Co-written with Jacques Bérès, Mario Bettati, André Glucksmann and Bernard Kouchner
The barbarian Assad gang and the Islamic extremists are the enemies of Syria's democratic future. They are the enemies of peace in the Middle East. They are our enemies. When the contention began in Deraa, in March 2011, on the heels of the Arab spring, no one could have imagined that, twenty months later, the Baas regime would end up massacring nearly 40,000 people, kidnapping, torturing or simply making thousands more disappear, sending in the tanks and aviation against its own people.
No one could have imagined either that the international community would abandon the Syrian population to the hands of their executioners. As soon as the protests clashed with fire from Assad's troops, the banners of the then-peaceful demonstrations called for international support. When the army and the chabbiha militias began to assassinate, en masse, the opposition appealed to the conscience, asking why we did not do for Syria what had been done for Libya.
But this appeal was met only with a terrible silence, to such an extent that, over the months, the revolutionaries came to denounce at first the indifference, then the abandonment, then the betrayal of nations and, finally, what they judged to be at least passive complicity with the regime. Worse still, the idea -- no matter whether it is true or false -- began to spread among many who risked their lives daily in confronting the mafia in power in Damascus that, all things considered, the Western powers prefer a Syria dismembered, left to civil war and chaos.
In such conditions, we can scarcely be surprised that, following the bitterness caused by the unspeakable inertia of the great democratic countries, in the atmosphere of despair prevalent in Aleppo, Homs and Deraa, radical Islamism in all its varieties, and sometimes the most dreadful, is incessantly gaining ground. Syria was a multi-denominational nation where the moderate Sunni Muslim majority got on with the minorities, whether Christian, Alaouite, Druze, Ismaeli, Turkmen or Shi'ite.
As soon as his power was challenged, Bashar al-Assad tried to persuade Syrian public opinion, as well as the international community, that he was facing gangs of criminals and Islamist terrorists. Just to make his case more convincing, he released the Syrian God fanatics he had had arrested upon their return from jihad in Iraq from prison. And, alas, this propaganda met with a certain response among elements in the West, providing another alibi for their lack of action. Nineteen months and 40,000 dead later, the prophesy has become, in part, a self-fulfilling one.
Yes, the number of extremists in the Syrian opposition is steadily increasing. Yes, there are foreign jihadists who are coming to strengthen the ranks of the combatants. Yes, there are more and more of them every week. Yes, these few thousand fanatics, natives or those from foreign countries, commit suicide attacks that must be condemned. And, again, yes, the insurgents turn all the more willingly towards fundamentalism because the only countries to provide them with real assistance, whether humanitarian, financial, or military, are those under Islamist rule.
But no, a thousand times no, we cannot simply leave it at acknowledging this regrettable fact. No, a thousand times no, we must not, for all that, wash our hands of the suffering of Syrian civilians, nor give up on support for the democratic elements struggling within the country.
Western governments refuse to deliver weapons to the revolution on the pretext that they may fall into the wrong hands? Rather they should lend an ear to the katiba leaders who hope to receive equipment, not only to fight Assad's army, but to build an alternative force to that of the fundamentalists. They should listen to the Syrian National Council, that seeks the fall of the gangsters in power but asks for arms to protect the community from Islamist totalitarianism.
Haven't they heard the message of Kurdish revolutionaries either, those who fear Islamo- nationalism and object to the threat of hegemony the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its Syrian counterpart, the PYD, represent? All of these enemies of Bashar al-Assad and the Islamist fanatics are appealing to us -- Europe and the United States.,
As the United Nations Security Council is paralyzed by the vetoes of Russia and China, any other alliance is justifiable in order to stop the rivers of blood flowing in the cities of Syria. Vladimir Putin did not wait for the green light from any authority whatsoever before providing his Syrian protégé support in the form of arms and munitions. Said protégé also receives financial assistance from Iran and Iraq, and troop reinforcements from Hezbollah. The situation is reminiscent of that of Spain in 1936, when the democracies lost their honor by maintaining their neutrality, while Mussolini and Hitler came to the aid of Franco's putschists.
Thus any authority of alternative legitimacy is acceptable as long as it can help to save what there may be of the initial objectives (the fall of a mafioso dictatorship, dignity, liberty, among others) of this revolution that continues still, despite the mounting heaps of cadavers.
Instead, NATO, the European Union, France, the United States do their utmost to repeat that no military intervention is possible -- unless.... Yes, that is perhaps the most revolting aspect: military intervention is unthinkable, they say, unless the regime lays a hand on its chemical weapons. This is, in other terms, granting the regime the right to kill by any other means available. It's drawing a red line, consenting to thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of additional victims.
It implies that the international community would have no grounds to move unless the massacre of Syrians should turn into regional chaos. But it also means admitting that an intervention is possible, technically, militarily possible, and we must be aware of it. And so? So, the situation is urgent. It is urgent to prevent this from becoming a worst case scenario. Urgent to break the infernal mechanism that is in the process of installation. Urgent to smash the double jaws of the trap that, one day, will leave the men and women of Syria no other choice but that between two dictatorships.
Enough of evading the question! Enough pusillanimity! The democratic future of Syria demands decisive help, whether it is that of neutralizing the aircraft that bombard towns and villages, furnishing the democratic elements among the combatants with the appropriate weapons or offering support and hope to the Alaouites, including those in the spheres of power, who wish to get rid of the criminals at the head of the State. It is precisely when one judges, as we do, that the dictatorship of the Assads is deservedly doomed and Islamist fundamentalism constitutes a major danger for the country's future that the duty to protect is imperative. And related to and as imperative as this duty to protect is the duty to ensure the security of all elements, all the constituant minorities of the Syrian people. What is at stake goes beyond the fate of Syria.
It goes beyond even the Middle East. It involves as well changing the face of the democratic nations back to one marked by something other than gutlessness: a face that is humane, marked by solidarity and generosity. And it is about breaking the hideous and fatal spiral of the supposed "clash of civilizations," as was done in Libya. To further the fall of the governing tyranny without encouraging the aspiring tyrants of radical Islam, this is what the democrats of Syria expect of us, and, beyond Syria, what the world expects.
To fail to intervene, while the massacre of innocents accelerates, is, on the contrary, to send the very worst message, strengthening, in particular, anti-Western sentiment. Our honor, our humanity, but also our political self-interest, demand commitment and firmness.
Jacques Bérès, combat zone field surgeon; Mario Bettati, professor emeritus of international law; André Glucksmann, philosopher; Bernard Kouchner, former minister; Bernard-Henri Lévy, philosopher, director of the review "La Règle du jeu", member of the supervisory board of "Le Monde"
This post first appeared in Le Monde.