Rose-tinted glasses change nothing

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

A regular reader asked me last week on Facebook: "What do you think about Syria? I feel Sooo heart broken?"

This was before the news dropped of the latest atrocity in that conflict.

In case you missed it, here's the essence. Rebels filmed one of their leaders, Abu Sakkar, mutilating the corpse of a Syrian army soldier with a knife and eating the dead man's heart.

As he does so, his comrades chant: “I swear to God we will eat your hearts and your livers, you soldiers of Bashar the dog.”

“Allahu akbar.”

Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch was quoted in the UK Mirror saying that he had seen an unedited copy of the video and rebel sources confirmed Abu Sakkar’s identity.

Bouckaert added that Abu Sakkar instructs his men to “slaughter the Alawites and take their hearts out to eat them”.

(The Alawites are Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s religious sect.) (The rebels are Sunni Muslims and the Alawites are Shiites – but don't draw any superficial conclusions from that.)

Now this episode comes a day after UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced £10-million in military aid and £30-million in humanitarian aid to the rebels.

That in turn comes after Russia has shipped anti-aircraft missiles to the Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad.

What on earth is going on?

To get a sense of where the rot starts, one has to go back in history.

Up until the end of World War 1, Syria was part of the Ottoman Empire which dominated the world stage for 623 years until November 1922.

Atrocities perpetrated by the Ottomans against Armenians and Greeks and Assyrians led to systematic massacres of some three million people.

With the defeat of the Ottomans at the end of the war, the Empire was partitioned into several territories by the League of Nations.

The Republic of Turkey was created.France was given control of the provinces of Syria and Lebanon.

The United Kingdom was given mandates over Mesopotamia and Palestine. (Palestine was then subdivided into Palestine and Transjordan.)

The other parts of the Empire on the Arabian Peninsula were incorporated into what is today Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

The French then gave independence to Syria and Lebanon in 1946. There followed a series of military coups until 1958 when Syria joined with Egypt to form the United Arab Republic. That lasted until the time of my birth in September 1961 when Egypt and Syria separated.

In the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Syria lost control of the Golan Heights; which Israel occupies to this day.

Three years later, in November 1970, Hafiz al-Assad, a member of the socialist Ba'th Party and the minority Alawi sect, seized power in a bloodless coup. Syria remained relatively stable under his reign until he died in 2000.

His son, Bashar, was then "approved as president by popular referendum", first in July 2000 and then again in 2007.

Then came the "Arab Spring". The democratic world, gazing adoringly through rose-tinted glasses, rushed forward to recognise rebels willy-nilly as the voice of the people.

By December last year, the "National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces" (as the rebels are formally known) was given official recognition by more than 130 countries as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

How wonderfully naïve…

So here is what I think about Syria: We have not learnt a basic lesson that those who try to impose democracy upon undemocratic states nearly always leave the place worse off than it was.

Witness the conflagration that followed the death of Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito. Look at the bloody violence in Iraq following the removal of Saddam Hussein. Look at Libya after the ousting of Muammar al-Gaddafi – remember that the American ambassador in Benghazi was murdered by the "good guys".

What's the solution?

There is none. This is a conflict dating back more than 1 000 years that continues to play itself out to this day. There are no good guys or bad guys. The best that we in the rest of the world can do is not take sides.

That means we sit out the conflict and wait for the dust to settle and for a winner to emerge. We close commerce with Syria until stability is reached. And we do not provide arms to anyone on either side. Most importantly, we provide refuge for those fleeing the conflict.

And for those of us who believe in such things, we could pray for a miracle.