Events are so fast-paced in revolutions and wars that there is scarcely a breath taken to anticipate the next stages of the unfolding drama. But anticipating each scenario is essential to minimizing the death of innocents in Syria at this moment in time, as well as planning for safety and security for all minority groups in the long run.
Who is currently at risk?
Everyone is in the long run. In the short run it is mostly rural Sunnis who have borne the brunt of the criminality of the regime's methods of torture and killing. Next in line are any Christians or even Alewites who have dared to stand opposite the regime. Next are more privileged urban opponents of the regime who are facing increasing torment. Then there is the danger of being caught by criminality and kidnappings for personal gain, after Assad releases tens of thousands of criminals into the streets in order to create chaos and necessitate the continuation of his regime. Finally, many armed gangs and groups are not part of some of the more principled opposition military forces, but are instead exacting terrible revenge on Alewites and others.
How bad will it get soon?
Very bad, in terms of the death of innocents. Petrol has run out in the second most prosperous northern city of Syria, Aleppo, and that means desperation will multiply astronomically very soon. At the same time, the regime has amassed hundreds of tanks, either in the North to engage in large-scale destruction and scorched earth of Syria, as Hitler did rather than surrender, or to repel a Turkish-led NATO invasion.
What lessens violence against innocents?
1. There is great virtue in the United Nations' efforts to secure a ceasefire and a transitional power-sharing arrangement. Our instincts for justice, including mine, tend to scoff at this option because with so much blood on their hands, the Ba'athists and the Assad family deserve no more power at all in Syria or anywhere else. However, the history of violence and violence mitigation suggests that the frequency of United Nations interventions, no matter how seemingly unfair, unquestionably lead to fewer deaths of the innocent, and that the more we can do to constrain the violence of the regime by international regimens the better.
2. The other critical factor now is working on the solidarity of the people of Syria, in all their diversity, with each other's immediate needs and concerns. Any humanitarian or conflict management interventions that can lead to greater cooperation across religious lines, both inside Syria and outside Syria, will improve the likelihood of minimizing innocent deaths in the short run and the long run. This will create more bridges to build upon now in terms of immediate victims and will run into the future as the victims may start adding up for minority groups that are now in a more privileged position.
3. Finally, conflict management and resolution training for opposition groups, for those who are trying, each in their own way, to build workable coalitions for a future democracy in Syria must be aided in all ways possible. We must aid to build trust, manage the understandable grievances and outraged feelings, and create a rational plan for a democratic future where everyone is protected and safe. This process should include, as much as possible, former officials, former soldiers, everyone who wants to buy into a safe democratic future. All outside funders and governments that accept this goal can be welcome partners, but all outside funders and governments who do not accept these principles of the future should be rebuffed.
My experience working on the ground in Syria for the past seven years across religious lines and across class lines suggests to me that there is a large nucleus of Syrian people, majorities and minorities, who are ready to build a democracy together. But they require help with the damage that the regime has wrought on them, they require trust building that will rise above whatever regional forces seek to divide them, they require the space to help each other and forgive each other, and they require the time to build their skills at nation building as free democratic citizens, religious and secular. We must do all we can to help them do this right now.
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