[Vredeslijst] Ander Nieuws week 51: Schizofrenie van vreugde en rouw om Aleppo

Jeff meisner op xs4all.nl
Ma Dec 19 23:06:41 CET 2016

The 'Palestinisation' of the Syrian people

Or how Aleppo and Syria were abandoned by the world.

by Robin Yassin-Kassab
17 December 2016


In solidarity with Aleppo, the lights on the Eiffel Tower were 
extinguished. Elsewhere in Paris, and in London, Amsterdam, Oslo and 
Copenhagen, people demonstrated against the slaughter. Turks rallied 
outside Russian and Iranian embassies and consulates in Istanbul, Ankara 
and Erzurum. The people of Sarajevo, who have their own experience of 
genocide, staged a big protest.

The protests are nothing like as large as they were when the United 
States bombed Iraq, but they are welcome nonetheless. If this level of 
support had been apparent over the last six years, it would have made a 
real difference.

Perhaps it is making a difference even now. Public sympathy for the 
victims may have pressured Vladimir Putin to allow those in the 
surviving liberated sliver of Aleppo to evacuate, rather than face 

At the time of writing, the fate of the deal is in doubt, subject to the 
whims of the militias on the ground. If it works out and the tens of 
thousands currently trapped are allowed to leave - the best possible 
outcome - then we will be witnesses to an internationally brokered 
forced population transfer.

This is both a war crime and a crime against humanity, and a terrible 
image of the precarious state of the global system. The weight of this 
event, and its future ramifications, deserve more than just a few 

The 'war on terrorism' excuse

The abandonment of Aleppo is a microcosm of the more general abandonment 
of Syria's democratic revolution. It exposes the failures of the Arab 
and Muslim worlds, of the West, and of humanity as a whole.

Many Syrians expected the global left would be first to support their 
cause, but most leftist commentators and publications retreated into 
conspiracy theories, Islamophobia, and inaccurate geopolitical analysis, 
and swallowed gobbets of Assadist propaganda whole. Soon, they were 
repeating the "war on terror" tropes of the right.

The Obama administration provided a little rhetorical support and 
sometimes allowed its allies to send weapons to the Free Army. 
Crucially, however, Obama vetoed supply of the anti-aircraft weapons the 
Free Army, so desperately needed to counter Assad's scorched-earth 
campaign. In August 2013, when Assad killed 1,500 people with sarin gas 
in the Damascus suburbs, Obama's chemical "red line" vanished, and the 
US more or less publicly handed Syria over to Russia and Iran.

Keeping to the "war on terror" framework, the US bombs the Islamic State 
of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and others in Syria, hitting the symptoms 
rather than the cause of the crisis. Europe, meanwhile, declares a 
crisis over the refugees arriving on its shores. So long as Assad 
remains in power, most of these refugees will not return home.

As for the Arab states, a combination of sectarianism, Iranian 
domination, and counter-revolutionary fervour led several to collude in 
Assad's war. Others supported elements of the opposition, but in a 
disorganised and tepid manner.

ISIL and Assad winning

The tragedy has also exposed the weaknesses of Syrian society, 
vulnerabilities which Assad so cleverly manipulated. By organising 
massacres (particularly in 2012, on the plain between Homs and Hama), by 
releasing Salafist-Jihadists from prison, even as he tortured and killed 
thousands of democratic activists, then by inviting in foreign Shia 
militias, Assad engineered a sectarian breakdown.

Too many Syrians fell too easily into his trap. When, for instance, 
Zahran Alloush - founder of Jaish al-Islam and himself a beneficiary of 
Assad's prison amnesty - called for Damascus to be "cleansed of Shia 
influence", he played right into Assad's hands.

Yet, the revolution exposed strengths which Syrians didn't know they 
possessed. Communities held elections and organised themselves in local 
councils. They set up women's centres, independent trades unions and 
free radio and TV stations. Aleppo was by far the largest centre of such 
civil society initiatives.

It's not surprising when conservative states allow a revolution to 
drown. It's more shocking that they stand idle as Arab sovereignty 

Assad lost the war he provoked. By September 2015, when the Russian 
bombing started, his depleted army held less than a fifth of the 

He calculated correctly, however, that powerful friends would come to 
his aid. When Russia arrived it employed the usual excuse - the "war on 
terror", in this case on ISIL, also known as ISIS - but less than 20 
percent of its bombs fell anywhere near ISIL. Instead, its planes 
focused relentlessly on eviscerating the Free Syrian Army, as well as 
the civilian infrastructure in liberated areas. They burned schools, 
hospitals and markets. They dropped cluster munitions, incendiary bombs 
and bunker busters - banned in civilian areas - on residential blocks. 
These, too, are war crimes.

The majority of the ground forces surrounding Aleppo are not Syrian. 
Most are Shia jihadists from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, 
funded and trained by Iran. As well as these proxies, Iran has its own 
Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in theatre, often commanding 
Syrians. In Iraq too, the sectarian Popular Mobilisation Units are under 
IRGC command. In Lebanon, the Iranian-inspired and funded Hezbollah 

Iranian expansionism accompanies the sectarian/political cleansing of 
areas of Homs and Damascus, as well as Aleppo, creating demographic 
changes which won't be reversed by another consignment of missiles.

Victory for Assad is also a victory for ISIL. As Aleppo was being 
subjugated, ISIL retook Palmyra, capturing important weapons stocks. At 
the same time, an increasing number of Syrians facing sectarian 
aggression - though still a minority - are buying into the nihilist ISIL 

None of this stays in Syria. So how do the Arabs respond? Hamas 
organised a protest in Gaza, Kuwaitis demonstrated outside the Russian 
embassy, and Qatar cancelled its national day celebrations. It's not 
nearly enough.

With good reason, the revolutionary thinker Yassin al-Haj Saleh wrote of 
the "Palestinisation" of the Syrian people. Sixty-eight years after 
failing to defend Palestine, Arab states have proved incapable of 
defending Syria from Russian, Iranian and ISIL occupation. They have, 
however, taught a repeat lesson to their subjects - that sovereignty is 
meaningless without democratic control. This imperative, which 
galvanised the 2011 revolutions, is today more relevant than ever.

Robin Yassin-Kassab is the author of the novel The Road from Damascus. 
He is a co-author with Leila al-Shami of the book on the Syrian 
revolution and war, Burning Country (Pluto, January 2016). He co-edits 
www.pulsemedia.org and blogs at www.qunfuz.com .

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not 
necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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