Monday, 20 March 2017

Mirror, mirror, on the wall


 Usman A Khan Tahir:

 'This month marks six years since the start of the Syrian Revolution. This was a movement that, for a brief period in March 2011, looked like it might bring peaceful change to an authoritarian regime. By that point, the dictators of Tunisia and Egypt had already stepped down amid massive protests, seemingly marking a nonviolent end to decades of dictatorial rule in each country. Sadly, though, Syria was not going to be that lucky. Six years on, the brutalities and killings kept on rising to such an alarming level that the United Nations stopped counting the casualties. According to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research (SCPR) estimate, nearly 470,000 have died in the conflict. The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) estimates that the Assad regime and Russia are responsible for over 95% of the civilian deaths.

 Ironically, the two actors that are primarily responsible for 93-95% of civilian deaths are often lionised by a large segment of people both in the world and Pakistan as some sort of bulwark against western imperialism, Zionism, and Gulf-backed agendas.

 Syria has become a grand mirror that shows everyone for who they really are; all you have to do is peer into it.

 The Syrian Revolution tested the global left by posing a simple enough question: Which side do you support? Do you support the popular struggle against dictatorship, cronyism and tyranny? Or are you with Assad’s repressive regime, his staunch backers Russia and Iran, and Iran-backed proxies like Hezbollah along with the chaotic mélange of sectarian militias?

 Unfortunately, too many have consistently failed this test.

 When hospitals were bombed in Aleppo, the left looked elsewhere. When schools and markets were bombed in Idlib, the left and Assad chauvinists were frantically searching for clues to pin the blame on brave first responders known as the White Helmets—who were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for their humanitarian efforts of bringing people out of rubble created by regime and Russian bombings.

 From the very beginning of Syria’s revolution – way before the rise of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) and the Syrian al-Qaeda a few years later – a whole section of the left opposed the popular uprising against the Assad regime. They sided not with the oppressed but the oppressor.

 The revolution has continued unmasking states, media outlets, journalists, organisations, individuals and leaders.

 The Syrian Revolution didn’t receive the international recognition and support that it thoroughly deserved. One can’t pin that on a lack of information. Syria’s brave citizen journalists, as well as foreign reporters, have consistently struggled and even died while attempting to expose the regime-induced carnage and horror. The likes of Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik were killed in Homs in February 2012. Ali Mustafa, a Canadian freelance photojournalist, was killed by regime bombs in in Aleppo in March 2014. Journalist Kenji Goto and two aid workers – Alan Henning and Peter Kassig – were beheaded by ISIS. These are just a few of the names who chose to go to Syria in order to document and report the war out of a profound sense of human solidarity, and who ended up paying the ultimate price.

 Despite the tremendous struggles of Syrian activists and citizen journalists to document the truth, pro-Assad media outlets all over the world, including Pakistan, focused more on demonising the revolution as a NATO-backed “regime change” operation and labelling all opposition as “jihadist head choppers”. Some others chose to focus instead on the White Helmets, completely ignoring the merciless regime and Russian bombing campaign that uprooted the Syrian people from their land, creating the worst humanitarian catastrophe after the World War II. Before the war, Syria’s population was 22 million. Today, half of those people have fled their homes and more than 13 million people are in urgent need of assistance. Nearly five million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries. Turkey hosts more than 2.7 million. Hundreds of thousands of others are in Lebanon and Jordan.

 The revolution not only unmasked the obvious enemies and Assad sympathisers but it also ripped the mask off of states that only cared about their own vested interests, not the interest of Syrians. When Aleppo was being battered and pulverised by all sorts of Russian and regime weapons, including cluster bombs, incendiary munitions, and bunker-buster bombs, Turkish forces were only a few miles away in the city of al-Bab. A remarkable volte-face of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed what many had suspected all along: that Turkish involvement in Syria had nothing much to do with Syrians – the real objective was to prevent Syrian Kurds from forming their own territory in northern Syria.

 Jordan, on the other hand, has consistently used the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front—a powerful force comprising of around 25,000 fighters operating in Deraa and Quneitra—as border guards for Jordan. Furthermore, Jordan, while exerting its influence over the Southern Front, has insisted upon these rebels to only attack ISIS and not the regime.

 The rampant xenophobia against refugees in Europe, North America and elsewhere made it all the more apparent that governments there were only concerned with keeping Syrian refugees at bay along with counter-terrorism.

 A lot can also be said about the role of United Nations. Assad regime consistently denied aid to Syrians in Aleppo, Madaya and other besieged parts of Syria rendering UN utterly helpless and obsolete. To add insult to injury, as many as 14 aid workers were killed in rural western Aleppo on September 19, 2016, when air strikes targeted a UN and Syrian Red Crescent envoy carrying aid. On March 1, UN investigators in a detailed report concluded Syrian air force was behind a “meticulously planned and ruthlessly carried out” air strike on a UN and Syrian Red Crescent convoy at Orum al-Kubra, in rural western Aleppo on September 19.

 Donald Trump’s administration also got in on the bloodletting this week by bombing a mosque full of people. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the airstrike took place in Al Jinah, a village between the cities of Idlib and Aleppo. It said 42 people had been killed, most of them civilians, and described the attack as a “massacre.” The US military was quick to deny targeting the mosque. A spokesman for the United States Central Command said the American aircraft had struck a nearby building, but did not hit the mosque.

 Battered, bruised, demonised, and ‘hijacked’: the revolution enters its seventh year. Keep the mirror handy, though.

 Back in 2013, Syrian journalist Wassim al-Adl poignantly described what the revolution was all about: “Videos of tens of thousands of people demonstrating against tyranny gave way to the images of deserted streets in derelict towns. Of tanks driving up main streets and planes bombing villages. The cynics who didn’t bat an eyelid for the thousands of innocents who were shot like dogs now nod their heads knowingly and speak of a revolution ‘hijacked’. They can go to hell. This revolution was not about an ideology or a religion, and it wasn’t about grand political scheming, it was about normal people who stopped what they were doing to stand up for what they believed in, and they did that even though they were afraid and, in many cases, would lose their lives. Injustice can only sustain itself through fear, and on that day we broke fear forever. This is what the revolution was about I don’t ever want to forget that.” '

Usman A Khan Tahir

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