This is my message to world powers and all Arab states: How much more must the Syrian people suffer before you choose to take action? How much longer will you stand by watching atrocities that would not even pass Hollywood censors? Until when must we lower our heads in shame and guilt? God will be the judge of our silence and lack of decision-making.
To our brothers and sisters in Aleppo, words are insufficient to express my feelings but they are all I have to offer. If I had the power to save you, I would have used it in a heartbeat.
Yes, we are moved by the terrible suffering cruelly inflicted on the civilians in eastern Aleppo. Yes, we were wracked with anger knowing that dozens of unaccompanied children were holed up fearing regime bombs would soon snuff out their young lives. But we are mere helpless witnesses watching the most bloodthirsty reality show playing out on our screens.
Yes, the dimming of the Eiffel Tower was a sympathetic gesture. We say we felt their pain but comfortable in our armchairs, remote at hand or engaging in academic exchanges on social media, we are fooling ourselves, merely salvaging our conscience.
No one, who has not stood in the shoes of someone whose loved ones have been gassed or buried under rubble or blown up, can truly empathize with the victims of this manmade tragedy trapped between a savage regime and militias whose hands are far from clean.
And, yes, the misnamed international community, with the exception of self-interested states, wrung their hands and issued warnings of retribution against the criminals which today celebrate “victory” in the knowledge that as long as Western powers shirk their duty to launch a humanitarian military intervention and Russia continues to use its United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Veto, they can continue the slaughter with impunity.
United States Secretary of State John Kerry’s endless peace initiatives have become a laughing stock; the UNSC’s serial emergency meetings and useless votes on resolutions with no chance of passing, even more so. Will President-elect Donald Trump retrieve America’s leadership role, despite his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin? Who knows!
It is proven now. Our world has learned nothing from the horrors of World War II, Vietnam or Grozny. The UN is just a powerless talking shop; its Secretary General Ban Ki-moon can rant and rave, until kingdom come but he is shackled in the same way that UN aid agencies are. International laws are sham. The International Criminal Court is a failed enterprise.
“Never again” has been rendered nothing more than an empty slogan. Where is the substance to those values and principles which the West has been stuffing down our throats for decades? Was it values that drove the British Parliament to vote down the use of air power in retaliation for Bashar Al Assad’s chemical attacks? Was it values that drove President Barack Obama to erase his red lines or fear of public opinion? It is enough to make states that believe they are secure under Western protection, think twice. If, God forbid, we were ever in the same situation as the Syrian people, would we be thrown to the wolves while being handed scraps of hope now and again.
Eastern Aleppo is a burnt-out shell of the vibrant ancient city it once was. Those dancing for joy are celebrating amid ruins on tens of thousands of dead bodies. If this is victory what must defeat look like? Who will care for those who have lost homes and all their possessions? Who will pay for the city’s reconstruction, the rebuilding of dwellings, hospitals, schools, markets, roads? Who can erase the terrible images of death and destruction from the minds of children or give teenagers back their stolen carefree youth?
If Assad imagines that once he succeeds in clawing back remaining areas under rebel or terrorist control, it will one day be business as usual, he is dreaming. With the help of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite militias, he has won the battle for Aleppo, but he is very far from winning the war. The millions who have lost family members, limbs, homes and jobs and the millions more imprisoned, tortured, displaced or forced to become unwanted refugees will never forgive him or accept him as their president.
Russia has its own problems and given the financial burden it can ill-afford to shoulder, it is only a matter of time before Putin tells Assad to go his own way. Moreover, the opposition has sacrificed far too much to surrender. The fight will continue for years, if not decades, as long as freedom from oppression remains elusive, and at great detriment to the civilian population.
When a political solution is farther away than ever due to Assad’s intransigence and the inescapable fact that the opposition has lost most of its bargaining chips, the only available solution to bringing a halt to the bloodshed is a decisive military campaign with the twin objectives of bringing down the regime and sending the foreign fighters packing.
Only then can Syria’s future be considered. I am against the voices calling for the country to be split up into sectarian enclaves, each vying for territory and natural resources. Just look how that is working in Iraq, albeit in a de facto fashion! Besides polls of the Syrian people, with the exception of Kurds, show that the vast majority want their country to be kept intact.
Semi-autonomous regions answering to a democratically-elected federal government is one option but the better one would be for Syrians to engage in a process of forgiveness and reconciliation once Assad has been evicted from the palace and the guns go silent.
This cannot happen overnight; it will take a long time. But time heals as Vietnamese, South Africans and the peoples who were once citizens of Yugoslavia know only too well. For thousands of years, Syrians of all faiths lived together peacefully and can do so again once left alone to mend their scars.
• Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor is a UAE businessman.