Sandwiched somewhere in between Olympic golf and synchronised swimming, Syria has re-emerged in the UK headlines. First the siege of Aleppo, then the successful breaking of the siege, then heartbreaking images of a bloodied and bewildered child victim of Russian airstrikes or Assad-regime barrel bombs.
There’s a lot of humanitarian concern amongst ordinary people, who want to do something. So giving money to help victims is the obvious first thing to do. But as honourable as it is, it does little to halt the rise number of victims.
Western governments argue there needs to be a political settlement – which for them means that the so-called ‘rebels’ have to capitulate to the demands of the international community – something they have not been willing to do until now.
So the killing continues unabated.
But despite the coverage and the concern, there are some things largely left unsaid in the public arena. These are important for us to make sense of, to know what’s happening, and to know where our hearts should be.
Firstly, what is not explained clearly is the complicity of the global powers to maintain the regime, until an acceptable alternative is found. Their hope has been to control and direct the future of Syria, as it did the other Arab uprisings in the region – where the ugly faces of the regimes were changed by bring new agent rulers, whilst retaining the corrupt systems that maintain the influence and control of the West in Muslim lands. Whilst Russia and Iran are clearly known to be supporters of the regime, the role of the United States is often omitted. Both Bashar and his father, Hafiz al Assad, were staunchly supported in Washington. At the outset of the violent suppression of peaceful protest, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was defending Bashar as a reformer (alongside William Hague) – and continued with this till the body count was approaching six figures. This continued until the regime looked unsustainable – thereafter began the attempts to forge a western-compliant regime from the opposition, which have so far failed.
US Special Forces are known to be active on the ground, but what is forgotten is that Russian military involvement started after meetings between Obama and Putin. To any onlooker it would appear that American silence on Ukraine has been the trade-off for cooperating over Syria. So when Russian planes bomb the opposition to Assad, it has to be seen as having US agreement.
Secondly, what is not explained is ‘why’ the desire to support a genocidal murderous regime. It is nothing to do with ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’. In Britain, almost all the coverage of the conflict revolves around the story of ‘ISIS’ – the armed group who illegitimately appointed themselves as a Caliphate. But this is a complete red herring. The influence of ISIS in the region is limited. It is one of a number of groups controlling various areas of land. Whilst many groups opposing the regime have had conflicts with each other, ISIS’s main focus has never been the regime, but rival groups. And however abhorrent their actions, they are dwarfed by the actions of the regime. Estimates for July 2016 alone put the death count due to Assad’s forces at 769 people, Russian forces at 239 people, ISIS 156 people, armed opposition factions at 67 people and International Coalition forces 138 people.
Syria is not about ‘terrorism’. It is about Islam.
Since the earliest days the opposition have openly worn their Islamic character, so long suppressed by the secular regime. There is a broad consensus amongst opposition leaders that if the regime falls, the character of any government that replaces it should be Islamic.
Hence all the talk of ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’, all the exaggeration of the profile of ISIS, all the minimising of the crimes of the Assad regime, all the American and Russian involvement in the region is to prevent this. They would, it seems, rather see half the population displaced, hundreds of thousands killed and many more injured than see a government that ruled with Islam for the benefit of all the people.
Thirdly, it is right that many Muslims accuse Iran for its murderous crimes. But what is overlooked is the response of other governments in the region. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Gulf Countries and Turkey had the military capability – either individually or collectively – to end this ongoing slaughter, but not the political will. Sure, people praise them for their help with refugees and aid. But had an independent state in the West been faced with a destabilising war on its neighbour it would be unthinkable for them not to intervene in their own national interest. So the only reason these states act against their national interests, never mind against the interests of a population being slaughtered, is to comply with the will of the powerful global players. The most recent example of this is Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia, as well as the talk of resuming relations with Damascus. This is not just immoral, but a betrayal on more than one front.
Faced with this confused mess, how are ordinary Muslims thousands of miles away in Britain supposed to make sense of it? In short, we should be against Assad’s regime; against the games played by the global powers active in the region; against the local governments that are, by their actions, complicit in Assad’s crimes or complicit in western policy for the region, by their inaction. We are not with ISIS and their false ‘state’ and abhorrent actions. But we should be with the sincere people of Syria who want to see the back of this regime. They stood up to have a voice, they fought to defend their homes, they trusted in Allah when no one helped them, and they said in large numbers they favoured an Islamic future.
Practically speaking that means we should be aware and expose the crimes of the Assad regime and its allies – Russia, Iran and its militias. We should be aware and expose the US led political solution for political transition, which is nothing but a strategy for the US to maintain the Assad regime or supplant it with a compliant alternative. And we should yearn for a real Khilafah Rashidah to replace the post-colonial cronies, commonly called ‘rulers’ in the Middle East today.