Syria increasingly resembles Dante’s Inferno with its trapped people desperately crying out for help. The massacre on May 25 in Al Houla of 108 people, including 49 women and 32 children, most of them under 10, and another massacre in Al Qubeir on Wednesday which left about 100 dead, should have cleared any doubts anyone had about the evil, utterly despicable nature of what we are dealing with in Syria. The UN-Arab peace envoy says most of the victims were slaughtered or shot point blank.
And all this has once again happened on the watch of the world community, including Bashar Al Assad’s Russian and Chinese protectors. The UN Security Council responded to Al Houla with another pointless resolution. Being described as “Syria’s Srebrenica,” the Al Houla massacre was supposed to have been the tipping point and watershed in this one-sided war. However, the global outrage to Al Houla has failed to prevent two more such attacks since. When is it going to end?
I wonder how we would have reacted if the Nero in Damascus wasn’t a Muslim? Would we still be lolling in our hammocks, helplessly wringing our hands? If it had been Israel or some such regime persecuting the believers, Muslims would have been out on the streets across the globe, demanding the oppressor’s head. Unfortunately, Al Assad and his band of killers pretend to be from amongst us.
So even as their own army rains down death and destruction on their homes, all Syrians could expect is more handwringing from fellow Arabs and platitudes from the world community. The US and company who came up with rather original pretexts to take out Saddam Hussain insist time is still not right to intervene in Syria. If only Syrians had oil, as much as to rouse the West’s democratic sensibilities!
More than 12,000 people have been killed, entire cities have been razed, hundreds of thousands have fled to neighbouring countries and the time is still not right? Clearly, when western interests clash with western ideals, ideals lose hands down. And the western interests for now apparently lie in the continuance of the hated regime.
Even Israel, that all these years saw Syria as a challenge to its tyranny, is loath to see the regime collapse, fearing the Islamists may replace the Baathists — just as they have in Tunisia, Libya, and possibly, in Egypt. This also explains the West’s reluctance to get excessively involved in Syria.
One is no fan of western interventions and there are a million reasons why — from Vietnam to Afghanistan to Iraq. But if there’s one country that really and desperately needs international intervention, it’s Syria.
It’s more than a year now since Syrians came out on the streets, rather diffidently demanding a bit of the Arab Spring. All attempts by the Arab-Muslim countries and international community have failed to rein in the regime. The UN-Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, has exhausted himself shuttling between Damascus and world capitals but has gotten nowhere.
The question is how many innocent people must die before the international community concludes enough is enough?
What is the magic number, as former US envoy to Nato, Kurt Volker, would ask, at which the world community concludes it’s time to end its inaction? Is killing of 12,000 civilians not good enough to justify international action? What is the point of the United Nations and its fine institutions if they cannot stop this endless extermination of a people at the hands of their own government?
It’s this diplomatic dithering that claimed thousands of precious lives in the Balkans, giving the world a new word called “ethnic cleansing”. It took the catastrophe of Srebrenica when more than 8,000 Muslim boys and men were massacred with their hands tied behind their backs to prod the world into action.
Under pressure from the Arab-Muslim states, president Bill Clinton gave the go-ahead for a UN-Nato peace force led by 20,000 US soldiers. It was the combined US-Nato air power coupled with the resistance on the ground by the Bosnian and Croat fighters that ended the Balkan genocide. Around the same time, another ethnic conflict was raging in Africa. But by the time the world community woke up to the genocide in Rwanda, it was already too late. A staggering 800,000 people were hacked to pieces, literally. Of course, what’s going on in Syria is different from what happened in Rwanda or the Balkans. But those one-sided wars offer a vital lesson: Timely international action or inaction could make that critical difference between life and death for thousands.
The world needs to act on Syria before it’s too late. It mustn’t wait for another Srebrenica-like atrocity to scramble into action. The Syrian people have demonstrated exemplary courage and perseverance in the face of terror over the past one year. But they badly need the support of the world community and fellow Arabs now.
The Baathists have repeatedly demonstrated that they could go to any extent to hold on to power. They did it before when Hafez Al Assad sent in the tanks in 1982 to crush the Islamists in Hama, killing more than 10,000 people. We will see more such massacres, if his diabolic doctor son isn’t stopped. Syria has long passed the stage of the UN resolutions. What it needs is action and soon.
A Balkan-style or even a Libyan model of intervention sounds like a bad idea but it may be the only hope for the Syrian people. A Yemen-like solution isn’t feasible in Syria. For all his sins, Ali Abdullah Saleh did care for the world and Arab opinion. Under the circumstances, an international peace force under the UN mandate, backed by the distinct possibility of use of force by world powers, may be a way out. If that’s too ideal a solution, at least arm the Syrian rebels and enforce a “no fly zone” on Syria, as was done in Iraq and recently in Libya. Arab support played a critical role in putting an end to the carnage in Libya last year. Today, Syria demands their attention.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf-based commentator. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/aijazzakasyed