Never again... until the next time. Condemnations and outrage but never action. False rhetoric of empathy and solidarity is now the currency of the world. Our response to the slow death of the Syrian people has been beyond shameful.
As he has done so before, once again Bashar Assad has allegedly used chemical weapons in eastern Ghouta, killing scores of children among other many civilians. His behaviour has been that of a school bully safe in the knowledge the teachers won’t reprimand him and he’s unleashing everything with sadistic glee.
The excuses that might have been afforded to past generations for inaction over atrocities simply does not exist here. The hyper connectivity of this world, powered by social media and instant communication, means every atrocity is caught on footage. Nothing goes amiss. If in theory, with the increasing rate of democratisation nudging the world towards greater trade-based peace we wouldn’t see brutal dictators we have been wrong.
Assad dipped his toes with war crimes to test the waters in 2013 and found the response of the international community severely lacking. Since then he has dived completely, submerging himself in awful crimes that are not simply unfortunate consequences of a war but deliberate policies designed not just to demoralise his opponents but utterly destroy any revolutionary spirit lingering within Syria.
As usual, trying to expose Assad’s catalogue of war crimes brings with it his army of useful idiots in the form of conspiracy theorists who question the legitimacy of repeatedly proven facts. This time, the question being, what would Assad gain from using chemical weapons? The answer came when the rebels holding the enclave agreed to a surrender and a forced evacuation (read ethnic cleansing) of its civilians.
Assad’s use of air strikes, pillaging soldiers and chemical weapons are the reason why humanitarian groups have attributed him as the vast cause of majority of deaths in Syria. What he did in Aleppo regularly and what he did here are not unprecedented in its cruelty by his standards. His deliberate siege of Madaya led to its inhabitants becoming severely starved and malnourished. Many of the Syrian stories are harrowing in their accounts of children unable to enjoy good meals.
But inaction towards Assad is a product of the west’s post-Iraq guilt regarding interventions. This is understandable but shaping the Iraq War as the foundation for foreign policy actions runs the risk of entirely overlooking when interventions have worked, like Kosovo, or when inaction has failed. We saw this in Rwanda 1994 when a brutal civil war that led to thousands massacred made the world realise its international laws were designed to respect state integrity rather than actual human lives. Responsibility to Protect, or R2P as it is known, came about but it has been missing here.
Since the Syrian Civil War began as a series of protests for democracy in 2011, many left-wing commentators have been anxious to rewrite its civil society, its movement as simply puppets of western actors. They dismissed democratic movements as western ploys rather than Arab self-determination. Brown people it appears can never aspire to wanting democracy and liberty. They are content with dictatorships. The left regarded Assad and his brutal state apparatus as a victim of foreign imperialism simply due to his hostility to the west. Yet the Syrian people who protested against him and then Putin have never been considered victims of Russian imperialism. They are instead deemed as terrorists disguised as civilians.
The left have responded with anxiety and guilt when faced with pressure to criticise Assad. Even as evidence indicates a mountain of war crimes they have dismissed the legitimacy of any meaningful action against him. As far as they are concerned, Syria is its state institutions and not its people. There is no semblance of consistency from the same people who passionately and correctly argue for Palestinians’ liberation.
No-one embodies this more than Jeremy Corbyn and the current Labour Party. The response of the party leader to the conflict in Syria has been one of reluctant condemnations and poor ones, in which he blames “all violence” or “violence on both sides” as if there’s an equivalence: as if there’s really more than one side engaged in mass murder, air strikes, and starvation and chemical weapons. It’s in effect refusing to see the shades of differences, vast here, between a genocidal fascistic police state and those rebelling against its oppressive institutions. As the left-wing author James Bloodworth tweeted, Corbyn not seeing the rebels as anything but terrorists is “in itself is the rationale of those dropping chlorine bombs on innocent children.”
Corbyn’s supporters would say there is nothing wrong with waiting for investigations before leaping to conclusions. Nor is there anything wrong with him repeatedly emphasising need for political solutions to the war. This would be true except he has usually been far clearer and direct regarding Palestine. Furthermore Assad had been regularly found of using them before, even after Corbyn previously called for investigations when it was used in Khan Sheikhhoun, killing 80 people, and then did nothing when Assad was the confirmed cause. Why would he behave any differently now? Regarding peace talks, if Assad respected the wishes of his people he would have done so back in 2011. His actions and his rhetoric has made it clear he does not respect peace talks.
The press statement released regarding the alleged chemical weapons attack simply underlines a party incapable of governing and understanding the world. A party that doesn’t interpret forced evacuation induced by chemical weapons and air strikes as ethnic cleansing and refuses to understand that not all Syrian rebels are terrorists is not one deserving of claiming itself to be progressive.
Where does the world go from here? How many more times will we witness Assad liberally using the worst of weapons to kill innocent people? And how many more times will we say “never again” and yet do nothing?