Saturday, 7 November 2015

Why is Russia bombing my town?

 Raed Fares

 'While Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that he is bombing Islamic State “terrorists” in Kafranbel, this cannot be true, or there is no way I would be able to move about freely. Kafranbel is known for its moderation and civil activism; I know that these are Putin’s real targets.

 If civil activism in Kafranbel declines, though, I will blame Russia. One reason for our thriving civil society is that we are being defended by Free Syrian Army fighters who grew up in the town and are firmly committed to democracy. These fighters, who have received U.S. assistance, serve as a check on any extremist groups that try to cause trouble. Russia is bombing the pro-democracy fighters of Kafranbel most heavily, almost as if it wants the extremists to grow stronger. For this reason, Russia has emerged as an enemy of civil society here. Local activists have taken the rare steps of burning a Russian flag and protesting alongside local Free Syrian Army fighters to highlight this point.

 It’s hypocritical for Putin to bomb Kafranbel in the name of “fighting extremism.” Kafranbel residents have gone to great lengths to empower women; monitors note the decline of women’s rights in Russia since Putin took power. Residents of Kafranbel have worked hard to create an inclusive and tolerant atmosphere; Putin’s state priests have declared a “holy war” in Syria after less than a month of combat. I’ve been under bombardment in Syria for four and a half years without declaring a “holy war.” Why does Putin find it so hard to restrain himself?
 Americans should not be so passive in the face of Putin’s farcical anti-Islamic State campaign. Kafranbel’s thriving civil society is in many ways modeled after that of the United States, and in some cases has even received U.S. funding. Putin long ago made clear that he is no fan of civil society in general, so when he assaults the free people of Kafranbel (or Ukraine), Americans should take notice. I hope that the American people will come to the defense of Kafranbel and all Syrians who are fighting for democracy, because their country’s current behavior, as a bystander to atrocities against free people, cannot possibly be a true reflection of what the United States stands for.'

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