The Mancunion

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The misrepresentation of the Syrian conflict

Ryan Khurana discusses the damage caused by the misinformation and over-simplification that surrounds the ongoing conflict in Syria


As the world focuses on the global refugee crisis, which has sent countless souls into Europe and safe areas of the Middle East, there seems to be a neglect of the cause of the crisis, and an unrealistic reporting of what needs to be done. The war in Syria and the catastrophe in Iraq caused by so-called ISIS are ongoing conflicts that will keep the refugee crisis going indefinitely unless they are resolved.

Considering that many western nations feel an obligation to help those fleeing conflict, a compelling case can be made for us to have a similar obligation to help them return home and rebuild their countries. This line of thinking, however, has been harmed by gross misrepresentations of the conflict in much of the western media, and by different humanitarian groups who seem to be more concerned with their own funding and image than providing sustainable development. The horrors of the conflict have been reported so viscerally that many have become numb to the pain that is ongoing. Much of this reporting has been little more than fabricated porno-violence, which has prevented a more diplomatic assessment what is happening on the ground.

In 2011, even before the war began, there was a horrible misreading of the situation by western onlookers. A culture had grown where liberalism was not only what we deemed ideal for ourselves, but something that needed to be exported throughout the globe — including to our enemies in order to make them our allies — by force if necessary.

The failures of Iraq and Afghanistan had made people lose their stomach for the force aspect, but the underlying trend remained present. This is why the Obama administration, under then-Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, pursued a pro-Arab Spring policy, regardless of whether the nations were our allies or not. Whereas the Bush administration had the mentality of a missionary, going to enemy nations and “correcting” their errors, the Obama administration found the US to have been on the “wrong side of history,” believing that the championing of liberalism was inevitable. Sadly, in countries like Libya, Obama used bombs and supplied weaponry to rebel groups to support this vision.

In Syria, however, the failure was even worse. Considering that Assad was from the Alawite sect, a small minority that was feverishly hated by the countries large Sunni population, a smooth transition was unlikely. His father had continued a policy of fighting homegrown Islamism, ruthlessly persecuting the Muslim Brotherhood, an extremist Sunni political outfit. All intelligence indicated that if revolution were to occur, the regime would fight tooth and nail to avoid the expected genocide of their sect.

Despite this, the Obama administration showed vocal support for the rebels, even drawing his line in the sand about intervention. The war began with rebels expecting western support, but were wholly and mercilessly slaughtered without it. Their void was then filled with likes of Al-Qaeda and far more horrifying outfits. The estimates since then have been that over 500,000 people have been killed and over seven million displaced, though the numbers are likely considerably lower.

And this is where the current problem with the conflict occurs. Every week, reports occur of a hospital being bombed by the Russian-backed Assad regime, often without a name or exact location. By the logic of this, Syria would have had more hospitals per square kilometre than most western countries. Newspapers have been caught using photos of children who had died in Clinton’s Libya bombing campaigns as efforts to malign to the Assad regime.

International aid organisations, such as the UN, have been inflating death tolls in order to receive more attention and funding. The problem with this culture of overstating the conflict and making black and white portraits of an evil regime fighting honest rebels, is that its such an obvious oversimplification that people notice it’s wrong. It continues a trend from an established elite in recent years to talk down to the common man, as if lacking a Ph.D makes you an imbecile. The more this persists, the more backlash will come up, and that is worrying.

In Europe, far-left groups, such as Stop the War coalition, have increasingly blamed western powers for the conflict, while not offering any solutions of their own. The Labour leader himself seems more pro-Russian the more he speaks about the conflict, and the constant hate campaign against the Russians is driving droves into Putin’s arms. Oversimplification is being repudiated by oversimplification in the opposite direction. Nobody is willing to acknowledge the complex realities of a Civil War driven by ethnic, historical, and geopolitical tensions.

The Assad regime, while unbearably brutal, at least has a clear vision of stability, though I am by no means a fan of the man. The moderate rebels who were once the hallmark of a future Syria, have now died or fled due to lack of early aid by western supporters. The Russians, while equally brutal and indiscriminate, are being consistent in their actions and allegiances. The current crop of rebels backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey are Islamist extremists who pose, in my opinion, a greater threat than Assad could ever dream to be. Finally, the Western World, with its internal problems and lack of consideration for these complexities, has had a scattershot and piecemeal policy guided more by intent than history.

There are two options to go from here: either we allow the conflict to continue and not intervene, in which case Syria will one day fracture into smaller states which might once again go to war; or we take decisive action and come out clearly in favour of a certain policy, helping to guide the future of Syria in accordance with the vision of a certain allied group on the ground. The chances of such a coherent policy are sadly slim.