The death of Anna Campbell in Syria and subsequent government and media response highlights, once again, that national interests, rather than and any consistent values, determine who Britain considers a hero or terrorist.
The uprising in Syria placed the Muslim community in Britain in the public eye even more as much of the slogans in the early days of the uprising were full of Islamic slogans. Due to this, every word, speech, action and fundraising event came under intense microscopic scrutiny by the media and government in the UK.
The Muslims in Britain seeing the uprising from their brothers and sisters and then the brutal crackdown by the Assad regime organised humanitarian aid via aid convoys, raised money and many took to social media and broadcast media to deal with the propaganda.
Many saw their homes raided as a result, they were harassed by the security services and were accused of engaging in terrorism by the government and much of the media.
But the case of Anna Campbell has been projected very differently to the usual narrative by the media and government. The blonde, 26-year-old from Lewes in East Sussex volunteered to fight with the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) – the all-female brigade of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Campbell fought in Deir az-Zor against ISIS and also in Afrin, where Campbell was reportedly killed by a Turkish airstrike. The YPJ announced via Twitter on 15 March 2018 : “Our British comrade Hêlîn Qereçox (Anna Campbell) has become the symbol of all women after resisting against fascism in Afrin to create a free world. We promise to fulfill Şehîd (martyr) Hêlîn’s struggle and honour her memory in our fight for freedom.”
The guardian described Anna Campbell as: “People have called Anna a hero and a martyr.” The Daily Mirror described her as “daring and fearless”. The New York Times went with the following headline: ‘The young feminist who died for my people”. International animal rights organisation PETA honoured Anna Campbell in recognition of her compassion “for all animals – both human and non-human”.
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Anna Campbell is being hailed a hero, whilst may others who travelled to fight against the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad have been labelled terrorists and found guilty of acts of terrorism. There has been no talk of Anna Campbell being considered a terrorist, unlike many others who travelled to Syria to defend the Ummah against the brutal tactics of the regime. Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar of Birmingham were sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2014 for acting against the Assad regime in Syria.
Whilst Anna Campbell is being held as a symbol of heroism, Jamshed Javeed was jailed for six years in 2015 for the mere intention of going to Syria to support the victims of the Assad regime. Speaking after sentencing, Det Ch Supt Tony Mole from Greater Manchester Police said : “Javeed was an otherwise law-abiding man who had a responsible job, a child and another one on the way.”
Bashar al-Assad was being wined and dined at Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, before the uprisings began. When the uprisings began in early 2011, the then British Foreign Secretary described al-Assad as a reformer . This support has remained in place as the UK has done little against al-Assad aside form issued lots of rhetoric.
The British position on Syria is that some people can go and fight for some groups and face no sanctions, whilst others will be sentenced for years, including not even setting foot on Syrian soil, but just having the intention.
This is why fighters from the UK that fight with pro-Assad groups are not classed as terrorists whilst those who go to fight al-Assad factions are considered terrorists.
Engaging in violence overseas is considered by the UK as unlawful, but in practice, it’s not unlawful for everyone. The difference comes down to British strategic interests and who the government is supporting, in this case it’s Bashar al-Assad.