How Syria is Being Ripped Apart by Foreign Meddling and Sectarian War
An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube shows Syrian children waving the pre-Baath former national flag during an anti-regime protest in the northwestern Idlib province.
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Everything about Syria is steeped in miasma: is this conflict politically and sociologically definable as a civil war? Has it become a sectarian war? How strong and widespread is the Salafist (and global Jihadi) presence? Was militarization wise or did the opposition have no choice in this regard? Are the armed groups able to defeat the regime’s forces or will there be a perpetual, bloody stalemate whose only certainty is Syria’s complete physical destruction and long-term division? Is a negotiated outcome, that is, a political solution the only possibility, or is it uninformed to speak of political solutions at this stage of the conflict?
Despite this fog, there are, in my mind, several certainties. One, Syria is not a clear-cut case of bad regime versus good society, for that society is not at one regarding the violent overthrow of the state. This is not a mass, democratic revolution but a Sunni rebellion. Any spontaneity to its genesis, including the goal of non-violent resistance, came to a speedy end, provided with a significant impetus by the flow of foreign arms, money, and intelligence, including from the US. A substantial ‘silent’ majority desperately wishes to avoid Syria’s disintegration because they simply love their country, not the regime or armed rebels, and prefer reform and a negotiated settlement.
Two, it is false to equate, as the regime portrays it, every Syrian’s opposition to the Ba’athi state with acting on behalf of Zionists and imperialists, and equally false to suggest that advocating a negotiated settlement equates to buying into the regime’s self-narrative of an indispensable anti-imperialist frontline.
Three, foreign powers, especially Washington, several of its NATO allies, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, the latter essentially monarchic police states, are violating international law in pursuing subversion and violent regime change, and share primary responsibility for the radicalization, destabilization, and horrific violence inflicted on the people of Syria. Washington is interested in regime change, not in ensuring that neither side prevails to force a settlement.
Four, the fundamental truth is the Syrian people’s case for dignity and freedom, rights brutally denied and violated for so long by fearsome regimes such as the Syrian Ba’ath. The revolt against the Ba’athist regime, despite its now tainted nature, is not a conspiracy.
Five, despite Syria’s social diversity and divided loyalties, the fact that the regime has many supporters, and that a majority desires peaceful change, calls for the Syrian socio-political system to become no less than a civil, human rights-respecting, citizenship-based state. Still, Syria’s internal complexity and regional role requires special care and objective realism. Take Aleppo as a microcosm of Syrian complexity, the largest Syrian city containing some 82% Sunnis. Listening to the western, Qatari, or Saudi media, one would think that the city erupted into spontaneous rebellion and from the beginning was fighting a heroic war against the regime’s military and security forces. By objective accounts, however, Aleppo’s denizens supported the Damascus government by a large majority, many of them paying the price of Free Syrian Army reprisals. Now, since the penetration of armed groups and the violent zealotry of Salafists and foreign Jihadis, with their suicide bombings, kidnappings, and beheadings, looting and rape, as well as heavy, indiscriminate government firepower leading to the slow obliteration of this great historic and commercial city - one wonders what has happened to its people and their loyalties.
We only know that government forces and loyalists still hold the city, minus a couple of districts, as they do most of the country. Countless people have fled, many of their empty homes looted and ransacked by their would-be liberators, fearful of returning to rebel reprisals. Aleppo’s Islamist leaning al-Tawhid Division, ostensibly part of the FSA, contains numerous-armed factions, including many Salafi Islamists, who, themselves, are varied, ranging from Brotherhood types to al-Qaida-like extremists. There is also quite noticeable and significant Salafi literalist influence among the armed rebels generally. The disparate factions that make up the FSA are largely Islamist-dominated. Its battalions contain thousands of fighters of the Salafi/Jihadi group, Jabhat al-Nusra, a mainstay of the al-Tawhid in Aleppo.