In many ways the Syrian conflict illustrates the epitome, and the extreme, of the complicated relationship between Western nations and the Middle East. Most Western audiences find it very easy to denounce Assad and his supporters, but what about their enemies? Those who only read the headlines tend to assume that the Syrian rebels are an altruistic bunch of folks fighting for their freedom, and in some cases those people would be correct. Unfortunately, to make such an assumption in general is naïve and foolish. After such high hopes have been quashed elsewhere (especially Egypt), many – although not all – in Canada have come to understand that simple ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’ dichotomies just do not exist in the Middle East. Contextualizing this conflict remains an exceedingly difficult challenge, and the question of ‘who is fighting Assad?’ would take several blog posts on its own to answer. However, one thing remains certain; a great many of those fighting the ‘evil dictator’, are equally evil. Any propensity to be optimistic about the future should be quelled in light of a great number of events that have come to light, some of which I list below:
- The regime’s human rights abuses are well documented, but the rebels are no better. In September of 2012, Human Rights Watch released a damning report against the rebels and accused them of multiple war crimes. Looting, wanton destruction, and executions have all become common throughout rebel-controlled areas.
- As the war has dragged on, foreign fighters have become a mainstay of rebel groups, many bringing foreign ideologies with them. Islamist groups are increasingly prominent on the battlefield and off; many are implementing Sharia Law in areas under their control.
- Islamists are travelling from all over, even those with no fighting experience, to wage jihad against Assad, while Hezbollah and other Shi’ite groups do the same but in his support.
- The war has spilled into Iraq, resulting in the deaths of Iraqi Security personnel, and although the culprits are unknown they are likely allies of Jabhat al-Nusra; the prominent al-Qaeda affiliated rebel group that has been listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States.
- The battle has also spilled into Israel with artillery shells and bullets being fired on IDF positions, and UN peacekeepers in the Golan Heights being abducted (which was unsurprisingly blamed on Israel by the Assad regime).
- There are already unconfirmed reports of in-fighting between rebel groups, and most of the political front of the opposition is in shambles. Even if Assad falls, most knowledgeable sources would agree that a new and potentially even more devastating civil war is sure to follow.
- Religious figures supporting the rebellion have issued a number of frightening statements, such as permitting fighters to rape of non-Sunni women.
There is so much more to say and more detail to provide, but hopefully this feature will provide a forum for debate on the proper course of action for Canada and the rest of the Western world. In the meantime, the civilians of Syria are bearing the costs of this tragedy; tens of thousands (perhaps over a hundred) dead, hundreds of thousands of refugees and millions of internally displaced persons, and this may only be the start. While putting an end to the Assad regime appears to be necessary, one must take pause to consider the fallout. Previous Middle Eastern interventions have illustrated the dangers of Western hubris regarding our ability to actually improve the situation for civilians on the ground.
It is my opinion that while it is difficult to watch the carnage taking place, Canadians, and all Western nations must stay out of this conflict. Providing humanitarian assistance is vital, but providing weapons is a mistake. Reports are already surfacing of the CIA providing support to rebel groups backing other Middle Eastern countries who have been doing so for some time (see here for a great representation of the internationalization of the conflict). Yet just as quickly we hear reports of weapons falling into the wrong hands. Make no mistake, a well armed and unified Syria under Islamist domination will be no better to its people than Assad was. Additionally, such a situation would likely be even more problematic for the various minorities of Syria and for the wider world as a whole.
Written by: Michael Kravshik
See his blog at www.kraxinlogic.com