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