Comparing Earth to Jupiter, the Black Sea to the Pacific,and FSA “crimes” with Regime Atrocities
Until recently, supporters of the Assad regime focused their media efforts on portraying their favorite dictator as a “bulwark” against American hegemony,Israeli ambitions, Islamist extremism and a stabilizing force in an inherently unstable region (phew, Superman didn’t have as many super-human challenges).
However, the favored narrative of the “anti-imperial” Left and “Hate-America-at-all-Costs” Arab camp has become all but impossible to maintain in the face of the Syrian regime’s increasingly barbaric oppression of the country; massacres in Houla and Daraya, an airforce dropping barrels of TNT on civilian areas, an army shelling bread lines, documented widespread and systematic torture and abuse of children, and a monthly death rate for civilians that exceeds the worst days of the Iraq war. And the “axis of resistance” myth doesn’t stand up too well when one considers that Assad has shelled every single neighbouring country with the exception of Israel itself.
And so regime supporters have had little choice but to shift their narrative; sure, Assad is bad,but his opponents are just as nasty or even worse. It’s also a favorite line for isolationists who advocate the West leaving the Syrian people to their bloody fate (the disgraceful Daniel Pipes being just one example).
And yet, when the actions and record of both sides in the Syrian conflict are studied in a balanced and impartial way, the inevitable conclusion is that, far from being just as bloody and barbaric as the Assad regime, the Free Syrian Army has infact proven itself to be the most moral armed group, in the history of Arab armed groups.
Lets revisit the worst single atrocity the FSA has been accused of; the execution of 20 captured soldiers in early September. Needless to say, twenty murders is an hour’s work for Assad’s shabiha militia. Regime atrocities no longer make the news anymore unless half a village has been massacred, as in Daraya or Houla. FSA “crimes” do get alot of attention, specifically because they are uncommon.
The International Crisis Group’s superb August report on Syria stated that not a single instance of a massacre of Alawite civilians had been recored anywhere in the country (the same study reported that in February, shabiha militiamen had massacred dozens of families in the Homs suburbs of Karam Al Zeitoun, in retaliation for the losses the militias had suffered). A Time magazine report on Syria stated that, “In more than a year of clandestine travel in Syria, TIME has seen little direct evidence of rebel attacks on civilians, although suspected shabiha (regime thugs) and loyalist troops are often treated mercilessly.”
So, far from having matched the regime’s deliberate and atrocious targeting of civilian populations, the Free Syrian Army has infact shown remarkable restraint when it comes to the treatment of an opponent’s civilians, which is unprecedented for the region. Unlike the Iraqi and Lebanese civil war, the Syrian opposition has not engaged in wholesale massacres and bombings, indiscriminately killing those on the other side. Unlike every Palestinian militant group and the terrorist outfit Hizbollah, the FSA has not bombed civilian buses, shot up airports, hijacked airplanes, taken airline passengers and athletes hostage.
In fact, unlike any Arab armed movement before it, the FSA has put as much effort into rescuing and sheltering civilians as they have fighting military battles. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees are safe in neighbouring countries after being helped by the FSA escape the regime’s border minefields and deliberate shelling of refugees fleeing battle torn cities. The evacuation of 24,000 civilians from Baba Amr, after two months of siege and armored assaults by the best tank units the regime had at its disposal, ranks as the Syrian equivalent of Dunkirk.
Syrians displaced within the country find shelter and protection in areas held by the FSA. In contrast, the regime of Bashar Assad has not set up a single refugee camp anywhere inside Syria, and has mostly hindered the work of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and International Red Cross.
To the FSA, a civilian who has lost his home is a fellow countryman in need of aid. To the Assad regime, a family who has managed to flee their destroyed neighborhood is a job half-done, and helicopter gunships and shabiha militiamen are dully dispatched to finish them off.
When Turkey shut its borders to Syrian refugees in September, tens of thousands were left stranded in the north. Like tens of thousands more Syrians displaced within the country and living in schools, their only source for food, shelter and sustenance was what the FSA provided. The FSA has taken on the roles of protector, liberator and aid-agency; an unprecedented behavior for any Arab armed movement.
Of course, one would wish that all armies, especially one’s own side, adhered strictly to the norms of gentlemanly civilized behavior at all times and upheld the Geneva Conventions in each and all circumstances. Alas, that is not the kind of world we live in. To compare the FSA’s “crimes” with the atrocities of the regime is like comparing the Earth with Jupiter; the scale of the thing changes its very nature. Jupiter is massive, hence inhospitable for life. Earth is just the right size; not perfect, but it can sustain bunnies and butterflies and baby turtles.
Faced with the dearth of FSA “atrocities” with which to paint their opponents as savage Islamist monsters, regime supporters have resorted to manufacturing and widely disseminating unsubstantiated claims of revolution crimes. One of the most infamous examples is the myth that 80,000 Christians were “cleansed” from Homs by the FSA in February and March, a lie repeated often by the Indian writer Kapil Komireddi (who can’t seem to write one sentence without the one after it being a snide remark about Saudi Arabia).
Well, let’s put our thinking caps on for a moment. If there really were 80,000 Christians that had been expelled from their homes, then it begs the question; WHERE THE FUCK DID THEY ALL DISAPPEAR TO? 80,000 refugees in Turkey take up half a dozen massive camps. You can’t go anywhere in south Turkey without coming across signs and evidence of a mass exodus of Syrians into the country. Likewise Jordan and Lebanon. And yet travel the length and breadth of Syria, and every neighbouring country, and you will not come across a single grouping or concentration of Christian refugees. Never in the history of war have so many refugees supposedly left so little sign of their plight.
Analysts and pundits writing about Syria, and hoping to explain the continued support the regime receives from certain quarters in the country, all repeat the same phrase; minorities who still support the regime do so out of a fear of what may happen if it falls. Let’s repeat that; what *may* happen.
Not “what’s already happened.”
Not “remember that time when 1000 Alawites were massacred in a single month? Or when 300 Alawites villagers were murdered in a single night?”
The Syrian conflict is the only one in history where it seems perfectly valid to blame a side for some atrocity they haven’t even committed yet, nor shown any history of having committed in the past. In fact, it seems far more logical to conclude that any minority that still supports the Assad regime, don’t really do so out of fear of what the opposition may do to them when the regime falls, but what the regime will do to them if they came out against it. Just ask the families of Bassel Shehade and Meshaal Tammo how much of a protection being a minority affords someone who has earned the wrath of the Assad family mafia.
To the Assad regime, even their own supporters are cannon fodder, as expendable as rounds of ammunition or barrels of tank fuel. The regime doesn’t even keep a record of civilian or army deaths. In contrast, the Syrian opposition keeps meticulous records of all the deaths in the Syrian conflict.