West to Syria: Do as I Say, Not as I Do

by , June 11, 2011

"If anyone votes against [this] resolution, or tries to veto it, that should be on their conscience." These were the futile words of British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday (8th) following discussions over proposals to submit a UN resolution against Syria, condemning the violence and genocide currently sweeping the nation. The draft resolution – drawn up by Britain and France with the backing of Germany – is scornful of President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces for their violent clamp-down on pro-democracy demonstrators. The West’s latest action in the Middle East comes after hundreds of Syrian citizens have fled across the border into Turkey in an attempt to avoid Syrian military suppression.  

In a sense, the West’s response has been something of a joke. Whilst we barely drew breath before committing ourselves to a long, drawn-out intervention in Libya – where considerably fewer protesters had been shot dead – in the case of Syria we have been somewhat muted. Perhaps this was due to the reasonably passive level of protest taking place there. While footage leaked out over the internet of militiamen firing at civilians, in general, the protests had been peaceful. On the whole, they remained unarmed and merely took to the streets in similar fashion to the citizens of Tunisia and Egypt. However, this scenario remains no more. 

Now passionate and determined Syrians are taking to the streets armed with rifles and pistols in an effort to defend their families. They have grown resentful at the thought of remaining peaceful, following in the footsteps of their neighbors, the Tunisians and the Egyptians; and rightfully so. Protesters in those countries suffered nothing like the barbaric, ferocious suppression carried out by President Assad’s murderous soldiers. With many Syrians now settled in Turkey, it has become easier to conceive a true picture of events taking place in this restricted part of the world. Murky tales of torture and brutality at the hands of security forces have shocked the globe and lights are now being firmly shone on this abhorrent situation. 

Quite shamefully, Britain’s response – and the world’s for that matter – has simply been to demand that Syria does not torture and abuse its citizens. "Please do not do this Syria, we thoroughly disagree with your methods" has been the feeble message projected thus far. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set the path by stating that deadly action taken against protesters was "unacceptable." By inference, we are therefore led to believe, I take it, that non-deadly action is acceptable (i.e. imprisonment, torture, and rape)? Moreover, we in the West continue to work alongside the oil-rich Saudi regime, daring not to criticize their equally suppressive rule. The same regime that, in March, rang President Assad and spoke of their unconditional support for his murderous rule. 

America has deplorably played middleman. In April, President Obama spoke of his concerns over violence committed by both the Syrian government and the Syrian protesters, who, back in April, were not using considerable force to defend themselves. And here is where the problems start. If – and I mean if – President Obama and the West do not want protesters fighting back, why are we arming and aiding Libyan rebels in their altercations with Colonel Gadhafi? The hypocrisy is unspeakable. British Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke of Syrian protesters’ "legitimate grievances." This is no time for official rhetoric and jargon to take precedent. Try explaining to a poor Syrian pro-democracy campaigner whose wife has just been raped in front of his eyes and whose finger nails were yanked from her hands that you understand his "legitimate grievance."  

Criticism has been aimed relentlessly at Russia for their refusal to support any UN resolution. They argue that the situation in Syria is proving no threat to world security – which, after all, is what the UN is meant to defend – and therefore, we should leave it well alone. And they have a point. Of all the world leaders, President Dmitry Medvedev was one of the few who actually rang President Assad to urge him to make positive reforms within his country. Rather than bully and intimidate, Russia dared to allow diplomacy to dictate their foreign policy dealings. He has called on the international community to allow time for President Assad to implement the changes he promised and further concrete the reforms he guaranteed. Needless to say, Britain – along with France – has condemned Russia’s actions. 

We call ourselves a peaceful people. We hold our own civilization in high esteem and preach it endlessly to the world. Anyone who truly believes this is delusional. Time and time again, the West has criticized "bad" dictators and praised "good" ones. We denounced Gadhafi when he authorized the illegal use of white phosphorus in his attempts to destroy the Libyan rebels – despite using it ourselves in Iraq – and we disown groups such as al-Qaeda who use bombs to spread their ideology – despite using drone strikes to help achieve our very own aims. This unpardonable level of double standards is sickening. When David Cameron takes the moral high ground, you can merely laugh. You have to ask yourself, what about his conscience? 

I have no doubts in my mind that President Assad and his vile militiamen shall continue assassinating protesters who risk everything to enable a free and democratic Syria. While I praise Russia’s diplomatic stance, regrettably, I do not see the situation in Syria improving as a result of reform under Assad. Instead, we can only hope that enough people power ensues, and enough foreign diplomacy and communications develop to help encourage Assad to step down. This is the only way to enable Syria to move on and begin rebuilding.  

It remains to be seen whether we shall involve ourselves with another "democracy spreading" mission in the Middle East, but let us be certain of one thing. It will not prove a success. We incessantly – and wrongly – continue to "spread democracy." We do not do this by sending in educators, doctors, aid workers and builders. No. We spread our democracy with tanks, with Apache helicopters, with missiles and drones, with soldiers who carry lethal weapons causing widespread fatality. This is our democracy. Instead, the West’s role should be limited and, if called upon, should merely provide democratic assistance. Not the military assistance they seem too often to want to supply.

In the meantime, watch out for that double-standard rhetoric. The "one rule for us, one rule for them" approach. Undoubtedly, over the next week or so, the situation in Syria shall gather further momentum until the UN can no longer sit back and do nothing. And when it does, remember Obama’s speech on not wanting any violence in Syria, from either side. Remember the way we support and praise the Saudis, the same Saudis who support and praise President Assad’s brutal regime. Remember our criticisms of Russia when, in 10 years time, we are saying that entering the Middle East was a mistake and the civilian death toll peaks somewhere in the thousands. And, above all else, remember – when you are lying in bed unable to sleep due to your heavy conscience – how Mr. Cameron is sleeping well in the knowledge that his sanctions are being implemented.

Read more by Scott A. Hill