Monday, February 8

"Driven by a hatred not just for the West but for Syria’s ancient and tolerant culture"

"We want you to stop protecting the rebels so that we can return to our own country."

I disagree with a handful of the author's statements, but much of what he writes is so important I'm not going to rain on his parade by wrangling over points that have no clear resolution at this time anyhow. Also see his latest dispatch from Syria, February 7, for the Daily Mail.      

The only way to stem this tide is to stop our Middle East meddling: In a haunting dispatch from Syria, PETER OBORNE reveals the real reason the refugees keep coming


PUBLISHED: 18:49 EST, 4 September 2015 | UPDATED: 19:15 EST, 4 September 2015


The story of the Kurdi family is, despite the unthinkable scale of their suffering, little different from that of hundreds of thousands of other victims of the unspeakablydfh cruel Syrian civil conflict.

Until very recently visitors could travel with complete safety to Syria. I have in front of me the Bradt travel guide (2nd edition 2010) to the country. 

It says, "Syria is probably one of the safest countries in the world. Violence or petty crime towards foreigners is virtually non-existent ..."

However, over the past five years it has suffered an orgy of violence on a scale unprecedented in history — and this, remember, is a nation whose capital, Damascus, was devastated by Genghis Khan’s Mongols eight centuries ago.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and six million of Syria’s estimated 22 million population forced to flee from their homes, many (like the Kurdi family) in terrifying circumstances.

Certainly Syria’s president Bashar Assad is a dictator who ruthlessly suppressed dissent. But he ruled over a secular state that protected minorities —– Christians, his own Alawite religion, Druze and others.  

The revolt against Assad began in the spring of 2011 and at first met with bloody suppression. 

Western nations believed the rebels were fighting for freedom and quickly gave their support. But it soon became clear that the rebellion was not being led by the moderate groups favoured by Britain but had been taken over by Al Qaeda and jihadist groups driven by a hatred not just for the West but for Syria’s ancient and tolerant culture.

I am writing this from the heart of the Christian quarter in the old city of Damascus, a stone’s throw from Narrow Street along which it is recorded in the Bible that St Paul walked.

From where I am sitting I can hear a battle going on. Overhead I am frequently deafened by the screech of Assad’s Mig fighters bombing rebel forces who hold part of the suburb of Jobar. The rebels are reciprocating by lobbing mortars into the Old Town, and I can hear their regular thud as I write.

One fell on the street neighbouring my hotel, causing a blast that shook the building and the table I am writing on.

If such rebel groups win their battle they have vowed to destroy one of the oldest centres of Christianity in the world and drive out every last Christian or behead those who stay. They have destroyed the ancient centre of the northern town of Aleppo and are uprooting and destroying the historic city of Palmyra, one of the greatest architectural treasures on Earth.

The aim of the jihadists who make up the bulk of the rebels is to expunge the rich and ancient civilisation of Syria.

This is a global tragedy. We are not talking merely of a humanitarian disaster on a magnitude no one can fully comprehend, we are also talking of the destruction of one of the greatest civilisations in the world and its replacement by a narrow, intolerant, dogmatic mutation of Islam.

Aylan and Galip Kurdi are just two of countless victims of this foul and evil vision.

Of course the people who bear the direct responsibility are the fighters — ISIS and the other jihadist groups along with their sponsors in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and some of the Gulf States.

It is true that President Assad’s armed forces have committed terrible atrocities. However it has to be acknowledged that he is fighting in defence of an ancient civilisation.

We in Britain also carry our own share of responsibility. The chaos which has overtaken Syria, and which has unleashed a flood of refugees to the West, can be traced back 12 years to the Western invasion of Iraq.   

George W Bush and Tony Blair’s misguided intervention has led to a torrent of genocide in the region, first inflicted by Al Qaeda in Iraq and now taken forward with the rise of ISIS.

ISIS has taken full advantage of the collapse of government created by the chaos in Iraq to wage their bestial war against the Syrian people. Much of Iraq and Syria has already been turned into war zones. It is becoming increasingly likely that Lebanon, Egypt and other major states in the region will suffer exactly the same fate.

In other words the waves of refugees originating from Syria, innocent victims of a conflict they did nothing to create, may well be just the beginning.

Britain, Europe and the West are now facing the largest movement of peoples since the end of World War II if not before. We face as a nation and as a continent a grave moral decision on how to deal with the consequences of our own actions.

This is not merely true of the Middle East, which has been the source of the recent migration crisis. It also applies to the intervention by Britain and France in Libya four years ago.

There is no question that David Cameron and President Sarkozy of France acted from the best of motives when they ordered bombing raids on Gaddafi forces. But the fall of the Gaddafi regime had consequences that the British Prime Minister palpably failed to see. Libya has now turned into an ungoverned space dominated by war lords and jihadist groups including ISIS.

The collapse of authority and the disintegration of its borders after Colonel Gaddafi’s departure opened the way for another massive wave of migration through the country from north, central and even southern Africa, across the Mediterranean to Southern Italy.

Like Iraq, the intervention in Libya has had the most profound consequences which naïve politicians such as Tony Blair and David Cameron failed to foresee.

Today we live in a changed world. Yesterday I spoke by email to one of the lucky Syrian migrants who made his way successfully to Europe.

Abdullah told me how he had lived in a middle-class Damascus suburb called Jaramana. Abdullah, 35, made a decent living as a cloth merchant. But his business collapsed at the start of the civil war and rebel forces threatened his safety.

He told me how he made contact with people smugglers from the Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt. He made his way to the north-eastern border of Syria where he paid 70 dollars to a guide to take him across a minefield and over the border to Turkey.

He spent a month in Istanbul, wasting 1,000 Euros on a people smuggler who promised him a journey to Europe that never came. Eventually he made his way to Greece and now has a safe haven in Sweden.

I asked him who he holds responsible for the plight of Syria. He told me: "I blame the rebels because they caused the problems and I blame the government because they could not protect us."

What message did he have for David Cameron? "My message to Cameron and Obama is this: We were living in a good situation. But you helped to cause the problem for us. We want you to stop protecting the rebels so that we can return to our own country.” 

The justice of what he is saying is undeniable. The terrible civil war in Syria has been fuelled by interventions from neighbouring countries, each with their own objectives.

Iran and Russia are throwing their weight behind the Assad regime, while Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States back the jihadists (probably including ISIS). For the Saudis, longstanding enemies of the Syrian government, the campaign against President Assad has some of the characteristics of a vendetta.

And there is no easy solution to this terrible conflict. It is too late to halt the wave of refugees pouring out of Syria, at least in the short term. If this most gruesome and tragic situations is ever to be resolved, all of the neighbouring nations must cease to meddle with fragile and beautiful Syria.

But there is a powerful lesson for the West as well. Our reckless attempts to shape the Middle East by intervening with guns and bombs have caused nothing but chaos and murder.

It is idle to pretend that there will not be thousands more tragedies like the story of poor Alan Kurdi and his family. But if the suffering is end, the strategy has to change.

Above all, we must tackle the insidious influence of Saudi Arabia, which enjoys a cosy relationship with the West even as it sponsors the spread of Islamic fanaticism across the globe.

It is our ‘allies’ the Saudis who were behind the rise of Al Qaeda in the run-up to 9/11 and who helped fund them long afterwards. They have encouraged Islamists and terrorists to brutalise countries like Syria and purge them of their secular tolerance and of religions like Christianity.

The West must now bring massive diplomatic pressure to bear on Saudi Arabia — which despite being a Muslim country, has accepted no Syrian refugees — to crush ISIS and other fanatical groups fighting for control of Syria.

Only when the Saudis and other Gulf states do so can the Syrians hope to achieve peace. They must be allowed to shape their own future — in the absence of calamitous military intervention from the West and the butchers sponsored by Saudi Arabia’s corrupt leaders.


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