Friday, 6 May 2016

Aleppo in a time of monsters

Aleppo in a time of monsters

 Muhammad Idrees Ahmad:

'There are no conflicts in the Middle East that date back millennia. The conflict in Syria is just over five years old. Nothing about it is fixed. In its scope and its intensity, in its balance of forces and its cast of characters, the conflict has been constantly evolving. The only element that has remained static, however, is the international response.  

 In speaking of the horrors unfolding in Syria, it is hard to avoid a certain sense of déjà vu. Everything that can be said about Aleppo has already been said about Homs, Houla, Daraya and Douma. But with each new horror comes a growing sense that, for all the obtrusive violence, for all our pleas, we are plunging into the deep, smothered by apathy, abandoned by hope.

 Syria today is a free-fire zone with no check on criminality. The red line that Barack Obama set was blithely crossed. In having his bluff called, the constitutionally weak president was himself stung. Reluctant to initiate action in Syria, he has become fearful of setting new limits - lest they are crossed, further exposing his cowardice.

 Barack Obama has betrayed the people of Syria twice over. First by drawing a line on chemical weapons, at a time when most Syrians were being killed by conventional means; and then by failing to enforce it, giving Assad an unconditional license to kill by any means, including chemical weapons.

 Barack Obama is on his way out. He has nothing to gain politically from confronting Assad. And morally - well, he is "proud of this moment", a time when he has abandoned Syrians to Assad's inexhaustible appetite for killing. Nearly three times as many people were killed in the two years after Obama's embarrassing climb-down than had died in the two years before - victims of "ancient hatreds", no doubt.

 The US, however, is no mere bystander. As in Bosnia, it has actively blocked the transfer of much needed anti-aircraft weaponry to Syrian rebels, allowing the regime and Russia to bomb with impunity. And by accepting Russia's "war on terror" rationale, the US has made itself complicit in Russia's crimes. The US legitimised Russia and the regime's ferocious aerial assault, while its military spokesman alleged that "it's primarily al-Nusra who holds Aleppo, and of course, al-Nusra is not part of the cessation of hostilities." The Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's local franchise, has a small presence in the city; it certainly doesn't "hold Aleppo".

 In 2005, with much fanfare, the UN had introduced the doctrine of the "right to protect" (R2P), codifying "never again" into a norm of international conduct. Its timely application in Syria might have saved thousands of lives. But even as the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon was acknowledging the "shame" of its failure in Rwanda and Srebrenica, the UN was providing cover to the regime's starvation sieges across Syria, censoring its documents, and obfuscating responsibility with the anodyne language of "both sides". But as the Italian writer and holocaust survivor Primo Levi noted, "to confuse [perpetrators] with their victims is a moral disease or an aesthetic affectation or a sinister sign of complicity; above all, it is a precious service rendered (intentionally or not) to the negators of truth".

 Where once "no justice, no peace" was considered a truism, demands for justice are now deemed a threat to "stability". Peace without justice is the nostalgia hankered after by the negators of truth. Preserving truth is therefore the first step towards confronting fascism.

 It is by now clear that no power will intervene to aid the Syrian people. But regional powers, unlike the US, will not be shielded from the consequences of a regime victory. In the form of the "refugee crisis", Europe is already feeling the repercussions. It is time for regional powers to step up and provide vetted rebel groups with portable misile launchers to target regime aircraft. Only by revoking the regime's aerial capacity can it be coaxed into negotiating in good faith. R2P and "never again" were examples of false hope. The new moral order that was then struggling to come forth is now dead. But that is no reason to let the monsters reign. 

 People have a right to defend themselves; let's give them the means.'

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