The Green group in the Foreign Affairs Committee is organising the next expert hearing on ISIS and Syria in the EP – and I am slowly beginning to understand why the view of the situation taken by many Syrians is entirely different from “our” view. I will attempt to summarise again, without apology or defence, in order just to put my ideas across:
Assad is a dictator who, in his struggle for dominion, has for years been killing tens of thousands of people, driving millions to flee their homes, and destroying entire towns, cities and swathes of land. And nobody in the West is interested.
Then ISIS comes along, kills a fraction of people in comparison, and the West is up in arms.
The corollary: the Assad regime is Alawite; ISIS are Sunnites therefore the West gets engaged.
This reasoning also explains what happened in Iraq: Saddam was Sunnite, and after he was overthrown the Shiites seized power and the Sunnites lost everything. For years the West took no notice of internal conflicts, but the moment the Sunnites (ISIS) were back on the road to victory, the West intervened. And who is receiving its help? Shiites, Kurds, Yazidis, Christians… everyone except Sunnites.
Then, in turn, there is a lack of understanding that the great outrage provoked by so-called Islamic State in the West is fuelled by this media attention. The Syrian civil war was always present for the people there, always important, and always dominated the news. The fact that it was not like this here for years, and (also) didn’t change through videos of executions of Western journalists, only confirms the opinion that the West was indifferent to the fact that Sunnites were dying.
My own work is also modelled on this paradigm and prompted my decision to join the Syria and Iraq delegations from the EP in June in order to do some research on the civil war and the refugee crisis. This was before ISIS crossed the border into Iraq but I didn’t take an active part in support operations for the Yazidis until August. I would also have assisted with efforts for Syrian or Iraqi Sunnites – I would have, but I didn’t. This is due to the course of events but the outward effect is different. Or it could be different if you look at it through this filter…
Now you can brush this aside and shake your head at this view of things or you can take this account of the Sunnites seriously – without thinking the explanation is therefore right. I do not think in the slightest that the West is anti-Sunni and pro-Shiite, or pro-Alawite or pro-Kurd, if for no other reason than that precious few people are acquainted with the web of multicultural diversity in the Middle East.
This view should be taken seriously, however, because Assad’s brutality and the West’s indifference to it are the breeding ground for Sunnite support for ISIS. Or at least one breeding ground, albeit a major one, given that monocausal explanations represent too narrow a view.
It is becoming increasingly clear that we can no longer walk around with one eye shut and that we also need to focus in our work on Assad’s gang of murderers. It is not about keeping scores as to whether Assad is worse than ISIS or vice versa – both are on the other side of the line in the sand which needs to be drawn by the West. Assad’s mass murder of Sunnites ought not to be given less attention than it deserves. And on no account can Assad be an ally in the fight against ISIS – there could hardly be a better way to launch a mobilisation campaign for the “caliphate”.