Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron looked like a cat with a bowl of cream as the leaders of the world’s richest countries, attending the recent G8 summit in Northern Ireland, queued up to sign a communique on the Syrian crisis, following days of wrangling. He achieved the impossible — he persuaded his counterparts to speak with one voice. So that is it then. The most powerful leaders on the planet have spoken. Besieged Syrian civilians can look forward to being saved from a monster, an enemy of his own people, who has no right to call himself their president. I am joking, of course, although this is no laughing matter. In fact, once again, Syrians crying out for help have been mercilessly betrayed.
After hours of debate and discussion, this was their joint message: “We remain committed to achieving a political solution to the crisis based on a vision for a united, inclusive and democratic Syria ... We strongly endorse the decision to hold as soon as possible the Geneva conference on Syria.” The villain who caused this ongoing tragedy, Bashar Al Assad, did not even get a mention and neither did Iran or its agent Hezbollah, which remain under Vladimir Putin’s protection. The communique should have called for Al Assad and the heads of his partners in crime, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah mercenaries, to be hauled to the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Instead, “the wise and the great” urged both the criminal regime and the opposition to destroy organisations affiliated with Al Qaida, which primarily translates to Jabhat Al Nusra that is battling alongside the Free Syrian Army and other opposition forces. The communique is nothing but a waffle, a worthless piece of paper displaying gross impotence. Rather than appear smug, Cameron, the summit’s host, should be hanging his head in shame along with every other high and mighty participant.
Worse, US senators are actively attempting to block Obama’s much overdue decision to arm the opposition, while the West’s state and corporate media fails to take its governments to task, preferring to headline street protests in Brazil over bus fares, Singapore smog and the new Kim Kardashian baby. A missing family pet or an offence committed by a single individual often warrants a media frenzy, but the fact that almost 100,000 Syrian men, women and children have been stripped of their right to life and millions more deprived of their homes, while world leaders do nothing except chat over drinks and canapes, is no longer considered newsworthy.
Evidently, the loss of Syrian life ranks low on the agendas of western governments that permit 21st Century’s most vicious criminal to continue to commit genocide before our eyes. The US and its allies had no such hesitation before thundering into Iraq on a pack of WMD (weapons of mass destruction) lies and gifting this “Arab Cradle of Civilisation” to Iran’s mullahs. They did not think twice about invading Afghanistan, ostensibly to get one criminal, Osama Bin Laden, or occupying the country for 12 years to rid it of the Taliban, who, by the way, is not only going strong but also preparing for dialogue with the Obama administration with a branch office in Doha.
Those were senseless wars, unjust wars with terrible unintended consequences. However, when the US, European Union and Nato are confronted with a genuine humanitarian disaster requiring urgent intervention on moral grounds, they do nothing except hold conferences. One is left to wonder whether some western presidents and prime ministers secretly share the sentiments of the American right-wing radio host Glenn Beck who triggered controversy saying: “We have got to stop intervening in the wars in the Middle East. This sounds awful, but if they’re going to kill each other, let them kill each other ...”
However, while a heavy burden of guilt does indeed rest on the shoulders of those in western corridors of power for paying mere lip service to supporting the Syrian opposition so as not to upset their interests, deals alliances and global strategies, the bulk of the blame must fall on us Arabs for abandoning our Syrian brothers and sisters. Why should we expect or count upon strangers to take care of our own family members when we have reneged on our duty to heed the pleas of Syrian mothers, whose children have been bombed, imprisoned, tortured or mutilated; when we have ignored the hundreds of thousands who have fled their country to live under canvas, awaiting charitable handouts or the hungry wandering around bombed-out cities, hoping to find clean water or a loaf of bread? Can we hold our heads high?
If the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council are not taking the lead in preventing Al Assad and his gangs from their dirty work, what right do we have to condemn Obama and other heads of state for not treating the issue with the seriousness it deserves? When our own governments fail to take meaningful and united action to protect our own people, it is hypocritical to demand intervention from western powers. What use are our armies, our tanks and our missiles if not to protect our own interests? The central role of any military is defence of the nation, in this case the Arab nation — not simply to show off its prowess, weaponry and brass bands during National Day parades.
Sad to say, the Arab League has been as ineffective as the UN Security Council in restraining Al Assad from spilling yet more innocent blood. Merely suspending Syria’s Arab League membership and recalling ambassadors from Damascus are just raps on Al Assad’s knuckles. If we close our eyes and ears to Syrian suffering, how can we expect our allies to rush to our defence if, God forbid, we are ever attacked by a hostile foreign power? Our leaderships must intervene to stop the Syrian regime’s state terrorism — not only because right is on our side, but also as a warning to our enemies that if they cross “red lines”, they will do so at their peril.
John Ruskin said: “The strength and power of a country depends absolutely on the quantity of good men and women in it.” I’ve appealed to our governments to act without success, so now I ask all the good people in Arab lands to open their hearts, stand strong and tell their leaderships: “We are all Syrians”.
Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor is a businessman and chairman of Al Habtoor Group.