syrian the ability to speak about a Syrian issue because his view didn’t fit the anti-imperialist narrative shows that the movement is less about helping Syrians than it is about detesting the West.

Iyad el-Baghdadi, prominent Arab Spring activist and founder of Islam & Liberty, tweeted that an NFZ over Syria would have resulted in “No refugee crisis, far lower casualty figure, no Russian intervention, no Iranian expansionism, no Yemen war, no ISIS, no Yezidi genocide, far less impetus for rise of populism”.

In 2013 Syria was an entirely different picture, the FSA was relatively unified as the main opposition faction and the rise of extremist groups only began in 2014. Of course, we can only speculate what the impacts of an NFZ over Syria would have been.

What we do know, however, is that without the ability to unleash terror and death from the air, the length and bloodiness of the conflict would have undoubtedly been reduced.

Video of Syrian children gasping for breath after a chemical attack or of families buried under rubble does much to boost Al-Qaeda’s narrative of Western complicity in Muslim suffering. From the very beginning, Syrians cries for help have fallen on deaf ears.  

The USA led a campaign to rid Syria of so-called ‘ISIL’, whilst Assad is left untouched as he unleashes barrel bombs, thermobaric weapons, cluster bombs and Iranian sectarian militia on ‘his’ people. This again further reinforces the extremist narrative of a Western war against Islam. Whilst the West offers their condolences and sympathy to Assad’s victims, extremist groups offer protection and defence which is perhaps one of the reasons why extremism has proliferated in the conflict.  

The opportunity for quick or easy solutions is gone, but the necessity for an end to the suffering of the Syrian people has never been greater.

Photograph: Oxfam via Flickr 

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